Parables Of The Kingdom


Parables Of The Kingdom


Parables Of The Kingdom

Matthew 13:1-52

Main Idea: Jesus' parables tell of a kingdom that, despite being unrecognized and rejected by some, is already accomplishing its purpose in the world, and it will one day be gloriously consummated, resulting in eternal judgment for those who reject the gospel and eternal life for those who genuinely trust in Christ and treasure His reward.

  1. Four Questions
    1. What is a parable?
      1. A practical story
      2. Often framed as a simile
      3. Illustrates a spiritual truth
    2. How do we understand parables?
      1. Listen from the hearer's perspective.
      2. Look for the main point.
      3. Let the truth change your perception.
    3. Why do we have parables?
      1. Jesus was revealing truth to those who were believing the mysterious—this was evidence of God's mercy.
      2. Jesus was concealing truth from those who were denying the obvious—this was evidence of God's judgment.
    4. What is the kingdom of heaven?
      1. The redemptive rule or reign of God in Christ
      2. A present reality: The King is here, and His kingdom is advancing.
      3. A future realization: The King is coming back, and His kingdom will one day be complete.
  2. Eight Parables
    1. The parable of the Sower
    2. The parables of the Weeds and the Net
    3. The parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast
    4. The parables of the Treasure and the Pearl
    5. The parable of the Homeowner171
  3. Two Primary Applications
    1. Humbly and joyfully receive the message of the kingdom.
    2. Confidently and urgently spread the message of the kingdom.

For many people, Matthew 13 is a confusing and perplexing chapter. Parables about sowing seeds and nets drawing fish to the shore can leave us scratching our heads. However, this chapter contains several keys to understanding our lives and the place where we find ourselves in history. These parables of the kingdom need to be understood and believed so that we might follow Jesus more faithfully and live for His kingdom.

Rather than treating each parable separately, taking each apart in great detail, we'll consider the parables in Matthew 13 collectively and then conclude by asking, "What does this mean, and why is it important?" Matthew 13:1 begins the third major teaching section from Jesus in this Gospel. The first major teaching section was the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and the second was Jesus' speech, or summons, to His disciples in Matthew 10. Here in Matthew 13, Jesus' teaching largely takes the form of parables.

In order to understand Matthew 13, we need to place ourselves in the broader context of Matthew's Gospel. In Matthew 3:2 John the Baptist announced, "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!" He had proclaimed that the King, Christ, would "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (v. 11) and that a "winnowing shovel is in His hand" (v. 12). As Judge, Jesus would separate the wheat from the chaff. Then John baptized Jesus, the anointed Messiah, the One who had come to usher in the kingdom of God (vv. 13-17). Drastic changes looked to be imminent.

But now in Matthew 13, ten chapters later, very little substantive change has happened. Sure, Jesus has healed and taught some people, but most were keeping a safe distance from Him. Religious people in particular were standing up against Him, even plotting to kill Him (Matt 12:14). Following these parables in chapter 13, Jesus' neighbors were ready to disown Him (vv. 53-58). Needless to say, there were a lot of people very confused about whether Jesus really was the Messiah, including the crowds (chap. 12) and John the Baptist himself (chap. 11). Even the disciples must have been a little perplexed, as things weren't shaping up the way they had hoped.172

Many Jews expected all of Israel to flock to the Messiah and rally around Him, yet only a few people were rallying around Jesus. And it certainly didn't look like He was ushering in a whole new kingdom. As chapter 13 begins, interest had grown and the crowds were gathered around Jesus, even to the point where He had to get into a boat and go out into the water in order to see all of them (vv. 1-2). And what did Jesus do? He decided to tell them some stories about farmers, seeds, weeds, bread, pearls, and homeowners. How's that for a message from the Messiah! We need to see what these words that confused crowds two thousand years ago mean to our lives today. To do this, we need to start by asking four questions.

Four Questions

What is a parable?

This is the first question we must answer as we approach Matthew 13. A parable is a practical story, often framed as a simile (a comparison using "like" or "as"), that illustrates spiritual truth. There are all kinds of parables in the Gospels, and some of them are famous, such as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and the Lost Sheep (Matt 18:10-14). These stories draw a comparison in order to illustrate a spiritual truth.

How do we understand parables?

