We have been looking at the parables of Jesus in Mark 4. We have looked at the parable of the soils and the parable of Light. This morning we come to another parable found in Verses 26-29 where our Lord speaks of the seed growing mysteriously:
Mark 4:26-29 (NASB) And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows-- how, he himself does not know. 28 "The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29 "But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
Notice carefully what Jesus says here. He says, "The kingdom of God is like" - this is a simile - a comparison - the kingdom of God is similar to this. This is a parable, and, because it is a parable, we must interpret it according to the rules of parabolic interpretation.
In his book, "Protestant Biblical Interpretation," Bernard Ramm says this:
Determine the one central truth the parable is attempting to teach. This might be called the golden rule of parabolic interpretation for practically all writers on the subject mention it with stress. "The typical parable presents one single point of comparison," writes Dodd. "The details are not intended to have independent significance." Others have put the rule this way: Don't make a parable walk on all fours.
Keeping this rule in mind, there are some expressions in the parable that we must not press too far. Such are the "sleeping and rising" of the farmer, and the "night and day." We want to find the one central truth taught by our Lord in this parable. I think He is saying that the Kingdom of God will occur, not in some cataclysmic way, but secretly over time (secretly in the sense that although we see the consequence we do not understand or observe the process), brought about by God once man has sown the seed.
So once again, we have a parable which utilizes the realm of agriculture to illustrate God's kingdom. Again there is the sowing of seed; then there is the resulting growth; then there is a harvest.
Commenting on this parable, one commentator writes: "It sets before us the history of the work of grace in an individual soul." I disagree! I don't see this parable as picturing growth in an individual believer but the corporate growth of the Kingdom of God to its consummated state of full maturity. I think this because of the harvest. The idea of harvest in the parables is eschatological.
This parable tells us what the kingdom is like, not when it arrives in its fullness, but during it's traditional growth period. The kingdom arrives in its fullness at the harvest.
This parable is talking about the growing process between planting and harvesting; which is referring to the beginning of the church and the end of the age when the church is established. This shows a transition period.
Of all the parables, this one appears only in Mark. Some see this as a counterpart to Matthew's parable of the wheat and the tares. Some would have these two parables be variations of the same parable, because in each the farmer is said to plant the seed and go to sleep. In each the harvest comes when the seed has become ripe. There are similarities, but there are differences as well.
Mark 4:26 (NASB) And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;
We have already noted in the parable of the sower that the seed is the Word of God (verse 14). I don't see any reason to see it differently here.
God's word is the agent of growth in the Kingdom. As we saw in the parable of the soils, the seed, which is the word of God, is received and in the good soil produces fruit. The Kingdom will grow as the seed is planted and as the seed matures. The seed has life in itself and must be sown in order to see the Kingdom grow.
So we see that - there must be a sower. The earth, as we all know, never brings forth grain of itself; it only produces weeds, not wheat. The hand of man must plough it and scatter the seed, or else there would never be a harvest. Jesus, the apostles, the disciples, and all believers in the first century church could represent the "man" who was casting the seed upon the soil.
Mark 4:27 (NASB) and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows-- how, he himself does not know.
Although believers are responsible to sow the seed, Jesus makes it crystal clear that the sower is not responsible for any resulting growth. Rather, "he does not know how" the seed spouts and grows, for it does so "by itself."
As Jesus draws the picture, this farmer goes out to sow. It is hard work as he sows the field, but this is what he can do. But then he goes home and goes to bed. He does not sit up all night biting his fingernails wondering if the seed fell in the right places, or whether it will take root. Nor does he rise the next morning and go out and dig it up to see whether or not it has sprouted yet. He rests secure in the fact that God is at work, that He has a part in this process, and He must do it; no one can do it for Him. But He will faithfully perform it.
Mark 4:28 (NASB) "The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.
"By itself" is the Greek word automatos from which we get the word, automatic. The process is automatic, because it is a process worked by the Holy Spirit.
There's also a reminder, though, that there's a process with this: First comes the blade and then the head and then the grain. All of this happens over a period of time.
