Matthew 13 Study Notes


13:1-9 The word parables can refer to a wide variety of figurative speech. Although many interpreters insist that Jesus’s parables were simple metaphors that teach only one main truth, Jesus’s interpretation of his own parables may suggest that many of them were allegories that carried multiple points of symbolism, teaching several related truths (Jesus explained this parable in vv. 18-23).

13:10-13 Jesus’s parables had two distinct purposes: (1) to reveal truth to those who were willing to hear and believe, and (2) to conceal truth from those who willingly rejected truth because of their calloused hearts (v. 15). The hiddenness component of Jesus’s teaching may seem harsh, but since greater exposure to truth increases one’s accountability to God in judgment (11:20-24), the concealment may represent God’s graciousness toward those whom he knew would be unresponsive.

13:14-16 Matthew frequently explains how Jesus’s ministry fulfilled prophecy. Here Jesus himself described the fulfillment of Is 6:9-10. The application of this text to Jesus’s contemporaries probably implies that Israel’s hardened rejection of Jesus was not permanent, since Is 6:11-13 showed that the hearts of the people would someday be softened and that God would preserve a righteous remnant in Israel. Thus the picture is of stony resistance, not permanent resistance.

13:17 The OT prophets and saints had eagerly awaited Messiah’s coming (see 1Pt 1:10-12).

13:18-23 The four types of soil represent types of people and their differing responses to Jesus. The first three types represent those who reject Jesus outright (7:26-27) and those who falsely claim to be his disciples (7:15-23; 10:35-39). These are all unfruitful. Only the last type does produce fruit. Since produc-ing the fruit of good deeds is an essential expression of discipleship (3:8,10; 7:16-20; 12:33; 21:18-19,33-41), only the last type is a true disciple. A harvest of ten to twenty times what was sown was considered a bumper crop, given the primitive agricultural technology of the period. The amazing harvest described by Jesus’s parable (a hundred . . . sixty. . . thirty) shows that true disciples produce fruit in a miraculous quantity.

13:24-30 The weeds were probably darnel. This plant is related to wheat and resembles it during the early stages of growth, but darnel is actually a poisonous weed. Roman law prohibited sowing darnel in another’s field, which suggests Jesus’s story was realistic. The root systems of wheat and darnel become intertwined as the crop matures and makes it difficult to uproot the weeds without damaging the wheat. For the interpretation of this parable, see note at vv. 36-43.

13:31-32 Like the mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven began as something small and seemingly insignificant but later grew to be large. The mustard seed was the smallest of all the seeds commonly planted in Palestine at that time.

13:33 The image of a pinch of leaven permeating fifty pounds of dough parallels the great impact the kingdom would have despite its small beginnings.

13:34-35 Like Asaph in Ps 78, Jesus taught in parables and revealed to his disciples truths that had not previously been understood.

13:36-43 This parable is frequently interpreted as if the wheat represents true disciples and the weeds false disciples. But Jesus’s interpretation shows that the subject is not the mixture of true and false disciples in the church but rather the presence of both good and evil people in the broader world. Many Jews expected Messiah to immediately destroy evildoers and vindicate the righteous. Thus they were puzzled as to why Jesus didn’t do this if he truly were the Son of Man (see Dn 7:13-14). In this parable Jesus demonstrated (1) that he is not the source of evil (13:27-28,36-39); (2) the entire world belongs to the Son of Man, and the devil had no right to bring evil into it; and (3) the Son of Man would assert his kingship over the world by punishing the wicked and blessing the righteous at an appropriate future time.

13:44-46 These parables teach that the kingdom of heaven is so valuable that the wise are willing to sacrifice anything in order to gain it (19:21-26).

13:47-50 The parable of the net closely parallels the parable of the wheat and weeds (vv. 24-30,38-43). It describes the final judgment in which the righteous (Jesus’s disciples) are separated from those who reject him and his rule and are sentenced to everlasting punishment.

13:51-52 Because of their exposure to Jesus’s teaching, which disclosed what had previously been hidden (vv. 34-35), Jesus’s disciples were better qualified than the scribes and Pharisees to serve as teachers of the law. In their storeroom of instruction, they had old treasures (the OT) and new treasures (the teachings of Jesus).

13:53 The words when Jesus had finished are important for understanding the structure of the Gospel. See “Structure” in the Introduction to Matthew.

13:54 Jesus’s hometown was Nazareth (see note at 2:22-23).

13:55 This verse and its parallels (Mk 6:3; Lk 4:22) are the only references to Joseph’s and Jesus’s trade in the NT. Jewish tradition dictated that fathers teach their trade to their sons. The word carpenter (Gk tekto-n) was occasionally used to describe stone masons, but normally referred to woodworkers. One early tradition says that Jesus primarily made yokes and plows. Both James and Judas later became followers of Jesus and authored NT books.

13:56-57 Jesus identified himself as a prophet, but also more than a prophet (12:41). Prophets were typically rejected (23:37).