Thanks for reading through the gospel of Matthew with us. Today Jesus tells parables or stories about a farmer sowing seed, an enemy sowing weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a pearl of great price and a fishing net.
Jesus left the synagogue and began to teach outdoors. He left those opposed to him and reached out to the responsive people. Jesus had already made unmistakable claims about his true identity, and there was increasing division between those who accepted and those who rejected. The religious leaders had already decided that Jesus was not the Messiah. The crowds who followed Jesus, listening to his teaching and observing his miracles, wondered if this could be the “Son of David” (12:23), but their leaders told them he was not.
So “that same day” (13:1), Jesus began teaching a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven. Prior to this time he had spoken clearly, but he used the parables to get listeners to think. These “parables” hid the truth from those who had their minds made up, having already chosen to reject Jesus. Those who truly wanted to know Jesus and listened carefully would understand his words.
Chapter 13 includes seven different parables:
- In 13:1-23 is the parable of the sower and the soils, focusing on receptivity to the gospel message.
- In 13:24-35 are three “little power” parables about the weeds, seeds, and leaven.
- In 13:44-50 are three “end time” parables about the treasure in a field, the pearl, and the net.
13:1-2 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.NRSV Earlier that same day, Jesus had been accused of being under Satan’s power (12:22-37), had turned down the religious leaders’ request for a miracle (12:38-45), and had dealt with his family who had come to take him home (12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35). Having had enough of the conflict, he decided to go out of the house in Capernaum and sit beside the sea (that is, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee).
As often happened wherever Jesus went, great crowds gathered. In fact, these were such great crowds that Jesus got into a boat anchored a little way offshore (probably a fishing vessel). Matthew recorded that Jesus sat there, a reference to Jesus’ teaching style. The boat was surrounded by water; it was not moored to a dock. From that position, Jesus sat and taught while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
13:3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.”NIV Jesus used many illustrations, or parables, when teaching the crowds. Parables are short stories that use familiar scenes and everyday objects and relationships to explain spiritual truths. A parable compares something unfamiliar with something familiar. It compels listeners to discover truth, while at the same time concealing the truth from those too lazy or too stubborn to see it. Jesus’ insights were hidden from those who refused to seek the truth and from those who would not come back and inquire. To those who were honestly searching, the truth became clear. We must be careful not to read too much into parables, forcing them to say what they do not mean. All parables have one meaning unless otherwise specified by Jesus. In this parable, the farmer represents Jesus, the soil represents Israel, and the seed represents the proclamation of the kingdom. The parable shows the contrast between the results of acceptance and rejection of the gospel message.
This “kingdom parable” gave a familiar picture to Jesus’ audience—a farmer sowing seed, with the resulting increase dependent on the condition of the soil. In ancient Israel, farmers sowed seed by hand. As the farmer walked across the field, he would sow the seeds by scattering (13:4) handfuls of seed onto the ground from a large bag slung across his shoulders. The plants did not grow in neat rows, as is accomplished by today’s machine planting. No matter how skillful, no farmer could keep some of his seed from falling by the wayside, from being scattered among rocks and thorns, or from being carried off by the wind. So the farmer would throw the seed liberally, and enough would fall on good ground to ensure a good harvest. The yield depended on the condition of the soil where the seed fell. A farmer in Palestine could possibly have all four types of soil Jesus described on his farm.
Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom, explaining through this parable that while their religious leaders might reject the Messiah, that did not change the truth. Jesus himself and the gospel were truth; there was no problem with them as there was no problem with the farmer or his seed. The only variable was the land where the seed fell.
13:4 “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”NIV Some of the seeds fell along the path (on the road). Paths (the “roads” in Bible times) ran right through the fields. The hard and compacted soil of the road made it impossible for the seed to penetrate. So it sat on top, as tempting morsels for birds that came and ate it up. In 13:19 we learn that the “birds” represent Satan. For more on the path representing “hardness of heart” see 13:19.
13:5-6 “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.”NRSV Some of that seed fell on rocky ground. Unlike the path, rocky ground had some soil to accept the seed, but not much. The seed sprang up quickly in the shallow soil. Most of the land in Palestine is rocky. The soil is filled with rocks of all sizes. Such soil traps the moisture so that plants can grow quickly, but the sun takes the moisture out so rapidly that a young plant withers. Thus, when the sun rose, they were scorched and withered away. See 13:20-21 for a discussion on rocky soil representing hearers who lack real depth.
13:7 “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.”NRSV Some of the farmer’s seed fell among thorns. No farmer would intentionally scatter the seed into an area filled with thorns and briers; this probably refers to the seed falling among seeds or roots of thorns that cultivation had not destroyed. Thorns rob the sprouts of nutrition, water, light, and space. Thus, when the thorns grew up, the good seed was choked out and could not grow to maturity and yield a crop.
