The Parables of Matthew 13
If you were a Jew in the OT, you would draw your time line with a present age and an age to come, separated by Messiah’s coming. Prophets did not see but one advent.
We now know that everything promised in OT was not fulfilled when Jesus came the first time and Jesus said that He would be back to do the rest. In the meantime there is something going on that no one in the OT knew about. We now know that there are two advents and we are in the “inter-advent age.”
What is going on in between becomes the question.
Remember the initials - EMK= Elijah/Messiah/Kingdom was the expectation. Malachi 4:5 said that Elijah would come, announce the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom would begin.
In Matt 11:14 Jesus said that John the Baptist was Elijah “if you care to accept it.” What does that mean? If they don’t accept it, he’s not? How can that be? What Jesus is saying is that for those who believed John the Baptist and repented, and in turn believed in Jesus as the Messiah, then John was Elijah for them and consequently they entered the kingdom.
We also know that the two witnesses in Revelation will have powers like Elijah and Moses (Rev 11:6) so another will come in the power and spirit of Elijah before the second advent. After the Second Advent, the millennial kingdom will be established.
The question becomes, “What kingdom do those who accept John the Baptist as Elijah enter?
Matt 13 is dealing with that.
Rev 10:7 talks about the mystery of God being finished. What mystery? Col 1:26 says the mystery is the church.
Matthew is presenting Jesus as the King and part of Jesus’ mission was to proclaim the arrival or imminence of the kingdom.
In Matt 12:24 the religious leaders accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. This is the climax of the rejection by the leadership. Jesus says this is unpardonable and in turn rejects Israel.
Matt 13 is hinge in the literary structure of the book. It is a turning point in ministry of Jesus. In Matt 13 Jesus begins talking about the mystery form of the kingdom by telling parables. We know that because in 13:10 the disciples asked Jesus why he was speaking in parables. He answers that he is revealing the mysteries of the kingdom.
In Matt 13 we have eight parables. Six begin with the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like...” The first one doesn’t begin that way, but we know it is about the kingdom from its explanation in 13:19. The last one doesn’t begin that way, but it talks about a disciple of the kingdom.
1. The Sower and the Soils (13:1-9)
2. The Reason for Parables (13:10-17)
3. The Explanation of the Sower (13:18-23)
4. The Tares (13:24-30)
5. The Mustard Seed (13:31-32)
6. The Leaven (13:33)
7. The Hidden Treasure (13:44)
8. The Costly Pearl (13:45-46)
9. The Dragnet (13:47-50)
10. The Householder (13:52)
The Sower and the Soils (13:1-9) - The beginning of the Kingdom
Jesus ends this parable with the statement, “He who has ears, let him hear.” What does He mean? What is necessary for hearing or better -- understanding the parables? An open and receptive heart. How do we know that? He will tell us in the next section
The Reason for Parables (13:10-17)
1. “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
2. “And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
3. ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
4. And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
5. For the heart of this people has become dull,
6. And with their ears they scarcely hear,
7. And they have closed their eyes
7’ Lest they should see with their eyes,
6’ And hear with their ears,
5’ And understand with their heart and return, And I should them.
4’ “But blessed are your eyes, because they see;
3’ and your ears, because they hear.
2’ “For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men
1’ desired to see what you see, and did not see [it]; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear [it].
This whole section can be outlined as a chiasm. At the center of the chiasm is the most important part - the focus of the passage. Numbers 5,6 & 7 reveal the root problem and give us a progression. Because they had hard hearts, they could not hear Jesus’ words. Because they would not listen to His words, they could not see who He was. They could not see that He was the Messiah. Therefore they could not see the kingdom that had come upon them.
When you understand this, the miracles which involved restoring sight to the blind take on new significance. They become physical symbols of the spiritual blindness of Israel.
The reason Jesus told the parables was to hide the truth from those with hard hearts who did not want to hear the truth and did not want Jesus as their Messiah. They were looking for a different type of Messiah. They wanted one who would come in and defeat their earthly enemies right then.
But while He was hiding the truth from the hard hearted, he was also revealing truth to those who had open hearts and were willing to accept the truth, even if it was not what they expected.
