Do You Understand?
© 02.14.09 By D. Eric Williams
We live in an age when the intellect is looked upon with distrust among many Christians. The situation is not as bad as it was 10 or 20 years ago – or so it seems. Nevertheless there are those who consider the intellect an enemy of true religion or at least a great hindrance.
However, Jesus is concerned with the intellect. Indeed, he is concerned with the whole man. Therefore, he asks his disciples at the conclusion of these parables recorded in Matthew chapter 13 if they understand what they've been told. This is only one place where we see that a man's mind must be under the authority of Christ as much as his heart. The truth is, I hesitate to acknowledge a difference between a man's heart and a man's mind. The Bible doesn't. And we are forced to do so today simply to accommodate the understanding of the common man.
A grasp of the kingdom requires careful thought and careful thought requires the action of the mind. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul delivered a series of figures to his protégée (without explanation), that were designed to illustrate the life of a Christian leader. He then told his young cohort to exercise his mind in an effort to understand the meaning of the examples, saying, "and may the Lord give you understanding in all things" (2 Timothy 2:7). As Matthew Henry says,
Paul exhorts Timothy to consider those thing about which he admonished him. Timothy must be reminded to use his considering faculties about the things of God. Consideration is as necessary to a good conversation as to a sound conversion.
Hence I would suggest to you that to forgo the mind is to forgo the heart. To ignore the intellect is to ignore the soul. We cannot have the kingdom in part. Either Christ is Lord of all – including and indeed beginning with the mind – or he is not Lord in our life at all.
In Matthew 13:51–58 it says:.
Jesus said to them, "Have you understood all these things?" They said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He said to them, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, "Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?" So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house." Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:51-58)
Although Jesus had spent a significant amount of time telling these parables and then giving explanations to his disciples he does not make any assumptions concerning their ability to grasp his meaning. His careful accounts are followed by an equally pointed probe: "do you understand all these things?"
We must assume that Jesus is looking back to the beginning of this episode and asking the disciples if they understand a variety of points. In the first place I believe he asks them if they understand the structure of a parable. Do they understand that a parable is not the same thing as a fable? Parables are drawn from everyday life and illustrate profound truth using the furniture of popular culture. We recognize that there are no mythical creatures, magic or fantasy in a parable and that it is designed to (typically), drive home a single point; did the disciples know that?
He wants to know if they understand the purpose in the parables. In other words, do they recognize that a parable is told to both reveal and conceal kingdom truth? Don't take for granted that this was obvious to the disciples. We see it all here in black and white – or if you have a red letter edition black white and red. Therefore, to recognize the purpose seems easy to us. Jesus very pointedly said that he tells parables "because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given." And, "therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."
Although Jesus has carefully explained these things he wants to be sure the disciples understand. I'm sure all of us have experienced a situation where we have told a person something that we assume is easy to grasp. However, we find out later that that person either never heard what we had to say or "misheard" and derived an erroneous meaning from our statement. In fact, even though Jesus asks his disciples if they understand all these things, that is no guarantee that they actually did. Christ knew that. And subsequent events will bear out the fact that these disciples did not understand everything he had told them about the kingdom of God. They didn't realize that the kingdom was limited to the elect. That was the whole point – or a primary point – of the parable of the wheat and tares and the parable concerning the dragnet. After hearing all these parables they should have understood that the kingdom of the Messiah is spiritually defined and not concerned with human descent. However, it is not until after the day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God was poured out that the disciples truly understood: not only these parables but all the things that they have been taught during their sojourn with Jesus Christ.
He also asks them if they understand the meaning in each parable. Are they able to put each parable into its proper place? Do they understand what he means when he says that the person who hears the word of the kingdom and endures only briefly - only until tribulation and persecution arises – do they understand what he means when hen says that they are "scandalized" by the word of the kingdom? We will see this situation in our text today.
So Christ is asking his disciples if they understand a variety of things not just the explanation of the parables and those without explanation but the entire teaching concerning the kingdom of God and the use of parables.
