The Postponement of the Kingdom: A Change in Dispensations
Matthew 13 – 17
Matthew 13 – 17
In this next section we get a great change in dispensations. In the end of Matt. 12, the Lord is shown to be rejected by the nation of Israel. The Lord next unfolds a number of truths that reveal a change in the ways of God consequent on the rejection of the King. There are two great turning points in these chapters:
- The Kingdom Postponed (ch.13). The Kingdom prophesied about in the Old Testament would still be ushered in, but the “manifestation” phase would be postponed, and a “mystery” phase brought in first. The Lord in Matthew gives ten “similitudes” that describe this phase of the Kingdom. By examining these similitudes (six of which are given in Matt. 13) we can see that they do NOT refer to the glorious phase of the Kingdom which is still future (the Millennium) but to the present state of mixture. We see not only Satan’s attempts to corrupt this kingdom, but also God’s sovereignty overruling, that He might bring out of it fruit for Himself.
- The Assembly to be Built (ch.16). Then in ch.14-15 we have Christ withdrawing from the Nation, while the Nation continues to reject Him. In ch.16 we get another turning point; not a negative turning point like ch.13 (the manifestation phase postponed) but a positive one! Christ was going to build something brand new and unpredicted; His assembly. This Assembly would represent Him on the earth, and carry the authority of heaven in its actions. The kingdom in mystery is a new dispensation unfolding on the earth, but the assembly is a heavenly parenthesis in that dispensation! And then He instructs His disciples to discontinue proclaiming His Jewish title of “Messiah” or “Christ”. Finally, in Matt. 17, the Lord gives His disciples a sample of the Kingdom in glory, which will be established after the Assembly’s time on earth expires.
In ch.13 the Lord goes out of the house and takes up the position of Son of Man, as rejected by Israel. But in ch.16 He accepts the positive witness that He is Son of God! In John 9 this great transition is compared to the contrast between the day and the night. The departure of Christ out of this world is a governmental consequence of the earth’s rejection of God’s well beloved Son. However, God always preserves to Himself a witness. If the manifestation of kingdom glory must be postponed, then God will bring in something better (the Church) built upon something deeper (the Rock of His Person) than Israel ever was.
This section of Matthew is divided as follows:
O U T L I N E
The Parables of the Kingdom of Heaven
- Setting (13:1-3a)
- Parable of the Sower: Reception of the Word of God (13:3b-9)
- The Reason for the Lord’s Use of Parables (13:10-17)
- Explanation of the Parable of the Sower (13:18-23)
- The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (13:24-30)
- The Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32)
- The Parable of the Leaven Hid in the Meal (13:33)
- Explanation of the Parable of the Tares (13:34-43)
- The Parable of the Treasure Hid in the Field (v.44)
- The Parable of the One Pearl of Great Price (vv.45-46)
- The Parable of the Dragnet Cast into the Sea (vv.47-50)
- Conclusion (vv.51-52)
The Kingdom of Heaven is a dispensational term only found in Matthew’s gospel. It is a very important subject to grasp in order to understand Matthew, and the whole scope of God’s counsels. I recommend getting a solid grasp of this subject (see the encyclopedia entry for the Kingdom of Heaven) before proceeding. It is in this great transitional chapter that we have the Kingdom in Mystery unfolded.
Why seven parables? Seven is the number of spiritual completeness. These seven parables give us a complete account of the new dispensation which was about to begin. Some of these parables are found in Mark and Luke, but not all seven together. Why? It is fitting that the full seven are found in the dispensational Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus is presented as Messiah, rejected as such, and foretells a great dispensational change. It has been well said that if a person has a solid grasp of the Seven Feasts in Lev. 23, the Seven Parables in Matt. 13, and the Seven Letters in Rev. 2-3 they will have a good overall grasp of the purpose and ways of God.1 The seven parables can be divided as follows: the parable of the Sower, plus the first six similitudes of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Symbolical Outlines. When God brings in something new He gives an outline of it symbolically at the beginning:
- The Adamic Creation – the seven days of creation (Genesis 1)
- The Nation of Israel – the seven feasts of Jehovah (Leviticus 23)
- The Kingdom in Mystery – the seven parables of the kingdom (Matthew 13)
- The Church as a Candlestick – the seven letters to the churches (Revelation 2 – 3)
The Ten Similitudes of the Kingdom of Heaven. There are ten parables given in Matthew’s gospel where it is stated; “the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto” or some equivalent expression. These similes, or “similitudes” as they are often called, give us a comprehensive understanding of the “mystery” phase of the Kingdom of Heaven, through which we are currently passing. See encyclopedia entry.
