The Royal Rule of God is like...

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Frequently in the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus began teaching by saying, "The kingdom of God is like..." Newer translations say, "The kingly rule of God is like..." or "God's imperial rule is like…" What is "the kingdom or kingly rule of God?"

The Greek word translated these different ways refers to the ruler rather than a kingdom with borders. But the word kingdom usually makes us think of England or some other country ruled by a king or queen. When you read the Gospels, try mentally to change the word kingdom to royal rule or some other term that emphasizes the ruler rather than a place.

These parables of the royal rule are about the kind of God that Jesus knew and shared, about the relationships of people, about conflict. As you read these parables, use your imagination to create and color the scene as if you were creating a drama on stage or creating a movie.

How to understand parables
Jesus' parables are as short as one sentence and long enough to create complex situations. They all share one common point: they are pointing beyond themselves to show a single point. Joachim Jeremias in his book exploring the parables called it, in his native German, God's Picturebook (American book title is Parables of Jesus). The parables are "God's picturebook" about the royal rule of the God of Christ.

Parables have sometimes been explained as allegories, which they are not!

  • Allegory details themselves have individual meanings.
  • Parables have one meaning shed by one story that may be a one sentence aphorism or an extended, complex story.

One parable particularly confuses us. After Jesus told the parable of the sower the gospels report he says an allegorical interpretation. Each part of the story has individual meaning — the sower, the seed, each kind of ground. Jesus did not say that! Now read that parable as reported in the Gospel of Thomas (written in the middle of the first century):

"Look, the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered (them). Some fell on the road, and the birds came and gathered them. Others fell on rock, and they didn't take root in the soil, and didn't produce heads of grain. Others fell on thorns, and they choked the seeds and worms ate them. And others fell on good soil, and it produced a good crop: it yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure." (Thomas chapter 9, Scholars Version, in The Five Gospels.)

Is there an extra word needed to paint this picture? Do you "see" a picture that asks one question, has one message: what yield is produced by your efforts to be Jesus' deputy? Visualize it!

Consider one of Jesus' longest parables with a complex story line that is usually called the prodigal son. The whole tale, masterfully told, is in Luke 15.11—32. Here is a quick summary.

It compares two sons. The younger asked his wealthy father for his half of the inheritance, which he wasted. When he realized his father's servants were better off than he was, he went back, asking his father to take him on as a servant. Instead the father threw a feast, saying, "My son who was dead is alive." The obedient elder brother heard the party, came, asked someone who was outside what was going on, and when told was angry. The father came outside to ask the elder to join the party, but the elder could only talk about "this son of yours", not refer to him as his brother.

If we try to find individual meaning in the details as in an allegory, we miss the meaning of the whole masterfully told story. The details contribute to the whole story, so that it comes alive in our imagination. When Jesus finished, we think of those two brothers who are so different, Jesus wants us wondering which brother are we like? Use your imagination!

The context of that parable: Jesus in his ministry welcomed women, tax collectors, prostitutes, and others that the religious called sinners or prodigal. Jesus enjoyed eating with them without regard to Kosher. His opponents separated people into religious and nonreligious. Did he hope that in this parable the "religious" might glimpse themselves in the elder son? How may we be like the elder son!

Is the royal rule future or present?
Jesus' parables about the royal rule of God often seem to point to the future. But Jesus said provocative words about the royal rule that is now, and what makes the royal rule be present:

"But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you." (Luke 11:20)

Jesus says that his healing people is God's royal rule! "God's finger" is doing it, and thus the royal rule of God has come! Could the royal rule of God be here when God's working is shown in what we are doing?

Another place he said:

"The righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'" (Matthew 25:31-46)

When we do these things, the royal rule of God is present — has come among us.

Copyright © 2004 John F. Yeaman