During His earthly ministry, Jesus told fifty or more parables, depending how you categorize the Lord’s teaching. Of these at least eighteen are kingdom-related. When I use the term “kingdom-related,” I am saying that Christ directly tied the teaching of the parable to the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. I will make no attempt in this work to distinguish between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. If you see a distinction, I will take no issue with you on this point. But either way, any parable that is kingdom-related teaches us an important concept that we must grasp and or act upon.
This book is not intended to be an exhaustive work that details all the Lord’s parables. I will treat only those that are related directly to the kingdom. What distinguishes the kingdom parables from the other teachings of our Lord is the words of our Lord Himself. Jesus always announced that a kingdom concept was being communicated when this was the case. Apparently, Jesus felt that the message being conveyed was important enough to delineate the kingdom parables from all others. We should take note of this distinction and treat the message of the parable with careful consideration.
The Historic Christ versus the Plastic Jesus
Before we embark on this journey through the kingdom parables, I need to address an important topic about the nature of the Lord Jesus. As we dig into these kingdom parables we will be navigating through troubled waters – philosophically, theologically, and sociologically. In addition to what is at times the challenging nature of the topics being considered in the parables, one must also maneuver past another issue that hinders understanding and obscures reality. That issue is the fabrication of those who like to read into the person of Christ their own slant in the areas of philosophy, sociology, and even theology. The resulting fabrication is a “plastic Jesus” that in many important ways does not resemble the historic Christ of the Holy Scriptures, or the living Savior that millions of devout believers relate to daily. This fabricated version of Jesus has been scrubbed so that all views, doctrines, and words that do not agree with current politically correct thinking have been explained, removed, and even changed. This makes for a version of Christ that is less offensive and easier for popular culture to accept.
The problem is that culture always changes, but the ever-living Savior does not (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). When the teaching of the Christ of the Bible is compared to the plastic Jesus, the two versions of the Savior clash. The Jesus portrayed by liberal theology is at odds with reality on many issues and causes held dear in popular culture. An honest examination of the teaching of our Lord reveals a very different picture than what is painted by those who espouse liberal theology and progressive causes.
Why is it so important for Christian ministers to stay focused on the message of Christ and to remain true to the historical Christ? Because the message of Christ is the essence of true Christianity and the person of Christ is the authoritative foundation that this message is presented from. When Christian ministers do not remain true to the message and person of Christ, Christianity becomes a tool to promote whatever cause of the day the minister espouses. The Savior who is “the way, the truth, and the life” becomes just another source that is quoted, and the message of personal salvation becomes subrogated by a message of “social consciousness.” The message of salvation that is the essence of Christ’s ministry must never be relegated to another point in a long list of activist causes that the Church promotes. Society becomes confused when the ideas and ideology of a politically active clergy is put into the mouth of Jesus.
Please forgive my frank description of this practice. I do not mean to be offensive but must clearly express what is a real threat to historic Christianity and the Christ revealed in Scripture. If every word the Savior spoke is run through a politically correct filter, the meaning of Christ’s teaching is obscured by one’s philosophical views.
“But everyone has a philosophical filter,” someone might say. That is certainly a valid point. A sincere search for truth, however, requires one to make his or her best attempt to set aside preconceptions and earnestly examine the facts. Since this is not an apologetic work in the true sense, no attempt will be made to defend the validity of the Holy Bible. It is assumed that I have common ground with the reader concerning faith in the inerrancy of God’s Word. We will proceed from that premise. A sincere examination of the kingdom concepts reveals a different Christ from the politically correct version that is being mass-marketed to those who do not know the historic and scriptural Christ.
Jesus, the Classic Rebel?
Much has been made of Jesus as the classic rebel and champion of progressive causes. “What Would Jesus Do” has become the mantra of trendy causes including everything from social justice to environmental concerns. This has happened as conservative churchmen have been content to sit on the sidelines and allow politically astute and socially active liberals to in effect hijack the person of Christ. Few are truly against “social justice,” but what these words mean depends on who is using the term. Words communicate ideas. Whoever defines the words controls the discussion. Liberal theology has likewise re-characterized the Christ of history. Through their mass-marketing and rebranding attempts, there emerges a fabrication that in no way resembles the historic character and divine nature of the Savior that many generations of Christians have known and embraced. The teachings of the real Jesus are changed and refined to fit within the very narrow and constrained thinking that is the essence of the liberal worldview. The reality of Christ as He is known by many and revealed through the divinely inspired record has been rearranged to conform to the predispositions of the politically correct crowd. When the veil of political correctness is taken away from this fictitious caricature, what is revealed is merely a puppet that has been used by a generation of unbelievers to project a voice of moral authority to their tired ideology.
