What the Bible says about
Pearl of Great Price
(From Forerunner Commentary)
God's Word is like His other creations. Like air, it too has multi-faceted uses. In fact, it seems as though its uses are inexhaustible. It does not matter whether one lives in the time of Abraham, Moses, David, Ezra, Christ, or now. Its directly stated words or their spirit will apply. God's Word is so infinite and pure that it is always valid, always true, always applicable, and always an inexhaustible source of guidance. Jesus says that God's "word is truth" (John 17:17). Solomon adds, "Every word of God is pure" (Proverbs 30:5), and David writes, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6).
Psalm 119:17-18 states, "Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law." The author of this psalm has the right idea. Asking God for guidance into His Word should be our request each day. Understand, however, that it is one thing to deem the Bible a great book because of its reputation—it is another to study the Bible soberly, seeking for instruction in righteousness. This we must do.
Solomon instructs us in Proverbs 2:1 on the necessary attitude toward it: "My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you. . . ." We should treat God's Word like treasure, as something precious. We should not treat it merely as something expensive but personally desired and used as our guide to life. Possessing it in this manner is within reach if we stretch ourselves or make sacrificial effort to have it. It is such a powerful tool that we should approach it as if it is the pearl of great price. Yet, this treasure is not something put in a safe-deposit vault and taken out only to look at on rare occasions. We are to seek it so that it can produce success and beneficial results in us. It is the most useful tool readily available to man to guide him in the most important area of life—his relationships with God and fellow man.
Verses 2-6 add a great deal of understanding about how vigorous and persistent our efforts should be toward possessing the treasure of God's Word. The phrase "incline your ear" (verse 2) pictures a person cocking his head and cupping his ear with his hand while straining to hear—understand—more distinctly. It depicts exerting physical effort, and the word "heart" shows we must apply strenuous mental effort as well. Admittedly, God's Word is not always easy to understand. It is a tool that requires varying levels of skill to use. At times, we must research patiently and diligently in many areas of Scripture to get as comprehensive a picture of its teaching on a given subject as possible.
In verse 3, "cry out" more literally means "invite to come." It is admonishing us to be open-minded as we research its pages. Our heart easily deceives us through lifelong prejudices and biases because we have passively accepted them as true. When God's Word challenges them, we are often moved to defend them. "Lift up your voice" adds greater intensity to "cry out," showing that we should not be passive regarding these biases. We need to search into them sincerely, and if we find them to be wrong, reject them.
By reminding us that the things we consider to be valuable usually have to be laboriously dug for and brought up from the depths, verse 4 urges us to pursue the riches of God's Word seriously.
Verse 5 then introduces an exceedingly interesting and essential principle we need to know for our growth. Proverbs 1:7 informs us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," but Proverbs 2:5 adds that the fear of the Lord is also a goal in our search for wisdom. This is important to understanding "knowing God" because the thrust of the Bible reveals that we can only come to know Him by obeying Him, by striving to be morally perfect. The fear of the Lord is a major motivator in producing conformity to Him and His will. It helps us enormously to reverence Him deeply, and if we do, it will result in sincere obedience from the heart. In this context, the Bible essentially equates the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God.
Verse 6 confirms that God is the source of all ethical authority as well as the blessings that flow from obedience to the knowledge of Him. The preceding verses urge obedience to Him as the principle of life because it results in knowing Him. Therefore, the fear of the Lord, the knowledge of God, understanding, and wisdom are all part of the same spiritual "salad." They are inextricably linked as necessary for those who want to please God and live the abundant life He intends for His children. Though we can properly define them as technically different from one another, in reality, they cannot be separated. The glue that holds them together is obedience to what we already know while we strive to improve all of them together. Verse 9 to the end of the chapter expounds the benefits of our search for this treasure.
