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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 13

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-58

This chapter begins a new division of the book. Israel is looked at as set aside because of unbelief: the Lord went out of the house (typically Israel's house), and set by the seaside. The sea is typical of the Gentile nations (Revelation 17:15). Therefore we can expect in Chapter 13 the teaching of a new dispensation, that of the Gospel going out to all the world. Because of great crowds gathered to hear Him, He preaches from a boat to His audience on the shore of the lake.

There are seven parables in the chapter, and the first is a fundamental basis for all. Possibly a sower might be seen at the time scattering his seed on a nearby field. In verses 37 and 38 we read that the Sower is the Son of Man and the field is the world. Israel had been the vineyard (Isaiah 5:7), with Its separating and protective enclosure (v. 2); but now the open field of the world is the sphere of the testimony of the kingdom of heaven.

The sowing is broadcast, with the result that the seed falls on various types of ground. Mark 4:14 declares that the sower sows the word. The word of God today is not withheld from anyone: it is available for all. The seed also is all good seed: if it does not produce, the fault is in the ground, not in the seed.

The seed that falls on the hard trodden ground of the wayside of course does not even take root, and the birds devour It. Verse 19 explains this as Satanic activity in stealing the word from one's heart. There has been no ploughing up of the heart in repentance: the heart has remained hard, and Satan takes advantage of this to steel away the word so that it can leave no impression.

What seed fell on rocky soil was just as unproductive, though at first appearing most promising. For some people seem receptive to begin with, but underneath are as hard as the first, allowing no place for any proper root system; therefore there is no reserve moisture in the plant, and the warmth of the sun withers it rather than developing it. Verses 20 and 21 explain this as the case of one who at first has joy in receiving the word, but it is a joy that fails when tribulation or persecution test him. Having no real root, he gives up what he seemed to Possess. How many are in this sad condition!

The third class of ground, thorn infested, gives the seed no proper welcome either. Perhaps the seed makes a feeble attempt to grow, but the thorns crowd out the grain: it does not continue. This is explained in verse 22 as referring to those who, though hearing the word, do not give it a more important place than the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. Present material concerns and desire for this world's goods choke out the more vital, valuable blessing of the word of God. Too many today prefer thorns!

Verse 4 we have seen no impression, and in this the devil works effectively: in verse 6 no root, for in this Case the flesh is more particularly working; and in verse 7 no room for the world is seen there to exert its influence.

Only in the last case is the soil said to be good ground. This is of course ground prepared by ploughing up the soil to receive the seed into itself. With out this preparation of repentance there can be no receiving the word of God into the heart in such a way as to produce fruit. Verse 23 speaks of this good ground as referring to one who hears and understands the word, and therefore brings forth fruit. This class alone describes true believers, and all bear fruit, though three differing measures are mentioned. Thirty-fold is not large, but it is fruit; sixty-fold is more fruit, and one hundred-fold is much fruit (John 15:2-5).

Verse 9 shows that not all would be willing to hear what was involved in this parable. The disciples question why the Lord should use this means of addressing the crowds: no doubt they felt it pointless if the crowd saw no spiritual application. But He answered that His disciples are intended to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unbelieving Israel was to be left in the ignorance they really preferred.

The principle of verse 12 may appear to be startling: the one who already had would be given more: he who had nothing would only lose what he appeared to have. By speaking in parables the Lord was giving in such a way that only faith could receive it. Unbelievers could understand easily the literal things of which He spoke, yet they did not really understand: though seeing, they did not perceive. Honesty would certainly recognize that the Lord was saying more than appeared on the surface, and true concern of faith would desire to understand, and therefore inquire. But inquiring would be an admission of ignorance, and the blindness of men's pride kept them from this.

The heart of the people had grown fat, encased in a thick insulation against the receiving of any impression of the precious truth of God. Their ears had become dulled so as not to hear properly, and they themselves had closed their eyes. This was wilful blindness, because they did not want the truth.

If we have been told of the wilful blindness Of the Many in Israel, how wonderful is the contrast of the blessedness of the eyes and ears of true disciples: they see, they hear, taking in the truth that is refused by the ungodly. The Lord seeks to impress on them the wonder of the privilege that was theirs, for many prophets and righteous men had desired to see the things that they saw, but had passed off the scene without this great blessing, and without hearing what the disciples heard. To the crowd these things were a matter of indifference; but to many 0ld Testament prophets and saints they would have been of Unspeakable delight.

From verse 18 to 23 He explains the parable of the sower, and this we have already commented on when considering the parable itself.