13:8 “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop— a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”NIV However, some of the seed landed in plowed and readied soil. This seed had the depth of soil, space, and moisture to grow and produce a crop. This seed multiplied and yielded thirty, sixty, or even up to a hundred times the amount of seed sown. A farmer would be happy indeed to see his crop multiply even ten times. Thirty, sixty, or a hundred would be a marvelous (although not unheard of) yield, for it would mean even more seed to plant and harvest in the coming year.
|LIFE APPLICATION- NO FORMULAS|
|This parable should encourage spiritual “sowers”—those who teach, preach, and lead others. The farmer sowed good seed, but not all the seed sprouted, and even the plants that grew had varying yields. There are so many factors involved with the process of believing in the truth of the gospel that we should be reluctant to use percentages and ratios (of numbers of presentations to numbers of responses) as an application of this parable. Rather, it is a miracle of God’s Holy Spirit as he uses your words to lead others to him. Don’t be discouraged if you do not always see results as you faithfully teach the Word.|
13:9 “Let anyone with ears listen!”NRSV Jesus’ audience must have wondered at these strange words. Didn’t they all have ears, and hadn’t they all heard? But Jesus wasn’t talking about the act of simply hearing his words. Human ears hear many sounds, but there is a deeper kind of listening that results in spiritual understanding. Jesus was speaking of the response of the mind and heart necessary to gain spiritual understanding. Some people in the crowd were only curious about Jesus; a few were looking for evidence to use against him; others truly wanted to learn and grow. Jesus’ words were for the honest seekers. Those who honestly seek God will have spiritual hearing. Jesus pointed out that listening makes fertile soil. If we bear fruit, it is proof that we have listened. If others bear fruit, it shows that the seed we have planted has taken root in their heart.
Jesus purposely spoke in parables to weed out the halfhearted and curiosity seekers from the true seekers. His words, like the farmer’s seed, fell on various types of hearts. Those who truly heard and understood would become his followers. Those not ready for Jesus would not understand his words, would lose interest, and finally would either fade away or become his avowed enemies (as did most of the religious leaders).
It is easy for us to hear Jesus’ words on others’ behalf. We hear what Jesus says and may even understand a deeper meaning, but we are quick to apply the message to someone else’s need. When we hear Jesus’ words, we should apply them to our lives, not to someone else. If you honestly seek God, you have spiritual hearing, and these parables will give you new perspectives.
JESUS EXPLAINS THE PARABLE OF THE FOUR SOILS / 13:10-23
13:10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”NIV When Jesus got away from the crowd and was alone with his true followers (the twelve disciples and the larger group of believers from whom the Twelve had been chosen), a more intimate question-and-answer period followed. Perhaps these close followers did not want to reveal their ignorance about Jesus’ words in front of the entire crowd. More likely, they were noticing that many people in the crowd were not understanding Jesus’ message. So, when they were alone with Jesus, his followers asked him why he spoke to the people in parables, in stories that seemed to confuse his listeners and obscure the message. A parable is an extended metaphor to express a moral or spiritual truth. It can be a proverb, riddle, complex story, or extended comparison. The purpose for using them was to get people to think.
13:11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”NIV Jesus revealed that understanding the truth of the gospel comes as a gift of God to those he has chosen. The you to whom Jesus spoke was the group of his true followers, including the twelve disciples and others who believed in him. God had given them a special gift. That this knowledge is given reveals that both grace and judgment are God’s prerogative. God had given this knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven to these disciples as a permanent possession, a distinguishing mark of discipleship. They understood, though only partially, the “secret” that God’s kingdom had arrived among them in the person of Jesus. Those who have not been given this knowledge (not to them) are those who willfully reject the gospel message.
When speaking in parables, Jesus was not hiding truth from sincere seekers, because those who were receptive to spiritual truth understood the illustrations. To others they were only stories without meaning. This allowed Jesus to give spiritual food to those who hungered for it while preventing his enemies from trapping him sooner than they might otherwise have done.
The word translated “secrets” is also translated “mysteries.” The Aramaic word raz was used in the intertestamental writings to refer to the “hidden” revelation of God, unknown to the apostates, but “given” to his true people at the proper time. In this context, they are the “secrets of the kingdom” given to the disciples through Jesus’ teaching.
13:12 “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”NRSV To those who have the knowledge given by God (13:11), God will give even more knowledge and understanding so that they will have an abundance. In contrast are those who have nothing—no knowledge or understanding from God (as explained in 13:11). From these people, even what they have will be taken away. How can people “have nothing” yet lose what they have? Jesus’ words meant that those who had rejected him and his message had no knowledge and therefore would lose their privileged status. Those who “have nothing” were the religious leaders and the vast majority of the Jews. They thought they were privileged and secure as God’s chosen people, but they would lose that position. They would never understand the secret because they would not come to God for the answer. Choosing not to believe in Jesus as their Messiah, they would not be able to understand the kingdom. This phrase means that we are responsible to use well what we have. When people reject Jesus, their hardness of heart drives away or renders useless even the little understanding they had.
13:13 “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.'”NRSV The parable of the sower accurately pictured the people’s reaction to all of Jesus’ parables. Jesus would not explain them to the people; rather, he would answer questions about his parables with other parables because seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand. (See the next verse.)
Mark, also writing about this teaching, used the Greek hina (meaning “in order that”) to introduce the statement “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” Hina conveys the concept that the parables were being used to blind those refusing to know the truth. Matthew’s rendering uses the Greek hoti, meaning “because.” Hoti conveys the meaning that the people were already blind and spiritually insensitive. Both phrases (“in order that” and “because”) could indicate either: (1) purpose, that is, Jesus’ parables would remain unclear to those refusing to understand in order to keep them from perceiving; or (2) result, that is, the parables resulted in the people being unable to perceive or understand. The second option is best because it seems too harsh of Jesus to use the parables to keep people from believing. While the parables may have been intended to be a means of God’s judgment on unbelievers, they also could not penetrate the hard soil of unbelief already characterizing unbelievers’ hearts. This was originally given as a prophecy for Isaiah’s own day about how his fellow Israelites would receive God’s messages through him. Jesus witnessed the same reaction to his words.