Satan’s Work: The Corruption of the Kingdom
1. Matthew 13:24 – The Wheat and the Tares
2. Matthew 13:31 – The Mustard Seed
3. Matthew 13:33 – The Leaven Hid in the Meal
God’s Work: Sovereign Grace in Spite of Evil
4. Matthew 13:44 – The Treasure Hid in the Field
5. Matthew 13:45 – The One Pearl of Great Price
6. Matthew 13:47 – The Dragnet Cast into the Sea
Our Work: The Characteristics of the Servants of the Kingdom
7. Matthew 18:23 – The Unforgiving Servant
8. Matthew 20:1 – The Laborers of the Vineyard
9. Matthew 22:2 – The Wedding Feast
10. Matthew 25:1 – The Ten Virgins
¶ And that same day Jesus went out from the house and sat down by the sea. v.1 “Jesus went out from the house” making a formal break with the Nation of Israel. The “house” refers to the house of God, the dwelling place of God on earth (see v.36). Up until Christ, the presence of God on earth in a limited sense was in the Temple, in the land of Israel. When Christ came, He was the true Temple of God on earth (Matt. 12:6, John 2:19). The Jews rejected Him, and now the Lord creates a separation between “their house” (Matt. 23:38), which is a symbol of the nation of Israel (Matt. 10:6) apart from Christ, and Himself. He “sat down by the sea” taking a new position which prefigures the transition from occupation with the Jews to instead “visit the Gentiles” (Acts 15:14) through the call of the gospel. “Seas” in scripture are symbolic of the masses of the Gentiles; “The waters which thou sawest… are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Rev. 17:15).
2 And great crowds were gathered together to him, so that going on board ship himself he sat down, and the whole crowd stood on the shore. v.2 “Great crowds gathered together” indicating that the Lord’s audience had widened out, following His rejection by the Nation of Israel. He was “apart from them”, showing that in the new dispensation, the King was going to be separated from them in Heaven, but still the King. Going “on board ship” would prevent the physical touch of the multitudes, as before. The mystery phase of the Kingdom is characterized by those who have faith without the natural, physical connection, like the centurion (Matt. 8:5). It says He “sat” because the seated position is the position of authority. Although the King would be absent, the disciples would still be subject to Him.
3a And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying, v.3a The Lord adopts a new method of teaching; using parables. We will find in vv.10-17 that this strange new method was in response to His rejection by Israel, and a governmental judgment on them.
Parable of the Sower: Reception of the Word of God (13:3b-9)
The Parable of the Sower does not describe the Kingdom, but gives an explanation for how the Kingdom was formed “in mystery”. The sower is the Lord, the seed is the Word, and those who receive and believe the Word are called the children of the Kingdom (v.38). In Mark’s gospel, we find that understanding the Parable of the Sower is the key to understanding “all parables” (Mark 4:13), because the only way fruit will be produced for God is by receiving His Word into a prepared heart. In each of the three gospels there is a different emphasis, seen in the open statement of our Lord’s explanation:
- In Matt. 13, emphasis is put on the Ground. “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom…” (Matt. 13:19). Israel, being unrepentant, failed to receive the good word of the Kingdom. Instead it fell to the faithful remnant. The kingdom in man’s responsibility begins pristinely (an hundred-fold) but ends in failure (thirty-fold).
- In Mark 4, emphasis is put on the Sower. “The sower soweth the word” (Mark 4:14). The Lord – ever the Perfect Servant – is the one sowing. Although the early crop was small (thirty-fold), there will be a full harvest to the glory of God (an hundred-fold).
- In Luke 8, emphasis is put on the Seed. “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The Word of God is made available to all mankind, but the question is; what will you do with the Word of God? The rate is “an hundred-fold” (Luke 8:8) across the board, because the seed of the Word will never return unto Him void.
In all three, this fundamental message must be understood: in order for there to be fruit for God, there must be (1) a repentant state of soul prepared by the Spirit (good ground), (2) the Word of God (the good seed), and (3) all under the direction of the Lord of the harvest (the Sower).
The Sower (v.3b)
3b Behold, the sower went out to sow: (compare) v.3b The statement, “a sower went out to sow” indicates a tremendous change. Christ is no longer seeking fruit from His vineyard (Isa. 5). The First Man, of whom Israel is but a sample, by rejecting Messiah (symbolically in ch.11-12, but judicially at the cross) proved himself to be an utter failure, beyond any hope of self-improvement. But now, Christ (the Sower) is bringing something, and starting something new. He is sowing His Word in the hearts of men. He is neither expecting fruits from Israel, nor is He looking to borrow (or graft) from the old plant; but instead, He begins afresh from seed – a new life! This sowing is guaranteed to produce fruit, if properly received. The Sower is no longer physically on earth, but He is still sowing in spirit, through His disciples down here. Christianity is not characterized by what it finds, but by what it brings!
Four Types of Ground, or Conditions of Soul (vv.4-8)
The problem presented in this parable is one of reception, not of presentation. The Lord Jesus cannot be faulted for His methods… nor should we change the gospel message because of the results we see in Christendom today. Modification of the good seed is precisely what Lordship Salvation does.
- Devil is active – wayside ground
- Flesh is active – stony ground
- World is active – thorny ground
- Spirit is active – good ground
The net result of the Sower’s labors is: meager results. The great point to take away is this: the human heart is unrepentant, capricious, fickle, and calloused. Out of four casts of the seed, only one falls into good ground. A seed rate of 25% is not very high. We are not to be surprised that the gospel is rarely received in the world today. Even in those that receive it, the results are spotty; some an hundred, some sixty, and some thirty-fold. We are to learn from this that while the gospel goes out broadly in Christendom, only a small remnant will receive it into good ground, and even then fruit-bearing will fluctuate with communion, godliness, diligence, etc. (John 15).
