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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 13

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

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Verses 1-58

Now as we enter into the thirteenth chapter, we come into the area of the parables that deal with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. And in these we have more or less a key to all parables.

And years ago when I was in seminary I had a very smart professor who exhorted us young seminarians to not preach from the parables until we've been pastoring for at least thirty years. I now qualify. And I wish I had back a lot of those sermons that I preached from the parables when I thought my professor didn't know what he was talking about. But over the years there has been a definite change in my understanding of the parables.

I do not profess to have a perfect understanding even at this point. And as I look at these parables I cannot stand before you tonight and say, well now this is what Jesus meant, and have that kind of confidence. All I can share is what I have come to learn, and what I have come to believe, but as I continue to grow I cannot guarantee that in time I might even come to other understandings than what I presently possess. I will frankly confess to you, that I do not consider my understanding of the parables complete. I am certain that there is more to be gleaned then what I have yet been able to gather.

The same day Jesus went out of the house, and he sat by the seaside. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so he went into his ship, and he sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore ( Matthew 13:1-2 ).

So now He is sitting. He has taken the posture of the teacher, and this is to the multitudes. Contrast to the Sermon on the Mount, when His disciples were coming to Him, He opened His mouth and taught them saying, but now He is talking to the multitudes from that little ship just offshore.

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: and some fell upon stony places, where they did not have much earth: and immediately they sprung up, but because they had no deepness of earth: when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had not root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but others fell on good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirtyfold. Who has ears to hear let Him hear ( Matthew 13:3-9 ).

Now let's jump for a moment to verse eighteen, where Jesus explains this parable. And this one we can understand, because Jesus explains it.

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches it away that which was sown in his heart. And this is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed in stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and he receives it with joy at once; and yet he has not root in himself, and thus he abides for just a while: for when tribulation, or persecution arises because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received the seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word and he becomes unfruitful. But he that received the seed into the good ground is he that hears the word, understands it, and bears fruit, and brings forth some hundred, some sixty, some thirty ( Matthew 13:18-23 ).

Now Luke also tells us of that parable. And Luke gives us a few more words of Christ concerning it. First of all, he tells us that the field is the world. He that sows is the Son of man. The field is the world, the seed is the Word of God, and he who sows it is the Son of man, Jesus Christ.

God's Word sown throughout the world, some of it falls on the wayside. The birds pluck it up. The bird is the evil one Jesus tells us in Luke. Satan immediately comes along and plucks the Word out of the person's heart. So there is an immediate rejection. There is nothing, there is no response. The Word doesn't take root. It does nothing.

In the second category there are those who receive the Word with joy. Oh they get all excited. They have a tremendous emotional experience, but there is no depth. And soon when trials come, persecution begins to come, they fall away, because they have lacked depth. They've never rooted themselves in the truth. They've never really studied. They've never really developed a foundation for their faith.

The third category, and unfortunately, I think that this is the category that we would probably have to deal mostly with, is that which fell among thorns. Lives who received the Word of God, there has been that development within them through the Word, but thorns have grown up with it. And the thorns ultimately choke out the life, that it becomes unfruitful. And when we read that those thorns are the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things, we realize that that fits many of us. How that our lives are not as fruitful for the Lord as they should be, because we've allowed the cares of this world, that desire for riches or for other things to choke out the fruitfulness from our own lives. And as we look at our lives, we see that we are not bringing forth that fruit that the Lord would have us to bring forth.

And so I would warn you of this third type of soil. Let us take care, lest we be burdened down with the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, so that God's Word is not productive and bearing fruit in us.

Now there is what is called, expositional constancy. And I think that it is very important in understanding parables that we abide by this law of expositional constancy. And that is a theological phrase used in Hermeneutics whereby in interpreting scripture, if a figure is used to represent something in one passage, every time that same figure is used in a figurative way, it represents the same thing. In other words, here the field is the world, therefore in all of the parables where you have a field, in each parable the field represents the world. The seed is the Word of God. Therefore, wherever you have parables that involve the planting of seed, it is the planting of the Word of God. And it is important that we establish this expositional constancy, or else you can start reading into the parables other things, than what was intended by the parable. You have to remain true to the types, otherwise there would be just total confusion.

Now the question arises, after Jesus spoke this parable,

The disciples came, and they said, Lord, Why are you speaking to them in parables? ( Matthew 13:10 )

Obviously it was a beginning of a new method of teaching by Jesus.

And he answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that what he has. Therefore I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah, which says, By hearing ye shall hear, and ye shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive. For this people's heart is waxed gross, their ears are dull to hearing, and their eyes they've closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear ( Matthew 13:11-16 ).

