In this post I want to examine two common images employed by the New Testament writers in their attempt to describe God’s kingdom: the banquet and the harvest. These images, I believe, have been largely overlooked due to their eschatological implications. But it is these symbols that constitute the heart of Jesus’ kingdom message.
The kingdom’s likeness to a banquet is considered in the parable of the Wedding Feast. With the proverbial meal fully prepared, the host sends out his servants to inform the guests. The guests, however, reject the offer and are forever barred from the celebration. In telling the story then, Jesus equates his announcement that the kingdom is as hand with the servant’s invitation: “everything is ready, come to the wedding banquet” (Matthew 22:4).
Along with the parable, the Lord’s Supper too is in principle a prophetic sign pointing toward the messianic banquet in the kingdom of God. By participating in the communal meal Christians anticipated the impending eschatological feast. The Lord’s Supper would thus become obsolete when the Lord returned, his banquet finally prepared (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Today, however, the eschatological dimension of the meal is subservient to its other dimensions. For example, Jesus’ climactic words over the meal are consistently omitted from our liturgy: “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25).
But despite this omission, the Lord’s Supper looks forward to the day when Jesus and his followers will be brought safely into the kingdom. Just as Jesus’ disciples eat and drink at the Last Supper, so too will they eat and drink at the Messiah’s table in the Messiah’s kingdom, sitting upon “thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30). In contrast though, the unfaithful will sit outside the banquet, outside the kingdom, in the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:11-13). Such is the hope encapsulated in the humble ritual meal: the final banquet will be set, God’s people will be exalted and included, God’s enemies will be disgraced and excluded (Matthew 22:1-10).
The image of the eschatological harvest, though not preserved in ritual, constitutes a parallel image of the kingdom. It too elucidates the power of the kingdom to bring security and belonging to the people of God and judgement and exclusion to God’s foes. The world, like a field full of wheat and weeds, will be harvested. The faithful, the wheat, will be gathered into the barn and into the protection of the Lord. They will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father” (Matthew 13:43) while the lawless will be destroyed in the agricultural furnace like weeds (Matthew 13:30, 41-42). The righteous, like wheat, will be put in the granary; the unrighteous, like chaff, will be burned (Matthew 3:12).
Thus, the kingdom, as banquet and harvest, solved the major problems associated with living as God’s holy people in a hostile world. The eschatological kingdom of Jesus offered the hope of safety and vindication for those who endure.
The Banquet and Harvest of History
Read from a narrative-historical perspective, these apocalyptic hopes were expected to play out on the stage of contemporary politics in the near future. The enemies of the church, unrepentant Second Temple Judaism and the pagan Roman empire included, were to be broken down and replaced by rulers obedient to God and Christ (Philippians 2:9-11). And just as the early church testified, so did history follow suit. Pagan antiquity gave way to the conversion of the empire and the ascendancy of the Christian Middle Ages. The Greco-Roman paganism that tormented God’s people for centuries was offered no seat in the new Christian order over the nations. Rather, the pagan order, like Jerusalem, was shut out of the banquet and thrown away like the weeds.