#1: Wayside Ground (v.4)
4 and as he sowed, some grains fell along the way, and the birds came and devoured them; v.4 The wayside ground represents someone who never really understands that the gospel is for them personally. The seed never even penetrates the surface, and they are easy pickings for the birds, a picture of Satanic power. We see a progression with the first three types of ground. With the first type, there is almost no hope. With the second, things are a little more hopeful. With the third, they were “so close”.
#2: Stony Ground (vv.5-6)
5 and others fell upon the rocky places where they had not much earth, and immediately they sprang up out of the ground because of not having any depth of earth, 6 but when the sun rose they were burned up, and because of not having any root were dried up; vv.5-6 The stony ground (or, shallow ground) represents someone in whom the Word of God never penetrates their conscience. Here things initially appear more hopeful. The soul receives the word, and there is an emotional response… but the soul has never seen the awfulness of their own sins in the sight of God. Thus, the immediate response is one of joy, not of sorrow. The ground has not been properly broken up, and the good seed does not reach the conscience. At the first sign of hardship, the plant is dried up, proving that the outward show was not real. If it were a real work of God, the trials of life would only cause the divine life to flourish.
#3: Thorny Ground (v.7)
7 and others fell upon the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them; v.7 Thorny ground – someone who acknowledges the coherence of the gospel message in an intellectual way, but never makes is a priority in their life. There appears to be hope for a time with this one, but at last it proves to be no better than the other types of ground. The anxieties of this life take up the person’s time and focus, and no room is made to invest in eternal matters.
#4: Good Ground (v.8)
8 and others fell upon the good ground, and produced fruit, one a hundred, one sixty, and one thirty. v.8 Good ground – someone who applies the Word of God to themselves, lets it affect their conscience, and gives it priority. The result is fruit in life (in various quantities, some 100, some 60, and some 30) but never zero-fold. The question might be asked; why are some Christians more fruitful than others? We may look no further than this parable. The same things that hindered the word in the sense of salvation can also hinder spiritual growth in the soul.
9 He that has ears, let him hear. v.9 the Lord calls our attention to the vast importance of this parable. What about you and me? Are we producing fruit for God as He desires?
Profession vs. Reality. How can the seed spring up if the person is not really saved? The Lord is not taking up the possession of divine life (John’s ministry). He is taking up man’s profession and testing the reality of it. “The seed is the word of God”, and the test is the effect of the Word of God on the hearts of men. The first three types of ground manifest mere profession, the fourth manifests reality. Those with a repentant heart (contrite spirit) receive the word into good ground.
The Reason for the Lord’s Use of Parables (13:10-17)
vv.10-17 In the first 12 chapters the Lord did not use any parables… instead He spoke directly. You may have heard some teach that the Lord began to use parables to make His teaching easier to understand. That is not absolutely true! These verses show that He began to speak in parables to conceal the meaning from unbelievers, meanwhile to reveal the meaning to believers. It was like speaking in colorful code. The unbelieving become more befuddled, but those with faith are greatly enlightened. It was like the pillar of cloud: full of light to Israel within, full of obscurity to the Egyptians without (Exodus 14:20). He begins to speak in enigmas in ch.13 because His rejection by the nation is proven in ch.11-12. The remnant would understand (in their measure), but the mass of the nation would stumble at it. This is the mind of God; when men reject the light they have, that rejection brings greater darkness.
¶ 10 And the disciples came up and said to him, Why speakest thou to them in parables? 11 And he answering said to them, Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it is not given; vv.10-11 Contrast the expressions “to them” and “to you” in vv.10-11. The full focus of our Lord’s teaching was now to the faithful remnant, because the mass had rejected the greatest Light of all. This v.11 is the key verse of the chapter. The remaining parables explain to faith the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”… those perplexing questions about the time during which the rejected King is absent, evil continues, and yet the purpose of God is fulfilled in spite of it.
12 for whoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall be caused to be in abundance; but he who has not, even what he has shall be taken away from him. v.12 Those who “have” are the faithful remnant. What did they have? They had Christ. God would cause those faithful ones to receive an abundance of spiritual light as regards the kingdom of heaven. Those who “have not” are the unbelieving nation of Israel. From them the bodily presence of Christ and the outward signs of power (“that which they have”) would soon be taken away, leaving them in abject darkness. Light rejected brings greater darkness.
13 For this cause I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear nor understand; 14 and in them is filled up the prophecy of Esaias, which says, “Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and beholding ye shall behold and not see; 15 for the heart of this people has grown fat, and they have heard heavily with their ears, and they have closed their eyes as asleep, lest they should see with the eyes, and hear with the ears, and understand with the heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” [Isa. 6:9,10] vv.13-15 The Nation. The government of God on those who reject the light they have been given is blinding, deafening, and hardening. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Israel’s rejection of Christ. It explains the working of the government of God. This same prophecy is quoted three times:
- By Christ (Matt. 13:14-15, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10) upon His symbolic rejection
- By John (John 12:40) at the end of Christ’s public ministry
- By Paul (Acts 28:26,27) after the Jews had rejected the Christian gospel
16 But blessed are “your” eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear; 17 for verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see the things which ye behold and did not see them, and to hear the things which ye hear and did not hear them. vv.16-17 The Remnant. The disciples are “the poor of the flock” (see Zech. 11:11) waiting upon Jehovah, who had given them a special knowledge. For believers the parables are very instructive, and they give to those of faith great detail concerning the ways of God with men. Many Old Testament prophets, etc. longed for the knowledge given to even the simplest child in the kingdom of heaven.
