Matthew 13

Matthew 13:1-9

13:1 That same day [presumably same day in which the severe confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees took place (12:24-45)] Jesus went out of the house [to be more accessible to people] and sat by the lake [Sea of Galilee].

13:2 Such large crowds gathered around Him [Jesus still very popular; crowds still eager to hear Him] that he got into a boat [easier to face and address the crowd from this place] and sat [customary position for Jewish teachers] in it, while all the people stood on the shore.

One day, after a confrontation with religious leaders (Matt. 12:22-45), Jesus spoke to a large crowd by the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 13:1). He had to get into a boat and use it as a platform from which to speak to the people (Matt. 13:2). Jesus told those assembled along the shore many things in parables (Matt. 13:3). A parable is best defined as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.

13:3 Then he told them many things in parables [to reveal truth (make it clearer) to those who wanted to understand and conceal it from those who only wanted to criticize/reject it], saying: “A farmer [focus of parable is not the sower (farmer)] went out to sow [customary to sow wheat or barley by hand] his seed.

13:4 As he [same sower] was scattering [perhaps flinging by hand] the seed [same seed], some [unavoidably] fell [focus of parable is the soils] along the path [too hard to receive seed; hardened by much foot traffic], and [it was walked on (Lk. 8:5)] the birds came and ate it up [quickly and completely].

13:5 Some fell on rocky places [limestone bedrock close to surface], where it did not have much soil. It sprang [germinated and grew] up quickly, because the soil was shallow [little depth of soil preventing the possibility of establishing deep roots; little retention of moisture in thin soil].

13:6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root [thus not able to reach moisture].

13:7 Other seed fell among thorns [deprive plants of sun and nourishment], which grew up [usually quickly] and choked the plants.

13:8 Still other [of the same kind] seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop [design and intent of the sower] — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

13:9 He who has ears [spiritual capacity], let him [personal responsibility] hear [ponder the parable and make appropriate application].”

Matthew 13:18-23

13:18 [originally, Jesus shared parable with the multitude and later revealed its meaning to His disciples (vv. 10-18)] “Listen [pay close attention] then to what the parable of the sower [minister, missionary, evangelist, any believer: responsible to declare the message but hearer is responsible for personal response to the message] means:

13:19 When anyone hears [depends on condition of the heart] the message about the kingdom [cf. Lk. 8:11] and does not understand it [does not let the truth penetrate], the evil one [Satan] comes and snatches [to rob/plunder] away [before person really understands it and has an opportunity to believe (Lk. 8:12)] what was sown in his heart [heart represents soil; the place of decision]. This is the seed sown along the path [hard, packed path; heart made hard by the traffic of the world].

13:20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places [thin layer of dirt on top of solid rock, allowing no chance for deep roots that would enable plants to survive] is the man who hears the word and at once [immediately and impulsively] receives it [profess to follow Christ] with joy [gladly].

13:21 But since he has no root [superficial response to the gospel with temporary results; no inner conviction; no root means no fruit], he lasts only a short time [temporary]. When [the intense heat of…] trouble [pressure] or persecution [affliction associated with accepting and following Christ] comes because of the word, he quickly falls [Gr. skandalizo: to stumble over] away [cf. John 6:66 re: crowds in Galilee who ceased to follow Jesus when He made demands on them].

13:22 The one who received the seed [nothing wrong with either seed or sower] that fell among the thorns [grow quickly, absorb nutrients, and choke out life] is the man who hears the word, but [note the competing thorns as: 1] the worries [undue cares/concerns; preoccupations/distractions] of this life [world] and [2] the deceitfulness [pleasure or delight in] of wealth [cf. 1 Tim. 6:9 and Matt. 6:24; the good life; see 2 Tim. 4:10 re: Demas and his love for the world] choke it, making it unfruitful.

13:23 But the one who received the seed [same as the seed that fell on other soils] that fell on good soil [“those with a noble and good heart” (Lk. 8:15)] is the man who hears the word and understands [refers more to spiritual receptivity than to mental ability] it. He produces a crop [because of obedience to what he has heard], yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Matthew 13:31-52

Jesus told a series of parables to describe “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:31), that is, the sovereign reign of God. The kingdom of heaven is not geographical or political. The kingdom of heaven is first and foremost relational — it is the rule of God in the hearts of believers.

Each parable Jesus told (Matt. 13:34) cast light on some aspect of the kingdom (Matt. 13:35). These parables are introduced by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like.” Two of the parables he shared illustrate how something small eventually grows into something great.

