The kingdom of heaven is a major theme of Matthew’s gospel, including most of the parables in Matthew 13. The chapter begins with the parable of the sower (or the four soils) and its explanation. All the other parables in the chapter compare the kingdom of heaven to something or someone. Four other chapters include parables that illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like.
This post will examine the short parables at the end of Matthew 13. He spoke these parables to the disciples alone, not to a crowd.
See at the end of this post for links to two others I have written about Matthew 13.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44 CSB).
A man, perhaps a day laborer, was digging in a field and uncovered a great treasure. It appears that, if he had uncovered the treasure and left it uncovered, the landowner could claim it, so the man is careful not to lift it out.
Now, the parable doesn’t say that the kingdom is the treasure. It says the kingdom is like the treasure. Jesus explained two parables in this chapter and treated them as allegories. An allegorical interpretation of this parable seems justified.
Who finds the field, humanity?
The man might represent an ordinary person who finds something that he wasn’t looking for. Anyone who finds a treasure has a number of choices. He can
- walk away, not recognizing its value.
- walk away, wishing for it but seeing any way to obtain it.
- try to steal it.
- do whatever it takes to obtain it honestly.
This man recognizes the value of the treasure: the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus. Unlike tangible treasure in a tangible field, the grace of knowing Jesus is free. We can’t earn it, but, on the other hand, it will cost us everything we have if we want to make it truly our own.
Salvation requires turning our backs on everything we have achieved in the world, so on this view, selling everything the man has to buy the field and its treasure amounts to complete repentance and repudiation of whatever he had formerly valued.
And selling everything he owns hardly seems like a sacrifice to that man. His joy motivates him. Like Paul in Philippians 3:8, he considers everything else as worthless in comparison to the treasure.
Or the man might represent Jesus. Jesus gave up all the dignity and splendor he enjoyed in heaven, and then his very life. And what was the pearl Jesus found so fine and valuable that he bankrupted himself to get it? Me!
Does that sound arrogant? Then read the previous paragraph aloud. When I say “me,” I mean David Guion. Anyone else who says “me” means someone entirely different. Let’s not settle for thinking of some abstraction, such as the whole of humanity. Take this parable personally. Remember the parable of the lost sheep.
Again, on this view, joy motivates the transaction. According to Hebrews 12:2, Jesus endured the cross for the joy that lay before him.
It is interesting that, in the parable, the man finds a treasure in someone else’s field and had to buy the field to get the treasure. If the man is Jesus, consider the creation. God created Adam and put him in a garden. God and Satan gave conflicting commands regarding one tree, and Adam chose to obey Satan. Satan thereby became the god of this world. God no longer owned it!
Satan promised to give Jesus the whole world if Jesus would only worship him. He sees no particular value in the people. In laying down his life, Jesus bought back the world and claimed the treasure (people) he had seen in it.
The pearl merchant
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).
Here, instead of someone unexpectedly discovering a hidden treasure, the pearl merchant is seeking a valuable pearl. An expert, in other words, is looking for something in particular. We can see either an ordinary person or Jesus as the man in the previous parable. We can’t plausibly see anyone else but Jesus as the merchant here. The emphasis shifts from the treasure to the one seeking treasure.
When he finds it (you, me, us), he sells everything he has to buy it from a merchant who doesn’t value it as highly. If he did, he would not have consented to sell it for any price.
The pearl merchant surely had other pearls in his inventory, but this one was more valuable than all of them put together, plus everything else he owned. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son for the sake of believers. In the end, unbelievers will reject salvation and choose hell. They will have disqualified themselves from counting as the pearl of great price. Jesus gave up everything for those who give up everything for him.
And why would Jesus tell two such similar parables? Repetition emphasizes how greatly God values humanity and how greatly all people ought to value God.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea. It collected every kind of fish, and when it was full, they dragged it ashore, sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but threw out the worthless ones. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 47-50).
This net is not the same kind we read about in two gospel stories where Jesus told Peter to cast the net on the other side of the boat. A dragnet would be suspended between a boat and a post on shore or between two boats. It had rocks on the bottom to weight it and floats on top. It caught everything. Nothing escaped. Therefore, it caught good, saleable fish and useless bycatch.
This parable has the same conclusion as the parable of the wheat and tares earlier in the chapter, but with one important difference. The farmer ordered the wheat and tares grow together until they both matured. Only then would their identities become evident.
The parable of the dragnet describes the end of the age. Just as fishermen separate the fish from the bycatch, angels separate the righteous from evil people. The righteous enter the kingdom. Evil people are consigned to the outer darkness.
Explicitly here and implicitly in the parable of wheat and tares, angels perform the separation. Of all humans, God gives only Jesus a role in judgment. Jesus does his work with angelic but not human help.
Humans are either good fish or bad fish and have no basis for knowing who is who.
“Have you understood all these things?”
They answered him, “Yes.”
“Therefore,” he said to them, “every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom treasures new and old. (Matthew 13:51-52)”
As we read the gospels, we can easily see how generally clueless the disciples were, but here, they tell Jesus they understand these parables that he shared with them and not the public. He did not contradict them. Instead, his last words in this series of parables indicate his satisfaction that they did understand.
No one at the time, except Jesus, would call the disciples teachers, but he had personally trained them. Teachers of the kingdom have a homeowner’s access to the treasures in the house. They can bring out (teach) both new and old things. The professional scribes of their day could only pass on old things their teachers had imparted to them.
Teachers of the kingdom, like the seed planted in good soil, have a crop to reap. They have revelation knowledge of new things based on the word of God. On the other hand, “teachers” who proclaim their own innovations based on principles of the world only sow tares. Kingdom teachers have relied on the same word now for two thousand years, but the contemporary situation changes. Saint Francis, Luther, Wesley, Spurgeon, and many others have explained things differently from each other, based on the needs of their generation.
So to today’s teachers proclaim the old (the unchanging gospel) in new ways suitable to today’s audience. God places high value on everyone who hears, and he alone can distinguish the good from the bad.
Three parables of the kingdom of heaven—and its troubles (wheat and tares, mustard seed, woman with leaven)
Understanding the parable of the four soils in the Bible