The reason he asks them this is to prepare them for the responsibility that comes with insight. As I said a moment ago, their perceptivity was quite limited until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless they were responsible at the moment of receiving these words for the content of Jesus' teaching. He asked them if they understand because in light of their understanding (as limited as it may be) they constituted something new. Jesus uses an old word here to describe what he is talking about; he says "therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven" and so on.
A scribe in this context which Jesus said these things was an expert in the law. He wasn't simply a stenographer he was someone who knew the word of God – the Torah – and taught it. Hence, it seems that Christ is telling the disciples that they are now (or are becoming), scribes for the kingdom of God.
They have already been instructed concerning the old covenant administration. Every Jewish boy received instruction concerning the Torah. Obviously, those who were meant for an academic career continued in their studies beyond childhood. Yet, the disciples were familiar with the old covenant law and prophets. I daresay they were far more educated concerning the old covenant documents than your average Christian today - perhaps even better educated in that field than your average pastor or seminary professor. In any case, they had an adequate education in the old covenant documents.
What they received that was new was an explanation of the law and the prophets in light of the messianic rule. And it is not as if the message of the kingdom of heaven will wipe the slate clean. Instead it brings a fulfillment to what has gone before. This is what Jesus was attempting to demonstrate in his sermon on the Mount. We must not forget that the old is not supposed to be abolished but it is to be integrated into the new perspective of the kingdom of heaven. (R. T. France, NICNT, Matthew). A critical point concerning the reign of the Messiah is that Jesus Christ fulfills the role and the character of the corporate entities of mankind (Adam) and Israel. That being the case those who are united to him become true (perfect), man and true Israel. (Mccartney & Clayton, Let The Reader Understand).
In light of these things the disciples become scribes of the other sort. Like the traditional scribe who is an expert and teacher of the Mosaic law, the disciples were expected to understand the law and the prophets - the nuts and bolts of the doctrine of the old covenant administration. Yet, they were expected to understand the old covenant documents in light of Jesus Christ and all that he was accomplishing.
Without the old covenant the new is without meaning or purpose. To suggest that the disciples would be adequate scribes of the new covenant without a thorough understanding of the old would be to suggest that one might bake a cake by placing an empty pan in the oven and, once the timer goes off, removing the pan and proclaiming the cake fit to eat. All the ingredients for the age of the Son of Man are found in the old covenant administrations. Jesus never intended for his disciples to throw out the old covenant after Pentecost and, contrary to many modern theologians, they did not do so.
Jesus compares this new scribe to a householder who has access to a variety of goods. As with any competent householder (in the Greek the word is oikodespotës, the despot of the house), they should take pains to see that those under his charge received a balanced diet. He looks to their welfare and does all that he can you be sure that they have everything they need concerning every manner of life. He does not want them to have an unbalanced diet. He does not want them to be partially closed. He doesn't want them to be ill mannered in one area even though polite in another. Therefore, the householder who has in his storehouse things new and old is able to fully meet the needs of those under his care.
We must also note that the treasure in the possession of the householder was given him by God. Jesus told his disciples that was given to them to understand the things the kingdom. They didn't earn it; they didn't generate the understanding from within themselves; they (as well as us), received illumination by the power of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God. Again, this illuminance was not fully realized until the Spirit of God was poured out on the day of Pentecost. At that point, all of God's people became "prophets" in that they have the law of God written upon their heart and were enabled by the Spirit to understand it and live it in light of the fulfilling work of Jesus Christ.
Even though this understanding is a gift it requires cultivation. You may have heard that one of the best ways to understand the topic is to teach it. I agree with that. The effort of putting one's thoughts in order concerning a subject enables us the teacher to discover the gaps in his own knowledge. Thereby, the disciples have the responsibility to cultivate this understanding so that they might easily laid hold of things both old and new and make proper application of those goods in light of the Holy Spirit guides.