Explanation of the Parable of the Sower (13:18-23)
18 “Ye”, therefore, hear the parable of the sower. v.18 “Ye, therefore” – He is speaking directly to the disciples as He gives the meaning. This is very important. The parable of the Sower was spoken before the multitude, but the explanation is directed to those of faith. We find that the next three parables are also uttered before the crowd, but they are dismissed before the meaning of the 1st similitude is given (v.36). The point is, the Lord was concealing the meaning from those who stood in unbelief, and revealing it to those of faith.
19 From every one who hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the wicked one comes and catches away what was sown in his heart: this is he that is sown by the wayside. v.19 Wayside Ground. There are those who don’t understand, not because of the complexity of the message, but because of a self-righteous mindset. We now get the definition of “the birds” (v.4). We find that the birds are the agents of “the Wicked One”. This is important information for understanding the parable of the mustard seed. Satan “catches it away”. This is generally true of any truth that we do not immediately apply; Satan will take it away. This is why we need to put in the “girdle of truth” (Eph. 6:14).
The Sower in Matthew vs. Luke. Notice that in Luke, the seed is the “word of God” while here in Matthew it is the “word of the kingdom“. The Word of God is a very broad term, the Word of the Kingdom has more specifically to do with Christ’s teaching about the Kingdom (ch.5-7, 13, etc.). In Luke, the “wayside ground” are those who don’t believe, but in Matthew they are those who don’t understand. The reason is that Matthew is speaking more to the Jew, and Luke more to the Gentile. Gentiles who have never been exposed to the truth need to believe it. Those who have the knowledge of it (Jews) need to understand its implication for the hearer. By comparing the two gospels we learn something important: we can know some truth without having a spiritual understanding of it. What hinders spiritual understanding of the truth is religious prejudice (W. Kelly). A religious background tends to dull the conscience, because we think we are all set; “the Bible is for sinners, not me”. God says, “You need to understand that this applies to you.”
20 But he that is sown on the rocky places — this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 but has no root in himself, but is for a time only; and when tribulation or persecution happens on account of the word, he is immediately offended. vv.20-21 Stony Ground. There are those who have their affections touched by the gospel message, but it never gets down into their conscience – “no root in himself” – which results in a lack of endurance. Ultimately they defect from the faith. We need to be wary of “conversions” that are accompanied by exuberant joy, with no sorrow. When the word reaches the conscience, it produces sorrow first (with repentance), then joy.
22 And he that is sown among the thorns — this is he who hears the word, and the anxious care of this life, and the deceit of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. v.22 Thorny Ground. This case appears to be the most hopeful of all, because there is a temporary effect produced in the life. The thorny ground are those that recognized the truth of the gospel in an intellectual way, but never make it a priority. Two thorns are given:
Luke adds a third ‘thorn’, the “pleasures of life” or immoral behaviors. That is added in Luke because that gospel is more concerned with the moral side of things.
23 But he that is sown upon the good ground — this is he who hears and understands the word, who bears fruit also, and produces, one a hundred, one sixty, and one thirty. v.23 Good Ground. There are those who “understand the word”, apply it to themselves, have their consciences exercised, and make it a priority in their lives. In short, their hearts are prepared by the Spirit of God who produces repentance. Production of fruit will always be the visible result of the Word of God received properly by the soul. However, even within the 25% that fell on good ground, the results were checkered. The hard heart of man, the influence of the world, and the lack of pastoral care for those who are truly saved all have an influence to stifle fruit-production. Notice that in Matthew (dispensational) the kingdom in man’s responsibility begins pristinely (an hundred-fold) but ends in decline (thirty-fold). In Mark, emphasis is put on the Perfect Servant, whose early crop was small (thirty-fold), but ends in a full harvest to the glory of God (an hundred-fold). In Luke emphasis is put on the Seed, and the rate is “an hundred-fold” across the board (Luke 8:8), because the seed of the Word will never return unto Him void.
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (13:24-30)
The Wheat and the Tares. This parable (compare) is only found is Matthew’s gospel. It is especially fitting that God’s patience with evil in the Kingdom of Heaven be understood in contrast with the sharpness of His judgment under Judaism. The parable itself is concerned with the present time, up until the rapture (vv.24-30). The explanation of the parable (vv.37-43) goes beyond into the setting up of the millennial kingdom.
The Problem of Evil. Why does God allow evil to go on in this world? It is because the wheat is growing. Souls are getting saved! It is His grace to the elect that He suffers long the mixture of evil in Christendom.
The Lord’s Work (v.24)
¶ 24 Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man sowing good seed in his field; v.24 Notice that the kingdom “has become” – a process of time is involved. The field is the world, the Lord is the sower (v.37), but now, the seed are persons, the children of the kingdom.
Man’s Failure & Satan’s Work (v.25)
25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel amongst the wheat, and went away. v.25 This is exactly what happened in Christendom. The mystery of iniquity (2 Thess. 2:7) began to work very early in the Church’s history, and when it is complete Satan will cease to work secretly, and the man of sin will emerge openly. But this is where it all begins.
