The Difference Between the Church and the Kingdom


The Difference Between the Church and the Kingdom

April 25th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM

Matthew 13:11

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 13:11

4-25-82    8:15 a.m.



And we are blessed also knowing that a great multitude of you are listening to this service on radio.  The First Baptist Church in Dallas loves the thought that God carries the Word delivered by the pastor to the hearts of you who listen on radio and to the great throng that worship in this sanctuary.  In these great doctrines of the Bible: the next time I preach will be the last message on ecclesiology, on the doctrine of the church.  And the message this morning is entitled The Difference Between the Church and the Kingdom.  In the thirteenth chapter of the First Gospel, of Matthew, our Lord said to His apostles and His disciples, in the eleventh verse, "It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given" [Matthew 13:11].  They do not see it, but we do.  Now in the message, you can make you a little note, put your finger there; put that little ribbon there because we are going to look closely at the thirteenth chapter, the whole thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, and the church of our Lord Jesus Christ: what is the difference between them?  The kingdom of God is the everlasting, universal, eternal, all-inclusive kingdom of the great Creator in heaven.  It goes from eternity to eternity.  It includes all of God’s creation: it includes all time, it includes all matter, all created matter.  It includes all the things in heaven; the angel host.  It includes all the things in earth; humanity.  And into it finally shall be merged all things, even the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of God is all-inclusive from eternity to eternity.  The psalmist will say, in Psalm 103:19, "The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom ruleth over all."  Then he continues, "Bless the Lord, ye His angels,Bless the Lord, all ye hosts,Bless the Lord, all His works in all places of His dominion" [Psalm 103:20-22].  That is a reference to the kingdom of God; it is forever and forever, from eternity to eternity.  In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, beginning at verse 24, Paul writes:


Then cometh the end, when Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father;

When He shall have put all rule and authority under His feet. 

For He must reign, until all of His enemies are under His feet.  And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

[1 Corinthians 15:24-26]


That is a reference to the kingdom of God into which shall be merged all creation – the church, the kingdom of heaven, the angelic hosts, human history – everything shall finally be delivered up to God.  The kingdom of God is from everlasting to everlasting; from the eternity before, through all time, to the eternity that is yet to come.

The kingdom of heaven is the mediatorial reign of Christ on this earth.  It has to do with humanity.  You could call it "the sphere of the influence of Christ"; you could call it Christendom.  And in the kingdom of heaven there is good, there is bad; there are tares, there is wheat [Matthew 13:24-30].  The kingdom of heaven is the expression of the influence of our Lord that you see in this earth, in our time, and it has to do with humanity alone.  The kingdom of heaven is here in our presence, in our midst, and is what we would call "Christendom," where the name of Christ is known.

The church is an altogether different entity; the church is the body of Christ [1 Colossians 1:18].  It is the presence of our Lord visibly expressed in this age, in this time, in this dispensation.  The church is the ekklēsia, the "called out" group in the earth [1 Corinthians 1:2], and it has an assignment to preach the gospel, to win the lost, and to build up the faith, the family of God [Matthew 28:19-20].  In the Scriptures, there is very careful distinction made, setting the church apart.  For example, in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 32, Paul writes, "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" [1 Corinthians 10:32].  The church is very carefully set aside as a separate significant ekklēsia, a "called out" group.  There are three groups in the world that Paul differentiates: the Jew, the Gentile, and the church [1 Corinthians 10:32].

Now the church has an unusual place of honor in the presence of our Lord.  In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation, the marriage supper of the Lamb is described like this:


I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and the voice of many waters, the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him:  for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.

And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white:  for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints.

[Revelation 19:6-8]


That is the church!  That is the bride of Christ.  That is His wife at the marriage supper of the Lamb when our Lord comes – in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, the second coming of Christ, the marriage of the Lamb, the bride – and what a distinct privilege and honor to be the bride.