These unbelievers had already rejected Jesus; no amount of explaining or talking would make any difference. The soil of their heart was hard; the seed of the word would not grow; the parables would be nothing more than strange stories to them. Jesus was not hiding truth from sincere seekers because those who were receptive to spiritual truth understood the illustrations. To the “path,” “thorn patch,” or “rocky soil” people, the parables were only stories without meaning. The parables allowed Jesus to give spiritual food to those who hungered for it; but for the others, Isaiah’s prophecy explained their situation.
13:14 “With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.'”NRSV God told Isaiah that people would listen without understanding and look without perceiving (Isaiah 6:9); Jesus witnessed the same reaction to his teaching.
|By quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus was explaining to this inner group of followers that the crowd resembled the Israelites about whom Isaiah had written. God had told Isaiah that the people would listen but not learn from his message because their hearts had hardened beyond repentance. Yet God still sent Isaiah with the message because even though the nation itself would not repent and would reap judgment, some individuals would listen.||One of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to questions we are afraid to ask.
Jesus came to the Israelites hundreds of years after Isaiah, but the scenario was the same. Most would not repent because their hearts were hardened; but a few would listen, turn from their sins, and believe. The deafness to the message did not mean that the message was false or that the messenger was somehow at fault.
13:15 “‘For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them.'”NRSV Neither Isaiah’s nor Jesus’ audiences were denied the opportunity to turn and receive healing (forgiveness). Instead, refusing to listen would mean inability to perceive and understand anything Jesus had to say. The Pharisees had already accused Jesus of being in league with Satan (12:24). Such an accusation revealed their stubborn blindness and their refusal to believe. Jesus used these words from Isaiah to refer directly to the Pharisees’ accusation. The verbs are singular, meaning that they would not be forgiven of their sin of blasphemy. No matter how much they saw of Jesus’ miracles or heard of his teaching, they never would be able to understand because they had deliberately chosen to reject. So Jesus was saying that this hardness was, in effect, divine judgment.
13:16 “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.”NKJV The images of “seeing” and “hearing” refer to knowledge of God’s revelation. The contrast with 13:13 is striking—Jesus spoke to “them” (that is, the crowds at large) in parables because they refused to understand. However, the disciples (“you”) were blessed because they wanted to understand (even if they didn’t always completely understand). The same division between the unbelieving and believing was recorded in 11:25-26, “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure'” (niv). The disciples were blessed above the people in the crowd because they were seeing and hearing what the prophets had foretold. God gave them spiritual enlightenment to understand and accept the person and the message of Jesus.
|LIFE APPLICATION – BELIEVERS’ MODESTY|
|Jesus takes the pride out of believing when he reminds us that faith is a gift. It’s God who saves us and God who opens our eyes to see. Christians inclined to say, “Yea for me—I believe!” need to change their cheer to “Yea God! You’ve opened my heart to Jesus!”|
|The New Testament calls this gift “grace.” Grace tells us that God is in charge and he keeps us from falling away. We don’t deserve God’s grace. That’s why believers, of all people, should be very modest about their contribution to being a Christian.|
13:17 “Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”NRSV The kingdom of God was a mystery to the prophets of the Old Testament because, though they wrote about it, they did not understand it (as Paul explains in Romans 16:25-26). The believers who knew Jesus personally received spiritual insight that illuminated the mystery so that it was no longer a mystery to them. In these words, Jesus was explaining that he was the fulfillment of the prophecies given and heard by the prophets and righteous people of Old Testament days. Peter later wrote
- Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:10-12 niv)
|LIFE APPLICATION – BELIEVERS’ PRIVILEGE|
|Old Testament believers saw and heard about a lot of important events pointing to God’s loving care (for example, the Exodus, the Goliath battle, the temple being built and rebuilt), but still God’s greatest news was murky and distant.|
|Disciples and followers who saw and heard Jesus were highly privileged. They were firsthand, eye-to-eye witnesses. They saw the Lord, heard him, walked with him.|
|But the real benefit belongs to us. We have Jesus, the rest of the New Testament, and nearly two thousand years of the Holy Spirit working through the church. What a privilege! Be grateful and glad. Make good use of the knowledge available to you.|
13:18-19 “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.”NRSV The sower was Jesus (see also 13:37) and, by extension, anyone after him who would teach and preach the word (represented by the seed). Jesus was telling the parable and exemplifying it; as he spoke of the farmer sowing the seed, he was sowing the word among the crowd of followers. Jesus was revealing his mission while teaching the disciples about theirs. The parable revealed people’s varying responses to the gospel message. The attitude or condition of their hearts would govern their response.