What did the prophets and righteous men not see nor hear that the disciples were hearing about and soon to see? (Matt 13:17) The interadvent age. In OT Israel there was the present age and the age to come. The age to come was the kingdom where the Messiah would rule. What the prophets and righteous men did not see or hear about was the church age. They only saw one coming of the Messiah in the OT. They didn’t see him coming to die the first time, and returning later to judge. (Isa 61:1-2)
What Jesus is doing is revealing truth about the interadvent age - the church age - a mystery form of the kingdom. Matt 13:12 says, “what they have shall be taken away...” What is it that they don’t have? Spiritual insight. What will be taken away? Their responsibility. Because they rejected Jesus, their responsibility to reach the world - bless the world would be taken from them and given to others - the church.
The Explanation of the Sower (13:18-23)
This is one of the few parables that Jesus explains, and there is still much debate about its meaning. The question that I always hear debated is the state of the “soils.” Which soils represent saved or unsaved people? I don’t think we are to try to determine which ones are saved or not. The next parable will tell us why.
But what lessons can we learn from this parable?
- One lesson we can learn is that we need to sow the word. There will be results. Some will reject, some will accept and bear fruit. Our job is to spread the good news.
- Another lesson is that people need to have an open heart to receive the word. We cannot convince them intellectually of the Truth and their need for Jesus. Their hearts must be prepared and ready.
- We also need to have an open heart to hear the word. We need to let it speak to us. We do not want to be like the man in James that looks in the mirror and does not notice the things that need fixing.
The Tares (13:24-30) - Satan's counterfeit.
You can’t tell the difference between tares and wheat until the very end when it is time to harvest the wheat. I think the significance of this is that we can’t tell who is and is not saved. Why? Because we do not know the heart. Only God knows the heart. And only He can separate the wheat from the tares - the saved from the unsaved.
I think it is significant that this one follows the last parable because maybe it tells me we shouldn’t even try to determine who was and wasn’t saved among the soils. Only God knows.
If the parables are about the kingdom, then how does this one relate?
Jesus is teaching that the present form of the Kingdom will be one in which those of genuine faith and counterfeit faith will co-exist in the world until a future harvest (13:24-30).
When asked if he wanted his workers to gather up the tares, the farmer insisted on allowing them to grow together, for the sake of the wheat, until the final harvest when they will be separated unto different destinies (13:28b-30).
What does that say to you and me? What about that never ending Lordship Salvation / Free Grace debate that has raged for centuries and been made more popular by John MacArthur?
The Mustard Seed (13:31-32) - The extent of the growth of the Kingdom
We will treat this one with the next parable.
The Leaven (13:33) - The secret of the growth of the Kingdom
Some think that the growth of the mustard seed into a tree is deliberate overstatement by Jesus to alert his hearers to the fact that something is wrong. And they say that the birds nesting in the branches are Satan’s messengers. They also say that yeast is always bad in the Bible and that the yeast in this passage represents the pervasive nature of evil - i.e. the way it spreads.
I think that is an over reaction to the way the postmillennialists interpret this passage.
Just in case you are not familiar with Postmillennialism - “it is the conservative counterpart to the optimistic, liberal, evolutionary view which expects the world to get better through Christianization. A transformed world will precede the coming of Christ to the earth. Though this view nearly died with the transpiration of two world wars and subsequent events, there seems to be a contemporary resurgence of it in some Christian circles.” (Ramesh Richards, Elements of a Biblical Philosophy of History, BibSac, Apr-Jun 1981, p. 116) Postmillennialists typically deny the future millennial kingdom and think that the church is in it.
Therefore, postmillennialists see the rapid growth of the mustard plant and the dominance of the leaven as indicating the millennial kingdom will be brought about by the church dominating society and bringing about world peace so that Jesus can return.
I think Boice’s view is an over reaction to the typical postmillennial interpretation. We don’t need to over react to the postmillennialists. All we need to do is look at the society around us to see that things are getting worse and not better.
The mustard seed growing into a tree is not overstatement by Jesus. In Palestine, the mustard seed (the smallest seed in that culture) did in fact grow to be ten or twelve feet tall. And birds could and did build nests in mustard tree branches. Jesus’ hearers would not have been “alerted” that something was wrong because nothing was wrong with what he was saying. It was true. Jesus is simply saying that what starts out small (with just Him and a few disciples) would grow to great proportions in a very short time. And in fact it did. So, that is the significance of the mustard seed illustration - rapid growth.