Now there’s another group there, verse 9, "And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they who are also called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" [Revelation 19:9].  In John 2:2, do you remember?  The Lord and His disciples were kaleō; they were called, they were invited to the wedding at Cana in Galilee.  They were not the bride, they were kaleō, they were invited to be participants in the wedding; they were wedding guests.  That’s the same word used here, "Blessed are they who are kaleō, they are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" [Revelation 19:9].  The bride is the church, distinctly honored, beautifully glorified and arrayed; gorgeous and glorious [Revelation 19:8].  But there are also guests at the wedding supper of the Lamb.  I would think those guests are all of those who were saved in the old dispensation.  For example: John said, in the third chapter of John, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom:  but the friend of the bridegroom, standing by, rejoices to hear his voice" [John 3:29].  There are guests at the marriage supper of the Lamb:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, all of the patriarchs of the old covenant.  But the bride is the church.  The church has an especial and distinctive honor in the presence of our Lord.  "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25].  With all of the honor that God has bestowed upon the patriarchs, upon Abraham, upon all the prophets, there is no honor such as the Lord will bestow upon His church:  we are the bride of Christ.

Now, I am going to look with you in the Scriptures at the kingdom of heaven and at the church, and we’re going to see what God says of those two entities that are present in this world.  First of all, the kingdom of heaven: we turn to the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and if you will, we will follow it.  There are eight parables told here concerning the kingdom of heaven in this thirteenth chapter of Matthew; four of them were told to the multitude [Matthew 13:1-43], and four of them were told in private to His disciples [Matthew 13:44-52].  The four that are told to the multitude present the kingdom of heaven in its outward form, as you see it, as I look upon it.  Then the four parables that are told to the disciples privately, present the kingdom of heaven as God sees it, in mystery form; in the internal secret in God’s heart.  Now we’re going to look first at the kingdom of heaven as we see it openly; the four parables of the kingdom that were told in the presence of the multitude.  First, "The kingdom of heaven," He says, "Is like a sower who went forth to sow"; that’s beginning at verse 3 in chapter 13:


The kingdom of heaven is like a sower. 

And some of the seed fell by the way side, and the birds ate it up:   

Some of the seed fell on stony ground and it sprung up,

But it soon died. 

Then some fell among the thorns; and the thorns and thistles choked it out:  But some of it fell on good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 

Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

[Matthew 13:3-9]


That is the reception of the kingdom of heaven, the preaching of the gospel, in the hearts of men.  Don’t ever think – not according to the Word of God – don’t ever think that everyone will respond.  That’s the doctrine of postmillennialism; and it’s a dead doctrine.  When I was a boy, everybody believed it; all the preachers preached it.  When I was a boy, I never heard a preacher who didn’t preach postmillennialism:  "We’re going to preach the kingdom of God in.  We’re going to win everybody to Jesus; everybody’s going to be saved by the preaching of the gospel."  Oh, I wish that were true!  That is the most comforting of all of the heresies I ever heard in my life.  What a shame that the aberration is not true.  But God never said that, the preacher said that.  God says when you preach the Word, there is one that’s going to let the fowls of the air – let Satan and his angels – pluck it out of his heart [Matthew 13:4].  There is one that’ll listen to you, then he’ll turn aside [Matthew 13:5-6].  There is one who will be moved by it, but all the cares of the world will take it out of his heart [Matthew 13:7].  But there will be one who will listen, and turn, and repent, and be saved [Matthew 13:8].  And that’s a comfort to me.  I may not win everybody when I try to preach the gospel, but God will always give me some.

Did you know, in the thirty-eight years I have been here, I have never stood in this pulpit and preached a sermon without a harvest, not yet?  Every service I have ever stood here and preached the gospel, God has given us a harvest; He gives us some.  That’s the first parable of the kingdom of heaven as you see it here in the world.

Now the second one is the parable of the tares [Matthew 13:24-30]: there is a sower and he sows wheat.  And the wheat comes up, but when the wheat comes up, tares are seen growing up in it.  And the question is asked, "Where did these tares come from?" [Matthew 13:27].  And the answer is, beginning at verse [28], "An enemy did it; Satan oversowed it" [Matthew 13:28].  That is one of the saddest providences I know in life:  the oversowing of Satan.

