James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.Matthew 13:1-58
THE TURNING POINT
From the dispensational point of view, there is no chapter of the New Testament more needful to be understood than this. It contains seven parables, which now that the practical rejection of the Messiah by Israel has taken place, set forth the result of the gospel in the world down to the end of this age, when He shall come again. It is symbolic that our Lord now goes into a ship on the sea, the latter a type of the Gentile nations as compared with Israel; and also that He talks about sowing the seed in a field which is the world, as distinguished from laboring in a vineyard which is Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7).
The parables are divisible into three groups, the first four stories spoken before the multitude, and the last three in the presence of the disciples only. The first group the sower, and the tares and wheat refers more especially to the earlier history of Christendom; the second group the mustard seed and leaven describe its further progress and development.
THE FIRST GROUP: THE SOWER, THE TARES AND WHEAT
The Lord explains them, but prior thereto answers the question of the disciples (Matthew 13:10), in which He speaks of the “mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven.” A “mystery” in Scripture is a previously hidden truth, now divinely revealed, but in which the supernatural element remains despite the revelation. The “Kingdom of heaven,” or the “Kingdom of the heavens” as used here means that Kingdom which is to be set up on the earth, the truth concerning which is “left in the hands of men” while the King is absent, in other words, it stands for Christendom. It is given to true disciples to know the mystery of Christendom, but to others it is not given (Matthew 13:11-17).
The parable of the sower needs no comment other than emphasis on the fact that all the seed sown does not bear fruit. The devil in the first case, the flesh in the second, and the world in the third, prevent it. In other words, all men will not be converted to Christ before the end of this age. This is brought out with more force in the second parable (Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:36-43). The good seed here is not the gospel of the first parable, but that which the gospel produces, “the children of the Kingdom.” These are sown among men, and Satan sows his seed with them. The children of Satan look as much like the children of God as tares look like wheat. Only the angels can separate them. Scofield says: “Mere unbelievers are never called the children of the devil, only religious unbelievers are called so,” i.e., those who profess the name of Christ, and do not hold the truth of Christ (Matthew 13:38; Matthew 23:15; John 8:38-44, and other places).
THE SECOND GROUP: THE MUSTARD SEED, THE LEAVEN
The mustard seed shows the rapid but abnormal development of Christendom to a great place in the earth. The fowls of the air mean unbelievers of various classes, who, for selfish reasons embrace Christianity and find shelter in its branches (compare Daniel 4:20; Daniel 4:22; Revelation 18:2). “Leaven” represents “a principle of corruption working subtly” and is used in Scripture invariably in a bad sense (Genesis 19:3; Matthew 16:11-12; Mark 8:15; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, etc.). The teaching of the parable is that the gospel would be mingled with false doctrine, the latter increasing to the end of the age. (Compare here 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:17-18; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3.)
THE THIRD GROUP: THE HID TREASURE, THE PEARL, THE DRAGNET
The multitude is dismissed, the Lord and His disciples have entered the house, and He is explaining the parable of the tares. After this He says, “the Kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field” (Matthew 13:44). The field was previously defined as the world. The hidden treasure is Israel (Exodus 19:5; Psalm 135:4). Christ is the “man who hath found” it.
It is now hidden. Who knows where the “lost tribes” are? And even the Jew as we know him is in the world, and is in a sense lost there (Romans 11:25). Christ has sold all that He had to buy the field. He gave His life for the world (1 Peter 1:18), but He died in a special sense for that nation (John 11:51). What joy He will have when He takes His treasure to Himself (Deuteronomy 30:9; Isaiah 49:13; Isaiah 62:4-7).
Christ is the merchantman of the next parable (Matthew 13:45), and the pearl of great price is the church, for which He gave Himself (Ephesians 5:25-33).
“Ye are not your own but are bought with a price.” There is beauty in the thought of the church as a pearl whether we consider its origin, form, appearance or value. It comes into existence not mechanically but vitally, just as Christ forms His church by communicating His own life to it. The pearl comes from the sea as the church comes from the nations symbolized by the sea. A grain of sand imbeds itself between the animal and the shell and creates a wound in the side of the animal in so doing. In the healing of the wound the animal deposits a thin crust of a bright aspect around this grain of sand, repeating the process till the pearl is formed, blending the colors of the rainbow. Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, and the side of Christ was opened that out of it He might build His church, to which He addeth daily such as are being saved (Acts 2:41-47; Ephesians 2:21; Colossians 2:19).
The parable’s dragnet is not the Gospel, but a picture of that which takes place in Christendom at the end of this age, i.e., after the church is taken up into the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
The foregoing interpretation is unusual to those coming freshly upon it, but to others who have pursued the lessons in the Old Testament prophets, it will appear perfectly consistent, and furnish a corroboration of the unity and divinity of the Bible.
1. Name the parables in their order.
2. What is the scope of their interpretation?
3. What is meant by “the Kingdom of the heavens” in this chapter?
4. What is a mystery in a scriptural sense?
5. What inference is clear from these parables?
6. Who are “the children of the devil,” scripturally interpreted?
7. How is “leaven” invariably used in Scripture?
8. Give the interpretations of the hid treasure and the pearl.
9. What four features give beauty to the pearl as a type of the church?