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
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
It is immediately obvious that the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price and the Parable of the Hidden Treasure are similar; they have a similar form and similar symbols. They both tell the same basic story. It is interesting that in this series of parables, Christ gave two that are so much alike. This is not unusual.
In Genesis 41:1-7 are Pharaoh's dreams about the upcoming famine. Notice that God gave Pharaoh two similar dreams: a vision of seven healthy cows devoured by seven gaunt ones and then seven good heads of grain devoured by seven blighted ones. He did this to emphasize matters to Pharaoh. Repetition is the best form of emphasis.
In addition, He did it because something appeared in the second one that was not in the first, and it was an important factor for Pharaoh to understand. What it told Joseph is that there would be, not only a famine that affected livestock, but also a famine affecting vegetation. It would be a total famine, and they had to prepare accordingly.
In these two parables, then—the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price—there must be something additional in the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price that is not quite understandable from the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. Jesus gave a second parable with a slightly different meaning for a reason: to give us encouragement.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 13:45: