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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Matthew 13

Verse 1

13:1 The conversation reported at the close of the preceding chapter took place in a house. It was on that same day that Jesus went out and sat down on the shore.

Verse 2

13:2 A person as interesting as Jesus would not be left to himself very long if the people know where he is, so we are told that great multitudes came unto him. The second word is from a Greek original that means the populace or people in general, and that alone would indicate a goodly number of men and women. Then the other word emphasizes the expression so that we understand that a very large audience came together. Jesus wished to be heard by the multitude and that suggested also that he be seen. For this twofold purpose he entered a ship where he could be in the position of a public speaker with his audience on the shore that doubtless was elevated rearward on the order of an inclined floor of an auditorium.

Verse 3

13:3 The literal meaning of the original for parable is, "A placing of one thing by the side of another."--Thayer. As to the results of such a placing, or the reason or reasons why it is done, that has to be determined by the context in each case. (See the comments at verse 11.) Caution should be observed in the study of the parables not to make them mean more than was intended. Jesus spoke about thirty parables all pertaining to the plan of salvation that he intended to set up among men. Surely that many would not have been necessary just for the sake of emphasis. The conclusion is that different parts of that plan were considered in the various parables. No one illustration could be large enough to cover all the phases of the one plan of salvation that was to be given to the world. As a result of the above truths, there may be some features of one parable that do not fit in with the Gospel plan at all. That is because the whole story had to be told in order to make it understood at the point where it does apply. Then another parable will be given that will cover the points in its application where the other one seemed not to be fitting. The parables of our Lord were drawn both from nature and art, and from the customs of man in the conduct of his public and private affairs in all of life's relations.

Verse 4

13:4 In the days before machinery, seed was sown by the system known as broadcasting, even as such seeding is done sometimes today. In such a work a man could not have full control of the direction of the seed and hence did not always deposit it where it might have been desired. Way side is from HODOS which Thayer defines, "A traveled way." In such a place the surface would be packed down and hard so that the seeds could not find any opening to bury themselves in the soil. Being thus exposed, they would soon catch the eyes of the birds and be devoured.

Verse 5

13:5 Stony ground is that where small rocks are mixed with the surface of the soil, thereby limiting the amount of earth at any given spot. Forthwith means "immediately," and the seed sprang up in that way because it ran out of material for growth in the ground, hence it had to come up into the open where it could feed on air and sunlight. But having been thus impelled upward prematurely, the root part of the plant was incomplete and therefore was weak.

Verse 6

13:6 Sunlight is necessary for plant life and growth, but other elements must accompany it; it must have a "balanced diet." This plant was deprived of the moisture and mineral food that should have been supplied in the ground. Not having such necessities, the one article in the menu (that of the sun) was too much and the result was fatal.

Verse 7

13:7 Thorn is from AKANTHA which Thayer defines, "A thorn, bramble-bush, brier." It is a plant that grows near the ground in the nature of coarse grass. That is why the soldiers could plat it into a wreath or crown to place on the head of Jesus (Mat 27:29). The seeds of this plant were not visible at the time of the sower's work, but when the growing season came they sprang up with all other vegetation. Being more rugged and wild than the good seed deposited by the farmer, they soon choked out all the other plants just as weeds will often smother out the good grass today.

Verse 8

13:8 The good ground would be that where the three forementioned obstacles were not present. Yet with all that advantage it should be noted that the crop was not the same in every place as to the amount, which will be explained at verse 23.

Verse 9

13:9 See comments for this statement at Mat 11:15.

Verse 10

3:10 Attention is called to the fact that the question the disciples asked pertained to them, the multitude.

Verse 11

3:11 A familiar statement that may be heard on the parables is as follows: "Jesus spoke in parables in order to make his teaching easier to be understood by the people." Such a statement is exactly opposite of the truth, for this very verse says, in answer to the question of the disciples, that it was not given to the multitudes to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. It may be replied that it was because this knowledge of the mysteries was not possessed by the multitudes that the parables were given to explain them. But that is not correct, for even the disciples did not understand the meaning of the parables until Jesus had them to himself and explained them. A natural question now is in regard to the present day. May we speak of the parables as a means of making the subject plainer in our teaching of the subjects of the New Testament? The answer is that we may, and the reason is that we have both the illustration (the parable) and the thing illustrated with us which is the church and the Gospel, and we can show the comparison. The kingdom had not yet been started when Jesus spoke to the multitudes and hence it was not time to introduce them to all of its mysteries or un-revealed truths.