The word makes no impression on some people. For those who hear and do not understand, the seed lands on a hard heart (like the hardened soil of the path). Then Satan (like the birds, 13:4) snatches it away. Perhaps the person feels no need in his or her heart, no desire for anything other than this life, no guilt of sin or need of forgiveness. Satan has no trouble with these people.
|LIFE APPLICATION – EXCUSES|
|Today people might say, “It’s not my fault if I don’t understand Jesus’ message!” They may have a variety of excuses:|
|“It’s too difficult. I can’t grasp these abstract concepts.” Our responsibility is not to become theologians, just willing listeners.|
|“I’m not old enough to make life-changing decisions.” But even children understand love, doing right, and spiritual authority.|
|“I know too many ‘Christian’ phonies, jerks, and nerds.”|
|The name “Christian” is used today by racist hate groups, political revolutionaries, and fraudulent money-making schemes. It’s sad that the name is detached so far and so often from the reality. But the reality is Jesus’ message, and that comes right from God to you, today, with life-changing power. Don’t fool with excuses. Embrace and receive Jesus’ message as the foundation of your life.|
13:20-21 “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.”NRSV The seed sown on rocky ground had some soil to accept the seed, but not much. These people joyfully receive the Good News of the gospel because of the promises offered. They grow a bit initially. These people understand some of the basics but do not allow God’s truth to work its way into their souls and make a difference in their lives. They have no root and thus endure only for a while. When trouble or persecution comes (the scorching heat, 13:5-6), they decide not to believe the gospel or its promises and so fall away. Satan can always use sorrow, trouble, and persecution to draw people away from God. Ironically, those who let the message take root in good soil find that sorrow, trouble, and persecution bring them closer to God.
13:22 “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.”NRSV This is Satan’s most subversive tactic of all. These people hear and accept the word and allow it to take root in their hearts, giving hope of a harvest. But thorns grow up and choke out the growing seed. Thorns rob nutrition, water, light, and space from newly sprouting seeds. Distractions and conflicts rob new believers of time to reflect on and digest God’s Word to grow from it, as well as robbing them of guidance and support from interaction with other Christians. Jesus described the “thorns”: cares of the world and lure of wealth.
Worldly worries, the false sense of security brought on by prosperity, and the desire for material things plagued first-century disciples as they do us today. Daily routines overcrowd and materialistic pursuits distract believers, choking out God’s Word so that it yields nothing.
|LIFE APPLICATION – WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?|
|Sometimes Jesus’ message is phrased today like a television commercial, and we “buy into it” on those terms—a product that will make us happier. Then troubles come, and we wonder what went wrong.|
|Jesus promises to help us through life’s troubles, not to remove us from them all. Stay with his message because it’s true, not because it makes you feel good. When you start to feel discouraged, it’s time to get together with a Christian friend for a good talk, maybe a good cry, and prayer.|
13:23 “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”NRSV But other people are like the good soil—they hear the Word and accept it. These are the true disciples—those who have accepted Jesus, believed his words, and allowed him to make a difference in their lives.
Notice that the seed bears fruit. Those who preach the word yield others who preach the word to others who preach the word and so on. The call to evangelize the world should naturally follow from a life rebuilt around God’s Word.
This parable answered the question of why there were so many opinions about Jesus. Belief ranged from love to hatred and all shades in between. The same is true today. The answer, said Jesus, lies not in the message, for that is always the same. Neither is the problem caused by the preacher or teacher if he or she sows the message appropriately. The answer is that the message falls on hearts that are in varied degrees of readiness. The message will not be accepted in the same way by all who hear it. God had told the prophet Ezekiel, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear . . . they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. . . . You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” (Ezekiel 2:5, 7 nrsv).
|LIFE APPLICATION – HOW EASY|
|Jesus said the seed sown among thorns yields nothing. When we don’t obey God, soon our lives become unusable to him. How easy it is to agree with Christ with no intention of obeying. It is easy to denounce the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth, and still do nothing to change our ways. Considering eternal life with God, are your present worries justified? If you had everything you could want but forfeited eternal life with God, would those things be so desirable? Don’t let worldly cares and the illusion of wealth deter you from obeying God.|
JESUS TELLS THE PARABLE OF THE WEEDS / 13:24-30
While the kingdom message is being sown, it faces a variety of different receptions (13:1-8, 18-23). Some may have thought that the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom would be accompanied by cataclysmic events. That did not seem to be happening with Jesus. In the Jewish mind, the coming of the Messiah signaled the coming of the kingdom. Jesus stated that the Messiah had arrived with his kingdom, but the fulfillment of the messianic kingdom would be delayed until he comes a second time. What, then, is the kingdom of heaven like? The parables in this chapter answer this question. They show what the kingdom is really like as opposed to people’s expectations of it. The kingdom of heaven is not a geographic location but a spiritual realm where God rules and where believers share in his eternal life. We join that kingdom when we trust in Christ as Savior.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SOILED?|
|The four types of soil represent different responses to God’s message. People respond differently because they are in different states of readiness. Some are hardened, others are shallow, others are contaminated by distracting worries, and some are receptive. How has God’s Word taken root in your life? What kind of soil are you?|
13:24-26 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.”NRSV Jesus explained that the kingdom grows quietly and abundantly, yet evil still exists in the world. Jesus gives the meaning of this parable in 13:36-43, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seeds are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (13:37-39 nrsv). Remember that in parables, not every item needs to be interpreted; some details are added to give color. That the enemy came while everybody was asleep does not indicate neglect on anyone’s part; that he went away does not indicate his absence. Instead, these details merely highlight the stealth and malicious intent of Satan (the enemy, “the evil one”).
This was a known practice in ancient warfare and feuds—destroy a nation’s (or person’s) agricultural base and his military might would also be destroyed. The presence of Satan’s children among God’s people would also serve to weaken them. Because no one recognized the weeds, both grew at the same time. The “weed” Jesus referred to may have been darnel, a poisonous plant that looks very much like wheat in the early stages of growth, but becomes distinguishable when the heads of the wheat appear. Jesus’ hearers would have understood how no one would have noticed the weeds until the plants came up and bore grain. Only then would the weeds appear. A heavy infestation of darnel (indicated by it being “sowed” among the grain) would cause the roots of both plants to become entangled. To sow darnel in a person’s wheat field was punishable by Roman law. This real-life situation gave Jesus’ hearers a picture of God’s kingdom growing and thriving alongside evil in this world.
