OK – a couple of weeks ago we said that this is where the rubber meets the road – now we get it in gear.
There is no better bible study than when we are actually looking for an answer or evidence for our query and we approach it from the point of view of whatever we find – does it add up?
If you just came upon this series of Lessons, you can backtrack here and catch up.
So let’s dig in! -CL
This Study 3 - will cover:
· Two more parables - of the mustard seed and leavening
· Explanation of leavening – is it a symbol of sin?
· Why was unleavened bread used on Passover, but leavened bread for the peace offering as the first fruits of the Lord? How does that relate to the Christian communion (Lord’s Supper)?
· Are wars and rumors of wars the sign of the end?
· What is the Christian dominion assignment and how have we misunderstood it?
· What does Satan own?
(The following is from Gary North’s book - “Unconditional Surrender”.)
"Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” (Matthew 13:31-32). From something tiny to something substantial, from something almost invisible to something that gives support and shelter: here is the way that the kingdom operates in time and on earth. It is a growth process - continuous, not cataclysmic, which leads to its visibility among men, and its support for men.
"Another parable spake he unto them; the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened" (Matthew 13:33). First of all, before anyone jumps to conclusions, leaven is not a symbol of sin. The Hebrews were not permitted to eat leavened bread at the Passover, but leavened bread was used in the sacrifice of the peace offering (Leviticus 7:13). The leavened bread was offered as the first-fruits of the Lord, meaning the best of a family's productivity: "Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the first-fruits unto the LORD" (Leviticus 23:17). Leaven is the best man has to offer, the bread he eats with pleasure. It is man's offering to God. The Passover avoided leaven. In the Passover, people also ate bitter herbs with their unleavened bread (Exodus 12:8). This bread and bitter herbs symbolized the hard times in Egypt, the world out of which God had delivered them. Unleavened bread avoided the additional time necessary for yeast to rise as a symbol of a major historical discontinuity, for God delivered them from Egypt overnight. Unleavened bread symbolized God's overnight deliverance, since it was not the best of what man had to offer God. God broke in to the daily affairs of His people and delivered them from bitter herbs and unleavened bread. He delivered them into a land flowing with milk and honey, a land in which men have the wealth and time to bake and eat leavened bread. They were to offer this bread to God in thankfulness. Leaven is a symbol of time, of continuity, and of dominion.
But what was the meaning of unleavened bread? Why were the Hebrews required to eat it at the Passover? Why were they required to get rid of all leavened bread in the land for a week before the feast? (Exodus 12:15). Because the original Passover was celebrated in Egypt, it was Egypt's leaven which had to be purged out of their midst, before they left the land. It was a symbol of Egypt's culture, and therefore of Egypt's religion. Leavened bread was representative of the good life in Egypt, all of those benefits in Egypt which might tempt them to return. So God required them to celebrate a discontinuous event, their overnight deliverance from bondage. They were to take no leaven with them - none of Egypt's gods, or religious practices, or culture to serve as "starter."
Once they entered the land of Canaan as conquerors, they were required to eat leavened bread and offer it as a peace offering to God. This was the leavened bread of the first-fruits offering. This is why Christians are supposed to eat leavened bread when they celebrate Communion (the Lord's Supper). It is a symbol of conquest. We are now on the offensive, carrying the leaven of holiness back into Egypt, back into Babylon. We are the leaven of the world, not corrupting the unleavened dough, but "incorrupting" it - bringing the message of salvation to Satan's troops, tearing down the idols in men's hearts. God's holy leaven is to replace Satan's unholy leaven in the dough of the creation. Leaven is therefore not a symbol of sin and corruption, but a symbol of growth and dominion. It's not a question of an "unleavened" kingdom vs. a leavened" kingdom; it's a question of which (whose) leaven. It's not a question of "dominion vs. no dominion"; it's a question of whose dominion. The dough (creation) is here. Whose leaven will complete it, God's or Satan's?
The kingdom is like leaven. Christianity is the yeast, and it has a leavening effect on the pagan, satanic culture around it. It permeates the whole of this culture, causing it to rise. The bread that is produced by this leaven is the preferred bread. In ancient times – indeed, right up until the nineteenth century – bread was considered the staff of life, the symbol of life. It was the source of men’s nutrition. “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are to ask God (Matthew 6:11). The kingdom of God is the force that produces the fine quality bread men seek. The symbolism should be obvious: Christianity makes life a joy for man. It provides man with the very best. It is what all men really prefer, when they have the time and money to obtain it. Leaven takes time to produce its product. Leaven is a symbol of historical continuity. Men can wait for their leavened bread, for God gives them time sufficient for the working of His spiritual leaven. They may not understand how it works, how the spiritual effects spread through their culture and make it a delight, any more than they understand how yeast works to produce leavened bread, but they can see the bread rising, and they can see the progressive effects of the leaven of the kingdom. They can look into the warming oven and see the risen bread. If we really push the analogy, we can point to the fact that the dough is pounded down several times before the final baking, almost as the world pounds the kingdom; but the yeast does its work just so long as the fires of the oven are not lit prematurely. If the full heat of the oven is applied to the dough before the yeast has done its work, both the yeast and the dough are burnt, and the burnt mass must be thrown out. But given sufficient time, the yeast does its work, and the result is the bread men prefer.