This question is important because different parables have been interpreted (and misinterpreted) in different ways throughout the history of the church. Some people have tried to figure out the meaning of a parable by finding parallels for every detail. For example, one understanding of the parable of the Good Samaritan makes the following connections: the man who was beaten is a sinner; the priest stands for the law; the Levite stands for the sacrifices; Jesus is the Samaritan who pays the bill; the inn is the church where believers are cared for; the two silver coins are baptism and the Lord's Supper; the innkeeper is the apostle Paul. Now that's certainly a creative interpretation, but there's only one problem: neither Jesus nor the Bible ever tells us that this is what the parable means. So how do we understand parables so that we are not abusing or misunderstanding them?

We should keep at least three principles in mind as we seek to understand parables: listen from the hearer's perspective, look for the173 main point, and then let the truth change your perception. We'll take those principles in order.

In terms of listening from the hearer's perspective, we've got to put ourselves in the shoes of people who first heard parables in order to understand what they were hearing. Jesus uses pictures and stories that are far more familiar to first-century Jews than twenty-first-century Americans. We need to ask ourselves questions such as, What would they hear? What would stick out to them? How would they respond at different points in the story? What kind of emotions would rise up when they heard the word "Samaritan?" I recall sitting in a Middle Eastern country sharing the story of the prodigal son with a Muslim man, and his eyes perked up when I said that the father went running to his son. He claimed that a father who had been offended like that would never run to his son. This man's reaction taught me more about the parable.

Next, in order to understand a parable, we need to look for the main point. There's usually one main point in any parable, or at most two or three, depending on the various elements in the story. As we read the parable, we should try to identify the primary truth the author is communicating.

Once we are able to discern the main point, we need to let that truth change our perception. After all, the whole point of parables is to challenge the way people think about something by using a kind of backdoor route—through story. This is exactly what Jesus was doing in Matthew 13.

Why do we have parables?

So far we've answered the questions "What is a parable?" and "How do we understand parables?" The third question we need to answer is, "Why do we have parables?" In other words, why not just state the main point instead of telling a story? This is exactly the question that the disciples ask Jesus in verse 10: "Why do You speak to them in parables?" He answers them in the next verse: "Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them" (v. 11). Jesus points to two purposes for parables, and these purposes are different based on two different kinds of audiences. This two-fold purpose is clear even in the way this chapter is structured, as these first four parables are told to the crowds, while the last four parables and their explanations are told only to the disciples.174

First, Jesus was revealing truth to those who were believing the mysterious. For the disciples, the secrets of the kingdom of heaven had been given for them to know by God. These "secrets" of the kingdom may also be referred to as "mysteries" (NKJV). That word mystery or secret refers to something that was hidden in the Old Testament and now made known in the New Testament. It was no secret that God was going to send the Messiah to usher in a kingdom; what was a secret was what kind of Messiah God would send, and how that Messiah would conquer—not through political struggle or physical force, but through selfless love and a sacrificial death on a cross. So for those who were trusting that Jesus was indeed the promised King, the parables were helping them understand what kind of King He was and what kind of kingdom He was ushering in.

The disciples were greatly privileged to hear and understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, for this was evidence of God's mercy. Jesus says, "But your eyes are blessed because they do see, and your ears because they do hear! For I assure you: Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn't see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn't hear them" (vv. 16-17). God's grace is all over this passage. To the disciples it had been "given" to know these things (v. 11). Given by whom? By God! And more would be given by God (v. 12). If we ask why the disciples understood and believed while so many others didn't, the answer is that it was purely the mercy of God.

Have you ever wondered why you as a follower of Christ see forgiveness in the cross, when so many other people in the world see foolishness (1 Cor 1:18)? Is it because you are better, smarter, more humble, or more religious? No, it is only because God is merciful. He has opened your eyes to see and your ears to hear. You are also blessed to live in a time when we have the full revelation of God's Word as it points to Jesus Christ. Something Old Testament saints only could have longed for, believers now possess.

