This election season has brought out the worst in many. During the primaries, candidates slandered, mocked, and publicly shamed their opponents. We’ve seen power abused to advance campaigns. During the general election, we’ve seen both candidates lie and Trump dishonor women and ethnic minorities.
But this election season has also brought out the worst in those who claim to identify with the Christian faith. Certain Christian universities, popular theologians, influential pastors, and leaders of non-profits have urged Christians to vote for one candidate over the other, while even justifying that candidate’s ungodly remarks and behavior toward women—even when those remarks were caught on tape.
Sadly, there are those who identify with the Christian faith who have turned against their brothers and sisters in Christ because of their allegiance to their political power and their aspirations to either affirm “Stronger together—I’m with Her” or because of their commitment to “Make America Great again.”
In my view, those Christians who turn against fellow brothers and sisters in Christ because of their loyalty to a political party or a political candidate may reveal that they are not members of the kingdom of God. I support this below by discussing Jesus’ parables about the kingdom in Mark 4.
Parables about The Kingdom of God (Mark 4:1-34)
In Jesus’ parables about the kingdom in Mark, we see that doing God’s will (i.e., repenting, believing, and following Jesus) grants one entrance into the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is complex. But it basically suggests that God in Christ is King over the entire world, and his followers must show absolute loyalty to him as his faithful followers. Considering Jesus’ remarks in Mark 3:13-35, a fundamental example of doing God’s will is yielding allegiance to Jesus and to hear and receive the word about him, which is a word about the kingdom. We see this in the parable of the soils.
Parable of the Soils (Mark 4:3-9, 14-20)
This parable has a sower who sows seed into four different types of soils: wayside soil (4:3-4), rocky soil (4:4), thorny soil (4:7), and good soil (4:8). The wayside soil was eaten by birds (4:4). The rocky soil was burned by the sun (4:5-6). The thorny soil was chocked by thorns and yielded no fruit (4:7), and the good soil produced fruit (4:8).
Jesus, then, interprets the parable. When the disciples asked Jesus the meaning of the parable, he first answered by saying the mystery of the “kingdom of God” has been given to them, but not to those who do not follow him. Mystery in the Greek NT doesn’t refer to a puzzle incapable of being solved, but to something that was previously hidden but currently made known (Eph. 1:9; 3:3).
Jesus’ disciples have been given insight into Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom. These verses don’t clearly state what this insight is, but the context of Mark 1:1-4:49 reveals it: the revelation of Jesus’ identity and the coming of the kingdom through his preaching, teaching, and ministry (see Mark 1:14-15).
The kingdom of God has come in the preaching and ministry of Jesus and that is supported by his cleansing of the lepers (1:40-45), healing of the paralytics (2:12), restoring withered hands (3:1-6), delivering demoniacs from unclean spirits (1:32-34), by his authority over the prince of demons (3:22-27), by his converting fasting to feasting (2:18-22), and by his including outcast sinners into the people of God (2:13-17).
The seed sown is the word (4:14). The word falls on the wayside soil, and Satan comes and snatches away the word (4:15). The word falls on rocky soil, which represents those who gladly receive the word. But when trials come because the word, they fall away from the faith and don’t persevere until the end, because the word doesn’t take root in their hearts (4:16-17).
The seed sown on thorny soil represents those who hear the word, but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things choke the word, and it doesn’t bear fruit in their lives (4:18-19). And, finally, there’s the good soil. This soil represents those who receive the word and bear fruit (4:20). It represents believers because it’s the only soil that bears fruit: “they hear the word,” “receive the word,” and “bear fruit” (4:20).
Parable of A Light under a Basket/Bushel (4:21-25)
The parable about a light (a clay lamp filled with oil to be hung normally on a lampstand) under a basket (a grain measure that could hold approximately two gallons of grain) relates exclusively to Jesus’ previous teaching about the kingdom. In 4:10-13, Jesus states that the mystery of the kingdom was hidden from some and revealed to others. In 4:21-22, he states that no one should hide a light under a basket or under a bed, but should place it on a stand, so that what is hidden would be revealed.
