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What the Bible says about Parables of the Kingdom
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Matthew 12:22-50

The well-known parables in Matthew 13 are given in response to the circumstances and events in Matthew 12. The initiating event was a confrontation that began with Jesus healing a demon-possessed blind-mute (verse 22). He established His authority as the One who had power and dominion. Everything that transpires from this point sets the stage for the subsequent parables, and this context is critical for grasping why Jesus spoke these parables. After the miraculous healing, many wondered if He might be the Son of David (verse 23), the One who would restore the Kingdom. However, the Pharisees, in their usual defiance, attributed the healing to the power of Satan (verse 24).

Jesus responds that, if exorcism manifested Satan's power, then the Pharisees must admit that their “sons” (disciples) were likewise in league with the Devil, for they were doing the same thing (verse 27). But if God's Spirit had performed the exorcism, then the Kingdom of God—the dominion of God—had come upon them (verse 28). He could rob the demon of its possession only if He bound it first, showing that He had authority over the spirit realm (verse 29). There is no neutrality; a person is aligned either with God's dominion or with Satan (verse 30).

He continues His unwelcome correction by contrasting Himself with them. After warning about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (verses 31-32), Jesus draws on the principle of examining fruit to determine whether a tree is good or bad (verse 33). He calls His opponents a “brood of vipers,” saying that their blasphemy proved the evil within (verses 34-37).

Since the people expected a conquering king to come and restore the Kingdom to its former glory, Jesus' assertion that the authority of heaven was working through Him challenged the current leadership. The scribes and Pharisees ask Him for a sign—some proof of His claim—prompting Christ's words about the sign of Jonah (verses 38-42). His answer focuses on the timing of His death and resurrection, which only the Most High could bring to pass. It also includes the example of a major Gentile city that repented at the preaching of Jonah, while the current “Kingdom of God” would not repent at the preaching of One greater. He also refers to the “queen of the South” (Sheba) who came to hear the wisdom of the man sitting on the Lord's throne, yet He was greater than Solomon—not only in wisdom, but also because Solomon's throne belonged to Him!

Jesus follows this with another lesson, warning that unless something positive replaces the evil that is cast out, the former evil—and worse—will return (verses 43-45). He foretells that this would happen “with this wicked generation” (verse 45). All the repentance, baptisms, healings, and exorcisms that had been taking place would do no good if the people did not make their lives inhospitable to the evil influences.

In verses 46-50, Jesus teaches that flesh-and-blood family is of less importance than the spiritual Family, which He defines as those who do the Father's will (or those “who hear the word of God and do it”; Luke 8:21). The matters of parentage and family relations came up frequently during Christ's ministry (for example, John 8:39-59) because the Jews felt secure in their position before God because of their physical descent from Abraham. Though not obvious, His clarification of “family” in spiritual terms appears throughout the parables of Matthew 13, as Jesus contrasts Abraham's physical descendants with his spiritual ones.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)

Matthew 13:1-53

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

Matthew 13:1-43

Matthew 13:1-3 show the context and setting for Christ's teaching:

On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables. . . . (Emphasis ours throughout.)

While it is easy to read over these details, they are crucial for grasping Christ's meaning because they show that Jesus spoke the first four parables (the Sower, the Wheat and the Tares, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven) to “great multitudes.” Verses 34-36 confirm that He preached to the people at large at this point rather than strictly to His disciples:

All these things [the first four parables] 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 kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”

In the first four parables, Jesus is speaking primarily to the physical nation, the remnant citizenry of the earthly Kingdom of God. Even though they could not grasp the parables' full depth, He was still responding to the attitude and approach of the nation shown in the previous chapter, particularly of the leadership that continually rejected the dominion of heaven.

While Christ's teachings apply on multiple levels, it is paramount to grasp the primary meaning before looking for other applications. The complete fulfillment of the Kingdom was far beyond what the folk of Judea and Galilee could comprehend, yet He still spoke to them. The parables were not exclusively for His disciples, just as His prophecy, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you” (Matthew 21:43), was not spoken to His disciples. In short, the King had a message for the subjects of the physical Kingdom that He had established. He was giving them a testimony—a final chance—and when they rejected it, He focused on the budding spiritual nation that had Abraham's faith rather than merely his blood (Galatians 3:15-29).

