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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 13

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 2-53


Chapters 11-13 record Israel’s rejection of her Messiah and its consequences. Opposition continued to build, but Jesus announced new revelation in view of hardened unbelief.

"The Evangelist has carefully presented the credentials of the king in relationship to His birth, His baptism, His temptation, His righteous doctrine, and His supernatural power. Israel has heard the message of the nearness of the kingdom from John the Baptist, the King Himself, and His disciples. Great miracles have authenticated the call to repentance. Now Israel must make a decision." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 147.]

"Thematically the three chapters (11-13) are held together by the rising tide of disappointment in and opposition to the kingdom of God that was resulting from Jesus’ ministry. He was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah the people had expected." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 260.]

Verses 1-3

1. The setting 13:1-3a (cf. Mark 4:1-2; Luke 8:4)

Matthew linked this parabolic teaching with the controversy in chapter 12 by using the phrase "on that day" (NASB) or "that same day" (NIV, Gr. en te hemera ekeine). These parables were a response to Israel’s rejection of her King.

Jesus sat down by the Sea of Galilee to teach the people in typical rabbinic fashion (cf. Matthew 5:1-2). In response to the large crowd that assembled to listen to Him, Jesus sat in a boat where more people could hear Him more easily. He proceeded to address these crowds, most of whom had rejected Him (cf. Matthew 11:16-24).

Jesus proceeded to tell four parables to the crowd assembled before Him (Matthew 13:3-9; Matthew 13:24-30, Matthew 13:31-33). He did not interpret the meaning of these parables to the crowd. They would have to figure them out on their own, and disbelief in Jesus as the Messiah clouded their understanding.

Matthew prefaced Jesus’ first parable by introducing what follows as parabolic teaching. The Greek word parabole is a noun, and paraballo is the verb meaning "to throw beside." The noun means, "a placing of one thing by the side of another, juxtaposition, as of ships in battle." [Note: Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "parabole," p. 479.] Metaphorically it means "a comparing, comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude." [Note: Ibid.] The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word masal with parabole 28 of its 33 occurrences in the Old Testament. The word masal refers to proverbs, maxims, similes, allegories, fables, comparisons, riddles, taunts, and stories embodying some truth. Thus it has a wide range of meanings. The New Testament uses of parabole likewise reflect a wide range of meanings though essentially a parable involves a comparison. Most parables are extended similes or metaphors.

". . . in the Synoptic Gospels a parable denotes an extended comparison between nature or life and the things involving the spiritual life and God’s dealings with men." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 169.]

"So understood, a parabole is an utterance which does not carry its meaning on the surface, and which thus demands thought and perception if the hearer is to benefit from it." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 502.]

Jesus deliberately spoke in parables to conceal truth from the unbelieving crowds (Matthew 13:11-15; cf. Matthew 7:6). Why did He speak to them in parables if He did not want them to understand what He said? He did so because a parable might be the instrument God would use to enlighten some who had not yet firmly rejected Him but were still open-minded (cf. Matthew 11:25-26). By concealing the truth from His unbelieving critics, Jesus was showing them grace.

"They were saved from the guilt of rejecting the truth, for they were not allowed to recognize it." [Note: Plummer, p. 188.]

Jesus also taught in parables because the Old Testament predicted that Messiah would speak in veiled language (Matthew 13:35; cf. Psalms 78:2).

As will become clear, Jesus was instructing His disciples about what would happen since Israel had rejected Him. God would postpone the messianic kingdom until a later time. If Jesus had told the multitudes that the kingdom would not begin immediately, the people would have turned against Him in even greater numbers. Most of the Jews could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. It would be even more difficult for them to accept a postponement of the kingdom. Significantly, Jesus’ teaching about the postponement of the kingdom followed Israel’s rejection of Him as her King. [Note: See Mark Saucy, "The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:602 (April-June 1994):175-97.]

"The seven parables of ch. 13, called by our Lord ’mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 13:11), taken together describe the result of the presence of the Gospel in the world during the present age, that is, the time of seed-sowing which began with our Lord’s personal ministry and will end with the ’harvest’ (Matthew 13:40-43). The result is the mingled tares and wheat, good fish and bad, in the sphere of Christian profession. It is Christendom." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1013.]

Verses 1-53

C. Adaptations because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus 13:1-53

"The die is cast. The religious leaders have openly declared their opposition to their Messiah. The people of Israel are amazed at the power of Jesus and His speech, but they fail to recognize Him as their King. Not seeing the Messiahship of Jesus in His words and works, they have separated the fruit from the tree. Because of this opposition and spiritual apathy, the King adapts His teaching method and the doctrine concerning the coming of the kingdom to the situation." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 168.]

Jesus had occasionally used parables to illustrate His teaching (e.g., Matthew 7:24-27; Matthew 9:15-17; Matthew 11:16-19; Matthew 12:43-45). Rising opposition led Him to use them more. Now He began to use parables to reveal new truth about the kingdom. [Note: See Mark L. Bailey, "Guidelines for Interpreting Jesus’ Parables," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (January-March 1998):29-38.] Chapter 13 contains Jesus’ third major discourse in Matthew, His Parables about the Kingdom. [Note: See J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, pp. 215-45; idem, The Parables of Jesus.] Matthew presented the first two discourses as uninterrupted monologues by Jesus, except for a question and answer at Matthew 18:21-22. He interrupted this third discourse frequently with narrative introductions.

John and Jesus had previously announced that the kingdom was at hand. Jesus stopped saying that when Israel’s rejection of Him was firm (i.e., after chapter 12). Instead He began to reveal new truth about the kingdom because of Israel’s rejection of Him and His rejection of the nation. This new truth, revelation not previously given, was a mystery. The term "mystery," as it occurs in the New Testament, refers to newly revealed truth. It has nothing to do with spookiness. God had previously not revealed it, but now He did.

