Chapter twelve in Matthew’s Gospel is a dividing point in his account of the life of Jesus Christ. Prior to this chapter we’re told of the King’s birth and the wise men from the east, who, having seen His star as a sign of this historical birth, inquired of King Herod where this One born “King of the Jews” might be. They were told, according to the Hebrew Prophets, Bethlehem of Judea (chpts. 1-2). Next we’re told of the ministry of His forerunner John the Baptist (chpt. 3); of the King’s temptation in the wilderness; and upon His return to Galilee of His message that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (this being the earthly, Messianic Kingdom anticipated in the Old Testament, chpt. 4). In chapters five through seven Jesus presents the principles of this Kingdom; and in chapters eight through ten the Messiah’s Kingly credentials are demonstrated by the various miracles He performs (cf. Matt. 11:1-6).
But by chapter eleven it becomes increasingly evident that despite the physical proof of His Messianic credentials (miracles) the Jews are rejecting Him as their anticipated Messiah and Israel’s King. So from this point on Jesus changes His message and in chapter eleven we read:
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’ “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt. 11:16-19).
And in Matt. 11:20 Jesus rebukes and condemns the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon and Capernaum (where most of His miraculous works were performed) for their unrepentant attitude. The chapter closes with Jesus extending a personal invitation for individual men to come to Him to find rest for their souls.
It’s in chapter twelve that we see open opposition and hostility expressed by the religious leaders and they counseling together on how they might destroy Him (12:14-15). They blaspheme by attributing His miraculous works to be the works of the Devil (vs. 24), and in the hardness of their blinded hearts they disregard His former works and demand from Him a sign. In response to their demand Jesus simply tells them that the only sign that that evil and adulterous generation would be given is the sign of Jonah the prophet — referring to His death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection from the dead three days later. He then compares that generation to a man being cleansed of a demon only for the demon to return with seven others more wicked than itself, and the condition of that man becoming far worse than the first; “That is the way it will be with this evil generation” (12:45).
Just as the generation that was led out of Egypt by Moses rebelled against the Lord at Kadesh Barnea by siding with the spies who brought back a bad report regarding the promised land they were about to enter, causing their entrance into the land to be postponed for 40 years (Num. 14), here too, because of the nation’s rejection of their King, the earthly, Messianic Kingdom that Jesus was born into this world to rule and preached “is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; 7:21; 10:7) is now postponed until His Second Advent:
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it” (Matt. 21:43).
So after His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead Christ ascends from this earth and returns to His heavenly Father (Acts 1:9). With the King absent there can be no earthly Kingdom.
The Mystery Revealed In The Seven Parables
The question behind the parables in Matthew thirteen is: What will happen when the rejected King goes back to heaven and the Kingdom is postponed? It is these seven parables that reveal this mystery and serve to answer this most important question (Matt. 13:11).
Matthew thirteen introduces an entirely different form of the kingdom, namely, the present spiritual reign of Christ while He is absent from the earth. These “mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven,” which Jesus calls them, deal with this present Church age (Pentecost to Rapture) but are not restricted to it. They cover the total time period beginning with His bodily ascension into heaven and ending with His physical return to earth at the end of the age, to set up the Kingdom He was born to rule, as the Son of His father David (Lk. 1:32-33; Dan. 2: 34-35, 44; Zech. 14:9, 16-21; Matt. 24-25; Rev. 19).
The Old Testament prophets vividly described this future, golden age of Christ’s earthly reign over a Kingdom predicated on universal peace and righteousness (no mystery). However, this time period in which the King is absent was not revealed to the Old Testament prophets and is therefore referred to as a “mystery.” The definition of a Biblical mystery being a truth not formerly revealed in the Old Testament but is now revealed in the New (Matt. 13:17; cf. Col. 21:26; Eph. 3:1-6,9; Rom. 16:25-26). And it was this mystery form of the kingdom that Jesus revealed to His disciples in the seven parables.
In keeping with the principle that “darkness follows light rejected” Jesus spoke in parable form so that His disciples might understand this mystery but that it remain hidden from those hostile toward Him in that generation (Matt. 13:10-11).
