Matthew 13 - The Kingdom Parables
A. The parable of the sower.
1. (1-3a) Jesus teaches with parables.
On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables,
a. He got into a boat and sat: Jesus often used a boat as His "pulpit" (Mark 2:9). It gave Him a place to speak away from the press of the crowds, provided good acoustics, and probably a nice backdrop.
i. When Jesus taught from a boat, surely that was a new thing. We can imagine some critic saying, "You can't do that! Teaching belongs in the synagogue or in some other appropriate place." It would be easy to come up with objections: "The damp air might make people sick" or "There are a lot of mosquitoes down at the shore" or "Someone might drown." But Jesus knew that teaching from a boat suited His purposes well enough.
b. Then He spoke many things to them in parables: The idea behind the word parable is "to throw along side of." It is a story thrown along side the truth intended to teach. Parables have been called "earthly stories with a heavenly meaning."
2. (3b-9) A simple story about a farmer and sowing seeds.
"Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"
a. A sower went to sow: Jesus speaks according to the agricultural customs of His day. In those days, seed was scattered first, then it was plowed into the ground.
b. As he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside: In this parable, the seed falls on four different types of soil.
i. The wayside was the path where people walked and nothing could grow because the ground was too hard.
ii. Stony places refers to a place where the soil was thin, laying upon a rocky shelf. On this ground the seed springs up quickly because of the warmth of the soil, but the seed is unable to take root because of the rocky shelf.
iii. Among thorns describes soil that is fertile - perhaps too fertile, because thorns grow there as well as grain.
iv. Good ground describes soil that is both fertile and weed-free. A good, productive crop grows in the good ground.
c. He who has ears to hear, let him hear: This is a not a call for all to listen. Rather, it is a call for those who are spiritually sensitive to take special note. This is especially true in light of the next few verses, in which Jesus explains the purpose of parables.
3. (10-17) Why did Jesus use parables? In this context, to hide the truth from those who would not listen to the Holy Spirit.
And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.' But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."
a. Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given: He used parables so that the hearts of those rejecting would not be hardened further. The same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay; and so the very same gospel message which breaks down honest hearts and leads to repentance, hardens the hearts of the dishonest and confirms them in their path of disobedience.
b. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand: In this sense, the parables of Jesus were not illustrations making difficult things clear to all who heard. They were a way of "encoding" God's message so the spiritually sensitive could understand, but the hardened would merely hear a story without heaping up additional condemnation for rejecting God's Word.
i. Parables are an example of God's mercy towards the hardened. The parables are given in light of Jesus' rejection by the Jewish leaders, mercy given to the undeserving.
c. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: By speaking in parables, Jesus also fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, speaking in a way that the hardened would hear but not hear, and see but not see.
d. But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear: In light of this, how blessed are those who do understand the parables of Jesus. Not only do they gain the benefit of the spiritual truth illustrated, but they also display some measure of responsiveness to the Holy Spirit.
e. Parables generally teach one main point or principle. We can get into trouble by demanding that they be intricate systems of theology, with the smallest detail revealing hidden truths.
4. (18-23) The parable of the soils explained: each soil represents one of four responses to the gospel of Jesus.
"Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."
a. This is he who received seed by the wayside: The wayside represents those who never really hear the gospel with understanding. The gospel must be understood before it can bear fruit. One of Satan's chief works is to keep men in darkness regarding their understanding of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
b. The stony places represent those who receive the gospel enthusiastically, but it is short-lived, because they are not willing to endure tribulation or persecution . . . because of the word.
c. The soil among thorns represents fertile ground for the word - but their "soil" is too fertile, because it also grows all sorts of other things that choke out the word of God.
d. The good ground represents those who receive the word, and it bears fruit in their "soil" - in differing proportions, though everyone has a generous harvest.
e. We benefit from seeing bits of ourselves in all four soils.
i. Like the wayside, sometimes we allow the word no room at all in our lives.
ii. Like the stony places, we sometimes have "hot flashes" of enthusiasm in receiving the word that quickly burn out.
iii. Like the soil among thorns, the world is constantly threatening to choke out God's word and our fruitfulness.
iv. Like the good ground, the word bears fruit in our lives.
f. Notice that the difference in each category was with the soil itself. The same seed was cast by the same sower. You could not blame the differences in results on the sower or the seed, but only the soil.
B. Parables of corruption in the kingdom community.
1. (24-30) The parable of the wheat and the tares.
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Do you want us then to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."'"
a. His enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat: The enemy's purpose in sowing tares was to destroy the wheat. But the wise farmer will not allow the enemy to succeed. Instead, He will sort it out at harvest time.
b. As applied to the kingdom community, this parable teaches us that it is not our job to sort the tares from the wheat. That is only done at the time of harvest. Among God's people, there may be some who are not genuine Christians, but it is God's job to sort out false professors.
