Matthew 13. Parables of the Kingdom. Pt. II

Key Notes: Review of the Kingdom in Matthew. Eight parables: four of receptivity, given to the crowd; four of treasure, given to disciples.

Matthew 13 is a break from the action of Jesus’ life, a seminal passage, full of seed thoughts. It concentrates on parables of the Kingdom and from it we will learn much more.

*Satan has showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered them to Him in exchange for worship. Jesus *refused. Matt.4:9.
*The Kingdom of heaven is here now and Jesus is making it happen. Jesus began to preach “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand". Matt.4:17; 10:7

*People may enter the Kingdom or may be excluded. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven." Matt.5:20
"Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of heaven...." 7:21.

*Some are greater and some are less in the Kingdom.“Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matt.5:19
“…{one} who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matt.11:11

*People are rewarded in the kingdom. “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well. “ Matt.6:33
*Although the Kingdom is now, it is also coming. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Matt.6:10

Our usual definition of a kingdom requires a king and subjects. It need not involve territory; the king might be in exile. When we think of a kingdom, we think of David, the prototypic king of the OT, with subjects and territory, with his queen, officers,  court, and army . Our other vision of the kingdom is in Revelation, especially God’s throne in heaven (Rev.4,5,7), and the reign of Christ on the earth at the end of the age. (Rev.20). What does the kingdom look like in the meantime?

We have the warfare theme—the early church, in conflict with the Jews and Greeks, establishing beach-heads all over the civilized world. We have the individual conflict of the believer with Satan. (Eph. 6). Paul speaks of pulling down strongholds: “For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” IICor.10:4–5
But nowhere in the NT do we see God’s kingdom as if it were an earthly kingdom.

So when we approach Matt.13, although we think in these structural terms, the text looks very different, different enough so that Jesus rightly speaks of the parables as expressing “mysteries” (Gr. mysteria) of the kingdom. (Matt.13:11). There is much discussion about how the parables can be applied. Allegory is taboo. However, the parables are rich and provocative and tempt us in that direction.

The parables divide roughly into two sets.
The first four are about seed, and are given to the crowd.
The second set is mostly about treasure and is given to the disciples inside the house. 13:36

Parable #1. Matt.13:1–23.The sower and the seed is about four degrees of receptivity to the Jesus' word of the kingdom.
            *No reception.
            *Early reception and collapse under pressure.
            *Reception without productivity due to competing demands.
            *Full reception and productivity.
The message is that even people who are receptive, who are positive “takes”, are not assured of successful, productive lives in the Kingdom. Converts are not necessarily disciples.

Parable #2. Matt. 13:24–30; 36–43. The second sower and seed parable is about the competition between wheat and a weed which looks like wheat (darnel) until the mature heads appear. Jesus says He seeds the world with good seed. Satan seeds the world with bad seed, fakes, members of religious groups that cannot bear fruit for God.
The message is that we must not try to get rid of competition by force. That is God’s job at the end of the age. In the meantime, violence against other religious people ricochets back on the believers. And Jesus reminded us that His kingdom is not worldly. God will do the purification and harvest of the world’s populations. In the Kingdom the righteous will shine like the sun.

Parable #3. Matt.13:31 The parable of the mustard seed starts with a tiny organism-- 750 mustard seeds weigh a gram. A mustard seed makes a big bush,  4–15 ft. tall. The bush is big enough for birds to roost in the branches.
The message is that the kingdom seems tiny and insignificant but grows fast and becomes a large bush. [We would have preferred that He speak of an acorn becoming a great oak a hundred feet tall, consuming 80 years in the process.]  Evidently Jesus wants us to think of the Kingdom as weak and fragile but fast-growing.

The parable reflects Ezekiel's parable from 588 BC. (Ezek.17:22–24) He prophesied that God would take a tender sprig from the top of a cedar tree and plant it on a high mountain where it would grow into a great tree where birds of all kinds could make their nests. What of the birds? I speculate that the birds, varied and sometimes colorful, that roost in the tree represent the many denominations that make up the Church.