What a marvelous description of God’s kingdom! Christians work with the cultural material available, seeking to refine it, to permeate it, to make it into something fine. They know that they will be successful, just as yeast is successful in the dough, if it is given enough time to do its work. That’s what God implicitly promises us in the analogy of the leaven: enough time to accomplish our individual and our collective tasks. He tells us that His kingdom will produce the desirable bread. It will take time. It may take several poundings, as God, through the hostility of the world, kneads the yeast filled dough of man’s cultures. But the end result is guaranteed.
Then what about the terrible things that the whole world suffers? What about bloodshed, chaos, fear? Christ’s words are familiar to many Christians: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” (Matthew 24:6). The words may be familiar, but are they really understood? Jesus announced a remarkable prophecy: there shall be wars and rumors of wars. We should expect this. We should not be troubled. Why not? For the end is not yet. But how are we to know for certain that the end is not at hand? Precisely because there are wars and rumors of wars! Why can’t modern Christians understand this? Because we hear of wars, and because they keep breaking out, we know that the end is not yet. We need not be troubled, for this, too, shall pass.
What shall pass? Wars and rumors of wars! What Christ told His disciples in no uncertain terms is this: there must come an era in which Christians will not be besieged with wars and rumors of wars. This period is not on the far side of the day of judgment, for the end is not yet. When will the end come? After a period in which men do not make war, and the rumors of wars finally cease. What else could Christ’s words mean? This sign to His people that the end is not imminent is the very existence of wars and rumors of wars. For as long as they exist, the end is not yet. After they cease, we can start thinking seriously about the possibility of the end of this fallen world. When the world is subdued to the glory of God, then we face the increasing possibility of the end. When the yeast has done its cultural work, and men are at last eating the fine leavened bread that the Christian yeast has produced, then they can contemplate the final judgment. When all men have before their eyes the testimony of God to the success of His law and the success of His ambassadors in bringing peace and justice to the world, then the rebels will have something to rebel against in that last desperate act of Satan and his host (Revelation 20:7-9a). That rebellion will be immediately crushed (Revelation 20:9b-10).
It is one of Satan’s most successful lies that Christians look at their defeats on the battlefield of faith, that they listen to rumors of wars, and see wars on their television screens (“Live and direct by satellite: nuclear holocaust! Full details at eleven.”), and they conclude that Jesus is coming soon. But Jesus is not coming soon. We must accept His words at face value.
We are still besieged by wars and rumors of wars. God’s kneading process is still going on. The yeast has not done its work yet. The dough is not ready for the oven. The time has not come for cooking the cultural dough. There are still wars and rumors of wars; therefore, the end is not yet.
Now it might be possible to argue that Christ meant that wars and rumors of wars will continue, and that Christians will be pounded down until the hypothetical first return of Christ; when only His people will be raptured into the sky, after which He shall return with them (now fully transformed, possessing their perfect bodies) in power to set up His earthy kingdom. This could be interpreted as the era of the oven, when God’s leavened bread will be baked, and men will love one another and eat the bead of righteousness in peace. Wars and rumors of wars could then be seen as pointing to the first return of Christ, and therefore our end – our preliminary end – does draw nigh in the midst of wars and rumors of wars. But this interpretation is in flagrant opposition to Christ’s parables of the kingdom, which rely on the idea of continuity in history, the unwillingness of God to separate the wheat from the tares until the final judgment, when the tares will be burned. According to this misinterpretation, the tares are not burned at the hypothetical first return of Christ in power, which is to be followed by a thousand-year direct reign, in time and on earth. The tares remain in the field, along with a mixture of fully redeemed Christians in their new, perfect humanity (I Corinthians 15:52), side by side new converts to Christ, in their normal bodies – the kind Christians presently battle with – and side by side the tares. What kind of agriculture is this? What kind of agricultural parable can be conformed to this sort of discontinuous agriculture? An agriculture of premature uprooting?
