The Old Testament ends with the major prophecies concerning Israel and their Messiah, and the rest of the world unfulfilled.
The New Testament introduced a new order. Much of it was anticipated in the Old Testament but much also was revealed that had been hidden.
Jesus is born as king of the Jews - King of Israel. The Gospel of Matthew shows His credentials as in the line of David, of the seed of Abraham. And proceeds to record the teachings, the miracles, of Jesus and that they were rejected and Christ was accused of doing them by the power of Satan.
Christ pronounces judgment upon that generation for their unbelief in the face of greater signs and wonders and power from God than any people had ever witnessed.
His message turns from His Messiahship as seen in Matthew 11:28-30.
In Matthew 13, the final rejection is anticipated and the period of time between His first and Second Coming is prophesied.
Matthew 16:16 reveals a new divine purpose - a new assembly was to be formed on spiritual lines - without racial or political considerations. Those who, like Peter, confessed Jesus Christ as the Son of God were to make it up.
Only after Jesus had died and resurrected and the Holy Spirit had come, could the church actually begin. This happened at Pentecost. The body of believers from then on was known as the church.
Two major things distinguished it: 1.) The public testimony as a body of professed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. 2.) The spiritual body of Christ which included all true believers.
Prophecy about the church age follows these two lines - the outward, organized church, and the true church, the body of Christ.
In Matthew 13 and other scriptures (Matthew 24; I Timothy 4; II Timothy 2,3; Revelation 17) describe the trend toward apostasy which will climax in the great tribulation. The true church will be translated before the professing church comes to its end.
In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a series of parables to unfold the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. This term "kingdom of heaven" seems to include those who profess Christ as well as those truly regenerated. These parables are a revelation of the stages of the professing church in the period between the first and second coming of Christ.
They are called mysteries to describe truth revealed in the New Testament that was hidden from view in the Old Testament revelation.
The present age shows the King’s absence, and the rule of His subjects by invisible and spiritual means only.
The first two parables are interpreted by Jesus Himself. This allows us to understand the others.
The first parable - of the sower - shows the good news as being received in various ways. The hard ground is totally unreceptive and the birds carry away the seed. Other falls on shallow soil where no root grows.
Two classes of believers receive the Word with same effect. One receives but becomes unfruitful because of the "cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches" (Matthew 13:22). The good soil receives and brings forth fruit - 30-,60-,100-fold.
This presents us with a picture of the present age. From Christ’s day to this only a few of the millions of people who have lived, received the Gospel. We can all witness to the fact that the good ground that brings forth 30-,60-,100-fold is rare. Only a fraction of those who hear the Gospel will come to Christ.
The 2nd parable about the wheat and tares uses a different example to show a similar idea. The seed here is the believer himself. Along with the wheat, "tares" are sown, which represent imitation wheat that grows with the good wheat until harvest. The tares bear no fruit and at the harvest, the tares are separated and burned. The wheat is gathered into the barn. This shows the false-professing Christians as mixed in with the true-believers until Christ comes.
The other parables give further elements about the progress of the present age. Matthew 13:31,32 - The mustard seed represents the tremendous growth of the professing church from a small beginning (as a mustard seed) to its present proportions. A further detail is added - birds of the air (as in the sower parable) represent evil ones, satan and those he controls. Here they lodge in the branches. We are witnesses that churches today allow almost anything.
The 4th. Matthew 13:33-35. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
Fermented dough was added to new dough so as to ferment it also. The usual use of leaven in Scripture uses it to represent evil, as the yeast decomposes the dough.
In the Passover, unleavened bread had to be used to be pure.
In the New Testament, leaven is used to represent worldliness, hypocrisy, and corrupted doctrine. The professing church has all of these things today. The evil represented in this parable as leaven will increase and the professing church will eventually be drowned by it.
The 5th parable. Matthew 13:44. A treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field."
The sixth has often been linked with the fifth - "the pearl of great price". Some have interpreted the treasure and the pearl as Christ and the man who finds the treasure and the pearl would then be the believer. This goes against the truth - Christ is not for sale and the believer has nothing with which to buy Christ.
Much better is the way they show two aspects of Jesus’ sacrificial death. In the former, He redeems Israel, signified by the treasure hid in the field. In the latter, He redeems the church, signified by the pearl of great price. Israel’s true importance is largely hidden in the world - yet it is a treasure hidden in the eyes of God (Exodus 19:5; Psalms 135:4). Christ in His death actually bought the whole world (the field) and at the same time, redeemed Israel, the hidden treasure.
Just as a pearl grows as a result of an irritation in the side of an oyster, so the church symbolically came into being by the wounds of Christ and is a precious jewel for which Jesus gave all He had.
The last parable, of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) - every kind was gathered, drawn to shore, the good put into vessels, the bad cast away. "So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
The separation of good from bad fish symbolizes the future judgment at the second coming of Christ - the righteous will enter the millennial kingdom - the wicked will be cast into the furnace of fire.
Similar with wheat and tares is the intermingling of good and bad fish - showing the church as having merely professing believers among the true - to be separated at the end of the age.
This describes the present age when God is longsuffering, and withholding judgment until the consummation of the age.
These 7 parables together reveal the general characteristics of the present age.
1.) The proclaimed Gospel will only be received by a few.
2.) The saved and those who merely profess salvation will be mixed together.
3.) The professing church would grow into a great worldwide organization.
4.) This worldwide church would have many evils within it.
5.) Christ’s love for Israel and the true church will continue to be experienced.
6.) The present age will lead to divine judgment when the saved will be separated from the unsaved.
Many other prophetic Scriptures deal with the turning away of the church from the truth. The end of the age is to be characterized by apostasy (Matthew 24:4-26; II Thessalonians 2:1-12; I Timothy 4:1-3; II Timothy 3:1-9; 4:,34; II Peter 2:1-3:18; Jude 3-19; Revelation 3:14-16; 6:1-19:21).
Three stages are shown:
1.) The organized church will go away from the foundational doctrines and morals of the Bible during the last days of the true church on earth (the rapture).
2.) In the time immediately following the rapture, the apostasy will be throughout the professing church.
3.) When the worship of the beast is instituted, the professing church as such will be destroyed.
As we look around us at what is happening among the churches that profess Christ, we see so many things that the Bible clearly teaches as sin against God. We hear doctrines that deny just about everything that makes Jesus Who He is.
But we are not to become discouraged - but recognize these as symptoms prophesied about the end of the age - every day closer to the coming of Jesus. We must stand and witness - that those few who will, are given the Good News and receive Jesus as Savior. We must realize that things aren’t going to get better, but worse, and it will be harder to live the life of faith. Many temptations, distractions, and excuses will rob many of bearing fruit.
If the Lord asks and He is asking "Who will stand for Me and witness to the truth of My Gospel among this perverse generation?", be one who says in his heart, "Me, Lord." He promises to give us the strength, guidance, and even the words to witness for Him.
Revelation 22:20. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
This article was written by my father T.O.D. Johnston, who was licensed to preach the Gospel by Paran Baptist Church on May 26, 1979. He has been a student of Scripture since 1972. View more lessons at his Bible Study Lessons page.