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‘On that day Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the sea side.’
Note again the usual vague connecting introduction. While Jesus was possibly in a house in Matthew 12:46-50 it was never made explicit, although if He was He must have been preaching from the door for He was speaking to the crowds. Why then mention the house here? The reason would seem to be in order to stress that what follows immediately afterwards is spoken to those ‘outside’ as in Matthew 12:47. This was a message for ‘the crowds’, not for the inner group of disciples. The open land at the side of the sea provided plenty of room for the crowds.
‘The house’. This may in fact signify the equivalent of ‘my house’, thus being the house of the writer who remembered the scene vividly. If he was a former public servant he would have had a larger house than most which would have been useful for accommodating the growing band of followers.
The Eight Parables of The Kingly Rule of Heaven (13:1-53).
Having made clear that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is advancing forcefully (Matthew 11:12) and that through Jesus’ activities as the Servant of YHWH, operating in the power of the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:18-19), the Kingly Rule of God has come upon Israel (Matthew 12:28), Jesus now amplifies on it in a series of eight parables. The first four are spoken to the crowds, although the explanations are provided only to the disciples, the second four are spoken to the disciples. This parallels the set up of the whole Gospel, for up to this point the emphasis has been mainly, although certainly not exclusively, on ministry to the crowds, while from this point on the main emphasis will be on ministry towards those who are disciples, although again not exclusively.
In these parables Jesus reveals that in spite of the hardness of heart of the Jews, a hardness of heart that He has continually depicted (Matthew 11:12-18; Matthew 12:1-14; Matthew 12:24-45), the Kingly Rule of Heaven will advance successfully throughout the whole world, being established through His word, just as Isaiah had prophesied (Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:21; compare Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 42:1-6; Isaiah 49:1-6). The work of the Servant and the Son of Man will be completed.
Parables were an ideal method of conveying this information. To have spoken openly about the spreading of the Kingly Rule of Heaven on such a widespread scale would very soon have brought down on Him the civil authorities so that He might well have been arrested. But no one would think of arresting a man who spoke only of wheat harvests and mustard seeds, of merchandising and fishing. Nor would such thoughts ignite the crowds to violent insurrection.
This section in Matthew 13:1-53 is the third and central one of the five major ‘discourses’ in Matthew, discourses which end with similar endings (Matthew 7:28-29; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 13:53; Matthew 19:1; Matthew 26:1). It is, however, different from the other four in that it is clearly not just one discourse. Interestingly, in contrast with the Sermon on the Mount, it commences with words to the crowds and ends with words to the disciples (contrast Matthew 5:1 with Matthew 5:28). It is divided up between parables given to the crowds in the open, manifestly at different times, and with intermingled explanations concerning them given to the disciples in private, and parables given to the disciples. There are clear breaks between the first parable, the next three, the following three, and the final one (see Matthew 13:10; Matthew 13:34; Matthew 13:51). They are simply being given as examples of the ‘many parables’ which He taught (Matthew 13:3). The appearance of overall unity is given by Matthew in accordance with a clear pattern.
The parables as a whole are outlining how the Kingly Rule of Heaven will continue to advance, and the problems and dangers that it will face, leading up both to the great Day of Harvest and to the great Day of Judgment and punishment, as promised by John (Matthew 3:11-12). And the section is organised in a unique overall pattern, a chiasmus which incorporates sequences (compare how this happened in the Sermon on the Mount).
Parts of the materials in chapter 13 are to some extent paralleled in Mark and Luke, but when considering this we should note that:
1). Jesus no doubt used much of His parabolic and illustrative material on numerous occasions, and, as all itinerant preachers do, would continually fashion it to fit the occasion.
2). Jesus would regularly preach under similar circumstances, in mountains, on sea shores, out of boats, etc. What might seem distinctive to us was, with Him and His followers commonplace. It is not always therefore clear when incidents and sayings are genuinely parallel, and when they are simply examples of the repetitiveness of His life and ministry.
Thus preaching from a boat to those on the shore would have been a regular feature of Jesus’ ministry for a time, as He moved among the towns around the Sea of Galilee. In these circumstances we cannot really always be certain whether these ‘parallels’ therefore simply reflect such a general overall situation, or whether in some cases they actually are parallel presentations from the same incident. The only way that we could have any certainty about this would be by it being in the same specific context (especially if a place name is mentioned) and by the exact equivalence of wording, and even these might simply reflect general tradition.
Considering the number of people who heard Jesus speak, and the number of sermons He must have preached on similar themes, in similar circumstances, at different times, much of which would have been noted down or carefully remembered, we would expect there to be large amounts of parallel material on record, which while spoken at different times, gives the appearance of being very similar. And this would tend to be gathered by all the churches, and especially by the larger churches which were the more regularly visited, and then kept on record. We would therefore expect there to be a number of written traditions containing varied elements, as Luke 1:1-4 makes clear that there were. That is why he went about sifting them and confirming them
And we would also expect that suitable alterations had been made to His material by Jesus Himself from time to time, both so as to continue improving the material, and in order to make it relevant in different situations. The evangelists would later have had access to much of it as they moved around among people who had heard Jesus preach. Where such differences occur in the Gospels we should therefore be wary of simply assuming that they are different presentations of the same material, and rather see them as examples of differing material which illustrate how often Jesus spoke on such subjects, while at the same time utilising the same slightly altered illustrations for different purposes. Our dependence must not be on one or two theoretical written records, but on the awe that the early church clearly had in respect of Jesus’ own words (compare how Paul carefully distinguishes them - 1 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 7:25), which can give us confidence that they preserved them for us in their original form, either in notes take at the time, or orally, although, in many cases, if not all, having to translate them into Greek (Jesus may well sometimes have preached in Greek). They also suggest that each of the evangelists had multiple other sources which they incorporated, even if Matthew and Luke did also make use of Mark.
Let us first therefore consider the clear and unambiguous pattern discerned here in chapter Matthew 13:1-53.
Analysis of Matthew 13:1-53 .
a Jesus commences His sayings in parables (Matthew 13:1-3 a).
b The parable of the sower who brings forth the word from his container (Matthew 13:3-9).
c Jesus reveals the secrets of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in parables in accordance with Scripture (Matthew 13:10-17).
d The exposition of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23).
* e1 The parable of the good seed and the tares which leads to harvest and judgment (Matthew 13:24-30).
* e2 The parable of the tiny mustard seed producing the greatest herb (Matthew 13:31-32).
* e3 The parable of the leaven hidden in the meal (Matthew 13:33).
f or c Jesus reveals everything in parables in accordance with the Scriptures (Matthew 13:34-35).
f or d The exposition of the parable of the good seed and the tares, ending with the exaltation of the righteous (Matthew 13:36-43).
* e3 The parable of the treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44).
* e2 The parable of the seeker after pearls finding the greatest pearl (Matthew 13:45-46).
* e1 The parable of the dragnet which ends in the sorting of the good from the bad, ending with the judgment and punishment of the bad (Matthew 13:47-48).
d The exposition of the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:49-50).
c The question as to whether they have understood (Matthew 13:51)
b The Scribe of the Kingly Rule of Heaven who brings forth teaching both old and new (Matthew 13:52).
a Jesus ceases His sayings in parables and departs (Matthew 13:53).
Note that in ‘a’ the sayings in parables commence, and in the parallel they cease. In ‘b’ the sower sows the word, and in the parallel the Scribe brings forth the word. In c-e we have a pattern repeated in the parallel c-e, with ‘c’ declaring that Jesus reveals the secrets of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in parables in accordance with the Scriptures, and the parallel declaring that Jesus teaches in parables according to the Scriptures, ‘d’ referring to the explanation of the parable of the sower, with the parallel referring to the explanation of the parable of the tares, and ‘e’ referring to three parables in succession, with the parallel also referring to three parables in succession, but in a reversed pattern. The final d-c then reverses the first c-d., and if we treat the central c-d as f-f we have a regular chiasmus
This unique presentation of material by Matthew, (normally he uses straight chiasmi), perhaps draws attention to the unique position that chapter 13 has in the Gospel, dividing what has gone before from what follows. Certainly from this chapter onwards there is a different emphasis from what has gone before as Jesus begins to establish His new ‘open’ community (Matthew 14:15-21; Matthew 15:29-39; Matthew 16:18-19; Matthew 18:1-35); and to prepare his disciples for the future (Matthew 15:16-20; Matthew 16:5-28; Matthew 17:1-23; Matthew 18:1-35; Matthew 19:10-15; Matthew 19:23-30; Matthew 20:1-28); making them continually assess the value of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 16:13-28; Matthew 17:1-13; Matthew 17:24-27; Matthew 19:16-30; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 20:20-28); while the opposition of the Pharisees, and then the Scribes, Sadducees and Chief Priests, grows (Matthew 15:1-14; Matthew 16:1-4; Matthew 19:3-9; Matthew 21:15-16; Matthew 21:23-46; Matthew 22:15-40).
In the first part of his Gospel the seeds of the Kingly Rule have been sown and the leaven has got to work. The Kingly Rule of Heaven has been proclaimed (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 4:23), the seven blessings (Matthew 5:3-9) and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 13:5-7) have revealed the glory of the Kingly Rule, the crowds have swarmed to hear Him (Matthew 4:23-25; Matthew 8:1; Matthew 8:16-18; Matthew 9:8; Matthew 9:33-36) the Messiah has been revealed by His activities (Matthew 13:8-9) and the seed of the Kingly Rule of Heaven has been spread widely (Matthew 13:10), although being accompanied by the fact of the ineffectiveness of the seed in some (Matthew 11:16-24,; Matthew 12:1-16) and the clear activity of the Enemy (Matthew 12:22-45). All this is depicted in the parables in Matthew 13:1-35.
In the second part, after the first part has been initially summarised in the exposition of the parable of the tares/darnel to the disciples, resulting in a picture of the exaltation of the righteous, which demonstrates that that work continues (Matthew 13:36-43), all are called on to evaluate the Kingly Rule of Heaven and determine its worth for themselves, assessing the value of the treasure and the pearl (Matthew 13:44-46; compare Matthew 16:13-28; Matthew 17:1-13; Matthew 17:24-27; Matthew 19:16-30; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 20:20-28), and this prior to the sorting of the good from the bad (Matthew 13:48), resulting in the final punishment of the wicked (Matthew 13:49-50). This last is exemplified in the seven woes (Matthew 13:23), the discourse against the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 13:23) and the judgment on Jerusalem (Matthew 13:24). Compare also Matthew 8:11-12 along with Matthew 13:42-43, in which exaltation predominates, and Matthew 13:50 along with Matthew 22:30 and Matthew 24:51, in which judgment predominates. And all this is then capped by chapter 25 where the twofold choices are depicted as available (Matthew 25:28-30; Matthew 25:46) as in Matthew 7:13-27.
Alongside this goes the gradual revelation of Jesus to His disciples, and their gradual growth in understanding. In chapter 8 He is ‘Teacher’ (Matthew 13:19) and ‘Lord’ Matthew 13:21; Matthew 13:25, but in Matthew 14:33 it is ‘the Son of God’ and in Matthew 16:16 it is ‘the Messiah, the son of the living God’, and the revelation continually grows.
We would not, however, claim that this exhausts the themes of Matthew. Thus the shining forth of the righteous as the sun (Matthew 13:43), followed by the evaluation of the Kingly Rule of Heaven made by both poor and wealthy (Matthew 13:44-45), resulting in judgment on the unworthy (Matthew 13:47-50) could be seen also as reflecting the transfiguration when Jesus shines forth like the sun (Matthew 17:2), followed by the contrast between the children who came to Jesus and the rich young man whose evaluation failed (Matthew 19:13-22), and the subsequent evaluation by the disciples which did not fail (Matthew 19:23-30) and the judgment chapters of 23-24 which reveal judgment on the unworthy.
The first part of this chapter is also in the form of a chiasmus. Thus we have:
a The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9).
b The fact that it is given to the disciples to know the secrets of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 13:10-12).
c The fact that the people as a whole will neither hear nor see nor understand (Matthew 13:13-15).
b The fact that the disciples will see and hear and understand (Matthew 13:16-17).
a The subsequent explanation of the parable to the disciples so that they will see and understand (Matthew 13:18-23).
So in ‘a’ we have the parable of the sower, and in the parallel its interpretation. In ‘b’ we learn that the disciples are to be given to know God’s secrets, and in the parallel they are blessed because they do so. Centrally is the idea that the people will neither see nor understand.
Jesus Prepares To Teach in Parables (13:1-3a).
Jesus leaves the house in which He is staying and goes to the side of the sea, presumably so that there will be room for the larger crowds which are gathering. And there, because the crowds are so large, He sits in a boat while the crowds gather on the shore. A similar situation is pictured in Mark 4:1-2. But it was a situation that must have occurred many times.
a On that day Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the sea side (Matthew 13:1).
b And there were gathered to Him great crowds (Matthew 13:2 a).
c So that He entered into a boat, and sat (Matthew 13:2 b).
b And all the crowd stood on the beach (Matthew 13:2 c).
a And He spoke to them many things in parables, saying’ (Matthew 13:3).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus goes out and sits by the seaside (with the purpose of preaching) and in the parable He preaches to them in parables. In ‘b’ the great crowds gather, and in the parallel the crowd stands on the beach. Centrally in ‘c’ Jesus enters the boat and sits down.