There are many examples of this practice. What has been called the Christian Left advocates for causes such as social justice, universal health care, and various welfare programs and uses Christ’s Sermon on the Mount as the moral authority for their political views. They favor using the power of taxation and regulation to promote a more “equitable” society. The question is, who gets to decide what is equitable and what social justice looks like? The World Council of Churches subscribes to the social gospel, advocating for an “Economy of Life” instead of an “economy of greed” as represented by the capitalist economic order that “depends on as well as legitimates and institutionalizes greed.” Another social reform movement of this sort is Christian Socialism. This is a pro-socialism movement that finds support for socialism and the mass redistribution of wealth in the Gospel. Former General Secretary of the Communist Party and leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhael Gorbachev referred to Christ as “the first socialist.” Socialism teaches that capitalism is evil and based on greed. These movements have each chosen to identify their ideology with the Gospel by using the word “Christian” in their name. The list of progressive causes that appeal to Christianity to further their social agenda is almost endless and includes everything from open borders to same sex marriage and environmental concerns.
As I write this and embark on this journey to explore the teachings of the historical Christ of Scripture, I realize that there will be much room for disagreement even with other Christians of a conservative variety. My purpose is clearly stated and I intend to be quite candid and transparent. Yes, there is room for disagreement on this topic, but many fundamental Christians are tired of the image of our Lord and Savior that is being presented to others who do not know the Lord Jesus as we do. If you are not thoroughly convinced of my thesis after reading this work, hopefully you will not be so gullible as to receive the image of Jesus that is presented by those who only wish to wrap their own views in the cloak of divine authority.
Jesus’ Message Was to Individuals
The Jesus of the Bible did not attack His generation because their society was entirely corrupt; He addressed the corruption of individual hearts. The Jesus of the Bible did not attempt to implement a new social order and redistribute wealth; He spoke to the evils of individual greed including covetousness and envy. The Jesus of the Bible did not attack the religious institutions that were the foundation of righteous living and based on divine revelation; He attacked those who supported the despicable practice of privilege without responsibility. The Jesus of the Bible was not bent on forcing everyone to conform to His ideals; He taught the way of salvation and allowed men to decide if they desired to pursue it.
At the beginning of His ministry, the message was simple: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). This was His message. Notice it is not addressed to governments or to the social structure. The message was addressed to individuals. There is no such thing as national repentance. A nation finds God only as individuals within a society accept their individual responsibility to conform their actions to God’s standards. Applying Christ’s message to society and the government at large is beyond the scope of evangelism. Evangelism must be personal, or it ceases to be evangelism. Of course, it is the Church’s responsibility to lobby in the arena of public opinion, but society will change only as individuals within society change. Morality cannot be legislated, but rather a society’s morality will be displayed in their legislation and by that which is accepted within that society.
This is not to say that Christians should abstain from the political process or that society has no responsibility to reflect its moral position in the conduct that is accepted within that society. Certainly it does. Every society also has a responsibility to protect the weakest and most vulnerable among them. However, the command to repent and be reconciled to God is an individual mandate. Enforcing my view of what is good and godly behavior upon another individual is not something believers should be involved in. Also, institutionalizing “good deeds” in the name of religion smacks of totalitarianism and is distasteful for most who embrace individual liberty and responsibility.
But this is exactly what the social gospel is about. It minimizes personal responsibility while applying the moral message of Christianity to society. This hybrid gospel misses the mark the Lord set and is completely off message. When so much emphasis is placed on reforming society, the individual is released from the convicting power of the message of sin and redemption.
The plastic Jesus is often invoked by those desiring to institutionalize their views on everything from charity to tolerance. Nothing prevents them from being charitable as individuals, but their brand of charity must be enforced on others. As individuals, what they tolerate is a matter of personal choice, but they must enforce acceptance (not just tolerance) of alternative lifestyles and views on others. The plastic Jesus is used as a tool to leverage these ideas and force them on others. However, the historic Christ preached a message of individual responsibility. The historic Christ set His sights on transforming individuals, not reforming society. Somehow this concept is lost by many attempting to reshape culture to suit their views. It is their prerogative to attempt to do so, but reshaping Christ also and then using this phony caricature as a tool is going beyond the pale. It is not only ridiculous but also offensive to those who know the eternal Savior!