(1) The Sower: (Matt. 13:1-23)
The backdrop behind this parable is the agricultural terrain around the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 13:1). Dean Stanley describes what he saw when visiting that area:
“A slight recess in the hillside, close upon the plain, disclosed at once, in detail and with a conjunction which I remember nowhere else in Palestine, every feature of the great parable. There was the undulating cornfield descending to the water’s edge. There was the trodden pathway running through the midst of it, with no fence or hedge to prevent the seed from falling here and there on either side of it or upon it; itself hard with the constant tramp of horse and mule and human feet. There was the ‘good’ rich soil which distinguished the whole of that plain and its neighborhood from the bare hills elsewhere descending into the lake, and which, where there is no interruption, produces one vast mass of corn. There was the rocky ground of the hillside protruding here and there through the cornfields, as elsewhere through the grassy slopes. There were the large bushes, of thorn — the nabk, that kind of which tradition says that the crown of thorns was woven — springing up, like the fruit-trees of the more inland parts, in the very midst of the waving wheat” (“Sinai and Palestine”). Words Studies In The New Testament, Vincent
This first parable establishes the basic character of this present age. An age which includes some who believe the Word of God and many who do not. The parable tells of a sower who went out to sow seed which fell on four kinds of earth (soil) typical of the Galilean countryside described above. The seed which fell on trodden pathways, too hard for the soil to receive, the birds quickly came and devoured. Jesus interpreted this ground (soil) to represent the man during this age who hears the word of God but cannot understand it, and consequently the evil one (the devil) quickly comes and snatches away that truth which was sown in his heart (Matt. 13:19). Some fell on rocky ground which contained some soil responsive enough to receive it but not enough soil to retain enough moisture for the seed to take firm root. Consequently after the plant sprouted it was quickly scorched by the sun’s heat. This represents the man in this age who quickly, but temporarily, receives the word with joy but soon afterwards stumbles and falls away because of persecution or affliction in the world (Matt. 13:20-21). Still other seed fell on soil which had already yielded to thorns to which the seed could not compete for nourishment. Jesus compared this soil to the man of this age to which the Word is choked out because of his love for the world’s goods and the cares and worries that accompany those worldly possessions (Matt. 13:22). Finally the good soil on which seed is sown is compared to the man in this age who truly hears the word, understands it and bears much spiritual fruit; “some hundredfold, some sixty some thirty”.
In each case the seed is the same but the receptivity of the soil is different. The parable makes plain that in this present age there will not be universal reception of divine truth. And if the decline of the numbers regarding fruitfulness has any significance, the effect of the Word weakens as this age waxes older (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; Rev. 3:14-19).
(2) The Wheat and Tares (Matt. 13:24-30)
In this parable it is the character of the seed and not the soil that is in view. Here the sower sows good seed in a field, but while his men are sleeping his enemy comes and sows the seed of tares (Gr. zizanion) among the wheat as well. A kind of darnel that resembles wheat in appearance but poisonous to man and plant eating animals (not poultry), and when eaten produces sleepiness, nausea, convulsions and even death (Vine’s). Jesus identifies the field as the world; the sower as Himself, the “Son of Man;” the enemy as the devil; the good seed as the “sons of the kingdom;” the tares as the “sons of the evil one;” the reapers as angels; and the time of harvest being the end of the age. This parable reveals that in this present age both “wheat” and “tares” are allowed to grow together (often to the untrained eye, indistinguishably). That is, believers and unbelievers will together progress and will not be separated until the end of the age. At that time the “wheat” is gathered into the barn and the “tares” bundled up and burned. A judgment that parallels Matthew 25:31-46 when at the Second Advent of Christ the “sheep” and “goats” (those living on earth at that time) are separated — the sheep (believers) are ushered into the Millennial Kingdom while the goats (unbelievers) unto everlasting judgment.
(3) The Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:31-32)
Here Jesus speaks of a small seed that grows into a very large tree, large enough even to nest the birds of the sky in its branches. Like the previous parable there is a form of abnormality included here. Unlike the future Millennial Kingdom, with its rule of righteousness which Christ will abruptly set up at His Second coming, this parable speaks to all of Christendom during this age and its sphere of profession which grows gradually from small beginnings to an organizational giant possessing great wealth and worldly prowess. Though the mustard seed intrinsically includes both believers and unbelievers, the unbelieving element is emphasized by the birds which come to nest in its branches once it has grown (cf. Dan. 4:20-22). Congruous with the first parable where it is birds that represent that which is antagonistic to the program of God during this age by snatching away the seed that was sown.
