Matthew Chapter 13

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Matthew Chapter 13,
Kingdom of Heaven Parables

Tod Kennedy, January 2007

I. Introduction to Parables and Matthew 13

1.     Jesus now turns to a new method of teaching his disciples. He uses the parable. Remember that in Matthew 12 the religious leaders determined to reject Jesus as Messiah. Beginning in chapter 13 Jesus taught many truths by parable. He only interpreted two of His parables, the parable of the sower, seed, and soil, and the parable of the weeds. The apparent answer to why He did this is that He expected only certain of His listeners to understand the parable.

1.1.          Jesus’ used the parable because the crowds had rejected him. We must understand the parables of Matthew 13 within the context that Israel has rejected him as messiah. Because they rejected him the kingdom will be postponed.

1.2.          The parables are about the postponed kingdom. At best, the unbeliever would not understand the postponement of the kingdom. At worst, the unbeliever would react with anger against Jesus. These parables explain what will take place in God’s kingdom during this postponement period or the time leading up to the public inauguration of the promised kingdom of heaven on earth.

1.3.          Important terms in chapter 13 that identify what Jesus is teaching are parables (13:3), mysteries (13:11), and kingdom of heaven (13:11).

1.4.          Matthew, in 13:34-34, notes that Jesus was teaching Bible doctrine or God’s thinking in story or parable form to instruct those who wanted to learn from him.

2.     What is a parable?

2.1.          A parable transfers from the known to the unknown, and is a way to teach truth. The word indicates a comparison or illustration. A parable compares something in life to a spiritual truth. The truth to be taught is transferred from well-known real life. The beginning of the parable or the basis for the story is something known to the listeners.

2.2.          A parable can transfer from general knowledge (similitude parable) as Matthew 13:33 does by referring to leaven in the baking process. A parable also can transfer from a specific incident (story parable) as in Luke 15.3 where Jesus tells the story about the man who has 100 sheep and one is lost and he searches for the lost sheep.

2.3.          About one-third of Jesus’ recorded teaching is in parable form. When Jesus says he will teach mysteries of the kingdom of heaven in parables he means he will teach new truth about this kingdom, but in a way that those who believe him will understand and those who reject him will not understand (Matthew 11:25-27; 13:11-14). This goes with Jesus’ saying in Matthew 7:6, “do not throw pearls to swine,” or don’t waste something on those not able to appreciate it.

2.4.          The NASB has the word “parable” three times in the Old Testament (Psalm 78:2; Ezekiel 17:2; 24:3). In the New Testament the Greek word “parabole” is used 50 times, 48 in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Two others are Hebrews 9:9 (symbol), Hebrews 11:19 (type). Philippians 2:30 uses the verb form meaning laying down or risking. Matthew used parable 18 times. The first use is in Matthew 13:3. That chapter uses parable 13 times.

2.5.          There are a number of story methods, sometimes called parables, used in the Bible. I will list four. They all teach a truth. The point is that the Bible context tells us what kind of a parable the author intends.

2.5.1.   A simile is a stated likeness. It uses the word “like” or “as.” In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says “as sheep” and “as doves.”

2.5.2.   A metaphor is an implied likeness. In John 10:7 Jesus said, “I am the door.”

2.5.3.   An allegory is a story that is not based in real life. The listener uses his imagination. Judges 9 is an allegory. The people of Shechem crowned Abimilech, an evil man, as king. Jotham told the citizens an allegory. The trees represented the citizens. They asked an olive tree, then a fig tree, then a vine, and finally a bramble to rule over them. Only the bramble agreed to be king. Abimelech was the bramble and a bad choice.

2.5.4.   A proverb is a well known saying or statement of a general truth. Luke 6:39 states a proverb and identifies it as a parable.

3.     Another term in Matthew 13 is the word “mystery.” A mystery is a new truth, a truth not taught until the present time. Jesus is now going to teach mystery truth, ideas that were not previously revealed, about the kingdom of heaven. Paul taught mystery truth about the church. The mysteries reveal the way the kingdom, now postponed, will be established on earth. Furthermore, because believers from the church age will form a part of the kingdom citizenry, we might cautiously say that the kingdom, in a sense, exists now in the church age (George Peters in The Theocratic Kingdom…, and Stanley Toussaint in Behold the King).