In the growth of the seed, it does not go from a grain to the full ear of corn. It does not pass from the planting stage to the harvesting stage overnight. It must pass through several growth stages first.
I think this is telling us that the kingdom is progressive in nature. It comes little by little. It is a spiritual kingdom growing to maturity.
Mark 4:29 (NASB) "But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
The idea of harvest is eschatological - harvest is a time of judgment:
Joel 3:12-14 (NASB) Let the nations be aroused And come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, For there I will sit to judge All the surrounding nations. 13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. 14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
The sickle is to be put in because the time of harvest has come. The harvest has eschatological overtones in Joel. What is Joel talking about? Judgement! The day of the Lord was a time when the Lord poured out His wrath upon Israel.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 (NASB) Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief;
"Harvest" - speaks of a time of judgment at the end of the age. In the parable of the tares Jesus tells us that the harvest is "the end of the age":
Matthew 13:39 (NASB) and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.
The end of the age happened in A.D. 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem as Jesus made clear in Matthew 24:
Matthew 24:1-3 (NASB) And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He answered and said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down." 3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Their question was two-fold. First they ask, "when will these things be?" The "these things" refers to the temple's destruction in verse 2. In verse 1 the disciples point out the temple buildings to Jesus. In verse 2, Jesus says, "All 'these things' shall be destroyed." It should be clear that they are asking, "WHEN will the temple be destroyed? When will our house be left desolate?" After all Jesus had just said about judgement on Jerusalem and then about not one stone not being left upon another, the disciples' response is, "When?" That makes sense, doesn't it? I would hope so.
The second part of their question is," What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age." The disciples considered His "coming" and "the end of the age" to be identical events with the destruction of the temple.
The sign of His coming and the end of age was the same as the "these things," which referred to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70. These are not separate questions that can be divided up into different time-events. The disciples had one thing, and only one thing, on their mind and that was the destruction of the temple. With the destruction of the temple, they connected the coming of Messiah and the end of the age.
So our parable in Mark 4 is talking about the growing process between planting and harvesting. This parable tells us what the kingdom is like during the transition period.
Understanding the transition period is very important. If we are going to correctly understand the New Testament, we must understand "the transition period." If someone were to ask you what the transition period was, could you explain it? When did it begin? When did it end? What was happening during it? These are questions that we need to answer if we are going to understand the transition period.
When did the transition period begin? To answer that I think we need to understand when the Old Covenant began. Do you know when the Old Covenant began?
In the third month after the Jews left Egypt, they arrived in the Sinai desert and camped opposite Mount Sinai. Moses was then told by God to gather the Israelites together to receive the Law. The Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai stood in great awe. Moses then went up alone on the mountain, and as he neared the top, a mighty voice announced the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:20-25; 20:1-21). No date is actually associated with this in the Bible. Yet, any observant Jewish person will connect the giving of the Ten Commandments with the first Shavuot. This Old Testament feast is better known to us as Pentecost.
Shavuot is called the season of the giving of the Torah in Hebrew, because this is the literal day that God revealed Himself to the people of Israel as they stood at the base of Mount Sinai. In the giving of the Law, God established the nation of Israel as His covenant people. The Old Covenant began at Shavuot, or Pentecost.
The Old Covenant began at Shavuot, but it was consummated after a 40 year transition time (from Egypt to the Promised Land). The Passover deliverance was not consummated until they entered the promised land. The Passover began with the sacrificing of the Passover lamb introduced in Exodus 12 while Israel is still in bondage. They ate the first Passover while they were still in Egyptian bondage. And then forty years later they entered the promised land:
Joshua 5:9-10 (NASB) Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. 10 While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal, they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho.
Throughout the history of Israel the Passover recalled not only the sparing of the houses marked with the blood of the Passover lamb, but also Israel's subsequent deliverance out of slavery in Egypt; a deliverance that was consummated forty years later in the crossing of the Jordan River. Now, and only now, were they truly redeemed from Egyptian bondage.
The first exodus period is one familiar to all of us. Israel, after the flesh, was removed from bondage to Egypt at Passover, and they were put in the wilderness on a physical journey to a physical promised land.
