Concise Lexicon of Christianity

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Teachings, worship, rites, sermons, and terminology

The Future History of the Church

Jesus talks about the Church in the series of parables in Matthew 13:31-52. Most people think that the parables repeat the same lesson in different ways, but I disagree. In these parables, Jesus teaches His disciples the future history of the Church.

I will send you out into all the world

He set another parable before them, saying, The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.
—Matthew 13:31-32, WEB

The field is the world, the someone is Jesus, and the mustard seeds are the apostles. When their evangelism sprouts, it produce large networks of Christian congregations in which the angels dwell, like birds in large trees.

Jesus scatters the apostles, each on his own mission in a different part of the world, to preach the gospel, to baptize converts, and to establish churches. They go alone, not in pairs or groups. Just as mustard seeds are tiny, unimpressive, and seemingly insignificant, the apostles are just ordinary men without particular talents or abilities, aside what the Spirit gives them.

Some people say the apostles were uneducated and illiterate, but that is scarcely possible. They grew up in a Jewish settlement in Galilee, which was a Greek-speaking area. In those days, synagogues in the Diaspora used the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, for their scrolls. All Jewish boys between the ages of 6 and 13 attended school at the synagogue six days a week, and graduated with the bar Mitzvah, which proves literacy. All this means that the apostles were well versed in Greek and in the Greek Old Testament, and Greek was spoken all over the Roman Empire. That means the apostles, though they were just ordinary guys, were well equipped for their mission.

Jesus reassures the apostles that their mission will be fruitful, even though at first it has a very modest beginning. They need this reassurance, because most of their success came after their deaths.

Your will be very influential people

He spoke another parable to them. The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened.
—Matthew 13:33, WEB

In this parable, the woman is Jesus, the yeast are the apostles, and the dough is the world. It doesn’t take much yeast to raise a loaf of bread; in the same way, it doesn’t take many apostles to affect the entire world, even people who do not become Christians.

This reassures the apostles that even though they are presently insignificant people, they will have a big impact on the whole world.

People respond to good news…

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid. In his joy, he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.
—Matthew 13:44, WEB

Children beg for a fast-food meal that comes with a toy, and they are willing to eat breakfast cereal that they don’t even like, just to get the prize inside the box. In the same way, the person in this parable bought a field that was over 99% dirt. He didn’t have any interest in the dirt; he bought it only to get the prize that was in the box, so to speak..

Anyone who hears the Word of the Lord in the mouth of a preacher will put up with his foibles. Anyone who sees a great spiritual treasure in a church will join it, even if it is unpopular. Anyone who finds the love and presence of God will do anything to cling to it.

This reassures the apostles that if people truly understand the gospel, they will grab onto it at all cost—and that is exactly what happened.

…So here is how to preach

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a merchant seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
—Matthew 13:45-46, WEB

After reassuring the apostles that their work will yield great results, that their mission will have a huge impact on the world, and that people cling to good news, Jesus teaches the apostles how to preach. He doesn’t tell them to preach fire and brimstone, he doesn’t tell them to accuse people of their sins; He says: show them the pearl.

The apostles taught people the good news; that if they repented, were baptized, and obeyed Jesus’ commandments, they would be saved from death.

In the end, it will all work out

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet, that was cast into the sea, and gathered some fish of every kind, which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach. They sat down, and gathered the good into containers, but the bad they threw away. So will it be in the end of the world. The angels will come forth, and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
—Matthew 13:47-50, WEB

Therefore we tolerate the fake and the unworthy among us—that is, the ones who seem that way right now—because it is not our job to judge them, and even if it were, our judgment would be premature. Bad fish can repent and become good fish, and not even the angels know the outcome until the end. Peter and Paul are good examples. Peter denied Christ, and Paul persecuted the church, but both repented, not just by changing their opinions, but also by changing how they lived. We cannot judge rightly, because right judgment requires all the facts, and most of the facts lie in the future. The judgment is at the end.

This reassures the apostles that God is just and fair.

Jesus said to them, Have you understood all these things? They answered him, Yes, Lord. He said to them, Therefore, every scribe who has been made a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a householder, who brings out of his treasure new and old things.
—Matthew 13:51-52, WEB

They got it right off; we don’t. Every theologian, every pastor, every lay leader, who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner cleaning out his closet. When we clean out a closet, we don’t just throw away the old stuff and keep the new stuff, because some of the old stuff is valuable, and some of the new stuff is trash. Anyone who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven learns to keep what is a spiritual treasure and discard what is not.