The second parable has a manifest connection with the first. Again it is a parable of the kingdom of heaven. The good seed has been sown in His field (the world--v.38) by the Son of Man (v.37). But an enemy (the devil, v.39) came while men slept and over sowed the field with tares, or darnel, which is said to be a poisonous type of grain resembling wheat. The people of God have not watched, and Satan has worked effectively among Christians to introduce his own false followers ("children of the wicked one"--v.38) into the kingdom of heaven. Certainly he could not bring them into the body of Christ, the Church, for this is exclusively God's workmanship. But they have infiltrated the kingdom, the outward profession of Christianity in such a way as to make it impossible to root them out without affecting the wheat also.

At first the tares seem to be wheat, arising and becoming manifest however for what they are when the blade and fruit appear on the wheat. Then the servants recognize the imitation, and ask the householder if they ought to gather the tares out from the wheat. The answer is negative, because they might also root up some wheat in their efforts. In fact, the professing church has sometimes tried this, that is, getting rid of those they consider heretics, and many true Christians have been put to death in these ambitious enterprises, while the tares have continued just as vigorously.

Both are to grow together In the field (that is, in the world--not in the church, as some have liked to imagine) until time of harvest, which is the summing up of God's dealings with men. The reapers then will be told to gather the tares together in bundles for burning, but to gather the wheat into the householder's barn. Gathering the wheat into the barn is the rapture, all true believers on earth being caught up to be forever with the Lord. But the tares are first gathered in bundles ready for burning. The actual burning is not mentioned until the explanation in verse 42. For they are left in the field in bundles until the wheat is gathered into the barn. This appears to correspond to the large number of false and wicked cults that are virtual bundles such as attract false professors of Christianity, and which multiply just as the Lord is about to rapture His church to glory.

A third parable presents another aspect of the kingdom of heaven. In each of these cases the expression "the kingdom of heaven is like" refers to the entire parable. It is not that the kingdom is simply "a man" (v.24) or "a grain of Mustard seed" (v.31) or "leaven" (v.33): the term rather embraces the entire parable in each case. It is again the field in which the mustard seed is sown. The least of all seeds, it yet develops amazingly until becoming a tree in which the birds of the air find lodging. Properly speaking it is an herb, and is said to usually be no more than a shrub, but in some cases continues to grow into a tree.

The kingdom of heaven began in a very small, insignificant way, like the mustard seed, with the Lord Jesus is lowly Manhood doing the work of God with no fanfare, no advertising, and in fact falling Into the ground and dying. Then the kingdom began in Acts to grow marvellously, and has today spread in every direction throughout the whole world, so that Christendom has became a great tree in the world.

This extensive growth however has attracted the birds of the air, which have been seen to represent Satan's spiritual powers of wickedness (v.4 & v.19). Evil spirits have taken advantage of this external grandeur, and the once pure kingdom has been greatly infiltrated by Satanic influence. As being the work of Satan, this of course corresponds to the tares of the previous parable. These birds are clearly seen today in the multiplied false cults that claim to be Christian. Examples of a similar thing are found in the Old Testament, as in Ezekiel 31:3-6 the great Assyrian empire is likened to a tall cedar tree with fowls of the heaven lodging in its branches; and Daniel 4:20-22 shows Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom to be of the same character. To reign and become great may be attractive, but to do so in a world that rejects the blessed Lord of glory is opening the door for Satan's activity.

The fourth parable (v.33) speaks of the intensive (rather then extensive) character that would develop (and has developed) in the kingdom of heaven. The women is no doubt typical of the professing church, who should be at all times subject to the Man Christ Jesus, for He is the teacher, and her place is to be taught. But she introduces the leaven (typical of evil as a corrupting agent) into three measures of meal, hiding it there. Three measures of meal are found in Genesis 18:6; 1 Samuel 1:24; and Judges 6:19, all in connection with offerings to the Lord; for all speak of the pure Manhood of the person of Christ, and leaven was forbidden in the meal offering (Leviticus 2:11). But underhandedly there has been wicked doctrine introduced in the professing church to corrupt the doctrine of Christ, so that now all Christendom is permeated with this corruption so offensive to the blessed Lord whom they profess to serve.