Verse 12

3:12 Jesus had told the disciples that it was not given to the multitudes to know the mysteries of the kingdom, and in this verse he begins to tell them why. We would think it impossible to take from a man something that he hath not, hence we must look for some figurative or accommodative use of this language. A useful illustration of the subject is in Joh 15:2. Every branch had been given an opportunity to bear increase but it did not do so. Hence the branch itself was to be removed from the vine. The multitudes had been given the words of Moses and the prophets, yet they refused to see in them the beauties of the kingdom of heaven in predicted form. Now it was certainly just to keep them still in the dark as to those beauties (mysteries) until such time as the whole world would have a full description of the system in detail.

Verse 13

3:13 The first clause of this verse is similar in meaning to verse 11. Seeing see not, etc., means that they were given the ability and opportunity to see and hear but they would not use them.

Verse 14

3:14 Failing to use the means of information within their reach is the subject of this verse. The prophecy referred to is in Isa 6:9-10.

Verse 15

3:15 The condition described is with reference to their moral or spiritual situation, but the natural organs are named by way of illustration. Gross means "To make fat; to make stupid (to render the soul dull or callous)." And this was not an accident that came to them, for the verse states the motive they had for bringing on the condition. It was done deliberately for fear they might hear some truth that would expose their evil deeds and later lead them into the service of Christ.

Verse 16

3:16 The disciples were willing to use their opportunities for obtaining information and hence were pronounced as blessed of the Lord. That was why they were admitted into the explanation of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, while the multitudes were not permitted to receive anything but the unexplained parables.

Verse 17

3:17 This verse sounds as if some others who were righteous were in the same class as these multitudes in that they had not seen or heard either. The apparent difficulty is ex plained by going back to the time when the Lord did not expect the people to have a full knowledge of the divine plan. But even the things they could have discerned by proper attention to what was revealed, the Pharisees had failed to grasp because of their hardness of heart. Which ye see and which ye hear is spoken in prospect as if Jesus said, "which ye are going to hear," meaning the explanation of the parables which comes in the next and following verses.

Verse 18

3:18 This verse invites the disciples to listen and they will hear the inner meaning of some of the "mysteries" that had not been told even to the prophets.

Verse 19

3:19 Failure to understand might not always be a fault, yet we know it is used as one in this case. The original word is SUNIEMI, and its general meaning is, "to set or bring together," and the definition is explained to mean, "to put the perception and the thing perceived together: to set or join together in the mind." It denotes that the hearer will give careful attention to what is said so as to arrive at the thought intended by the speaker. Of course a person will not understand what is said to him if he refuses to give it due consideration. As a further result, that person will soon forget all that was said to him and the thought will be lost as was the seed that fell on the hard or beaten ground.

Verse 20

0-21 Anon is from a word that is defined "immediately" in Thay-er's lexicon. It does not indicate that one can be too ready to accept the word, but he may be influenced more by enthusiasm than serious consideration. Such a person may be sincere in his motives, but he has failed to consider that the same word that he received with so much joy for the present, will need to be retained as firmly in the future. He will have to endure opposition from the enemies because of his devotion to the truth, and when that comes if he yields to the foe he becomes offended which means to stumble and reject the word he had heard so joyfully.

Verse 22

3:22 See the comments at verse 7 for a description of these thorns. Care is from MERIMNA and Thayer's simple definition is, "Care, anxiety," and he explains his definition to mean, "anxiety about things pertaining to this earthly life." Robinson defines it, "Care, anxiety, anxious thought," and his comment on it is, "as dividing up and distracting the mind." It means to be so concerned about the things of worldly interest that one neglects to give proper attention to spiritual matters. Deceitfulness. of riches means the false pleasures that one may have by means of his wealth. He should not be thus deceived because "the fashion of this world passeth away" (1Co 7:31).

Verse 23

3:23 The good ground is the heart or mind that understands, and this word is explained at verse 8. The hundred, sixty and thirty fold is different in amount only. It is all good wheat, but not all men even in the good class have the same ability or capacity for producing results. The Lord is not concerned about the amount of work a man accomplishes in the vineyard just so he does what he can.

Verse 24

3:24 The reader should first see the comments at verse 3 about the right use of parables. The one now before us is for a different purpose from the one just concluded. The main point in this is to show what is going to take place at the judgment day. But in order to explain why that will be done it is necessary to tell what was going on in the world before that. In relating those details the Lord mentions some things that do not represent the activities within the church. The items of the parable will first be given and the explanation will follow a little later in the chapter. It starts with the simple fact that a man sowed good seed in his field as no man would sow any other kind in his own territory.

Verse 25

3:25 While men slept means the time when mankind was usually asleep, and that would be the most likely time for an enemy to get in his evil work. Tares is from ZIZANION, and Thayer's description of it is, "A kind of darnel, bastard wheat, resembling wheat except that the grains are black," and Robinson says of it, "At first having a close resemblance to them" [good grain]. A common idea is that the tares were growing in such a way that the roots of them and the wheat were entwined so that a man could not pull up the one without uprooting the other. This is a mistake, and instead, it is the resemblance that is considered and which will be considered also below.