4.     We have seen that the “kingdom of heaven” in the context of Matthew is the Hebrew kingdom on earth that God promised in the Old Testament. And this was to be an earthly kingdom. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used 32 times in 31 verses in Matthew. In Matthew 3:2, 4:17, and 10:7 the people were told to repent because the kingdom was at hand. Matthew records that it is coming in the future to the time when Jesus spoke of it. At the end of Jesus’ life his disciples had the same view of the kingdom as earlier in Jesus’ ministry. They had hoped that Jesus would bring the physical kingdom into existence (Luke 24:21). Jesus never told the disciples they were wrong to expect an earthly kingdom ruled by Messiah (Matthew 19:28; 20:20-23; Acts 6:1-7).

4.1.          The Old Testament presentation of the kingdom was the same as the New Testament presentation: Preceded by judgment (Daniel 7:21-27 and Matthew 13:30, 41-42, 49-50); rewards to the righteous (Daniel 12:2-3 and Matthew 13:30, 41, 42; supernatural (Daniel 2:34 and Matthew 13:30, 40-41); come suddenly (Isaiah 46:13; Daniel 2:34 and 44-45; Malachi 3:1; and Matthew 13:30, 40-41, 44-45; universal authority (Psalm 2:8 and Matthew 13:38-41).

5.     To summarize, the parables about the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven explain how the presently postponed kingdom will get ready to be established on earth at the right time. The 8 parables.

5.1.          The parable of the sower. 13:3-23 and 18-23. This is the introductory parable.

5.2.          The parable of the wheat and tares, 13:24-30 and explained in 13:36-43.

5.3.          The parable of the mustard seed, 13:31-32. The mustard seed story adds another principle to the developing kingdom.

5.4.          The parable of the leaven, 13:33.

5.5.          The simile parable of the treasure that was hidden, 13:44.

5.6.          The simile parable of the pearl of great price, 13:45-46.

5.7.          The simile parable of the dragnet cast into the sea, 13:47-50.

II. The Parables of Matthew 13

1.     The parable of the sower. 13:3-23 with the interpretation in 13:18-23. This is the introductory parable.

1.1.          The sower story is the first given in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. Why? Probably because this story is basic to the understanding of all Bible teaching. The response to God’s word will vary. Some will get it and some will not. Some will grow and produce spiritual fruit and some will languish.

1.2.          From the plural “parables” of verse 13, the disciples may have waited to ask about parables until Jesus and delivered a number of them. They became a little confused and then asked him why he spoke in parables.

1.3.          Jesus tells the parable (3-9), followed by a question and answer as to why he is teaching in parables (10-17), and then the explanation of the parable (18-23).

1.4.          The parable addresses the question, “what will be the response to the message of Jesus and the disciples?”

1.5.          The answer is that the response will vary.

1.6.          The seed is scattered onto four kinds of ground: 1. beside the road (4), 2. rocky ground (5-6), 3. thorny ground (7), good soil (8).

1.7.          Remember that this teaches the varying responses to the kingdom message. It is very pertinent to the disciples. This also can have application to us and we give out God’s word. Jesus tell people that only one group will respond with strong faith and follow through.

1.8.          The seed takes root in all but the roadside. There was no soil there. There was not faith. Verse 19 says that Satan takes it away. It never did germinate. The seed fell and birds ate it. Apparently this person did not believe the message.

1.9.          Rocky soil has some dirt for the seed to take hold and grow. Verses 20-21 indicate that a person makes a great deal about hearing and accepting the message, but he has no Bible teaching and his faith is weak. When hard time hit, and they will, he had no strong roots and falls away from the faith. He has the wrong solutions. He lives like he never believed Jesus’ message. We can see this today. New believers are excited, but then under pressure they have so biblical support. They give it up and chase after emotional and psychological solutions. Those do not help.

1.10.      Thorns are weeds. Weeds choke off the growth and fruit of good plants. Verse 22 gives the explanation. The seed took root, but outside influences crowded out the plant and it did not produce.  This kind of person became occupied with details of life and the non biblical world view. When details of life become more important than God’s will, this kind of believer will be unproductive for the Lord.

1.11.      Good soil teaches about the person who hears with faith and follows through with positive volition and faith. He hears, he understands, he bears spiritual fruit. This is the biblically based and faithful believer.

1.12.      Applications

1.12.1.     The disciples need to adjust their expectations. They will not have great success. We need to adjust our expectations to the same reality. Adjusting expectations to God’s reality should encourage us and protect us from discouragement. This parable should change discouragement to encouragement. Jesus has described the ministry of the word and the different levels of response that people will give to God’s word.