13:31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven [initially manifested in a small way in a small place] is like [similar] a [single] mustard seed [proverbial for its smallness], which a man took and planted in his field.

13:32 Though it is the smallest [easy to overlook its potential] of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest [grew to eight to ten feet high] of garden plants and becomes a tree [in same way the small beginnings of the kingdom would eventually result in the triumph of God’s rule], so that the birds of the air come and perch [indication of the size of the tree] in its branches.”

Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a single mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32) — believed to be the smallest of all seeds (Matt. 13:32). A single mustard seed was so small as to seem insignificant. But, once planted, the tiny mustard seed eventually breaks through the surface of the ground and grows to become the largest of garden plants (Matt. 13:32) — growing to a height of ten or more feet.

Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of heaven among humanity when He began His earthly ministry. At that time, the kingdom seemed as small and insignificant as a single tiny mustard seed. At other times it seemed the tender shoot would not survive in the harsh environment of religious, philosophical, and political opposition and persecution. However, like the mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven has steadily grown into something immeasurably larger. Today, God’s kingdom rule continues to expand across ethnic and geographical lines as people submit to Him all across the planet.

13:33 He told them still another parable [to illustrate another aspect of the kingdom]: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast [usually symbol of that which was evil or unclean, except in this case; “normally a small piece of dough kept from a previous baking and allowed to ferment” (Mounce); pervasive power] that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked [quietly and mysteriously] all through the dough.”

Jesus also likened the kingdom of heaven to yeast (Matt. 13:33) — a small piece of fermented dough kept from a previous baking. A small piece of yeast is capable of permeating a large amount of flour. Yeast was usually a symbol of that which was evil or unclean (see Matt. 16:6; 1 Cor. 5:6). However, Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to the pervasive power of yeast.

Like yeast, the kingdom of heaven quietly spreads from one life to another — transforming individuals one by one. This leavening activity happens as citizens of the kingdom understand and fulfill their responsibility to “preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:2).

Every Christ-follower has a responsibility to know the message, to live the message, and to share the message. As we do so, the kingdom of God quietly spreads from one transformed life to another — from home all the way to the ends of the earth.

13:34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without [refers to a regular practice, not merely to a single occasion] using a parable.

13:35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter [and by so doing cast light on the purposes of God long kept hidden] things hidden since the creation of the world.”

13:36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house [cf. Matt. 13:1; probably in Capernaum]. His disciples [needed explanation] came [took the initiative] to him [we should seek answers from Him] and said, “Explain [“make thoroughly clear right now”] to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

13:37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed [the good seed is not the Word of God, but rather represents people converted through trusting the Word] is the Son of Man [Jesus].

13:38 The field is the world [field is not the church or the human heart but rather the world; Christ sows true believers throughout the world that they might bear fruit; cf. Matt. 28:19-20], and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one [“those whose character is evil”],

13:39 and the enemy who sows them [Satan sows counterfeit Christians (cf. 2 Cor. 11:26 re: “false brothers”) who believe a counterfeit Gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-9), are trusting in a counterfeit righteousness (cf. Rom. 10:1-3), have a counterfeit church (cf. Rev. 2:9), and will ultimately produce a counterfeit Christ at the end of the age (cf. 2 Thes. 2:1-12)] is the devil [slanderer]. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

13:40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.

13:41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes [those who work against God and try to cause as many as possible to fall] sin and all who do evil.

13:42 They will throw [cast] them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping [loud crying] and gnashing [grinding] of teeth [phrase used as an expression of anger and frustration of the damned].

13:43 Then the righteous will shine [to shine out, to shine forth] like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure [emphasizes the surpassing worth of the kingdom] hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all [not too great a price to pay] he had [worth every sacrifice] and bought that field [could not live without it, willingly and gladly sold all he had to possess it].

Jesus said “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field” (v. 44).

People sometimes resorted to burying their valuables in the ground in order to hide them from burglars or raiders.

Jesus told of a man digging in a field and unexpectedly found such a treasure — perhaps buried in a chest. Overjoyed by his discovery, the man covered up his find. Realizing he could not live without the treasure, the man then willingly and gladly sold everything he had and legally purchased the field.

Like the man digging in the field, the Apostle Paul unexpectedly came upon the treasure of a lifetime on the road to Damascus (Acts. 9:1-19).

Paul later commented, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

Paul considered the loss of everything in order to gain Christ the greatest bargain of his life — a very profitable exchange. Sadly, many people fail to recognize the surpassing worth of the kingdom and prefer instead to hold on to what they have (see Matt. 16:25).

13:45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls [emphasizes the surpassing worth of the kingdom].

Jesus also likened the kingdom of heaven to “a merchant looking for fine pearls” (v. 45).

Pearls were expensive and generally beyond the purchasing power of the average person.

In his search for fine pearls, the merchant found the pearl of his dreams. The merchant immediately recognized the surpassing value of that pearl. Perhaps his eyes widened and his jaw dropped at the first sight of the pearl. All other pearls he had ever seen paled by comparison. Without hesitation, the merchant eagerly sold all that he had and purchased the pearl.

Like the man who found the treasure and the merchant who found the pearl, people should willingly and joyfully surrender whatever they must in order to gain the kingdom. Nothing we possess or pursue can surpass the value of being a child of God and living under His rule.

I met a young missionary from eastern Europe while I was returning home from Mongolia. She shared with me how she eagerly embraced the gospel when she first heard it preached. Soon afterward she felt God leading her to take the gospel of the kingdom to the people of Mongolia. She joyfully exchanged the comforts and security of her home in order to advance the work of the kingdom in Mongolia. She expressed to me that she felt there was nothing greater in life than the privilege of knowing God and serving the interests of His kingdom. This young woman understood the surpassing worth of the kingdom.

13:46 When he found one of great value [costly], he went away and sold [rather eagerly] everything [demonstrates willingness and determination to surrender everything to gain the kingdom] he had and bought it [did not feel it was a sacrifice to do so].

13:47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net [dragnet; large rectangular seine; net pulled through water by two boats or net anchored to shored while boat pulled other end through the sea; seining process caught all kinds of fish] that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.

After sharing parables about kingdom growth and kingdom worth, Jesus shared a final parable about the kingdom of heaven with His disciples. In Matthew 13:47, Jesus said “the kingdom of heaven is like a net.”

The mention of a net would have immediately caught the attention of the fishermen in the room — Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These men had been working with nets beside the Sea of Galilee on the day Jesus had called them to follow Him (Matt. 4:18-22). Their nets represented their previous profession. However, these men chose to follow Jesus, left their fishing nets behind, and instead became “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19).

Jesus told a parable about a net that was let down into the lake. The net was probably a large and rectangular dragnet. This type of net was generally used in one of two ways. The net was either secured to two boats and pulled through the water or anchored to the shore on one end while a boat pulled the other end through the sea. Either way, this seining process effectively resulted in a catch of “all kinds of fish.”

13:48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good [edible] fish in baskets, but threw the bad [worthless, unsuitable for eating] away.

While visiting the Reindeer People in northern Mongolia, I had the opportunity to observe how men there fish with nets on frozen lakes. The fishermen cut a series of holes in the ice and then lower a net through one hole and stretch it under the ice to the farthest hole. Then, they leave the net and return to pull it out of the frigid water the following day. Amazingly, this process results in a catch of all kinds of fish. I observed as these Mongolian fishermen, like those in the parable, sorted their catch, tossing the good fish in one pile and the bad fish in another pile (Matt. 13:48).

13:49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate [on the basis of how people have responded to Jesus] the wicked [those who have rejected Christ] from the righteous [those who have placed their faith in Christ]

All kinds of people get caught in the kingdom net — those who have been truly converted and those who have never actually trusted Christ for salvation. However, Jesus explained that at the end of the age people will be separated on the basis of how they responded to Him (Matt. 13:49).

13:50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The wicked — those who rejected Christ or feigned citizenship in His kingdom — will be separated from the righteous and consigned to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:50).

In light of this, we must not remain silent knowing that one day all people will be subject to judgment. Every person who has a saving knowledge of Christ has a personal responsibility to share that knowledge with others. We owe Christ to all people (Rom. 1:14).

13:51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied.

13:52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed [reference to disciple] about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

The disciples had listened patiently as Jesus taught them about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus asked them, “Have you understood all these things?” (Matt. 13:51). The disciples replied affirmatively. Jesus continued by explaining that they were responsible for the knowledge they had received about the kingdom (Matt. 13:52).

The disciples were like scribes or teachers of the law who had received special instruction in matters concerning the kingdom of heaven. This knowledge was like a wonderful treasure deposited in the storeroom of their hearts. They were not to hide and hoard that treasure. Instead they were obligated to share that treasure with the world.

We too, are obligated to share what we know about the kingdom. John R. Mott once said that the greatest crime we can commit is to withhold what we know about Jesus from the world. Unless we are willing to open the storeroom and bring out the treasures, many people in the world today will remain spiritually impoverished. So, how should we respond to what Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven?

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