I listened this last week to a sad, sad situation in a home that is so typical.  Here is a child, been taught the way of the Lord, brought to Sunday school and church all the days of the life of the youngster, and he has fallen into tragic compromise, broken the heart of his father and mother.  Well, where did that come from?  Did the father and mother, and the family, and the church not sow the seed of the Word in the child’s heart?  Yes!  But there is an oversowing of Satan; it is universal.

Within this last month, I was in a conversation about one of our great institutions founded on the Word of God.  For years true to the faith, and now the forefathers who founded it would not recognize it; it has departed from the faith.  What has happened?  It’s the oversowing of Satan, that’s what we see universally in this world.  Wherever the Word of God is sown, there will you find the oversowing of Satan; the tragedy and the sadness of the tares growing up.  It’s in this church.  To some extent, unless God delivers us, it’s in your life: the oversowing of Satan.

The third parable where we see God presenting the kingdom of heaven in this world is the parable of the mustard seed [Matthew 13:31-32].  The kingdom of heaven will grow prodigiously, said our Lord, it will encompass millions and billions, and it will include kings and empires; but in its branches will roost every dirty and unclean bird [Matthew 13:32].  And I couldn’t imagine anything – if you read church history – more true than that:  that’s the kingdom of heaven as we see it with our eyes in this world.

A fourth parable is the parable of the leaven [Matthew 13:33].  The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven.  Leaven is always a sign and a symbol of evil.  "Beware," the Lord said, "of the leaven of the Pharisees" [Mark 8:15]; that’s externalism in religion.  "Beware of the leaven of the Sadducees" [Matthew 16: 6, 11-12]; that’s the denial of the supernatural in religion.  "Beware of the leaven of the Herodians" [Mark 8:15]; that’s worldliness in religion.  When the Jewish people have their Passover, they scour the house; then come out before God and say, "If there is leaven in the house, I do not realize it" [Exodus 12:15].  The kingdom is like unto leaven [Matthew 13:33].  Well, how could it be like unto leaven?  Because as it grows and as it expands, it’s like the mustard seed.  The tree grown enormous now is a roost for every unclean, filthy bird; so it is in the kingdom of heaven as it grows in the earth [Matthew 13:32].  It has in it all kinds of error, all kinds of heresy, all kinds of compromise and evil.  Isn’t that tragedy?  Isn’t that sad?  When Brother Ed Poole spoke here in our pulpit, he spoke of one of those heresies that grows in the kingdom of heaven.  It’s universal; that’s the way it is as we see it in the earth.

Now, the Lord went inside the house and secretly and privately He spoke these four parables to His disciples.  First, in verse 44: the parable of the hid treasure in the field [Matthew 13:44].  That is a secret in God’s heart, that’s a mustērion, that’s the kingdom of heaven as God sees it from above.  The parable of the hid treasure in the field is Israel hid among the nations of the world: this parable is Ezekiel 37.  Israel, hidden in the nations of the world and the Lord raises her up, a great living people in His sight [Ezekiel 37:1-28].

Did you know the most difficult and inexplicable of all the verses of the Bible, to me, is Romans 11:26?  Isn’t that what that is?  Romans 11, isn’t it verse 26? There is a verse here; that’s right, Romans 11:26.  There are thousands and thousands of verses in the Bible, but there’s not any of them as difficult to me as Romans 11:26:  "And so all Israel shall be saved."  Now what does that mean?  I can’t fathom it.  I have read about it, studied about it, thought about it for over fifty years, and I’m no nearer understanding that verse now than I was when I first began looking at it.  I don’t know what it means, but God has a great purpose for Israel forever; yesterday, today, and forever.

I was talking to one of the men in our church this last week.  And there was a big headline in the newspaper about Israel.  And I said to this dear brother in our church, I said, "Israel over there is no bigger than this metroplex, no bigger than this metroplex, no bigger square mile wise, expansion wise, no bigger – and no bigger population wise.  But do the things we think and do make headlines in Peking, or in Moscow, or in Afghanistan, or in Johannesburg, or in London?"  No! What we do here, I don’t know whether anybody knows what we do here or not.  But there’s not a detail that ever happens over there in Israel but that makes the headlines of the papers.  How do you explain that?  I don’t know; that is an amazing thing!  The attention of the whole world is always focused on Israel.

