A few weeks ago, in our continued study through Matthew, we discussed the three parables of Matthew 21:28-22:14. In each of these parables, Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God. In particular, he talks about God taking the kingdom of God away from one people and giving it to another people.
For example, in the second parable – often called “The Parable of the Tenants” – Jesus concludes:
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:43 ESV)
Matthew then tells us that the chief priests and Pharisees understood that Jesus was talking about them. They understood that Jesus was saying that they would no longer part of the kingdom of God.
Of course, this is not the first time – nor the last – that Jesus would speak of the “kingdom of God” in the Gospel of Matthew. He began by announcing that the kingdom of God had come near, and he even sent his apostles out to proclaim the coming of the kingdom (Matt 4:17; 10:7). Jesus told several parables to help people understand what the kingdom of God would look like and how citizens of the kingdom of God would live.
But, what does it mean that God would take his kingdom away from some people and give it to other people?
The easy – and often heard – answer is that God was taking his kingdom away from the Jews and giving it to the church. But, there’s a problem with this view. You see, when Jesus spoke this parable and for some time after that the church was made of Jews. The apostles were Jews. The 120 followers in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension were Jews. The 3000 that were added on the day of Pentecost were Jews. It wasn’t until the Spirit led Peter to Cornelius’ house that Gentiles were added to the church.
So, the kingdom was not taken away from Jews and given to the church (as if it was given to non-Jews). Instead, the kingdom was taken away from all Jews and given to a subset of Jews… a remnant, if you will.
And, this should be a familiar theme to those who are familiar with the Old Testament prophets. While God might send death and destruction and famine and war and pestilence against his people, he always promised to keep a remnant safe. While most of Israel and Judah might turn away from God, he always promised that there would be a remnant that would remain faithful.
And, this last point can help us understand what it meant for God to take away his kingdom from one people and give it to another people. God did not take his kingdom away from the Jews and give it to non-Jews. God took his kingdom away from a disobedient people and gave it to an obedient people. In fact, this is exactly what the first parable of Matthew 21:28-22:14 teaches:
What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32 ESV)
If this is true, then it may help us understand the purpose and nature of the church. Also, if this is true, then it raises the question: Is it possible for God to “remove the kingdom” from a portion of his kingdom today?
I’d love to hear what you think, and I will share my views about this in my post tomorrow.