‘And there were gathered to him great crowds, so that he entered into a boat, and sat, and all the crowd stood on the beach.’
In accordance with his expectations the crowds gathered in such numbers that He entered a boat and taught them from it (compare Luke 5:1-3, which explains where Jesus first got the idea). The crowd then stood on the beach in order to hear Him. This seems to have become a regular practise for Him.
“Behold, the sower went forth to sow,”
All Jesus’ hearers were familiar with the sight of the sower, as he went out with his bag or other such container full of seed to be sown, and tossed it this way and that as he scattered the seed over his own strip of land. And as they heard mention of the sower many of their thoughts would go back to the words of Proverbs 11:18, ‘he who sows righteousness has a sure reward,’ and, somewhat guiltily (because they had not done it), to Hosea 10:12, ‘Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to mercy, break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, until he come and rain righteousness upon you.’ They would recognise that this sower was therefore issuing a call for repentance and righteousness in the light of the presence in Jesus of the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
And what would He sow? We find the answer in Isaiah 55:10. There seed for the sower was the result of God’s rain falling on God’s earth, producing ‘seed for the sower’, and this was figurative for God’s word going forth to fulfil His will, accomplishing what He pleased and prospering in the way in which He sent it.
The Parable of the Sowing of the Seed (13:3-9).
This parable compares those who hear the word, and in three ways fail to receive it successfully, with those who do receive the word, and produce fruit at three levels. It is another presentation of the two ways. It will be noted that the emphasis is not on the harvest but on what is, or is not, produced. It is a brilliantly simple analysis of men’s hearts. With some there was no interest. With some there was interest but no depth of thought or understanding. With some what interest there was, was choked by other things than the word of truth, by cares, anxieties and a desire for wealth. Notice also the fate of the seed which has failed to yield fruit. Some was devoured, some withered in the sun, and some was choked. The failures thus came for a variety of reasons but the end result was the same, there was no fruitfulness. Each listener was left to think for himself what it was that might be the hindrance in his own life. And then the glorious goal was set before him that he could, if he truly responded to Jesus and His words, produce one hundredfold.
It has sometimes been argued that Jesus original intention in this parable was simply to build up to the idea of the Harvest, but a moments thought will reveal that this really cannot be so unless Jesus was talking to half-wits. And He was not. He was speaking to people steeped in the Old Testament and later Jewish tradition, and inevitably when they heard of the birds swooping down to seize the seed their ears would prick up and they would think in terms of powers of evil and of demons, and even of Satan himself, in the light of Jewish tradition where birds were commonly seen in that way (compare Genesis 15:11; Genesis 40:17; Genesis 40:19; Isaiah 18:5-6; Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 12:9; Ezekiel 39:4; Ezekiel 39:17), especially in the light of what Jesus had taught in Matthew 12:28-29; Matthew 12:43-45. We can compare here Revelation 18:2, which echoes those traditions, where devils, unclean spirits and unclean birds are seen to be operating in parallel (compare Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:11; Isaiah 34:14-15).
But even more so when they heard of sowing among thorns their minds would immediately call to mind the words of Jeremiah, ‘Do not sow among thorns’ (Jeremiah 4:3), and ‘they have sown wheat and have reaped thorns’ (Jeremiah 12:13). It was inevitable. They could hardly have failed to do so. And thus alert minds would already be looking into the details of the parable and asking themselves what it meant. And it can hardly be doubted in the light of this that Jesus intended them to do so.
“And as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them.
The sower’s ‘field’ would not be like the ones we are familiar with. It would be a strip of ground, and within a larger area which was criss-crossed with pathways so that people could make their way to their own strip. And in spite of his efforts his strip of land would also contain scattered weeds which he could not get rid of, and areas where the ground was simply a rock foundation covered with a sparse covering of earth, areas which were quite unaccepting of seed. Each sower would sow his seed over the part of the field that he owned or rented. Sometimes he would plough the ground first, trying to break up the ground and the weeds with his wooden, rather ineffective, plough, others would seek to plough the seed in after sowing. Still others would do both. But in each case it was usually with a wooden plough which hardly disturbed the surface even at the best of times, and even less so when it was dry. Some of the seed would fall on the pathways which criss-crossed the fields. There it escaped the plough and lay on the surface, and the birds would be waiting to swoop down and devour it. Every subsistence farmer knew what it felt like for that to happen. It was a familiar sight. And many a Jew on listening would, against the background of Jewish tradition, think in terms of demons.
13-5-6 “And others fell on the rocky places, where they had not much earth, and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth, and when the sun was risen, they were scorched, and because they had no root, they withered away.”
Other of the seed would fall on places where there was very little soil because of the rocky formations beneath the ground, formations which were impervious to the plough. Thus it remained very close to the surface and there was nowhere for it to spread its roots. It would spring up quickly and then gradually shrivel up in the sun and ‘wither away’ because it had no depth of earth in which its roots could establish themselves.
Such rootless plants are in mind in Isaiah 40:24, ‘yes they have not been planted, yes they have not been sown, yes their stock has not taken root in the earth, moreover He blows on them and they wither, --’, and in Hosea 9:16. ‘Ephraim (Israel) is smitten, her root is dried up, they will bear no fruit’ even though it is mainly offspring that are in mind in both cases.
“And others fell on the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.”
Other seed would fall in places where, try as he would, the sower had been unable to eradicate the weeds. He had cut them back, and even possibly ploughed the ground, but he could do little else with regard to them, for his tools were primitive.
And many a listener would inevitably turn his thoughts towards Jeremiah 4:3, ‘sow not among thorns’, which was immediately followed by a call for a change of heart. So even before reaching the final phase many diverse thoughts would be possessing the minds of the listeners.
“And others fell on the good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
But some of the seed would fall on the ground which yielded to the plough, some parts better than others, and the result was that it would grow and yield fruit with various measures of success. But even the good seed was graded because of the quality of the ground. Nevertheless in this case it developed splendidly.
The fruitfulness of the seed should be noted. The power of the seed is being accentuated. Thirtyfold indicates completeness (three times ten), sixtyfold indicates intensified completeness (three times two times ten), and a hundredfold even greater completeness (ten times ten). The fruitfulness of the good seed in the Kingly Rule of Heaven will be abundant and satisfying.
It is unwise to try to analyse too closely the details of the parable. The aim was not accuracy of detail but the getting over of the point. Jesus was not aiming to give an accurate lesson on farming techniques. In fact He was a carpenter talking to some who were experienced farmers, and they would instantly recognise the distortions and learn from them. (The very distortions in fact demonstrate that to Jesus the details were intended to be important). But the story was intended to convey the facts of His ministry, (and in a sense of all ministry), and if to us too much of the seed appears to be wasted we must recognise that that is precisely what did happen to Jesus’ teaching, and therefore was necessary as a point in the story, and provided a stern warning to the listeners. As we have learned previously the majority did not hear. But it was all made up for by those who did hear. In them the power of the word brought forth fruit abundantly, ‘thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold’.
Furthermore the people would recognise that the seed had resulted in fourfold results; snatched up by birds, withering in the sun, choking among the thistles, and some wonderfully fruitful, and many would ponder over what these pictures indicated as they went along. They had not read the books that said that they had to wait for the end of the parable, and they had a number of Old Testament parables to go by (e.g. Isaiah 5:1-7, depicting poor results; Matthew 27:1-6, depicting good results) which would, if they thought about it, make them think about both aspects of what was happening, the bad and the good. Furthermore the birds ominously swooping and snatching the seed would take their thought to Old Testament references which referred to birds acting as harbingers of evil (Genesis 40:17; Genesis 40:19; Jeremiah 12:9; Ezekiel 39:4), and to Jewish teaching where birds sometimes even indicated demons and Satan (compare Revelation 18:2), and thorns and thistles would inevitably take their minds back to Genesis 3:18; Proverbs 24:30-31; Isaiah 5:6; Isaiah 27:4; Jeremiah 4:3; Jeremiah 12:13. There would thus no doubt be many fervent discussions among them as to what it all meant, and we really cannot doubt that Jesus intended it to be so.
But hopefully the main point would finally come through to all, that what was sown was intended to produce fruitfulness, a message that they had already heard from John the Baptist (Matthew 3:8; Matthew 3:10; Matthew 3:12).
“He who has ears, let him hear.”
Having told a story with a familiar ring Jesus then challenged His listeners to consider well how they interpreted His words. If God was enabling them to hear, or if they wanted to hear and sought a solution, then they would hear. Otherwise they would not gain the understanding that they should. (For no one knows the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him - Matthew 11:27).
It is quite apparent from what we have said that if the listener looked at this parable, even without its known interpretation, it would be seen as having has more than one point to it. And once it is recognised that it seems to have a varied in depth meaning, which Jesus had seemingly intended, it reveals at a minimum that different people would make different responses, and also something about what those responses might be at different levels and under different circumstances. For it leaves room for considerable thought. And it finally stresses the blessing for those who receive the seed properly, the blessing that can be their under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. To limit it to one thought is therefore to be pedantic, and indeed obviously incorrect. Some might have done so, but others would have taken it in more breadth. We might say that it would reveal those who had the ear to hear, from those who had not.
‘And the disciples came, and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” ’
The disciples, who had been listening to His stories and were obviously a little puzzled because they were clearly now more complicated and He never seemed to explain them, came to Him and asked Him why He taught the crowds in parables without explaining them. They could not understand why He did not say to the crowds the same things as He said to them. They did not know the hearts of the crowds as Jesus did. He knew that His words to the disciples were not for unrepentant hearts. But it should be noted that had Jesus not been teaching a number of parables in succession this question would never have been asked, thus a series of parables is indicated by the question.
Jesus’ method of teaching in parables was certainly not unique. We have examples of parables in the Old Testament, such as Jotham’s parable in Judges 9:7-15; Nathan’s parable to David in 2 Samuel 12:1-6; Micaiah’s in 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isaiah’s in Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:1-6; Ezekiel’s in Ezekiel 31:1-9, and many more, but Jesus’ parables are undoubtedly distinctive. The Rabbis also used parables and allegories, although only one is known before the time of Jesus. John the Baptist certainly spoke vividly and parabolically. But none used them as prolifically or as vividly or to as good effect as Jesus did.
That Jesus used parables and parabolic language right from the beginning of His ministry we know. In Matthew the obvious examples are Matthew 7:24-27; Matthew 9:15-17; Matthew 11:16-19, and we might also include Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:25-26; etc. depending on our definition of parable, while if we include illustrative material it is found almost everywhere. The truth is that Jesus’ teaching is steeped in parabolic language from the beginning, and we are therefore very unwise if we think we can decide what He would and would not do in a field where He was clearly an innovator, and used a number of methods. He covered a wide scope of preaching methods and used a wide number of aids such as poetic metre, repetition, parallelism, chiasmus, pithy illustration, simple parable and allegory. Nor can we hope to decide at what point He introduced a particular parabolic or allegoric method, for our material is insufficient for the purpose. What we must beware of is trying to find an interpretation for every single point spoken of in a parable.
With regard to the views of scholars about parables, while this has beneficially made us think much more about them and gain new light on them, there is no doubt that for each scholar who takes up one position there is another who takes up another, and the truth is that if we add all their positions together and then extract what suits us, we can end up believing about them precisely what we want. The only final conclusion that we can actually reach is that none of their positions are so obviously right that they exclude the others, or have convinced the majority that they alone are right, and this might be seen as suggesting that their results are therefore mainly based on the presuppositions that they started out with or built up, or from their predisposition towards the results that they wanted to find, slightly modified by their own researches, rather than on anything intrinsic in the narrative. None, however, convincingly demonstrate that their position is correct and in the end all have to base their final convictions on their own dogmatic position, a position hotly disputed by others. This suggests that the principles on which they proceed are fallible. There are in fact almost as many interpretations as there are scholars. (After all that is what scholars excel at, putting up ideas to be shot down).
Our view is that Jesus’ parables are so unique and distinctive in their simplicity and their genius that they point to the same mind as taught the Sermon on the Mount, a mind with a genius that no one else, other than Jesus, could have achieved. The early church certainly never demonstrated the ability to produce such parables in quite the same way. We also consider that there is clear evidence that in some cases a number of points are intended to be learned from them, so that some of them are to that extent allegories. We shall therefore consider them on this basis.
Jesus Explains Why He Speaks In Parables (13:10-13a).
The disciples who had had the secrets of the Kingly Rule of Heaven revealed to them in the Sermon on the Mount and subsequently, could not understand why Jesus did not speak so plainly to the crowds. Why did He only tell the crowds stories which left the listeners still unsure of what was meant, when He had made it so clear to them? (Like all of us they did not realise how little they actually knew themselves). Jesus replies that it is because the crowds are in no condition to receive the truth as stated plainly. It would actually be too much for them and therefore harmful to them. Those whose hearts were open must be brought along gradually until they repented. Let them ponder on what they were given. Then they could know more.
The advantage of the parables was that each man could interpret them as he would on different levels. Each received the truth at the level at which they appreciated it, and would go away to think and talk it over. And as a result none became ‘hardened’ as a result of the repetition of the message. Some would understand by His words one thing, and some would understand another. Some would go away with but a single lesson learned, others would interpret it in more detail. They would discuss it together. But all would learn something if they wanted to. And an explanation was always available. It was, however, only those who had begun to accept that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was here, and that Jesus was the Coming One, and who appreciated that that was what He was talking about, who would gather their full meaning. But all should have known that, for repent for the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand’ had been His constant message (Matthew 4:17).
We do not know at what stage this incident took place, Matthew while chronological in his major outline, tends to deal within the outline with themes which build up, not with chronology, as we can see from his patterns. Thus this is no guide as to what point in time Jesus began to preach in parables. When we think about it recognise that we actually know very little about what Jesus preached to the crowds before this (only ‘repent for the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17), and that John also had preached ‘parabolically’. But we do know that even His teaching to the disciples included much ‘parabolic’ material, i.e. many illustrations. So it may well have taken the disciples some time before they recognised that He constantly differentiated in His ministry in this way, sufficiently for them to ask about it, probably in fact only when they became puzzled themselves when what they heard was not clear to them and they suddenly realised that there had been no explanation. Indeed this may actually be seen as the point where he moved from simple parable to allegory.
We should note in this regard what a ‘parable’ is. Certainly it is sometimes an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, but that is only one type of ‘parable’. It can also be a pithy saying, an illustration, a cryptic one-liner, a figure of speech, and so on. And as we have seen above, it could be a more detailed allegory (although we should not seek interpretations of every point as the later church began to do). It is both enlightening and enigmatic at the same time, depending on the listener and his receptiveness, as the parable of the sowing of the seed makes clear.
Analysis of Matthew 13:10-13 a.
a And the disciples came, and said to Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10).
b And He answered and said to them, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingly rule of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matthew 13:11).
b “For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have abundance, but whoever has not, from him will be taken away even what he has” (Matthew 13:12).
a “Therefore I speak to them in parables” (Matthew 13:13 a).
Note that in ‘a’ the question is as to why He speaks in parables and in the parallel He has explained why. In ‘b’ and its parallel we have two parallel statements.
‘And he answered and said to them, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingly rule of heaven, but to them it is not given.”
Jesus replied that the reason that He treated the disciples differently from the crowds was because it was given to them to know and have unfolded to them the ‘mysteries of the Kingly Rule of Heaven’, while it was not so given to the crowds. We have here Jesus constant emphasis on the difference between those who are ‘given’ spiritual things by God (they are the ‘blessed ones’ - Matthew 13:16) and those who are not. And they are then given things because they ask and go on asking (Matthew 7:7) and because they show compassion (Luke 6:38) and are therefore in a state to learn. Their having been ‘blessed’ produces fruit. Compare in John’s Gospel those who have been ‘given to Him by the Father’, and thus those who in contrast have not (John 6:37; John 6:39; John 10:29) And these who have been given to Him are those who believe (John 6:40). They are therefore able to receive.
One of the greatest gifts that a man can receive is that of understanding the mystery of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. A mystery is something once hidden in, for example, the teaching of the prophets which is now being revealed. It is something puzzling now made clear. Compare the ‘mystery’ in Daniel 2:28 which was revealed by Daniel himself (Daniel 2:47). Although even then it still remained to be further interpreted, even if they did not think so at the time, for that spoke of the worldwide Kingly Rule. The Old Testament had taught many things about the coming Kingly Rule, but it had had to be in a form that was not fully or properly understood (although the idea was grasped in general on a basis within their level of understanding), nor could have been, because the people were limited by the level of their concepts at the time. Those concepts did not include ideas about Heaven as a future dwellingplace. They were firmly based on earth. And they had to be lest they got caught up in myths of the gods, a route that could have led them anywhere. But He had now come to make those mysteries clear to those who were fitted to receive them.
The ‘mystery’ had been a necessity in Old Testament days, because the people did not have the kind of background that would have enabled them to understand heavenly truth baldly stated. They did not have sufficient conceptual background. Talking to them about a heavenly kingdom would have been like talking to a Central African native about snow and ice. It would have been totally outside their ability to grasp the truth. (Just as the Saracens mocked when Christian knights told them how they had walked their horses across water (frozen rivers). They were clever men but they had no concept of ice). For because of the dangers of ideas connected with the surrounding gods and their mythology all teaching had to be given to Israel as though it applied to earth so that it would not become mixed up with myths about the gods. They did not want their ideas to be based on myths, but on history.
So their God did not play around in the heavens, He ruled over the heavens and dealt very solidly with earth. There was no conception in Israel of a Heaven to which they could go or of a heavenly future in which they would be involved. Thus the establishment of the coming Kingly Rule of the house of David (e.g. Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 66:22-24; Ezekiel 37:21-28; Zechariah 14:16-21), the future of the wicked (Isaiah 66:24), the coming resurrection (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:1-3), and even the going out of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 32:15; Ezekiel 47:1-12) were all portrayed as happening in very much earthly terms. They could conceive of no other.
But by New Testament times the way had been prepared, and it was therefore now necessary for Jesus to demonstrate how the Scriptures should be reinterpreted in the light of the new understanding of Heaven and eternal judgment that had grown up during the inter-testamental period. That is why He emphasised that the Kingly Rule of Heaven initially now indicated God’s rule over the individual lives of those who had responded to Him in this world, and that they were finally to look to the everlasting ‘kingdom’ where all who were His would be with Him (although that is in fact outside the Universe and is spiritual in nature - so we are thinking parabolically too!). Even Jerusalem is seen as now indicating a new heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22), because the earthly Jerusalem is destined for destruction The earthly rule of an earthly king has now thus been replaced by a heavenly rule of a heavenly king (Matthew 28:18), even though He is at present walking on earth among them. To use a crude term the Old Testament has been ‘deallegorised’ by Jesus. It has been reinterpreted in the light of more advanced spiritual conceptions. Fuller light had awaited those conceptions. Thus they had known that the Kingly Rule of Heaven would be spread by the teaching of the word (compare Isaiah 2:2-4), and would receive the response of individuals who would come together under His rule (Isaiah 45:23), and that it would all somehow end in a final Kingly Rule of God from Heaven. What they had not then conceived of was that it would actually be in Heaven (and then in a new Heaven and a new earth - 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1 where all the promises concerning ‘earth’ could be fulfilled, and Abraham and his seed could receive the promises - Hebrews 11:13-16).
We should consider in this regard the dangers that Jesus faced in His ministry. In a highly volatile area like Galilee, among a people who were constantly looking for a deliverer to arrive from God and free them from the Roman yoke, talk about the Kingly Rule of Heaven could soon become dangerous. Even with all His warnings His disciples still thought in terms of an earthly victory and an earthly kingdom wrought by the power of Jesus (Matthew 20:20-23; Matthew 24:3; Luke 22:24; Acts 1:6) so that Jesus had to bring them ‘down to earth’ and remove their false presumptions (Matthew 20:25-28; Luke 22:25-27). How much more would this have been so had He taught the same things openly to the crowds (John 6:14-15 brings out how easily that could have become a danger). By teaching in parables this danger was largely avoided.
“For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have abundance, but whoever has not, from him will be taken away even what he has.”
So those who have already received the truth, and have repented and have come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, will continue to receive more and more truth, because they are open to it. He who ‘has’, to him will be given, and he will be given more and more. But those whose hearts have not responded will receive nothing apart from what they receive in the form of parables, to interpret as they will, which will, unless their hearts are enlightened and they respond, eventually fade away, so that they are left with nothing because they have not truly received it and are really not interested. The fault will not be with God, it will be with them. But at least they will not be ‘Gospel-hardened’.
“Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
And this is why He speaks to them in parables, because they are unseeing and unhearing and unreceptive in their minds. That would mean that any truth He taught them would either not be understood, or would merely anger them, or would be misinterpreted, or would be transformed in their minds into what they wanted Him to say. (There is nothing more exasperating for a preacher than to be congratulated on his sermon for saying the exact opposite of what he actually did say, due to the presuppositions of the listener). However, by receiving the truth in parables they will be saved from all three. They will receive whatever their heart is open to receive, they will not receive teaching parrot fashion, and if they want to know more, they will be able to ask. Meanwhile they will not have insulated themselves from the preacher’s words by having a constant ‘reinterpretation filter’ built into their thinking.
One of the great problems for the preacher or evangelist today in Western countries is that very often his listeners think that they know everything to do with what he is talking about because they have a smattering of vague and often completely wrong ideas about what Jesus did teach. And, if they bother to think about it at all, they interpret everything in that light. One good example of this is the idea of the Fatherhood of God. Most people today would consider that they know exactly what Jesus meant by that, and most of them are completely wrong. But they will never be convinced of that fact, unless God enlightens them, for it suits them to believe it. It had been better for them if they had never been taught it, or had been taught in parables.
“And to them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, “By hearing you will hear, and will in no way understand, and seeing you will see, and will in no wise perceive.”
Once again Matthew goes by name to Isaiah, although this time he does it in words of Jesus, and it may well be that it was from this saying of Jesus that he himself obtained the idea for his ‘that it might be fulfilled’ sayings. Others, however, see this saying as added by Matthew as a fulfilment saying, backing up the words of Jesus. For Matthew undoubtedly sees this period in the life of Jesus as very much a fulfilling of Isaiah’s prophecies (Matthew 3:3; Matthew 4:15-16; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 20:28).
The words here are taken from Isaiah 6:9-10. Significantly the context of it was the appearance of the glory of YHWH in the Temple on His throne (Isaiah 6:1-7), and it went on to describe the need for Isaiah to proclaim his message, accompanied by the guarantee that Israel would fail to respond to that message, leading up to further judgments which would finally result in the establishment of a faithful remnant (Matthew 6:13). Thus the Kingly Rule of Heaven was there manifested in Isaiah and was rejected, but with the future hope of a ‘holy seed’. And now that the One has come Who will also reveal the glory of YHWH in even fuller measure (especially in Matthew 17:1-8; but see John 1:12-18), and will receive His throne (Matthew 28:18), and who is also seeking to establish the pure remnant (Matthew 12:46-50; Matthew 16:18), Jesus recognises that the same principles apply, for men are no different from what they were.
And those principles are that the majority who hear the word of God may hear it, but they do not understand it, and while they may in one sense ‘see’ it, they are not really able to perceive what it means, and this is because of the state of their hearts. People had not changed since Isaiah’s day.
“For this people’s heart is grown gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest it happen that they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them.”
The reason for their failure is because of the condition of their ‘inner hearts’, that is, their minds, emotions and wills. Their hearts and minds and thoughts are full of other things so that they have become fat and dull and lazy as far as God is concerned, their ears are attuned to other things and therefore they give no credence to spiritual things, they close their spiritual eyes when they are challenged about God so that nothing comes home to them, and this is what prevents their hearing, and seeing, and understanding with the result that they do not ‘turn again’. Thus no genuine response results in their lives, and Jesus therefore does not heal them.
“Lest it happen that they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them.” There would appear here to be an indication that the condition of people’s hearts is actually intended by God to prevent them from understanding God’s words and responding to them. But we must reckon on two things, the prophet’s (and God’s) irony and his firm belief that God is the prime source of everything.
In His irony God sees the people as being almost afraid of hearing and seeing lest they might have to respond and be healed. And that is because they do not want to respond and be healed. They like being as they are. Certainly they want any benefits that God will dole out to them, but they do not want to be stirred out of their indolent, self-satisfied way of living. Thus they are afraid of hearing and seeing lest their should be changed.
But as one who believes that all that happens is of God Isaiah is also describing what he sees in the light of those terms. He is saying that this is so because although we cannot explain it, God has done it. But it should be noted here that he is not suggesting that God does directly intervene to close men’s eyes or to shut their ears, or to darken their understandings. He is simply saying that He allows their natural responses (which are of course the result of His creative work as wrecked by the Fall) to do it for them. He is saying that He refrains from interfering with the natural course of things. These are the people to whom in His sovereignty He has chosen not to make Himself known. But the final fault lies with them and the state of their hearts which they themselves have brought about. For ‘what may be known of God is manifest to them’ (Romans 1:19-20), if only their hearts would respond. Thus they are without excuse. (If we have free will we certainly have nothing to grumble about, and if we did not have freewill we would not be arguing about it).
The close correspondence with LXX that we find here is unusual in Matthew but may have resulted from a Hebrew text which closely paralleled LXX, which he then translates in accordance with his knowledge of LXX, or may even in fact have been taken from LXX itself (but why then do we not find it more often apart from when Mark is being interpreted), or from a list of a series of quotations from LXX. Many Greek speaking Jews in Palestine might well have favoured, and had available in their synagogues, copies of the Septuagint (LXX), which may have been utilised both by Jesus and by Matthew.
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”
There are, however, those who do see and hear, and they do so because they are ‘God-blessed’ ones, that is, because their ‘eyes’ have been blessed by God. It is God Who had made them see and hear. And because He has stepped in to bless them they have responded. They are those whom His Father has drawn to Him (John 6:44). And thus they parallel those described in the beatitudes as ‘God-blessed ones’. They are what they are because God has blessed them. And that is why they see and hear.
“For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.”
And what is more they are especially privileged because of the time in which they live. Many in the past had looked forward with yearning to this day and had not seen it. The great prophets, and the lesser prophets, and all truly righteous men had longed to see what they were seeing now, and to hear what they were hearing now. They had longed for the Kingly Rule of Heaven to come. They had longed for the Coming One. They had longed for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). But they had never seen the fulfilment of these things. They had lived and died in hope, never receiving (Hebrews 11:39). That was a privilege left to be enjoyed by those who now heard and responded to His words, the fulfilment of all their prophecies. Jesus could have made no stronger claim to uniqueness. He is depicting Himself as the fulfilment of all that the prophets had promised (compare Matthew 5:17).