At the end of these parables there is a shift in focus as Jesus leaves the region of Capernaum and makes his way to his hometown of Nazareth (although Jesus was born in Bethlehem he spent the majority of his life in Nazareth). It may seem as if this is a sharp change of topic but the truth is that it is a natural illustration of what Matthew has just presented to us. Now, in a traditional harmony of the Gospels this incident is placed later in the chronology. Or, some commentators consider this situation the same event as is recorded in Luke chapter 4. We have already examined Luke's description of Christ's visit to Nazareth. I am following the traditional chronology and separate that visit from this event as recorded in Matthew 13. I deviating from the traditional chronology by placing this event directly after the teaching at the sea. In any case Matthew places this Nazareth visit in a position immediately following this series of parables and Jesus' words to his disciples about their responsibility to teach what they have learned from him for a purpose; this visit to Nazareth nicely illustrates what the disciples can expect as kingdom scribes.
Is To Teach
To understand is to teach. Those who have an understanding of the kingdom have a responsibility to teach others about the rule of the Messiah.
Jesus and his disciples have arrived in Nazareth for a second visit according to verse 53 and 54 of chapter 13 and right off the bat Jesus began to teach the synagogue. The Greek implies that this was an ongoing activity. In other words, it seems that Jesus taught in the synagogue in Nazareth over a period of time. This isn't certain; the Greek can also mean "as he began to teach." Nonetheless, it seems that Christ spent some days in Nazareth and while he was there he taught in the synagogue.
Once again we see that the primary focus of Jesus ministry is to teach. Christ never set up a counseling ministry. He never developed seminars to help people discover their spiritual gifts. He didn't concern himself with premarital counseling or counseling to help people overcome family problems. Jesus simply taught the truth. He expected people to take hold of that truth and to work it into their life. He expected that those who had received the new birth to cultivate that new creation and thereby overcome these problems.
More than that, as the Church began to develop the people of God were expected to "submit one to another" and minister to one another, each person esteeming the other more highly than he esteemed himself. Jesus never intended that the local pastor would be the only one ministering within the body of Jesus Christ. We see from his example and the example of the disciples after him that the primary duties of the local pastor are teaching, prayer and living as an example of Christlikeness. The head of each household is supposed to demonstrate the priestly (pastoral), aspect of the kingdom in his own home.
And so, Jesus comes to teach in the synagogue. We might expect that he would teach something very much like the doctrine presented by Luke in his Gospel. In chapter four of Luke's work Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy concerning the Jubilee antitype. No doubt Jesus is talking about similar things in this visit to his hometown. No doubt, he was teaching just as he taught everywhere that he is the fulfillment of all of God's promises. He was teaching at a must submit to God and embrace him as the Christ. No doubt Jesus was explaining the proper understanding of the old covenant documents and using the law and the prophets to proclaim the advent of his kingdom.
To fulfill is to clear away the misunderstandings which cloud the original teaching. To fulfill is to bring you upon the intent of the original word. Christ was telling the people in Nazareth that he had calmed to clear away misunderstanding and to fulfill all that God promised his people.
The response initially seemed to be positive. They say "where you get his wisdom and his mighty works." I suppose we give them the benefit of the doubt when we suggested that initial response to the teaching of Jesus was positive. But there's nothing wrong with saying, "while this guy has a lot of inside. And aren't these miracles simply marvelous?"
At the very least we know that they were able to recognize the wisdom of God in the teaching of Jesus Christ. They had noticed this during the first visit of Jesus of Nazareth after the beginning of his ministry. In Luke 4:22 it says "so all bore witness to him and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." Both times that we have record of Christ spending time in Nazareth to teach we find that the population of the town acclaimed Jesus as someone who displayed the wisdom of God. They couldn't help but recognize this presentation of the mind of God in the teaching of his only begotten son. The mighty works spoke for themselves; they teaching you did as well.