But what about those who were rejecting Christ, those who were refusing to see Him as the Messiah? The parables have a different purpose for them. Matthew gives us the second purpose of parables: Jesus was concealing truth from those who were denying the obvious. In spite of miracle after miracle, teaching after teaching, the crowds and religious leaders refused to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Jesus said that it "has not been given to them" to understand these stories (v. 11), and that even the understanding they had would be taken away (v. 12). Then in verse 13 Jesus tells us why He is doing things this way: "For this reason175 I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand." Jesus follows this statement by quoting from Isaiah 6 where, right after the prophet's commissioning, God told Isaiah that he would preach but the people would not listen, for their hearts were dull, their ears were shut, and their eyes were closed (Isa 6:9-10).

Many people in Jesus' day saw His miracles outwardly, but they refused to see what those miracles said about Him. They heard what He had to say about being the Lord of the Sabbath, but they didn't understand the ramifications of such a pronouncement. Jesus knew that these parables would not be rightly understood, and according to Isaiah 6:9-10, this was evidence of God's judgment. Even though many had the person of Christ and the words of Christ right in front of them, they were rebelling against Him.

What is the kingdom of heaven?

All of these parables in Matthew 13 are about the kingdom of heaven, which leads to the fourth and final question.27 Matthew uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" 32 times, and it plays an important part in His overall message. Much could be said here because this is a subject that spans all of Scripture. In short, the kingdom of heaven is the redemptive rule or reign of God in Christ. The fundamental word is "rule" or "reign" because when we talk about the kingdom, we are talking about the authority and sovereignty of God as King. Notice also that God's reign is "redemptive." In one sense, we could say that God has authority and sovereignty over everything in the universe. The kingdom of heaven, then, could refer to everything in the world, because God has rule and reign over everything in the world. However, even though Scripture clearly teaches that God rules over all things, this kind of comprehensive rule is not the primary way that the phrase "kingdom of heaven" is used in Matthew's Gospel. Instead, the kingdom of heaven is used to describe how God is asserting His authority in the redemption of sinners through Christ, the promised Messiah. A few examples may help clarify this point.176

In Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus says, "Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Jesus is telling the disciples to pray that God would assert His redemptive rule and reign across the earth in Christ. Matthew 6:33 communicates a similar idea: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you." Jesus was instructing His disciples not to worry about their basic needs, but rather to seek and submit to the redemptive rule and reign of God in every facet of their life. The things that seem to be so worrisome—food, clothing, etc.—will be provided for them by God. Finally, in Mark 10:15 Jesus says, "I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." The point is that followers of Christ must, like a child, receive and embrace the rule or reign of God through Christ in their life. This perspective on the kingdom of heaven helps us understand why Jesus' teaching on the subject is so important.

Before leaving the topic of the kingdom of heaven, we should also note its timing. There's a sense in which the kingdom of heaven is a present reality: The King is here, and His kingdom is advancing. That's what we've been reading about in Matthew—God's rule and reign over disease and disasters and death is being asserted redemptively through Christ. So there is a very real sense in which the kingdom of heaven is at hand; it is present. At the same time, there's also a sense in which the kingdom of heaven is still a future realization: The King is coming back, and His kingdom will one day be complete. That particular theme of the future aspect of the kingdom is one of the main purposes of the parables in Matthew 13. The redemptive reign of God in Christ is infiltrating the world now, but His kingdom will not be consummated until later, when Jesus returns. We are, in a sense, living between the times.

After Jesus had died on the cross and risen from the grave, His disciples asked Him, "Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?" (Acts 1:6). In reply, Jesus reoriented their perspective: "It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (vv. 7-8). After saying this, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, and two angels told the on-looking disciples that Jesus would return (v. 11). Then the rest of the New Testament involves these disciples bringing people into the kingdom177 by proclaiming the redemptive rule and reign of God in Christ all over the world.

Now, two thousand years later, we are still called to extoll God in Christ as King and to live our lives proclaiming His redemptive rule and reign to our neighbors and all over the nations. God is advancing His kingdom now, and one day He will fully and finally establish His kingdom over all things in Christ. On that day, followers of Christ will dwell in a new heaven and a new earth, where sin and suffering will be no more (Rev 21:1-4). We look to that day with great anticipation.

Eight Parables

Matthew 13:1-52

Once we understand our place in the outworking of God's purposes and the establishment of His kingdom, the parables of Matthew 13 should begin to make more sense. Matthew's organization of these eight parables is masterful, as He gives us a clear structure and a clear overlap in meaning concerning how these parables relate to one another. The end result is a picture of God's kingdom that defies human expectation.