Likewise, the desire to silence the proclamation of an opposing worldview on the basis of perceived moral superiority is not in keeping with the spirit of Christianity. This is the basis of what is unfortunately labeled “hate speech.” The speech itself might not be hateful, but it might simply contain ideas that another hates. It is much easier to fling a socially charged label on the speech and speaker than to deal with the ideas being expressed. Silencing opposing views rather than debating ideas is as old as the Book that tells Christ’s story. In fact, this was the approach those opposed to Christ’s teaching took against the Savior. They called Jesus everything from a lunatic to a drunkard in an attempt to silence His voice. Thankfully they were unable to do so. And so since the voice of Christ could not be silenced, the next tactic was to change the message of Christ.
Christian Ministers Must Stay on Message
In the early days of Christianity, the Apostle Paul was inspired by God to address the pressure being brought to change the gospel message. The pastoral epistles are letters written by Paul to other members of his ministerial team. These epistles give direction and guidance to those involved in Christian ministry. When writing to his protégé, Timothy, Paul mentions the pressure to allow the Christian message to morph into a “social gospel.” Rather than crusade against the many social evils of the day, Paul warned Timothy to stay on message.
“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2 Tim. 4:1-4
Paul warns that the time will come when society and even some on the edges of the faith will not tolerate sound doctrine. Rather they will insist that someone speak to them a message more acceptable to their tastes. The saying is, “Tickle my ears; tell me what I want to hear.” Whether the fable desired is about pagan mythology or the myth of a utopic society, the man of God must resist the urge to give the people what they desire. God knows what mankind needs, and it is not always what men desire.
Why this stern warning against using Christianity as a tool to promote a social agenda, no matter how just the cause might be? It is because the gospel message is not designed to reform society but to transform individuals. Only as individuals are transformed by the power of the cross will Christianity impact the world at large. If the message that Christian ministers and the Church proclaims is changed to a social message, the power of the cross to effect change has been nullified!
So much of what is associated with the gospel of Jesus Christ today does not belong. The world has not changed that much since the New Testament days. Believers must be careful to stay on message and not allow others to change the gospel message into a commercial for their pet causes.
To do this the people of God must flee some things, follow some things, and fight for some things. God’s people must:
- Flee the invasion of humanistic philosophy and the melding of a feel-good message into the gospel.
- Follow after the core values and principles contained in the unadulterated gospel message.
- Fight the good fight to maintain faith in the God who permeates the true gospel.
“But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” 1 Tim. 6:11-12
The attempt to de-spiritualize the gospel and turn it into a vehicle for social change is as old as the gospel itself. Perhaps this was the motivation behind a certain zealot named Judas Iscariot. When he finally accepted the fact that the gospel Christ taught was not intended to put down the Roman kingdom and set up a physical kingdom of God that was more just, he betrayed the Lord. There are those who are more committed to their cause than they are committed to the Savior. When they understand that Jesus is the only cause, they have been known to betray the Lord in anger and frustration.
The example of Judas Iscariot’s commitment to a cause instead of being committed to the Savior finds a stark contrast in the experience of Simon Peter. Sixteen years after Peter preached the first Christian sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the Church was still exclusively Jewish. Peter boldly proclaimed that God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:17). Yet, because of racial prejudice, what God intended to be a universal experience bringing all of mankind into a universal Church was isolated to the Jewish community. Finally, because of his commitment to the Lord, God was able to get through to Peter and help him overcome his prejudice (Acts 10:9-20). Peter was committed to following the Lord, even though he misunderstood the cause. It was because of that commitment and relationship that the Lord was able to steer Peter and correct his course. Christianity is about commitment to a person, not a cause. We can relate to a person, but we cannot have a relationship with a cause. Unfortunately, many become more committed to a cause and as a result their relationship with Christ takes a back seat.
Perhaps an example from my own religious heritage will help to illustrate this important point. When the Pentecostal movement in North America began in the early twentieth century, the United States was a racially segregated nation. In the deep south, Jim Crow laws prevented blacks and whites from mixing. However, contrary to the rest of society, the Pentecostal movement was integrated from its inception. Blacks held many positions of leadership and all races were welcome in worship and fellowship. Racism did exist in the ranks, as it always does, but this was not a part of the church culture. Rather than launch a campaign to eradicate racism and change unjust laws, the church leadership chose to continue to emphasize evangelism and the message of redemption. Today, the ministerial fellowship of which I am a part continues to emphasize God’s plan of redemption with the result being a great revival in North America and with many times more constituent members on foreign soil. I am thankful that my ministerial forbearers chose to be a Jesus name movement rather than a civil rights movement. Yes, it is possible to do both, but it is impossible to do both very well. The Church must stay on message!