As with every dispensation, man fails almost immediately. Darnel, or ryegrass, is almost indiscernible from wheat until the head (fruit) appears. The blade appears very similar, but the fruit that you would expect with wheat, never develops. It is a fitting type of false professors in Christendom. They make the same outward profession, but there is no life there. But ultimately, their fruits will manifest where they really are.
The Present State of Mixture (vv.26-30a)
26 But when the blade shot up and produced fruit, then appeared the darnel also. v.26 The tares did not evidence themselves immediately. It wasn’t until “the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit,” when Christianity began to make its effect on the earth, “then appeared the tares also.” Notice that the tares are never said to produce fruit, but they “appear”… they have a profession. The first recorded “tare” was Simon the sorcerer in Acts 9. All tares can do is use up valuable resources, and choke out the real wheat.
27 And the bondmen of the householder came up and said to him, Sir, hast thou not sown good seed in thy field? whence then has it darnel? 28a And he said to them, A man that is an enemy has done this. vv.27-28a The existence of false professors in the Kingdom cannot be blamed on the Lord, but on the activity of Satan, through the failure of man.
28b And the bondmen said to him, Wilt thou then that we should go and gather it up? 29 But he said, No; lest in gathering the darnel ye should root up the wheat with it. vv.28b-29 To remove a plant from the field is to remove a person from the earth (through physical death or rapture, depending). Man’s wisdom in this regard led Rome to hunt and kill heretics in past centuries… this was folly because man doesn’t have the discernment to know with certainty who is real and who is false! Mistakes would be made. Rooting out tares is not the Church’s responsibility. Does that mean there is to be no Church discipline today? Far from it; we are to judge those that are “within” (1 Cor. 5:13). We can put wicked persons out of Church fellowship, but not out of the Kingdom of Heaven (the sphere of profession). Our responsibility is within, we can let God take care of those “without”.
30a Suffer both to grow together unto the harvest, v.30a At the present, there is a mixture of real and false subjects of the kingdom. From the Lord’s own mouth we learn that there is no possibility of disentangling the confusion we see around us before His coming. Such are God’s dispensational ways. Man fails at the beginning, and God will not pass lightly over that failure by allowing a wholesale restoration. The harvest is the completion of the age, the actual time of judgment at the Lord’s appearing (vv.40-43, Rev. 14:14-16, Matt. 24:30-31). We need to distinguish this from “the time of the harvest”.
How the Lord will Separate the Mixture (v.30b)
30b and in time of the harvest I will say to the harvestmen, (1) Gather first the darnel, and bind it into bundles to burn it; (2) but the wheat bring together into my granary. v.30b The “time of the harvest” is the general time of the end which is occupied with the various processes of ingathering… perhaps 1850 A.D. to the Appearing. Two great ingatherings will occur in that time:
- Tares bound – this is not the burning of the tares, but the present time in which the angels (v.39) are preliminarily grouping the tares into large organized systems (e.g. Jehovah’s witnesses, Christian Science, etc.)
- Wheat gathered – the taking of the wheat from the field is the removal of believers from the earth by the rapture. There is a second phase to this (Lev. 23:22) – the martyrs. Notice that no bundling is mentioned for the wheat. The rapture will take each real Christian where it finds them, in whatever ecclesiastical position, etc.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32)
¶ 31 Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of the heavens is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 which is less indeed than all seeds, but when it is grown is greater than herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of heaven come and roost in its branches. vv.31-32 In the second similitude (compare) we learn that the kingdom of heaven would begin very small and humble in the sight of men, but would soon grow into an institution of enormous proportions. The plant referred to here is generally considered to be black mustard, which grows in one annual cycle from a small seed (2 mm) into a large plant up to 9 feet tall! The Lord says “a tree”… perhaps even describing growth towering beyond what is normal for a mustard plant. In any case, the idea is of unnatural growth according to secular measures. Trees in scripture speak of men who are great in the sight of men (Isa. 2:13), and great trees speak of great public or political powers. In Dan. 4:20-22 Nebuchadnezzar is pictured as a great tree, and in Ezek. 31:3-9 the Assyrian power compared to a great tree.2 What we find is that, even from before the Christian testimony began, God knew it would grow into a great political power. What are the birds? The Lord had already explained (v.19) that the birds are a figure of Satan’s emissaries, those who hinder the working of the good seed in the hearts of men. The thought of a shelter reminds us of how the Christian profession became a protective power, and a place where evil in the earth finds a home. How sad! This parable might correspond to Pergamos and the era beginning with Constantine. We find the final state of the false church in Rev. 18:2, that she “is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird“. The growth of the great tree is analogous to the development of the great house (2 Tim. 2:20) and the great city Babylon (Rev. 17:18). Note that there is no fruit on this tree for God.
