Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentMatthew 13
THE SEVEN PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (ALSO, THE REASONS FOR PARABLES)
Verses 1, 2
On that day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the seaside. And there were gathered unto him great multitudes, so that he entered into a boat, and sat; and all the multitude stood on the beach.
On sitting down to teach with the audience standing, see under Matthew 5:1. Dummelow and others believe "the house" in this case was that of Peter and Andrew in Capernaum. For the Sermon on the Mount, Christ went to the hills; but on this occasion, he went to the seashore. The use of the boat, anchored in a quiet place offshore, and with the placid water providing a perfect sounding board for his words, made it possible for Jesus to be distinctly heard by a vast throng of people.
And he spake to them many things in parables, saying ...
Here Christ began a new type of teaching, using PARABLES, partly for concealment, partly for illustration. His reasons for this methods will be noted more fully under Matt. 13:10, below. There are, to be sure, parables in the Old Testament, but Christ's use of this device exceeded any previous conception of it, and are still, some 2,000 years afterward, the marvel of all who study them.
A parable is a story which is made the vehicle of a spiritual message, it differs from a fable in that the parable COULD have happened, and probably DID. In a fable, there are many impossibilities, such as an animal talking, etc. The parable also differs from the myth in that the latter bears no relation whatever to reality. Allegory, such as Paul's reference to Sarah and Hagar, the wives of Abraham, builds a spiritual analogy upon well known historical facts.
Verses 4, 5
Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the birds came and devoured them: and others fell upon rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched: and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them: and others fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit; some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
I. Parable of the Sower, verses Matt. 13:3-9:
Some commentators accept the rule of "ONE parable, ONE point!" For example, Henry H. Halley wrote, "Ordinarily, a parable was meant to show one point, and should not be pressed for lessons in every detail." F1 This view of expositors is probably due to the excesses of some who went too far, using incidental and inert elements of the parable for advancing all kinds of notions and speculations; but, whatever caused the widespread opinion that only one lesson, or point, is to be sought in a parable, it is clear that Christ, in the cases where he explained his parables, made many points. It is the view here that one is always safe in following the example of the Saviour instead of the opinions of men.
This parable of the sower is a vivid picture of a farmer, sowing wheat from a bag strapped over his shoulder, scattering seed by thrusting his hand into the bag and hurling the seeds in an arc, somewhat in front of him, as he walked through the field. A hard, trampled path crossed the field, and some of the seeds fell upon it, where they were quickly gathered by the birds. Part of the field had very thin soil; and the seed that fell there sprouted quickly and withered quickly. A portion of the field was infested with thorns; and the seed in that area, after a long struggle with the hardier thorns, failed to produce a harvest. The good ground was the productive part of the field which rewarded the sower's efforts. There is no reason to suppose Jesus invented this story. He saw it, as travelers to that part of the world may still see it. The genius and divinity of our Lord lie in the fact that he saw so much more in such an incident than any man ever saw before.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
This was Christ's invitation to study that innocent story for its hidden meaning. Even yet, the true and full implications of this rich narrative come only to those with perceptive minds and hearts, attuned to the detection of spiritual truth.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
Of the seven parables in this chapter, the first four were addressed to the multitudes, and the last three were spoken to the disciples. The apostles were quick to notice the dramatic change in the Saviour's teaching methods and promptly asked the reason for it.
And he answered and said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
Christ turned to teaching in parables after opposition developed against his divine mission; and this verse shows that Christ designed the parables, at least in part, to conceal his teachings from those who were not sincerely seeking to know and do his will. The harmless and innocent stories which the Great Teacher told gave nothing at all for the Pharisees' spies to report. MYSTERIES of the kingdom mentioned here refer generally to Christ's redemptive message which appeared mysterious enough to those secular and materialistic persons who had no proper conception of the Messiah's purpose. "Mystery," as used in the New Testament, referred to things concerning the kingdom of God, hidden from all previous generations; but then, in Christ, revealed to the apostles, and later to all mankind (Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:7,8).
For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.
This means that those who had perceptive and willing hearts and truly desired to know God's will could, by proper application, know more of the kingdom of heaven and thus be richly rewarded; but that those who did not have such character would consider the parables as mere riddles and so lose their chance to know the Lord.
Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
How wonderfully were the parables designed to accomplish Christ's purpose! They were marvelous devices for the separation of his hearers and polarizing them with reference to the approaching kingdom. Those who desired and expected some worldly conqueror who would break the back of Roman tyranny and restore secular power to the Jews were repelled by the innocent and innocuous descriptions of such prosaic and commonplace things as those which formed the basis of the parables. On the other hand, spiritually minded disciples would read the deeper meaning and know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.
