Matthew 13 contains Christ's explanation of His use of parables as a way of teaching. In analyzing these parables, we discover the King's personal view of His Kingdom through the past, present, and future of the history of His church. They seem not to reveal as much about the church's eternal characteristics as about its day-to-day efforts resulting from Christ's work in coming into the world. They act as a prophetic summary of the historical development of God's church. The recurring phrase "kingdom of heaven" denotes Christ's work through His church to make known "the word of the kingdom" (verse 19), that is, to announce the good news of the coming Kingdom of God.
The chapter contains eight parables. Jesus gave the first four to the mixed multitude, while He told the last four to the twelve disciples in private. After the first series of four parables, Matthew writes, "All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them" (verse 34). These four parables describe the outward characteristics of the church, the working of the mystery of sin against the church, and the extent to which the Evil One is allowed to go in his opposition. The remaining four parables illustrate the inner characteristics of His church. After the eighth parable, Matthew makes another concluding statement, ". . . when Jesus had finished these parables, . . . He departed from there" (verse 53).
The parables can also be grouped into related pairs that illustrate the church's different characteristics:
First Pair: The Sower (verse 3) represents the relationship of the church to the different groups of people with which it comes into contact while doing its work. The Tares (verse 24) represents the relationship of the church to the wicked one and his agents.
Second Pair: The Mustard Seed (verse 31) represents the dynamic growth of the church from small beginnings even while adversaries confront it. The Leaven (verse 33) represents the progress of the church against and despite the contagious outspread of sin.
Third Pair: The Treasure (verse 44) represents the preciousness of Christians to Christ, who can see their hidden value and sacrifices all to possess them. The Pearl (verse 45) represents the preciousness of the church to Christ, who sacrifices everything to acquire it.
Fourth Pair: The Dragnet (verse 47) teaches that the good and evil who intermingle on earth will be completely separated in the judgment. The Householder (verse 52) represents the work of the true minister and teacher who feeds the household of faith from a rich storehouse of essential spiritual treasures.
Taken together, the stories describe the characteristics and dynamism of the church, its formidable obstacles, and its ultimate victory. They show Christ working through His messengers to preach the gospel of the Kingdom between the time of His first and second comings.
The first parable, The Sower, and the eighth, The Householder, are key, the first introducing and anticipating all of the parables, and the last concluding and reflecting back on the whole, stating the church's purpose and duty under the authority of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus finished the first seven parables, He asked His disciples, "Have you understood all these things?" That they understood made it possible for Jesus to conclude with a final parable that reveals the responsibility of the disciples as "scribes" in the church, "instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven" (verse 52). The apostles, and the church Jesus would build, would bring forth a treasure of knowledge and understanding, "things new and old."
Jesus teaches us by the simplicity and shortness of His parables that directness and brevity are effective teaching tools. His method stands in sharp contrast to the involved and lengthy style of some Bible commentators. Jesus gave clear and precise illustrations to which His audience could relate. Farmers listened to pictures of agricultural life. Wives could grasp His word pictures from home life. Merchants could relate to illustrations from the business world that translated into spiritual principles. Jesus also spoke of common civic duties and social events. Portrayals of nature scenes provided Him with analogies with which to express spiritual truth. Jesus used pictures that fit the occasion in a way that preserved their naturalness.
Only Christ's disciples can really understand the true spiritual principles involved in the parables, "because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (verse 11). They were inspired by His Father in heaven, "[for] all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15), therefore "blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears, for they hear" (Matthew 13:16).
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part One): Introduction
One can tell immediately that this parable is different from the others; it does not start with "the Kingdom of Heaven is like." Obviously, it deals with the Kingdom of Heaven, because it says so within the context. Also, it is aimed directly at the disciples. Jesus says to them, "Because you said you understood this, here is My instruction." We could say it is aimed specifically at the ministry.
The word "scribe" may cause us a problem at first, because we normally think of a scribe as someone who writes something down for another person. For instance, a king would have an official court scribe. All that took place in his throne room would be written down by the scribe as the official record of the kingdom.