Kingsbury perceived the theme of this speech as "instruction in the secrets of the Kingdom" and outlined it as follows: (I) On the Secrets of the Kingdom as Being Revealed to the Disciples But Not to Israel (Matthew 13:3-35); and (II) On the Secrets of the Kingdom as Urging Disciples to Obey Without Reserve the Will of God (Matthew 13:36-52). [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 112.]

As elsewhere in Matthew, references to the kingdom indicate the future messianic (millennial) kingdom. However, Jesus taught some things here about the unseen growth and development of the kingdom in the inter-advent age that precede the establishment of that kingdom.

Matthew presented this discourse in a chiastic (crossing) structure. [Note: David Wenham, "The Structure of Matthew XIII," New Testament Studies 25 (1979):516-22.] This structure is common in the Old Testament and in other Jewish writings. It enhances the unity of the discourse and focuses attention on the central element as what is most important. A diagram of this structure follows.

A The introduction Matthew 13:1-2

B The first parable to the crowds Matthew 13:3-9

C An explanatory interlude: purpose and explanation Matthew 13:10-23

D Three more parables to the crowd Matthew 13:24-33

E An explanatory interlude: fulfillment and explanation Matthew 13:34-43

D’ Three parables to the disciples Matthew 13:44-48

C’ An explanatory interlude: explanation and response Matthew 13:49-51

B’ The last parable to the disciples Matthew 13:52

A’ The conclusion Matthew 13:53

This structural analysis reveals that the discourse consists of two sections of four parables each, the first four to the multitudes and the last four to the disciples. In each section one parable stands out from the others. In the first group this is the first parable and in the second group it is the last one. The central section between the two groups of parables explains the function of the parables and explains one of them.

"Modern readers are so used to thinking of parables as helpful illustrative stories that they find it hard to grasp the message of this chapter that parables do not explain. To some they may convey enlightenment, but for others they may only deepen confusion. The difference lies in the hearer’s ability to rise to the challenge. Far from giving explanations, parables themselves need to be explained, and three are given detailed explanations in this chapter (Matthew 13:18-23; Matthew 13:37-43; Matthew 13:49-50). But that explanation is not given to everyone, but only to the disciples (Matthew 13:10; Matthew 13:36), and Matthew not only makes the point explicit in Matthew 13:34 (only parables for the crowds, not explanations), but also confirms it by a formula quotation in Matthew 13:35: parables are ’hidden things.’ In this way the medium (parables) is itself integral to the message it conveys (the secrets of the kingdom of heaven)." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 500.]

"Perhaps no other mode of teaching was so common among the Jews as that by Parables. Only in their case, they were almost entirely illustrations of what had been said or taught; while, in the case of Christ, they served as the foundation for His teaching." [Note: Edersheim, 1:581.]

Verses 3-7

The focus in the first parable is on the soils rather than on the sower. Some seeds fell beside the path that was hard from traffic (Matthew 13:4). They lay on the surface where birds saw them and devoured them before they could germinate. Other seeds fell where the topsoil was thin (Matthew 13:5-6). Their roots could not penetrate the limestone underneath to obtain necessary moisture from the subsoil. When the hot weather set in, the seeds germinated quickly but did not have the necessary resources to sustain continued growth. Consequently they died. A third group of seeds fell among the thorns that grew along the edges of the field (Matthew 13:7). These thorn bushes robbed the young plants of light and nourishment, so they died too.

"The figure marks a new beginning. To labor in God’s vineyard (Israel, Isaiah 5:1-7) is one thing; to go forth sowing the seed of the Word in a field which is the world, quite another (cp. Matthew 10:5)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1013.]

Verses 3-9

The parable of the soils 13:3b-9 (cf. Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:5-8)

The first parable is an introduction to those that follow, and the last one is a conclusion and application of the whole series. [Note: Stanley D. Toussaint, "The Introductory and Concluding Parables of Matthew Thirteen," Bibliotheca Sacra 121:484 (October-December 1964):351-55.]

"Modern interpretation of the parable has increasingly recognized this implication of the literary form of this particular parable, over against the dogmatic assertion of earlier NT scholarship, following Adolf Jülicher, that a parable has only a single point and that all the rest is mere narrative scenery, which must not be ’allegorized’ to determine what each detail means. In this cast the way the story is constructed demands that the detail be noticed, and to interpret those details individually is not arbitrary ’allegorization’ but a responsible recognition of the way Jesus constructed the story." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 503.]

Verses 3-33

2. Parables addressed to the multitudes 13:3b-33

Jesus spoke four parables to the multitudes and provided some instruction about how to interpret them to His disciples.

Verses 8-9

Some seed also fell on good ground and produced a crop. Even a hundred-fold return was not outstanding. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 305.] The same sower and seed produced no crop, some crop, or much crop depending on the soil.

"This fourth soil cautions us not to expect identical levels of fruitfulness in all people, since believers grow spiritually at different rates." [Note: Bailey, in The New . . ., p. 25.]

Jesus’ final statement means the parable needs careful consideration and interpretation (Matthew 13:9). Jesus interpreted it to His disciples later in Matthew 13:18-23. [Note: See idem, "The Parable of the Sower and the Soils," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:618 (April-June 1998):172-88.]

Verse 10

The disciples wanted to know why Jesus was teaching in parables. This was not the clearest form of communication. Evidently the disciples asked this question when Jesus had finished giving the parables to the crowd (cf. Mark 4:10). The plural "parables" suggests this. Matthew apparently rearranged the material Jesus presented to help his readers understand the reasons for Jesus’ use of parables at this point since their enigmatic character raises questions in our minds.

Verses 10-17

The purpose of the parables 13:10-17 (cf. Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10)

Verses 10-23

The first interlude about understanding the parables 13:10-23

This pericope falls into two parts: Jesus’ explanation of why He taught with parables (Matthew 13:10-17), and His explanation of the first parable (Matthew 13:18-23).