1.12.2.     The application for evangelism is that the disciples will spread the kingdom message. We in the church will also spread God’s message which is eternal salvation is a gift purchased by Jesus Christ and received by faith in Christ. Furthermore, the gospel message will be spread among differing audiences.

1.12.3.     The application for Bible teaching and learning is that God’s word will be taught, but only a minority of people will respond to God’s word and grow and serve him.

1.12.4.     People will make choices to reject the seed or accept the seed. If they accept the seed, they must choose what to do with the seed. Would all the disciples become good soil? Will you and I become good soil or be content to rocky or weedy soil?

2.     The parable of the wheat and tares, 13:24-30 with the interpretation in 13:36-43. This answers the primary question, “Is Satan able to stop the progress of the kingdom and therefore defeat it before it finds its completion?” The answer is no, he cannot. Other related questions include why does the field have a mixed crop, or why are there unbelievers mixed in with believers, and why are there negative and positive believers or disinterested and growing believers living side by side. How did they get there? What should we do about them?

2.1.          There is an enemy also sowing his seed-word among people. Verse 39 says that the devil, Satan, also is promoting his own kingdom. This promotion goes on while the good seed is being spread.

2.2.          The sleeping men are not spiritual failures. It simply says that Satan works while normal life goes on (25-28). People need to sleep. Satan seems to work most while believers are least expecting it.

2.3.          The slaves of the landowner are not to hunt down the weeds and pull them up. That would harm the good crop. Continue to do your job, Jesus says. At the harvest the weeds will be collected and burned (28-30). In the interpretation (41-43) the angels of the Son of man will gather and judge those who do not belong in the kingdom. Those who are left—the righteous—(43) will shine in the kingdom.

2.3.1.         This is the judgment at the beginning of the millennial kingdom found in Matthew 25.

2.4.          Lessons for application.

2.4.1.         The time preceding the kingdom will have both believers and unbelievers living side by side. By application, we will also have carnal and spiritual believers, growing and apathetic believers.

2.4.2.         The disciples were not to concentrate on removing all the unbelievers. They were simply to continue to do their job of sowing, caring for, and harvesting the spiritual crop.

2.4.3.         God will take care of any judgment that is needed, and he will do it in his own time and way.

2.4.4.         During the time leading up to the kingdom, God’s people need to be faithful to him.

2.4.5.         Those who concentrate on searching out and removing bad people (unbelievers and by extension carnal and apathetic believers) are not concentrating on the Lord and are trying to do his job.

3.     The parable of the mustard seed, 13:31-32. The mustard seed story adds another principle to the developing kingdom.

3.1.          Jesus addresses the question, will the kingdom survive and what will the kingdom be like in the future, since it is so small and unaccepted now? To explain this he goes to a known small seed that grows into tree that is larger than the garden plants.

3.2.          Mustard was a proverbial small seed that grew into a tree 10-12 feet tall. The mustard seed was the smallest of garden seeds known in that part of the world. Trees are use in the Bible to illustrate greatness and protection: Psalm 104:12, Ezekiel 17:22–24, 31:3–14, and Daniel 4:7–23.

3.3.          The kingdom of which Jesus preached and offered to Israel was seen by people of his time to be so tiny and almost non-existent. Would it survive and grow. Yes it would. Just like a small mustard seed would grow into a large and sheltering tree.

3.4.          The kingdom of heaven began with a small and insignificant group of people. It will grow and enlarge in such a way that people will be able to see it. Some will, in fact, find their home and protection in this kingdom.

3.5.          Lessons for application.

3.5.1.   The kingdom, though rejected now, will conquer the entire earth at Christ’s second coming.

3.5.2.   We in the church can learn that God’s truth, while seemingly in the minority, will eventually rule creation. This will come when Jesus returns to earth and sets up his millennial kingdom.

3.5.3.   We are on the winning side, though it may not seem like that now. We in the church…

3.5.3.1.        We are winners because Jesus Christ's grace has given us enormous spiritual wealth (2 Corinthians 8.9; Revelation 2.9).

3.5.3.2.        We are winners because God has made us aristocracy with a purpose (1 Peter 2.9-10).

3.5.3.3.        We are winners because God is for us (Romans 8.31-32).

4.     The parable of the leaven, 13:33.

4.1.          Leaven generally describes that which has disintegrated, decayed, turned sour, and then evil. Leaven symbolizes sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ bad doctrine (Matthew 16:12, 16; Mark 8:15).

4.2.          The question is how will the kingdom influence and affect the world during the time before its public beginning? It will work quietly from inside. It will not be a showy development, but it will be working.