Now, why did Jesus turn to the method of parables? And be careful here, because a lot of people, surface reading would say, "well, He is trying to hide the truth, He is trying to disguise it, so only His disciples can understand it." I would like to suggest to you that first of all, that is the opposite reason why a person uses parables. The purpose of a parable is always to illustrate a truth. When a person cannot understand, when a person cannot see, then you use a story. You take something that is familiar to them, something that they can understand, and you tell the story, and then by the story you illustrate the truth that you are trying to get across to them.

Now the people had come to the place where they were dull of hearing. They were beginning to close their ears. Stories are always attractive. And they are a method by which the truth can be imparted as the story unfolds the truth, and you can see it in a parallel form. And the purpose of parables are never really to hide, the purpose of illustrations in the parable is an illustration. It is not to hide the truth, but it is to suddenly reveal the truth, in such a way that you can understand. It is to draw attention. And any good speaker when he realizes he's beginning to lose the attention of the hearers, will say: "now let me tell you a story," and everybody wakes up, "oh a story, let's hear a story."

You know that it is a means of attracting attention, and you also know that it is a means of illustrating a truth in a very subtle way, because now they see it. Though they may have closed their eyes, maybe they don't want to see, but suddenly they see it.

And this happened with Jesus and the Pharisees, as He was later on using some of the parables. He was nailing them, and all of a sudden they would say, uh, wait a minute, that was against us. And they realized He was speaking these parables against them. But He was coming at them in a way, that He was just telling a story, but suddenly they saw that it was directed towards them. And the truth would hit. And of course they would become angry when they saw. Hey, He really trapped us there, wiped us out with that one. And so Jesus because of the dullness of their hearing, because of the blindness of their eyes, because of the attitude, He now turns. He will still seek to reveal the truth.

Jesus isn't trying to hide truth from men. Jesus wants to reveal truth to men. But if a man cannot take it straight, then He will couch it in an illustration in order that they might catch the parallel and still get the truth. So this is why He began to adopt the form of parables.

Therefore [He said] many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and they have not seen them, to hear those things which you hear, and they have not heard them ( Matthew 13:17 ).

And then He explained to them the parable of the sower.

Now in verse twenty-four,

Another parable he put forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares ( Matthew 13:24-25 )

Now here is seed that is being sown, but it is definitely declared that it's bad seed.

the tares among the wheat, and he went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then there also appeared the tares. So the servants of the householder came and said, Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where did this tares come from? And he said unto them, An enemy has done this. And the servants said unto him, Shall we go out and gather them up? And he said, No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you also root up some of the wheat. Let them both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn ( Matthew 13:25-30 ).

Now Jesus is beginning to show that the kingdom of heaven, the church is not going to be a perfect representation, that there are going to arise within the church, that which is not true, that which is not genuine, that which is false, the tares will be there with the wheat. There will be that seed that falls on the stony ground. There will be the seed that falls among thorns. There will be those that will be unfruitful. And as far as the tares are concerned, they're even worth than those who are unfruitful.

There will be those that will grow up within the church system, they will come into the church system within the kingdom of heaven, that which is manifestly wrong. And rather then rooting it out, let them grow together, until the harvest, until the end, and then gather the tares and put them in the fire and burn them, but the wheat into the barn. So that into the system of God's kingdom there will come that which the enemy has planted, and God knows there are enemies to the cause of Christ in the church today.

I cannot for the life of me understand those men who are in the pulpit across the country today, who do not believe that the Bible is God's inspired Word. What are they then teaching? Why are they in the pulpit, if they do not believe the Word of God, to be the Word of God? If they do not believe the Bible to be divinely inspired of God, then what are you teaching the people? And there are tares that are growing with the wheat.

And it upsets me, because every time you get some kind of an article in the paper that deals with controversy, you can always find some stupid liberal theologian that will come with some position against those who are evangelical and all, and will make all of these derogatory statements against anyone who has a fervent love for Jesus Christ. And yet, Dr. so and so, the Pastor of such a church declares, well it's just a fad among the young people, and it'll all pass. And this kind, I don't understand. Well, the Lord said, let them grow. Now you see, if I were God, I wouldn't let them grow together. I'd say, go out and get rid of them, wipe them out. But God has His reasons. And the Lord is warning us here.


Another parable he put forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among the herbs ( Matthew 13:31-32 ),

Now most of your herb plants are very small. You know, you grow them in little boxes in your windowsill. But of all the herb plants, the mustard is the biggest. And of course mustard plants can get as high as the pulpit here. It's the biggest of the herbs that you grow.

But Jesus said concerning this particular mustard seed,

that it became a tree, [now that's an abnormality] so that the birds of the air come to lodge in the branches thereof ( Matthew 13:32 ).