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)

Matthew 13:1-53

Matthew 13 contains eight parables of “the kingdom,” and commentators generally interpret them all with the church in view. However, Christ spoke the first four to the multitudes (Matthew 13:2, 34, 36), and the setting suggests that His public teaching better suited the degenerate state of the physical nation than the growth of the yet-to-be-established church. Luke 13:10-20 contains two of the four—the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven—and in that account, Jesus plainly gave them in response to the nation's existing, degenerate belief system.

Whereas Jesus spoke the first four parables to the folk of Judea and Galilee—explaining two of them to the disciples—He told the last four parables solely to the disciples (Matthew 13:36). This suggests Jesus was turning His focus to a different aspect of the reign of God: the spiritual nation that would bear the fruits of the Kingdom—that is, the church.

However, despite the change in audience, the last four parables still connect to the first four, providing positive instruction to the disciples and now the church. We see the close connection in the parables' deliberate structure, which few take into consideration.

As with the rest of God's creation, His Word displays an order and beauty in its organization. The parables in Matthew 13 are arranged in a chiasm (also known as an introversion or epanados), a structure wherein similar ideas are repeated but in reverse sequence. In plain terms, the first and last parables form a pair because they teach about a common theme. Similarly, the second and seventh, the third and sixth, and the fourth and fifth parables form pairs because their respective lessons closely relate. In general, the first parable of each pair, spoken to the multitudes, presents a problem to which the second, spoken to the disciples, provides the spiritual solution.

The term chiasm comes from the Greek letter chi, which we know as the letter X. The pivotal point of the X, and the crux of the chiasm, lies at the intersection. Applying this to the parables of Matthew 13, the decisive truth of Christ's teaching is found in the middle of the chiasm, the Parable of the Leaven (fourth parable) and the Parable of the Hidden Treasure (fifth parable). The previous parables lead up to this pair, and the remaining parables build upon their pivotal understanding.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Three)

Matthew 13:3-9

Jesus' first parable to the multitudes concerns a sower and his limited success in receiving fruit from the earth. Recognizing the context and audience reveals that this parable was a rebuke of the nation. It testified of the citizens' inability to receive “the word of the kingdom” (verse 19)—the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It aptly describes what John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles experienced in the first century. They saw within the people some interest—and even some willingness—to repent (after a fashion) and to be baptized, but there was little depth because their hearts were so far from their King. In three out of four scenarios in the parable, the ground produced nothing of value.

Only the good soil—“he who hears the word and understands it” (verse 23; emphasis ours)—bears fruit. All the types of ground receive the Word, but God prepares the soil only of some. The masses lacked ears to hear, despite claiming Abraham as their father. They looked for a messiah who would improve their political condition while leaving their religious system and moral state unchallenged.

We see this even within the context of the Parable of the Sower. The critical factor is whether the “ground” heard and received the “word of the kingdom”—that is, whether God had given those hearing the Word the means to respond properly. In Jesus' explanation of the parable to His disciples, He refers to the multitude before Him when quoting Isaiah 6:9-10:

Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.

The people to whom He gave the parables were fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy. They were living proof of the truth in this first parable—they could not receive the truth. In contrast, He had prepared His disciples to hear and respond properly. They were the good soil that would yield an increase (Matthew 13:16-17; see John 15:1-17).

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)

Matthew 13:31-32

Aside from this parable, His only other mention of a mustard seed relates to faith (Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6). This usage does not mean that the mustard seed is faith, but faith is nevertheless a component of the growth or increase to which Jesus refers in the symbol of the seed. In addition, He describes the mustard seed as “the least of all the seeds,” linking it with God's description of Israel as “the least of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7). Its first human king, Saul, even protested that he was from the smallest tribe, and his family was “the least of all the families” (I Samuel 9:21).

The real beginning of the nation/kingdom, though, was Abraham. Through Abraham's faith, the nation (which became a kingdom) began. By his faith in God's promise of an heir, the nation grew. God promised Abraham that “kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:6) and that “kings of peoples shall be from” his wife Sarah (verse 16). Thus, the “least of all peoples” had a faithful seed (beginning), and this seed likewise grew because of faith.