Modern Christians have abandoned the concept of slow but steady growth. Christians sometimes want victory for the church, in time and on earth, prior to the final judgment. They believe in it. But they are so discouraged by the signs of the church’s present impotence and the visible power of Satan’s troops that they conclude that they need a divine miracle, a radically discontinuous intervention in history, in order to bring them the cultural and political victory they long for. This was the error of the Hebrews in Jesus’ day: they expected the Messiah to set up an instantly successful Jewish kingdom in tiny Palestine. That’s why the crowds rushed to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover week, and that’s why they crucified Him at the end, when He failed to give them what they wanted: a miracle elevating them to total power, despite their own failure to exercise authority on earth in terms of God’s law. They had rejected the primary tool used in God’s dominion assignment. They had broken the terms of His peace treaty. They had violated His Bible-revealed law continually, having substituted the words of men. Yet they expected the Messiah to place the keys of dominion right in their laps. Christ rejected their offer of an earthly kingship on their lawless, treaty-breaking terms. They called for His crucifixion.
(At this point, the author begins what might be described as a cynical parody. It might be difficult for some of us to accept this criticism, but let’s ask: Is it true?
Have we possibly sold God short in that we have not accepted the mantle of responsibility and leadership He has delegated to us as a church? Remember that He promises us victory if we step forth in faith. Maybe we just didn’t quite understand what that responsibility was, since it hasn’t been regularly taught from the pulpits. All of those facts might be true from the past, but now we are confronted with an option – is this information Biblically true, and if so, what do we do about it?
The purpose here is not to lay blame – it is to make our choice the best way we know how and proceed on our charted course. Please take it in that spirit.)
Isn’t this basically what the modern church wants? Don’t Christians expect God to promote them overnight from buck private to at least captain? Some of them are corporals, and they expect to become field grade officers, preferably bird colonels, in one move. Christians want to become field marshals, just like the native corporals in Africa became field marshals once the British and French pulled out. But what kind of field marshals should we expect on this basis? We have seen the “field marshals” in the African ‘democracies’. A hundred years ago we would have called them tribal tyrants. Men who have no idea what a kingdom is elevate themselves from “President for Life” to “Emperor for Life” in Africa. And a few years later, or less, they are assassinated. A short reign indeed! But Christians expect Christ to bail them out of their present troubles, and to stand behind them, like a cosmic big brother, in the coming kingdom where He will rule directly on earth. He will tell them exactly what to do, and He will back them up, day by day, moment by moment. He will give them a totally centralized political system, and they will be obedient bureaucrats, initiating nothing, rescinding nothing, making no mistakes, and making no responsible progress. They will serve in a real kingdom as play-pretend rulers. They will carry out their orders. They will not mature personally. God will subdue the earth using them as crude tools, since Christians have failed to subdue it as maturing stewards. Until then, Christians will remain perpetual failures.
Such a view is a counsel of defeat. It means that God’s plan in Eden has been successfully overthrown by Satan. God's hope to have man, specifically created to exercise dominion, actually exercise dominion as a faithful, fully responsible subordinate, has been destroyed. God finally calls the experiment to a halt. "Get down there, Son," He says to Jesus, "and clean up this mess. They can't rule, they can't build anything permanent, they're a bunch of foul-ups, and you're going to have to get in there and fix it up. Don't give one of them an ounce of personal responsibility. Don't let one of them make an in dependent decision. No mistakes, from now on. I'm tired of their mistakes. They're a wash-out. Give them their officers' epaulets, make every one of them at least a second lieutenant, but You give every command. They couldn't tie their own shoelaces without making a mess of it."
And Satan's response? "It's just what I told you. I told you so about Job, and I told you so about them. They ignored Your law. They wouldn't bear any serious responsibility. They were culturally impotent. Your kingdom plans are a shambles. Sure, You're a Big Shot. You can always get in there and straighten things out. Everyone knows that. But Your plan was a failure, Your hopes for man an illusion, for You didn't plan on me. I stopped You. I messed them up. I may not be the Almighty, but I sure am pretty mighty. I was mighty enough to thwart the very definition You gave to man, the very being You made him: dominion man. He's no dominion man. He's nothing but a rotting robot. That's it, God, Your great work of art, the capstone of creation, the being who possesses Your very image, is nothing but a breathing robot. Personality? Nonsense. He's a robot. You're right, man can't tie his own shoes; not even Your adopting can change that. I may be going into the lake of fire, but I proved my point. Your second lieutenant, redeemed man, is no more a second lieutenant than some brand-new recruit. And I'm the one who did it to You!"
Christians believe this all too often. Maybe they haven't thought through the implications of their hope in a premature rapture into the clouds, and their hypothetical return in glorified bodies to rule the earth as robot bureaucrats, but they ought to think about it. They have denied the reality of the parables of growth. They have denied the reality of God's dominion assignment. Millions of them explicitly deny their obligation to use God's revealed law as a tool of dominion, or in any other way. Yet they hold out hopes for a promotion. They all want to become officers, but few of them want to attend officers' candidate school. Boot camp, they believe, is just about all they can handle. That's what the generation of the exodus thought, too, and they died in the wilderness. They all died in boot camp, except Joshua and Caleb.