2. (31-32) Another illustration of corruption in the kingdom community: the parable of the mustard seed.
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches."
a. When it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches: Some regard this as a beautiful picture of the church growing so large that it provides refuge for all the world. But this mustard seed plant has grown into a monstrosity, and it harbors birds - who, the in the parables, are emissaries of Satan (Matthew 13:4, 13:19).
3. (33) Another illustration of corruption in the kingdom community: the parable of the leaven in the meal.
Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."
a. Leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened: Some have regarded this parable as another beautiful picture of the kingdom of God working its way through the whole world. But three measures of meal was the exact amount customarily used in a grain offering to God, and leaven (which always is a picture of evil and sin in the Bible) has absolutely no place in a grain offering.
b. The idea of hiding leaven in three measures of meal would have offended any observant Jew. This certainly isn't a picture of the church gradually influencing the whole world for good.
4. (34-35) Jesus' teaching in parables as a fulfillment of prophecy.
All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world."
a. I will open My mouth in parables: Another reason Jesus taught about the kingdom community in parables is because the church itself was part of the things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world, and would not be revealed in fullness until later.
b. Later, Paul expresses this same idea about the church in Ephesians 3:4-11.
5. (36-43) Jesus explains the parable of the wheat and the weeds.
Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." He answered and said to them: "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"
a. Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field: In His explanation, Jesus makes it clear what the different figures in the parable represent. The field represents the world, the seed represents the word, and the crop is either grain from the good seeds, or are tares - representing the sons of the wicked one.
b. Jesus explains that the kingdom community will have tares - false believers - in its midst, and that it isn't the job of the church to weed all of these out. God will do it at the end of the age.
i. These tares appeared identical to the wheat when they were young. It was only as time went on that the difference was clear
c. The enemy who sowed them is the devil: Clearly, the enemy plants counterfeits in the kingdom community, and this is why being a "member of the Christian community" isn't enough.
d. As long as God's people are still in this world (the field), there will be unbelievers among them; but it should not be because God's people receive unbelievers as if they were believers.
C. More parables about the kingdom.
1. (44) The parable of the hidden treasure.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
a. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field: The field is the world, but the man does not represent the believer, because we have nothing to buy this treasure with. Instead, Jesus is the man who gave all that He had to buy the field.
b. And for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field: What the treasure could be so wonderful that Jesus would give all to purchase it? You! Jesus gave everything to redeem the whole world to preserve a treasure in it, and the treasure is His people.
2. (45-46) The parable of the costly pearl.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it."
a. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls: Again, Jesus is the buyer and we are the pearl that He sees as so valuable that He would happily give all to have it forever. We are as precious to Jesus as a beautiful pearl of great price.
3. (47-50) The parable of the dragnet.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
a. The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet: Jesus shows that the world will remain divided right up until the end, and the Church will not reform the world, ushering in the kingdom. Instead, there will be both the wicked and the just until the end of the age.
4. (51-52) The disciples claim to understand Jesus' parables.
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."
a. They said to Him, "Yes, Lord." We wonder if the disciples really did understand Jesus here. However, Jesus did not deny their claim to understand.
b. Every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom: Jesus says that every one who really knows God's word both will know the old and learn the new of the kingdom
D. Further rejection: Jesus is rejected at His Nazareth.
1. (53-56) The people of Nazareth are surprised that such a "normal" boy could grow up to do such spectacular things.
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. And 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?"
a. Is this not the carpenter's son? Because these villagers were so familiar with Jesus as a boy, and so unaccustomed to spectacular things from him, we may conclude that Jesus must have grown up a very normal boy unlike the fantastic stories told in apocryphal books like The Infancy of Jesus.
b. His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas: Jesus plainly had many brothers and sisters; the Roman Catholic idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary is in contradiction to the plain meaning of the Bible.
c. And His sisters: We know that Jesus had brothers, but now we also learn that He had sisters. Mary did not remain a virgin after she gave birth to Jesus.
2. (57-58) A prophet without honor.
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.
a. A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, and in his own house: We often have wrong ideas about what it means to be spiritual. We often think that spiritual people will be much more "strange" than "normal." Therefore, those closest to truly "spiritual" people see just how normal they are and sometimes think that they aren't spiritual because they are normal.
b. He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief: It is truly remarkable that Jesus was, in some manner, limited by their unbelief. As long as God chooses to work in concert with human agency, developing our ability to partner with Him, our unbelief will hinder the work of God.