The commentaries are divided over the nature of the mustard plant in this parable. Some suggest that something contrary to nature takes place for the mustard plant to be considered a tree large enough to support birds. Yet others assert that the mustard plant can reach fifteen feet in height and provide anecdotes that suggest Jesus describes nothing unusual in His parable. Even today, mustard plants in the area of modern Israel are found with branches an inch in diameter. Relative to other local herbs such as hyssop, as well as the minuscule seed involved, a one-inch branch is massive!

Historians often herald Solomon's kingdom as the Golden Age of Israel, yet it was also oppressive and unsustainable. Ultimately, his wives turned his heart from God, and the worship of foreign gods (demons) received official sanction within the “thriving” kingdom. God blessed Solomon's kingdom, yet through his unwise excesses, it ultimately veered in a disastrous direction.

Because Jesus does not explain the mustard tree's size either way, it proves helpful to consider the elements of the parable that remain. First, Jesus draws attention to the fantastically humble beginning, which applies to Israel. Second, He points out its tremendous growth relative to its minuscule beginning. However, even with this surprising growth, the nation of Israel did not overshadow other “trees”—other kingdoms. Instead, it “grows up and becomes greater than all herbs” (Mark 4:32).

A third element is that the final state of the mustard tree is as a host to birds. This third point is central because Jesus uses birds as a symbol for Satan and his demons (Matthew 13:19). The humble mustard plant, with its faithful beginning and dramatic growth, in time became a place where the demons felt at home.

The gospels highlight demon possession as a major problem in Judea and Galilee during Christ's short ministry, and casting out demons was a significant part of His and the disciples' work. Because of Israel's unfaithfulness, God had removed His protection, and demons were “nesting” everywhere in the kingdom. The parable describes the nation's then-current satanic state rather than, as many commentators hold, the growth of the then-future church.

God inspired Moses to write that when Israel grew large through His increase, she would also fall into idolatry (Deuteronomy 32:15-17), which involves demonism, an exact parallel to what Jesus describes in the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Moses knew that Israel would “become utterly corrupt,” warning them that “evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:29). Israel's corruption is a consistent Old Testament theme (Psalm 14:3; 53:3; Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 7:11; 10:21; Ezekiel 16:47; 23:11). Without the new heart and Spirit available under the New Covenant, she followed the world's course into spiritual uncleanness and demonic activity.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Two)

Matthew 13:33

The “three measures of meal” first show up in Genesis 18:6: “So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.'” The occasion was God's meeting with Abraham and Sarah to promise them a son, the next step—a miraculous one—in the growth of the family/kingdom. The meal symbolizes the fellowship between God and the family of Abraham.

The Jews in Jesus' audience were quick to claim Abraham as their father (John 8:39), and the “three measures of meal” refers to something easily recognizable in their history. But then Jesus introduces a subversive element into the story. Over time, something happened to the fellowship between God and the expanding house of Abraham—the kingdom became “all leavened.” Many commenters hold that this parable teaches that the gospel will spread over all the earth in the same way that leaven spreads, but this interpretation overlooks both the context and the fact that God's Word never uses leaven positively. Instead, leaven is universally a symbol of corruption, especially of apostate doctrine and practice (Matthew 16:11-12; Luke 12:1; I Corinthians 5:8; Galatians 5:7-9).

The parable indicates, then, that the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham's family had completely degenerated. Israel “took” of pagan belief systems from the nations around her and introduced those corrupting ways into her relationship with God. The Judaism that Jesus encountered was a noxious blend of some Scripture with beliefs and practices picked up during the Babylonian captivity and flavored with Hellenism and the hardened traditions of previous generations. When Jesus delivered the parables, the major problem within the kingdom was not the idolatry of graven images as before the captivity, but one of false beliefs. He did not have to contend with pagan temples and high places, but with hearts hardened by anti-God doctrines and practices.

The beliefs and practices that Jesus encountered suggested a thoroughly leavened covenantal relationship, such that “He came to His own”—the descendants of Abraham, in particular—“and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Therefore, as He later informed the religious leaders, God would take the kingdom from its current caretakers and give it to a spiritual nation—the spiritual seed of Abraham, those who are Israelites because of their faith in Him rather than their physical lineage.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Two)

Matthew 13:33

In both the the fourth and fifth parables in this chapter, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to something hidden. The fourth parable (Matthew 13:33) shows a woman hiding leaven in “three measures of meal,” resulting in the leaven spreading throughout. The fifth parable describes a man finding hidden treasure and hiding it again. We first see “three measures of meal” in the meeting of Abraham and Sarah and the Lord, when He foretold the birth of Isaac (Genesis 18:6). However, the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham's house degraded over the centuries, and by the time of Christ's ministry, their peaceful accord had become completely debased.