(4) The Leaven (Matt. 13:33-35)
In this parable Jesus depicts this present age as a woman who hides leaven in three pecks of meal until all is leavened. Leaven in Scripture always has a negative connotation. Israel was to eat unleavened bread for the Passover meal, and during the Feast of Unleaven Bread no leaven was to be found in the house of an Israelite for seven days (Exo. 12). Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16), and the apostle Paul equates leaven with “malice” and “wickedness” (1 Cor. 5:8). In Galatians five he equates leaven with the introduction of false doctrine and warns the churches in Galatia with the principle that, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Gal. 5:9).
Similar to the warning of the Apostle, in this parable the meal represents that which is good being made of wheat rather than tares. However, this present age along with the professing church is permeated with false doctrine and unbelief manifested by various forms of wickedness and worldliness. The introduction of “leaven,” representing outward profession rather than true inward faith, actually makes the church appear much larger than what it actually is. The professing church will continue in the world after the true Church (the Body of Christ) is taken out at the time of the Rapture.
(5) The Hidden Treasure (Matt. 13:44)
As the previous parable spoke primarily of the Church, this parable speaks of national Israel during this age. In Scripture Israel is referred to as God’s “treasure”:
Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My special treasure among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine (Exo. 19:5);
“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His special treasure out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth (Deu. 14:2).
A literal (or normal) interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures clearly point out that God is not yet finished with the nation of Israel. The “field” in which the “treasure” is hidden is the world (Matt. 13:38), and for the greater part of this present age Israel has been living and scattered amongst the nations of the world. But the day is coming when God will call forth His “treasure” from out of the world (Deu. 30:3-4; Eze. 11:17; 20:34; 36:1-37:28; Jer. 29:14), and by virtue of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the price paid to purchase the field (Jn. 3:16), He will restore the “fortunes of Israel” at the end of the age (establish Israel’s promised, Messianic Kingdom, Acts 1:6), to the glory of Jesus Christ, her rightful King (see Rom. 11:11-12, 15, 25-29).
(6) The Pearl Of Great Value (Matt. 13:45-46)
This parable speaks of the true Church, made up of true believers in Jesus Christ since Pentecost (Acts 2; cf. Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:20-21). As a pearl is organically formed in time by an irritation within an oyster, in the same sense the Church is being formed in this present age out of the wounds of Christ. And like the man who sold all that he had in order to purchase the field in which a treasure was hidden, so the merchant in this parable sold all that he had in order to purchase this valuable pearl. Christ left the glory of heaven and made the supreme sacrifice, His death and shed blood, to purchase the Church (Acts. 20:28).
(7) The Dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50)
This parable once again takes us to the shores of the sea of Galilee, the scene of Christ’s first parable. Here He compares this present age to a very large net that is cast into the water in order to catch a sizable number of fish of all kinds. Not until the net is full is it then brought up on shore and the fish it contains sorted. Those which are judged good are separated, kept and put into containers, but those judged bad are thrown away.
As the wheat and tares are left to progress side by side and are not separated until the time of harvest, so here the fish caught in the dragnet are not separated until the net is full and brought up on shore. Jesus explains, “So it will be at the end of the age” (when the King returns); “the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from the among the righteous and will cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (cf. Matt. 25:41, 46).
Contrary to the teaching of the Amillenarian and the Postmillenarian, this present age is not the Millennial Kingdom which Jesus, the rightful heir to the Dividic throne (Lk. 1:32-33), will establish at His Second Advent, a glorious Kingdom predicated to universal peace and righteousness on earth (Zech. 14:9). It is instead an age when the King is absent and the righteous (good soil, wheat, small mustard seed, meal, good fish) and the wicked (bad soil, tares, birds, leaven, bad fish) are allowed to exist together. A time when Christ is calling out a Church (His Body/Bride) from amongst unbelieving Jews and Gentiles in this present world (cosmos), and a time of anticipation for the revealing of God’s hidden “treasure” (national Israel) at the end of the age.
Written by Gary Nystrom