The illustration with the leaven may be teaching one of two things:
- First - it may mean that the kingdom is hidden -- like the leaven is invisible in the lump of dough. That would refer to the spiritual aspect of the kingdom that was begun with the arrival of Jesus.
- Second - it may mean that the source of growth would be secret - an internal dynamic -- i.e. the HS, and that it would spread to the whole world (like it spread throughout the dough. That in fact did happen. By the end of Paul’s life, only 40 years after Christ spoke these words, the gospel had been taken to the end of the known world. I don’t think it has to mean that the whole world would be converted and the millenium brought in by the church.
The birds nesting in the branches are not Satan’s messengers. They are Gentiles participating in the Kingdom of God. It is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that through his seed all the nations would be blessed. Hosea 14:7 talks about Israel as a tree with others being blessed by living in its shadows. Cf. Ez 17:22-23. Also compare Dan 4:12 for the birds benefiting from the tree.
The Hidden Treasure (13:44)
How valuable is this kingdom that Jesus is talking about?
It is so valuable that a man should give up everything necessary to be a part of it.
The Costly Pearl (13:45-46)
Who is the Merchant? God? Christ? Man?
Boice says it is the person who searches his whole life for God? That this is contrasted to the previous parable in which the man accidentally discovered the hidden treasure.
Some say it is Christ. The Kingdom was established through the total sacrifice of Christ. The problem I have with this interpretation is that it gives intrinsic value to humans. We weren’t and aren’t pearls. God turned the dirt into man, not pearls.
Whatever or whoever the pearls and the merchant are, the point of these last two parables is the value of being a part of the kingdom. We should do everything possible to possess it and to bring others into it.
The Dragnet (13:47-50)
This parable illustrates the believers responsibility to spread the gospel without discrimination. We bring as many as we can into the kingdom and let God sort them out at the end.
Boice points out that the parable of the dragnet is a warning to the wicked that judgment is coming.
The Householder (13:52)
It says the householder “brings forth out of his treasure things new and old.” What is the new and old?
- The Old is the OT expectation of a literal earthly Kingdom
- The New is the mystery form of the kingdom that is in existence now in light of Israel’s rejection.
As citizens of the kingdom, we are to teach both. Some have thrown out the old teachings and said that he church replaces Israel, that there will be no future millennial kingdom (amillennial).
Others deny the new. We see here that we are to teach both.
If the last parable is about the responsibility of evangelism, then this one is about the responsibility of edification.
Edification is “building others up.” How does edification relate to the Kingdom? Once someone is in the kingdom (the parable of the dragnet) they need to be taught
I think that citizens of the kingdom are to act in such a way that they will cause others to want to be part of that kingdom. If we use an example from secular life, it might be equated with America being the land of opportunity. Despite the bad picture that certain politicians paint about our country, people from Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, Russia, etc. are giving up everything they have back home to try to get here. When they see rich Americans traveling in their country (and all Americans are rich by comparison to them), they are motivated to come here so they can be rich too.
If we live according to the ethic of God - loving God and neighbor (something that can only be done if we have God’s resources as citizens of the kingdom) - building others up (edification) then we will be salt and light. Others will be attracted to what we have. If we relate it back to the first parable, some may receive it with joy, trying to manufacture it on their own, but others will “understand” (receive the word) and ultimately bear fruit.
The Meaning of the Parables in Matt 13
The Sower and the Soils (1-9)
The Tares (13:24-30)
Planting of counterfeit by Satan
The Mustard Seed (13:31-32)
The Leaven (13:33)
Extent of Growth - rapid
Cause of Growth - internal dynamic
The Hidden Treasure (13:44)
The Costly Pearl (13:45-46)
The Dragnet (13:47-50)
The Householder (13:52)
Is there a significance to the location?
By the sea...
In the house...
Sower and Soils
Wheat and Weeds
The Sower and the Soils (1-9) - no introductory formula
The Tares (24-30) - not mine to discriminate - final judgment with tares burned
The Mustard Seed (31-32) - growth - what’s connection with pearl?
The Leaven (33) - leaven hidden in dough
The Hidden Treasure (44) - hidden kingdom
The Costly Pearl (45-46) - value - what’s connection with mustard seed?
The Dragnet (47-50) - indiscriminate evangelism - final judgment with wicked burned
The Householder (52) - no introductory formula
What is the relationship between the Mustard Seed and the Pearl?
Is it significant that the center of the chiasm is about the hiddeness of the kingdom?