Now there are those expositors who say that this is a parable that is illustrating how that the kingdom of heaven will have a small beginning. Jesus is gonna start with His twelve disciples, but as they have preached the gospel, the influence of the gospel is going to spread, until it is a great tree, and the birds of the air can come and nest in it. So that glorious influence of the gospel as it gradually spreads from just a very small humble beginning, as a small little mustard seed, but grows into a great tree: problems.

In expositional constancy, what are the birds? They are the ones, the evil ones, who came and plucked up the seed so it could not take root, could not grow. From this expositional constancy birds are always used in a bad sense in your analogies or in your comparisons. So inasmuch as in the previous parable He pointed out, that there were gonna be tares that are going to be growing along with the wheat in the kingdom, He is only further illustrating the same thing, as the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, but somehow it has abnormal growth. It grew bigger than what it really is intended to be.

The true kingdom of heaven... well let me just say this, I think that the World Council of Churches is the wild mustard seed that's growing abnormally out of proportion. It's a monstrosity, and every bird of heaven lodges in its branches. And if you can think of any evil notify them, they'll be glad to do it. But I believe that that's exactly what Jesus is warning us about. That there will be this abnormal forced thing of man, not representative of the true righteous kingdom of heaven, and it will become a shelter for all kinds of evil purposes, as the church has been used today as a shelter for all kinds of evil purposes. Read Readers Digest this month, if you are questioning what I am saying about the World Council of Churches. If that doesn't make your blood boil, you're dead.


Another parable he spoke unto them; The kingdom of heaven is liken unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened ( Matthew 13:33 ).

Now again there are two interpretations. The first is, that the kingdom of heaven being like leaven, leaven having this unique capacity of permeating a whole loaf. All you do is take your little starter, and you mix up a new batch of dough, and you take a starter, that is a piece from the last batch that's already fermented, and you put it into the new batch of dough. And this little batch of leaven, the fermented from the old loaf, will permeate and the whole loaf will become permeated with the leavening process of just a little leaven hid in this measure of meal, three measures, it will leaven the whole thing.

And so the church is going to have, though it starts very small, is gradually going to develop and grow until it influences the whole world for good. And they teach that this will be the influence of the church. It will ultimately permeate and influence the entire world, though it starts off just so small, but yet this effect of the gospel in permeating the whole world.

As I look at the world today, I cannot honestly rejoice for the tremendous effect that the world has received from the influence of the church. I look at a sick world; a world that seems to me is getting sicker every day. I have difficulty with that particular interpretation. Also, because leaven is always used in the scripture as a type of sin.

Jesus said to His disciples: "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees" ( Matthew 16:6 ), which is hypocrisy. Paul writing to the Galatians concerning the problems that were existing there said, "Don't you know that a little leaven, leavens the whole lump" ( Galatians 5:9 ). Writing to the Corinthians concerning an incestuous relationship he said, "purge out the old leaven" ( 1 Corinthians 5:7 ). And always leaven is used expositional, as a type of evil of sin, because leaven is actually the process of deterioration by rotting. And thus, it makes a beautiful type of sin that has a way of permeating the total person. It has a way of rotting, it has a way of destroying, its influence is permeating and rotting; not destroying necessarily, but rotting, and permeating.

So the other interpretation is that Jesus is giving a series of parables in which He is illustrating the same truth, or making the same warning all the way along, that the church is not going to be perfect. That there will come into the church evil influences, that will actually permeate themselves through the entire church.

Now I would like to suggest historically that this indeed has happened, and that even we ourselves are not totally devoid of the leavening influence of the Babylonian religion that was introduced into the church by Constantine. There was introduced into the church this leavening agent back at the time of Constantine, as he sought to bring together the pagan world and Christianity by bringing the pagan holidays, the pagan celebrations, and the pagan rituals and all, right into the church, taken from the old-aged mystery Babylon religion and incorporating that into the church. It was leaven and it began to leaven the whole lump. Until it is -- you can point around to the church today and you can see all kinds of remnants of that aged Babylonian religion, that even we ourselves are not totally free of. I say that because we still celebrate Christmas and Easter, which have their pagan origins, not Christian origins, it's a part of the leaven that leavened the whole lump.

Now all of these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables, and without a parable He did not speak unto them. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, and they said, Declare to us the parable of the tares of the field. And He answered and unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man ( Matthew 13:34-37 );

So you have now your expositional constant.

The field is the world, [expositional constant]; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; [interesting expositional constant, which puts a whole light on the other things] but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; The harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers the angels. And therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; and so shall it be at the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, they shall gather up of his kingdom, [notice, out of His kingdom] all things that offend, and them which do iniquity ( Matthew 13:38-41 );

They will grow together. It will be a corrupting influence within the church. It's the sad history of the church that it has been corrupted by these influences within it.

