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Bible: What Does Matthew 13:1-32 Teach Us About the "Mysteries" of the Kingdom?

Updated on September 15, 2016

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Matthew 13:1-32-- The Parables of the Kingdom

Seven Parables of the Kingdom

Matthew records that “great multitudes” gathered and “the whole multitude” stood on the shore of the sea, while Jesus taught parables to them from a boat (vv. 1-3).

[How many people constitute a “great multitude”?

How many folks can effectively hear Him as He sits in a boat?]

Observing this chapter’s structure offers valuable instruction about how to interpret the passage.

Matthew highlights seven parables—the “Four Soils” (vv. 3b-9), the “Wheat and the Tares” (vv. 24-30), the “Mustard Seed” (vv. 31-32), the “Leaven” (v. 33), the “Hidden Treasure” (v. 44), the “Pearl of Great Price” (vv. 45-46) and the “Dragnet” (vv. 47-52)—that present the “mysteries” of the kingdom.

[See Ryrie’s definitions of “parable” and “mystery” (New Testament Study Bible, 29).]

He also provides Jesus’ extended answer to a specific question from the disciples about the purpose of parables (vv. 10-17), and gives the Lord’s interpretation of the “Parable of the Four Soils” (vv. 18-23), a brief explanation about prophecy’s connection with this teaching method (vv. 34-35), and Christ’s interpretation of the “Parable of the Tares” (vv. 36-43).

The Parable of the Four Soils (Sower)

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The Four Soils

First, Christ tells “The Parable of the Sower” (vv. 3b-9)—a story that commentators would do better to entitle “The Four Soils.”

It depicts a farmer casting some seeds on the first “soil,”—actually the wayside, the hardpan—and birds eating them (v. 4).

[Later, in His interpretation, Jesus explains that the seed equals the “word of the kingdom,” the hardpan illustrates the hearer’s heart which does not understand the word, and the birds represent the “wicked one” (Satan), who snatches away what was sown (vv. 18-19)].

Seeds next fall on a second type of “soil”—“stony places” having “no depth of earth” or root—resulting in failure again (vv. 5-6).

[Christ’s explanation indicates that the rootless person immediately receives the word joyfully, but quickly stumbles when trials and persecution (namely, a scorching sun, v. 6) come (vv. 20-21)].

The third soil—“thorns” surrounding the ground represent “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” (v. 22)—chokes any plant production (v. 7).

[Mundane concerns amount to trivial pursuits, the substance of “this life.”

Having money gives people false impressions about “life”; perhaps they (those with means) believe they will always be alive to enjoy their wealth or that they can buy anything they want with it, even purpose and meaning.

Both of these “thorns” neglect to consider eternal verities, and can only relate to temporal reality.]

The “good” ground—the fourth soil—constitutes the only kind of earthy environment that can produce fruit (yet in varying amounts) [v. 8].

Unlike those on the hardpan who do not understand the word, these who receive the seed in good soil do comprehend its spiritual message (v. 23; cf. v. 19).

Jesus’ conclusion commands individuals who have spiritual understanding to pay attention to His word (v. 9).

Sermon on the Mount

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Understanding of Mysteries Given to the Elect

In answer to His disciples’ question (v. 10), Christ reveals that God has granted spiritual comprehension of the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” to some people, but not to others (v. 11).

[“Mysteries” are secret or hidden truths—truths not revealed in the OT, but disclosed to those (the apostles, v. 11) rightly related to Jesus.]

Those with understanding will amass even greater wisdom; those without spiritual ability, however, will lose what little spiritual knowledge they have (v. 12).

Thus, Jesus’ “bottom-line” purpose in telling parables to the unsaved is to confirm them in their own willful spiritual deafness and blindness (v. 13).

He uses the oft-quoted Isaiah 6: 9-10 to indicate that the Jews of the first century fulfilled this prophetic word just as the people of Isaiah’s time did.

Both generations shared the same spiritual traits—dull hearts, deaf ears, and closed eyes; during both periods, God desired to heal them but they would not repent (“turn”) [vv. 14-15].

Jesus pronounces as happy (“blessed”) those in His audience who have spiritual sight and hearing; among all saints (“prophets and righteous men”) of all time, they alone have been privileged to see and hear the Messiah (vv. 16-17).