The parable of the Sower (vv. 1-9, 18-23)

First, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower. In reality, this is not the parable of the Sower as much as it is the parable of the Soil, because the soil is the key variable in the story. The sower and the seed never change. Gratefully, we have Jesus' explanation for this parable in verses 18-23, so we don't have to wonder what point He's trying to get across. Here are the different elements of the parable with the benefit of Jesus' commentary.

The sower is the Son of Man and the seed is the message of salvation. Jesus is clearly the sower, either directly proclaiming the message while He was on earth or indirectly proclaiming the message through His disciples. That message is the message of salvation—the good news of the kingdom—that God will save and redeem sinners through Christ. Next, Jesus tells us that the soil is the human heart. This is an important part of the story in terms of understanding its importance in the context of Jesus' ministry. Jesus was teaching and preaching the good news of the kingdom, yet many people were either rebelling against what He was saying or else they were casually responding to Him. This kind of reception probably left the disciples puzzled.178

Jesus' diagnosis of this situation is that the problem of rejection is not with the seed (the gospel of the kingdom) and not with the sower (Jesus); the problem is with the soil (the human heart). Jesus points to four different kinds of soil representing four different heart-responses to the message of salvation. The first kind of soil on which the seed fell was the hard heart. Verse 4 describes seed that had fallen "along the path" and had been eaten up by birds. This kind of soil represents those who hear the message of the kingdom but reject it, and thus the Devil comes and snatches the good news of the kingdom away.

The second kind of soil Jesus mentions is the superficial heart, and this is represented by the "rocky ground" (v. 5). This kind of heart receives the message and responds to it, but there's no root enabling it to grow and develop. When pressure and persecution come, the person falls away. You can't help but think about "easy-believism" that was rampant in the first century and is now rampant in the twenty-first century—"just pray this prayer, and you will be saved." But then a year or two (or maybe more) later, it becomes clear that that heart never truly received the message of the kingdom and that it failed to submit to the rule and reign of God in Christ. This scenario has continued to play out across church history.

George Whitfield, the passionate and powerful preacher of the First Great Awakening, used to preach to massive crowds numbering in the thousands, and people were greatly affected by his evangelistic message. When Whitfield was asked how many people were saved, he would say, "We'll see in a few years." The point is not that people needed to earn their salvation, but rather that it would take time for true salvation to be demonstrated. This is a very different approach than we hear of today, where the number of decisions is often touted boldly. We need to be careful in light of Jesus' clear teaching on the superficial heart.

Third, Jesus alerts us to the divided heart. The divided heart hears the Word, but there is no room for it because the cares and wealth of this world are too consuming. This is a clear warning for Christians today, especially those who live in prosperity, which is to say a majority of people in the Western world. We must watch out for the cares of this world lest they choke our hearts, for Jesus speaks of "the seduction of wealth" (v. 22). There's a subtle danger implied in the imagery here: a thorn does not choke suddenly, but gradually, almost unknowingly. The desire for and consumption of money and things divides and eventually destroys the heart.179

Finally, there is a fourth kind of soil that Jesus refers to as "good ground" (vv. 8, 23). This is the fruitful heart that hears the word and understands it and then bears fruit. The measure of that fruit may be different from person to person—notice the 30-, 60-, and 100-fold increases in verse 23—but there is fruit nonetheless. The fruit of the Word will be evident in people's life in the world.

The question then becomes, What kind of heart do you have? Are you rejecting the message of the kingdom? Did you make a decision or pray a prayer years ago that has no real meaning in your life today? If so, I urge you to receive the good news of the kingdom today. By the mercy of God, soften your heart toward Christ.

There is also an application here for those who have already received the good news of the kingdom. One of the ways we bear the fruit of the kingdom is by sowing the seed of the gospel in the lives of others. Jesus' disciples had already been sent in Matthew 10 to sow seeds of the kingdom by spreading the message of salvation, and undoubtedly, just as Jesus had promised, they had faced resistance. It's encouraging to hear Jesus tell us to keep sowing the seed. This is also a good word for parents with rebellious children, for those with spouses who are hard-hearted toward the gospel, and for those with friends and coworkers who seem apathetic to the gospel. And finally, for missionaries around the world who serve in extremely difficult areas where there seems to be no receptivity to the gospel, Jesus' message is this: Don't stop sowing the seed. Yes, there is an adversary who is at work to rip that seed from hearts; and yes, there are pressures, persecutions, worries, and wealth to keep people from receiving this message. Nevertheless, keep sowing the seed. Then hope and pray and trust that the Lord of the harvest will indeed bring about the fruit of the gospel.

