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Matthew 13:31  (King James Version)
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<< Matthew 13:30   Matthew 13:32 >>


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 13:31

The mustard seed stands for the progress of the church from small beginnings. Because of its minuteness, the mustard seed came to symbolize small beginnings, denoting the smallest weight or measure, a tiny particle. The parable focuses on this idea of smallness. The mustard seed is something small that does its part to expand in preparation for the Kingdom of God. The seed represents an instrument by which spiritual growth can be advanced, just as a plant grows and reproduces itself through a seed.

In this parable, the small seed is the church, which appeared as the firstfruits of the Word. Just as in the Parable of the Sower, the one who sows the mustard seed is the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, and the field is the world. Jesus Himself had an insignificant entrance into the world by human standards, and the church He founded is likewise a "little flock" (Luke 12:31-32), small and designed by God not to become a physically powerful organization that would make a spectacle of itself.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Christ says the way that leads to eternal life is difficult and narrow, and few find it. He reiterates in Matthew 20:16 that few are chosen. In Luke 10:2, when sending the seventy out, He says the laborers are few. Paul argues in I Corinthians 1:26-29 that God calls the weak and the base of the world to put to shame the mighty and the noble. Jesus is referring to those few who, upon their calling by God, voluntarily submit to God's dominion, the Kingdom of God.

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Four): The Parable of the Mustard Seed



Matthew 13:31-32

When Jesus taught parables as prophecies of the course of the church's history until His return, He provided two views of the one subject: specifically, the outward aspect, shown to the multitude of people; and the inward aspect, as revealed to His disciples. He gave the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19) to the mixed multitude to disclose evidence of a specific characteristic of the church compared to the outside world.

The historical development of the church of God would be one of humble beginnings. However, this parable contains more than this important truth. Hidden within it is a warning about the perversion of the church's method of growth and of satanic attacks upon it. This parable is an analogy, and as with all analogies, the symbolism is not exact but similar. Therefore, the symbolism of the Kingdom of God being likened to a mustard seed is not identical, yet it explains a particular aspect of the process that the church goes through in preparing for God's Kingdom.

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Four): The Parable of the Mustard Seed



Matthew 13:31

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



Matthew 13:1-58

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



Matthew 13:31

The common interpretation of the Parable of the Mustard Seed is that the mustard seed represents the Kingdom of God, which begins tiny, and over time, expands or grows into a worldwide system, becoming the home for many nations or many people. They dwell there in peace, safety, and harmony. This looks good and true on the surface, but after analyzing the symbols, we will see that it is incorrect. It does not hold water.

Verse 31 is very clear. Everyone agrees that the man - the sower - is Jesus Christ, as in the Parable of the Tares. Again, the field is the world. Did God not pull us all out of the world?

However, the "mustard seed" is a bit more controversial. We learn in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares that a seed is the means by which a plant grows and reproduces itself. It makes no sense to say that the Kingdom of God grows by means of the Kingdom of God. The mustard seed cannot be the Kingdom of God. It is instead an agent of the Kingdom of God at work to make the Kingdom of God grow and expand.

Notice Jesus does not say, "The Kingdom of God is a mustard seed," but it is "like a mustard seed." It is an analogy, and as in all analogies, the correlation is not exact. The comparison between "the mustard seed" and the "Kingdom of God" is not so close as to be identical, but it is a representation that explains a certain aspect of God's Kingdom.

What is the mustard plant? In the Greek, the word for it is sinapi, the common word for "mustard." Black mustard grows all across America, which is used to make the mustard that we put on our hot dogs, hamburgers, and sandwiches. Normally the mustard plant grows to be four to six feet tall with spindly branches. However, it is not a tree; it is a mustard plant. A mustard plant, if it is planted in a perfect spot with perfect nutrients, perfect light, perfect irrigation, etc., has been found to grow up to about 15 feet (5 meters) tall. That is almost twice the height of most ceilings.

But even if it grows to fifteen feet, does the mustard plant become a tree? No. The mustard plant is always a shrub. It does not grow a thick trunk and large branches. Most of the time, it does not grow past six feet.

We know about the mustard seed. This is one point that people always get from this parable - that it is among the smallest of cultivated seeds. Its smallness, then, is really our only clue as to what the parable is teaching. The mustard seed represents something small that does its part in expanding God's Kingdom. What could it be?

In Matthew 7:13-14, Christ says the way that leads to eternal life is difficult and narrow, and there are few who find it. Matthew 20:16 reiterates this by saying that few are chosen. In Luke 10:2, when He sends the seventy out, He says the laborers are few. In Luke 12:31-32, He refers to His church as a little flock.

Just before the day of Pentecost in AD 31, Acts 1:15 puts the number of disciples - or perhaps families - at about a hundred and twenty. Not very many for three-and-a-half year's work - it was a little flock. Romans 9:27 quotes Isaiah saying that the remnant will be saved. Consider also the small pinch of hairs that Ezekiel stuck in his pocket, and then he took some of them out and burned them in the fire too! I Corinthians 1:26-29 says that God called the weak and the base of the world to put to shame the mighty and the noble.

What, then, is the mustard seed? Simple - it is His church: the few, the small, the weak, and the base. He is referring to those who voluntarily submit to God's dominion (the Kingdom of God), and they are absolutely few indeed at this point in time - compared with fifty billion people who have lived on this earth.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed




Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 13:31:

Matthew 13:31-32
Mark :
Luke :

 

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