This was a concept that Jesus repeated on a number of occasions (compare Luke 10:23-24 where it is in a totally different context), for Jesus’ teaching was consistently repetitive, and He wanted the disciples to learn the lesson well.
“Hear you then the parable of the sower.”
Note first how Jesus focuses attention on the sower without actually explaining who the sower is. He leaves each person to recognise who the sower is for themselves. This is typical of His way of only indirectly calling attention to Himself. But as we discover in Matthew 13:19 He makes clear that it is certainly someone who is proclaiming the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and this in turn associates it with the triumph of righteousness (Matthew 6:33). The sower goes forward to produce righteousness and establish the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
In the Old Testament Scriptures we find a similar picture of the sowing of righteousness. In Proverbs 11:18 we are told, ‘he who sows righteousness has a sure reward.’ So any mention of a sower would raise this idea to mind.
The thought of the sower going forth to sow would also remind many of His listeners of Hosea’s description, which clearly has the day of deliverance in mind. It describes how Israel were to achieve the coming promised day of righteousness when righteousness would be poured on them (Hosea 10:12). They were to ‘Sow to yourselves in righteousness’. But how would they sow to themselves in righteousness? By themselves responding to and listening to godly sowers who would preach among them the message of righteousness. They could choose to do so (or choose not to do so). For God provided prophets in all eras but it was they who decided whom they would listen to. And once they chose to hear the message of righteousness it would then result in the raining of righteousness among them. ‘Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to mercy, break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, until he come and rain righteousness upon you’ (Hosea 10:12). In other words ‘listen to your prophets as they sow and respond to them’.
On hearing of the sower many of His listeners would remember these words. They would thus recognise in the idea of the sower going forth one who was to call to repentance the whole of Israel. For ‘sowing righteousness’ for Israel would be by their encouraging their representatives to sow righteousness to them, so producing a righteous nation. Thus when John ‘came in the way of righteousness’ (Matthew 21:32) he was sowing righteousness. And they would see this as something that would especially occur in the future through the activity of the coming Messiah. He too would come sowing righteousness. In the context of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and of the Old Testament, to be ‘the sower’ was therefore a Messianic claim.
It is true that the implication in Hosea appears at first to us to be a direct appeal to Israel as individuals, but that is because we apply things individually and personally. That is not, however, how Israel would have seen it. In their eyes the way that they would sow righteousness to themselves would be by raising up righteous leaders and teachers, who arose with their support, whose sowing of righteousness would then produce righteousness in them. And the most important to be involved in this would be the King acting on their behalf, for he was ‘the breath of their nostrils’. When they had a righteous king who ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ righteousness would follow. So they would expect that such a sowing of righteousness would occur when in the final days God’s righteousness and salvation was revealed (Isaiah 56:1). The future King would come sowing righteousness. And in terms of Isaiah that would point to the Redeemer who would come bringing righteousness and salvation (Isaiah 59:20 with 16). The Sower would be the One Who began the process by sowing righteousness.
There is a similar picture connecting sowing with the establishment of the Kingly Rule in Psalms 126:5-6, where the thought is of deliverance of the exiles in triumph preparatory to God’s Kingly Rule. ‘Those who sow in tears will reap in joy. Though he go forth on his way weeping, bearing forth the seed, he will come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.’ To Israel the sowing of seed through suffering prophets is to result in deliverance.
So when ‘the sower went forth to sow’ their minds, if they were enlightened, should immediately have turned towards one who went forth preaching righteousness, and in view of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, to One Who proclaimed the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
The Interpretation of the Parable of the Sowing Of The Seed (13:18-23).
As we look at this interpretation we will note how perfectly it fits the words of the parable without being over-allegoristic. It is simple, straightforward and telling, with its background in Scripture. There is no good reason for doubting that we have the immediate words of Jesus. It is as much noteworthy for what it does not say as for what it does say. It does not, for example, define the sower. Because it was in a context where Jesus was speaking it did not need to do so. All knew Who the sower was. The question was what He had to say.
a “Hear you then the parable of the sower” (Matthew 13:18).
b “When any one hears the word of the kingly rule, and does not understand it, then comes the evil one, and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is he who was sown by the way side” (Matthew 13:19).
c “And he who was sown on the rocky places, this is he who hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21).
b “And he who was sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the word, and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
a “And he who was sown on the good ground, this is he who hears the word, and understands it; who truly bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23).
Note that in ‘a’ the parable is about the sower, and in the parallel we have described what the sower is out to achieve. In ‘b’ we have one reason for failure where the words has no impact at all, and we have the same in the parallel. Centrally in ‘c’ are those who make a quick profession and equally quickly fall away when some difficulty arises.
“When any one hears the word of the kingly rule, and does not understand it, then comes the evil one, and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is he who was sown by the way side.”
The sower sows the word of the Kingly Rule, the advancing of God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). He is thus either the King or the King’s personal representative. And as we already know, that Kingly Rule very much involves righteousness (Matthew 6:33). So here Israel are being ‘sowed to in righteousness’. But the question then is whether they will respond to this righteousness. And as John has already made clear, the raining of righteousness will only be on some (Matthew 3:11). Others will have judgment rained on them.
The seed sown on the pathway, where the birds of the air immediately seized it, is described as the word concerning the Kingly Rule of Heaven which, when ‘sown in the heart’, is simply not comprehended, and the result is that the Evil One can, as it were, swoop down and snatch it away. In terms of Matthew 12:25-30 this would be expected to be so. For the evil one is the one most opposed to and affected by the Strong Man of the Kingly Rule of God, the mighty warrior of Isaiah 59:16-18.
The idea is clear and straightforward. The teaching is sown. It is heard and reaches the mind, but sadly often it does not reach the inner heart (‘heart’ can signify mind, or will, as opposed to inner heart). There is no ‘understanding’. Thus it is not grasped and the result is that Satan can snatch it away. Paul puts it more theologically when he says, ‘the god of this world blinds the minds of those who do not believe so that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ should not dawn on them’ (2 Corinthians 4:4).
There can be no doubt at all that Jesus believed in a personal Satan, and his minions, and that He did see him (and them) as interfering in men’s lives (Matthew 4:1-11; Matthew 12:26; Luke 13:16; Luke 22:31; John 13:27). Furthermore we have learned in the previous chapter that Satan is very much at odds with the Kingly Rule of God (Matthew 12:28-30) and that his minions seek to congregate in ‘houses’ that are left empty after receiving the word (Matthew 12:44-45). Thus this reminder is very timely, and is simply indicating the same thing in a different way. Indeed we can understand how Jesus, walking along and seeing the birds at work in the grainfields, saw in it a picture of the work of Satan’s minions, doing the work that He has previously described.
“This is he who was sown by the way side.” This means ‘this is the person in whom the seed was sown alongside the pathway’ (compare Colossians 1:6; Colossians 1:10). It is a definition of which people were in mind in this part of the parable.
“And he who was sown on the rocky places, this is he who hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”
The second example is the man in whom the seed was sown who was like the thin covering of soil over a limestone rock formation. Just as that soil received the seed, which sprang up quickly because it was in surface soil, and died as quickly, so it is with this man. He hears the word of the Kingly Rule of God and receives it with delight. He is looking forward with anticipation to the Messianic Banquet. But the word itself has not taken root. Thus it persists for a time until obstacles arise. But as soon as there is trouble and persecution (Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 10:17), he backs down. This was not what he had bargained for at all. He had wanted a grand party, not problems. For that was what it all was to him, a bargain which would lead him into luxury and pleasure. So ‘he stumbles.’ That is, he finds it unacceptable and turns away from it as quickly as he had embraced it. He does not want something that will disturb the pattern of his life.
To suggest that there was no persecution or tribulation before it was suffered by the early church is clearly folly. In a society like that of the Jews, where feelings were strong, the introduction of new ideas, especially ideas as revolutionary as those of Jesus would inevitably produce a reaction. The Pharisees were more prominent in that regard because they saw themselves in their own way as ‘defenders of the faith’ but many a household would have reacted against Jesus’ ideas, and many a strict Jewish father would frown on any response to Jesus from his ‘children’, and it is not surprising that we therefore have constant reference to such persecution and tribulation (Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 5:43-44; Matthew 10:16-25; Matthew 10:35-36).
“And he who was sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the word, and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.”
The third type of person was the one who was like thorn-covered ground. He hears the word, but the care of the world and the deceitfulness of, or delight in, riches choke the word. He thus grows as one who is unfruitful. Both cares and anxieties on the one hand, and desire for wealth, or delight in it, on the other, have kept many people from responding to the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
In the Old Testament a firm warning was given about sowing among thorns. In Jeremiah 4:3 the Lord says, ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns’. This would certainly therefore have alerted the listening people to the fact that something was happening that should not have done so. Compare also Jeremiah 12:13, ‘they have sown wheat and have reaped thorns’. See also Genesis 3:18; Proverbs 24:30-31; Isaiah 5:6; Isaiah 27:4. It would therefore have been clear to all that what was sown among thorns was something to be very much concerned about.
The aptness of these three types of soil cannot be doubted. Jesus would have come across many people of each of the three types, the ones who never really received the word, and from whose hearts Satan quickly expunged it (Matthew 12:43-45), the ones who seized on it because they had the wrong ideas about it, but soon tossed it away (no cross for them - compare Matthew 9:20), and the ones who allowed it to be choked by anxiety or wealth (Matthew 6:19-34).
“And he who was sown on the good ground, this is he who hears the word, and understands it; who truly bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
In contrast with these men who were represented by these three types of soil were the people represented by the good soil. They heard the word, received it, understood it, and allowed it to produce fruit in them. But not all, of course, to the same level, for even here there were three types of soil. But in each case it was good soil. All thus grew to a completely acceptable level of blessing, depending on the level of their response.
This picture of an abundant harvest to come reproduces John’s words in Matthew 3:11. It would also gladden the hearts of the people as it seemed to offer them the ‘good times’ that they were looking forward to when God stepped in to deliver them. All rejoiced at the thought of abundant harvest. It sounded wildly attractive.
On the other hand they would not be quite so exhilarated at the thought of the conditions, ‘hearing the word and understanding it’. For that would mean responding to it, and being ‘healed’.
So while the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of Heaven would be welcomed in the hearts of some, and would produce fruitfulness and righteousness, in others it would finally achieve nothing because of their hardness, superficiality or being too concerned about other things. But one thing was sure. The Kingly Rule of God was among them and within them through His word (Luke 17:21), and all must ‘respond’ in one way or the other, and that was what the parable was all about.
‘He who hears the word, and understands it.’ Jesus lays great stress on the need to understand. Hearing and understanding was crucial to discipleship. In the same way in Mark 7:14 Jesus wanted the people to hear and understand, for not hearing and not understanding was what was the problem with the people (Matthew 13:13; Matthew 13:15; Mark 4:12). Indeed that they did not hear and understand was what marked the difference between the people and the disciples. See also Matthew 13:51 and compare Mark 4:13. It was so as to ensure that His disciples had understanding that He was explaining the parable (compare Mark 4:34). Secrets were being revealed (Matthew 13:11; Matthew 13:35), and truth made known, for that reason. But like all of us the disciples understood at the level that they had reached. We must not read into it more than is intended. They were responding to the Kingly Rule of Heaven in the terms proclaimed by John and Jesus. They would yet need deeper understanding before they fully grasped it, but that would necessarily be something that grew and developed. We all tend to forget what little understanding we once had at times when we thought that we understood. The young converts understanding of Christ is very different from that of the mature Christian. But the fact that he is a ‘convert’ indicates basic understanding.
‘He set another parable before them, saying, “The Kingly Rule of Heaven has become like to a situation where a man sowed good seed in his field, but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares (darnel) also among the wheat, and went away.’
‘He set another parable before them, saying, “The Kingly Rule of Heaven has become like --” (aorist passive indicative )’. The tense demonstrates that this describes the present state of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Compare for this Matthew 13:31; Matthew 13:33, although there it is ‘is like’ which is more neutral. Also for ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven is like --’ compare Matthew 13:44-45; Matthew 13:47. This phrase unites the six parables.
The phrase cannot possibly refer to what each time directly follows ‘like to’. Thus for example here the man cannot represent the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Nor indeed does the field. The field is the world. It is the wheat, the ‘sons of the Kingly Rule’, which make up the Kingly Rule of Heaven. So in each case where it is used the phrase ‘like to --’ must be seen as referring either to a part of the following phrase (in this case the good seed in the field), or to the whole of the story that follows (the sowing of the good seed, the growing of the seed and the harvest of the seed), or to the end result (the gathered in good seed).
Some lay stress on the whole process, the sowing of the good seed, the growing of the seed and the harvest of the seed. Others lay stress on the end result, the wheat gathered into the barn. In view of the parable of the sower, in which concentration was on the process, we might see both as likely, and this is confirmed in the interpretation of the parable of the tares/darnel where we have ‘the sons of the Kingly Rule’ who are the good seed from the beginning, with the darnel (‘the sons of the evil one’) being gathered out from the Kingly Rule because they are not part of it, a Kingly Rule which is thus in existence prior to the establishing of the final Kingly Rule of the Father. But the darnel is never a part of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. It only gives the appearance of being so. Here we have quite clearly expressed the fact of the present Kingly Rule of Heaven consisting even now of all who are true ‘children of the Kingly Rule’, which will be followed in the future by the future Kingly Rule in Heaven, the one merging into the other.