That is not what is meant here. Among the Jews in the first century, the scribe had an important position in the community. Ezra was the proto-typical scribe 450 years before Jesus spoke this parable. Ezra 7:6 tells us that the specialty of a scribe was the law of God or the words of God, the Bible. His job was to know the Bible. A scribe spent his life studying the Bible and knowing just as much as he could about its content (see Nehemiah 8:2,5,7-8). He stood before the people and expounded and explained it until they understood. Ministers fill the same function today. Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the Kingdom of God (Matthew 10:7; 28:19-20); it is the church's commission. He says to the apostles, "Teach everything that I commanded you to the people."
"Instructed" is a very interesting Greek word. It is the verb form of the noun that means "disciple." So Jesus really means, "every scribe discipled concerning the Kingdom." This depicts the scribe, the minister, as a student. He has been taught, but the word contains the idea that he is continuing to learn. Not only is he a teacher, but he is simultaneously a student. The preacher is under judgment too. He must continue learning so he can continue teaching.
The parable gives us a third description of this person: He is called "a householder." It literally means "house despot." It means "the ruler" or "the master of a house." "House despot" implies a great deal of authority as well as responsibility over his house. The buck stops with the householder, with the master of the house. Jesus says a scribe/minister is like a householder, meaning that the minister of God has been charged with being an authoritative interpreter of Scripture.
The more independent Christian probably does not think that a minister has much authority, but this parable bestows upon a minister a great deal of authority in expounding God's Word. Back then, "despot" did not have quite the same negative connotation as it does now, but it still meant a master or a person with great authority. Nevertheless, a minister is a teacher, a student, and a leader—one who has authority, but one who also at the same time has a great deal of responsibility.
His responsibility: "This householder," Christ says, "brings out of his treasure things new and old." "Treasure" may remind one of the same word in verse 44, but it is only the same English word. The word in verse 52 does not mean "treasure"—as in precious metals, jewels, and gems—but "treasure house," "treasury," "storehouse," or "storeroom," where one would store valuables. It is clear in the Greek that it means "a place" and not the actual treasure itself.
In this place one would store what is necessary, like food or clothing, for the house's provision. One would have a certain storeroom for grain, fruits, vegetables, and meal. One may have another room or closet to store valuables—the family papers, jewels, silver, or art. All the good things that a person would want to put away for safekeeping would be put into the treasury, storeroom, or storehouse. In the context, then, the minister is to use what he has learned and experienced in his life for the good of his house. He is to bring out all the things he had stored up to present to the people. A minister's treasure is mainly in his head—what he has witnessed and come to understand as he has lived and studied God's way.
Jesus instructs the scribe/minister to bring out "old and new." This becomes more understandable if we think of "old and new" in terms of foodstuffs. The master of the house is in charge of ensuring that his storeroom is full and had everything in it necessary to feed the family. A wise householder would balance serving his oldest store with fresh produce so that the old or the new is not wasted. If he served only the new, the old would go moldy and be ruined; it would have to be thrown out and wasted. But if he served only the old, then the fresh and the new would also be wasted because the family would not receive the benefit of the flavor and nutrition that is in fresh produce. So the wise householder serves his family old store as well as fresh-off-the-farm food, and he mixes them in balance so that neither is wasted.
This is how Jesus says a minister should teach the people: by carefully balancing the teaching of, say, the Old and the New Testaments. That would be "old and new." Or, old and new could be balancing traditional understanding of God's truth with new insights and applications of how it could be used in our time and situations.
He does not mean that the old is thrown away or that the old is wrong. It means that a minister may see an angle to a subject that has not been seen before in his experience, and he needs to preach on it because it will help the people in their present situation. This is exactly what Jesus did in the parables. He had taken the old truths of what the Kingdom of God is and shined new light on them so that people would understand that He had come as the Savior and have a hint about how events would transpire in the establishment of His Kingdom. He had taken old truth and put it in a new context.
Notice the Parable of the Faithful and the Evil Servant:
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. (Matthew 24:45-46)
To summarize, a minister's duty is to make the truths of God clear, fresh, and living so that the church may grow.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
In the eighth and last parable of this chapter, Jesus educates His disciples in their roles as students, teachers, and leaders. The householder represents the true minister doing the work of feeding the household of faith. Our Savior shows that a minister of God's household has a truly rich, inspired storehouse of essential spiritual treasures from which he can draw to perform his duties.