Verses 14, 15
And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And should turn again, And I should heal them.
- Isaiah 6:9,10; Acts 28:26,27
Thus, as in everything else, Christ was acting in full accordance with the ancient prophecies which foretold his coming into the world. Significantly, Paul also quoted this passage (Acts 28:26,27), making the same application to the self-induced blindness and deafness of Israel and their obdurate unwillingness to accept the King when he appeared among them. The words "turn again" near the end of the prophecy above are also translated "be converted" in the King James Version. See more under Matthew 18:3.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.
The blindness and sin of the many shall not militate against the joy and blessing of those who heeded our Lord. Israel, as a nation, indeed rejected the Christ; but some of her more noble sons, including the apostles, shall receive the full measure of the heavenly gift. The principle holds for all who truly love and seek Christ.
For verily I say unto you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not.
Here, as in Matt. 13:11, above, Christ referred to the hidden nature of God's eternal purpose for man's salvation. Paul frequently wrote of this, and a more particular attention to that "mystery" can be quite rewarding.
The New Testament refers to these mysteries:
The mystery of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:32)
The mystery of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:7)
The mystery of the seven stars and seven candlesticks (Revelation 1:20)
The mystery of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:51)
The mystery of the blindness of Israel (Romans 11:25)
The mystery of the harlot church (Revelation 14:7)
The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13)
Containing all those mysteries, and exceeding them, is a greater and more comprehensive mystery referred to by Paul as:
The great mystery (1 Timothy 3:16)
The mystery (Romans 16:25)
The mystery of his will (Ephesians 1:9)
The mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4)
The mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19)
The mystery of God (Colossians 2:3)
The mystery of faith (1 Timothy 3:9)
The mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)
Peter also elaborated the fact that the ancient prophets, and even the angels of God, desired to "look into" those things which they could not fully understand (1 Peter 1:10-12). In view of such things, how blessed indeed were the disciples of the Lord who were privileged in him to see the embodiment of the total mystery of redemption. Neither men nor angels knew it until Christ revealed it to the Twelve.
Hear then ye the parable of the sower.
Explanation of the Parable of the Sower, Matt. 13:18-23:
Christ named this parable. It is not, therefore, the parable of the soils, or of the birds gobbling up the seed, nor of the rocky ground, or the thorny ground, but the Parable of the Sower. The sower in this analogy stands for God, the Great Architect of redemption. The central place belongs to him. People may or may not receive his word; but the seeds still fall, and the harvest is still produced, regardless of human failure, indifference, or opposition.
When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the wayside.
From this, it is plain that the various classes of soil represent the various conditions of human hearts. The birds stand for the evil one. The seed is the "word of the kingdom." The hardness of the trampled path suggests unreceptive and evil men.
Verses 20, 21
And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth.
The shallow soil, overlaying rock, produced quick but impermanent results. This stands for the easy convert, easily lost. The sun's scorching heat in the analogy stands for tribulations and persecutions because of the word. The shallowness of the ground represents impressionable, easily influenced persons, who have little stability.
And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
The thorns that choke out the words and cause unfruitfulness in hearers of the word of God are the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. (adds "cares," Luke 8:14.) This represents a class of hearers which may be described as capable of salvation, possessing many excellent qualities, but who subordinate the most important things to secondary considerations and are thus robbed of eternal life. Cares, riches, and pleasures are not, in and of themselves, evil; but a well may be as effectively choked and stopped with a load of flowers as by a load of rotten carcasses.
And he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, some a hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty.
In this part of the analogy, the good ground stands for the fruit-bearing hearer of God's word; but why the varying degrees of yield? Christ's repetition of this in the explanation shows that it has spiritual significance. Anyone familiar with the causes of various productivity in the agricultural industry cannot fail to be aware of the answer. Such things as preparation of the soil, cultivation, protection from enemies, the rains and the weather, and promptness in harvesting - all these things, and others, enter into the yield of a given crop. By analogy, Christians who have been properly cultivated by home training and education, who are protected from spiritual enemies by wise choice of friends and companions, who begin to serve the Lord early in life, and who are blessed with favorable opportunities for teaching and influence of others, may well reap a more bountiful harvest than others who had not such advantages. F2
Since this is the first parable explained in the New Testament, it is appropriate to note that in this single parable Christ pointed out the following comparisons:
The seed is the word of God.
The wayside soil is the hardened hearer.
The shallow soil is the unstable hearer.
The thorny ground is the hearer who permits other things to choke out the word.
The good ground is the faithful hearer who bears fruit.
The birds of the air are the evil one.
The sun's heat is tribulation and persecution.
The thorns are the cares, riches, and pleasures of life.