Genuine Christians must remain firm in their commitment to the God of the true gospel. Our commitment is to a person and not a cause. Causes have been misunderstood, manipulated, hijacked, and perverted. But a living and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ can change the individual. And as individuals change they can change the world around them.
I point this out so that you can gain a better understanding of where we are in history. I would like to make you aware how the Gospel message has evolved in many circles. The basic message of Christianity according to many has morphed into something other than the message of sin and redemption. The word “sin” has come to mean something such as social injustice, intolerance, or greed. The word “redemption” is understood to mean social reform, equality, or acceptance. These word associations are merely the latest examples of how men for centuries have used the gospel to promote their own agendas.
What we read in the pastoral epistles of Paul is the need for the ministry, as well as Christian believers, to stay on message. The advice from Paul to Timothy is just as needed today as it was almost two thousand years ago. Let’s examine the myth of social justice as it relates to the Gospel message.
The Myth of “Social Justice”
The real danger of the social gospel is that it cheapens the soul-saving, life-transforming power of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus came to transform man’s heart; He did not come to earth to bring a social or political revolution. He came to bring liberty to those who were in bondage to sin; His purpose was not to abolish slavery. He came to enrich the poor in spirit with the gift of eternal life; He did not come to put a chicken in every pot and a cell phone in every pocket. He came to satisfy those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; He did not come to eliminate hunger. He pronounced a blessing upon those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake and promised them the kingdom of heaven; He did not say that those persecuted should be paid reparations and given the keys to the palace.
Those who preach the social gospel miss the very purpose of the incarnation. Jesus came to transform men. Those who preach the social gospel use the New Testament as a tool to proclaim radical changes in man’s societal makeup. However, these changes cannot be sustained without first effecting an inward transformation in the individuals who makeup society. Jesus did not say you must support social equality and live at peace with your environment. He said you must be born again. Those who become caught up in preaching this social mumbo-jumbo do-good message have ignored the purpose and power of the cross. The preached Gospel is God’s vehicle to effect change in the hearts and minds of men. Only as men are changed on the inside will they substantially change their world. The Kingdom of God is first and foremost an inner kingdom. The power of the Lord Jesus to change society emanates from the throne room of individual’s hearts, not from the court bench or the halls of congress. And as individuals surrender willful obedience to His righteous reign, then and only then can real meaningful change take place in our world. It happens one soul at a time.
But the world is stuck on a carnal, worldly view of even the most spiritual of things, including the Kingdom of God. Listen to the words of Jesus as the Lord is confronted by the intelligentsia of His day.
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21
Where did Jesus say the kingdom of God is located? The Kingdom of God is within you. The Kingdom of God is where men yield willful and humble obedience to His desires. The Kingdom of God is not advanced through a mighty host marching behind a flute and drum corps, playing The Battle Hymn of the Republic. His truth marches on when men willfully receive the power of the Holy Spirit into their lives. This does not happen because committees meet, protests are organized, legislation is suggested, and bills are signed. His truth marches on when men bow before the King of kings and Lord of lords and surrender their will to Him. The New Birth is God’s method to transform society, and this happens one soul at a time. The Gospel is not intended to reform society, but to transform individuals. The message is “you must be born again.” The message is not that society must reform but that individuals must be reborn.
Jesus did not organize, institute, and create the Church to effect social change in the world. He created the Church to bring salvation to individuals through the preaching of the New Birth. While it is not wrong to use Christian principles to guide our view of what is just in society, we cannot allow social reform to become the thrust of our Christianity. A misunderstanding of Christ’s person and message have caused many to neglect the primary duty of the Church. This is a critical error because the proclamation of the Gospel by the Church is God’s only method to win the lost.
Kingdom Concepts: Parables for Your Life by Nevin Bass is now available for purchase. Click the link below to order your copy.
 “The Greed Line, Tool for a just Economy” edited by Athena Parelta and Rogate R. Mshana, published by the World Council of Churches Publications
 “Mikhail S. Gorbachez Quotes” Brainyquote.com. Retrieved October 27, 2018