The Parable of the Leaven ties the first three parables together. The critical issue in the third parable, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, is that a plant with a faithful beginning ends up being a welcome home to demons (Matthew 13:31-32). Symbolically, this is the effect of leavening: false beliefs lead people astray—away from God and toward perdition. Even though Abraham lived by faith and kept God's commandments, “leavening” introduced to (and by) his descendants broke down the spiritual wall and made the nation an environment hospitable to demons. While not every Pharisee, Sadducee, or common Jew was demon-possessed, Jesus forthrightly classified those who opposed Him as Satan's children (see John 8:44), as did John the Baptist before Him, calling them a “brood of vipers” when they claimed Abraham as their father (Matthew 3:7-9).

The symbolism involved in leavening further explains the second parable, whose conflict is found in the dismaying presence of the tares among the wheat. God did not plant the tares. They threatened to diminish the harvest because their origin is satanic rather than divine. At the time Jesus spoke this parable, the tares were embodied in the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were oppressing those with whom God was working. Jesus rebukes them in Matthew 23:13, saying, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (emphasis ours throughout). Their active opposition to the good seed directly resulted from their corrupt—leavened—beliefs about righteousness.

Taking one more step back, the idea of leavening also plays into the Parable of the Sower, in which most of the soils on which the word of the Kingdom fell could not produce a positive, sustained response. In the first scenario, the birds—a symbol of demons—interfered before the seed had a chance to sprout. The demons were present because, by turning away from God, the nation had essentially invited them in. In the second scenario, the soil was stony, and the sprouting seed could not develop roots to allow continued survival and growth. The nation's hardness of heart made many slow to believe, which ties to the problem of leavening. Likewise, the thorns—pursuing the cares of the world—are a consequence of a misaligned belief system that prioritizes the material over the spiritual.

As we can see, Christ's woeful parables to the multitudes reach a climax in the Parable of the Leaven. It explains the underlying cause of the nation's spiritual problems described in the previous parables, as well as the controversy between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Matthew 12.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Three)

Matthew 13:44

A common interpretation of the Parable of the Hidden Treasure holds that the treasure is the church, hidden by God in the world. That interpretation contains a significant difficulty, though: Jesus nowhere teaches that the church of God should be hidden. Rather, in the Sermon on the Mount, He tells His disciples that they “are the light of the world.” He says, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). He follows this with a second illustration, teaching that the purpose of a lamp is to give illumination, and that a hidden lamp is useless. His conclusion is, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Considering the spectacular founding of the church in Acts 2, it is hard to imagine that the extraordinary events of that day would not have spread like wildfire among untold numbers of people. In Acts 17:6, the people in Thessalonica, some 1,000 miles from Jerusalem, say that the apostles had “turned the world upside down.” News of God's power through His servants had spread far and wide; the church was not hidden. As Paul told Festus and Agrippa, “This thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).

Paul writes in Colossians 1:23 that the gospel had been “preached to every creature under heaven.” While he employs a measure of hyperbole, the fact remains that Jesus did not hide the church once He founded it. The church in Colossae suffered persecution because its members kept the Sabbath and holy days joyfully, which their ascetic neighbors looked down upon.

Wherever Christ's followers emulate Him, they will not be hidden. He told the disciples they would be hated by all for His name's sake (Matthew 10:22; 24:9), showing that the world would be aware of His followers. He also warned them, “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (John 16:2), speaking of a time when church members are the focus of attention. On a positive note, He also said that their love for each other would cause all people to know that they were His disciples (John 13:35). Finally, if the church is the agent of preaching the gospel in all the world (Matthew 24:14), then it will not be hidden at the end either.