The parables of the Weeds and the Net (vv. 24-30, 36-43, 47-50)

Next we turn to the parables of the Weeds and the Net. The parable of the Weeds comes in verses 24-30 and the parable of the Net comes in verses 47-50. Since the point of these parables is almost identical, we'll consider them together. In a sense, they both build off of the parable of the Sower. In the parable of the Weeds, fruit-bearing plants are sitting side by side with weeds in a field, which leads workers to ask the question, "So, do you want us to go and gather them up?" (v. 28). In other words, "Do you want us to remove the bad (weeds) from the180 good (wheat)?" This is an understandable question, particularly when applied to the kingdom of God.

Jesus had come into a setting where most people in Israel saw themselves as part of the kingdom. However, Jesus had made clear that some Jews were part of the kingdom, while others were clearly not. Many thought that when the Messiah came, He would bring judgment on the wicked and unrighteous, which was in part why John the Baptist had wondered in Matthew 11 if Jesus were, in fact, the Messiah. John probably thought that the process of separating the wicked from the righteous would be well under way by that time; however, judgment had not yet come, and it's almost as if Jesus were saying in this parable, "Just wait."

Jesus explains the parable of the Weeds in verses 36-43. The good seed represents believers, "the sons of the kingdom" (v. 38). These are people who submit to the reign of God in Christ, the fruit-bearing plants from the parable of the Sower. On the other hand, the weeds represent unbelievers. There is some debate about whether "weeds" here refers to all unbelievers, or if Jesus was only speaking of people who were not true believers but who would have identified themselves either as a part of the people of Israel or even as a part of the church. This reality of false professors can be found throughout Matthew (7:21-23) and the entire New Testament (1 John 2:19). In contemporary terms, we might think of the scores of people today who outwardly identify with Christ or the church but who haven't been genuinely converted. While Jesus may be referring specifically to such false professors here, at the very least He is referring simply to unbelievers who live side by side with other believers in the world but whose hearts are far from Jesus.

At the end of verse 39, Jesus explains that the harvest represents future judgment, the time when the weeds will be separated from the wheat. The picture is grim, for this will be a day of terrifying condemnation for the wicked. In verse 40 Jesus says that the weeds are "gathered and burned in the fire," and in verses 41-42 His warning is even more sobering:

The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This day of judgment that will be so terrifying for the wicked will be a day of triumphant celebration for the righteous: "Then the righteous181 will shine like the sun in their Father's kingdom" (v. 43). Those who have believed on Christ as King, Lord, and Savior will radiate His glory forever and ever. Instead of dread, this day evokes great joy for the righteous.

The parable of the Net reiterates the same truth as the parable of the Weeds. Clearly this is a point worth emphasizing. Jesus is driving home the point that coming judgment is inevitable. MacArthur puts it somberly: "The dragnet of God's judgment moves silently through the sea of mankind and draws all men to the shores of eternity for final separation to their ultimate destiny... believers to eternal life and unbelievers to eternal damnation" (MacArthur, Matthew 8-15, 395). On the day of God's final judgment, all mankind will be divided into two categories according to how we respond to Jesus. For the hard, superficial, and divided hearts who did not embrace Christ as King, coming wrath is unimaginable. God's angels will throw them into the "blazing furnace" (v. 42), a metaphor Jesus uses for hell. Here's how John Bunyan described that awful place:

[In hell] thou shalt have none but a company of damned souls with an innumerable company of devils to keep company with thee. While thou art in this world, the very thought of the devil's appearing to thee makes thy flesh to tremble and thine hair ready to stand upright on thy head. But oh, what wilt thou do when not only the supposition of the devil's appearing but the real society of all the devils of hell will be with thee—howling, roaring and screeching in such a hideous manner that thou wilt be even at thy wit's end and ready to run stark mad again for anguish and torment. If after ten thousand years, an end should come, there would be comfort. But here is thy misery: here thou must be forever. When thou seest what an innumerable company of howling devils thou art amongst, thou shalt think this again—this is my portion forever. When thou hast been in hell so many thousand years as there are stars in the firmament or drops in the sea or sands on the seashore, yet thou hast to lie there forever. Oh, this one word—ever—how will it torment thy soul. (Bunyan, "Hell," 450)

