From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing ~ Matthew 11:12
John the Baptist was the last prophet to usher in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Like all the other prophets, he proclaims the phrase which appeared to be a resounding gong, make straight the way. However, what was distinct in the days of John the Baptist was that the kingdom, not of Israel, but of heaven is becoming apparent to the world. The kingdom was, and is forcefully advancing with urgency. John the Baptist proclaims, ‘Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire’ (Luke 3:8-9).
The analogy of trees, bearing fruit and all things farming becomes one of Jesus’s favourite ways to pass across messages of the kingdom of heaven. While speaking of the Parable of the Sower whereby a farmer scatters seeds which fall on different grounds, the disciples ask, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ Jesus answers, ‘The knowledge of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you and not to them’ (Matthew 13:10-11) and he proceeds to explain why. It is a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy, ‘For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them’ (v15).
Jesus then proceeds to decode the meaning of the parable and gives them yet another Parable of the Weeds. Before they could think it’s a botany course, Jesus opens with a ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’ (v24) and gives an account of a farmer who sows a seed and then weeds grow among the wheat he had planted. When his servant asks if he should pull out the weeds, the farmer replies, ‘Let them grow together until the harvest’ (v29).
His disciples privately ask the meaning and Jesus says, ’The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of age and the harvesters are angels…they will weed out his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace’ (v37-39, 41-42).
As the kingdom is advancing, Jesus warns unrepentant cities, ‘But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you’ (Matthew 11:23-24). Before Sodom was destroyed with fire from heaven, the Lord had said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me’ (Genesis 18:20). When God sends his angels, the wickedness was to the brim that the people said, ‘Get out of our way…This fellow came here as an alien and now he wants to play the judge! (19:v9). Because they failed to see their wrong and repent, ‘The Lord rained down burning sulphur in Sodom and Gomorrah- from the Lord out of the heavens’ (v24).
The weeds surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah clogged hearts and caused spiritual blindness and deafness, making them unaware that the kingdom of heaven was advancing towards them. When the kingdom of heaven advances, the harvesters take the wheat and burn the weeds. Because the wheat and the weeds have been allowed to grow, like Abraham we sometimes wonder, ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’ (18:v23). As if answering Abraham in real time, Jesus in the Parable of the Weeds says, ‘No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you might root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring into my barn’ (Matthew 13: 29-30).
Like John the Baptist who says the axe is already at the root of the trees to mean the kingdom of heaven is at hand, the farmer in the parables allows the wheat (good) and the weeds (evil) to thrive alike until the time of the harvest. To escape the wrath of the thresher, Jesus says, ‘unless you repent, you too will perish’ (Luke 13:3), then gives a parable of a fig-tree which bears no fruit and is given a year before it can be cut down. This resounds John the Baptist’s words, produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Jesus also cuts to the chase by saying, ‘Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me’ (John 15:5). The farmer who gave time for the fig tree to bear fruit is God who, ‘is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9) because like Sodom, ‘the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment’ (v7).
‘I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a Son of Man” with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe’ So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested…Still another angel, who had the charge of fire came from the altar…’