The various multiples of yield are the variable fruitfulness of hearers.
The sudden sprouting of seed on shallow soil stands for the ease with which unstable souls are converted.
The sower stands for God.
In view of the above, it is futile to talk of "one parable, one point." Yet it is plain that one might go too far and make deductions unwarranted by a parable. This would always be the case where inert or unstressed incidentals should be made to convey a message where none was indicated. For example, no reference is made to the bag out of which the sower took the seed; therefore, it would not be correct to make some lesson to hinge on that. On the other hand, it is perfectly clear that each one of the Lord's parables was a genuine work of art from the mind of the Master Teacher, and that everything stressed in a parable is worthy of careful attention and study.
Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat and went away. But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. And the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares? And he said unto them, An enemy hath done this. And the servants say unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he saith, Nay; lest haply while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.
II. The Parable of the Tares, Matt. 13:24-30:
Christ fully explained this parable, and for the notes on the explanation, see under Matt. 13:36 below.
Verses 31, 32
Another parable set he before them saying. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof.
III. The Parable of the Mustard Seed
This and the parable of the leaven which immediately followed it constitute a pair with these similarities: (1) both stress the small beginning of the kingdom; (2) its gradual increase, and (3) the extensiveness later attained.
Comparison of a great kingdom to a tree was not new. Daniel 4:10-12 and Ezekiel 31:3-9 reveal similar analogies. The mustard seed may be viewed as the word of God, or Christ himself, who is the Word (John 1:1). Clement of Alexandria chose the latter application F3 which is also followed by Trench:
Not Christ's doctrine, merely, nor yet
even the church which he planted on
earth, is the grain of mustard seed in
its central meaning. He is himself at
once the mustard seed and him who
sowed it. F4
However, the church itself is the "body of Christ"; and, therefore, it is no violence to refer this parable primarily to the church or kingdom of God. Christ said the "kingdom of heaven" is like, etc. The wonder of how the kingdom began in an obscure province by the birth of a child to humble and obscure parents in a stable, and how the kingdom grew to encompass people of every kindred and nation is aptly illustrated by this parable. No difficulty is seen in the fact that some seeds might actually be smaller than a mustard seed. This trifling quibble disappears in the ancient proverb, "small as a grain of mustard seed." Besides, in the relative sense in which Christ spoke, it was a literal fact. And if that is not enough, it could easily be explained as an example of hyperbole, exaggeration for the sake of emphasis.
None of the commentaries, as far as determined, make anything of the birds lodging in the branches, other than an illustration of the kingdom's ultimate magnitude; however, in the parable of the sower, Christ used the birds to represent the devil, and upon that it would seem wise to seek a meaning here. Coupled with John's prophecy of the apostate church, that it should become "a hold of every unclean and hateful bird" (Revelation 18:2), this parable makes it very likely that the ultimate corruption of the kingdom of heaven is intended; that is, as manifested in the so-called Christendom of modern and medieval times. A glance in any direction during the current century will afford many glimpses of foul birds that have built their nests in the kingdom! Yet, just as the birds could not, in fact, corrupt the mustard tree, neither can evil men succeed in thwarting God's purpose, however closely they may be allied with the visible church and its activities.
Chrysostom noted that this and the parable of the leaven were parables outlining the success of God's kingdom and were thus designed to alleviate the distress of the disciples and to encourage them, such distress arising from the fact that in the parable of the sower, three-fourths of the soils were unproductive, and that in the parable of the tares, an enemy succeeded in corrupting the whole field with tares! It is as though Christ had said by means of these two short parables, "Nevertheless, my kingdom shall not fail but shall attain marvelous success!"
Note the following analogies in this parable:
The small seed shows the small beginning of the kingdom.
The large plant shows its ultimate glory and success.
The birds of the heaven in its branches suggest an identification of evil and extraneous operations closely connected with the kingdom, yet not a part of it.
The field is the world.
The one who sowed the seed is Christ, or God.
The seed is the word of God.
The mustard tree stands for the visible church in all ages.
Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.
IV. The Parable of the Leaven in Three Measures of Meal
There is a long list of expositors who make the leaven in this parable something evil and the parable itself a prophecy of the ultimate corruption of the church during the apostasy, basing their claims upon the fact that leaven is almost always used in Scripture as a type of something evil. Thus, the Israelites were commanded to purge out the old leaven during Passover; and the disciples were warned by the Saviour against the leaven of the Pharisees. All these considerations should be rejected in the light of Christ's word that "the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, etc." The figures in the Bible are not so stereotyped that symbols must invariably follow common patterns. It does seem bold and startling that Christ, in this parable, would reverse the usual meaning of leaven and make it something good, holy, and desirable; but another example of the same reversal is seen in the fact that Christ is "a lion" (Revelation 5:5), and so is the devil (1 Peter 5:8)!
