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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Matthew 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-58

THIS CHAPTER OPENS with the fact that He proceeded to suit His actions to His words. He left the narrow confines of the house, and went forth to the open air and the sea—the sea being symbolic of the nations. There He began to teach the multitude from a boat, using the parabolic method. This chapter contains seven parables. We will begin by noticing the expression He used in verse Matthew 13:52, “things new and old,” for this will help us as to the drift of the parables. Old things are mentioned, the kingdom of heaven for instance, which was predicted in Daniel, but new things predominate. We will point out four new things before looking at the parables in any detail. First, He adopted a new method of teaching—the parabolic. The new method struck the disciples, as verse Matthew 13:10 shows. Second, He indicated in the first parable a new method of Divine working. Instead of looking for fruit as the result of God’s husbandry through law and prophets, He was going to sow the Word to produce fruit. Third, He makes known developments which give a new meaning to the term, “kingdom of heaven.” Fourth, He utters new revelations, opening His mouth to utter things, “kept secret from the foundation of the world,” as verse Matthew 13:35 says.

The first parable stands by itself, and except we understand it we shall not understand the others. The great work now was to be the sowing of the “word of the kingdom” in the hearts of men. This does not accord any special place to the Jew. In verse Matthew 13:19, Jesus said, “When any one heareth,” so that opened the door to each hearer of the word, whoever he might be. What was needed was to hear with understanding. Militating against that are the activities of the devil, the fickleness of the flesh, and the cares and riches of the world. But the word is received by some, and fruit produced in varying measures. This method of Divine working is still in vogue. It characterizes the day in which we live. Christianity is based not upon what it finds in man but upon what it produces by the power of God.

The disciples were puzzled by the change to a parable. Their enquiry elicited from the Lord the fact that He adopted this way of teaching so that the mysteries or secrets, of the kingdom of heaven might be hidden from the unbelieving mass and only revealed to those who believed. Those who unbelievingly had rejected the Lord had closed their eyes to the truth. Now He spoke in parables so that they might be left in their unbelief. Thus Isaiah’s prophecy was to be fulfilled in them. The same prophecy is quoted by John in his Gospel—John 12:40. It is quoted also by Paul for a third and last time in the closing chapter of Acts. It was just the working of the government of God. For believers the parables are very instructive, and, as verse Matthew 13:17 says, they helped to bring to the knowledge of the disciples things desired but never seen by prophets and righteous men in earlier days.

Even the disciples however needed the explanation which the Lord furnished, in order to understand the parable of the sower; and, this given to them, Jesus proceeded to utter three more parables in the ears of the multitude. Only when the crowd had been dismissed and He had retired into a house with His disciples did He furnish the explanation of the second parable. It is evident therefore that the first four were uttered in public, and deal with the outer manifestations of the kingdom; whereas the last three were spoken privately, and deal with its inner and more hidden reality.

The first parable, as we have indicated, gives us the key to all the rest; showing us that the kingdom is to be established as the result of the sowing of “the word of the kingdom,” and not as the fruit of obedience to the existing law of Moses. This fact established, all the other parables tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like, and each of these six similitudes presents features which could not have been foreseen in the light of Old Testament scripture. There the kingdom in its glory had been foreseen, but here we find it is to assume a new character, in which it will exist before the glory arrives.

The second parable, that of the wheat and tares, shows that while the kingdom exists through the sowing of good seed by the Son of Man, the devil will also be a sower and his children will be found amongst the children of the kingdom. It sets forth the fact that until the hour of judgment arrives, when the Son of Man shall purge all the evil out of His kingdom, there is going to be, in one word, mixture. In this parable, “the field is the world” (38), be it remembered, so there is no thought here of the church being a place where the children of the wicked one must needs be tolerated. “The kingdom” indicates a sphere wider than “the church,” and there is no possibility of disentangling things in the world till the Lord comes. Then by angelic service at the end of the age the evil will be consigned to the burning.