Wheat and Tares

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The Wheat and the Tares

Following His exposition of the “Four Soils” parable (vv. 18-23), the Lord relates “The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares” (vv. 24-30), and later interprets it after the apostles inquire as to its meaning (vv. 36-43).

[Unlike the first allegory, this one and those that remain begin by comparing the spiritual kingdom of heaven to something else in the natural realm (vv. 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47).]

Here Jesus first sets up the conflict, likening this kingdom to what results when rivals sow different seeds in the same field.

One man (v. 24; the Son of Man, v. 37) sows good seeds (v. 24; the sons of the kingdom, v. 38) in his field (v. 24; “the world,” v. 38). His enemy (v. 25; the devil, v. 39) sows tares (v. 25; the sons of the wicked one, v. 38) while men slept.

[This subordinate clause (“while men slept”) may indicate either Satan’s deviousness, man’s lack of vigilance, or both.]

Then the Lord reveals how the man/owner wisely planned to handle the conflict.

After hearing his servants’ report that they discovered newly sprouted weeds, the man deduces that his opponent desired to subvert his plans (vv. 26-28).

Nevertheless, he prevents his servants from prematurely uprooting the evil infiltration for fear of destroying the wheat in the process (v. 29).

Instead, he instructs them to let both plants mature (“grow together until the harvest”) at which time they will be able to distinguish the darnel (weeds) from the wheat (v. 30a).

At the harvest (v. 30b; “the end of the age,” v. 39), the owner (the Son of Man, v. 41) will then send out reapers (v. 30b; the angels, v. 39) to bundle the tares (“gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness,” v. 41) and burn them (v. 30b; cast them into “the furnace of fire,” vv. 40, 42).

While the “tares” will suffer intense bitterness and pain (v. 42), the “wheat” (v. 30b; the righteous, v. 43) will be gathered into the owner’s barn (v. 30b; “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” v. 43).

Again, Jesus concludes as He did after His first parable (v. 43; cf. v. 9): “Listen with understanding, those of you who have spiritual hearing.”

Mustard Seed Plant

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The Mustard Seed

The Lord’s next story compares the kingdom to a mustard seed (v. 31).

From the “least” of all seeds, the “Palestinian mustard plant” matures into a tree “greater than the herbs” and becomes a nest for “birds of the air” (v. 32; cf. Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 36).

To illustrate further how something small becomes something universal, Jesus cites a prophetic passage familiar to His audience—Ezekiel 17:22-24—which speaks of the day when God will crop off a "tender" twig from a tall cedar branch and "plant it on a high and prominent mountain" (v. 22).

This twig will then become a majestic cedar under whose boughs many "birds" will dwell (v. 23).

Its exaltation from lowliness and dryness to prominence will convince all other "trees" that the LORD's hand is with it (v. 24).

[These verses can only refer to the Lord Jesus and His kingdom:

(1) He is a tender plant and a root out of dry ground (cf. Is. 53:2);

(2) Based in Jerusalem (cf. Is. 2:2-4), His kingdom will include many "birds" that will dwell under its branches (cf. Mt. 13:31, 32; Mk. 4:30-32); and

(3) He is lowly and meek (cf. Is. 42:2, 3; Mt. 11:29).]

Later in his prophecy, Ezekiel references another kingdom: Assyria (31:3-9).

Verses two through nine is a poetic section, an extended metaphor, comparing Egypt's Pharaoh to the great "cedar" called Assyria.

Because an abundance of water surrounded and nourished it, this cedar grew strong and tall, having many boughs and long branches.

It also housed numerous birds and provided shade for a multitude of beasts and nations (vv. 3-7).

It became the Tree among trees, even when likened to those from Eden, the garden of God (vv. 8-9).

The LORD had granted Egypt, like Assyria, immense power and worldly influence, and it became the envy of other nations.

Daniel 4:12 refers to still another kingdom that met the needs of its citizens: Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar relates his dream to Daniel (v. 10), disclosing first that a very tall tree appeared to him.

This great tree takes on mythical proportions, and provides the shelter and nourishment needs of a multitude of animal and human life (vv. 11-12).

© 2012 glynch1

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