In Psalm 119, the author shows how many varied and distinct elements are in fact linked in order to comprise a whole generally called "the law." The same principle holds true of those elements of Proverbs 2:1-6. The psalmist asks God to deal bountifully with him (Psalm 119:17-18), so he can keep—obey—what he learned as he searched out each element. This shows that we need to consider the whole package in Proverbs 2:1-6 because each of these elements draws on the others for support while simultaneously producing fruit toward the others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part One): Introduction
Though it is one of the better known parables, the Pearl of Great Price also happens to be misunderstood frequently. The common explanation is that the merchant represents a Christian, and the pearl of great price is the Kingdom of God to which he gives his all so he can be a part of it. Another interpretation is that the pearl is Christ, and a Christian gives his all to Him. As meaningful as these interpretations may be, another is far more meaningful, and the evidence given in the narrative favors it.
In this parable the merchant is seriously and deliberately searching the world to secure the best and costliest gems. It is the very business of his life. He travels widely with zeal and a lofty purpose because he can do so and appreciate the best when he sees it.
The common interpretation shows the sinner, the merchant, diligently searching the world and sacrificing all to find the Kingdom of God or Christ. This cannot be true! On several counts it is totally out of alignment with Scripture as well as experience. This approach puts the seeker totally in control of his destiny.
Three scriptures disprove that we are the merchant seeking to "buy" the Kingdom of God, Christ, or eternal life.
Romans 3:11: There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.
Luke 19:9-10: And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
John 6:44: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is Christ who seeks the sinner! The Shepherd seeks the sheep, not vice versa. Furthermore, if the pearl is either Christ, the Kingdom of God, or eternal life, it contradicts other scriptures regarding God's grace. Notice II Corinthians 9:15, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" Romans 6:23 adds, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Finally, in Luke 7:41-42 Jesus says in the Parable of the Two Debtors:
There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price shows the merchant willing to buy a pearl at high cost. Can we possibly buy the Kingdom of God or eternal life or forgiveness if we have nothing with which to buy? If we think we have something with which we might barter with God, or if we think we have something to sell in order to buy from Him, then grace ceases to be grace!
The Bible consistently reveals we have no righteousness, skills, or intellect that is of any value in purchasing anything from God. Isaiah 64:6 confirms this: "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." Peter's denunciation of Simon Magus plainly shows that men cannot buy the things of God. "But Peter said to him, 'Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!" (Acts 8:20).
We are not the active agent in choosing Christ. John 15:16 specifically refers to Christ's apostles, but the principle extends to us: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." Jesus clearly states in Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
By this time it ought to be clear that Jesus Christ is the merchant, the price paid was His life, and the church (the individual Christian in a very narrow sense) is the pearl. The church is one pearl, one body, composed of those He has sought out through the ages to be a habitation for God by His Spirit and who will be His bride at His return. This beautiful and meaningful little parable shows some of the extent of His labor of love for us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl
The word "merchant" has had an interesting evolution. It originally meant a passenger on a ship, but gradually became applied to the wholesale dealer as distinguished from a retailer. This is how John uses it in Revelation 18:3, 11, 15, 23. The merchant made trips far and wide to buy specific merchandise in which he had expertise. The context of the parable gives no indication he was pursuing anything but pearls. He knew the real worth of pearls, and in this case, he assessed the value and was very willing to pay the price.
This is another indication that the merchant is not a human seeking Christ, the church, eternal life, or the Kingdom of God because before conversion we had only a vague notion of what to seek for. Before God sought us out, we were commandment-breaking sinners. I John 2:4 says, "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.'"
Jesus knew merchants well. Nazareth, where He grew up, was very close to a major trade route linking Babylon, to the northeast of Palestine, to Egypt, to the southwest. Caravans bound in either direction had to pass by His door.
Even the use of "seeking" (Matthew 13:45) helps to identify the merchant as Christ because it means "to depart from one place and arrive at another." Jesus did this Himself to pay the price of the pearl. He departed from heaven and arrived on earth to complete His mission.