The parables of growth point to a fulfillment of God's plan, in time and on earth. They point to a steady expansion of the leaven of the gospel. They point to an expansion of God's kingdom, in time and on earth, as the leaven makes something edible of the fallen dough of creation. The fallen dough will rise. It takes leaven. It takes kneading. It takes time. But the fallen dough of the cursed creation will rise. God promises this.
Christians still refuse to believe it. When Christ announces the kingdom of God is like unto . . . ;" they reply, "Oh, come on, it couldn't be like that. No, it's really like this . . ." Some Christians substitute a parable of uprooted wheat, which is then replanted, though fully mature, alongside of the still-maturing tares, and alongside of newly planted wheat. Others, who do believe in historical continuity, have rejected this vision of a premature uprooting. But they have no confidence in Christ's earthly leaven, either. They wind up arguing for the triumph of Satan's earthly leaven. Satan's leaven will steadily push out the few remaining traces of Christ's cultural leaven. Only at the final judgment will Christ return in power, instantaneously remove Satan's leaven, and instantly fire up the oven, leaving His earthly leaven, the church, to do its work instantly, raising the dough in the midst of the oven. In other words, their view of the leaven of the church violates the whole analogy, that is, the steady rising of the dough before the oven's final baking.
Both approaches are popular. Whichever of these two substitutions a man accepts, he has abandoned the analogy of the leaven. He has abandoned the principle of godly growth over time. He has abandoned Christ's explicit teaching concerning the true nature of His kingdom. He may deny the continuity of growth (uprooted wheat). He may deny the continuity of victory (Satan's leaven wins). Christ's dominion man must fail, in time and on earth. In the second view, Satan's leaven triumphs, and God doesn't even bother to go through the "breathing robot" stage, with the direct rule of Christ, in Person, through His robots. God just scraps history, wiping out Satan. God redeems the earth in an instant, makes His people into fully redeemed, perfect dominion men, who now can exercise dominion over a fully redeemed creation. The Garden of Eden was a failure as a training camp for dominion; the land of Canaan was equally a failure as a training ground for dominion; and finally, the church of Jesus Christ, the New Jerusalem, winds up an historical failure as a training ground for dominion. Nothing worked, so God will scrap the whole program in an instant and intervene graciously to give us the victory on a platter. Here is a revised version of the parable of the mustard seed: just add instant judgment (since time, God's law, and the ethical subordination of Christ's church to the Master obviously failed, and since the preaching of the gospel failed, and since Christian institutions failed), and presto: an instant mustard tree. So much for continuity!
(After a pretty hard hitting narrative, the author now summarizes the topic.)
What does God expect to accomplish, total victory? Yes. Does He expect to achieve total victory, in time and on earth? No. He doesn't offer total victory to cursed mankind. Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church spells this out in considerable detail. We must be changed, in the twinkling of an eye (I Corinthians 15:52). The final discontinuous event, the ascension of the saints (sometimes called the "rapture") and their instant transformation, brings the final judgment and the creation of a new world, that final oven in which the leaven-filled, risen kingdom is baked. Peter wrote: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (II Peter 3:10-13). The whole earth is going to be burned up, producing a new loaf. The whole earth is subject to that final transformation. This implies that the whole earth shall have been filled with the leaven of the gospel not perfect, but ready for the oven. Then our bodies will be transformed, glorified, for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption" (I Corinthians 15:50). The continuity of history is finally interrupted. This is the end of the world.
But that's the point: it's the end of the whole world. What area of life will avoid this final conflagration? Which part of the leavened dough will be untouched by the blinding heat of the oven? Which part of the loaf will be left unbaked? None of it. The boundaries of God's kingdom are the boundaries of the whole earth. It is the task of every Christian to serve as yeast for a fallen world. It is a task that cannot legitimately be avoided. Can we point to whole portions of the unleavened dough and say: "Well, that's not the responsibility of Christians. The law of God doesn't apply there. The dominion assignment doesn't cover that zone. Satan owns that section, lock, stock, and barrel"?
What does Satan own? Why, the very gates of hell cannot prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). Satan doesn't hold title to anything. He lost title at the cross. Or better put, his lease was cancelled. Jesus announced in the vision given to John: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Rev elation 1:18). Satan is a lawless squatter. The world belongs to God, and He has designated it as our inheritance. But we are told to subdue it, to lease it back from God by demonstrating our commitment to the terms of His peace treaty with us. We conquer by the preaching of the gospel. Our sword is the sword of the gospel. It is still our assignment to subdue the earth, and by the sword of the gospel we will conquer.