“The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.” (Mt.13:20-21)
“The word,” in the quote above, as established previously, is the word of the kingdom. This is a much broader concept than the emphasis on personal salvation that tends to prevail in many circles, especially in our current age. To respond to “the word of the kingdom,” involves, not only the benefits that come with being a member of such a kingdom but, the duties, obligations and, the struggles and antagonism that surfaces between worldviews, cultural characteristics or familial identity.
To initially “unpack” this thought, it is important to recall that Jesus “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt.15:24). Though this does not mean that the truth He revealed applies only to the Jews, this fact helps in our effort to capture the significance of His teaching. In this case, we can consider what it would have meant for a Jew to commit to the kingdom Jesus came to establish.
First, the expectation that most Jews had regarding the kingdom the Messiah would usher in involved the overthrow of oppressive, political powers and the establishment of a Davidic-style empire. Jesus surely knew that this expectation was part of the “joy” that characterized their receiving the word of the kingdom.
Next, without going into detail, asking the reader to engage their reflective powers, it’s very important to realize that becoming part of the kingdom in which Jesus is Lord would have put them at odds with the existing Jewish community. A great divide arose between those who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and those who did not. Those hearing the explanation of the parable, likely did not realize the full significance of the words spoken, but the warning was certainly appropriate. Not only would it produce conflict within the Jewish community, but it would also set them at odds with the Roman authorities that required one to bow to Caesar as Lord.
With this thought in mind, we can see how “affliction or persecution arises” for “the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy.” Expecting political, military victory and receiving, instead, affliction and persecution is a disappointment too great for most to bear. Of course, the disappointment is the result of a wrong expectation, a failure to understand accurately.
“No firm root” indicates that the internal level of commitment and understanding necessary for one to endure to the end (Mt.10:22) or continue in His word (Jn.8:31) was not present. When faced with the disillusionment accompanying the fact that Jesus would not lead a military revolt against Rome and, instead, increase the tensions and difficulties of His followers with, both, the Romans and the Jews, they would cease to follow Him.
It is important, in our contemporary representation of “the word of the kingdom,” that we accurately represent what it means to become a member of the kingdom; a follower of Jesus (Lk.14:28). It has become far too common and popular to create a representation that we know will appeal to everyone according to their particular brand of selfish preference, place it on a golden latter or wrap it in a pretty package with bows and ribbons and ask them to “accept it.” Now, let’s use our imaginations and contemplate what will happen to those who receive such a “word” when reality surfaces.
“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.’” (Mt.24:4-14)