Jesus did not intend the true church to be a large institution, wielding temporal power, so it is not always visible in profane history books. Certainly, the church is not visible to every last person. Yet, wherever God's true people live, they will make a visible witness of God's way of life to their neighbors because the Spirit of our Father generates that witness. But if the assembly of called-out ones is hidden rather than shining as light, it is because it looks too much like the world. Such a state would bring no joy to Jesus Christ.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Three)

Matthew 13:44

Jesus said that the Kingdom would be taken from its current caretakers and given to a spiritual nation with the same faith as Abraham. While Israel, for the most part, was faithless, He found faith in the Gentile centurion. In Deuteronomy 32:20, the pre-incarnate Christ described Israel as “a perverse generation, children in whom is no faith,” but as He walked through the world—through this field (Matthew 13:38)—He found little gems of faith that the Father had hidden.

He declares that the work of God is for people to believe—to have faith—in the One He sent (John 6:29). He says the Father would draw people to the Son (John 6:44-45), and that drawing is the result of the Father giving faith. As Jesus traveled, He encountered some instances of genuine belief—in contrast to the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees—and He rejoiced in the rare faith He found. Thus, in Matthew 11:25, Jesus thanked the Father for hiding things from the world's wise and prudent and revealing them to babes.

When He encountered this kind of faith, Jesus consistently responded by healing or doing some other act of mercy, then He would instruct the faithful person not to tell anyone. In other words, He found faith that His Father had hidden in the “field,” yet He hid it again, just as the parable describes. When a leper came to Him, professing his faith that Jesus could cleanse him, He told him (after the healing), “See that you tell no one” (Matthew 8:4). A little later, He resurrected a little girl after seeing the faith of her parents, charging them to tell no one what had happened (Mark 5:35-43). Similarly, Jesus healed two blind men based on their faith, and then instructed them, “See that no one knows it” (Matthew 9:30). All these events, plus the healing of the centurion's servant, took place before Jesus gave the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, so the disciples could draw upon experience to understand the parable.

This dynamic is especially clear in Matthew 16:13-20, when Jesus asked them whom the people thought He was, and then whom the disciples thought He was. Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and He told Peter that his understanding—that treasure of faith—had been given by the Father. At the end of the conversation, “He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.” They were to keep the matter hidden.

Christ's pattern was to respond to those in whom the Father had hidden faith, then to keep that faith hidden until He had purchased the field—the world. He was willing to buy all humanity for the sake of the few whom the Father had given faith. After His resurrection, the treasure did not need to remain hidden, and the disciples proclaimed to the entire world that Jesus was the Christ.

The time would come when God would reveal what had been hidden, but only after the conditions were right—after He had redeemed the lives of His followers from the power of Satan, so they could not be snatched from His hand (John 10:28-29).

In one of His final prayers, Jesus reports to the Father, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12). This confirms that He was constantly on guard against losing those with faith.

What Christ values is the true faith that only God gives (Romans 12:3). Peter calls it “precious faith” (II Peter 1:1), describing it as “much more precious than gold that perishes” (I Peter 1:7). He treasures the faith that trusts Him to heal blindness, especially our spiritual blindness. He values the faith that trusts Him to make us cleaner than He made the lepers. He esteems the faith that trusts Him to give us spiritual life and eternal life just as He restored the little girl to life. He cherishes the faith that trusts in the overarching spiritual reality of His sovereignty, such that when Christ says to one, "Go," he goes; and to another, "Come," and he comes; and to His servants, "Do this," and they do it.

That faith, trust, or belief is so meaningful to the Creator that He gave up everything to purchase the world so that those with this treasure would become part of His realm. Faith is the basis of the Kingdom “given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43).

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Three)

Matthew 13:45-46

Just as the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32) concerns a single plant, so the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price focuses on a single, precious gem. The Mustard Seed shows growth relative to a humble beginning. The Pearl of Great Price illustrates this also, as a pearl's value largely depends on how big it grows (in relative terms) over the years as layer upon layer of nacre accretes over a minuscule irritant. What people seek even more than size are a pearl's quality and perfection: A smaller, flawless pearl is worth more than a larger, marred, misshapen one.

The New King James Version's “beautiful” in Matthew 13:45 is translated as “goodly” in the King James Version. The Greek word, kalos, carries a sense of beauty, but it refers to moral goodness and virtue, not simply aesthetics. It is the same word underlying “good works,” “good fruit,” “good seed” and “good ground” (as in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares), “fitting,” “better,” “good shepherd,” as well as “honest.” The pearl was beautiful because of its exquisite qualities, not merely because it caught the eye.