Bearded darnel is very similar to wheat and difficult to distinguish until the wheat comes to ear. Then the difference becomes very clear. The darnel matures with a dark head. The wheat produces ears of wheat. Interestingly the act of sowing darnel among wheat was forbidden and punishable under Roman Law indicating that just this kind of situation did sometimes occur.
‘While men slept.’ The significance of this is that it brings out the surreptitious nature of what happened. It was underhand and done in the darkness.
‘His enemy came.’ The action is peevish and deceitful. He does not destroy the crops or spread salt on the field, but rather sows what will for a long time deceive those involved. It is the work of the great Deceiver. (He is limited in what he can do. He is not permitted to destroy the good seed - compare Job 1:12; Job 2:6). Then he slips away. He wants to remain in the dark. These are the works of darkness.
The Parable of the Tares/Bearded Darnel (13:24-30).
In this parable the sower sows good seed in a field, but by night his enemy sows bad seed. However, when asked if the bad seed should be removed the householder says ‘no’, lest good seed also be removed in error. Both are to be allowed to grow together until the Harvest when the bad seed will be dealt with along with the good seed.
a Another parable set He before them, saying, “The Kingly Rule of Heaven is likened to a situation where a man sowed good seed in his field (Matthew 13:24).
b But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares (darnel) also among the wheat, and went away (Matthew 13:25).
c But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares (darnel) also (Matthew 13:26).
d And the servants of the householder came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? From where then has it tares (darnel)?” (Matthew 13:27).
c And he said to them, “An enemy has done this.” And the servants say to him, “Do you wish us then to go and gather them up?” (Matthew 13:28).
b But he says, “No, lest it happen that while you gather up the tares (darnel), you root up the wheat with them (Matthew 13:29).
a Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather up first the tares (darnel), and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn’.” (Matthew 13:30).
In ‘a’ the good seed of the Kingly Rule of Heaven is sown, and in the parallel the Harvest results and the good seed is gathered into the barn. In ‘b’ the enemy sows tares (darnel) among the wheat, and in the parallel it is not to be gathered up lest it also root up the wheat. In ‘c’ first the fruitful blade springs up, and the tares (darnel) among them, and in the parallel the tares are (darnel is) recognised for what they are, the work of the enemy. Centrally in ‘d’ is the question as to where the tares (darnel) came from.
Three Further Parables of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (13:24-33).
The parable of the Sower having been explained, We now have three further parables introduced, the parable of the tares (or bearded darnel, which to begin with looks like wheat but matures to have a dark head), the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven. Each introduces us to a different aspect of the Kingly Rule of Heaven as it spreads outwards, and in the light of the parable of the sower we would expect their ideas to be in terms of how the Kingly Rule of Heaven would progress, which is in fact what we find. Indeed the three parables contrast with the three types of failure in the parable of the sower. The spreading of the Kingly Rule of Heaven will be interfered with by the Enemy sowing false wheat (just as he had earlier snatched away the seed), but he will be unable to touch the children of the Kingly Rule; it will grow strong until it becomes a tree, (rather than withering in the sun like the seed in little depth of earth); and it will grow by the activity within it of the power of God working secretly within it, (rather than its members succumbing to the cares and temptations of life, that also work secretly within them).
But as well as connecting back with the parable of the sower, the three parables now introduced have a further three different emphases, this time looking forward to the three parables that follow. Thus the whole series of seven parables interconnects.
* The first parable has to do with the false introduced among the true, who cannot easily be differentiated. And the result is that it ends in judgment and the separation of the bad from among the good.
* The second parable has to do with the tiny seed that becomes the largest herb of all,
* The third parable has to do with leaven which is secreted within the meal until it reacts throughout the whole batch of meal.
These will then be followed by a further three parables in parallel which contain similar emphases in reverse order.
* The first will have to do with treasure secreted in a field which is such that a man will give anything in order to obtain it, parallel with the leaven hid in the meal.
* The second has to do with a man who will give all that he has for the largest, most expensive pearl of all, parallel with the largest herb of all.
* The third has to do with the dragnet that brings all into judgment and results in the separating of the bad from among the good, paralleling the harvesting of the wheat and the false wheat.
Note especially the deliberate parallels between the parable of the wheat and darnel and that of the dragnet. Both speak of the separating of the evil from among the good (Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:49). Both speak of what will happen at the end of the age (Matthew 13:40; Matthew 13:49). Both involve the angels separating off the evil so as to cast them into a furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-42; Matthew 13:49-50). Nevertheless one ends with the righteous shining forth under the Kingly Rule of their Father (compare Matthew 7:21) while the other ends with the weeping and gnashing of teeth (compare Matthew 24:51).
These three parables in Matthew 13:24-33 are also in the form of a small chiasmus. Thus:
a Jesus expounds a parable affecting all the sons of the Kingly Rule - the good seed (Matthew 13:24-30).
b Jesus expounds a parable revealing how all that is to happen will grow out of small beginning until it is surprisingly large (Matthew 13:31-32).
a Jesus expounds a parable affecting all the sons of the Kingly Rule - the meal that is leavened (Matthew 13:33).
‘But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares (darnel) also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? From where then has it tares (darnel)?” ’
For quite some time wheat and darnel grew together with no differentiation made between them, but when the wheat began to come into ear the difference became clear, so that the servants working in the field inevitably noticed it. This puzzled them. These were no ordinary weeds. So where had they come from? Who had sown them? They reported it back to the householder.
Note how this time little attention is paid to the period of growth. This is in direct contrast with the parable of the sower. Thus it serves to emphasise how important the period of growth was in that parable.
‘And he said to them, “An enemy has done this.” And the servants say to him, “Do you wish us then to go and gather them up?” ’
The householder immediately knew what the answer must be. This had been done by an enemy. So the servants suggested that they go and root out the darnel.
‘But he says, “No, lest it happen that while you gather up the tares (darnel), you root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather up first the tares (darnel), and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn’.” ’
The householder said ‘no’ because he was concerned lest in attempting to root out the darnel they root out some of the good wheat as well, for their roots would have become intertwined. So he commands that both be allowed to grow together until the Harvest. At that point he will tell the reapers to first gather in the darnel and bind them into bundles so that they can be used to stoke fires, and then gather the wheat, which can be gathered into the barn (the scene is very similar to that in Matthew 3:11). The interpretation will follow shortly.
We are often told that ‘the experts say’ that the darnel would be uprooted as soon as it was found. But even if it is so, (and authorities tend to disagree on this as on all such matters), it does not affect the story, for that was intended to bring out a point which could only be brought out by telling it in the way that Jesus told it. He was not giving gardening lessons. He was talking about the interaction and complexity of human beings. Nor was Jesus saying, ‘do not root out false prophets’. What He was saying was, ‘do not pass judgments on the genuineness of the conversions of ordinary individuals. Eventually they will be know by their fruits’.
‘He set another parable before them, saying, “The kingly rule of heaven is like to a situation where a man took a grain of mustard seed, and sowed it in his field, which indeed is less than all seeds, but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in its branches.” ’
The emphasis in this parable is on organic growth from small beginnings. Whether in Jesus’ mind the ‘grain of mustard seed’ is the kingly Rule itself, or the small band of disciples, does not really matter. The point is that what starts out as something very small will become something very substantial. A grain of mustard seed was very small, the smallest known in Palestine. (‘Less than all the seeds’ has in mind the seeds with which a Palestinian farmer would be familiar. To the Rabbis the mustard seed was proverbial for its smallness. Or it may indicate that the farmer selected the smallest of all the mustard seeds for planting). This emphasises the tiny beginnings of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (‘fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingly Rule’ - Luke 12:32). The field is clearly the world, in which the Kingly Rule of Heaven is planted. And the Kingly Rule then grows into a ‘tree’ (very large bush). The mustard was in fact the only herb that grew to such a great size in contrast with the size of the seed. Mustard trees/bushes can often grow to over two metres (seven feet) tall, and even more. But as this demonstrates, had Jesus had intended simply to indicate hugeness He would actually have chosen a tree. The emphasis here is clearly rather on the growth from small beginnings.
The fact that the birds of heaven came and lodged in its branches accentuates its size, but they may well also be intended to indicate the nations of the world because that is precisely what they indicated in an Old Testament parable (Ezekiel 31:6; see also Ezekiel 17:22-24; Ezekiel 31:3-14; Daniel 4:7-23). Thus the Kingly Rule of Heaven will grow from tiny beginnings to something so surprisingly substantial (even though it is a herb) that the nations of the world will be able to find shelter in it (Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:21). It is a phenomenon.
The Twin Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven (13:31-33).
These two parables have very different emphases. The emphasis in the first case is on the size to which it grew from small beginnings, from a tiny seed to a great tree with birds in its branches, from a tiny band of disciples to a world wide presence including both Jew and Gentile (Matthew 8:11; Matthew 10:18; Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:21). The emphasis in the second case is on the leavening process whereby a little leaven permeates a whole batch of flour, indicating the invisible power that will be at work through the tiny band of disciples bringing about the final product in a larger ‘congregation of Israel’, the new people of God. In this case the batch of flour indicates the potential Kingly Rule of Heaven.
a He set another parable before them, saying, “The kingly rule of heaven is like to a situation where a man took a grain of mustard seed, and sowed it in his field (Matthew 13:31).
b Which indeed is less than all seeds, but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in its branches (Matthew 13:32).
a He spoke another parable to them; “The kingly rule of heaven is like a situation where a woman took leaven, and hid it in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33).
Note that in ‘a’ the grain of mustard seed is sown into the field, and in the parallel the leaven is hid in three measures of meal. Centrally in ‘b’ the tiny mustard seed grows into a large ‘tree’ in which the birds can come and lodge in its branches.
‘He spoke another parable to them; “The kingly rule of heaven is like a situation where a woman took leaven, and hid it in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened.” ’
In this parable the hidden but powerful process is in mind by which the Kingly Rule of Heaven will be established. Leaven was a piece of old dough which had fermented. Once this was put in new dough it affected the whole, making it more suitable for baking. Leaven can be used as a picture of corruption, and therefore of evil, but it is not always so. In the thanksgiving offering in Leviticus 7:13 cakes of leavened bread were offered along with the peace offerings, and at the Feast of Sevens (Weeks), which became Pentecost, two wave loaves of leavened bread were offered (Leviticus 23:17). Thus leaven was associated there with thanksgiving and gratitude for all God’s good provision. We may conclude that leaven itself was thus here seen to be a good and useful contribution to the welfare and wellbeing of man, and thus could be used to picture the powerful influence of the Kingly Rule of Heaven spreading throughout the nations through the activity of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:28).
Three measures of meal indicates a large amount of meal sufficient for over one hundred people. So there is again the repetition of the idea of large results from small beginnings, although now the idea of size is secondary. What is primary is the hidden power at work, the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; John 3:7). The fact that it was ‘hidden’ emphasises the unseen and unexpected (by the world) working that produced the result.
Some consider that because leaven is regularly used in order to depict evil (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), the picture here must be of the spreading of evil and heresy throughout the Kingly Rule. But that would be to make the parable only depict what is negative, and if it did so it would be the only parable in the chapter that did so. In all other cases the parables end in a picture of the triumph of the good. Furthermore in Luke 13:18-21 it is found only with the parable of the mustard seed and not in a series. It was therefore clearly intended to be interpreted on its own.
In fact the principle behind the usage in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 is that ‘a little leaven leavens the whole lump’ (compare Galatians 5:9). Thus it is what the leaven indicates that determines whether its influence is good or bad. On the whole fermentation was seen as good effect, not a bad one (we must not read modern science into it). In Matthew 13:6; Matthew 13:11 the leaven represents teaching, with its consequent influence. It is only because it is the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees that it is there to be seen as bad. The idea of leavening itself was neutral.
The fact that the leaven was ‘hidden’ in the meal stresses the quiet way in which the work would go forward. It would not be with a great outward display but with the quiet moving forwards of God’s purposes through the Holy Spirit. It would not so much be with the earthquake, as with the still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). ‘The Kingly Rule does not come with outward observation, nor will the say “lo, here” or “lo, there” for behold the Kingly Rule of God is within you (or among you)’ (Luke 17:20-21). The meal represents the potential Kingly Rule of Heaven, the fulfilment of God’s purpose for His own.
‘All these things spoke Jesus in parables to the crowds, and without a parable he spoke nothing to them.’
So Jesus continued to preach to the crowds in parables. They were parables that clearly presented the truth to those who saw, and yet kept it shielded from those who did not see because their hearts were otherwise directed. Each saw what his heart was attuned to seeing. This need not mean that He only used parables, but simply that parables were an important part of His teaching.
Why Jesus Speaks In Parables (13:34-35).
Here we learn of a second reason why Jesus speaks in parables. It is a way of unfolding indescribable spiritual secrets in such a way that those not ready to receive them are not aware of them, while those whose hearts are opened are enlightened.
a All these things spoke Jesus in parables to the crowds (Matthew 13:34 a).
b And without a parable He spoke nothing to them (Matthew 13:34 b).
c That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet (Matthew 13:35 a).
b Saying, “I will open My mouth in parables (Matthew 13:35 b).
a I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35 c).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus spoke in parables, and in the parallel He uttered things hidden. In ‘b’ He did not speak without a parable, and in the parallel He opened His mouth in parables. Central in ‘c’ is the fulfilment of what the prophet said.
Jesus Speaks To His Disciples In Parables So That Their Eyes May Be Opened (13:34-52).
This next part-section is also in the form of a chiasmus.
a Jesus speaks in parables not only for the sake of the crowds, but also for the sake of His disciples, so that their eyes may be opened to the lessons of the past (Matthew 13:34-35).
b The explanation of the parable of the wheat and the darnel which leads up to the end of the age and the destiny of the unrighteous and the righteous (Matthew 13:36-43).
c The parable of the hidden treasure which costs everything (Matthew 13:44).
c The parable of the pearl which costs everything (Matthew 13:45-46).
b The parable of the dragnet which leads up to the end of the age and the destiny of the righteous, and especially the unrighteous (Matthew 13:47-50)
a The bringing out by the Scribe of the Kingly Rule of Heaven of things new and old (Matthew 13:51-52).
It will be noted that in ‘a’ the disciples are to learn both the new (the meaning of parables) and the old (the Scriptures which reveal things from of old), while in the parable the Teacher of the Kingly Rule of Heaven will bring forth things new and old. In ‘b’ and parallel we have two parables which have the same lesson concerning judgment on unbelievers, although their final emphasis is different. In ‘c’ and parallel we have two parables which evaluate the worth of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, the one as a result of a poor man’s ‘lucky’ find, and the other as a result of the rich man’s careful search.
‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from of old (or ‘the foundation of the world’).”
But to those whose hearts were opened the parables revealed wonderful truth. They revealed the things that had been hidden from of old, and made clear how they would come about thus fulfilling what the Psalmist had said.
Matthew now quotes Psalms 78:2 as ‘through the prophet’. The Psalms were also seen as prophesying along with the rest of Scripture. Here a more positive slant is given to parables. Their purpose is in order to reveal what is hidden, even from of old (or from the foundation of the world), that God is active in the world, and rules over all, that He continually delivered His people as at the Exodus, and that He will finally deliver His people and establish His Rule through the son of David (Psalms 78:69-70). The reference in the Psalm to the Exodus ties in with Matthew 2:15, and that He will save through the son of David with Matthew 1:1-17. Note that the purpose in the Psalm is enlightenment. ‘We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord’ (Psalms 78:4). Thus the ‘parables’ in the Psalm indicated the revealing of the significance of saving history and of its final fulfilment in the Son of David to those who would receive it. And that is what Jesus is doing here. He is through parables revealing the triumph of Himself as the Son of David with authority over the Kingly Rule of Heaven, something which had only gradually been revealed. Note that from this point on Jesus is speaking to ‘the disciples’, talking to God’s sons. What ‘blinds’ the unbeliever, illuminates the disciple.
‘Then he left the crowds, and went into the house, and his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares (darnel) of the field.” ’
The session of preaching to the crowds being over Jesus retired into the house (compare Matthew 13:1), and His disciples then came to Him and asked Him the meaning of the parable of the darnel sowed among the wheat. We do not necessarily have to assume that this was immediately after He had finished preaching. They might well have given Him time to rest first. Nor were the disciples necessarily totally baffled. Perhaps they just wanted to make sure that they had got their interpretation right. But the fact that they had to ask does demonstrate that while they had ‘understanding’ it was not full understanding.
‘Explain to us the parable.’ The difference between them and the crowds was mainly that they wanted to be sure that they had it right, and therefore asked.
The Explanation of the Parable of the Wheat and Darnel (13:36-43).
The parables that have now been given have gradually built up a picture of the advance of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Firstly the seed has been sown, having different effects depending on the hearers. Secondly the Enemy has sown pseudo-wheat so as to hinder the advance of the Kingly Rule, only for the Father finally to triumph. Thirdly the Kingly Rule will grow from the tiniest of seeds to a substantial bush in which birds nest in the branches. Fourthly the power of the leaven (the Holy Spirit) is working to permeate the whole.
But from this point on His words are spoken to the disciples for their understanding (Matthew 13:51), and He commences by explaining the parable of the wheat and the darnel. ‘Hearing they will hear’.
a Then He left the crowds, and went into the house, and His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares (darnel) of the field” (Matthew 13:36).
b And He answered and said, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man, the field is the world, and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingly rule (37-38a).
c “And the tares (darnel) are the sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38 b).
d “And the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the world
e “And the reapers are angels” (Matthew 13:39).
f “As therefore the tares (darnel) are gathered up and burned with fire, so will it be in the end of the age (world)” (Matthew 13:40).
e “The Son of man will send forth His angels (Matthew 13:41 a).
d “And they will gather out of His kingly rule all things that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity” (Matthew 13:41 b).
c “And will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42).
b “Then will the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingly rule of their Father (Matthew 13:43 a).
a “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43 b).
Note than in ‘a’ Jesus explains the parable and in the parallel all are to hear. In ‘b’ the good seed, sown by the Son of Man, are the sons of the Kingly Rule, and in the parallel they are to shine forth under their Father’s Kingly Rule. In ‘c’ the darnel is the seed of the Devil, and in the parallel it is cast into the furnace of fire. In ‘d’ the enemy sowed them and in the parallel they will be gathered out of the Kingly Rule. In ‘e’ the reapers are the angels, and in the parallel the angels are sent forth by the Son of Man. Centrally comes the end of the age when the darnel is gathered up and burned.
‘And he answered and said, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man.” ’
Jesus first lesson is that the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. This is a designation that He has clearly applied to Himself (Matthew 8:20; Matthew 9:6; Matthew 10:23, Matthew 11:19; Matthew 12:8; Matthew 12:32; Matthew 12:40). It depicts Him as having special authority on earth to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6) and as Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), and yet as walking in lowliness and humility (Matthew 8:20; Matthew 11:19). And now it is being connected directly with the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14 (Matthew 13:41). Thus the good seed (good in contrast to the pseudo-seed) is those who have responded to the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 4:23) as present among men, and as represented in Him. As in Daniel 7:13, the Son of Man is the representative of His people.
“And the field is the world, and the good seed, these are the sons of the Kingly Rule, and the tares (darnel) are the sons of the evil one.”
The field represents the whole of mankind (not just the Jews or the church, there is no parochialism here), and the good seed are ‘the sons of the Kingly Rule’, in this case (contrast Matthew 8:12) those who are responsive to God’s Kingly Rule. The pseudo seed are the sons of the evil one (which includes many who thought themselves sons of the Kingly Rule - Matthew 7:22; Matthew 8:12). Thus the Kingly Rule of Heaven does not at any stage include the pseudo seed. It includes only the true ‘sons of the Kingly Rule’ (compare Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48) who look forward to the final eternal Kingly Rule of their Father (Matthew 13:43).
The world is here seen as divided into two. On the one hand are those who are sons of the Kingly Rule, who submit to the king and walk in His ways, continually obeying His commands (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 7:24-25). On the other hand are the remainder of mankind (Matthew 13:41), whatever their profession, who are, (unknown in most cases to them), sons of the evil one, that is, they walk according to his instructions, deceived and in darkness, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them through the hardness of their hearts (Ephesians 4:18).
This theme of division into two, those who can see God truly as their Father and those who cannot, was emphasised in Matthew 7:13; Matthew 7:24-27; and continues on until Matthew 25:46. It includes all men and is a constant theme of Jesus. Men must either come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, or, whether Jew or Gentile, they will be lost. There is no other alternative.
Contrary to attempts to suggest the opposite there is no hint here of ‘the church’ or of pseudo-Christians. It is speaking of the whole of humanity. The lines are clearly drawn. The whole of humanity is represented by the good seed and the darnel. On the one side are those who are truly human (they are like ‘a son of man’ because they do the Father’s will - Daniel 7:4 with Matthew 4:25 b; Matthew 7:13 with 21), on the other are the darnel (those who outwardly appear to be men but inwardly are like wild beasts - Daniel 4:16; Daniel 4:25 a; Matthew 7:3). And the God of Heaven is setting up a Kingly Rule which will never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). That the picture in Daniel is in Jesus’ mind here comes out in the dual references to the Son of Man and in the sequel where the casting into the furnace of fire clearly reflects Daniel 3:6.
“And the enemy who sowed them is the Devil, and the harvest is the end of the world (age), and the reapers are angels.”
Like all parables not all the details can be applied. It was not of course the Devil who actually introduced men into the world. What he did from the beginning was seduce those whom God had created, turning them from being under God’s Kingly Rule. He ‘sowed’ false men. He tried to do it in Eden (Genesis 3:0), then prior to the Flood (Genesis 6:1-4), and has been doing it ever since. But the sad thing is that they are therefore now his workmanship, and fashioned after his image (John 8:41; Joh 8:44 ; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 2:2-3; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 5:19), and they walk in darkness not knowing where they are going (John 12:35).
But the warning comes that there will be a Harvest. This will come at the end of all things as we know them, the end of the world (or the age). Note the emphasis on Harvest (compare Matthew 3:11). For ‘the righteous’ that in itself is a time for rejoicing. The rest that goes with it is the unfortunate consequence of the effects of sin and Satan. In the Old Testament the idea of harvest symbolised judgment (compare. Jeremiah 51:33; Hosea 6:11; Joel 3:13). But here in the New, as in Matthew 3:11, the emphasis is on the blessing for those who are His, even though judgment often accompanies it.
‘The end (sunteleia) of the age.’ Compare Matthew 13:40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 9:26. The word sunteleia originally meant a contribution, then a joint action and finally came to mean ‘consummation’. Thus here it is the consummation of the age. (Note its use in Hebrews demonstrating that the phrase is not uniquely a Matthaean translation of Jesus’ words. But even so a unique way of translating something would not necessarily indicate that the translator had actually composed the ideas contained in the translation himself). The idea here is of the period of the summing up of all things (Ephesians 1:10).
“As therefore the tares (darnel) are gathered up and burned with fire, so will it be in the end of the world (age). The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingly rule all things that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity,”
Thus just as at the harvest the false wheat, the darnel, had to be gathered up and burned with fire because it was useless except for fuel, so in the same way at the end of the age the Son of Man will act to purify the sphere of His Kingly Rule. His Kingly Rule will have been established worldwide (Daniel 7:13-14), and the sphere of His Kingly Rule must now be purified. So the One Who originally sowed the seed and began the process, will send His angels to gather out from the sphere of His Kingly Rule all that causes stumbling and offence to others, and all who do iniquity. Note the assumed fact of the present and continuing Kingly Rule of the Son of Man (‘out of His kingly rule’). But we are not to see the idea here as that of a chronological ‘order of events’, as though we can say ‘this happens first, and then that’. It is rather laying the emphasis on the restoration of Paradise to what its should be. It is confirming that there will be a removal of all that is evil leaving only the good. Paradise (Isaiah 11:1-9) will be restored.
‘They will gather out of His Kingly Rule.’ The Kingly Rule is the Lord’s and He is ruler over the nations’ (Psalms 22:28). For ‘the Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His Kingly Rule reigns over all’ (Psalms 103:19). ‘And to Him (the Son of Man) was given dominion and glory and a kingly rule, that all the peoples and nations and languages should serve Him’ (Daniel 7:14). Thus the Kingly Rule is universal, and the world is here in mind. Compare also the quotation in Matthew 13:14-15 which in its context in Isaiah had in mind the revelation of the Kingship of the LORD, again in a context of heavenly beings (Isaiah 6:1-6).
The use of angels in this task and at the consummation of all things is one that is continually mentioned. See Matthew 13:49; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 24:31; Matthew 25:31; Mark 13:27; and note their mention in connection with the Kingly Rule in Psalms 103:20.
For ‘all things that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity (lawlessness)” compare Zephaniah 1:3, ‘the stumblingblocks with the wicked’. Both what causes sin, together with sinners themselves, will be removed from interfering with God’s people in the new Paradise. All that is unsavoury will be excluded (Revelation 21:27).
“And will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
And all who have been in rebellion against God, and against the Son of Man, will be tossed into the furnace of fire to be burned up (compare Daniel 3:6 which this strongly echoes). The idea of the wicked ending up in fire is a constant one in Scripture, but it must not be applied literally (any more than must the pearly gates and pure gold of the new Jerusalem). It is rather a vivid picture depicting the awful end of the unbeliever in earthly terms. (Not that its non-literalness will make it any easier to bear, for it rather symbolises the awfulness of the antipathy of God (the wrath of God) against sin).
It probably arose initially from what men did with cities once they had captured them (Isaiah 1:7 and often). It continued with the idea of the burning rubbish dump outside Jerusalem on which ‘transgressors’ would be cast (Isaiah 66:24), and the fact that fire was regularly the way of getting rid of what was useless (John 15:6) or offensive, and of punishing rebellious people, either as individuals (Daniel 3:6) or by burning their lands or their cities (Matthew 22:7). And it gradually developed into the idea of Gehenna, the place of the destruction of the wicked. It is symbolised in Revelation as a Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15), where it is, however, the recipient of both spiritual beings (Satan), and political and religious systems (the wild beast and the false prophet), as well as of death and of the grave (Hades). It is the place where God disposes of all that spoils creation, the final Incinerator from which none who are not His can escape.
