Church, Ecclesiology (Church), Theology

A Field to Be Harvested

You quite literally can’t read the Hebrew Scriptures without encountering harvests of every size, shape and color. Since Palestine was a highly agrarian region for most of its history, harvests loom large. They define offerings and sacred holidays in the Torah. The barley and wheat harvests in particular defined the rhythms of life and even theology, as we see in the book of Ruth. In the prophets, harvests of all types are used as anchor points – both for blessings and curses.

It should not surprise us then that Jesus uses this kind of language when describing the Kingdom of God.

A Sidebar About the Kingdom of God

I should pause for a moment and explain the terms kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven because they often get garbled. When these terms appear in the Scriptures, they are not talking about some pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by place where we go when we die. They refer very directly to Jesus himself. John said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” and then baptized Jesus. When Jesus himself speaks of the kingdom of God or heaven, he does not speak about somewhere you go. If you watch what he says, it becomes pretty obvious that he is speaking about himself. In particular, read Matthew 13 where Jesus uses five metaphors to describe the kingdom:

  • “A grain of mustard seed” (v 31) – in other words, it is present now and will grow into something larger
  • “Leaven hidden in flour” (v 33) – you can’t see it, but it will transform everything
  • “Treasure hidden in a field” (v 44) – soon it will be uncovered, but it is already there
  • “A merchant in search of pearls” (v 45) – it is something others must find
  • “A net thrown in the sea” (v 47) – the fish aren’t caught yet, but they will be

Jesus makes it clear in the first three illustrations that the Kingdom is right in front of his hearers. And the last two illustrate the universal nature of what he is about to do.

That being said, it is important to remember that we are Jesus’ body, as the church, (a metaphor I will get to) and as such, we are the Kingdom. This is the great mystery of the church that Paul writes about in Ephesians 5. Somehow the Kingdom is Jesus, and we are His body, so the Kingdom is us.

We Are a Field to Be Harvested

Jesus makes it plain that the field of mankind is ripe and we are in the season of harvest (Matthew 9, Mark 4:29, Luke 10:2, John 4:35). He calls us to be laborers in these fields, even as he calls us the harvest itself. He also notes that the field will have weeds, which will ultimately be destroyed but must grow among us for the time being (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).

The feast of Pentecost (Acts 2) was the celebration of the first harvest of winter barley. It was not accidental that God chose that day to fill the Church with the Holy Spirit, making it alive and active as Jesus’ body. It is a harvest that will include all nations (Romans 1:13).

James also warns about trying to harvest what is not our own (James 5:4), echoing Jesus’ parables of the unjust husbandmen who tried to claim the harvest for themselves (Matthew 21).

The motif of harvest can hardly be avoided. Today, we tend to downplay such things as unimportant or as simply metaphors, but in Jesus’ day this was as real and practical a way of describing the church as you could get.

6 thoughts on “A Field to Be Harvested”

  1. I don’t know that I would identify Jesus as “the Kingdom” so much as the King who is bringing forth the restoration of that Kingdom in the midst of God’s creation.

    The understanding of the Kingdom of God long precedes the New Testament, beginning in Genesis 1. To an ancient mind, one of the central ideas conveyed in this creation account was God bringing order out of chaos. This order established His kingdom. As His final creative act, He created humanity as reflections of His glory (“…let us make man in our image…”) with the functional purpose of serving as vice regents – that is, we govern in His kingdom under His will with the authority that He delegated (“…have dominion…”). In proper order, all creation was identified as being good, and the final result as being “very good”. Thus, having completed this, God rests from His creative work and settles in to begin reigning over the seventh day.

    Of course, in Genesis 3 this shifts. The temptation that we could “be as God” was fundamentally a move towards our own autonomy. That is, we sought to become our own kings in establishing our own little kingdoms. Thus, we welcomed evil into the world (everything was already created “good”, but the temptation sought the knowledge of good AND evil), which usurped the created order.

    Jesus, then, heralded the coming of God’s kingdom in the restoration of the world. This began with Jesus himself, but also delegated to work through His disciples, and carried forward today by us as His body. Thus, our identity as His body is a functional designation, connected to the idea of being the image of God in the world, for the transformation of creation and restoration of the created order, the “goodness”, which is found in the restoration of the fullness of God’s kingdom.

    1. Jesus’ statements of “the kingdom of God is like…” point over and over not to a kingdom over which he rules but rather his own work of redemption. Don’t let medieval views of kings and kingdoms tweak what Jesus was saying. Just as Caesar was the empire (you can’t have an imperium without an imperator), Jesus is the kingdom of God. He is its identity and its reality.

  2. Keep in mind that kings and kingdoms did not originate in the medieval period, but long before that. In fact, kingdoms predate Judaism entirely. Melchizedek was king of Salem (from where we get the name Jeru-Salem), to whom Abraham made tithe. Pharaoh was king (and god) of Egypt. The Pentateuch was written after the Exodus, unless you appeal to redaction criticism which gives an even later date. Initially, God served as king over Israel as a theocracy, before Israel appealed for a human king which became Saul. By the time of Jesus, the Jews were hoping for the coming messiah, who was to be a king from the line of David. Jesus was that messiah. Jesus was that king, and by His own words, His kingdom was not of this world.