In the parable of the mustard seed, one may impart some meaning of demerit to the birds, because they form no essential part of a mustard tree; but in this parable the leaven becomes a part of the whole three measures of meal; and, therefore, to construe the leaven as evil would be to make this a prophecy of the complete, final, and total corruption of the church itself, which cannot be. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
One difference in these two short parables is that, whereas a man sowed the mustard seed in his field, it was a woman who took and hid the leaven in three measures of meal. This may indicate that the church is meant, since the church is represented often as a woman, and as the bride of Christ. This view would make the leaven to be the word of God which the church preaches, or the influence emanating from it.
Many ancient commentators made much of the "three measures of meal," seeing in them the three dispensations of God's grace, the racial composition of the human family in the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and the three-fold nature of man as a being with a spirit, soul, and body! Such deductions appear as too speculative; and it is much easier, and as likely true, that the three measures were mentioned only because that was the usual amount a woman would have taken on an ordinary occasion. It was the excessive pressing of such details as these that resulted in a retreat to the position mentioned earlier of seeing only one point in a parable.
The following analogies would appear to be valid:
The leaven (yeast) represents the kingdom of heaven in its influence.
The leaven imparts its character to the whole loaf, the church changes the character of people influenced by it.
The leaven rises silently, unostentatiously, suggesting the manner of the church's growth.
A little leaven is capable, given time, of leavening a vast amount.
The influence of the church will become very wide and extensive.
The fact that a woman took the leaven may not be a vital part of the illustration; but, if so, probably represents the church.
Verses 34, 35
All these things spake Jesus in parables unto the multitudes; and without a parable spake he nothing unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.
- Psa. 78:2
This concluded the first four parables which were addressed to the multitudes. This restriction of Jesus' teachings to parables only was confined to certain occasions, especially this one. Halley pointed out, "Christ's teachings that day were parabolical." F5 But, of course, there were other occasions when he did not use parables exclusively. The quotation from Psa. 78:2 showed that even in the choice of that teaching method Christ was following exactly the guidelines laid down in prophecy. The things "hidden from the foundation of the world" were mysteries mentioned earlier in this chapter. See under Matt. 13:17.
Then he left the multitudes, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him saying, Explain unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
The desire of the disciples for an explanation of that parable is understandable. Even with the Lord's explanation, men do not fully understand it, as evidenced by the most diverse opinions regarding it. It must have appeared dark indeed before the Lord illuminated it.
Explanation of the Parable of the Tares of the Field:
And he answered and said, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.
The identity of the one who sowed the good seed is plain. It is Christ. The problem concerns the true meaning of "the field." Christ said the field is "the world," and from this it is alleged that the parable has no reference to prohibitions against the disciples' exercise of discipline against members of the church. Note, however, that authority for church discipline does not require any support from this parable, since it stands on more than sufficient authority mentioned otherwise throughout the New Testament. Besides, gathering tares into bundles to burn them is far too strong a figure for church discipline and has even less application to proposed activities of disciples without and beyond the confines of the church, namely, "in the world." Therefore, to make "the world" in Christ's explanation to mean the unregenerated portion of humanity would mean that Christ here forbade his disciples to exterminate unregenerates, a temptation which it is very unlikely any disciples ever had. It is possible that the "world-wide church" is intended or meant by this, a view supported by the fact that Christ said, "The kingdom of heaven is like" this, and also from the statement in Matt. 13:41 that the angels shall gather "out of his kingdom," indicating that purging tares out of the kingdom is actually the thing under consideration.
More bitter controversies have been waged over this portion of the Scriptures than over any other, with the exception, perhaps, of "this is my body"! Some fierce upholders of purity in the church have applied the prohibition against tare pulling to the purging of those without, namely in "the world" and have proceeded to arrogate to themselves the business of gathering the tares into bundles and burning them - even doing so literally in the case of thousands of heretics burned at the stake! Others have taken a different view and have made this parable an excuse to contain within the church every evil thing on the basis that to remove them would root up the wheat also! Neither view, it appears to this writer, is correct.
We have seen that the mild and loving discipline to be exercised by the church of our Lord is amply provided for in other New Testament writings, apart from this parable; and, it seems, what is forbidden here is exactly the thing that was done in the brutal, savage excommunications so characteristic of the church of the Middle Ages, which mounted the Spanish Inquisition and many other diabolical institutions upon the pretense of purifying the church.