The Parable of the Leaven Hid in the Meal (13:33)
¶ 33 He spoke another parable to them: The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until it had been all leavened. v.33 In this third similitude (compare) we learn that evil doctrines would spread throughout Christendom, from one end to the other. It is closely connected with the mustard seed. When the Christian profession would become widely accepted in the world, it would of necessity require a corruption of its doctrine. We find a woman acting of her own accord in a sphere that was never given to her. Compare with Eve and Jezebel. Three measures of meal is a meal fit for God (Abraham). It speaks of the perfection of the Person of Christ (Lev. 6:14-17; 1 Cor. 5:8; John 6:32, 33). It was never to be eaten with leaven (Lev. 2:11). Leaven in scripture is always a picture of sin, and often of evil doctrine; e.g. “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). Leaven is characterized by its corrupting and spreading character. The Church is warned twice that evil must be judged, or the whole will be corrupted; in 1 Cor. 5:6 in connection with moral evil, and again in Gal. 5:9 in connection with doctrinal evil. This “hidden” leaven is that which was purposefully and surreptitiously brought in to corrupt the Christian profession. It corresponds to the Thyatira period when many evil doctrines began to be propagated into the Christian profession following its growth into a global institution. Notice that in Thyatira we find a woman (Jezebel) teaching evil doctrine and practice. It says “the whole” was leavened; that includes us, for we are part of Christendom. There is no part of Christendom that is free from the danger of evil doctrine.
Misunderstandings about the Mustard Tree and the Leaven. Unfortunately, many commentators have erroneously interpreted the abnormal growth of the mustard plant as a positive working of God, and the spreading of the leaven as the gospel going out to subdue the whole world. These interpretations are closely tied to a Covenantal view of scripture, which has the blessing of man at the center of God’s purposes, rather than the glory of Christ. They do not see that this dispensation will end in failure (as all the others have) with the true being raptured out, and the false left to face the Tribulation judgments. Instead they believe that man by the grace of God will succeed in this epoch, and the gospel will reform the world and usher in an era of blessing. In order to do this they must twist a great number of scriptures, like these two similitudes of the Kingdom, and overlook other clear principles of the Word of God, such as Isa. 26:9-10 (adapted), “Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness… for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness”. God’s judgment on evil, not His gospel, is what will finally bring righteousness and peace to the earth.
Explanation of the Parable of the Tares (13:34-43)
A Change in Direction (vv.34-36)
¶ 34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and without a parable he did not speak to them, 35 so that that should be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden from the world’s foundation.” [Psa. 78:2] ¶ 36 Then, having dismissed the crowds, he went into the house; and his disciples came to him, saying, Expound to us the parable of the darnel of the field. vv.34-36 The Lord had been speaking to the multitude up to this point, except for the explanation of the Sower. Now He sends the multitude away and goes into the house. This symbolic action forms a natural division between the first three similitudes and the next three. Just as in Leviticus 23, where a break between the first four and the last three feasts signified a change in subject, we get the same here. Going out of the house (v.1) symbolized a break with the Old Testament House of God. Going back into the house (v.36) symbolizes an association with the New Testament House of God, those who were His own. The first three similitudes have to do with the outward profession of Christianity as a result of man’s failure and Satan’s activity. The next set of three have to do with what is inwardly real as a result of God’s sovereign grace. The first three present mixture, the next three present discrimination according to God’s eye. The world can see the failures of Christianity; e.g. the Crusades. But God’s grace down through the centuries to accomplish His sovereign purpose is only known to faith; they are family secrets, and not fit for the ears of the unbelieving crowd.
vv.37-43 the Lord explains the parable, and in doing so adds more details than were given previously. This is generally true whenever prophecy is explained in scripture; e.g. Daniel 2, 7, 8.
Explanation of Symbols Previously Used (vv.37-39)
37 But he answering said, He that sows the good seed is the Son of man, 38 and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom, but the darnel are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who has sowed it is the devil; and the harvest is the completion of the age, and the harvestmen are angels. vv.37-39 Notice that the seed in the 1st parable is the Word, in the 2nd parable is Christians, and in the 3rd parable is the Kingdom itself! The enemy of the Son of Man is the Devil. Make no mistake, Satan has waged war against all that professes the name of Christ in this world. The “end of this age” is strongly connected with the judgment of this world and the coming of the Lord. The harvestmen are the angels; Christians are to have no part with corporal judgment of the wicked.
Children of the Devil. It is very important to see that not every unsaved person is a child of the devil. All are children of Adam, in bondage to sin, children of disobedience, and children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), meaning that we are all born sinners, and heading down the road that leads to destruction. But a child of the devil is an apostate who has hardened himself against the truth, and thus given himself up to the service of Satan (John 8:37-47). While the tares generally speak of false profession, it is interesting that the Lord specifically identifies them as “sons of the evil one”. This would be in contrast to “sons of God” which in Matthew are those that reflect the character of God (Matt. 5:9). These “tares” reflect the character of the Evil One.
Details Surrounding The Appearing (vv.40-43)
40 As then the darnel is gathered and is burned in the fire, thus it shall be in the completion of the age. v.40 This goes beyond what we read in v.30 (“to be burned”); here they “are burned”. Also, it does not say “the time of the end”, but “the end” itself. The time of the end was more general, including the rapture. But the end itself is judgment. We are now talking about the appearing. More details follow concerning this judgment.
41 The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all offences, and those that practise lawlessness; v.41 This is the harvest judgment (Rev.14:14-16, Matt. 24:30-31, 40-41) in which the tares are rooted up (“taken”) and the righteous tribulation saints left for blessing. “His kingdom” is the kingdom of the Son of man (see Matt. 16:28, 24:30, 25:31), which is the earthly side of the glorious coming kingdom of Christ. (Contrast with “their father’s Kingdom” in v.43). The angels will not go out over the entire world, but over that sphere which has had the light of Christianity, i.e. the Western world.
