There are two aspects to citizenry in the Kingdom: gaining citizenship, and keeping citizenship. This may be foreign to some, but we will look at the Scriptures to clarify this concept. Jesus’ teaching on the Vine and the branches in the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel reveals that the branches were on the Vine. They are clean because of Jesus’ words. Yet, we also see that the branches will be cut off and thrown into the fire if they do not bear fruit—later defined by loving obedience (see verses 6 and 10). Therefore, two aspects are present: getting on the vine and staying on the vine—what I’ve referred to as gaining citizenship and keeping citizenship.
Jesus says again in the Sermon on the Mount: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19). John the Baptist put it this way, chastising the religious Jews who presumed their salvation was assured in spite of their refusal to repent:
“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8-10)
Jesus taught similarly about repentance following the terrible deaths and disgrace of some Israelites:
“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ “And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’“ (Luke 13:5-9)
So we see that repentance is absolutely necessary for entrance into the Kingdom. Yet it does not stop there. Jesus is specific that entrance isn’t enough. We must keep our citizenship. Here are a couple parables concerning the Kingdom.
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”…
Then He left the crowds and went into the house And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
In this parable, we see that the Kingdom of God contains both good and evil; those who practice lawlessness are thrown in the fire, and the righteous will go to be with the Father. Some interpret this passage as meaning that the sons of the kingdom are the churched and the sons of the evil one are the unchurched or the unbelievers of the world. However, the parable teaches that the wheat was planted before the tares and the tares were introduced among the wheat after the wheat was planted. Clearly, the church was planted and then apostasy was introduced into the church. The early church understood this parable to mean that the church would be polluted by stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness. In light of the next parable, the parable of the dragnet (taught by Jesus in the same sermon as the parable of the wheat and tares) it will become obvious why this was a logical conclusion.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50)
There is little ambiguity here that the Kingdom of God [heaven] IS the dragnet. And clearly, the net will capture both good and bad fish. The fish will then be sorted at the end of the age. Comparing the dragnet to the wheat and tares, it is easy to see why the tares were interpreted as being an apostate part of the church. We will see in the next chapter more on the subject of “good and bad” citizens of the Kingdom.
– Marc Carrier