It is in this frame of reference that the view is held which makes "the field" the church in the whole world. It appears that Christ did not give this parable to warn his disciples against casting "out of the world," but "out of the church," since it is only in the church that any such power, opportunity, or temptation exists for disciples to do any casting out. It is freely confessed that there are difficulties in this view, but they seem less insurmountable to this expositor than some of the difficulties inherent in the other view which, in effect, removes any prohibition against tare pulling within the church itself.
Thus, it may be said that this parable puts a terminator on church discipline in that there is a point beyond which it cannot go. Plucking up, binding into bundles - this is not allowed to Christians, however urgent the considerations of discipline. The wretched history of both Catholicism and Protestantism points up the wisdom of this restriction. With Richard Trench, we hold this parable to be primarily a prohibition against using "violent means for the suppression of error." F6
Aside from the area of widest controversy, mentioned above, the parable is laden with many other significant and helpful teachings.
And the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one.
The fact that the tares did not appear until fruit was "brought forth" (Matthew 13:26) shows that they were indistinguishable from the wheat until that time, a fact strongly indicating that they were "in the church," else they could not have been confused with the wheat. The "tares" were actually "darnel" (English Revised Version (1885), margin), a type of bastard wheat bearing a close resemblance to the noble grain and impossible to detect until harvest. It is this proximity of the tares and wheat and the lack of identification separating them that forces one to look "in the church" for the area under consideration.
And the enemy that sowed them is the devil: and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
The enemy who operated while men slept is the devil. The tares are people, sons of the devil, masquerading as Christians. The harvest is the end of the world, when the Lord will send his angels and gather "out of his kingdom" all things that cause stumbling (Matthew 13:41). Note that the final separation of the good from the bad is not a prerogative of men but of God and his angels.
As therefore the tares are gathered up and burned with fire; so shall it be in the end of the world.
The fire into which the tares will be cast is hell, the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 21:8; Mark 9:44; Matthew 25:41ff). The ultimate fate of the wicked is a doom so intolerable and overwhelming that Christ came down from heaven and endured the pangs of suffering and death to deliver men from such a fate. Only a fool could set aside such warnings, delivered at such cost, and authenticated in every conceivable manner. "Fear him who hath power to cast both soul and body into hell" (Luke 12:5). This is a valid admonition.
The end of the world
, mentioned here, is noted in more detail under Matthew 28:18-20, which see.
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity.
Here again, in Jesus' explanation, are the words "out of his kingdom," indicating the area under consideration to be primarily the church, but on a world-wide scale. The burden of teaching in the parable seems to be that God and his angels, rather than men and their devices, are to separate the wicked from the just.
As to how evil persons get into the kingdom, it is stated in Matt. 13:25, above, that an enemy, the devil, planted them there. Significantly, this was done only "while men slept" (Matthew 13:25), and shows the limitation upon Satan's activity in this endeavor. Most of the sorrows and shortcomings in the church occur when men are asleep, failing to keep watch as the Master commanded.
And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
This shows the terror and frustration of the doomed. The furnace of fire refers to hell (see more under 13:40).
Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears, let him hear.
This entire parable sets forth the divinity and glory of Christ. He is the Son of man who sends his angels to sever the wicked from the righteous. It is his angels who cast the wicked into torment. Such assumptions of prerogative on the part of a mere man would be unthinkable.
The following analogies are explicitly set forth in this parable:
Gathering into his barn represents salvation of the righteous.
He that sowed the good seed is Christ.
He that sowed the evil seed is the devil.
The good seed are Christians.
The bad seed are children of the devil.
The field is the world.
The harvest is the end of the world.
The burning of the tares represents hell.
The reapers are the angels in the end of the world.
"While men slept" suggests that Satan must abide his opportunity and may not fully countermand the truth except with God's permission and man's inattention.
Gathering "out of his kingdom" suggests purging of the church at the last day, in the judgment.
From the above, it further appears that Christ expected many analogies, not merely one, to be deduced from a parable.
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
V. Parable of the Treasure Hidden in the Field
These parables, this one and the two immediately following, were spoken in the house, not to the multitudes by the seashore. In the case of the treasure, it was found when the finder was not looking for it; but in the case of the pearl, its discovery followed a long and diligent search for it. There are other notable differences. In the treasure is a likeness of the kingdom; but in the other, it is the merchantman searching for the pearl. The treasure hidden in the field teaches the supreme regard men should have for the kingdom of heaven; and that, whatever incident or opportunity leads to the knowledge of it, the finder should exercise every human effort to obtain it, even to selling all that he has, if necessary, to come into possession of it. The great consideration is that the kingdom of heaven is indeed a treasure, a treasure surpassing all others in riches and desirability.
The kingdom of heaven is a treasure.
It is hidden to some, indeed to many.