42 and they shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. v.42 This is part of the judgment of the quick (see Rev. 14:14) – not to be confused with the judgment of the dead, or Great White Throne (see Rev. 20:12-15) – these are cast ‘alive’ by the angels directly into the Lake of fire. Profession without reality will not exempt men from the terrors of eternal damnation;“there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth”.
43 Then the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that has ears, let him hear. v.43 The heavenly saints will shine as the sun, for they will display the glory of the Lord in the Millennium. It is a similar thought to what we get in Rev. 21:10-11; “… the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her shining was like a most precious stone, as a crystal-like jasper stone…”. The expression here; “the kingdom of their Father” refers to the heavenly compartment of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 8:11). It is the heavenly saints that make up this aspect of the Millennial kingdom. Who are they? The Church, Old Testament saints, children and babies that have died very young, etc. Later on, the Tribulation martyrs will join them as well (Rev. 20:4). It is true there will be some “wheat” on the earth that will continue into the Millennium (the remnant, Lev. 23:22) but the subject here is the heavenly saints.
Will there be “wheat” on earth in the Tribulation? Yes. There will be a faithful remnant of Jews as well as Gentiles who believe the gospel of the kingdom. Mr. Kelly said; “But the Lord will also have an earthly people. He waits till the heavenly saints are gathered to Him above, and then begins to sow, if I may thus speak, for earthly blessing, in which case His coming as Son of Man will be for the removal of the wicked, leaving the righteous undisturbed in peace.” See Matt. 24:40-41.
The Parable of the Treasure Hid in the Field (v.44)
¶ 44 The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure hid in the field, which a man having found has hid, and for the joy of it goes and sells all whatever he has, and buys that field. v.44 Next we have the parable of the hid treasure (compare). We find that in the midst of the false profession, God has a treasure… individual believers whom He values greatly. The treasure is hidden to start with, then found and hidden again, until the field is purchased. He bought the world-field (purchase) that He might have the treasure (redemption). Man sees the field, but he doesn’t see the treasure, which is precious to the heart of God. Perhaps many men passed by that field (else, why would he re-hide it?) but only One saw the treasure that lay therein. “Hid in the field” – this cannot be talking about Israel… read Deut. 32:8, from the very beginning of the world God had Israel as His center of the earth; there is nothing “hidden” about Israel! But He also had a Gentile treasure that was hidden. Christ has hidden that treasure again, because the time of our public manifestation awaits the moment of His appearing (Col. 3:4). For “the joy of it” Christ sold all that He had (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:5-8) to buy the field. There was no price that He was not willing to pay for our redemption! There was another “joy set before Him”, which is not mentioned here; the joy of perfectly accomplishing the Father’s will (Hebrews 12:2).
Misconceptions about the Parable of the Hid Treasure. This has been erroneously presented as the salvation of a person. It is taught that a person must “sell all” and give up everything in this world in order to be saved. This is “Lordship Salvation” doctrine, which is a form of salvation by works. Not so; a person must believe in order to be justified, but then is constrained by the love of Christ to give up all for Him!
The Parable of the One Pearl of Great Price (vv.45-46)
¶ 45 Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls; 46 and having found one pearl of great value, he went and sold all whatever he had and bought it. v.45 Next we get the parable of the pearl of great price (compare). God has a special object in view… the Church, viewed as one entity, for which He sold “all that He had” to buy it; “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). A treasure can be composed of many parts, but a pearl is a unity, and so serves as an apt picture of the Church. He was looking for a “beautiful” pearl. What did He find? A Church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing… through the efficacy of His own blood. But also, He will find a Church that reflects His own character as a result of experience (see Rev. 21:19-20). A pearl is formed inside an oyster by continual suffering. Moreover, pearls come from the sea, and the Church is composed predominantly of Gentiles. As taken out of the sea, the pearl reminds us of how the Assembly is “called out” of the world, as a heavenly company. A pearl is formed additively over time, just like the Church “growing” into a Holy Temple (Eph. 2:21) as believers are added, one by one.
Not a mere repetition of the 4th similitude. The parable of the hid treasure conveyed the preciousness of the saints to Christ, but had no thought of the unity and heavenly beauty of the assembly. The pearl of great price sets forth the loveliness of the Church in the eyes of Christ!
Misconceptions about the Parable of the Pearl. Once again, commentators mis-apply this parable to a person finding salvation. They say that the merchant man is a sinner, looking in this world for satisfaction, who at last finds beauty in Christ. How backwards from the truth! Just as the Sower was the Son of Man, so the Treasure-seeker is Christ. Not only that, but also that interpretation suggests that men who are dead in trespasses and sins are really seeking Christ. This is NOT a biblical view of man before he is converted. Finally, this interpretation destroys the beautiful picture which glorifies Christ, and instead places man at the center.
