Once acknowledged as the long-awaited Messiah by His disciples, Jesus knew that the kingdom He would establish after His death and resurrection would not resemble the kingdom anticipated by the Jews of the first century — a restoration of the Davidic throne, expulsion of the Romans, and the establishment of a theocracy. Much of Christ’s instruction was devoted to reshaping these expectations, explaining to the disciples that the Kingdom of God was both a present reality as well as a distinct future event (the word kingdom appears 126 times in the gospels).
Jesus suggests that with His presence the Kingdom of God was already apparent. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the “Prince of Demons”, Jesus exposes this nonsense pointing out that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and then adds,
“If it is by the power of the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28)
He also stresses that the kingdom as a present reality is not earthly or physical:
“Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘there it is. For behold, the kingdom of God is among you”‘ (Luke 17:20-21).
We read many times in the gospels that the kingdom of God was proclaimed as being “at hand”. Yet Jesus also taught us to pray to Our Father daily, “Thy Kingdom come!” There would be an eternal establishment of God’s kingdom in the future as well. The series of parables on the kingdom recorded in Matthew are meant to explain this dichotomy in a simplified way, and one in particular describes it well.
The Wheat and the Tares
Jesus likens the kingdom to a man who sows good seed in his field, yet weeds grow alongside the wheat:
“The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matt. 13:24-30).
“He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned [up] with fire, so will it be at the end of the age” (vss. 37-40).
This tells us a great deal. The Kingship of the current age belongs to Jesus, the Son of Man, and the “children of the kingdom” are faithful believers, His Church. They must endure the presence of the children of the devil, as well as illness, suffering, persecution, etc., all of which will be extinguished at the end of the present age. He concludes with a very important detail:
“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (vss. 41-43).
Jesus, as the master, will deliver the children of His household to the kingdom of the father, the kingdom for which we pray daily for its coming.
The disciples didn’t get it. The following scene occurred on Palm Sunday:
“While they [the disciples] were listening to him speak, he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately” (Luke 19:11).
But they eventually did get it; St. Paul understood it well:
“For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he [Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:22-25).