Some find it accidentally, or unintentionally, while doing something else.
Once found, a man should obtain it, regardless of cost.
Verses 45, 46
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
VI. The Parable of the Merchantman Seeking Goodly Pearls
Although it is not stated here that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price, a number of analogies suggest themselves. The pearl is a symbol of difficulties overcome, since it is caused by an annoyance to an oyster. It is a life-created thing of great value and beauty. Significantly, the gates of the Eternal City are said to be "each one a pearl" (Revelation 21:21). Thus, through obstacles overcome, one may enter the home of the soul.
The prime comparison, however, regards the merchant. man engaged in the search. This was Jesus' emphasis: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God!" Seeking is a vital and very necessary part of knowing and sharing the mysteries of God's kingdom; but so is decision! The merchantman is held up for our approval and emulation because: (1) he did not waste his time admiring the pearl, or wishing he had it; (2) he did not propose to obtain it at a reduced price; (3) he did not delay or postpone his decision; (4) he did not reject it as too expensive - none of these things, he simply sold all he had and bought it!
Some search all their lives for the truth and at last find it. Others, as in the hidden treasure, are not looking for it at all, as, for example, when some sinner marries a Christian wife or husband, but then, in the light of opportunity, rises to claim the prize!
Seeking is an essential part of finding the kingdom.
Once found, it should be obtained, regardless of cost.
A pearl of great price suggests the kingdom because:
It is not of the earth, like gold, but of life.
It is created by the overcoming of a difficulty.
It will form a gate to the Eternal City.
The merchantman set a good example because:
He was not content with admiring, or wishing.
He did not shrink from the cost.
He sold all he had and bought it.
He did so at once, then and there, with no delay.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away. So shall it be in the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
VII. The Parable of the Net That Was Cast into the Sea:
This is another of the parables Jesus explained, and again, not one analogy but many are noted:
The sea is the world.
The net is the church.
The enclosed fish of "every kind" are members of the church.
The good fish are the truly spiritual children of their Father.
The bad fish are like the tares, sons of the evil one.
The fact that both kinds are in the net shows the proximity of the good and bad in the kingdom, who are all accounted by men to be "in" it, but some of whom are wicked.
The beach represents the end of time.
The net's being "filled" shows that God will attain his full purpose in the redemption of men.
The sorting of the fish represents the judgment of the last day. The sorters are the angels.
The casting away of the bad is the casting of the wicked into hell.
The gathering into vessels represents the salvation of the godly.
The vessels represent heaven.
There is a subtle change of emphasis in the parable in which the fishermen, who may be understood to be the Lord's disciples of all ages, draw the net upon the beach; and yet, it is not THEY but the angels who are said to sever the wicked from the just. That is why no definite mention of the fishermen is made in the parable, indicating that those elements of a narrative which are not stressed by Christ are to be construed as serving no analogy.
One overwhelmingly important deduction to be obtained from this remarkable parable is seen in the fact that no fishes were taken into the vessels that had not first been captured in the net. In the large analogy of the sea as the world, the net as the church, and the vessels as heaven, it is thus quite plain that Christ intended to teach that membership in the church is prerequisite to entry into the eternal kingdom in heaven. God's church, or kingdom, is the appointed way of gathering from the great seas of human population the number of the redeemed. Furthermore, not all so-called Christians will be saved. A great many are in the net, "the church," who must be accounted as "bad," and who shall suffer eternal banishment from the face of the Father.
First glance may leave the impression that this parable covers the same ground as that of the tares, but there are marked differences. The emphasis on that one is upon the present intermixture in the church, and in this one upon the certainty of the final separation of the righteous and the wicked. The emphasis in the former is upon "who" will make the separation, and in this one upon the "certainty" of that separation. In both cases, it is clear that angels, not men, shall effect the separation.
Both in this and in that of the tares is stressed the puzzling containment within the church herself of both good and bad elements. This ought not, however, to appear overly strange to students of the word of God, because: (1) there was a Ham in the ark; (2) a Judas among the Twelve; (3) a man of sin in the temple of God; (4) a mystery Babylon within the historical perimeter of the church; (5) Esau contended with Jacob in the very womb of Rebekah; and, as in her case, the church may often cry, "Why am I thus?" (Genesis 25:22). The parable of the drag net is Christ's pledge that, whatever doubts and perplexities may arise from this mixture of good and bad in the church, there will at last occur the thorough and dramatic separation of the one from the other, and that it will be accomplished by beings most eminently qualified to do it, namely, by the angels of God.