Jesus’ reference is to the kingdom of heaven and is not limited to the church. However, the church is in the world as well as in the kingdom of heaven, so the truth also applies. There are good seeds and bad seeds, children of God and children of Satan, in the church. At first glance, the works of each may be difficult to distinguish. Jesus appealed to us to be appropriately inclusive (we should avoid exclusiveness and arrogant separatism). We should strive for unity with others even when it may present the risk of “weeds.” The work of judgment is God’s. Yet we must not be naive. Satan has a strategy and his children are at work.
13:27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'”NIV After the plants have grown, the owner’s servants report the surprising appearance of the weeds. Jesus did not identify the servants in his explanation of this parable. The servants knew the master had sowed good seed. While the servants would expect a few weeds, this heavy infestation was suspect. How could there be so many weeds? “Where then did the weeds come from?” the servants ask.
Who are these “weeds”? Jesus would soon explain that “the weeds are the children of the evil one” (13:38 nrsv). They may be people in the church who appear to be believers but who never truly believe. The apostles later battled the problem of false teachers who came from within the ranks of the believers (see, for example, 2 Peter 2:1-3, 13-22). To interpret the meaning more broadly—the kingdom of God is present and growing in a world full of sin and unbelief. God will not eliminate all opposition until the end of the age.
13:28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?'”NIV The enemy, Satan (13:39), is always working to obstruct the growth of God’s kingdom. The enemy caused a problem, but the weeds could not stop the growth of the wheat. The wheat just grew alongside the weeds. So the servants dutifully asked if they should go and pull up the weeds.
|LIFE APPLICATION – TOUGH QUESTION|
|The “servants” in this parable raise one of the toughest questions ever posed: If God is good and all-powerful, where does evil come from, and why is evil permitted?|
|The answer provided is a simple one. It does not address all the logical difficulties of good and evil coexisting, but it tells us what we need to know: “An enemy did this.”|
|l God does not generate evil. God is good indeed and ought not be identified with evil at all.|
|l Let God be concerned about understanding evil deeply and thoroughly. When we seek in-depth understanding of evil (through viewing films or reading novels), we risk real damage to the heart, soul, and mind.|
|l Spiritual “warfare” is normal, not odd or surprising. Enemies actively oppose one another.|
|When sin and unbelief seem so strong, don’t try to figure out where they originated. We know Satan is our enemy. Instead, trust God and determine to follow him.|
13:29-30 “But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”NRSV In answer to the servants’ question, the owner replied that no, they should not weed the fields. Instead, the wheat and weeds should grow together until the harvest. At the time of harvest, the workers would reap the field—gathering the wheat into the barn and collecting the weeds to be burned. The “harvest” was a common metaphor for the final judgment (Jeremiah 51:33; Hosea 6:11; see also Revelation 14:14-16). Jesus soon explained that “the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels” (13:39 nrsv).
Again, Jesus was making the point that while his coming signaled the arrival of the kingdom, its consummation would be delayed. The children of God and children of Satan would grow together “until” the harvest; then, God would judge and separate his children from Satan’s children (“the children of the evil one,” 13:38).
|LIFE APPLICATION – GOD DOES THE WEEDING|
|The young weeds and the young blades of wheat look the same and can’t be distinguished until they are grown and ready for harvest. Weeds (unbelievers) and wheat (believers) must live side by side in this world. God allows unbelievers to remain for a while, just as a farmer allows weeds to remain in his field so that the surrounding wheat won’t be uprooted with them. At the harvest, however, the weeds will be uprooted and thrown away. God’s harvest (judgment) of all people is coming. Make yourself ready by remaining faithful to Christ and obeying him.|
JESUS TELLS THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED / 13:31-32
13:31-32 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”NIV No one parable can completely describe God’s kingdom in all its aspects, so Jesus gave several. Through this parable, Jesus explained that his kingdom would have a small beginning. Indeed, it began with Jesus alone and, upon his ascension, was left in the care of twelve apostles and just a few hundred other followers. Jesus compared this beginning to the mustard seed, which was the smallest seed that a farmer used. The mustard seed was so small that it would take almost twenty thousand seeds to make one ounce. Modern critics have pointed out that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed, and they use this to argue against the accuracy of the Bible. Jesus was not making a scientific statement. Though the mustard seed is not the smallest seed in all of creation, it was used in rabbinic proverbs to designate the smallest of things. No other seed so small produced such a large plant.
From this very tiny seed would grow a large shrub—the largest shrub among all the herbs that the farmer would plant in his garden. A mustard shrub could grow ten to twelve feet in just a few weeks. While that is not technically a tree, Jesus used hyperbole to stress both the insignificance (“smallest”) and magnificence (“largest,” “tree”) of the kingdom. His point was that just as a tiny seed will grow into the largest of garden plants, so God’s kingdom will produce many people who truly believe.
|From this small start, the kingdom will grow into such greatness that when Christ returns, it will take over the entire earth. Jesus stressed the future greatness of the kingdom, which then seemed insignificant. He also showed that the kingdom had small beginnings but would grow and produce great results.||Sects and ideologies almost always seem stronger than the church. Sects and ideologies fly; the church limps. Sects and ideologies die; the church limps on. Stick with the church.