You see, the mind of God is recognizable even to unregenerate man. Indeed, the word of God threatens (I suppose we could say), to awaken the image of God even in the unsaved. You see, for the natural man to hate the things of God he must first recognize them. His hate must be directed at some thing and so we know that even a man who has not experienced the new birth can recognize the mind of God when he hears it. When he recognizes the Word of God he attempts to suppress it. This is what Paul says in Romans 1:18–22. Paul declares that the knowledge of God is buried within every man. The knowledge of God bears witness to creation as further evidence of God's existence. Unregenerate men strive mightily to hold down that knowledge but when they hear the word of God it stirs something in their heart and unless the Holy Spirit is there to awaken and illuminate their mine it brings anger and hate. No one likes to be reminded of their faults. No one likes to be reminded that they are in rebellion against the ruler of the universe. And yes this is what happens when the Word of God comes forth.
Jesus was preaching the word of the kingdom and that could not be denied. The people who heard him recognized it as a word of authority. The people of Nazareth were initially "swept off her feet" by this powerful presentation of the mind of God. They knew that God was speaking through Christ; eventually they realized that they didn't like it.
This suppression of the truth is not a matter of misunderstanding. It is a willful act designed to alleviate a sense of guilt. It is a willful act designed to preserve a man's personal peace and comfort. There is a fellow whom I ministered to at the veterans home who claims that he "never sins." He comes across as a really nice guy. He is very concerned for others, almost to a fault. Indeed, his polite behavior is annoying because it actually flows out of 11 unmanly attempt to dodge responsibility for his sin. You see what I mean? He believes that he is without sin. Or at least, he wants to believe that. In fact, he knows that he is a sinner like he does everything he can to suppress that truth. When he hears the word of the kingdom he becomes upset and objects to the notion that he is a sinner. He doesn't want to be reminded that he's a sinner. And so, he lives a life that is the epitome of a "nice guy." Yet, all that is an attempt to avoid responsibility for his rebellion. And the reason is that if he admits he is a sinner and then he must admit his need for a Savior. If he admits a need for a Savior then he is forced to place his life under the authority of Jesus Christ and to the natural man that is abhorrent.
Thus, when the people of Nazareth heard the words of Christ they were initially struck by the fact that they were hearing the word of God like they had never heard of before. However, the implications of that quickly turned their amazement to anger. They recognized the truth and wisdom of Jesus doctrine and so they sought an excuse for rejecting it.
And Risk Rejection
The easiest way to reject the teaching of Jesus Christ – at least in the minds of the people of Nazareth – is to recall his early life in their company. They say "is this not the carpenter (Mark 6:3), the son of the carpenter?" There is a reason they put it in this fashion. Marks tells us they say "the carpenter." Matthews says that the call him "the son of the carpenter." No doubt they said both of these things because they were attempting to drive home the point that he was nothing more than an artisan. There's nothing wrong with being a carpenter (or as they word would be understood in that culture a contractor); it is a worthy profession. The point is not that Jesus worked at a job which was unworthy; the point is that he was not a rabbi. His (Foster), father was a workman and he is a workman (of course they do not recognize Joseph as the foster father of Jesus). They were plainly trying to drive home the point that Jesus was not qualified to teach anything academic to anyone. And least according to their estimation he was not qualified to teach.
But this is an excuse. They want to suggest that a man who worked with his hands has no business teaching but it is simply a way to alleviate their responsibility. The words of Christ struck them as the wisdom of God in the past and they are struck by his wisdom once again. They bore witness to his insights and were admiring his gracious words in the past and unfortunately (for them), they have experienced the same sort of reaction a second time. The first time they tried to kill Jesus. This time – probably because of his growing fame – they are satisfied with ridicule.