In 4:12-19, he states that some are hardened and don’t receive the word and thus don’t produce fruit, whereas others receive the word and produce fruit (4:20). In 4:23, Jesus remarks if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. In light of Jesus’ remarks in 4:10-20 about the importance of hearing the word and producing fruit, the exhortation to hear in 4:23-24 must refer to one’s hearing of the word about the kingdom.
This interpretation is supported by 4:25 when Jesus refers to someone who has been given more and someone who has not lost even what he has. This statement is similar to Jesus’ words in 4:14-20. In 4:14-19, different soils (people) hear the word, but it was taken away from them because they did not receive it and bear fruit. In 4:20, the good soil hears and receives the word and produces fruit.
In 4:15, Satan “takes away” (same Greek verb as in 4:25) the word from the wayside soil. In 4:16-17, trials and affliction strip away the word from the rocky soil. In 4:18-19, anxiety and the care for riches choke the word given to the thorny soil. Only the good soil in 4:20 receives and accepts the word and bears fruit. Thus, since the exhortation to hear in 4:23-24 refers to hearing the word and thus connects with 4:12-19, the statement “the one who has ears to hear let him hear” must refer to the one who has ears to hear the word. If one accepts this reading, 4:25 would therefore mean that the one who has ears to hear the word and who receives it will be given the kingdom, but the one who does not hear the word will not receive the kingdom. The verb “to be taken away” (arthesetai) in 4:25 refers to judgment when it occurs in the same context as the kingdom of God (cf. Matt 21:43) or when it occurs as a future passive verb in the Gospels (cf. Matt 13:12; 21:21; 25:29; Luke 8:18; 19:26).
Finally, Mark employs a literary device known as an inclusio. He embeds 4:21-25 between parables about the kingdom of God in 4:10-20 and in 4:26-34. Mark mentions the kingdom of God in 4:11. He doesn’t mention the kingdom of God in 4:21-25, but he again mentions the kingdom of God in 4:30. So, this construction suggests that 4:21-25 is indeed about the kingdom of God, because these verses are sandwiched between two series of parables about the kingdom of God. Mark’s message appears to be this in 4:21-25: “hear and obey the message of the kingdom of God, a message which Jesus has brought to light through his teaching, preaching, and ministry, and bear fruit or else you will not receive the kingdom of God!”
More Parables about the Kingdom: The Seeds (Mark 4:26-34)
In 4:26-32, Mark records two parables about the kingdom of God: (1) the parable of growing seed (4:26-29) and (2) the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32). In each of these parable, Jesus uses seed to represent either the word about the kingdom (4:14) or about the kingdom itself (4:26).
The First Parable—The Growing Seed: We see that the seed represents the kingdom of God (4:26), and the kingdom grows (4:27) and produces fruit (4:28-29). The Greek version of Joel 4:13 uses similar language to speak of the eschatological (end time) harvest in the context of Yahweh’s judgment against Israel’s enemies.
The Second Parable—The Mustard Seed: Here Jesus’ emphasis is that the kingdom grows and produces fruit, just as a mustard seed grows and bears fruit (4:32). But more specifically, here Jesus asserts that the kingdom starts out small but grows. Mark concludes the parables of the kingdom in 4:33-34, where he offers an editorial comment that repeats Jesus’ comments from 4:11 when he says Jesus spoke the word about the kingdom of God with many parables as they were able to hear. Yet, privately he explained the parables to his disciples.
What’s The Message(s) of the Parables of the Kingdom for Christians during the Election Season?
Those who hear and receive Jesus’ word about the kingdom will follow him, even if away from their political party, and love their brothers and sisters in Christ—even when they politically disagree. And those who hear and receive Jesus’ message about the kingdom will certainly bear fruit worthy of receiving the kingdom.
But if those who claim to follow Jesus reject his word and fail to bear fruit worthy of the kingdom because they are not good soil, then they will find no entrance into the kingdom of God. During this U.S. presidential election, may Christians from all races, ethnicities, genders, generations, and classes repent if we’ve ignored the word of Jesus about the kingdom during our political discourse. And may we commit afresh to hearing his word, obeying it, and bearing fruit regardless of our politics.