Frederick Dale Bruner
Jesus’ mention of birds of the air added color to his parable or described the size of this shrub, but probably did not have any allegorical meaning. Some commentators, however, say that the birds may represent the Gentiles becoming part of God’s kingdom (see prophecies such as Ezekiel 17:22-24; 31:6).
For the disciples, and for us, this parable meant that size or relative power does not indicate final results. The disciples needed to understand that while their mission might at times seem unattainable, God’s kingdom would take root and grow across the world and through the years. This would be no political coup; the kingdom would grow steadily in people’s hearts, making a difference in people’s lives and preparing them for life to come in God’s eternal kingdom.
JESUS TELLS THE PARABLE OF THE YEAST / 13:33-35
13:33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”NIV In other Bible passages, “yeast” is used as a symbol of evil or uncleanness (see 16:6). Here it is a positive symbol of growth. Like the parable of the mustard seed, this parable stresses small beginnings with great growth. While the seed grows, however, the yeast permeates and transforms; thus, we see another aspect of the kingdom. Although yeast looks like a minor ingredient, it permeates the whole loaf. Although the kingdom had small beginnings, it would grow to have a great impact on the world. What the Jews saw as insignificant (the man Jesus and his little band of followers) was actually the start of a great and world-changing event. Like leaven working its way through the dough, the kingdom message would spread across the entire world.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL|
|Massive churches are exciting, but small churches are the norm. Huge choirs led by trained conductors are thrilling, but little backwoods quartets are the norm. Stereo sound systems make worship acoustically exhilarating, but simple human voices are the norm. It’s fine for the church to be small, struggling, and simple—it’s normal.|
|Don’t be fooled into thinking that wealth, prestige, and a huge donor base are typical of God’s church. The movement Jesus started (and his followers today continue) more often has a humble look to it—not very impressive at all, by modern standards. But the church endures while other movements disappear, and it grows while others crest and fall.|
13:34-35 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”NIV The first half of the quoted verse follows the first part of Psalm 78:2. The second half (since the creation of the world) seems to be an independent rendition of the end of Psalm 78:2. Psalm 78 reviews Israel’s history from the time of slavery in Egypt to David’s reign. This psalm was told over and over to each generation so they would not forget God and make the same mistakes as their ancestors. The “things hidden” refers to God’s mighty acts in redeeming his people despite their sin and unfaithfulness.
This statement shows that Matthew intended to end a major section here. These verses reiterate 13:10-13, that the Jews would receive the kingdom message only in enigmatic form as judgment upon them. “Jesus spoke” is in the aorist tense, indicating the present situation. The phrase “he did not saying anything to them without using a parable” has a verb in the imperfect tense indicating that this was Jesus’ custom. Parables were an essential part of Jesus’ ministry, imparting truth, fulfilling prophecy, and separating the curiosity seekers from the true followers.
JESUS EXPLAINS THE PARABLE OF THE WEEDS / 13:36-43
13:36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”NRSV In 13:1, Jesus had gone “out of the house” to sit beside the sea. There he spoke publicly to the crowds. Jesus’ movement back into the house signifies a movement away from the crowds and to private discussion with his disciples. Jesus’ followers had the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom (13:11) and the ability to “see” and “hear” (13:16), but they still needed his help in understanding all his words.
13:37-39 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”NRSV Jesus described the identity of the important parts of the parable of the weeds recorded in 13:24-30. Jesus explained to his listening disciples that the good seeds are believers, sown by the Son of Man in the field of the world. In this world also existed those who were not children of the kingdom; thus, they were children of the devil, sown by him into this world. At the end of the age, the angels would come and the harvest would begin.
13:40-42 “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”NRSV At this harvest, God will separate his people from Satan’s people. As the harvesters collect the weeds into bundles to be destroyed, so Satan’s works and Satan’s people will be thrown into the furnace of fire.
|“Furnace of fire” is not a name for hell but is a metaphor for final judgment (see Daniel 3:6). Jesus often used the term “weeping and gnashing of teeth” to refer to the coming judgment (see 8:12; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). The “weeping” indicates sorrow or remorse,||Toiling will all be ended,
shadows will flee away;
Sorrow will be forgotten,
O what a wonderful day!
John W. Peterson
and “gnashing of teeth” shows extreme anxiety or pain. Those who say they don’t care what happens to them after they die don’t realize what they are saying. God will punish them for living in selfishness and indifference to him. Jesus, who has already identified himself as the Son of Man (8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40), revealed that he will inaugurate the end of the age and the final judgment.
|LIFE APPLICATION –TRAGEDY OF EVIL|
|Followers of Jesus do not fear God’s final judgment, but we must respond to it with:|
13:43 “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”NRSV Reflecting words from Daniel 12:3, Jesus described the final glory of the righteous: “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (niv). Those who receive God’s favor stand in bright contrast to those who receive his judgment. The “kingdom of their Father” is another name for the kingdom of God and heaven. Heaven will be a glorious place! The message is vitally important, so anyone with ears should listen! (See also 11:15.)
JESUS TELLS THE PARABLE OF HIDDEN TREASURE / 13:44
The parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl merchant (13:45-46) form a pair and belong together (as seen in the “again” of verse 45). They note a single event in the past, and teach the inestimable value of the kingdom.