The weeping and gnashing of teeth is a regular picture of anguish and despair as men recognise what they have lost and forfeited (see also Matthew 13:50 ‘furnace of fire’; and compare Matthew 8:12, where their end is depicted as ‘outer darkness’, that is, being excluded from the lights of the feast; Matthew 22:13 similarly ‘outer darkness’; Matthew 24:51 ‘a portion with the hypocrites’; Matthew 25:30 ‘outer darkness’). The emphasis in this phrase is on the value of what has been lost causing misery and despair.
“He who has ears, let him hear.” Compare Matthew 13:9. Once again men are called on to ensure that if they have hearing ears, they should hear. Those who have such hearing ears are those who have been blessed by God (Matthew 13:16).
“The kingly rule of heaven is like to a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid, and in his joy he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.”
Here the Kingly Rule of Heaven is likened to a treasure that a man stumbles across as he is working in a field. In the days when there were no safety deposits it was common practise to bury valuables in order to keep them safe (compare Matthew 25:25). And the burier might then often die, with the result that the treasure was never reclaimed. No doubt this man was working the field for someone else, thus he was a relatively poor man, but once he had set eyes on the treasure he found in the field he wanted it more than anything else in the world. So he hid it again and sold everything that he possessed in order to buy ‘the field’ (a strip of land), in order that the treasure might be truly his. That is the main point of the parable. The determination, once he has discovered the Kingly Rule of Heaven, to possess it for himself. The world saw him as obtaining a small strip of land. He knew that he was obtaining a treasure.
There are differing views about precisely what the law was on the discovery of buried treasure at this time. Roman law has been cited which indicated that if a man owned a field and discovered treasure it was his. This would explain why the man was so keen to buy the field before he ‘found’ the treasure. Rabbinic law suggests that anything portable that was found belonged to the finder, although an alternative view is that if found by a worker who ‘lifted it up’ (thus doing it in his employer’s time) it belonged to the owner of the field. Again by hiding the treasure and buying the field before he lifted it he removed the problem. But his fear might simply have been that the owner would claim that the treasure was his because he, the owner, had buried it there. (Whereas if he was prepared to sell the field it would prove that he did not know that the treasure was there). Whichever may be the case the idea here is not of dishonesty but of the finder’s determination that the treasure would be his at whatever cost. To him its value was seen to be such that any price was worth paying.
He was thus like many people who are not seeking the Kingly Rule of Heaven but stumble on it and then discover that suddenly, without warning, it forces itself on their attention. And once this has happened, they desire nothing else. ‘The Kingly Rule of Heaven comes to them forcefully’ (Matthew 11:12). The world would have called him ‘lucky’ until they discovered what the treasure actually was. Then their view might depend on how much they appreciated its value. This man could be very much compared with the ‘public servants and sinners’ who had been heedlessly going through life until they had ‘found’ the words of Jesus.
The fact that its discovery was by accident does not make the lesson of the parable any the less powerful, for the idea behind the ‘hiding’ was to demonstrate that as a result of having found it he valued it so much that he would do anything in order to prevent himself losing it. It demonstrated a total and single-eyed determination, not a dishonesty of purpose. The man is ‘seeking first the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6:33), and is giving up everything that it might be his. His heart is totally captured by the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Again we note that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is something that he can experience and enjoy in the present. The Kingly Rule of Heaven is among them.
The rehiding of the treasure may be intended to parallel the hiding of the leaven. The treasure is not to be exposed to the spiritually vulgar. Pearls are not to be cast before swine (Matthew 7:6). It is to be treasured and passed on to those who will appreciate it.
However, it should be noted that Jesus is not here saying that it is possible to buy one’s way into the Kingly Rule of Heaven. He is simply bringing out its inestimable value. He is saying that the moment a person truly appreciates the Kingly Rule of God he will do anything, however costly, in order to participate in it. Of course it has not altered the method of entry. It still requires repentance and responsive faith. But that is seen as evidenced by his determination to be a part of it.
‘In his joy.’ Note the contrast with the later ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 13:50). The treasure he found gave him immediate joy, and it would be a joy that would last for ever. Not for him any future desolation.
‘Sells all that he has, and buys that field.” The present tenses indicate the excitement of the moment. In direct contrast with the merchant’s, which will be slow and considered, his reaction is instantaneous,. He does not hesitate for a moment, for he recognises its worth.
Note that he bought the field because he wanted the treasure. He did not buy the treasure. That was a free gift from God. But his desire to have that free gift meant that he was willing to sacrifice all that he had in order to receive it and enjoy it. He held nothing back.
Two Further Parables of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (13:44-46).
Each of the next three parables commences with ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven is like unto --.’ The first two are basically parallel pictures, but in the first case the man, who would seem to be relatively poor, comes across the treasure by accident, in the second the merchant, who is wealthy, comes across his precious pearl after a continual search. Both, however, give all that they have in order to obtain the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
These two parables parallel the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. Just as the leaven was hidden in the meal, so the treasure is hidden in the field. And just as the seed became the largest herb of all, so the merchant finds the largest, most expensive pearl of all. Thus it is emphasised that the Kingly Rule of Heaven must be valued above everything else, and is indeed the biggest thing in life.
a “The kingly rule of heaven is like to a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid, and in his joy he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).
a “Again, the kingly rule of heaven is like to a man who is a merchant seeking goodly pearls, and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46).
“Again, the kingly rule of heaven is like to a man who is a merchant seeking goodly pearls, and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
In contrast the wealthier merchant does not come across his treasure by accident. He has been looking diligently for pearls. But then he finds a pearl that exceeds all his expectations, and he is so gripped by its quality that he too sells all that he has in order to obtain it. He is like the person whose lifelong search for truth is finally rewarded by coming across the Kingly Rule of Heaven and instantly recognising that it is what he has been looking for. He recognises it for what it is and gives up everything else that it might be his. His heart too is totally given over to the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and to his present enjoyment of it. For him nothing else now matters. He is like the godly in Israel who have been waiting in hope for the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
The point is not that he pays a fair price for the pearl, but that he sees it as so valuable that any sacrifice in order to obtain it is worthwhile. As far as he is concerned it is priceless, and in comparison with it everything else has lost its value. Like the disciples he ‘leaves all and follows Him’. Or in terms of the rich young man later, he sells all that he has, gives it to the poor and follows Him. His heart has been fully possessed.
It is possibly significant that the pearl is indivisible and beyond price. He had to have all or nothing, and he had to give all that he had for it. The Kingly Rule of Heaven brooks no rivals. He could not obtain just part of it, and have a share in it, and meanwhile cling on to the past. The requirement was total. But that pearl had come to mean everything to him and he wanted it above everything else. To be a part of the Kingly Rule of Heaven had become his life. He could then say along with the poor woman in her attic, ‘I have Christ, what want I more?’
So whether a person is poor or wealthy, whether he is an agriculturalist or a business man, whether he comes across it by accident or has been searching for it for all his life, whether he is an outcast or deeply religious, when he finds the Kingly Rule of Heaven it must supersede everything else in his thinking. If he wants to be a part of it he must, and does, devote everything that he has to it.
“Again, the kingly rule of heaven is like to a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind, which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away.”
The dragnet would be flung from a boat and be dragged along by the boat, or by two boats working together, being designed to form a cone so that it could then enclose any fish caught within it. It would gather many types of fish without discrimination. In this case it was manoeuvred by angels, and when it was filled it was brought ashore, and then the fish within it were divided up between what was useful and edible, and what was rubbish, or ritually forbidden. The edible fish were put into vessels for carrying away to the market. They were the harvest. The ‘bad’ fish were seemingly thrown onto fires on the beach, or possibly were simply tossed back into the sea. Thus it is a picture of the final judgment.
The Parable of the Dragnet (13:47-49).
This parable parallels that of the good and the bad seed, the wheat and the darnel (Matthew 13:24-30). But whereas in the explanation of the first parable there is a period of activity followed by a final emphasis on the glory that awaits those who are in the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 13:43), the emphasis in this parable is on the final acts of angels in judgment and on the fire that awaits those who are not in the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 13:50), and will therefore face that judgment. Both include the awful fact of judgment described in similar ways (Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50), and both include the idea of the vindication and blessing of the righteous (Matthew 13:43; Matthew 13:48), but the emphases are in different places. There the emphasis was on the blessing of the righteous, here, though the righteous are gathered into vessels, the emphasis is on the punishment of the evil. In a similar way the blessings on the righteous are the more contained in the first part of Matthew (Matthew 5:3-9) and the woes on the unrighteous come in the second part of Matthew (Matthew 13:23).
a “Again, the kingly rule of heaven is like to a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind” (Matthew 13:47).
b “Which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach, and they sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away” (Matthew 13:48).
b “So will it be in the end of the world (age), the angels will come forth, and sever the evil from among the righteous” (Matthew 13:49 a).
a “And will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49 b).
Note that in ‘a’ the net is cast into the sea, and in the parallel the evil are cast into the fire. In ‘b’ the fish are divided up, and in the parallel the wicked are severed from among the righteous.
“So will it be in the end of the world (age), the angels will come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
The central point behind this parable is the fate of the ‘bad’ fish (compare Ecclesiastes 9:12). They illustrate the fact that the angels will come forth at the end of the age (for the phrase compare Matthew 13:40) and will separate the ‘evil’ (poneros) from among the righteous. What is ‘evil’ is easily defined. It is whatever is not under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. The whole world outside of Christ lies in the arms of the Evil One (1 John 5:19). And they will be cast into the destructive fire, and will weep and gnash their teeth as they recognise all that they have lost by not receiving and coming under the Kingly Rule of Heaven (compare Matthew 8:12). For ‘the furnace of fire’ compare on Matthew 13:42 above.
“Have you understood all these things?” They say to him, “Yes.”
Jesus’ first concern is that His disciples have understood what He has been talking about. And when their reply is ‘yes’ He points out what will now be their future responsibility. But He knows full well that their understanding is still primitive. It will take His death and resurrection to transform their thinking, and even then they will have much to learn.
The Final Challenge (13:51-53).
This final challenge by Jesus is often overlooked. Like the initial parable it is not directly ‘likened to the Kingly Rule of Heaven’. Nevertheless it is very pertinent to it, for it demonstrates what the responsibility is of those who have come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven.
a “Have you understood all these things?” They say to Him, “Yes” (Matthew 13:51).
b And He said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been made a disciple to the kingly rule of heaven is like to a man who is a householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52).
a And it came about that when Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from that place’ (Matthew 13:53).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is summing up the situation, and in the parallel He then moves on, while centrally in ‘b’ He sums up the position of all who have become disciples.
‘And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been made a disciple to the kingly rule of heaven is like to a man who is a householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old.” ’
The word ‘scribe’ here is used in a general way and simply indicates a teacher. In this case the teacher has been made a disciple to the Kingly Rule of Heaven. This is the first mention of a type of appointment that will grow in importance as we go through the remainder of the Gospel. In Matthew 16:18 Peter is specifically appointed to this position. In Matthew 18:18-20 all the disciples are involved. And in Matthew 28:20 their future activity in this regard is clearly outlined.
Once a man has become a teacher in the Kingly Rule of Heaven he is like a man who has a treasure in his house (compare Matthew 13:44. The treasure has now been moved to his house). His house is now a treasure house. He can say, ‘I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies as much as in all riches’ (Psalms 119:14). ‘The Law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver’ (Psalms 119:72). And from that treasure he distributes both new and old, just as Jesus did in Matthew 5:0, for the new is built on the old. Not all the old has been cast away, for there was much that was good in it. Much of it was indeed from God. But it must be supplemented and expanded by the new. The Old Testament prophecies (Psalms 78:0), the things revealed from of old, must now be seen in the new light of the Kingly Rule of Heaven as revealed by Jesus (Matthew 5:17). Note that in the chiasmus of the passage these verses are paralleled by Matthew 13:34-35.
‘And it came about that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed from that place.’
Having ‘completed His teaching’ in parables Jesus departed from that place. This is Matthew’s regular method of finalising a batch of Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 5:28; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 19:1; Matthew 26:1), and he now moves on into more narrative, building up his picture of Jesus.
Jesus Is Confirmed As The Son of God, Begins To Establish His New Congregation, Reaches Out To Gentiles, Is Acknowledged As Messiah By His Disciples, and Reveals His Inherent Glory (13:53-17:27).
The advance of the Kingly Rule of Heaven leading up to the final consummation having been made clear by His parables Jesus is now confirmed as the Son of God (Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16; Matthew 18:26) and begins to establish a new open community (Matthew 14:13-21; Matthew 15:32-39; Matthew 16:18; compare Matthew 12:25; Matthew 12:50; Matthew 5-7; Matthew 9:15-17). This idea of commencing a new open community was not in itself a novelty among the Jews. The Pharisees had formed their own open community, the Essenes had formed an open community, Qumran had formed a closed community, the disciples of John the Baptist had formed their own open community. The difference was that all of those communities were preparatory, each in its own way awaiting the coming of God’s future Kingly Rule. But as we have seen, Jesus was now establishing God’s Kingly Rule among men (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 11:12; Matthew 13:38; Matthew 13:41). Those who came to Him therefore entered under God’s Kingly Rule.
And as He does so a new vision opens before Him, and His outreach goes out to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Matthew 15:21-28; Matthew 15:31; Matthew 16:13). His acceptance of this comes out in His feeding of both Jews and Gentiles with the bread of heaven (Matthew 15:32-39). It is thus on mixed Jewish and Gentile territory that He is revealed to be the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20). The section closes with a clear demonstration of His Sonship and authority over the Temple (Matthew 17:24-27).