Verse 26

3:26 There was enough difference as the growing proceeded that some informed servants recognized the presence of the tares and were puzzled about it.

Verse 27

3:27 The servants asked their master for an explanation.

Verse 28

3:28 He explained that an enemy had done it. The natural conclusion with the servants was that he would want them to gather the tares out of the field.

Verse 29

3:29 The close resemblance between the tares and the wheat might cause some of the servants to mistake the one for the other while the plants were not fully matured.

Verse 30

3:30 By harvest time the growth will be completed and hence no harm can be done to the wheat even if it is pulled up. Also by that time the distinction will be clearer so that the reapers whose experience guides them in the harvesting work will be able to make the separation between the things that should not remain together.

Verse 31

3:31 The parable of the tares was dropped for the present because the multitudes were still present and the explanation was not to be for them. Before dismissing them Jesus spoke two shorter parables, one of which was about the mustard seed.

Verse 32

3:32 The point in this parable is the extent to which the kingdom of heaven was to grow from a very small beginning. The variety of mustard that is considered is the garden kind or that which is cultivated. The word is from SINAPI and Thayer describes the plant as follows: "The name of a plant which in oriental countries grows from a very small seed and attains to the height of 'a tree'--ten feet or more." The birds of the air need not be thought as being the largest kind for the text does not require such a conclusion. There are many varieties of small birds that could easily perch in the branches of a plant ten feet high. The kingdom of heaven started in one city and with only a few hundred members at most, but it spread until it became universal and people of all nations sought spiritual shelter in it.

Verse 33

3:33 The next parable is con-tained in this one verse. The meaning is somewhat the same as the preceding one but from a different standpoint. The nature of leaven is to work its way through the mixture in which it has been deposited. If nothing interferes with its operation it will continue until it converts all of the material into a nature like itself. The leaven of the Gospel was deposited at Jerusalem and it spread its influence until it reached to the extremities of "the whole" world or was carried out according to the great commission (Rom 10:18; Col 1:23).

Verse 34

3:34 Without a parable applies to the multitudes at such times as Jesus was using to talk about the kingdom of heaven (verse 11).

Verse 35

3:35 In speaking the parables Jesus fulfilled a prophecy spoken by David in Psa 78:2. World is from KOSMOS and means the people of the earth.

Verse 36

3:36 The first verse of this chapter states that Jesus went out of the house where he spoke to the multitudes. He now dismissed them and went back into the house, and when the disciples came to him they asked for an explanation of the tares and wheat.

Verse 37

3:37 The sower is the Son of man or Jesus the Christ.

Verse 38

3:38 The field is the world (mankind in general) and not the church as some people teach. Good seed are the children means the good seed (which is the divine truth) produces children for the kingdom of heaven. The tares are the children or product of evil teaching. These evil men are people of the world who would not accept the kingdom of heaven and the Lord's teaching.

Verse 39

3:39 Devil is from DIABOLOS which means Satan or Beelzebub. He has always been an enemy of righteousness and has used his influence to keep men out of the kingdom of the Lord. World in this and the following verse is from AION and means age; specifically the age of the earth. Angels have been instruments of God since the human family has existed. They are said to be the reapers, and the same prediction is made of their part in the last harvest as recorded in Rev 14:14-20.

Verse 40

3:40 All refuse material that accumulates in the course of a growing season generally is disposed of at the time of harvest. Thus it will be done with the tares at the harvest time which will be at the end of the world.

Verse 41

3:41 One meaning of the word for kingdom is, "The territory sub ject to the rule of a king," and Jesus said (chapter 28:18) that "all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." This shows that the whole inhabited earth is the kingdom of Christ in this broad sense. Hence the wicked characters in the world will be taken out of it at the last day and cast into the fire.

Verse 42

3:42 Wailing and gnashing of teeth. The subject of endless punishment will be fully considered at chapter 25:46. It will be stated here however, that the phrase in italics indicates a condition of conscious torment.

Verse 43

3:43 Then is an adverb of time and refers to the condition just after the harvest which is at the end of the world. In 1Co 15:24 Paul says that Jesus will give up his kingdom when he comes and deliver it to his Father. That is why this verse says that the righteous will then shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Verse 44

3:44 The lesson in this parable is the value of salvation, and hence the sacrifice that one should make willingly in order to obtain it. The treasure represents the salvation which Jesus brought and deposited in the same field that is a part of the parable of the tares. When a man "finds" that salvation through hearing the Gospel and desires to obtain it, he will devote all his time and talents for that purpose.