13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”NIV To teach the inestimable value of the kingdom of heaven and of being part of that kingdom, Jesus described it as a treasure hidden in a field. The man who found the treasure would have been a day laborer who could get possession by quitting his job and then returning to recover his find. According to rabbinic law, if a worker came across buried treasure in someone else’s field and lifted it out, the treasure would belong to the owner. In this story, the laborer was careful not to lift out the treasure. To obtain this treasure, which far surpassed the value of all he had, he would have to sell everything he had so he could buy the field. He did this joyfully.
The man who discovered the treasure in the field stumbled upon it by accident but knew its value when he found it. Some have wondered about the morality of a man obtaining a treasure in this way, but Jesus was not teaching a moral lesson. He was merely showing the value of this treasure that is worth every sacrifice and commitment to obtain. The kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything else we can have, and a person must be willing to give up everything to obtain it.
JESUS TELLS THE PARABLE OF THE PEARL MERCHANT / 13:45-46
This parable and the previous parable of the hidden treasure (13:44) are a pair and should be studied together (as noted by the word “again” in verse 45).
13:45-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”NKJV In the previous parable, Jesus described a man stumbling upon a treasure. In this parable, Jesus pictured a wealthy pearl merchant. Pearls were especially valued in the Near East. A pearl of great price could obviously set up this merchant for life. Knowing pearls, this merchant searched earnestly for one of great value. When he found it, he sold everything he had to buy it. Some may discover the kingdom (13:44); some may seek earnestly and finally obtain it. In both cases, the men recognized the value of what they had found and willingly invested everything to obtain it. The kingdom of heaven is so valuable that it calls for a total investment (radical discipleship) from those who find it.
|LIFE APPLICATION- JOY|
|The treasure and pearl parables tell of the joy of finding peace with God. There’s no other word to express it. Both stories involve people who very happily find the answer to their life’s hopes and dreams.|
|That’s what becoming a Christian is about: deepest needs met, deepest longings satisfied, deepest hurts bandaged, and a future and a hope unlike any other. It all adds up to joy!|
|If your faith is grim and your life bleak, let God put some of this wonderful happiness back where it should be. If you have not yet trusted in Jesus as your Lord, grab this precious pearl today.|
JESUS TELLS THE PARABLE OF THE FISHING NET / 13:47-52
13:47-48 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.”NIV The parable of the fishing net deals with the dividing of people much as the parable of the wheat and weeds does. This parable pictures a dragnet perhaps drawn between two boats or a large net with one end attached to shore and the other taken to sea by a boat. The net is dragged in a wide semicircle with the top held up by corks and the bottom slightly weighted. All kinds of fish are caught in the net. The fishermen then draw the net to the beach where they sort the fish. They put good fish into baskets and throw away the bad (inedible or “unclean” as in Leviticus 11:10-11) ones.
13:49-50 “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”NRSV While the parable of the wheat and weeds highlighted the length of time during which good and evil people must coexist before the judgment, this parable focuses on that final judgment. As the net catches all kinds of fish, the gospel message will go out to all kinds of people. At the end of the age, the angels will “sort the fish,” separating evil people from righteous. Like the wheat that will be gathered and burned, the bad fish will be thrown into the furnace of fire (a metaphor for judgment, see 13:40-42). In real practice, bad fish would not have been put in a furnace. However, Jesus’ point in this parable is that the furnace of fire will be the place for the wicked people. Like the wheat that will be gathered into the barns, the good fish will be put into baskets (13:29-30). As in 13:42, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” indicates sorrow, remorse, anxiety, and pain.
13:51-52 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”NIV After Jesus had given the parable of the weeds in the field, the disciples came asking Jesus to explain what he had told them (13:36). They did not understand. After giving an explanation, Jesus asked if they understood. They answered “Yes.” Understanding is the core of discipleship, for only Jesus’ true followers are given the ability to understand, as Jesus had explained earlier (13:13-15, 19, 23).
Because the disciples understood, therefore, Jesus said, they were the “teachers of the law” in his kingdom. In other words, the current teachers of religious law did not understand, so their teaching was invalid. The disciples had been instructed about the kingdom of heaven. They understood God’s real purpose in the law as revealed in the Old Testament; therefore, they had a real treasure. The disciples would bring this treasure “out of [the] storeroom” in that their responsibility would be to share what they had learned with others. The disciples had gained this treasure through Jesus’ instruction, so they were able to understand and use the best of older wisdom as well as the new insights that Jesus brought to them. True teachers see the value of both old and new.
The Old Testament points the way to Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus always upheld the authority and relevance of the Scriptures. Those who understand Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven receive a double benefit. This was a new treasure that Jesus was revealing. Both the old and new teachings give practical guidelines for faith and for living in the world. The religious leaders, however, were trapped in the old and blind to the new. They were looking for a future kingdom preceded by judgment. Jesus, however, taught that the kingdom was now and the judgment was future. The religious leaders were looking for a physical and temporal kingdom (brought on by military strength and physical rule), but they were blind to the spiritual significance of the kingdom that Christ had brought.
|LIFE APPLICATION –LIFE OF LEARNING|
|Jesus wants us to understand God’s truth, and that is not easily or quickly done. Learning about God’s truth (in all its richness and diversity) is a lifelong process. Did you ever imagine that learning is also a way to serve God? Let your life be full of inquiry, and let each step you take be a means of deepening your faith and love for God.|
THE PEOPLE OF NAZARETH REFUSE TO BELIEVE / 13:53-58
13:53-54 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked.NIV After teaching in parables, Jesus left there (probably Capernaum) and went to his hometown; that is, he returned to Nazareth (2:23). Nazareth was about twenty miles southwest of Capernaum.
Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, but he had been reared in Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23; Luke 2:39-40; 4:16). This was not the first time he had spoken and taught in Nazareth. Luke 4:14-30 states that Jesus went to Nazareth, “where he had been brought up, [and] he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day” to read and teach (Luke 4:16 nrsv). At that time, the response was less than positive; in fact, the people had tried to kill him, but Jesus had walked away unharmed. This trip to Nazareth, therefore, is significant. The people of Nazareth were about to receive a second chance to believe; unfortunately, they again rejected the Lord.
Jesus’ forums for speaking included the mountainsides (5:1), people’s homes (9:10-13), the seashore (13:1), and the local synagogues (4:23; 9:35; 12:9). Lay people would conduct synagogue services under the leadership of one or more synagogue leaders.
|For example, Jairus, the man whose daughter Jesus brought back to life, was a synagogue leader (see 9:18; Mark 5:22). It was common for one of these leaders to ask a visiting rabbi to speak in the local synagogue. Jesus, a well-known and popular speaker, had no trouble gaining an opportunity to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
Nazareth Rejects Jesus
Chronologically, this return to Nazareth occurred after Jesus had been in the Gadarene region where he had healed the demon-possessed men (8:28-34) and after he had recrossed the sea to Capernaum. From there he traveled to Nazareth, where he had grown up, only to discover that the people refused to believe he was the Christ.
The synagogue was the center of the town, controlling civic and social as well as religious life. The synagogue was not like a church today—it was not an empty building except on Sabbath days when only the devoted would come. Instead, it seemed that everyone would come to the synagogue, for thiswas the focal point of Jewish life. This was really a key place for Jesus to meet the people—much like the city gate in the Old Testament.
The people were amazed at Jesus’ wisdom, teaching ability, and miraculous powers. The Greek verb for “amazed” is ekplesso, which literally means “to strike out of one’s senses.” The people were so amazed that it was as if they had been struck with a blow—stunned. They were flabbergasted. They knew Jesus’ miracles were supernatural, but they wondered about their source (the options were either God or Satan—see 12:24) and how Jesus could do them.
13:55-56 “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?”NRSV Jesus was teaching effectively and wisely, but the people of his hometown saw him as only the carpenter’s son (referring to Joseph) whose family they also knew well. “He is no better than we are—he is just a common laborer,” they said. Jesus was almost thirty years old before he began his public teaching ministry, and he had never been formally trained as a rabbi. For the years before that, he had been at home, learning the trade of carpentry from his father. The absence of mention of the father, Joseph, supports the theory that Joseph had probably died before the time of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ carpentry trade probably helped to support him and his family after Joseph’s death. The story of his mother called Mary is recorded in Luke 1:26-38.
The listing of the brothers (see also 12:46-49) indicates that the people knew the family well—the mother, the brothers, the sisters. Apparently they were all ordinary people, and Jesus had experienced an ordinary childhood. The residents of Jesus’ hometown had known Jesus since he was a young child and knew his family. But they could not bring themselves to believe in his message. They were too close to the situation. Jesus had come to them as a prophet, one who challenged them to respond to unpopular spiritual truth. They did not listen to the timeless message because they could not see beyond the man.
Jesus’ brother James later became a believer, a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13; Galatians 2:9), and the author of the book of James. Judas may have been Jude, author of the book of Jude. Nothing else is known of the other brothers and sisters. (See also 12:46-50 for more on Jesus’ family.)
13:57 So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”NKJV Jesus’ claims caused the people in his hometown to be offended at Him. They stumbled over his words and could not accept them. They were offended that others could be impressed by Jesus and follow him. He was one of their peers, and their preconceived notions about who he was made it impossible for them to accept his message. They also may have been jealous. Jesus had come to them as a prophet, but they saw only a hometown boy.
Jesus used a common proverb found in rabbinic literature. It is significant that Jesus applied the word “prophet” to himself, thus specifically claiming to be God’s messenger. The word refers not to one who foretells future events (although that may be part of a prophet’s ministry), but to one who speaks God’s message. Jesus was not the first prophet to be rejected in his own country. Jeremiah, for example, experienced rejection in his hometown, even by members of his own family (Jeremiah 12:5-6). Jesus also experienced rejection by members in his own house (John 7:5). Some of Jesus’ family did believe in him after his resurrection (Acts 1:14).
13:58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.NIV That Jesus did not do many miracles in Nazareth does not mean that his power had been restricted. Jesus could have done greater miracles in Nazareth, but he chose not to because of the people’s unbelief. Lack of faith blinds people to the truth and robs them of hope. These people missed the Messiah. Jesus performed mighty works to further the kingdom of God, not to try to convince a group of stubborn people who had already thoroughly rejected him. To do miracles would be of no value because the people did not accept his message or believe that he was from God. Therefore, Jesus looked elsewhere, seeking those who would respond to his miracles and message. We need to proclaim the gospel. At times, however, we need to move on, to other towns and people.
|LIFE APPLICATION – FAITH AND POWER|
|Jesus is not limited by people’s faith (or lack of it), but there does seem to be a strong connection between faith and God’s power actively at work. Christians who pray discover answers to prayer. Churches who worship Christ find Christ active in their fellowship.|
|Where skeptics and atheists hold court, God seldom intervenes. God seems to like the role of invited guest over that of party crasher. So, let faith grow, pray all the time, and expect to see God at work in and around you.|
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.