From this perspective, this parable presents a beautiful picture of the purchase of the church. Paul writes, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). Psalm 45:11 adds a tender touch to this, "So the King will greatly desire your beauty."
It ought to inspire and encourage us to know that He never seeks us as a legalistic, grudging response to duty. He does not merely stumble across us, but He seeks us out. He desires us and pursues us as a man courts a woman to be his bride and wife. His is a whole-hearted and loving response to our Father's purpose and our eternal well-being.
It is no accident that we are part of His church. He sold all to possess us! Will we ever fathom what it cost Him to redeem us? Paul says in Philippians 2:6-7, "[Jesus], being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men." He adds in II Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." We should also understand, lest we get the wrong impression, that the pearl's value resides not in its own intrinsic worth, but in the immensity of the cost paid for it.
One final thought: Ordinarily, a merchant would buy a gem of this nature with the idea of selling it and making money on another's desire to adorn himself with its beauty. In this case, however, the merchant's intent is different: "That He might present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). Jesus Christ purchased us so He can eternally possess us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl
Our English word pearl is derived from Sanskrit, meaning "pure." The biblical concept of holiness carries the idea of purity with it.
The pearl is an interesting study. Unlike other gems, pearls are produced by a living organism, an oyster, as the result of an injury. It usually begins forming around a grain of sand or an egg of some parasite that invaded the oyster. The oyster protects itself by layering the irritant with nacre—mother-of-pearl—until, out of pain and suffering, it forms an object of great beauty. The offending particle actually becomes a gem of great worth!
So it is with us spiritually. We are an irritant, a botch, a scab on God's creation because of our nature and our sins. But because He loves us, we are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and gradually we can become a thing of beauty, clothed with the righteousness of Him who bought us.
We can make a number of other comparisons between pearls and other objects used as teaching vehicles in the Bible, such as the mustard seed. Both begin as something quite small but achieve different results. The mustard seed grows into the largest of herbs, but the pearl remains small. What is the lesson? Size does not determine value.
We can make a second comparison with ourselves. The pearl is first embedded in a mass of live but corruptible flesh, then separated and cleansed from its surroundings so that it can appear in its purity and beauty. So it is with the church. It is surrounded by, deeply embedded in, this corruptible world, and must be separated from the world before it can make a proper witness. As long as the pearl (church) remains in the oyster (world), it is of no value.
The production of the pearl is a gradual, even tedious, process. Slowly, the oyster adds layer after thin layer of nacre until the pearl is transformed. So it is with the church. For nineteen-and-a-half centuries, it has been in the making. If we add all who will be in the first resurrection from the time before Christ, then God has been working and adding to its lustrous value for almost six thousand years! All of this has occurred, and the world has hardly noticed, if at all, that this awesome process was progressing right under its nose.
In essence, the formation of the pearl is happening in secret. Colossians 3:3 says that our "life is hidden with Christ in God." Jesus tells His disciples: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). The world does not know where God's truth is transforming people into beings of glorious beauty. They are now just as we were before God revealed Himself to us. They are blind to the beauty of holiness. In fact, they are not merely blind, but as this verse shows, hostile to it.
Drawing the comparisons further, we know the oyster is at home in the depths of the ocean, a scavenger living off the garbage that sinks to the bottom of the sea. Revelation 13:1 shows the beast rising out of a sea: "Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name."
The Bible often uses a sea to represent multitudes of people, sometimes multitudes of enemies. Revelation 17:15 says, "And he said to me, 'The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.'" Isaiah 59:19 reads, "the enemy comes in like a flood." God must take the pearl, the church, from among the ungodly just as the oyster must be lifted from the muck and mire of the sea bottom.
Psalm 18:4-6, 15-16 expresses this analogy beautifully:
The pangs of death encompassed me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears. . . . Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils. He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.
So the church, an object of beauty to God, is presently hidden from the world because they do not really know true value when they see it. But it will not be that way for long.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl
The merchant was common in Palestine because it has always been a crossroads. It was the crossroads of the Roman world. To get anywhere, it seems, one had to go through Palestine. Ships often sailed along the coast and stopped in the ports of Palestine.