Verses 11-12

Jesus explained that He was teaching in parables because He wanted to give new revelation concerning the kingdom to His disciples but not to the multitudes (cf. Matthew 7:6). Therefore He presented this truth in a veiled way. The word "mysteries" (Gr. mysterion, secrets) comes from the Old Testament and the Hebrew word raz (Daniel 2:18-19; Daniel 2:27-30; Daniel 2:47 [twice]; Matthew 4:9). It refers to what God knows will happen in the future. "Mysteries" are "secrets," namely, divine plans for the future that He reveals to His elect. Paul defined a mystery in Colossians 1:26 where he wrote, "the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints."

"A ’mystery’ in Scripture is a previously hidden truth now divinely revealed. This chapter shows clearly for the first time, that there will be an interval between Christ’s first and second advents (Matthew 13:17; Matthew 13:35; cp. 1 Peter 1:10-12)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1014.]

Jesus was revealing some of God’s plans concerning the future of the messianic kingdom, but He was not allowing the unbelieving multitudes to understand these plans. Some have interpreted these parables as revealing "the coming of the Kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation." [Note: George E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism, p. 222; cf. p. 225. See also Carson, "Matthew," p. 307.] This is the view of covenant premillenarians and progressive dispensationalists. Others believe Jesus revealed information about the kingdom in view of its postponement. [Note: Toussiant, pp. 171-72.] This is the interpretation of normative dispensationalists.

". . . the very outskirts of the subject already force the conclusion that those mysteries refer not to the nature of the kingdom, but to the manner of its establishment, the means employed, the preparation for it, the time for its manifestation, and such related subjects." [Note: Peters, 1:142.]

The Bible student must determine which of these two views is correct on the basis of the meaning of the parables and from all that Matthew has recorded about the kingdom.

Some dispensational writers believe the parables in Matthew 13 deal with the period between the first and second advents of Messiah exclusively. [Note: E.g., Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 97-107; Barbieri, p. 50-51; and J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, p. 214.] Some of these believe that there is no connection between these parables and Old Testament teaching. [Note: E.g., Gaebelein, 1:263-64; Barnhouse, pp. 169-70; Kelly, pp. 265-66; E. Schuyler English, Studies in the Gospel According to Matthew, pp. 91-92; and Ada R. Habershon, The Study of the Parables, pp. 112, 118-19.] Other dispensationalists believe these parables describe the inter-advent period culminating in the messianic kingdom. This is the interpretation I prefer, and it is quite similar to the preceding view. It seems to me that since Jesus consistently used the same terms for the kingdom in chapter 13 that He did elsewhere in Matthew, He was referring to the same entity. Nothing in the chapter makes this interpretation unnatural. Another option is that these parables describe only the messianic (millennial) kingdom. [Note: E.g., Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 175-76; and Ronald N. Glass, "The Parables of the Kingdom: A Paradigm for Consistent Dispensational Hermeneutics," paper presented at the meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Lisle, Illinois, 18 November 1994.]

Matthew 13:12 repeats a proverbial truth (cf. Matthew 25:29). It encourages gratitude for spiritual blessings and warns against taking these for granted. The believing disciples had access into the kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ. God would give them greater understanding that would result in abundance of blessing. However the unbeliever would not only fail to receive further revelation, but God would remove the privilege of becoming a subject in the kingdom from him or her.

Verse 13

Jesus restated His reason for using parables in terms of human perception rather than divine intention (cf. Matthew 13:11-12). The unbelievers were not able to understand what He had to reveal since they had refused to accept more basic revelation, namely, about Jesus and the imminence of the kingdom. The parables do not just convey information. They challenge for a response. The unbelievers had not responded to the challenge Jesus had already given them. Until they did they were in no condition to receive more truth.

Verses 14-15

Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 where God told His prophet that widespread unbelief and consequent divine heart-hardening would be what he would experience in his ministry. The context of the Isaiah passage explained that Israel’s hardness would continue until the land lay in ruins. The Exile was not the complete fulfillment of this prophecy. The hardhearted condition was still present in Jesus’ day and, we might add, even today. Most Jews will remain generally unresponsive until their land is desolate in the Tribulation, but they will turn to the Lord when He returns to earth at His second coming (Zechariah 12:10-14; Romans 11:25-26). The word "lest" (NASB) or "otherwise" (NIV) in the middle of Matthew 13:15 probably indicates God’s judicial hardening of the Jews’ hearts (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:11).

Verses 16-17

The believing disciples were blessed for this reason. They saw not just what their unbelieving contemporaries could not see but what many prophets and righteous people of bygone years longed to see but could not. Jesus referred to Old Testament prophets and believers who wanted more revelation about the kingdom than they had. Jesus’ claim to be able to reveal more than the Old Testament prophets knew was a claim to being more than a prophet. Only God could do what He claimed to be doing.

". . . in Rabbinic opinion revelation of God’s mysteries would only be granted to those who were righteous or learned." [Note: Edersheim, 1:597.]

As the unbelievers in Jesus’ day were the spiritual descendants of the unbelievers in Isaiah’s day, so the disciples were the sons of the prophets. Likewise Jesus was the Son of God.

Verse 18

Since former prophets and righteous people wanted to know this revelation, and since the unbelieving could not understand it, the disciples needed to listen to it carefully.

Verses 18-23

The explanation of the parable of the soils 13:18-23 (cf. Mark 4:13-20; Luke 8:11-15)

Jesus interpreted His first parable to help His disciples understand it and the others that followed (cf. Mark 4:13).

Verse 19

Some people heard Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom, but, like hard soil, the truth did not penetrate them. Satan snatched the message away before they really understood it. The four soils represent four types of reception people gave the preaching about the kingdom.