Those four parables have given us a full picture of the condition of the kingdom of heaven publicly in this dispensation and up to the present time. In verse 35 these are said to be "things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Prophecy had not foretold a dispensation in which the kingdom of God (called here the kingdom of heaven) would fall into a corrupted condition, but the Lord declared it in such parables, and history has proven Him perfectly right. Old Testament prophecy had rather spoken of a kingdom of great glory, shining in the splendour of truth and righteousness, which will of course be fulfilled in the millenniums

However, this new declaration of the Lord concerning a corrupted kingdom forms a dark background for the new revelation that Paul was to give concerning the church of God, the body of Christ, a jewel of exquisite beauty that shines Out with brighter lustre because of the dark corruption of the kingdom. In all of this the great and wisdom of God ;Is seen; for it is totally impossible that man could either have conceived or executed such things.

In verse 36 the crowd was sent away, and the Lord returned to the house (Cf.v.1). For in those four parables He has completed His treatment of the public character of the present kingdom. What follows (the explanation of the parable of the wheat and tares and the last three parables) is instruction for disciples, concerning which the world can knew nothing today; for it deals with God's counsels as to the kingdom, not what is seen in the present dispensation.

Though the parable of the wheat and the tares has to do with this age, the Lord's explanation to the disciples shows what was at work behind the scenes, Of which the world is fully ignorant. The Son of Man has sown the good seed in the field (the world). The good seed are the children of the kingdom. Mark 4:14 says the Sower sows the word, which shows how fully the believer is identified with the word of God he receives. The tares are Satan's seed sown by him among the wheat. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. They would purge out what was offensive from the kingdom at the end of the age. Of course, casting them into a furnace of fire refers to a much later time, after the millennium is completed, and the judgment of the great white throne has taken place (Revelation 20:11-15); but the connection is not to be lost, despite the time that intervenes.

These verses (37-43) form one of the many keys in Scripture by which to understand much of prophecy. Verse 43 speaks then of the righteous shining forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. It does not say that then they are gathered into the barn, which is of course the paradise of God. The parable itself speaks of this, so that this indicates the rapture before the tribulation; but the explanation goes beyond this to the display of God's grace in the church during the age to come, the millennium. This then will be called, not the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of their Father, in which there is no slightest admixture of evil. The Lord adds a last serious word here to emphasize that only these who truly have a hearing ear will take in what He says.

The fifth parable (the first Of the series inside the house) is found in verse 44. Nothing corrupting is seen here at all, but great joy. When, as in the first four parables, the kingdom of heaven is seen to refer to God's present dealings on earth, which are connected With the seaside, the Gentiles, rather than the house of Israel, the question naturally arises, as it does in Romans 9:1-33; Romans 10:1-21; Romans 11:1-36, what then becomes of the Old Testament promises given to Israel? This fourth parable beautifully answers the question.

"Treasure hid in a field" is not by any means the same as seed sown in the field. The treasure had been there before, but hidden. So when the "man," which is the Lord Jesus, come to earth, in His omniscient (wisdom) He found that treasure. This has to do with God's divine counsels, discerning where Israel had been "hidden" in the world for centuries, for only a small part of the nation was in the land. As to "treasure," Exodus 19:4 contains a promise to Israel that on the basis of keeping the law they would be "a peculiar treasure" to the Lord. Then, in spite of Israel's failure under law, Psalms 135:4 declares God's counsel concerning her, "The Lord both chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure."

But the men again hides the treasure, goes and sells all that he has to buy the field. This is the great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus by which He has purchased the entire world, therefore the treasure in it (Israel) is His by purchase. Does this not remind us of Abraham's buying a field from Ephron the Hittite in which to bury Sarah? (Genesis 23:16-20). Sarah is a type of Israel according to God's counsels, now buried out of sight, but to be (spiritually speaking) raised again and manifested as Jehovah's "peculiar treasure." Therefore the kingdom of heaven, in God's counsels, includes Israel, though in its present condition Israel does not have part in it. The Lord Jesus, when He came and paid the price for the field itself, did not then display the treasure, Israel, as His own possession, but has virtually hidden her again until the day when He will make up His jewels (Malachi 3:17).

The second parable of this series has marked differences from the first, though with similarities. The merchant man, in seeking goodly pearls, found one pearl of great price. The pearl comes from the sea, which speaks of the nations of the world (Revelation 17:15), appropriately symbolizing the church of God taken out from the nations, to be to the praise of the glory of God's grace for eternity. No impurity is seen here, for man's responsibility is not involved, as in the first four parables, but the great workmanship and grace of God.

Others have well observed that the pearl is the result of a foreign object (often a grain of sand) coming between an oyster and its shell, causing injury or irritation, so that the oyster deposits its nacre, or mother of pearl, around the offending object, layer by layer. The more layers, of course the larger the pearl. If the pearl is perfectly round, it is more valuable.