4.3.          In contrast to the mustard seed parable, the leaven parable teaches that something very small will influence, yet not conquer, something much larger. A very small amount of leaven will affect a large amount of flour. The kingdom message will quietly work in the world until Christ returns.

4.4.          Some think that leaven refers here to sin—that sin will permeate the kingdom of heaven during the postponement period. It is true that sin permeates God’s world from the time of Jesus until his millennial kingdom. But in this parable, if that is so, the kingdom of heaven is like sin and this sin spreads throughout all the world. This is probably not the meaning here in this context.

4.5.          Lessons for application.

4.5.1.   No matter how bad things get in our world, Jesus’ kingdom message is still influencing people and his kingdom will come at just the right time—when he returns at his glorious appearing as Revelation 19:11-16 describe.

5.     The parable of the wheat and tares is now explained, 13:36-43. See the above study on the wheat and tares.

6.     The simile parable of the treasure that was hidden, 13:44.

6.1.          This answers the question of how valuable and important the kingdom is to one who finds it without really looking for it.

6.2.          Picture a field in which there is a valuable buried treasure. You are walking in the field and stumble onto the treasure. What will you do? You will hide the treasure so no one else will find it. Then you will try to buy the field so that you may secure whatever is in the field. Since the treasure is much more valuable than all your present resources, you are willing to spend them all to gain the greater treasure.

6.3.          What lessons can we learn?

6.3.1.   Some people will learn the value of the kingdom without really looking for the kingdom. They “stumble” onto it through events, reading, and talking.

6.3.2.   The kingdom of heaven is of great value. It is more important and more valuable than any present human resources.

6.3.2.1.        Some will “stumble” onto the kingdom truth. They will have the choice of following through and valuing the kingdom or ignoring it. This teaches that some will recognize its value and want to become a part of it.

6.3.2.2.        Why is it of value? Because of its moral base. Because of its unchanging nature. Because it is the remedy for hurt and disappointment and unhappiness. Because its leader is without any flaws and very wise and very just.

6.3.2.3.        It is also valuable because it answers the heart longing for people—security, love, justice, peace, prosperity, leadership.

7.     The simile parable of the pearl of great price, 13:45-46.

7.1.          The question is, how valuable is this kingdom to one who is looking for it? The pearl, representing the kingdom, is so valuable that he willingly sells all his property and buys it.

7.2.          Here we have a person searching for God and God’s kingdom—the kingdom of heaven—and he finds it. Now what? Does he leave it after a long search and say it is not worth anything? No, he wants to participate in it. He makes the choice to become involved with it, no matter the cost.

7.3.          Lessons we can learn.

7.3.1.   Some people will search for the kingdom. They may listen to people, read the Bible or books about God and the kingdom, or even attend a church or Bible study. They discover the truth of the gospel and what God is doing with Israel and the world.

7.3.2.   These will recognize the value of God’s plan and enter the plan by faith in Christ. They will learn that the kingdom of heaven is coming with Jesus as the king. They want to be a part of that kingdom.

8.     The simile parable of the dragnet cast into the sea, 13:47-50.

8.1.          What question does Jesus address? How will this present postponement period end and who will enter the kingdom?

8.2.          Jesus likens the end of this period to fishermen who have their nets in the water and then draw them out to gather their catch. They separate the fish that they want—those qualified to sell—from those that are not qualified for sell.

8.3.          This is a judgment. There will be a judgment at the end of the age, the age preceding Jesus’ establishment of his kingdom. Those qualified to enter the millennial kingdom will do so. Those disqualified will go into God’s judgment.

8.4.          Angels gather the people for the judgment.  Matthew 24:31 “And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” This is right at the time that Jesus returns to earth.

8.5.          Lessons to learn from this.

8.5.1.   Each person must qualify to enter the millennial kingdom.

8.5.2.   One qualifies by believing in Jesus as Messiah and Savior.

8.5.3.   The great commission applies throughout this postponement period.

8.5.4.   People cannot reject Jesus without terrible consequences.

III. Jesus’ teaching device to help them learn. This is a concluding simile about the head of a household, 13:51-52.

1.     This is not actually a parable like the previous eight parables. It is a teaching device directed to his disciples. He asks a question and then follows up on his own question.

2.     A scribe is one who writes things down. He takes notes. He has a resource of Jesus’ teaching.

3.     When one accepts Jesus as Messiah and savior and then becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven he has a responsibility to provide spiritual food for those also in the kingdom of heaven.