Verses 20-21

The second type of soil stands for those whose initial response to the message Jesus preached was enthusiastic reception. This reception gave hope for much fruit to follow. However external pressures inhibit growth, and because they do not have an adequate rooting in the truth they soon fade and wither (cf. Matthew 5:29). These people are disciples who begin well but fail to continue to follow the Lord faithfully. Whether they are saved or lost is beside the point. However some expositors have restricted the meaning to either saved or lost disciples. [Note: E.g., Robert N. Wilkin, "The Parable of the Four Soils: Do the Middle Two Soils Represent Believers or Unbelievers? (Matthew 13:20-21)," The Grace Evangelical Society News 3:8 (August-September 1988):2.]

"It is important to understand the explanation of the parable of the soils in its context and with the purpose of the original parable particularly in mind. The key issue is responsiveness or non-responsiveness to the message of the kingdom." [Note: Hagner, p. 381.]

Verse 22

This disciple allows the other concerns of life to crowd out his commitment to Jesus. He permits the competing concerns of life to take precedence over his spiritual development (cf. Matthew 19:16-22). The present life rather than the life to come, and present treasure rather than future treasure, capture his affections. They are deceitful in that they can drain spiritual vitality before the person realizes what is happening to him or her.

Verse 23

The good soil stands for the person who understands the message about the kingdom when he or she hears it and responds appropriately to it. This would involve believing in Jesus. Such a person eventually becomes spiritually productive, though the degree of productivity varies (cf. Matthew 20:1-15). However, Jesus commended all who received the message of the kingdom and believed it regardless of their measure of productivity. The fruit in view probably represents increasing understanding of and proper response to divine revelation, in view of the context.

If the disciples understood this parable, they could understand the others that followed.

"The principle taught by the parable is this: reception of the word of the kingdom in one’s heart produces more understanding and revelation of the kingdom." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 179.]

Verse 24

Jesus told the crowds another parable. He literally said, "The kingdom of heaven has become like . . ." Matthew used the aorist passive tense, homoiothe. This is very significant because it indicates a change in the kingdom program. The change was a result of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. In all these parables Jesus did not mean that any single person or object in the parable symbolized the kingdom. The narrative itself communicated truth about the kingdom.

"The parable of the wheat and tares is not a description of the world, but of that which professes to be the kingdom [i.e., Christendom]." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1015.]

Verses 24-30

The parable of the weeds 13:24-30

"Between these two parables [the parable of the soils, Matthew 13:2-23, and the parable of the homeowner, Matthew 13:52] are six parables that reveal new truths about God’s kingdom. Jesus called them ’the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 13:11). These new truths revealed that a new age would intervene before the millennial kingdom would come; this new age is the present church-age dispensation. Because Israel refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah, a drastic change was made in God’s prophetic program occurred. Whereas the kingdom had been proclaimed as near, now a formerly unpredicted period of time would intervene before the kingdom would come. These parables contain truths not seen in the Old Testament." [Note: Idem and Quine, p. 139.]

"The parable of the sower shows that though the kingdom will now make its way amid hard hearts, competing pressures, and even failure, it will produce an abundant crop. But one might ask whether Messiah’s people should immediately separate the crop from the weeds; and this next parable answers the question negatively: there will be a delay in separation until the harvest." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," pp. 315-16.]

Verses 25-26

The farmer’s enemy maliciously sowed weeds that looked like the wheat. This weed was evidently bearded darnel (Lat. lolium temulentum), a plant that looks very much like wheat when the plants are young. The roots would intertwine with those of the wheat, but when the two plants reached maturity it would be clear which was which. The enemy thoroughly distributed the darnel seed among the young wheat. As the plants grew, it became apparent to the field owner’s servants what the enemy had done.

Verse 27

The function of the slaves in the parable is simply to get information from the owner.

Verses 28-30

The owner recognized that an enemy was responsible for the weeds, but he instructed his servants to allow the weeds to grow among the wheat until the harvest. Then he would separate them. Evidently there were many weeds. The reapers would gather the weeds first and burn them. Then they would harvest the wheat.

The new truth about the present age that this parable revealed is that good and evil people will co-exist in it (e.g., Judas Iscariot among Jesus’ disciples; cf. Matthew 13:47-49). In contrast, the Old Testament prophets said that in the coming messianic kingdom righteousness will prevail and God will judge sin swiftly (cf. Isaiah 11:1-5; Isaiah 16:5; Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 54:14; Isaiah 60:17-18; Jeremiah 33:14-15).

Jesus interpreted this parable to His disciples later (Matthew 13:36-43). He previously used the Old Testament figure of harvest to refer to judgment (Matthew 9:37-38). In this case the wheat and the weeds must be people who face judgment in the future. [Note: See Mark L. Bailey, "The Parable of the Tares," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:619 (July-September 1998):266-79.]

Verses 31-32

The parable of the mustard seed 13:31-32 (cf. Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19)

The mustard seed was so small that the Jews used it proverbially to represent a very small thing (cf. Matthew 17:20). [Note: Mishnah Niddah 5:2.] When mature, the mustard plant stood 10 to 12 feet tall as "the largest of garden plants" (NIV). [Note: Cf. Lenski, p. 528.] Consequently it became a perch for birds. Several Old Testament passages use a tree with birds flocking to its branches to illustrate a kingdom that people perceive as great (Judges 9:15; Psalms 104:12; Ezekiel 17:22-24; Ezekiel 31:3-14; Daniel 4:7-23). The birds evidently represent those who seek shelter in the kingdom.

The Jews correctly believed that the messianic kingdom would be very large. Why did Jesus choose the mustard plant since it did not become as large as some other plants? Evidently He did so because of the small beginning of the mustard plant. The contrast between an unusually small beginning and a large mature plant is the point of this parable. [Note: Cf. N. A. Dahl, Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church, pp. 155-56.] Jesus’ ministry began despicably small in the eyes of many Jews. Nevertheless from this small beginning would come the worldwide kingdom predicted in the Old Testament. [Note: See Mark L. Bailey, "The Parable of the Mustard Seed," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:620 (October-December 1998):449-59.]