The particular merchant Jesus speaks about was a very uncommon merchant. He was special because he filled a narrow niche in the market: He bought and sold only pearls. This indicates just what kind of person this merchant was. If he could devote all his time to seeking just pearls, he must have been rich and highly placed. He was not a common caravan master. We would him call "a specialist."
He may even have been a buyer for a particular type of person, like royalty. In the ancient world, pearls were so rare that usually only monarchs could afford them, using them in their crowns and on their clothing to show off their royal splendor and say, "Look at me - I can afford pearls."
Some have thought that the merchant is a person like us who goes seeking after Christ, after the gospel, or after the Kingdom. However, the Bible itself makes these ideas absolutely impossible. For instance, Paul writes in Romans 3:11, "There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God." No ordinary person - nobody at all - seeks after God. In agreement, Jesus Himself says, "No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44).
Isaiah 55:1 adds, "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." We cannot buy anything from God, so how could any human being be the merchant who seeks and buys the pearl? It is impossible.
Luke 7:42 is part of the Parable of the Two Debtors. One phrase applies to this: "And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both." The creditor here is God, and we are the debtors. God freely forgives us even though we have nothing to buy forgiveness with, so a person cannot be the merchant. First, humanly, we cannot seek Him. Second, we have to be called so that we can seek Him. Third, we cannot buy salvation, and even if it were for sale, we do not have the money to buy it. On all counts, it is impossible for a sinful human being to be the merchant.
That leaves only one person that it could be - Jesus Christ Himself. He is the only One who has what it takes to buy this pearl. Notice these confirming scriptures:
For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)
You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit. (John 15:16)
To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3)
Only Christ can do it.
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
This tells us who the merchant is. Without a doubt, it is Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
Like the hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44), the pearl is an object of value. It can be part of a treasure, but there is a difference between "treasure" and "the pearl." Jesus says in verse 44: "like treasure." However, notice what He says in verse 46: "one pearl of great price." The difference is that "treasure" is a collective noun. Treasure is made up of many pieces of gold, silver, coins, articles of fine clothing, art, or gem stones. We can think of it like the treasure of a pirate in a chest buried somewhere in the Caribbean. That is what Jesus intends in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure—many valuable things in a collection. In the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price He considers one particular object of great value, the centerpiece of His treasure.
Emphasizing the oneness under God, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4-6:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.
Note in particular "one body." Here Paul stresses the church's singularity, uniqueness, oneness. Christ has only one church. Paul mentions this in Romans 12:5: "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another." We have unity even though the church is made up of many members. Not only that, its members are interdependent of one another. They rely on one another to do certain things within the body to make the body function as it is designed.
Paul continues the thought in Colossians 3:15: "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful." This verse focuses us on being called into one body, and God put us in it to do or be something specifically. In I Corinthians 12:12-14, 27, this is repeated. We are many members but one body, and God put us each in the body to do what He wants us to do.
The "pearl" is the church as a whole, whereas the "treasure" in the preceding parable is the church in its individual members. In the first parable, Christ is assuring us that He has His eye on us for ourselves—that we are immeasurably valuable to Him as individuals. However, in this parable, He switches the focus slightly to assure us that all of us as a body, His Bride, are important. We are the centerpiece of His treasure—the Bride who will marry the Son.
Ephesians 5:25-27 brings out the "bride" aspect:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.
This gives an idea of how much value Christ places on the church. It is pretty high praise, a lofty goal, to be considered this way by Him. Once He calls us, He sets out to perfect us, to make us absolutely holy and without blemish, so we can be a fitting spouse for Him.
Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!" And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God." (Revelation 19:7-9)
What is the lesson? Christ joyfully gave His all for the church as His Bride, and He will prepare it as His adornment, just as a king adorns his clothing and crown with pearls. This should give us encouragement in our battle against Satan. We have so much going for us, not only as individual sons and daughters of God, but because we have been called right now as part of His Bride. If we keep up the good work, if we allow God to work in us and remove all our blemishes, what a glorious future we have!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
The first four parables of Matthew 13 are darkened by an ominous cloud. In contrast, the last four cast light on the assurance of a positive future for the saints. In this second of the chapter's third pair of parables, Jesus reveals more secrets to His disciples regarding the high value God places on the church. The Parable of the Pearl (verse 45) particularly reveals the high cost to God of acquiring potential members of His Kingdom.
Until we are baptized members of God's church with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we cannot understand the full meaning and purpose of God's plan. As Asaph writes, "When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me - until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end" (Psalm 73:16-17). This parable helps us understand God's perspective.
Between the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl, we can notice this distinction: The Treasure is made up of units of precious things, such as coins and gems of various kinds, although they are collectively one treasure. The Pearl, however, is a single object. These two illustrations - both of which conclude at the same place, the completion of the purchase - represent different aspects of the same truths: the costliness of the Treasure or Pearl, and the joy of the Purchaser.
The merchant is seriously and deliberately searching the world to secure the best and costliest gems. It is his livelihood, and he is diligent to travel extensively because he knows his efforts will be rewarded when he finds the best and purchases them. Since Christ is the One who seeks the sinner (Luke 19:9-10; John 6:44), the merchant cannot represent the members of God's church (Romans 3:11). The Shepherd seeks the sheep, not vice versa.
The use of the word "seeking" (Matthew 13:45) helps identify the merchant as Christ, as it means "to depart from one place and arrive at another." Jesus did this Himself to pay the price for the pearl. He departed from heaven and arrived on earth to complete His mission (Philippians 2:6-7; II Corinthians 8:9). He gave up everything - He sold all - to possess us!
Unlike other gems, pearls are produced by a living organism, an oyster, as the result of an injury. It usually begins forming around a grain of sand or an egg of some parasite that invaded the oyster. The oyster protects itself by layering the irritant with nacre (mother-of-pearl) until, out of pain and suffering, it forms an object of great beauty. The offending party actually becomes a gem of great worth.
In a similar way, spiritually, we are an irritant, a parasite due to our nature and sins (Romans 3:23-26). However, because God loves us, we are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and gradually, we can become a thing of beauty, clothed with the righteousness of Him who bought us (Romans 3:24-26; Ephesians 2:13). As long as the pearl - the church - remains in the oyster - the world - it has no value. In fact, the pearl has no real intrinsic worth; its value resides in the immense cost paid for it.
God's grace is essential in understanding this parable (II Corinthians 9:15; Romans 6:23). The merchant is willing to buy the pearl at an exorbitant cost. No one can buy salvation or the Kingdom of God or eternal life for himself. Grace would not be grace if one were able to barter with God (Luke 7:41-42). According to Scripture, we have no righteousness, no talents, no goods, nothing that is of any value in purchasing such a priceless gift from God (Isaiah 64:6). Peter's denunciation of Simon Magus clearly shows that no one can buy what belongs to God (Acts 8:17-24).
Further, we do not choose Christ but He selects us (John 15:16; Luke 19:10). Since He is the merchant, the price paid was His life, and the church is the pearl. The church is one body (Ephesians 4:4), composed of those He has sought out through the ages to be a habitation of Christ by His Spirit and who will be His bride at His return.
The Pearl presents a wonderful picture of the purchase of the church in preparation for the Kingdom of God. It is encouraging to know that Jesus does not seek us in reluctant fulfillment of duty. Nor is He groping in the dark, hoping that we will respond to His plea, but He seeks us out with an efficient, organized, pre-planned goal in mind. He pursues us as a man courts a woman to be his bride, willing to spill His own blood as her purchase price (Acts 20:28). What greater price could have been paid for the church than the life of Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice?
Martin G. Collins
The Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Seven): The Parable of the Pearl
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