Well, that’s part of the mustērion of God; and so that verse, Romans 11:26, "And so all Israel shall be saved."  That’s a part of the mystery of God.  God has a great plan and a great program that includes Israel.  And this first parable, secretly, clandestinely told to the apostles, concerns Israel.  Israel is this treasure hid in a field, buried among the nations of the world; and God is going to save her [Matthew 13:44].  What that means I don’t know.

The second parable: the parable of the pearl of great price [Matthew 13:45-46].  Now you’ve heard preachers, world without end, stand up and say the pearl of great price, that is our salvation, that is our choosing the kingdom of heaven.  Well, my brother, we don’t buy our salvation.  Our salvation is a gift; the kingdom of heaven is a gift to us.  It’s something God does for us [Ephesians 2:8-9].  "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:  Who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" [Matthew 13:45-46].  That is a parable of what Jesus has done for us:  He bought us with His own blood.  "We are not our own; we are bought with a price" [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].  And may I point out one of the, one of the facets of the beauty of that parable?

So the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl [Matthew 13:45-46].  Well, a pearl is the only jewel that is not mechanically made; it is made by a viable, living little animal.  It is also the result of a hurt, of a trauma, of a wound.  And when the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation says, "And the gates of heaven are [three] on each side, [three] gates on each side, and each one is a solid pearl" [Revelation 21:21], what God is saying to us is the secret that we enter heaven through the trauma, and the blood, and the suffering, and the sacrifice, and the cross, and the sobs, and the tears of our blessed Lord; through a gate made out of pearl.  That’s what that parable is:  it’s a parable of what Jesus does to save us from our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:18-19].

That third parable is the parable of the net [Matthew 13:47-50]; and that’s the parable of the great separation, the great judgment.  You know, the theology may not be right as you listen to some man of God preach, but his illustration, what he says, may be so spiritually true.  When I was a youth, I went to a Baptist association in Southern Indiana.  And as I sat there as a youth, I listened to an old Baptist preacher.  I could just see that man today, after these fifty-five years, or whatever.  His hair was as white as the driven snow, white as wool, and long.  And as he preached, this is what he said:  he said, "I hold memorial services, and the family comes and cries and weeps over the casket, and will say, ‘Goodbye husband, goodbye,’ or, ‘Goodbye dear wife, goodbye,’ or, ‘Goodbye dear friend, goodbye,Goodbye my child, goodbye.’"  He said, "That’s not goodbye.  Goodbye is at the great judgment day of Almighty God, when the Lord separates the lost from the saved [Matthew 25:31-46].  And when that separation is made, and the wife says to her lost husband, ‘Goodbye husband, I’ll never see you again,’ that is goodbye."  Now as I’ve studied the Word of God, I don’t think the judgment day will be like that; but the spirit of that old white-headed preacher is everlastingly true.  There shall be a separation between the lost and the saved.  And the lost shall be cast away, and the saved shall be gathered into the kingdom of God [Matthew 3:12, 13:30].  That’s the parable of the great judgment of the Almighty [Matthew 13:47-50].

Then the fourth one, the treasures new and old [Matthew 14:51-52]; that’s when God speaks to us in our hearts, and reveals to us the truth of the old covenant; all of those types, and all of those symbols, and all of those rituals, what they mean.  And the new – things new and old – as God shall teach us.  Dear people, to sit at the feet of the Lord and be taught of the Holy Spirit is one of the most precious privileges in the world.  And God will do that for you, if you’ll let Him.  He will speak to your heart from the sacred page, treasures new and old, and He will reveal to us things yet to come.

Now just as briefly as I can, I’ve spoken of the kingdom of heaven, now the church.  The church is Christ’s bride, Christ’s body, Christ’s building, Christ’s presence in this earth [John 17:23].  You don’t see Him with the naked eye; but the world sees us.  We are Christ’s body in this earth [Ephesians 1:22-23]; and as such we are a fellowship, a separate communion, a koinōnia, a die Gemeinde.  Isn’t that a strange thing?