Verse 33

The parable of the yeast hidden in meal 13:33 (cf. Luke 13:20-21)

This parable stresses the extensive ultimate condition and consequences of the kingdom that would be out of all proportion to its insignificant beginnings.

"Whereas the parable of the mustard seed answers the question of whether the phase of the kingdom planted by Jesus would survive, the parable of the leavening process answers how." [Note: Idem, "The Parable of the Leavening Process," Bibliotheca Sacra 156:621 (January-March 1999):62.]

Some interpreters have understood yeast as a metaphorical reference to evil. [Note: E.g., Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 182; Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 103; and The New Scofield . . ., p. 1015.] However not all uses of yeast in the Old Testament carry this symbolic meaning (e.g., Leviticus 7:13; Leviticus 23:15-18). [Note: Cf. Barbieri, p. 51.]

This parable stresses the hidden internal change taking place in the kingdom between its inception in Jesus’ ministry and its final form when the kingdom will cover the earth in the Millennium (cf. Matthew 5:13).

"The kingdom of heaven may be initially insignificant, but it is pervasive." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 528.]

". . . the Kingdom of God, when received within, would seem like leaven hid, but would gradually pervade, assimilate, and transform the whole of our common life." [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 1:594.]

"The manifestation of the presence of the kingdom in some form in the Church age is clearly taught in the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven . . ." [Note: Gerry Breshears, "The Body of Christ: Prophet, Priest, or King?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:1 (March 1994):9.]

This fact led J. Dwight Pentecost to call the inter-advent age the mystery form of the kingdom. [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 142-44.]

The fact that a woman put the leaven in the meal is probably an insignificant detail of the parable as is the amount of flour. Three satas of flour (about three-fifths of a bushel) is the amount of flour that a housewife baked into bread for an average family. [Note: Idem, The Words . . ., p. 218.]

"Practical applications of this parable to present readers can include the following. First, believers should depend on what God is doing through His Spirit in the present age. Second, Christians should be suspicious of any man-made, externally influenced institutional structures that say they are the manifestation of God’s kingdom. Third, believers must be cautious about setting dates and presuming the arrival of the kingdom since the parable gives no hint as to when the permeation ends. Fourth, Jesus’ followers can be confident that regardless of any current perspectives, the kingdom of God has a glorious future." [Note: Bailey, "The Parable . . . Leavening . . .," p. 71.]

Verse 34

Matthew stressed the importance of parables in Jesus’ teaching. This verse is a chiasm in the Greek text with "parables" in the middle. Jesus constantly used parables in His spoken ministry to the multitudes following His rejection (cf. Matthew 13:3 a).

"Jesus deliberately adopted the parabolic method of teaching at a particular stage in His ministry for the purpose of withholding further truth about Himself and the kingdom of heaven from the crowds, who had proved themselves to be deaf to His claims and irresponsive to His demands. Hitherto, He had used parables as illustrations, whose meaning was self-evident from the context in which they were spoken (e.g., vi. 24-27). From now onwards, when addressing the unbelieving multitude he speaks only in parables (34), which He interprets to His disciples in private." [Note: Tasker, pp. 134-35.]

Verses 34-35

The fulfillment of prophecy 13:34-35 (cf. Mark 4:33-34)

Verses 34-43

3. The function of these parables 13:34-43

This section, like the other two interludes in the discourse (Matthew 13:10-23; Matthew 13:49-51), has two parts. The first is an explanation about parables generally (Matthew 13:34-35), and the second is an explanation of one parable in particular (Matthew 13:36-43).

Verse 35

The writer claimed that this portion of Jesus’ ministry fulfilled Asaph’s statement in Psalms 78:2. Asaph wrote that he would explain to his readers aspects of Israel’s history that had been previously unknown. He then proceeded to use Israel’s history to teach the Israelites how consistently rebellious they had been toward God and how just and merciful God had been with them. He taught these lessons by using "parables," by comparing various things. By comparing various incidents in Israel’s history he revealed things previously unclear. Stephen used the same technique in Acts 7.

Jesus did the same thing when He taught the multitudes using parables. He revealed to the people some things that they had not previously understood. Jesus was not teaching entirely new things any more than Asaph was in Psalms 78. He put things together that taught the crowds new lessons. Jesus concealed some truth by using parables, but He also revealed some truth to the multitudes with them. This is the point of Matthew’s quotation of Asaph here. Jesus was bringing together pieces of previous revelation about the kingdom and by combining these was teaching the people new things about the kingdom. He was throwing new light on the kingdom with His comparisons (parables). Thus while these parables were mysteries, new revelations, they contained some elements that God has previously revealed.

Verse 36

Jesus now removed Himself from the crowds by reentering the house, evidently in Capernaum, from which He had departed to teach the multitudes (Matthew 13:1). There he explained three of the parables (Matthew 13:10-23; Matthew 13:37-43; Matthew 13:49-50) and taught His disciples four more (Matthew 13:44-48; Matthew 13:52). Jesus’ disciples were not different from the crowd because they immediately understood the parables. They were different because they persisted in asking Jesus to help them understand the parables, whereas the crowds showed less interest. Why did Jesus continue to teach His believing disciples by parables rather than with straightforward explanations? Evidently so many people were following Jesus that whenever He spoke, except in private to His disciples, a mixed audience heard Him.

Verses 36-43

The explanation of the parable of the weeds 13:36-43

Matthew separated the explanation of this parable from its telling in the text (Matthew 13:24-30). He evidently did this to separate more clearly for the reader the parables Jesus spoke to the multitudes from the parables He told His disciples.

Verses 37-39

Jesus identified Himself as both the sower and the director of the harvest. He took these Old Testament figures for God and applied them to Himself. [Note: See Philip B. Payne, "Jesus’ Implicit Claim to Deity in His Parables," Trinity Journal 2NS:1 (Spring 1981):3-23.] The field is the world where the sowing takes place, but the wheat and the tares represent true and only professing believers.