The contrast between these two parables lies in the result. The latter end of the mustard plant is an abode for birds, just as the nation at the time of Jesus was rife with unclean spirits. In contrast, the pearl is a symbol of purity. It caught the attention of a merchant, who specialized in seeking “goodly” pearls. For the merchant to conclude his search with this singular, superlative pearl proves its great worth in this expert's eyes. Whereas the Parable of the Mustard Seed ends with spiritual uncleanness, the Pearl of Great Price concludes with satisfaction over superb quality and worth. The merchant spends everything he had; he could buy no other, nor did he desire to.

As with many of the previous parables, the most common interpretation of this parable lacks scriptural support. The popular reading asserts that the pearl variously represents salvation, the Kingdom, or Jesus Christ Himself. In this view, the merchant represents the individual Christian, willing to give up everything to purchase these things of inestimable worth.

While true and admirable sentiments exist in this view—a follower of Christ certainly must count the cost of discipleship and be willing to sacrifice all—the fact remains that human beings have no currency with which to purchase salvation, the Kingdom, or the Savior. They can accept or reject these gifts, but they can never procure them by wealth, works, or good intentions.

The merchant does not represent ordinary men. In the paired Parable of the Mustard Seed, the man represents Jesus Christ, symbolically sowing a tiny seed in the world, initiating a physical nation/kingdom. Likewise, the merchant in this parable represents Jesus Christ, who first surrendered His divine position to become human and then sacrificed His sinless, physical life. His sacrifice paid the redemption price for those with the faith of Abraham—the faith that is a gift of God and is demonstrated by works of obedience (Genesis 26:5; James 2:17-22; John 14:21; I John 5:2-3).

God's promises to Abraham are fulfilled in both the physical nation of Israel and spiritual Israel, the church, and this pairing of parables captures this overlap. One—the Mustard Seed—shows the biological family growing large, while the other—the Pearl—reveals the spiritual Family supremely valued. Abraham's faith facilitated the fulfillment of God's promise of an heir and thus the first increase of the Kingdom (see Genesis 17:5-7). However, the apostle Paul explains that physical heritage, while important in some aspects (Romans 3:1-2), matters far less than receiving from God the same faith Abraham had (Galatians 3:7-9).

Those with this faith are “bought at a price” (I Corinthians 6:20; 7:23); they are of “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Peter writes that God redeemed us “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:19). Truly, Christ sold all He had to purchase this pearl He found so valuable.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Four)

Matthew 13:51

The first and last parables in Matthew 13 are key parables. The first, the Parable of the Sower, introduces and anticipates the whole series of parables, and the last, the Parable of the Householder (Matthew 13:51-52), concludes and reflects on them. When Jesus finishes giving the first seven parables, He asks His disciples, "Have you understood these things?" They reply, "Yes." Their comprehension allows Jesus to give one more illustration to reveal their responsibility as scribes being instructed on the subject of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Martin G. Collins
The Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Eight): The Parable of the Dragnet

Matthew 13:51-52

The first parable in the chapter concerns the response of people hearing the Word of the Kingdom. Only those who hear and understand it respond in a positive and sustained manner (Matthew 13:23). The eighth parable also hinges on understanding. Jesus prefaces it with the question, “Have you understood all these things?” After the disciples respond that they have, He proceeds with the final teaching of the occasion, the responsibility of “every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven.”

In general, the scribes of Jesus' day were negative figures, despite the office itself being an honorable one. The term “scribe” (or “secretary”) could refer to any official writer. The first usage dates to the administration of King David (II Samuel 8:17). The role of scribe began with those skilled in writing—and more importantly, recording accurately—but it took on additional significance under Ezra, “a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given” (Ezra 7:6; emphasis ours). Because the scribes were responsible for accurately copying the Scriptures, they knew well what the Scriptures said. They thus became teachers of the law.

The gospel writers frequently group the scribes with the Pharisees and priests because they had become part of the apostate religious leadership of Christ's day. They also frequently opposed Jesus and His teaching, as human traditions had infused their learning and methods of interpretation. Those who should have known the Scriptures best—and recognized the Scriptures' Author and Object—were as unseeing as the other religious leaders.