Verse 45

3:45 This parable teaches the same lesson as the preceding one on the value of salvation. One word in the definition for goodly is, "genuine." There are many things that appear as pearls but are only imitation. This merchant was not wishing anything but the real and hence he was seeking for it.

Verse 46

3:46 Salvation also is something for which a man should seek (chapter 6:33), and he should be just as careful to find the genuine and not some imitation. Like the parable, there are systems made by man that have the appearance of being good, like "simulated pearls," but upon examination will be found to be false. And there is no reason for anyone to be deceived for the Scriptures will make it very clear as to what the salvation from God is like. When a man finds it he must devote his entire attention to it in order to retain this pearl of great price.

Verse 47

3:47 When a man casts a net into the water he does not know what may be taken because he cannot see the fish until the net is drawn out. Likewise, no man can read the mind of another, and when he offers the Gospel to the world he cannot see the hearts of those who profess to accept it.

Verse 48

3:48 After the fishing time Is over the net will be drawn out and taken to the shore where the good fish can be separated from the others. In like manner the Gospel fish net will be spread out on the shore of the judgment. Then all those persons who have deceived their fellow men will be exposed before the eye of the great Judge.

Verse 49

3:49 As in the parable of the tares, the angels are represented as the servants of the Lord in separating the good from the bad at the end of the world.

Verse 50

3:50 This verse takes the same comments as verse 42.

Verse 51

3:51 Jesus was still talking to his disciples, the multitudes having been dismissed (verse 36), hence it was appropriate for him to ask them if they understood what had been said. We recall that the disciples who were following Jesus had shown enough sincere attention to the things that had been recorded to have formed a commendable idea of the matters, which entitled them to the explanation of the "mysteries" of the kingdom. But some of the teaching of Jesus was more literal or direct so that honest minds like these would be able to grasp it without special explanation. Hence we are not surprised that they answered his question with yea Lord.

Verse 52

3:52 One important key word in this verse is scribe, and I shall give some information from the writings of learned authors upon the work of this special class of men. The word is from GRAMMATEUS and Thayer's general definition of it is, "1. A clerk, scribe, especially a public scribe, secretary, recorder . . . 2. In the Bible, a man learned in the sacred writings, an interpreter, teacher." This definition of the word is based on the special work of these men. On this subject Robinson in his lexicon says the following: "The scribes had the charge of transcribing the sacred books; whence naturally arose their office of interpreting difficult passages, and deciding in cases which grew out of the ceremonial law. Their influence was of course great, and many of them were members of the Sanhedrin." As further consideration of this subject, we observe that mechanical means of recording literature were not in existence in Biblical times, hence the copies of the law had to be made by hand. Such frequent contact with the sacred writings naturally made these men familiar with the text, and they could be relied on to quote from it when occasion called for it. With this knowledge of the Old Testament to begin with, after a scribe received the instruction belonging to the kingdom of heaven he would be qualified to offer the treasures of sacred knowledge from both the New and Old Testaments.

Verse 53

3:53 Finished these parables refers to the ones in this chapter.

Verse 54

3:54 Jesus was in Galilee all the time he was teaching these parables and hence he was already in his own country with reference to the province. Thus the term has specific reference to the vicinity of Nazareth where he had been brought up. Having lived there in his boyhood and early manhood, the people were acquainted with his humble life and hence they were astonished when they heard his teaching and saw his works.

Verse 55

3:55 The people were acquainted with much of the family history of Jesus and never knew of any training he had gone through to give him the talents he was now displaying. There could be no question about his general standing as a citizen for they knew all of these nearest relatives and could mention them by name. For comments on the term brethren see those at chapter 12:46.

Verse 56

3:56 The Romanists insist that Mary always remained a virgin, and that when his "brethren" are mentioned it means his disciples since they are known by the name of brethren also. That is true, but when so used it includes all of the disciples regardless of sex. If that had been the meaning intended in verse 55 there would have been no reason to mention sisters in this verse for they would have been included in the other.

Verse 57

3:57 Offended is from SKANDA-LIZO and Thayer's definition at this place is, "To find occasion of stumbling," and he explains his definition to mean, "To see in another what hinders me from acknowledging his authority." Jesus uttered the familiar proverb about a prophet's honor in his own country. People are inclined to have more, respect for a teacher who is unknown to them than for their acquaintances. Jesus did not state any reason for this and hence I am unable to explain it.

Verse 58

3:58 Pretended miracle workers try to explain their failure at performing certain miracles on the ground of the unbelief of the multitude. They will refer to such passages as the present verse and try to hide behind it. They ignore the point that Jesus did do some of his works in spite of the unbelief of the multitude. The reason their unbelief restricted his mighty works so that he did not many of them was their unbelief which rendered them unworthy. (See chapter 7:6 and Mar 6:5.)
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Matthew 13". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.