"This brief statement presupposes a mission beyond Israel (cf. Matthew 10:16-18; Matthew 28:18-20) and confirms that the narrower command of Matthew 10:5-6 is related exclusively to the mission of the Twelve during the period of Jesus’ earthly ministry." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 325.]

Notice particularly that the field is not the church. The identification of the field as the church was common in the writings of some early church fathers and in those of some Reformers, and it is quite popular with many modern critical, evangelical, and even dispensational scholars. I think it is incorrect since the kingdom predicted in the Old Testament is distinctly different from the church. This parable does not teach that there will be a mixture of good and evil in the church, true believers and only professing believers. The terms "world," "church," and "kingdom" are all distinct in the New Testament.

The good seed represents the sons of the kingdom, namely, those destined for the kingdom, not those presently in the kingdom. The messianic kingdom has not yet begun. Compare Matthew 8:12, where the sons of the kingdom are Jewish unbelievers, namely, Jews who should have been destined for the kingdom but were unbelievers in Jesus. The weeds are sons of the evil one, namely, Satan (cf. John 8:44; 1 John 5:19).

"Not all unbelievers are called children of the devil; only those who have willfully rejected the light are so designated (cp. Matthew 13:38; John 8:38-44)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1015.]

The devil is the enemy, the harvest is the end of the age (Matthew 9:37; cf. Jeremiah 51:33; Hosea 6:11; Joel 3:13), and the harvesters are angels (Matthew 24:30-31; Matthew 25:31; cf. Matthew 18:10; Luke 15:7; Hebrews 1:14; 1 Peter 1:12). Obviously several elements in this parable have significance. However note that many others do not (e.g., the conversation between the man and his servants, the servants’ sleep, the order of the sowing, etc.).

"This condition of the kingdom was never revealed in the Old Testament, which spoke of a kingdom of righteousness in which evil would be overcome." [Note: Barbieri, p. 50.]

The end of the age refers to the present age that will culminate in Jesus’ second coming and a judgment of living unbelievers (cf. Matthew 13:40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:3).

Verses 40-42

The unbelievers who are born in Jesus’ messianic (millennial) kingdom, which will begin when He returns to earth at His second coming, will continue to live in that earthly kingdom. I put the word "millennial" in parentheses because God did not reveal the 1,000-year length of the kingdom until Revelation 20. However at the end of the kingdom, at the end of the 1,000-year reign, Jesus will separate the unbelievers from the believers (cf. Zephaniah 1:3). The unbelievers will then perish eternally (Revelation 20:15; cf. Matthew 3:11; Matthew 5:22; Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:50; Jeremiah 29:22). [Note: See Pagenkemper, pp. 181-83.]

Verse 43

In contrast to the unbelievers, the believers will continue to glorify God forever (Matthew 5:13-16; cf. Daniel 12:3). "The kingdom of their Father" is probably a synonym for the kingdom of the Son (Matthew 13:41) in the sense that the kingdom belongs to both the Father and the Son. However when the messianic (millennial) kingdom ends, the rule of the Son and the Father will continue forever in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21-22). The Messiah’s reign on this earth will be the first phase of His reign that will continue on the new earth forever.

This parable describes an order of events that is the same as what Jesus presented elsewhere as occurring at His second coming (cf. Matthew 24:37-41; Luke 17:26-37). This order of events is the opposite of what He said would happen at the Rapture. At the Rapture, Christ will remove all believers from the earth and unbelievers will remain on the earth (John 14:2-3; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17). At the Second Coming, unbelievers will be removed from the earth in judgment while believers will remain on the earth to enter the millennial kingdom. Thus the Rapture does not take place at the same time as the Second Coming, which posttribulationists believe. [Note: See Showers, pp. 176-91, for an extended discussion of the passages that indicate the differences between the Rapture and the coming of Christ with His holy angels, i.e, the Second Coming.]

Verse 44

The parable of the hidden treasure 13:44

The kingdom lay concealed in history for hundreds of years, perhaps from the Exile to the time of Jesus. Toussaint believed Jesus meant from the time of Rehoboam to Jesus. [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 183.] When the Jews in Jesus’ day stumbled on it, the believers among them recognized its worth and were eager to make any sacrifice necessary for it. The point of the parable to Jesus’ disciples was that they should be willing to pay any price to have a significant part in the kingdom.

Some interpreters believe the person who hid and then paid a great price for the treasure was Jesus, the price being His own life. [Note: E.g., Ibid., p. 184; and Robert N. Wilkin, "A Great Buy!" The Grace Evangelical Society News 6:9 (September 1991):2.] This seems unlikely to me since in all these parables the focus seems to be on the disciples more than on Jesus. They should pay the price.

Verses 44-52

4. Parables addressed to the disciples 13:44-52

The first and second parables in this group are quite similar, as was true of the third and fourth parables in the preceding group. This is a further reflection of the chiastic structure of this section (Matthew 13:1-53).

Verses 45-46

The parable of the pearl 13:45-46

The same basic point recurs in this parable. The difference between this parable and the last is that here the person who finds the treasure is looking for it whereas in the previous parable the discovery was accidental. In Jesus’ day there were Jews who were looking for the kingdom and Messiah (Matthew 11:3) and those who were not (e.g., the religious leaders who did not accompany the wise men to Bethlehem). For both types of people the ultimate price of complete discipleship was not too much to pay for participation in the kingdom. Jesus was not teaching that entrance into the kingdom depended on self-sacrifice; entrance depended on faith in Him. The amount and kind of one’s inheritance in the kingdom, however, depended on commitment to Messiah (cf. Matthew 5:5; Matthew 8:18-22; Matthew 25:34).

Some view the pearl as well as the hidden treasure as references to Jesus. [Note: E.g., Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, pp. 102-10.] Others believe they refer to the church. [Note: E.g., Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 105; Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 184; and The New Scofield . . ., p. 1016.] I think they refer primarily to the kingdom. Several dispensational interpreters believe the treasure in the field or land represents Israel and that the pearl, taken from the sea, represents the Gentiles. [Note: E.g., Pentecost, The Words . . ., p. 218.]

"Like the treasure, the kingdom is the source of highest joy, and, as seen in the pearl, the kingdom should be deemed as the most precious possession." [Note: Mark L. Bailey, "The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and of the Pearl Merchant," Bibliotheca Sacra 156:622 (April-June 1999):189.]

Verses 47-48

The parable of the dragnet 13:47-48

This parable has a meaning similar to the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30) that is its opposite in the chiastic structure of the discourse. However the focus here is on the judgment at the end of the kingdom rather than the mixed citizens of the kingdom. In both parables there are good and bad elements, believers and unbelievers. Jesus will separate these individuals at the end of His messianic (millennial) reign. They will all fall into one of two categories: the good (believers) or the bad (unbelievers).

The Greek word for dragnet, sagene, occurs only here in the New Testament. It describes a large net fishermen drew to shore between two boats. Sometimes they tied one end to the shore and the other end to a boat. Then they would sweep an area of the lake with it, possible a half mile long, drawing as many fish as possible to the shore with it. [Note: Lenski, p. 547.] Then they would separate the fish that they could sell from those that they could not.

Verses 49-50

The explanation of the parable of the dragnet 13:49-50

Jesus interpreted the meaning of the previous parable without waiting for His disciples to ask Him to do so. The picture seems to be of judgment at the end of the messianic (millennial) kingdom (cf. Matthew 13:41-42). Many other premillennial interpreters believed the judgment in view is the one before the establishment of the kingdom. [Note: E.g., Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 184; Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 106; and Showers, p. 178.] Later Matthew recorded that Jesus told two more parables about this judgment at the beginning of the Millennium. The parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) stressed the need for readiness for this judgment. The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) identified the basis for the judgment.

In the parable of the dragnet, the point was the sorting out of righteous and wicked individuals that will happen then. The angels will assist Jesus in this process. The wicked will go to eternal destruction (cf. Matthew 13:42), but the righteous will continue on in Messiah’s kingdom that will then move from the present earth to the new earth.

"The fear motive is often condemned by modern Christians, but the Book of Matthew shows Jesus was not opposed to using it properly." [Note: Mark L. Bailey, "The Parables of the Dragnet and of the Householder," Bibliotheca Sacra 156:623 (July-September 1999):290.]

Verses 49-51

The second interlude about understanding the parables 13:49-51

Again in this interlude there is an explanation of one parable (Matthew 13:49-50) and then a word about understanding all the parables (Matthew 13:51; cf. Matthew 13:10-23; Matthew 13:34-43).

Verse 51

The importance of understanding the parables 13:51

Jesus’ question here marks the conclusion to His explanation of the miracles that the disciples’ question in Matthew 13:36 requested. "All these things" probably refers to everything that Jesus had said to the disciples. The disciples claimed to understand what Jesus had said, and presumably they did understand at least superficially (cf. Matthew 15:16).

"Matthew contains a total of seven parables, the first and longest of which has to do with Jesus’ parabolic method. The rest of the parables have to do with the kingdom of heaven. Every one of the six stresses the hiddenness of the kingdom. It is like treasure hidden in a field, like yeast hidden in dough, like good seed hidden in soil. But we have become bottom-line conscious in the institutional Church and in parachurch organizations. We cannot raise money to support our ministries unless we can quote statistics concerning how successful we are. We have to be able to measure results. We want to evaluate the harvest day after day after day so that we can use the information in our fund-raising endeavors. And we forget that the real impact of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world is immeasurable. We will only know what it is at the harvest, which is the end of the age." [Note: Richard C. Halverson, "God and Caesar," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:1 (March 1994):127.]

Verse 52

The parable of the homeowner 13:52

Commentators often omit this verse from discussions of the parables in this discourse. Some do not consider it one of the parables of the kingdom. [Note: E.g., Ibid., p. 107; Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 97; and Hagner, pp. 362-64.] However it contains a parable, as should be clear from the content of the verse itself and from the literary structure of the discourse.

Jesus drew a comparison between a scribe instructed about the kingdom and the owner of a house. In view of what follows the scribe in view seems to be one who received instruction about the kingdom and believed it. He is a believing disciple. As with the owner of a house, this type of scribe brings new and old things out of his storeroom or treasure (Gr. thesauros). The owner of the house in the parable brings things out of his storeroom to use them beneficially. The storeroom from which the disciple scribe brings these things is evidently his heart or understanding (i.e., his very being). He brings out new understanding concerning the kingdom that Jesus had taught him as well as old understanding about the kingdom that the Old Testament taught him. The new did not displace the old but supplemented it. Jesus was comparing His believing disciples to this believing scribe. They had just said they understood what Jesus had taught them (Matthew 13:51). Therefore they had a responsibility to teach others what they now understood. Every disciple must become a scribe, a teacher of the law, because he or she understands things that require communicating to others (cf. Matthew 10:27; Matthew 28:19; Hebrews 5:12).

"The first two parables relate to planting. The parable of the sower speaks of different responses to the message of the kingdom. The parable of the tares explains the origins of the conflict between the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the enemy and announces that a final separation of the two groups will take place when Jesus, the Son of Man, will return at the end of the age. The second pair of parables utilizes the analogy of growth. The mustard seed reveals the extent of the rapid international growth of the kingdom of heaven, and the leavening process addresses the internal and invisible dynamic of that growth. The next two parables (the treasure and the pearl merchant) address the value of the kingdom. Whether one is looking or not looking, no sacrifice is too great for the kingdom. The final set of parables reveals the disciples’ dual responsibilities. The dragnet teaches that evangelism without discrimination should be done in view of Jesus’ discriminating judgment at the end of the age. The householder encourages the teaching of both the older and newer truths of the kingdom of heaven by the disciples of the kingdom." [Note: Bailey, "The Parables of the Dragnet . . .," p. 296. For a summary of the major themes in these parables and a list of applicational principles, see idem, "The Doctrine of the Kingdom in Matthew 13," Bibliotheca Sacra 156:624 (October-December 1999):443-51.]