Verses 51, 52
Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea. And he said unto them, Therefore every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
Both ancient and modern commentators refer these words to the Old and New Testaments. Victorinus said, "Things new and old - the new, the evangelical words of the apostles; the old, the precepts of the law and the prophets." F7 Dummelow identified the old and the new as "the old truths which God had long made known to the Jews, as well as the new truth declared by Christ." F8
There is another meaning in this place, and it is contained in the unceasing wonder that the same things can be both old and new simultaneously! What is older, or newer, than conversion? the birth of a child? a wedding? or the manner in which some soul reacts to a crisis? What is newer, or older, than the great thoughts of the Eternal God which men of each passing generation are privileged to think after him, by means of the Scriptures? It is certainly not amiss to see this "new and old" aspect of every sermon. This suggests that teachers and preachers should adapt messages to hearers.
And it came to pass that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence.
This verse concludes a section of Matthew's gospel, that pertaining to the proclamation and inauguration of his kingdom, appointment of its officers, enunciation of its principles, and statement of its laws.
The last seven parables, recorded in this chapter, constitute a remarkably comprehensive and detailed presentation of the guidelines of faith; and there is a strong temptation to find in these seven parables some mystical or secret meaning. The efforts of men to do this, however, are far from convincing. Unity and harmony do indeed appear in the group taken as a whole. THE SOWER stresses the obstacles to be overcome by the word, which succeeds anyway. THE TARES presents the enemy opposing God's purpose, even within the church itself, and warns the church against taking matters into its own hands. THE MUSTARD SEED and LEAVEN show the growth of the kingdom from small beginnings to great power and influence, both outwardly and visibly, as shown by the tree, and also inwardly and secretly, as shown by the leaven. THE MUSTARD SEED and LEAVEN concern the general impact of the kingdom upon the whole world, whereas the next two, THE HIDDEN TREASURE and PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, show the impact of the kingdom upon the individual and the supreme worth of God and his kingdom to the individual person. THE DRAW NET presents the final end of God's purpose when the precious shall be separated from the vile, and each class shall inherit the destiny it deserves.
And coming into his country he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that their were astonished and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
THE RESPONSE OF THE PEOPLE TO CHRIST, SOME REJECTING AND SOME RECEIVING HIM
What a paradox it is that Jesus' rejection by his own community is also an eloquent testimony to the greatness of his deeds. WHY did they reject him? Among other reasons, because of the very magnitude of his wonderful deeds, his wisdom and mighty works, which they held to be inconsistent with the humble environment in which they had seen him grow up. Thus, their very rejection of Christ is a witness to his power and glory. He was such a wonderful person that they simply could not reconcile him with the obscurity and humility of his childhood and youth.
Verses 55, 56
Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
Well, there it is. This was the first council of unbelief ever held against Jesus the Son of God. It occurred not in some ivory tower of learning, nor in some gathering of wise and learned men, ah, no! It occurred in the wretched and miserable village of Nazareth; and the protagonists of this dark drama of rejection were not intellectuals, nor educated and cultured men, but were prejudiced gossips, vulgar, and ignorant buffoons, but still entitled to one marvelous distinction: THEY WERE THE SPIRITUAL ANCESTORS OF ALL THE UNBELIEVERS WHO EVER LIVED!
Satan has long sponsored the lie that unbelief is sophistication, intellectuality, erudition, and "smartness"! But in this original pilot-project for the rejection of the Christ, the truth is evident. Unbelief is not a courageous rejection of ancient dogma; it is not a brilliant conclusion of philosophical intelligence. Nazareth rejected no doctrine, manifested no intelligence, and could lay claim to no particular power, culture, or worth of any kind that could have endowed their rejection with any semblance of justification or honesty. Those who fancy that the rejection of Christ is the result of comparing all religions, let them note that at Nazareth there was no study, no comparison, no investigation, precious little information, and a dreadful suspicion of intellectual mediocrity, if not indeed downright stupidity.
