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.