The wheat is to be gathered into the barn. In His explanation the Lord goes further, and speaks of the righteous shining forth as the sun in their Father’s kingdom. By using this figure the Lord put the saints in a heavenly position, so we are not surprised when later we find the heavenly calling fully revealed. It is interesting to notice the Lord speaking in this parable of “the kingdom of heaven,” “the kingdom of the Son of Man,” and “the kingdom of your Father;” showing that the kingdom is one however it may be designated. It has however different departments—if we may so speak—and hence may be viewed in different ways.

The third parable, that of the mustard seed, shows that the kingdom is to be marked by development. It will grow and become imposing before men’s eyes, but become a shelter for agents of evil—for in the first parable, when explaining “the fowls,” the Lord said, “then cometh the wicked one;” and we know how Satan works through human agents.

The fourth parable, comprised in just one verse (33), shows that, as we might expect from what we have just seen, the kingdom will be gradually permeated by corruption. In Scripture leaven is used consistently as a figure of what is corrupting. This is the one place where some are wishful to make it mean what is good. But that is because they have a system of interpretation which demands such a meaning. The gospel, they think, is going to permeate the world with good. This sudden violation of the meaning of leaven should have warned them that their thoughts which demand it are wrong.

Here, then, the Lord is teaching us that the kingdom as viewed by man will be in such a form that it is marked by mixture, by development into an imposing institution in the earth, where agents of evil will find a home, and consequently there will be a process of permeation by the evil. He spoke as a prophet indeed, for just what He predicted has come to pass in that sphere on earth, where professedly the rule of Heaven is owned.

But in the privacy of the house the Lord added to His disciples three further parables. Here we have the kingdom from the Divine standpoint, and if our eyes are anointed we too shall see in it what God sees. First, we shall see that there is something of hidden value. The “field” here is still the world, and the Lord has bought it, with a view to securing the hidden treasure in it. This buying must be distinguished from redeeming, for evil men may go so far as “denying the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1).

They were bought but not redeemed, or they would not go on to “swift destruction.” The kingdom is established that the hidden treasure in the world may be secured.

Again there is the parable of the one pearl of great price. In the kingdom as it exists today, there is to be found and purchased this object, marked in the Divine eye by unique perfection. Here doubtless we have in figure that which the Lord is going to speak of in Matthew 16:1-28, as “My church.” True He has bought the field, but also He has bought the pearl, and in both cases He represents Himself as selling all He has to do so. He yielded up everything to achieve His object, in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 8:9. We cannot purchase Christ by the selling of our worthless all. It is what He has done for us. It is what He will gain through the kingdom of heaven in its present mysterious form.

Lastly it is like the drag-net gathering fish out of the sea of nations. All kinds are gathered, but we see discriminate selection exercised. There is a similarity between this and the parable of the wheat and tares, inasmuch as in both cases there is a disentanglement accomplished by angels at the end of the age. The wicked are severed from the just and cast into the furnace of fire. But there is also a distinct difference, for in the former parable the wicked are in the world as the result of Satan’s sowing; whereas here “the word of the kingdom” goes out among the nations like a net, and people of all kinds profess to receive it. At the end of the age discrimination will be made; the true elect of God will be gathered in, and the evil rejected.

How important that we should ever keep before us what the kingdom is like from the Divine standpoint. It has taken on this peculiar character as a result of the rejection of the true Son of David, and His consequent absence in the heavens. In spite of the mixture and corruption which will mark it outwardly, there is to be this inward work of God which will result in His obtaining the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, and all the good fish which the net encloses. Have we understood all these things? The disciples felt that they had; yet later when they had received the Spirit, they may have discovered how very little they had done so. We too realize doubtless how little we have done so, for the kingdom in its present form is not understood as easily as it will be when it is unveiled in public display. Things predominate which are wholly new from an Old Testament standpoint: hence we read, “things new and old,” not “old and new.” The emphasis lies on “new.”

This chapter closes with Jesus back in His own district, and there at that time they were quite unbelieving. They did not see in Him Emmanuel, or even the Son of Abraham, the Son of David; to them He was just the son of the carpenter, with whose relations they were so very familiar. Their unbelieving familiarity caused them to stumble at Him. His power was unabated, but their unbelief imposed a restraint upon its exercise, just as the unbelief of Joash, the king of Israel, imposed a limit upon his victories (see 2 Kings 13:14-19).

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Matthew 13:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/matthew-13.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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