But all this is built on the fact of rejection by His own home town (Matthew 13:53-58) and by the civil authorities, the ‘powers that be’, in Galilee (Matthew 14:1-13), followed by the continuing hostility of the most religious and respected men of the day, in combination with the teachers from Jerusalem (Matthew 15:1-14; Matthew 16:1-4). Those who ‘hear’ do not hear, those who ‘see’ do not see, and their hearts are hardened. But those who follow Him will both hear and see (Matthew 16:17; compare Matthew 11:25; Matthew 13:7), even though their faith is small (Matthew 14:31 (compare Matthew 6:30); Matthew 17:20). We can thus understand why He found it necessary to move north. The way was not to be easy.
One theme of this section is feeding. The food of the godless authorities is the head of John the Baptist on a platter (Matthew 14:11) while in contrast those who seek Him feed on the bread of Heaven (Matthew 14:13-21). The Gentiles who seek Him may ‘eat of the children’s food’ (Matthew 15:27-28). They too thus eat of the bread of Heaven (Matthew 15:32-39). The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees is false teaching (Matthew 16:5-12). That is not to be partaken of.
Note how, following the ministry of chapter 10, mention had been made of the imprisonment of John (Matthew 11:2), followed by the approach of the Scribes and Pharisees to ‘attack’ Jesus (Matthew 12:1-14). Now those ideas are repeated and intensified. The imprisoned John is martyred (Matthew 14:1-12) and the aggressive Pharisees and Scribes are now ‘from Jerusalem’ (Matthew 15:1).
Analysis of the Section Matthew 13:53 to Matthew 17:27
a Jesus comes to His home country. A prophet is without honour in His own country (Matthew 13:53-57).
b He did not many mighty works in His home town because of their unbelief, but because of His mighty works Herod thinks that Jesus is John raised from the dead (Matthew 13:58 to Matthew 14:2).
c Herod arranges for the execution of John and does to him whatever he will (Matthew 14:3-12).
d Jesus reveals His glory, and that He has brought food from Heaven, by feeding five thousand at one time. Then He is alone in the Mountain (Matthew 14:13-21).
e Jesus walks on the water in a stiff and contrary wind and Peter is called on to walk the way of faith in the face of the tempest (Matthew 14:22-31).
f They proclaim Him as the Son of God (Matthew 14:32-36).
g The Scribes and Pharisees challenge Jesus about ritual washing (Matthew 15:1-9).
h Jesus shows that the Pharisees are rejected because they have not been planted by the Father and are blind guides (Matthew 15:10-20).
i The Canaanite woman may, as a Gentile ‘puppy’, eat of the children’s food (Matthew 15:21-28).
j The crowds throng to Jesus, and the dumb, the maimed, the lame, and the blind are healed and ‘they glorified the God of Israel’ (Matthew 15:29-31).
i The feeding of four thousand on Gentile territory. They eat of the children’s food (Matthew 15:32-39).
h The Pharisees and Sadducees seek a sign and are refused one, apart from that of Jonah, and are described as evil and adulterous for doing so (Matthew 16:1-4)
g The disciples are to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:5-12).
f Jesus is confessed as the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-20).
e The Son of Man must suffer, and His disciples are called on to walk the way of suffering (Matthew 16:21-28).
d Jesus’ glory is revealed to His three chosen disciples in the high mountain. Then they see no man but Jesus only (Matthew 17:1-8).
c Elijah has come but ‘they have done to him whatever they would’ and they realise that He means John the Baptist and is referring to what happened to him (Matthew 17:9-13).
b The disciples fail to heal the paralytic boy because of their unbelief, but faith will move mountains, thus although Jesus will be tried and executed He will be raised from the dead (Matthew 17:14-23).
a Jesus is not recognised in His own country as the Son and therefore pays the Tribute, but He does it from His Father’s treasury (Matthew 17:24-27).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is unrecognised for what He is because He is known too well as the son of the carpenter, and in the parallel He is unrecognised even though He is the Son of God. In ‘b’ Jesus is unable to heal in His own country because in their unbelief they do not bring their sick, although His mighty works connect Him with the resurrection, and in the parallel the disciples fail to heal because their faith is insufficient, and Jesus reveals His faith by assuring His disciples of His resurrection. In ‘c’ Herod does to John the Baptist whatever He wills, and in the parallel John the Baptist is declared by Jesus to be the coming Elijah, to whom men did what they willed. In ‘d’ Jesus displays His glory be feeding five thousand and more from five loaves and two fishes, and in the parallel He displays His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. In ‘e’ Jesus walks on water in a stiff and contrary wind, and Peter stumbles, and in the parallel Jesus reveals He must walk the way of suffering, as must His disciples, and Peter again stumbles. In ‘f’ He is proclaimed to be the Son of God, and in the parallel He is proclaimed by Peter as the Son of the Living God. In ‘g’ the Scribes and Pharisees dispute about ritual washing, and in the parallel Jesus warns against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In ‘h’ the Pharisees are declared not to have been planted by His Father, and to be blind guides, and in the parallel the Pharisees and Sadducees are refused the kind of sign that they want and are declared to be evil and spiritually adulterous. In ‘i’ the Canaanite woman is allowed to eat of the children’s food (that of Israel), and in the parallel the four thousand ‘eat of the children’s food’. Centrally in ‘j’ the crowds in Gentile areas throng to Jesus; the dumb, the maimed, the lame, and the blind are healed (His Messianic work is done among them) and ‘they glorify the God of Israel’.
‘And coming into his own country he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, “From where has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?”
Jesus arrives back in the place where He was brought up and teaches in their local synagogue where He had once learned so much, and to which He had often gone in order to study the Scriptures. Who better than they should have known how unique He was? But they had failed to pierce the veil and saw only the town carpenter. Thus when they heard Him teach they were astonished. News of His mighty works and preaching success had filtered through from Capernaum (Luke 4:23), but they did not really believe it. For where could such skill and such mighty works have come from? They just could not believe that God would so anoint a local boy with whom they were so familiar. He was simply getting above Himself and would no doubt bring disgrace on the town.
The synagogue was the centre of a town or village’s life, where weekly worship was conducted, male children were taught to read the Scriptures, justice could be sought, religious discipline would be exerted, sometimes by beatings, Scripture teaching would be given, and on the Sabbath any prominent visitor would be invited to speak. The reading and teaching of Scripture was a central part of its worship.
We are not actually told that this is in Nazareth, and that may be deliberate. Matthew does not want it to be seen as simply a local town rejection, but as one by His ‘home country’. But the description below points to Nazareth.
Jesus Is Rejected In His Own Country (13:54-57).
This passage connects back with Matthew 12:46-50 where Jesus’ relationship with His family came second to His relationship with those who did the will of His Father. And that is what this section is all about, that while being rejected by the Jews as a whole, He is building up a congregation who will be His new Israel, and will do the will of His Father. His ‘home country’ reject Him, and He is dismissed as ‘the son of the carpenter, but this will lead on to His feeding of those who follow Him with bread from Heaven (Matthew 14:19-23; Matthew 15:32-38), His emphasis on the establishment of a new community (Matthew 16:18), and the further emphasis on the fact that He is really the Son of God (Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16; Matthew 18:26).
In this passage the word used for ‘His own country’ is ambiguous. It could mean His own home town, or it could signify His native land. The ambiguity is probably deliberate. For His rejection ‘at home’ is to be seen as symbolic of His future rejection by the Jews as a whole, apart, that is, from those who become disciples. However at the end of this section He will return ‘home’ when He will make clear to Peter that He and His community have a special relationship with their Father (Matthew 17:24-27).
We have already noted the link with chapter 12. The previous narrative section closed in chapter 12 with Jesus declaring that those who were His true relatives were those who did the will of His Father (Matthew 12:50), in other words they were the ones who have received the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 7:21). This new narrative section commences with His rejection by His natural countrymen. They have rejected the Kingly Rule of Heaven. The divisions caused by the Kingly Rule of Heaven in chapter 13 are being made clear. On the one hand is the new ‘congregation of Israel’ formed of believers, on the other is unbelieving Israel, who are no longer Israel. They are ‘cut off’ from the new Israel (John 15:6; Romans 11:17 onwards) in accordance with Old Testament principles (e.g. Genesis 17:14; Exodus 12:15; Exodus 12:19; Exodus 30:33; Exodus 31:14; etc.). They have become ‘not My people’ (Hosea 1:9).
Mark has this incident in Matthew 6:1-6. It is doubtful if it is the same as the one in Luke 4:16-30. This one was later when things had settled down there. Nevertheless that visit no doubt coloured this one. Tempers had improved and they may have been feeling a little ashamed of themselves, and were perhaps prepared to give Him a hearing, but they were not convinced of His validity. They were too familiar with Him. Matthew’s positioning of it, however, is in order to bring out the point mentioned above, that at the root of old Israel is unbelief. It was in order to demonstrate from how small a mustard seed the mustard bush would grow (Matthew 13:31-32). Even Jesus’ own home country is against Him. It may be intended to be significant that this is the last mention in Matthew of Jesus preaching in a synagogue. In this rejection by His ‘home country’ is symbolised His rejection by both Israel and its elite.
His home town here is probably Nazareth rather than Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). This is suggested by the familiarity of the people with his family and background which point to their having known Him for years.
a And coming into his own country he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, “From where has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?” (Matthew 13:54).
b “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” (55-56a).
c From where then has this man all these things?” (Matthew 13:56 b).
b And they were offended in him (Matthew 13:57 a).
a But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and in his own house” (Matthew 13:57 b). .
Note that in ‘a’ they were astonished at His wisdom and mighty works (which they knew of by hearsay) and in the parallel He points out that a prophet has no honour in His own country. In ‘b’ they indicate their over familiarity with Him, and are clearly offended, and in the parallel they are offended at Him. Centrally in ‘c’ is the question that this whole section will answer, ‘from where has this man these things?’
a “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?”
There was no doubt about the strength of the evidence against His claimed status. He was the son of the local carpenter, and therefore Himself a carpenter. They knew His mother and that she was called Mary, and that there was nothing special about her. They knew the names of each of His brothers, and had seen them playing in the streets, and generally getting up to mischief. They even knew His sisters, who now still lived among them, probably now married, although it was not worth mentioning their names, possibly because being married they were no longer seen as ‘close family’. Thus they knew His place in society. How then could He be special? And how could He possibly have a genuine religious understanding of any outstanding nature? He was simply an artisan. (There is absolutely no reason for doubting here that Mary was the mother of them all, Jesus, the brothers, and the sisters).
‘Is not this the carpenter’s son?’ Matthew is here contrasting unbelief with belief. Unbelievers see Him as ‘the son of the carpenter’, Pharisees see Him as in league with the Devil (Matthew 9:34; Matthew 12:24), some who are possessed or blind and seek healing see Him as ‘the son of David’ (Matthew 9:27; Matthew 12:23; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30), but His believing disciples see Him as ‘the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16).
“From where then has this man all these things?”
So if what was said about Him was true, from where had He obtained all these things that people were speaking about? It just could not be true. Note how in the next incident with Herod, Herod also learns of rumours about Jesus and comments erroneously on them (Matthew 14:2). Thus there is a general misinterpretation of the evidence by all. Compare also the crowds and the Pharisees in Matthew 9:33-34; Matthew 12:23-24. There too there is a general air of misunderstanding, as we saw in Matthew 13:10-15. The only ones who really know the truth (and even they still somewhat dimly) are His wider group of disciples. If the truth about Him is to be known it must come from God (Matthew 13:16-17; Matthew 11:27).
‘And they were offended in him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and in his own house.”
And the result was that they ‘were offended in Him’. That is they were ‘caused to stumble’ by Him. They were put off by the very fact of His familiarity, which had bred contempt, and they were upset by His attitude. The point here is that they are not of the ‘blessed’ (Matthew 11:6). They were so short sighted that they could not see what was before their eyes. Here was a mirror image of what John says in the introduction to his Gospel, ‘He came to His own home, and His own people did not receive Him’ (John 1:11).
Jesus’ reply was to cite a well known proverb. His view was that this was to be expected. “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and in his own house.” For no one was seen as special by his familiars when it came to questions about God. The older ones would think that they must know more than he did, while the younger ones would fail to see where he could have obtained the information from, from the sources available, and why He should claim to be better than them when He had grown up with them. Note the clear implication that He is a prophet. Matthew in fact lays great emphasis on prophets, both true and false, and it has already been made clear by Jesus that He is greater than previous prophets (Matthew 12:41). This is a time of prophetic expectations (compare Matthew 14:5) as Jesus is making clear.
Jesus Is Unable To Do Many Mighty Works In His Home Town, But His Mighty Works Impress Herod Who Thinks That He May Be John The Baptist Raised From The Dead (13:58-14:2).
The mighty works of Jesus, which they have heard of through the tales spreading from elsewhere (Luke 4:23), have not impressed His own home town. They refuse to believe that He can do them and so do not bring their sick to be healed. But Herod is impressed and sees Him as John the Baptist raised from the dead.
a And he did not perform many mighty works there because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58).
b At that time (season) Herod the tetrarch heard the report concerning Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He is risen from the dead” (Matthew 14:1-2 a).
a “Therefore do these powers work in him (Matthew 14:2). p
Note that while His home town do not believe in His mighty works, in the parallel Herod does so. Centrally we have the conclusion that he comes to. It must be John the Baptist who is risen from the dead.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13