The parable of the Weeds and the parable of the Net remind us that coming judgment is inevitable. What about you? Are you among the wheat or the weeds?182

The parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast (vv. 31-33)

These parables make similar points, though in slightly different ways. Jesus tells the parable of the Mustard Seed to illustrate how outwardly, the kingdom expands from an insignificant beginning to an extravagant end. The Messiah was supposed to usher in the kingdom of God, yet the kingdom seemed to be so small during Jesus' ministry, so relatively insignificant, particularly compared with what people were expecting. So Jesus chooses the smallest seed possible to say that yes, these are seemingly small beginnings, but the fruit that is born in the kingdom will lead to an extravagant end.

This idea of small beginnings leading to unimaginable expansion fits what we've already seen in Matthew's Gospel. The story began with a baby in a manger amid sheep and cattle. Then Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were virtually exiled to Egypt before arriving in tiny Nazareth, of all places. Now, in Matthew 13, Jesus is gathered with a small handful of disciples sitting around Him, a weak and inept group. However, in the days to come this unimpressive collection of men would begin to turn the world virtually upside down (Acts 17:6), so much so that we are impacted by their witness two thousand years later and thousands of miles away. We are part of this same kingdom they proclaimed, a kingdom that God is continuing to expand. This will continue until one day a throng from every nation and tribe and people and language will shout the praises of Christ the King. On that day the kingdom that began as a mustard seed will be in full bloom. It's the realization of Revelation 11:15: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever."

There is another side to the advance of God's kingdom: it not only expands outwardly, but inwardly, the kingdom permeates every facet of our lives and every corner of the earth. In verse 33 Jesus tells the parable of the Yeast, or leaven, which transforms bread from the inside out. Just a little bit of yeast can spread into every part of the dough. This is the picture of the kingdom of heaven. On a personal level, the kingdom starts off as a seed in your heart, and slowly it works its way through your thoughts, beliefs, affections, motives, and actions. It then works through you into others' lives and through them into still others' lives. In this way, just as we have seen in the other parables, the point Jesus makes here is that the kingdom of heaven slowly advances throughout the world.183

The parables of the Treasure and the Pearl (vv. 44-46)

Jesus shifts from talking about the eventual worldwide impact of the kingdom to talking about the parables of the Treasure and the Pearl. The story of the man who finds a treasure in a field may sound strange to our ears, but remember that Jesus is telling this parable in a day when treasure could not be stored in safety deposit boxes or well-protected banks. Instead, people would simply bury their greatest possessions in a remote place. This particular treasure had apparently been completely forgotten, even by the owner of the field. The man who found the treasure went and sold everything he had to buy that field, knowing that it was worth more than everything else he owned put together. People may have thought that he was crazy, but he wasn't. He was wise and happy, for he knew he had found something worth losing everything for.

The parable of the Priceless Pearl communicates a similar truth to the parable of the Treasure, though the man who found the pearl was actually searching for these fine jewels (Blomberg, Matthew, 224). Still, the pearl that he finds far exceeds his expectations. Both for those who are searching and those who are surprised, the kingdom of heaven is something worth losing everything for. There is great reward in submitting to the redemptive rule and reign of God in Christ, and this reward is greater than everything this world offers. As Paul says in Philippians 3:8, "I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ." Jesus and the kingdom that He calls us to are better than money, health, strength, and even our own families. Christ is supremely satisfying in such a way that if you lose everything on this earth, but you get the kingdom of heaven, you have a happy trade-off. And nothing in eternity can ever take away this great treasure.

