Life-Study of Matthewby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we come to chapter thirteen of Matthew. In order to understand this chapter, we must keep in mind that Matthew is concerned with the doctrine of the kingdom. Whatever is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew is according to the kingdom and according to the history of the kingdom. The sequence of doctrine in this book is according to the history of the kingdom.
We need to remember the main points covered in the first twelve chapters of Matthew. Chapter one covers Christ’s genealogy and birth, and chapter two, the Gentile wise men seeking Christ and worshipping Him, the flight of Christ to Egypt and His return to Israel to be raised in Nazareth. In chapter three we see the recommendation and the anointing; in chapter four, the temptation and the beginning of the King’s ministry to gain the crowds; and in chapters five, six, and seven, the decree of the constitution of the kingdom of the heavens. Chapter eight includes the continuation of the King’s ministry in healing the leper, the centurion’s servant boy, and Peter’s mother-in-law, and the Lord’s authority exercised over the wind, the sea, and the demons. Chapter nine covers the King’s authority exercised in the forgiveness of sin; the calling of Matthew; the feast where the Lord is revealed as the Physician, the Bridegroom, the new cloth, the new wine, and the new wineskin; signs with dispensational significance; and the prayer to send reapers into the harvest. In chapter ten we have the appointment and sending out of the twelve apostles, and in chapter eleven, John’s attempt to stir up the King, the King’s answer and His appraisal of John, His rebuke of the stubborn generation, and the calling of people to come to His rest. Finally, chapter twelve covers the breaking of the Sabbath regulations to show that the Lord is the Head and that He cares for the members of His body, the battle for the kingdom, the climax of the King’s rejection, the prophecy of the generation becoming worse, and the forsaking of the Jewish generation and the turning to the believers.
As the Lord continued His ministry, the establishing of the kingdom was accomplished to a certain degree. However, because the Jewish generation utterly rejected the Lord, He was forced to turn from them to His believers. This was a serious move, the turn from Israel to the Gentiles, the turn from the relationship according to natural birth to the relationship in the Spirit. Therefore, the end of chapter twelve marks a division in the Gospel of Matthew.
As we have seen, chapters five, six, and seven reveal the inward reality of the kingdom. We have pointed out that this constitution is divided into seven sections: the nature of the kingdom people (5:1-12); the influence of the kingdom people upon the world (5:13-16); the law of the kingdom people (5:17-48); the righteous deeds of the kingdom people (6:1-18); the dealing of the kingdom people with riches (6:19-34); the principle of the kingdom people in dealing with others (7:1-12); and the ground of the kingdom people’s living and work (7:13-29). In these seven sections we see the heavenly and spiritual reality of the kingdom. This is not behavior or mere outward living; it is the kingdom of the heavens in reality. What is mainly revealed in chapter thirteen is the outward appearance of the kingdom of the heavens. The inward reality is one thing, and the outward appearance is another.
Throughout history, only a handful of Christians has seen this matter of the difference between the inward reality and the outward appearance of the kingdom. It was seen by Robert Govett and his student, D. M. Panton. G. H. Lang, a teacher among the Brethren, also saw this matter to some degree, but he did not see it as accurately and clearly as Govett and Panton. We have received considerable help from the writings of Govett and Panton. But we thank the Lord that He has led us on in this matter. We have seen the kingdom of the heavens in more detail and in greater depth. I can testify that especially during the past fifteen years this matter has become very clear to me. In 1936 I put out my first writing on this subject. During the more than forty years since the publication of that little book, I have become more and more clear regarding the kingdom of the heavens.
The basic point concerning the kingdom is the need to differentiate between the inward reality of the kingdom and the outward appearance of the kingdom. If you do not differentiate between these two things, you will not be able to understand this book concerning the kingdom of the heavens.
In addition to the section on the reality of the kingdom, chapters five through seven, and the section on the outward appearance of the kingdom, chapter thirteen, there is a third section equally crucial in understanding the kingdom of the heavens: the Lord’s prophecy given on the Mount of Olives recorded in chapter twenty-four. The reality of the kingdom was revealed on a mountain, the appearance of the kingdom was revealed by the seashore, and the manifestation of the kingdom was spoken of in prophecy also from a mountain. The mountain on which the reality of the kingdom was revealed was not in the region of the administrative center of the government, but in the region related to earning a living, because the reality is intimately related to our daily life. It is not a matter of administration or government.