Jesus does not apply the eighth parable to all scribes but specifically to those instructed in things related to the Kingdom. To paraphrase this parable, every teacher of God's instructions who is a disciple of the Kingdom is like the head of a family—the master of a house—who “brings forth” out of his “treasure”—or more properly, out of his “treasury” or storeroom. What is this treasury? This parable builds on the previous chapter, where Jesus castigates the Pharisees for their blasphemous words in attributing His power to Satan. Jesus responds, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35).

The Pharisees had generated evil things—blasphemy—from their treasuries, their hearts. In contrast, a scribe who is a true disciple of the Kingdom will deliver good things out of his heart. These things will be “new and old.” What is in view are new things in terms of character or quality (kainos). For instance, the New Covenant is not new simply in terms of time (neos) but is of a completely different—higher—quality than the preceding covenant with Israel (Hebrews 8:6-7).

Therefore, the disciple-scribe will bring forth from his heart—from his God-given understanding—both what has come before and what is new in clarity and righteous application. This reinforces Jesus' earlier declaration that He had not come to destroy or abolish the law but to fulfill it by demonstrating its intent in His life (Matthew 5:17-19). After His resurrection, He “opened [the disciples'] understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45; see also verse 27). With inspired understanding, the disciple-scribe will maintain the instruction given in the “Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44), but he will also distill its intent.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Four)

Matthew 21:33-44

"The kingdom of God" in Matthew 21:43 refers not to the future establishment of Christ's Kingdom on earth, but to a dominion then in existence.

The context of this parable begins in Matthew 21:23, indicating that its audience was “the chief priests and the elders of the people.” Verses 45-46 show their reaction:

Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. (Emphasis ours throughout.)

Even though God had not given the religious leaders the means to understand all the mysteries of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:11), they could still perceive that Jesus aimed several of His teachings directly at them.

The chapter break obscures that Jesus continued speaking to the same leaders in the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), another parable of “the kingdom of heaven” (verse 2). The king sends out invitations to the feast in batches. The first two sets are declined, signifying the response of the physical nation of Israel. Only after the “king . . . sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (verse 7)—foreshadowing Jerusalem's destruction forty years after they rejected the gospel of the Kingdom—does a third call go out, and his servants find suitable guests for the wedding.

This third group of guests represents those whom Christ later gave, not only entrance to the wedding feast, but also authority to rule. As He had earlier told Peter, a representative of the spiritual nation, “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom” (Matthew 16:19). The stewardship of the Kingdom would be transferred.

Likewise, Jesus foretold of a future time when His followers would receive greatly increased authority: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Even as Jacob supplanted Esau, so God would make certain that Jacob's descendants would likewise be supplanted (though not forgotten) because of their unfaithfulness.

In these two parables, we can see a critical facet of God's dominion. Jesus considered the chief priests, the elders, and the Pharisees part of God's Kingdom, and also certified that they would have the Kingdom taken from them. They, like tenant-farmers, had a measure of responsibility over that national Kingdom because of their leadership positions within it. They wielded religious power that Jesus acknowledged (Matthew 23:2-3), which had its source in God (Romans 13:1).

In the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, the vineyard is the Kingdom of God, and the vinedressers are those tasked with attending to it. Jesus prophesied that stewardship would be transferred because the original caretakers had proven themselves unfaithful. Psalm 80:8-19 also represents the Kingdom of Israel as a vineyard (as does Isaiah 5:1-7), and the shared symbol confirms that the Kingdom of Israel was the Kingdom of God at that time, though not in its fullness.

Similarly, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, though a parable of the “kingdom of heaven,” deals at length with Israel, specifically Judah. It illustrates the physical descendants of Abraham as not acting like Abraham at all (see John 8:30-38). God told Israel even before she made the covenant, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), revealing that His original intent for Israel was to be a Kingdom.

Israel's first human king, Saul, was unfaithful, and the Kingdom was taken from him and given to David. After the people contributed for the Temple, David praised God, saying, “For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all” (I Chronicles 29:11). Similarly, Abijah refers to the house of David as “the Kingdom of the LORD” (II Chronicles 13:8). Both Asaph and Isaiah proclaim that God was still Israel's King, even though earlier the nation had requested a king “like all the other nations,” rejecting God (Psalm 74:12; Isaiah 33:22; see I Samuel 8:4-8; Deuteronomy 17:14). The Kingdom of Israel was an aspect of the basileia—the sovereign dominion—of God. It was a Kingdom with its origin and authority in heaven.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)


 




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