A "scribe" in the first century had an important position in the Jewish community. Almost five centuries earlier, Ezra the priest had been the archetypal scribe (Ezra 7:6), trained and skilled in the Law of Moses, which God had given Israel. He read the law before all who could hear with understanding on the Feast of Trumpets, helping the people to comprehend it (Nehemiah 8:2-8). In this, we see the function of a scribe—and similarly, the function of what we call a "minister" of God. A minister is a man who dedicates his life to studying God's written Word so he can expound and illustrate the Bible's laws, statutes, and principles to help people live God's abundant way of life.
The word translated instructed is from a Greek word meaning "to make a disciple" or "to become a pupil." Verse 52 could easily read, ". . . every scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of God is like a master of a house." In this light, we see the scribe as a student who has been taught and is continuing to be taught. Not only is he a teacher, but he is also learning at the same time. He must continue to learn so that he can continue to teach.
Jesus left an example of sending out His disciples after teaching them to preach the Kingdom of God (Matthew 10:5-7; 28:19-20). In this way, the gospel is spread around the world and God's flock is fed.
The scribe is compared to "a householder." The Greek word translated householder means "the master of the house." "Master" implies great authority as well as responsibility over his house. The master of the house has the final say in deciding what is best for his household.
In terms of government in the church, the minister of God has been commissioned as an authoritative teacher of Holy Scripture (I Corinthians 4:1). This parable suggests that God has granted His ministers authority to expound His Word, calling them "masters of the house." A minister is thus a student, a teacher, and a leader. Paul expresses in Ephesians 4:7-13 Christ's view that the ministry is His gift to the church, and that He gives them to do the work of preaching the gospel, equipping the saints, and helping to bring people to the measure of the stature and the fullness of Christ. He does these things, Christ says, by bringing "out of his treasure things new and old."
The word treasure in verse 52 means something slightly different than it does in verse 44 in the parable of the hidden treasure, where it implies gems and other precious things. In verse 52, it means a place for treasure, not the treasure itself. In other words, Jesus refers to "a treasure house," "a treasury," "a storehouse," or "a storeroom" where a person would keep necessary items like food, clothing, supplies, and family valuables for safekeeping. In context, then, the minister is to use what he has learned and experienced for the benefit of his spiritual family—he is to use as resources all the things he has stored away from his study of God's truth and his know-how in living God's way to lead and provide for his flock.
The "new and old" refers to food stored in a storeroom. The master of the house is in charge of ensuring that his storeroom contains everything needed to feed his family. A prudent householder balances serving his oldest store with the new. In this sense, seeing the value in the old, he wisely serves his family old store as well as the fresh "off-the-vine" food, mixing them in balance so that neither is wasted.
Jesus wants His ministers to teach their spiritual families by carefully balancing the teaching of the Old and the New Testaments (Matthew 5:17-19; Acts 26:22-23). It does not mean that the old is thrown away or is wrong. In the parables, Jesus did a similar thing by taking the old understanding of God's Kingdom and focusing new light on it to expand the people's understanding of its character and future course.
Ministers of Christ may not grasp and understand all the wisdom of God, but having received His instruction and sufficiently understood His message, they are commissioned to make use of this spiritually rich treasure to enrich others (Galatians 6:10). Taught by Jesus Christ and inspired in understanding His Word, ministers are to reflect that knowledge to their spiritual families, their fellow members of the church.
Martin G. Collins
The Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Nine): The Parable of the Householder
Jesus' frequently uses the words "Kingdom of Heaven," especially in Matthew 13, as in "The Kingdom of Heaven is like..." We should be careful not to be fooled by this. It does not mean "the Kingdom of God when Jesus Christ returns." That is not what Jesus means.
The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven is not just a future matter, but also a present reality. It is not on earth right now as a government, in the form of a nation or a kingdom, but the Kingdom of God exists. Colossians 1:13 says that we have already been translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love. The word translated is better rendered as "transferred." This is not the Protestant idea of "the Kingdom of God is within you," but the Kingdom of God does exist. Notice Matthew 12:28: "But if I cast out demons by the spirit of God, surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you." It was present then in the person of Jesus Christ and working.
