Sunday, February 19, 2023

Good Seed and the Outer Darkness

Those of us who love to study the word of God often spend a pleasant hour or two comparing scripture with scripture in meditation, and by seeking to understand its concepts by grabbing our concordances and tracing the way its writers use various words and phrases.

Sometimes this is fruitful. Other times it can be perplexing.

A good example: the “sons of the kingdom” (“children” is probably just as valid a translation in these contexts) is an expression we only find twice in scripture, both times in Matthew, five chapters apart. The same speaker uttered both, and the same gospel writer preserved both instances for us, but they manifestly do not refer to the same people.

The Outer Darkness

The first instance is from chapter 8, a comment made after observing the great faith of a Gentile who correctly intuited that the Lord Jesus could heal from a distance. The Lord’s reaction is as follows:

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.”

There can be no real argument about how the Lord is using the expression here. In this context, the “children of the kingdom” are those to whom the kingdom was originally offered, the Jews. Sadly, not all Abraham’s genetic children have shared his faith, while the patriarchs have acquired all sorts of spiritual descendants in strange, distant places over the centuries. Those Israelites who do not share the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will receive no preference on the basis of their genetics. Rather, they will be judged for their failure to live up to the light they had.

The Good Seed

The second instance is from the interpretation of the Lord’s second of seven parables in Matthew 13. The field sown with good seed turns out to be full of weeds sown by an enemy. The Lord Jesus explains:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is not a parable about the church, concerning which the Lord said very little. William MacDonald points out that the field is the world, not the church. God has “seeded” his people throughout the world, and Satan seeks to counterfeit them to confuse people and discourage them from hearing and obeying the gospel. There will be no clear distinction between wheat and weeds until the “end of the age”. What is in view here is not the church being raptured, but the “children of the kingdom” during the great tribulation, which will end with a clear distinction being made between the righteous and the wicked. In this case, the expression “sons of the kingdom” does not refer to Jews only, but to all those in this world who come to saving faith, and particularly those who do so after the church has been called home to be with Christ forever.

The Matthew 13 “children of the kingdom” are described for us in Revelation 7, and fall into two groups: the 144,000 from Israel of verses 1-8, and the “great multitude that no one can number” from every nation, tribe, people and language of verses 9-17.

Two Different Groups of “Children”

The fate of these two groups of “children of the kingdom” referenced in Matthew could not be more different. The chapter 8 group are thrown into the outer darkness. The chapter 13 group will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father”. The former group are “sons” in appearance only, children by right of covenant who broke the covenant that would have been their eternal blessing. The latter group are genuine citizens of the kingdom and family members of the household of God, true descendants of Abraham and men and women of saving faith, Jew and Gentile alike. Both groups are called “children”, but only the latter group are children of God.

I bring this up not to discourage you from using a concordance or following a train of thought through scripture. These are both useful habits. Comparing scripture with scripture is a biblical concept. That said, we need to be careful about mashing together different scriptural ideas just because they come packaged in the same language. Some comparisons are valid; others are not. We learn as much truth from a failed comparison as from a successful one.

The real meaning of any word or phrase in scripture is always determined by its context, not by free association with similar language in other places.

No comments :

Post a Comment