The Parable of the Dragnet Cast into the Sea (vv.47-50)
¶ 47 Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like a seine which has been cast into the sea, and which has gathered together of every kind, 48 which, when it has been filled, having drawn up on the shore and sat down, they gathered the good into vessels and cast the worthless out. vv.47-48 The parable of the dragnet (compare) foretells that the gospel will go out through the sea of Gentiles in this dispensation in a remarkable way, bringing in a great haul of souls. Satan is doing his best to assault the kingdom of heaven, but God has overruled, and billions have been saved. There are some (bad fish) who do not have genuine faith, and some (good fish) who believe the message. The bad fish do not ruin God’s purpose! God has workmen who are separating the good from the bad. Who are the “they” in v.48? It is the disciples of the kingdom that are the “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). Note that it is angels who gather the tares into bundles and cast the worthless fish out, but it is men that gather the good fish into vessels. This is the work of evangelism and shepherding that is being carried on now. We need to “separate the precious from the vile” (Jer. 15:19). As the gospel net goes out, many are brought in that are false. The good need to be separated from them. This is a blessed work. We get this principle with Jehonadab in the days of Jehu (2 Kings 10:25-31). Jehu couldn’t discern who was real in the house of Baal, but Jehonadab could. Jehonadab took no part in the slaughter, and neither should we. They are grouped into vessels, and so new converts need to have other “good fish” to walk collectively with. It is the pastors’ work to foster a healthy environment in the local assembly.
49 Thus shall it be in the completion of the age: the angels shall go forth and sever the wicked from the midst of the just, 50 and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. vv.49-50 The bad fish aren’t thrown back into the sea, they are just left on the shore. They have joined the Christian profession, and they will remain in that responsible place until the time of judgment. The angels’ business is to deal with the wicked, but our business is with the good! What a wholesome service to occupy our time while we wait for our Lord from heaven! Notice one difference as compared with the parable of the wheat and the tares; the bad fish are never called “sons of the wicked ones”. These ones are not “sown by the enemy” but are rather dragged up by the gospel net. They are mere professors, but not apostates. Still, they are “the wicked”, and will be severed by the angels and cast into eternal punishment.
A dispensational outline. Some have wondered if we get a dispensational outline in these last three parables. F. W. Grant put forward a dispensational outline in his pamphlet titled “The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven”. This outline has a number of problems, and I would hasten to add that, at best, this dispensational outline is a secondary application of these parables.
- The “treasure hid in the field,” pictures Israel which is in a sense Jehovah’s “peculiar treasure” (Psa. 134:4). The Lord suffered and died to purchase the field, but now keeps the treasure hidden for a future day (Israel’s restoration).
- The “pearl of great price” pictures the Church which Christ loves and for whom He died, composed primarily of Gentiles.
- The “net cast into the sea” is the gospel of the Kingdom which will go out to the Gentiles after the Church is caught up at the rapture. A multitude will be gathered in during those seven years, but they will be sorted out at the sessional judgment (Matt. 25).
This outline seems at first to fit, but on closer examination it has serious shortcomings. First, the kingdom of heaven did not exist during the Old Testament, so it could not say “the Kingdom of heaven is like unto” if it really meant Israel. If you say if refers to the Jewish election at the present time, you might be closer, but still it presents an unscriptural thought of a special time of manifestation for those Jews who have become part of the Church. In the Church those natural distinctions are erased!
A historical outline. There might be a prophetic history of the Christian testimony seen in these similitudes. Adrian Roach proposed that the first six and the tenth can be joined together to give a composite picture:
- Parable of the Wheat and Tares – pictures the early church (Ephesus)
- Parable of the Mustard Seed – pictures the unnatural outward growth (Pergamos)
- Parable of the Hid Leaven – pictures the ingress of evil doctrine (Thyatira)
- Parable of the Treasure – pictures the reformation and recovery of individual truth (Luther)
- Parable of the One Pearl – pictures the recovery of Church truth (Darby)
- Parable of the Dragnet – pictures the evangelical outreach of the late 19th & early 20th centuries
- Parable of the Ten Virgins – pictures the coming of Christ.
¶ 51 Jesus says to them, Have ye understood all these things? They say to him, Yea, Lord. v.51 Why would the Lord ask a question like this when He knew the answer? Perhaps later when they received the Spirit these disciples would look back an realize how little they really had understood.
52 And he said to them, For this reason every scribe discipled to the kingdom of the heavens is like a man that is a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old. v.52 Every intelligent disciple who has been properly instructed concerning the Kingdom of Heaven will be able to expound “things new and old”: (1) Old Testament prophecies, and (2) those principles connected with the 2000-year time span between the two comings of Christ. The “old things” are those that can be readily gleaned from Old Testament scriptures. The “new things” are those that began to be revealed by the Lord, and were further developed by His apostles. The existence of the kingdom of heaven might be called an “old thing”; because anyone familiar with Daniel’s prophecies would have been looking forward to it. But, the order of the development of the kingdom would be a “new thing”. The postponement of the “manifestation” phase because of the King’s rejection, and the interposition of a “mystery” phase were unknown in the Old Testament. The new is listed first. The New Testament will have its bright conclusion (the morning star) before the Old Testament (the Sun rising in its strength).
The remaining verses of this chapter really belong to the following section.
- C. E. Lunden
- “…a great public power. The king of Assyria is represented as a great tree. So Pharaoh is represented as a great tree. And Nebuchadnezzar was a great tree, which was hewn down, but whose stump and roots were left in the earth. In a word, it means simply a great power.” – Darby, J.N. Lectures on the Second Coming of Christ, Lecture 5 – Matthew 13. Toronto, Canada.