Matthew 21 (33-46)
Jesus is answering all kinds of challenges and questions following His arrival in Jerusalem and restoring the Temple as a “house of prayer” – and here He delivers a devastating body blow in these words!
Look at v43.
“Therefore the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will bear its fruit”.
Jesus says here that the kingdom of God can be taken away from us … like it’s a possession we have.
There are some who clearly felt that it was theirs to keep, to have for themselves, and by implication to withhold from others. The final verses show that the chief priests and Pharisees who were responsible for the religious system of the time recognised Jesus meant them. They lived what they considered to be good, upright, religious lives. They were well-educated in the Law, and able to answer all the questions other people struggled with. They were well-respected leaders, and thought they knew it all. But they were wrong – this wasn’t what God was looking for. At other times Jesus had called them “hypocrites” because they said one thing but did another and at another “blind guides”.
And here, because of their lack of “fruit”, Jesus says the kingdom will be taken away from them. It was not theirs by right, but it was God’s gift. If it was misused or withheld, it could be removed by the One who entrusted it to them.
But might he also be talking about the nation of Israel, described in the Old Testament as the vineyard ? Perhaps the nation had grown complacent, seeing their privileged position as their right, rather than God’s gift and calling to be a witness to other nations. Jesus says the kingdom will be given to “a people” suggesting another nation or nations …
… or does he mean those in Israel who respond to Him ? So often these were the poor and needy, who understood about a gift of grace. They couldn’t help themselves and so threw themselves on the mercy and love of God. What they received was not deserved, but an unexpected treasure.
However we choose to interpret this it is clear that God wants people who bear the fruit of the kingdom
But what does that mean ?
We might think it’s about the fruit of the Spirit, those characteristics of a Godly life (Galatians 5.22-3). But Paul wrote these words long after Jesus, so He must mean something else.
It seems to me that it is tied up with the kingdom being God’s gift of grace. As we receive this amazing treasure, we have a choice. We can keep it for ourselves, or we can give it away. The dynamic of God’s kingdom (and incidentally Harvest) is the latter – to give it away. As we receive from God in our need and unworthiness, so we can give away to those whose need is often greater than ours! It’s interesting that this is the same principle that governs the “Spiritual Gifts” Paul writes about. They are gifts to be given away, not for our benefit.
God’s kingdom is all about grace and He calls each one of us to live kingdom lives, bearing the fruit of grace as we give it away.