And he shall cast them into the furnace of fire: and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. And whoever has ears to hear, let him hear ( Matthew 13:42-43 ).

Quite heavy.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in the field; the which when a man has found, he hides, and for the joy thereof he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field ( Matthew 13:44 ).

Two interpretations. Number one, the kingdom of heaven is glorious, it's like a treasure. When you discover it, man, you go out and sell everything in order that you might obtain that treasure; buy the field, obtain the treasure.

The other, now I've preached some tremendous sermons on that interpretation, that was before I've been pastoring for thirty years. That one has a serious flaw. The doors to the kingdom of heaven are opened freely to every man; you don't have to buy it, you can't buy it. It's a gift of God.

Again, what is the field? The field is the world. Who then gave everything to purchase the world? Jesus Christ. What then is the treasure? Are you ready for this? You.

Back in the Old Testament the story of Ruth, classic example of the law of redemption. Where Boaz ultimately purchased the field in order that he might have the bride. He told his brother, hey, you know Elimelech's our brother, sold the field that's coming up for redemption, the right of redemption. You are the guy. He said, oh, I'll take it. He said well, there is a catch. Whoever takes it has to take Ruth as his wife to bear a child by her for the family. He said, oh my wife wouldn't allow me to do that. He said, Boaz why don't you buy it? And Boaz said, all right I'll do that, because he was in love with Ruth and he bought the field in order that he might obtain the bride.

Now in this case the treasure is the church. And Jesus purchased the field in order that he might obtain the treasure. He didn't need another world, but yet He came to redeem this world.

Now you remember that when Jesus came, Satan took him into a high mountain and showed Him all of the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them? And he said, "All of these will I give unto you, if you will bow down and worship me, for they are mine and I can give them to whomever I will" ( Matthew 4:8-9 ). Jesus didn't dispute that. It belonged to Satan because men had forfeited it to Satan. Jesus came to redeem it back to God, but not by bowing down to Satan, but by going to the cross, and there shedding His blood and paying the price of redemption. And so Jesus purchased the world in order that He might take the bride out of it, His church, the treasure. So the parable became even more beautiful when I came to a real understanding.

And the next is of parallel.

The kingdom of heaven like unto a merchant man [again the Lord], seeking goodly pearls ( Matthew 13:45 ):

But the interesting thing is, is that a pearl to a Jew was not considered a valuable ornament. It was something that was prized by gentiles, not the Jews. So when you come to this pearl of great price, you're coming to really the gentile bride of Christ or you're coming basically to the whole bride of Christ, composed of gentiles also. Basically it is always basic Jewish, but composed also of gentiles.

Who, when he has found one pearl of great price, went out and sold all that he had, and bought it ( Matthew 13:46 ).

Now Jesus isn't the pearl of great price, that you have to sell everything and buy Him. The gift of Jesus is by free grace to you. He is the one, who gave everything, in order that He might redeem you.

Now again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that is cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind ( Matthew 13:47 ):

The sea of course is again the world of people, humanity, in an expositional constancy. And so the net is cast into it and men pull it in and it has every kind in it.

Which, when it was full, they drew it to shore, and they sat down, and they gathered the good into vessels, but the cast the bad away. And so it will be at the end of the world: the angels will come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus said unto them, Have you understood all those things? And they said unto him, Yes, Lord ( Matthew 13:48-51 ).

I don't understand them yet, but it's interesting.

Then he said unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which brings forth out of his treasure things new and old ( Matthew 13:52 ).

So there are these glorious things that we are constantly discovering in the richness in Christ and ever discovering new experiences in the old troops. And so the faithful householder who keeps bringing forth out of the treasury these glorious things.

And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed from there. And when he was coming to his own country [that is the area of Nazareth], he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and they said, Where did He get this wisdom, and how is he doing these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, aren't they still living here? Where did he get all of these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own household. And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief ( Matthew 13:53-58 ).


Shall we pray? Oh, we ask Lord that you by your Holy Spirit will reveal thy truth to our hearts. Thy Word is truth. Lord, we realize that there is so much to be gained through the work of your Spirit in teaching us Thy ways. Give us, Father, a greater faith, a greater knowledge, a greater knowledge of Thyself. Lord, help us that we might bring forth fruit, hundredfold, Lord, preferably. God let our lives abound with the fruit of thy Spirit. Root out, O Lord, those thorns that would choke out the fruitfulness from our lives. Cause us to become sterile. Oh God, help us we pray and so commit ourselves unto You and to the kingdom that we will seek first primarily the kingdom of God and Your righteousness. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Matthew 13". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/matthew-13.html. 2014.
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