How beautifully this illustrates the formation of the church of God! She herself is only the offending object that caused the sufferings and death of the Lord of glory; but she is clothed with radiant beauty, the work of God's sovereign grace and wisdom, accomplished in perfect symmetry. As the best pearls take long to manufacture, so God's grace has wrought for long centuries (during the longest of all dispensations) to accomplish His great work in the assembly, which will eventually be presented to the Lord Jesus as an adornment to be worn near to His heart forever. It is said the pearl retains its lustre by being worn. Israel, on the other hand, will not have this closeness, but will still be a peculiar treasure to the Lord, kept in a treasure house, the land of promise, where she will be displayed in her beauty during the millennial age. The unity of the assembly is emphasized here also, for it is "one pearl of great price." On the other hand, "treasure" is no doubt composed of various parts, as there are twelve tribes in Israel. Other symbols of unity designate the assembly also, as one body (Ephesians 2:16) and one flock (John 10:16).

Greater differences are seen in the last parable. A net is Cast into the sea, and fish of every kind gathered. If the sea speaks of the nations (Revelation 17:15), then the fish speak of the individuals in them. The kingdom of heaven, in God's counsels, has not only to do with Israel and the assembly, but also with Gentile nations. Their part in this will be seen only at the end of the tribulation period. Matthew 25:31-46 gives a different view of this selective judgment of nations, when the Son of Man comes in His glory. This is plainly not what is taking place now, as similar to the wheat and tares, for these last three parables were spoken in the house, and refer to what has God's future counsels in view.

At the end of the age the good will be gathered into Vessels, the bad separated from them and Cast into the furnace of fire. The work of angels is specially mentioned as involved in this. The eventual end of the "bad" is seen as their being cast into the furnace of fire, just as is the case in Matthew 25:41-46, though the execution of this judgment is much later then the gathering of the good into Vessels. The end in view for "the good" is not like that of the wheat, gathered into His barn, that is heaven; but "gathered into vessels" (v.30).

The vessels are evidently the various Gentile nations. It is striking here that nothing indicates such unity as is seen in the church, the "one pearl of great price;" nor even such a measure of unity as is seen in "treasure hid in a field"' For the church is vitally "one," not even composed of various tribes, but members of one body. Israel is "one nation," but formed of twelve distinct tribes, all to maintain their identity in the age to come. But there is no unity even of this kind among the Gentile nations: all will be distinct, as fish gathered in various vessels, but subject to the great King of kings.

In the seven parables of this chapter the Lord has given a most full and admirable view of the whole subject of the kingdom of heaven in its various aspects, beginning with the first seed sown, and continuing till the kingdom is established in millennial glory over all peoples, Jews and Gentiles as well as the church of God.

To the Lord's question if they understood all these things, the disciples answer "Yes," though their understanding could only have been small indeed compared to what they would later discern. But He encourages them to be well instructed scribes, declaring that there is great treasure in the knowledge of the truth of the kingdom of heaven, and one so instructed is like a householder who makes well-balanced provision for his house, things both new and old. The new, which Christ Himself has revealed, are filled with greatest blessing, but also they make far clearer many truths of the Old Testament Which had no doubt for centuries been virtually a "dead letter" even to believing Jews.

Now leaving the shores of Galilee, He goes to the area of Nazareth, His Own country, where it is emphasized that His kingdom is in reproach and rejection. In this return we learn in the blessed Lord Himself, how to accept this. The wisdom of His teaching is undisputed: people are astonished at this and at hearing of His mighty works. But instead of seeing by faith the reality of God's power in this, they dispute His right to possess such power! Where did He get this? they ask. Was He not only a carpenters son? Did they not know His mother, His four brothers and all of His sisters? Formal religion has claimed that Mary had no other children then the Lord Himself, therefore assuming that these were nephews or nieces; but Psalms 69:8 is conclusive, "I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children." Mary had at least seven children after the Lord was born, for "all" His sisters implies at least three.

Faith sees marvellous grace in the lowly place He took in regard to natural relationships, but the world's pride is offended by this. The Lord however does not strike back with the same type of offended pride; but calmly remarks that a prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house. Can this be because, in knowing him well, people's consciences fear that he will also know them well? But it is tragically sad that this common rule should apply to Him who is God manifest in flesh! Because of their unbelief, He left them without the privilege of their seeing many mighty works from His hand.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 13:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/matthew-13.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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