4.     The new and the old probably refer to the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament teachings about the coming kingdom. Both are important.

5.     Lessons for us.

5.1.          Knowing God’s word makes us able and responsible to tell others God’s word.

5.2.          Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are the treasure from which we draw and give to others.

IV. The reaction against Jesus’ teaching, 13:53-58.

1.     Jesus returned to his home town, Nazareth. There he taught, in the synagogue, whomever would listen. His doctrine astonished the people. They recognized him and wise and able to work miracles (54). The people knew Jesus’ mother, brothers and sisters. He was much more wise than they. He had abilities (God’s power) that no one else had.

2.     The people took offense at him (57). The verb is skandalizw in the imperfect passive indicative, 3rd plural. The use here means that the people were being offended by what he said and did. They did not agree and it put them off. This was their negative volition showing.

2.1.          No honor in his own hometown means that they simple took him for granted and were more critical of him. They did not appreciate him.

3.     Negative people will not listen or learn. Because they would not believe him Jesus did not waste his efforts (58). He knew their thinking and will (John 2:24-25).

V. Summary points and applications: lessons from the parable and teachings of Matthew 13.

1.     Sower. The reality is that there will be many responses to God’s word. Let’s proclaim and teach the word, but also realize that many will believe the basic message yet will fail to go much farther than that. God knows that. We need to know that. People positive to God’s word and spiritual growth are the minority of believers. Let’s not beat ourselves up when the Christian world does not have a strong desire for God and his word. Let’s also be flexible and treat those not so committed to God and his word, for whatever reason, graciously and with love. We want to help them love God more, grow in his word, and become a strong part of the body of Christ.

2.     Wheat and tares. During the inter-advent time Satan will be sowing his false message and many will believe his message. We need to realize that because of his work there will be many who are unbelievers, yet they claim to be serving God. Sometimes we will not know who belongs to the Lord and who is false. There will even be believers who simply reject truth or mix truth with error. It is not our job to root these people out. God wants us to continue serving him. He will have the last word and make the separation. Our teaching will often cause a natural separation. We are to allow God to work through those who are believers, yet are confused on areas of the faith. Our job is a positive ministry, not a negative weeding out. Mark 9:38-41 helps us understand the Lord’s mind on this.

3.     Mustard seed. There will be a time in the future when this minority message will become the majority message. After Christ returns to earth, which the disciples asked about in Acts 1:6-11, God’s kingdom will govern the world. The kingdom age will be the safe home for most of the world’s population. Nothing and no one can stop the kingdom. Political activism does not fertilize the mustard tree. Spiritual growth to Christ likeness shows off the character of the mustard tree kingdom people, but neither does that cause the tree to grow. Only God brings in his kingdom at the right time.

4.     Leaven. The kingdom will influence people and nations, but this will be an internal, slow, and quiet influence. God’s word will not be showy and popular. God’s word will continue to do its work, even though the world may not recognize its work. We may think nothing is happening, but God is working and his word influences his people.

5.     Treasure hidden. Some people will find the value of God’s word and kingdom without looking for it. They will recognize that God’s word is truth and is the best way of life. Once they find it they will not want to lose it. They will participate in the preservation and spread of God’s message of eternal life and the coming kingdom.

6.     Pearl. On the other hand, some actually will search for the answers in life. When they find it, they become committed to the God’s truth. They participate in the preservation and spread of the message. In both the treasure and the pearl, God gets his word to people open to the truth and they respond in faith.

7.     Dragnet. At the end of the inter-advent age, when the mysteries of the kingdom have finished, God will gather and judge people. No one will escape. No matter how intelligent, powerful, crafty, humanly righteous they may be, no one will escape God’s judgment. We need not think that people can shake their fist at God and get away with it. No one will get away with that. Those who accept the gospel message by faith will not be judged, but those who reject the message will be judged. God will have the final word.

8.     Head of household. Each learner and follower of Jesus has the duty to use what he knows and tell it to others. That is each believer’s privilege and responsibility. For example, Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:2, “the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you.” We are not apostles, but God gave us spiritual gifts and with the gift goes a stewardship responsibility.

9.     Prophet without honor. People tend to take for granted the people God gives them to communicate his word and to serve them. Things little and of no consequence tend to become big things and bring about rejection of God’s word and God’s messenger. Jesus lived in Nazareth. The people knew him and his family. They were critical of Jesus. What are your thoughts toward God’s messengers who serve you? Petty thoughts will rob you of God’s blessings for you. How do you deal with those who reject you? Does rejection ruin your desire to serve God?