As I mentioned already the image of God initially responds to truth and depending upon the condition of the man he may continue in a state of "intermediate grace." Now I know I'm making that term up. You won't find it in any books of theology that I'm aware of. But as I've told you before we have a situation called common grace where every human being experiences the grace of God in life and creation. And we have special grace which is given to those who are elect that they may respond to the presentation of the Gospel. In between those two is something that I call intermediate grace. There are people who seem to respond to the Gospel but in fact they are not born again. The parable concerning the different types of soil describes some folks who I would call beneficiaries (if we can use that term), of intermediate grace. There are many folks who are subject to the stipulations of the covenant because of their baptism and participation in the Lord's supper who experience what I would call intermediate grace. There are plenty of folk who were pulled in by the dragnet in the first century who experienced what I would call intermediate grace. They had heard and seen the truth and it touched something within them. That image of God within them responded and for whatever reason they were able to maintain a sort of commitment for a period of time. Yet, when hardship came - or maybe just something more attractive - they fell away. As the word says, they fell to their ruin. Without the new birth in this stage of intermediate grace eventually dissipates and the person returns to their full-fledged rebellion against God. This state of "intermediate grace" serves to leave a man without excuse. Certainly, no one can excuse their rejection of Christ anyway. But for whatever reason there are those who experience a measure of enlightenment and when they then turn away from the truth they are a responsible for their rebellion to a degree that perhaps another person may not be.
This is one of the reasons I think that perhaps Jesus was teaching in Nazareth for a period of time. The revealing of rebellion that had been subdued by intermediate grace (and I know that there are probably plenty of professionals out there who can't stand my coining of a new theological term), will normally take time. It appears that the people of Nazareth have been softened to some degree because their reaction to Christ – while no less sinful – is not so violent. In the end they excuse their rejection of Christ by finding fault with his background in education. "He doesn't have the training to do this kind of work and therefore his doctrine is suspect."
Not only that they were familiar with his family. They knew his entire family history. They had watched him grow up. By the way, this passage alone is enough to refute the idea that Jesus as a child performed a variety of graphical miracles such as bringing clayey sparrows to live or stretching a piece of wood that he'd cut too short. Thence, having seen him in his childhood and been intimately acquainted with his family they found reason to reject his teaching even though it had touched their hearts. After all, it's damn it was nothing special. There weren't any great scholars which had come from the household of Joseph and Mary. His sisters and Mary local man and none of them had amounted to anything special. This local boy need to be put in his place. And so their disbelief leads to the ruin.
In Matthew 13:57 says that they "were offended at him." The Greek here is skandalizo. The use of this word in the Greek translation of the old Testament was used to translate terms that meant "cause a ruin" or something of that sort. In the New Testament the skandalon is an obstacle in coming to faith and a cause of going astray. It is interesting that in the New Testament every time someone is "scandalized by another person that someone is Jesus himself." The force of this verb skandalizo, is even stronger than the noun skandalon, and is the causing of a fall or a coming to ruin. Therefore when Matthew tells us that the people of Nazareth were "offended" and Jesus Christ is telling us that they were coming to ruin. They were falling away. In fact in light of what he had just presented to his concerning the parable the dragnet we need to recognize that these were "bad fish." These were folks who at the end of the old covenant age would be found wanting and would be excluded from the new covenant fulfillment.
In other words these citizens of Nazareth had found an excuse but that excuse led them to their own ruin. In eternity hung in the balance and yet they grasp on to a petty complaint to bolster their decision to reject the wisdom of God and instead accept ruin. Truly pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). And this was an issue of pride. Their self-centeredness drove them to reject the evident truth of God. They were repelled by Jesus Christ – in fact abhorred him because he did not meet with their selfish expectations.
When Isaiah brought the word of God to Judah during the reign of Hezekiah he foretold this reaction to Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 8:14–15 and says,
He will be as a sanctuary, But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense To both the houses of Israel, As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; They shall fall and be broken, Be snared and taken." (Isaiah 8:14-15)
Indeed Jesus Christ is both a sanctuary and a cause of ruin. The apostle Paul acknowledges this fact when he says,
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
This is the case because all who are Israel are not truly Israel. And the ministry of Jesus Christ brought these issues to a head. The ministry of Jesus Christ began to reveal both the rebellious and the submissive.
The reaction of Jesus to this rejection is instructive. He does not become angry. This isn't because Jesus is incapable of anger. We see him grow angry when the Pharisees use the man with the weathered hand in an attempt to trap him. He's angry because they care so little for the weak and helpless. We may also assume that Jesus was angry when he drove the money changers in the sellers of livestock from the temple at the beginning of his ministry at the end. But in this case Christ is not angry. He simply states that "a prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house." This was probably a common saying at the time. It finds exquisite application in this situation. The self-centeredness and sin (the same thing obviously), of the citizens of Nazareth and blind them to the offer of salvation in this their native son.
He also reacts by limiting the display of God's power in miracles. Is this because he was not able to do so? Mark 6:5 seems to indicate this. Nonetheless, it is not as if Christ's power was somehow curtailed by the unbelief of these people. Instead, this is an example of Jesus refusing to give what is holy to dogs or to cast his pearls before swine. It isn't that he "could not" it is that he "would not" perform miracles in light of their unbelief. Jesus was not about to reward their willful rebellion. To display a practical, visible aspect of the messianic reign only to have that demonstration mocked would not serve the purpose of the kingdom.
How do you know if you understand the kingdom?
Jesus asked his disciples if they understood all of these things about the parables and his explanation concerning the meaning of the parables. He wanted to know if they understood the teaching and the implications of what he had taught. They said yes and we assume that they did understand – at least to a certain degree. How about us? How do we come to a place where we understand the kingdom of God and how do we know when we get there?
Well, the first step in understanding the kingdom of God is to develop a healthy prayer life. Prayer – properly exercised – helps us to learn to submit to our Lord and Savior. We need to have a daily prayer time which is quiet and uninterrupted which allows us to relax in the company of our God. In this prayer time we must ask for wisdom and insight.
We must also develop an attitude of prayer which is more of a spontaneous prayer life. In this attitude of prayer we should find ourselves bringing things before the Lord throughout the day. The older I am in the lower the more I find that this is a constant activity. As people in the church come to mind that will bring them to the Lord in prayer. As members of my family come to mine or bring them to the Lord in prayer. Sometimes as for specific situation and sometimes it simply a request that the Lord would have his hand upon that person and to bless them. In any case this is where our move toward understanding must began: prayer.
The second thing we need to do in order to understand the kingdom is to learn how to think. I'm not telling you that you need to be caught what to think; you need to learn how to think. And that means you need to learn to think like God thinks. The way we develop the mind of God in our life (and the Bible says that we have the mind of Christ if we are new creations), is to spend time in the word. You need to read the Bible a lot in order to learn how to think as God thinks.
In order to do this I recommend that you read from the entire Bible throughout the week. For instance, I like to use a method that I discovered some years ago from the Puritans.
On Monday you read three chapters from the section of the Bible which includes Genesis through Deuteronomy.
On Tuesday he read three chapters from the section comprising Joshua to 1 Kings.
On Wednesday you read from 1 Chronicles to Job.
On Thursday, from Psalms to song of Solomon.
Fridays are devoted to Isaiah through Malachi.
Saturday from Matthew to Acts.
And on Sunday you read three chapters from Romans to The Revelation.
I use a variation of this method and read from each section every day. Now, I realize you may not have the time for that but when you read from seven different sections of the Bible each day you will begin to see the Bible as an organic whole.
I also recommend certain books that instruct you in how to read the Bible. There are several that I could mention but I think the best I have ever seen is the text called Let The Reader Understand by Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton. As far as I'm concerned he is one of the best guides to interpreting and applying the Scripture available today. Actually, I'm not sure it is available any longer. You can probably find it online if you do a search.
As you read the scripture you should take time to select a small portion to meditate upon throughout each day. This should be a section of your reading that the Holy Spirit has emphasized to you. It might be something that you don't understand or maybe something that struck you in a power away. Whatever the case may be it is important to meditate upon God's word throughout the day.