Parable #4. Matt.13;33–35) The parable of the leaven puzzles us because the leaven is so often used as a symbol of evil. (ICor.5:6–8). Jesus spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, meaning their teaching. (Matt.16:12). But the leaven Jesus speaks of here is the teaching about the Kingdom. In this case, a handful of leaven mixed with 36 quarts of flour makes enough bread to feed a hundred people.
The message is that the Kingdom is virtually invisible, yet has a powerful and healthy, nourishing effect on the world’s societies.

In summary of the seed parables, the kingdom comes through Jesus’ word into human hearts. It has a variable “take”, and is in competition with other world systems. It is so small as to appear to be of no consequence, but it permeates societies and has a powerful effect on them .The seed provides a basis for the churches.

At this point Matthew (13:34–35) points out that speaking in parables was prophesied. “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might and the wonder which He has wrought. “ (Psa.78:2–4). This psalm is a history of Israel’s rebellion, and God’s sovereign over-ruling and guidance. That resonates with these parables which are given to the hard-of-heart and proclaim God’s power at work in the world.

Parable #5. The kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field. In ancient times Canaan was repeatedly swept by armies and people hid their jewels and gold wherever they could, in caves and tombs and holes, often under the house. One could always hope to survive and come back to reclaim the treasure. But in practice, the treasure belonged to whoever found it years or centuries later. It is most unlikely that this treasure belonged to the owner of the land. It may have been a peasant who found the treasure while cultivating the soil.
The message is that the Kingdom is a treasure worth giving up everything one has.

Parable #6 The kingdom is like a merchant seeking fine pearls and when he finds the ultimate (perhaps a one inch baroque black pearl), he sells out to get it. (The finest pearl of modern times was found off the coast of Australia a hundred years ago.) The message is that the kingdom is a treasure worth everything one has.

What is the difference between the two parables? In the first case, the person is not searching but recognizes treasure when he stubs his toe on the box. In the second case, the merchant is an earnest seeker who knows what he wants and totally commits himself when he finds it.

Parable #7. The kingdom is like a drag-net that pulls fish in to shore. The “treasure” is good fish. At the end of the age angels will sort the good and throw the bad into the furnace. The trout, salmon and bass will be kept. The star-fish, sand-sharks and barracuda will be thrown away. In the meantime, good fish and bad inhabit the sea.
The message is that there is a judgment day coming when the righteous are saved and wicked will be destroyed, as in parable two. Twice in this chapter, Jesus has said “there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” 13:42, 50

Parable #8. (Some think of this as a simile rather than a parable.) Every scribe trained for the kingdom is like a householder who brings out of his treasure the new and the old.
The message is that the believer who teaches the Good News brings out OT treasure (Isa.53) and displays it to complement the NT. That is not putting new wine in old wineskins.

The second set of parables focus on the individual finding treasure one way or another, paying the price for it and displaying it.

What have we learned of the kingdom? Monarchy, rule, warfare, territory are nowhere to be seen.
The kingdom starts with broadcasting the Word (13:19, 37). Satan’s people are in competition with the kingdom. (13:27). There will be no resolution of this conflict until the judgment day when God punishes and rewards. The kingdom appears as a rapidly growing bush; however, it also is like yeast, able to penetrate society and make it better. Finding the kingdom is like finding buried treasure or a priceless pearl that is worth everything we have. The treasure has OT and NT components.

Are there simple applications?
Spread the word of God wherever you can. Drop seed. You don’t know who you are talking to or what they hear. “Just walk across the room.” Do not despair because your efforts seem useless. God will vindicate His word.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and returns not thither but waters the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
it shall not return to Me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose
and prosper in the thing for which I sent it." Isa.55:10–11

Since we do not think in Kingdom terms, but in Church terms—and in local church terms, at that—where does the Church fit in? Is the Church the Kingdom? Does the Church create the Kingdom or does the Kingdom create the Church? We will learn more as we go through Matthew.

       “All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
            Wheat and tares together sown, unto joy or sorrow grown;
            First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear.
            Lord of harvest, grant that we, wholesome grain and pure may be.

       For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
            From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
            Give his angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast,
            But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

Even so Lord, quickly come, to Thy final harvest-home;
  Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin;
  There, forever purified, in Thy present to abide;
  Come with all Thine angels, come, raise the glorious harvest-home."
---Henry Alford.