Because the kingdom of heaven is something worth losing everything for, we joyfully let go of all things in order to passionately take hold of one thing. Jesus is speaking to disciples who, like the merchant seeking for pearls, would lose much for following Christ; in fact, most of them would lose their lives. But they were following a King who promised, "And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life" (Matt 19:29). We come to Christ because He offers great reward; He is great reward.184

The parable of the Homeowner (v. 52)

Finally, Jesus tells the parable of the Homeowner. Jesus talks about the master of a house who brings out of his treasure-vault things both old and new. This is a description of a scribe—a student or teacher of the law—who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven and understands it. Jesus then makes two primary points of comparison between the scribe and this homeowner in order to teach His disciples. First, the disciple's treasure: We have seen the secrets of the old covenant revealed in the new covenant! Just as a homeowner has valuables from the past and the present in his home, so the disciple of the kingdom knows that there is value in both the old and the new. He does not reject the revelation of God in the past; he values it and treasures it. At the same time, he understands God's past revelation in light of God's present revelation, particularly the present revelation of Christ as the supreme fulfillment of all that God has promised.

Stop and consider the privilege followers of Christ have today in terms of what we know of God's Word. We have the Old Testament in its entirety, and we can see how all of it points forward so magnificently, so brilliantly, so powerfully to Christ. Charles Spurgeon once said, "Don't you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road that leads to London?... So from every text in scripture there is a road towards the great metropolis, Christ."

Keep in mind that a disciple's prerogative is not merely to learn and understand for his or her own benefit. Like scribes, disciples are teachers of the Word, not students only. Bringing forth treasure both new and old was not merely for personal gain. There is more to the disciple's task: We now proclaim the good news of the kingdom to every person and every people group on the planet! We announce that Jesus is King, and we tell people that He has died on the cross for our sins in order to reconcile us to God. And we call people to submit to His rule in their lives, telling them of the glorious hope of the consummation of His kingdom.

Two Primary Applications

In light of Matthew 13, I invite you, if you have not already, to humbly and joyfully receive the message of the kingdom. Let go of the guilt and shame of sin. Leave behind the pleasures and pursuits and possessions185 of this world, and find in Christ a King worth losing everything for. Receive His mercy, and submit to His good and gracious mastery of your life. Do not harden your heart toward Him, do not toy superficially with Him, and do not give Him token affection in the midst of your riches in this world. I invite you to yield your heart and mind and life to Him.

And when you do, and for all who have humbly and joyfully received the message of the kingdom, I invite you to confidently and urgently spread the message of the kingdom. The dragnet of God's judgment is moving silently through the sea of mankind, and one day soon He will draw all men to the shores of eternity for final separation to their ultimate destiny in either everlasting life or eternal death. We know His judgment is coming, so warn and plead and pray and work—sow the seed of the gospel—so that the people around you and people groups around the world know the good news of the kingdom of God.

There's an ancient hymn called "How Sweet and Awful Is the Place" (it's been renamed "How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place"), and I was reflecting on its lyrics as I studied this text. In light of the mercy of God by which we hear and understand this good news of the kingdom, and in view of His coming judgment, consider these words:

How sweet and awesome is the place

With Christ within the doors,

While everlasting love displays

The choicest of her stores!

While all our hearts and all our songs

Join to admire the feast,

Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,

"Lord, why was I a guest?

"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,

And enter while there's room,

When thousands make a wretched choice,

And rather starve than come?"

'Twas the same love that spread the feast

That sweetly drew us in;

Else we had still refused to taste,

And perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!

Constrain the earth to come;186

Send Thy victorious Word abroad,

And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,

That all the chosen race

May with one voice, and heart and soul,

Sing Thy redeeming grace.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How did Jesus' parables both reveal and conceal truth?
  2. Explain how the kingdom can be both present and future.
  3. How would you sum up the parable of the Sower in one or two sentences? How might the parable of the Sower help us avoid being manipulative in our preaching, teaching, and evangelizing?
  4. What are some signs that the cares and riches of the world are choking out saving faith as the Bible describes it?
  5. How is persevering faith different from works-righteousness?
  6. What would you say to someone whose only evidence of salvation was a momentary decision?
  7. What encouragement might come to persecuted believers from the parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast?
  8. What do the parables of the Weeds and the Net have to teach us about the final judgment? Why is it sometimes difficult to discern who is and who is not part of the kingdom?
  9. How could you use the parables of the Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price to respond to someone who said, "I want to follow Jesus, but I don't want to make drastic changes in my life"?
  10. What wrong conceptions of the kingdom has Matthew 13 corrected for you?

For more on Matthew's use of the phrase "kingdom of heaven," see Pennington, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew. For a brief summary of Pennington's work, see Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 46-47.