    You are absolutely correct in pointing out that Jesus discussions of the kingdom point to redemption. However, it seemes to me that everything Jesus says about the kingdom points to redemption precisely BECAUSE the redemption of creation is synonymous with the restoration of that kingdom. As creation, all of creation, is restored to proper order under the authority of the kingship of God, redemption is made manifest.

    I have to believe that our understanding of God’s kingdom needs to be understand by the discussion of God’s kingdom in the Old Testament and the epistles just as much as the gospels. From that view, we begin to see the kingdom as an expression of God’s desired goodness and order (Genesis 1, 2); we see Jesus as redeemer of creation who now reigns from the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1); and we see God’s people as a kingdom of priests who are called to be participants in the continued manifestation of kingdom of God and restoration of the world (Exodus 19; 1 Peter 2), just as we see hoped for in Jesus’ own prayer that the kingdom would come “on earth as it is in heaven”.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong on these counts, but it seems to me that this understanding better represents the themes of God’s kingdom as represented throughout the entirety of Scripture, and speaks to us with significant theological depth.

    1. You’re entitled to your position, of course. I don’t see the Kingdom as equal to the creation of Genesis 1, nor do I see Jesus primarily as King. It is God the Father who sits on the thrones of the Revelation, not Jesus; Jesus as Son and Messiah brings in the Kingdom, but he is not the king of it. I think this is evident in his teachings throughout the Gospels.

      As to the matter of kingdoms, I am fully aware of the history of monarchy, but I would be cautious in making blanket statements as if all monarchies and kings are equitable. The Hebrew concept of MLK (translated as “king”), the Egyptian PR-AA and the Greek basileus all had unique meanings and they are not interchangeable, especially once the Greek idea was transferred to the Roman world where the basileia was not a kingdom but a “republic” ruled by an imperator.

      Our concept of a kingdom is heavily influenced by European models, which were very different from the ancient forms represented by Hebrew and Egyptian. These in turn were very different from the Greek view, which heavily influenced imperial Rome – although the Romans would have said it did not (even though Octavius was happy to have the title basileus in the east, as long as it was translated as “ruler” when it was translated into Latin.

  3. I appreciate that. I am aware enough of the sheer immensity of God to know that my theology is inherently inadequate, and most certainly flawed. I imagine that one day I will sit before Jesus and we will laugh at some of the things I once believed. I honor and respect your perspective, even while differing with it myself. To be honest, I am just very much enjoying the conversation, and hopefully allowing myself to be stretched as we converse theologically.

    The interpretation of Genesis 1 is in light of the ancient world’s cultural lens, out of which much of that text was written and thus has embedded nuances. Two powerful themes which would have stood out to an ancient mind are 1) the development of order out of chaos and 2) God resting on the seventh day. The idea of a deity “resting”, to an ancient mind, was of a deity returning to “business as usual” and ruling out of that deity’s temple. The confluence of these two themes – that is, a created order ruled by divinity – conveys to me the idea of kingdom and king. Two fantastic scholarly works that deal with the Old Testament and the ancient world’s perspective are “The Lost World of Genesis One” and “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament”, both by John Walton.

    As to the linguistic analysis, I think we can anchor on the Hebrew MLK. Exodus refers to Pharaoh as king using this nuance, and the prophetic role of the coming messiah of the line of David looks backwards to this Hebrew nuance. MLK is, of course, a word stem that carries the connotation of “reign”. The various forms of that stem shape the nuance accordingly, but the idea is typically still centered around the idea of reigning. The king is one who reigns. If Jesus was messiah, then he was that prophesied king. Of course, He reshaped our expectation of an earthly king when He stood before Pilate, declaring that His kingdom is not of this world. And while we see the Father on the throne in Revelation, the tattoo on Jesus’ thigh in that same book declares Jesus to be “King of kings and Lord of lords”. Scot McKnight, the NT professor at (I believe) Boston University, recently released an excellent book on this topic entitled “The King Jesus Gospel”. A definite must-read.

    If I may ask, seeing Jesus as messiah (which means anointed one) has connotations connected to the three anointed ministries throughout the OT – that is, prophet, priest, and king. If you do not identify Jesus in terms of being king, how do you understand the three-fold ministry of Jesus?

    1. Generally speaking, I don’t use it. I have no problem with Jesus fulfilling those three roles, but I think it is inadequate to limit him as if he was consciously fulfilling them. It was more that early church writers, like the author of Hebrews, drew the parallels. Jesus did not make them himself – leaving it for the apostles and early faith community for them to understand them.

      I view Jesus’ method of teaching as very open-ended. He gives the apostles authority to teach because it took the church, working cooperatively under the apostles’ witness, to begin to grasp what was going on.

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