Now, the more important, the anti-type, is the spiritual exodus. This exodus also begins at Passover and ends forty years later at A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Temple. In this exodus, Israel, after the Spirit, left its bondage to the law of sin and death (Ro. 8:2) and begins a forty year spiritual journey to a spiritual inheritance; the Kingdom of God or the New Heavens and New Earth.
So to answer our questions: When did the transition period begin? Pentecost in A.D. 30. When did the transition period end? At the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70.
We could compare this with the transition period of changing Presidents. In November a President is elected. The one in power becomes the old administration. It becomes provisional after the election results are known. Yet, he is sill in power and Commander and Chief. This time could be referred to as the LAST DAYS of that administration, beginning at the election and ending at the swearing in. It's not a new administration, but noticeable changes are taking place marking its end. The President- elect assumes more and more power as the parties transition the government under the new administration. The old administration confers with the new administration before making a decision that affects the new administration. Then the President-elect assumes full power after he swears in as President. He cannot change any laws or make any agreements on behalf of the US that can be enacted until his inauguration.
Our third question was: What was happening during the transition period? The church was growing from infancy to maturity. A spiritual house was being built for God to dwell in.
Because this was a time of change and growth, it is imperative that you understand the transition period if you are going to correctly interpret the New Testament. Now let's look at the transition that took place during the New Testament. I think that we understand that when we trust Christ (in this age), we immediately receive His righteousness. As Christians, we are as righteous as Jesus Christ. We stand complete in Him. This was not true during the transition period. Notice what Paul says:
Philippians 3:12 (NASB) Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
What was it that Paul had not yet obtained? The Greek word used here for "obtained" is lambano. It means: "to receive, to grasp, to seize, to acquire." Paul is saying, "I don't have it yet." What is it that he doesn't have yet? The verb lambano is transitive, but the object is not expressed. Is it the resurrection that he mentioned in verse 11 that he has not attained? Yes, the resurrection is included, but it is more than that, verses 4-11 are a unit speaking of justification. The key verse being:
Philippians 3:9 (NASB) and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,
I think that what Paul is saying is that his justification had not yet been consummated. That might not fit your theology but it fits the context of what Paul has been talking about.
Justification may be defined as that act of God whereby he declares righteous him who believes in Christ. Jesus Christ took our sin and bore its penalty on the cross, and He gives us His righteousness. We have been declared righteous by God for all eternity. It will never be reversed or changed. Christ's righteousness has been imputed to our account.
At the time of Paul's writing (the transition period), righteousness was still a hope. Now, you might ask, "Didn't Paul and the New Testament saints already have the righteousness of God?" Yes and no. The futuristic perspective of God's righteousness was clearly expressed by Paul:
Galatians 5:5 (NASB) For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
If righteousness was already a fulfilled or completed event, Paul made a big mistake in making "righteousness" by faith a matter of hope. You don't hope for what you have:
Romans 8:24-25 (NASB) For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
If righteousness was a present reality, why would Paul hope for it? But Paul also talks as though it was a present possession:
Romans 4:5 (NASB) But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
Did Paul have Christ's righteousness or was is still future to him? Yes! He had it, but it was also still future to him. How can this be?
Paul lived in what the Bible calls the "last days"- they were the last days of the Old Covenant. Those "last days" began at Pentecost and ended at A.D. 70 when the Jewish temple was destroyed. We now live in what the Bible calls "the age to come," which is the New Covenant age. This forty year period, from Pentecost to Holocaust, was a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In this transition period, the New Covenant had been inaugurated but not consummated. It was a time of "already but not yet." For example look at:
Ephesians 2:8 (NASB) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
Paul says that they "have been saved." This seems to be saying that their redemption is complete. Yet, later in the same chapter, Paul writes:
Ephesians 2:19-22 (NASB) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
The process was still occurring. They were "being built" for a dwelling place of God. But the clear blessing of the New Covenant was that God would dwell with His people:
Revelation 21:1-3 (NASB) And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them,
The New Jerusalem is the New Covenant according to Galatians 4: 24-26 (we looked at this last week). So, Paul tells the Ephesian believers that they are "being built" for a dwelling place of God. It was a process that was taking place but was, at that time, still unfulfilled.