The geographic features of the land in Israel are significant. The governmental center is in the hill country in the middle of the holy land. At the top of the hill country and in its center is Jerusalem, the capital. In this region the king exercises his administration. To both the north and the south are two regions for farming, for earning a living. The last time we went there I saw this matter clearly. Beersheba, which is in the south, is full of wheat and barley, indicating that is a rich land for farming. The land north of Jerusalem, rather close to Samaria, is a rich, green plain. This also is farming country where people may make a living. In the middle of these two regions is the governmental administration. We have pointed out that the reality of the kingdom was revealed not in the administrative region, but in the region of living. However, it was revealed on a mountain. The manifestation of the kingdom was prophesied on a mountain in the administrative region near the capital. This is meaningful, for the manifestation is related to administration, to government. Do not consider this matter as having no significance. The Lord Jesus deliberately went to these places to speak of the reality, the appearance, and the manifestation of the kingdom. If you are impressed with these three aspects of the kingdom, you will understand the Gospel of Matthew.
Thank the Lord that we have seen the reality of the kingdom. Now we must see the appearance of the kingdom. In chapters five, six, and seven there is no falsehood; everything is pure, genuine, heavenly, spiritual, and, to a certain extent, divine. In these chapters we see the nature of the kingdom people and the influence they exert upon the world. They are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We also see the uplifted law of the kingdom people and the righteous deeds of the kingdom people. These deeds are pure, genuine, and real, performed in secret without any outward show. Furthermore, we see the attitude of the kingdom people toward material wealth and the fact that they have no anxiety regarding riches. Finally, we see the principle of the kingdom people in dealing with others and the ground of their living and work. In this section regarding the reality of the kingdom everything is real, pure, spiritual, and heavenly.
The situation in chapter thirteen, the chapter concerned with the appearance of the kingdom, is altogether different. In this chapter we have the tares (vv. 25-30) and a great tree which is no longer according to its kind (vv. 31-32). In Genesis 1 God created everything, especially the plants and vegetables, according to its nature. For example, a peach is according to the peach nature, and a banana is according to the banana nature. But in Matthew 13 a mustard seed becomes a great tree. This indicates that it changes its nature, that it is no longer according to its nature. Therefore, in this chapter we see something of a façade, an appearance without reality. Along with the tares and the façade, there is also leaven (v. 33). All these things, found in the appearance of the kingdom, cause the appearance of the kingdom to be a mixture.
It is easy to see this mixture in today’s Christendom. Today’s Christendom exactly matches the portrait in Matthew 13 of the outward appearance of the kingdom of the heavens. In Christendom there are millions of tares, a great façade, and corrupting leaven. However, none of these things is found in chapters five, six, and seven, where everything is real, pure, spiritual, and heavenly. But what a mixture we see in chapter thirteen!
When we come to chapter twenty-four concerning the manifestation of the kingdom, we shall see that the manifestation is even more strict than the reality, just as the period of examination is a stricter time than that during the regular course of study. The students work diligently during the week in the reality of their schooling, but they may play, go dancing, or attend the movies during the weekend. That is like the appearance of the kingdom. The students should not be so happy and joyful, for they must consider the coming examinations. Furthermore, they must think of graduation, which will be the time of manifestation. By these three things—reality, appearance, and manifestation—we are able to understand the book of Matthew.
At the end of chapter twelve Israel was cut off and the Gentiles were grafted in. At this point certain teachers, including Dr. Scofield, have made a great mistake. They say that after chapter twelve, due to the unbelief of Israel, the kingdom had been suspended. They do not see that, instead of being suspended, the kingdom was given over to another people. The Lord did not say, “From now on, I have no brothers, sisters, or mother.” If He had said this, then the kingdom would have been suspended. What the Lord did was turn from one people to another. The Lord seemed to be saying, “The ones who do the will of My Father, who are born of My Father and live by His life, they are my brother, and sister, and mother.” Hence, the kingdom has not been suspended. Rather, it has been shifted from one people to another.
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