It is clear as the sun at perihelion that the blighting unbelief of Nazareth which blinded their eyes against the only Person who saved that town from oblivion - their unbelief was not intellectual superiority, nor moral courage. nor logic, nor philosophy, nor honest doubt. What was it? (1) It was unworthiness. That town had justly earned an unsavory reputation. As Christ said, "Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). (2) It was egotism. Look at the self-glory of the words, "Is not this the carpenter's son?" What ridiculous snobbery of an inflated ego is implicit in such words as those! Ah, yes; who was speaking? The burgomaster's daughter, no less, or the local salt merchant, or some owner of a wine shop, or of a brothel! Fit citizens indeed to look down upon the carpenter's boy! (3) It was mental laziness. They could easily have ascertained the truth by a little investigation; but no, it was far easier to deny the news filtering down to that wretched little village than to check up on it and find it true. To have done THAT would really have created a problem. The lazy mind takes the lazy way out. (4) It was illogical. Strange that Nazareth should have rejected the Holy One who was welcomed with "Hosannas" in Jerusalem; but the same illogical phenomenon is yet seen in men who will blindly reject a faith that was held by men like Paul, Washington, Newton, and countless others of the greatest minds ever known on earth. (5) It was moral cowardice. The gossips of Nazareth did not have the moral courage to kneel at the feet of Jesus. The rich young ruler did so, but the citizens of Nazareth had no such grace. (6) It was the opiate of the people. Where have we heard that before? Unbelief sealed Nazareth off from what was happening in the world. It was an escape mechanism by which they avoided doing anything. If they had believed, it would have involved them in all kinds of activity; but, with one good drag on the opium-pipe of infidelity, all was quiet in Nazareth! Satan, by his emissaries, has sought to reverse this truth, but it won't work. Infidelity or atheism is the opium of the people. (7) It is self-pity. They were offended in him. Christ had not consulted them; his success had bruised their local pride. This characteristic whine of unbelief is everywhere noticed, even in famous infidels such as H. G. Wells, who said, "The universe is getting bored with man." In view of such plain and indisputable facts as these, what blindness is it that allows Satan to embellish atheism with some aura of intellectual respectability? The epic falsehood of the devil that unbelief is any form of intellectual activity is surely and certainly destroyed by a careful analysis of this classic example of it at Nazareth!
The problem of the identity of the four brothers and three sisters of Jesus, mentioned in this place, did not exist in ancient times. Helvidius, the most ancient commentator on this passage, said that they were all the children of Mary and Joseph, born after Jesus was born. It was only in ages after men had invented religious doctrines incompatible with the obvious truth of Matthew's words, that ingenious interpretations were devised to relieve the embarrassment. All such efforts fail in the light of the simple, obvious, and necessary meaning of Matthew 13:55,56. The truth was built into the passage by the Holy Spirit and is incapable of destruction. As the noted Dr. Adam Clarke so ably expressed it, "Why should the children of ANOTHER family be brought in here to share the reproach which it is evident was designed for Joseph the carpenter, Mary his wife, and their son Jesus?" F9 Cousins or lodge brothers simply do not fit into the picture here at all, nor would their being pulled in have aided the reproach in any way. No, the reproach was directed at Jesus and his immediate family; those others named were his literal brothers and sisters. See more on this under Matthew 1:25. Note, three sisters must be assumed from the words, "are they not all with us?"
This rejection at Nazareth occurred on the second visit of Jesus, the first being described in Luke 4:16ff. This second rejection, recorded also by Mark (Mark 6:1-6), was final and determinative. Mark's words, "He marveled at their unbelief," show the shock and amazement which attended the conduct of the people of Nazareth. Christ himself was made to marvel at it.
Verses 57, 58
And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
Christ quoted this same proverb on his other visit to Nazareth (Luke 4:16ff). The human side of Christ's dual nature was foretold by Isaiah who noted that the Messiah would be "despised and rejected of men" (Isaiah 53:3). Nazareth provided the first in a series of rejections; but it should be remembered that this was precisely what was prophesied, the very unbelief of the people becoming, therefore, a further testimony of his divinity.
Footnotes for Matthew 13
1: Henry H. Halley, Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Press, 1959), p. 404.
2: J. W. McGarvey, The New Testament Commentary (copyrighted by Chase and Hall in 1875; republished by Gospel Light Publishing Company, Delight, Arkansas).
3: Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor in the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), Vol. II, p. 234.
4: Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Parables (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953), p. 112.
5: John W. Haley, Discrepancies of the Bible (Nashville: B. C. Goodpasture, 1951), p. 331.
6: Richard C. Trench, op. cit., p. 99.
7: Victorinus from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 345.
8: J. R. Dummelow, One Volume Commentary (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 675.
9: Adam Clarke, Commentary (New York and London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), Vol. V, p. 152.
10: R. A. Bertram, A Homiletic Encyclopedia (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls Company, thirteenth edition), Item 2690, p. 458.
11: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 134,
12: R. A. Torrey, Difficulties in the Bible (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907), p. 109.
13: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 135.
14: Revised Standard Version.
15: Emphatic Diaglott.
16: Goodspeed, New Testament in Modern Speech.
17: Williams, The New Testament.
18: Moffatt, The New Testament.
19: Paul Blanchard, American Freedom and Catholic Power (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press), pp. 138-139.
20: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company), p. 16.
21: Ibid., p. 16.
22: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermons, Volume 5 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), p. 20.
23: Robert Milligan, Commentary on Hebrews (Nashville: World Vision Publishing Company), pp. 73-74.