Another step in acquiring an understanding of the kingdom involves participation in the fellowship of believers. Yes, I'm talking about church attendance where you can hear sermons and teaching at will help you grow in your understanding. I'm also talking about the fellowship of other believers. In casual conversation you might hear something that sparks your understanding and helps to "turn on the lights" concerning something you may not have understood in the past. So both the organized teaching and the path of conversation can be used by God to unlock a whole new understanding concerning his kingdom. A final step in your understanding would be to read other books concerning theology. You must be careful in your choice of what to read. Stay away from "single issue" writers or popular writers (authors who lack scholarship and training), at least until you have developed a firm foundation in the Word of God. I highly recommend books written from the perspective of the reformed tradition. Usually these are best and you can find books of this sort concerning history, theology, current events and so on.
Yet, how do you know if you have understanding concerning the kingdom of God? Well, look at 1 Corinthians 8:1–2:
Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:1-2)
This is not an anti-intellectual tirade by the apostle Paul. It is not a polemic against seeking wisdom. In the context of what is going on here Paul is telling the people in Corinth that when it comes to food that has been sacrificed to idols those who understand that such food is no better or worse than any other food need to be careful with their knowledge. If their knowledge creates pride so that they scorn those without the knowledge then they really don't know anything at all. In other words, they have missed the greater issue of self-sacrifice in their desire to exercise the freedom that comes with their knowledge. The most fundamental "knowledge" that a man can have is that he needs to esteem others more highly than himself.
Therefore one way that you know you that you understand the kingdom is that you recognize your own loneliness. You see, if you understand what Matthew 5:3–10 is teaching then you understand that the character of the new creation is anything but arrogant. As we cultivate that new creation our understanding of the kingdom will grow and we will become ever more aware of our absolute dependence upon Jesus Christ. Thereby the more you realize how little you understand the more you are becoming acquainted with the kingdom.
By the way I would recommend you stay away from writers who claim to have it all figured out or who claim to be in possession of esoteric knowledge. Anyone who makes those assertions has probably (obviously?), taken a wrong turn on the road to kingdom understanding.
As your understanding grows you will find that you are able to draw from all of Scripture to enrich others in your sphere of influence. Thus you will become like that householder who draw from the old and from the new.
Moreover, as your understanding grows you need to follow Christ's example and teach. And I must mention that should start with your own home and sphere of influence. I'm not talking about "formal" teaching necessarily but the informal and spontaneous teaching that is part of our everyday conversation and example. Indeed, we teach more by our actions than by our words whether we are called to a teaching "ministry" or not.
For most of us are teaching will be limited to an informal setting or in teaching by our actions. We can also teach "by proxy." We do that as we support the teaching ministry of the Church with our attendance and participation. This needs to go beyond Sunday morning attendance. We also need to participate in outreach programs that meet on some other day of the week. If we want to follow the example of Jesus Christ we need to participate in these kinds of events so that the teaching in the kingdom can be brought to a variety of people. Again, I'm not saying you must teach personally if you're not called to it but you need to participate so as to encourage others and therefore teach by your example.
Does any of this guarantee success? Not at all. People will find plenty of reasons to reject either the invitation to attend church or your key gene as presented through conversation and lifestyle. They may reject your personal witness or the teaching of the Church because they've "heard it all before." They may tell you that they don't have the time to look into it. They may claim that they're not interested. Or they might say that they belong to another church (or are baptized in another church). They might say that Christians are no different than any other people so why should they waste their time. Unfortunately this last excuse is often based on truth.
In order to make headway we need to go back to our first step in understanding the kingdom and pray. We need to ask for wisdom and recognize that God is in control. He calls us to do what we are supposed to do and then leave the results to him. We begin by looking to our own house first and once that is in reasonable order we began to move forward in our attempt to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All of us need to understand the kingdom if we hope to truly treasure it. All of us need to understand the kingdom of God if we hope to live in the reality of Christ's authority. We need to understand the character of the kingdom and its stipulations. We need to be able to teach the kingdom either as a formal ministry or through informal conversation - and especially by our example. God has called each of us to teach in one fashion or another. Our job is to teach as we are called and leave the results to God. Our job is to lovingly obey our gracious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.