Later in Ephesians, Paul writes:
Ephesians 4:11-13 (NASB) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
According to this passage, the gifted men of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers were given by God for the purpose of "the equipping of the saints." They were to bring the church from a state of infancy to adulthood. In this passage in Ephesians, maturity is defined as: "the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." According to John, this happened at the Second Coming:
1 John 3:2 (NASB) Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.
When Christ returned, all believers were made like Him. Notice that it says, "we shall see Him as He is"- NOT we shall see Him as He WAS. To be like Him is to have His righteousness.
God's goal for the church was that it be like His Son:
Romans 8:29 (NASB) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren;
This took place in A.D. 70 when the Lord returned bringing in the New Heaven and Earth, the New Covenant. So the coming again of our Lord for His people brought them to full maturity or perfection. To be perfect was to have Christ's righteousness.
Man's salvation is tied to the Second Coming:
Hebrews 9:28 (NASB) so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
Notice in this verse in Hebrews that when Christ appears the SECOND time, it is for SALVATION. So, the righteousness that Paul and the Galatians "eagerly awaited" was to come to them at Christ's parousia, His Second Coming.
Salvation was not a completed event in the lives of the first century believers, it was their hope, they looked forward to its soon arrival.
Romans 13:11-12 (NASB) And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
He equates their salvation with the "day" that was at hand, referring to the day of the Lord. "Knowing the time" is the Greek word kairos, it means: "season, a special critical strategic period of time." It is used of a season of great importance in redemptive history. The completion of redemptive history was at hand, and with it would come salvation.
Peter also states that their salvation was not yet complete:
1 Peter 1:5 (NASB) who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Salvation was ready to be revealed, when? In the last time, which would happen at the return of Christ.
1 Peter 1:7 (NASB) that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
The incompleteness of believers during the transition period, A.D. 30-70, does not contradict Paul's affirmation that "ye are complete in Him" (Col. 2:10). The certain completeness of Christ's work was the basis and confidence of the transformation already at work with the future fullness drawing near.
I think that it is safe to say that most believers think redemption was completed at the cross. But this is not what the Bible teaches; redemption is tied to the Second Coming.
Luke 21:27-28 (NASB) "And then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. 28 "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
When Christ returned, He brought redemption. As long as the Old Covenant existed, the believers were not perfect and therefore did not have access to God.
Hebrews 9:8-10 (NASB) The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing, 9 which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, 10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.
Under the Old Covenant, they were never made perfect. And because they were not perfect, they could not enter God's presence. Once the Old Covenant is destroyed, the believers are perfected and enter into the presence of God.
Hebrews 9:8 (NIV) The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.
So in order to understand the New Testament, we need to understand the transition period. It began at Pentecost, and it ended with the destruction of Jerusalem at the Lord's return. The transition period was the Last Days of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was gaining power awaiting the appointed day it assumed full power. During this transition period the church was growing and maturing; they looked forward to the return of Christ, the resurrection, the judgement of Jews and God dwelling with them.
Believers, we are no longer in the transition period. We are living in the New Covenant age in which righteousness dwells. We are not living in the age of "hope," we are living in the age of "have." Christ has returned, the resurrection is past, the Judgement of God's enemies, the Jews, is over, and God NOW dwells with us. The righteousness of Christ is ours.
We are now living in the new heaven and earth. We are the new Jerusalem, which is the bride of Christ. Jesus Christ and His Father are among us, and we need no temple; we need none of the rituals and ceremonies of the old heaven and the old earth. We are in God's presence now and forevermore.
May God help us to fully understand and appreciate our position in the new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells and where God dwells with His people.
This parable in Mark 4:26-29 tells us what the kingdom is like during the transition period. The kingdom arrives at the harvest. This parable is talking about a growing process between planting and harvesting; the beginning of the church with the sowing of the seed, and the end of the Old Covenant age when the church is established. This shows a transition period of growth until maturity is reached.
The reason it is so important to understand the transition period is because many things happened during that time that do not apply to us. If we do not understand this, we will have trouble interpreting and applying the teaching of the New Testament.
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