I took a PhD examination in German, and had to be able to read the German Bible.  And one of the things in Luther’s German Bible is this:  the word "kirk", "church," is never used.  Isn’t that amazing?  It’s always die Gemeinde, die Gemeinde, "the fellowship, the communion."  I thought of that in a traumatic experience that I’ve described to you when we had the Lord’s Supper.  I was in Munich right after the war.  It was destroyed with those awesome bombs; and the Baptist church in Munich was a part of that vast destruction.  And those people had drifted back from wherever they had been scattered to the ends of Europe after the war; the most pitiful, and the most ragged, and wretched, and despairing people that you could describe – after the war. Their pastor, who stood up there in that makeshift pulpit – they were meeting in the ruins of their church – their pastor was greatly crippled.  He’d been wounded grievously in the war.  Well, as I sat there with those people in their wretchedness, and misery, and poverty, and defeat, and despair, they had the Lord’s Supper.  And after the Lord’s Supper, that’s the first time that I had seen that; they joined hands and sang, "Blest Be the Tie that Binds."  And when they sang that second verse, I had a feeling that I could never describe:


We share our mutual woes,

Our mutual burdens bear,

And often for each other flows,

The sympathizing tear.

[from "Blest Be the Tie That Binds," John Fawcett, 1782]


That miserable and wretched group meeting in the name of the Lord; feeling in their hearts, in their loss and poverty, the riches of the blessing of God and loving each other.

I talked to a man last night on the telephone about him and his family.  And he said, "Pastor, we’ve been here in this metroplex for months and months, trying to find a church where we’d be at home.  And last Sunday, we visited your church, and I said to my wife, ‘This is home.’"  Oh, I’d love for our church to be like that; a die Gemeinde a hē koinōnia, a fellowship, a mutual loving.  God grant it.  It’s the sweetest thing God could do for us, to place us and our family in the circle of a precious fellowship.

May we stand together?

Our Lord in heaven, open our hearts and our minds to the truth of God.  As we read the Scriptures, speak to us, Lord, show us the depths of the mysteries of the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  Then in our lives may the Lord beautifully walk in our midst.  May we portray our Lord preciously, gloriously, savingly.  And while our people pray and wait before God just for this moment, when we sing our song of appeal, a family you to come, a couple you, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we stand."  On the first note of the first stanza, come; and may angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life.  Welcome, a thousand times welcome.  And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You will give us again this precious hour, in Thy wonderful and saving name, amen.  While we sing, come, come, come.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell




I.          Kingdom of God

A.  Universal and

B.  Involves and
includes everything of God

All of God’s creation, in all time, through all eternity (Psalm 103:19-22, 1 Corinthians 15:24-26)


II.         Kingdom of heaven

A.  The mediatorial
reign of Christ in this human generation – Christendom

B.  It has to do with
us, with mankind


III.        The Church

A.  The body of Christ

B.  Separate and
distinct (1 Corinthians 11:32)

The bride of Christ, to be honored at the consummation (Revelation 19:6-7)

Present at the marriage supper of the Lamb, with those who are invited (Revelation 19:9, John 2:2, 3:29)


IV.       Parables of the kingdom of heaven

A.  Four parables concerning
its outward form

      1.  The sower(Matthew 13:3-9, 19-23)

      2.  The wheat and
tares(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

      3.  The mustard
seed(Matthew 13:31-32)

      4.  The leaven(Matthew 13:33)

B.  Four parables from a
secret, divine, inward point of view

      1.  The treasure
hid in a field (Matthew 13:44, Ezekiel 37,
Romans 10:26)

      2.  The pearl of
great price (Matthew 13:45-46, Revelation 21)

      3.  The net (Matthew 13:47-50)

      4.  The
householder (Matthew 13:52)


V.        The
church is an election

A.  Ekklesia – called out

B.  Beloved of the Lord (Ephesians 5:25)

C.  Koinonia – fellowship

D.  Our assignment

E.  Our destiny – rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 1 Corinthians 15:50-52)