Verse 53

5. The departure 13:53

Matthew leaves the reader with the impression, from this concluding transition as well as from the structure of the discourse, that Jesus related all the preceding parables at one time. This was apparently the case, though He may have repeated some of them at various other times as well. Jesus now left Capernaum and traveled to Nazareth (Matthew 13:54).

The clause "and it came about that when Jesus had finished" signals the end of the discourse and the end of another major section of this Gospel. Matthew traced the course of opposition to the King carefully in this section. Israel’s rejection of Jesus was so clear that the King began to tailor His teaching more specifically to unbelievers and to believers.

"Thematically the three chapters (11-13) are held together by the rising tide of disappointment in and opposition to the kingdom of God that was resulting from Jesus’ ministry. He was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah the people had expected. Even John the Baptist had doubts (Matthew 13:2-19), and the Galilean cities that were sites of most of Jesus’ miracles hardened themselves in unbelief (Matthew 13:20-24). The nature of Jesus’ person and ministry were ’hidden’ (an important word) from the wise, despite the most open and compassionate of invitations (Matthew 13:28-30). Conflicts with Jewish leaders began to intensify (Matthew 12:1-45), while people still misunderstood the most basic elements of Jesus’ teaching and authority (Matthew 12:46-50)." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 260.]

However, Jesus’ enemies had not checkmated Him. The kingdom would still come. Matthew 13 provides assurance of that fact. Jesus added new revelation to old about the kingdom in this chapter to appeal further to the crowds and to prepare His disciples for what lay ahead. He did not teach about the church in this chapter, though He did describe conditions that would exist in the church age, which is part of the inter-advent era. The new revelation that there would be a "church" did not come until chapter 16. He did give further revelation concerning the coming messianic kingdom here (ch. 13). [Note: See Bailey, in The New . . ., pp. 29-30, for a list of 25 major truths taught in Matthew 13.]


Matthew recorded increasing polarization in this section. Jesus expanded His ministry, but as He did so opposition became even more intense. The Jewish leaders became increasingly hostile. Consequently Jesus spent more time preparing His disciples. Jesus revealed Himself more clearly to His disciples, but they only understood some of what He told them. They strongly rejected other things He said. The inevitability of a final confrontation between Jesus and His critics became increasingly clear. The general movement in this section is Jesus withdrawing from Israel’s leaders (Matthew 13:54 to Matthew 16:12) and preparing His disciples for His passion (Matthew 16:13 to Matthew 19:2).

1. The opposition of the Nazarenes and Romans Matthew 13:54 to Matthew 14:12

The theme of opposition continues from the Parables about the Kingdom. Jesus’ reaction to opposition by Israel’s leaders was to withdraw (cf. Matthew 10:23). Matthew recorded Him doing this twice in this section. The first instance of opposition came from the people among whom Jesus had grown up in Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58). The second came from the Roman leadership of the area in which Jesus was ministering (Matthew 14:1-12). Both sections show that opposition to Jesus was intense, from the Jewish common people to the Roman nobility.

A. Opposition, instruction, and healing 13:54-16:12

This section records the course that Jesus’ ministry took because of Israel’s rejection of Him. Opposition from several quarters led him to withdraw to safer places where He continued to minister to Jews and Gentiles and to prepare His disciples for what lay ahead.

Verse 54

Jesus’ hometown was Nazareth (Luke 4:16). The local synagogue attendees wondered where Jesus obtained His authority. The wisdom in His teaching and the power in His miracles demonstrated remarkable authority, but where did He get it? Did it come from God or elsewhere (Matthew 12:24)?

This is the last of Matthew’s references to Jesus teaching in a synagogue. From now on, Jesus appears increasingly outside the structures of traditional Judaism. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 547.]

Verses 54-58

The opposition of the Nazarenes 13:54-58 (cf. Mark 6:1-6)

Verses 55-57

The words of Jesus’ critics reveal wounded pride. They did not like His having wisdom and power superior to theirs since they had the same background. Their questions reveal denial of His Messiahship. By referring to Joseph as "the carpenter" and to Jesus as his son, they were implying that Jesus should have followed in His father’s footsteps. The definite article before "carpenter" suggests that there may have been only one carpenter in Nazareth. Carpenters did all types of work with wood and stone. Jesus was more of a builder than just a carpenter. [Note: Ken M. Campbell, "What Was Jesus’ Occupation?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48:3 (September 2005):501-19; France, The Gospel . . ., p. 549.]

In one sense these questions were legitimate. However the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus’ claim to being a prophet (Matthew 13:57 b). They "took offense" at Him in the sense that His claim caused them to stumble. It was their reaction to His claim, however, not the claim itself, that stumbled them.

"(Incidentally, their questions render impossible the fanciful miracles ascribed to Jesus’ childhood by the apocryphal gospels.)" [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 336.]

We must be careful not to confuse Jesus’ half-brothers-James, Simon, and Judas-with the disciples who had the same names. There is no evidence that Jesus’ half-brothers believed on Him until after His resurrection. His brother James eventually became the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11).

Verses 57-58

Usually a person enjoys a better reception a home than anywhere else, except if he has attained an exalted position, in which case the opposite is often true. Jesus could not do many miracles there because to do so was contrary to His mission. He did miracles to create and to strengthen faith in Himself. When settled unbelief reigned, there was no point in doing miracles.

The point of this section is to show that even those who knew Jesus best refused to believe on Him.

"Jesus led a perfect life and still had family members and friends who struggled to believe. Sometimes those most difficult to reach are those who know us best." [Note: Bailey, in The New . . ., p. 30.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/matthew-13.html. 2012.
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