Mark 12:34 contains another example: "So when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, 'You are not far from the Kingdom of God.' And after that no one dared question Him." In Luke 10, Jesus uses the term in a present-tense situation. The Kingdom of Heaven is something that happens now or can happen now. Jesus is speaking to His disciples, telling them what they are to do when they go out preaching the gospel: "And heal the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The Kingdom of God has come near to you'" (Luke 10:9). This is similar to what He says to the scribe in Luke 17:21: "Nor will they say, 'See here!' Or 'See there!' For indeed the Kingdom of God is among[as it is better translated] you."
These examples show that Jesus taught His disciples that the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven exists now, but it is in a different form from what it will be when Jesus returns and sets up His government. When we yield to God, and when we are accepted by Him as His sons and daughters, as it were, we become citizens of the Kingdom of God. In a sense, then, we all are in the Kingdom of God now.
Nevertheless, we are aiming for that future reality when Jesus Christ comes back and sets His throne upon this earth—when all people will stream to Jerusalem to become part of God's Kingdom. The entire Bible looks forward to this time, but there is a present reality of the Kingdom among His sons and daughters. Paul concurs: "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20); "We are ambassadors for Christ" (II Corinthians 5:20; our allegiance is to Christ, the King of the Kingdom of God); we are "strangers and pilgrims" in a foreign land (I Peter 2:11). Our land is the Kingdom of God. The country we live in is an alien nation. In true members of God's church, the Kingdom of God is already ruling in them. This is what Jesus means when He speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Some scholars want to throw out the word kingdom when it is used this way, feeling that it is a misleading translation. Of course, many of them are Protestants, who look at it from the understanding of "the Kingdom of God is within you." Nonetheless, they believe that the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13 should be rendered the realm, dominion, or reign of God. He is already our King, reigning over us right now.
Another rendering is a word we should all be familiar with—the sovereignty of God. Have we come under the sovereignty of God? Yes, indeed. We did it voluntarily when we accepted Christ as our Savior. So in this sense, we are in the Kingdom of God, and its rules apply to us.
This is what Jesus means in Matthew 13. He is not doing away with the idea that He will return to this earth and set up His government here after putting down all other government's rule, but He is saying, "Those of you whom I have called out are in the Kingdom of Heaven right now—in a spiritual sense—and you have to live by its rules and fight its enemies. So beware! This is what your life in My Kingdom now will be like."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed
An overview of Matthew 13 is essential, because we need to understand the whole context to see what Jesus was trying to get across to us. A particular Bible translation may divide the chapter into only seven parables, but there are eight parables in Matthew 13. Usually the eighth is combined with the seventh parable. In a way, the eighth follows the seventh, but it is a parable in its own right. It should stand alone.
These eight parables can be divided into three sections. The first consists of the first four parables: the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and the Parable of the Leaven. The second section consists of the next three parables: the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, and the Parable of the Dragnet. The third section is the last parable, the Parable of the Householder, who takes out of his treasury both old and new.
The titles of these three sections give an idea of what Jesus emphasizes in Matthew 13. We can title the first section "Satan's Plan to Destroy the Church." The second section can be titled "God's Work on Behalf of the Church," what God does to make sure that Satan does not destroy the church. The third section can be titled "The Ministry's Duty to the Church."
Notice the comment Matthew makes following the first section. In Matthew 13:34 is an explanation why the first four parables can be titled "Satan's Plan to Destroy the Church":
All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world."
What was kept secret from the foundation of the world? Satan's plan to destroy God's plan of salvation, which He is fulfilling through the church.
Matthew 13:34 applies specifically to what Jesus had just said, but it also applies generally to all the parables. Through them, Jesus opens up matters that have been concealed from the foundation of the world. In Psalm 78:2, it does not say, "I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Instead, it says: "I will utter dark sayings of old," providing another clue that what Matthew 13:34 refers to in respect to the first four parables is dark. Jesus is speaking of dark mysteries, dark things happening. These can only be Satanic things, bad, negative things inspired by the Devil.
What Jesus spoke before verse 34 is primarily negative, not positive, and these negative things have been hidden from man since the foundation of the world. What happened at the foundation of the world? Adam and Eve sinned. That was the first step in Satan's plan—"Get them while they're young"—and he has been doing the same thing ever since. Jesus touches on this in the first parable.
So, in the first half of this chapter, Jesus is saying, "Look, My disciples, this is the plan that you must fight against. If you understand what is in these parables, you will have a pretty good idea of what is happening spiritually."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 13:52: