The Kingdom Parables (4)
Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand
The remaining five parables in Matthew 13 are concise, but with the first two already looked at they give a comprehensive picture of the age extending from our Lord's first to His second advent. The parables of the sower and wheat and tares laid a basis for what follows. The seed in the first parable produced different kinds of reactions according to the condition of the soil on which it landed; the two kinds of seed in the second represented a dual development of true response and false profession. While both these parables have a bearing on the whole age, the second had particular reference to the period to follow the rapture of the church.
The brief parables dealt with here give various insights into the kingdom and judgment to follow before our Lord establishes His reign of righteousness on earth.
Of the first six parables each pair has a particular emphasis: the seed in the first two relates to the proclamation of the kingdom; the second two concern the development of the kingdom; and the third two, the worth of the kingdom.
Parable of the Mustard Seed, vv. 31-32
The idea of sowing continues into this third parable. Here it was a mustard seed, the smallest known to the hearers. There was also a proverbial significance because people at that time spoke of things as being as small as a mustard seed, cf. Matt. 17. 20.
The mustard grows tall, sometimes reaching 15 feet, and is dense enough to provide shelter for birds to nest in.
The meaning in reference to the kingdom of heaven was clear: the age was to be one of great external growth. Birds, signifying those opposed to the truth, cf. v. 4, would shelter within it. As the number professing Christianity grew, the dichotomy between true experience of salvation and mere profession would also grow. Here is a picture of the corruption of Christendom. From our standpoint we can now look back and see, sadly, how clearly this prophecy has been fulfilled. This division will continue beyond the rapture when the gospel of the kingdom is preached.
Parable of the Leaven, v. 33-35
While similar to the parable of the mustard seed, the emphasis here was not so much on growth as on the evil influence which would quickly work through those professing godliness, giving rise to a false religious system of belief. The leaven worked through the meal. Leaven in the New Testament invariably typifies what is evil, Matt. 16. 6, 12;1 Cor. 5. 6-8; Gal. 5. 7-9. The use of meal in this picture is significant because in the meat (gift) offering, it typified the person of Christ, Lev. 2. 1-3. In some Old Testament offerings leaven spoke of sin, e.g., Exod. 12. 15-20; 34. 25; Lev. 2. 11; 10. 12.
Combining these two symbols, the thought here is that the false religious system would misrepresent the person of Christ. This would, as leaven in dough, work silently but irresistibly to corrupt the pure word of God. (When leaven is introduced it is impossible to arrest its effect until the whole mixture is permeated.)
While some have taken an opposing view of the leaven, that it represents the power of the word reaching throughout the world, this is an unlikely interpretation.
Taking the mustard seed and leaven parables together, they showed a dual growth - in Christendom, of unbelievers, and in the preaching of the word, of wrong teaching about the Lord.
Parable of the Hidden Treasure, v. 44
The fifth parable compared the kingdom of heaven to treasure hidden in a field. A man discovered this and bought the field so that the treasure could be his.
This illustrates the relationship of Israel to the present age. As a nation, the Jews have been set aside, but not forgotten. It is still a treasure in God's sight purchased by the Man Christ Jesus, His by right. God's nation is still not recognized by men nor is God's Son recognized by Israel. But the time will come when that nation will look upon the Messiah, initially in great mourning as those who had crucified the Lord of glory, then with joy as the faithful enter into the good of God's covenant promises, Zech. 12. 10; 13. 9.
Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, vv. 45-46
The meaning of this parable has been debated by many at length. It tells of a merchant selling all that he had to buy the one pearl of great value. Some say this speaks of the remnant at the end of the age, others that the church is in view. The essential meaning may indeed be the supreme worth of the kingdom, but there is here also a beautiful picture of Christ and the church.
She is His purchased possession, Eph. 1. 14, gradually being formed as a result of His suffering in prospect of the time when she will be taken out of the natural environment of this world to be His adornment. John F. Walvoord puts it this way: 'In the world of gems, the pearl is uniquely formed organically. Its formation occurs because of an irritation in the tender side of an oyster. There is a sense in which the church was formed out of the wounds of Christ and has been made possible by His death and sacrifice.'
Taken together, the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl speak of the kingdom as a whole, believing Israel and the church, being precious to Christ as those whom He has purchased.
Parable of the Net, vv. 47-50
Our Lord said in closing this series of parables that the kingdom of heaven was like a net cast into the sea which, when drawn in, brought out all kinds offish. The good fish were gathered into vessels, the bad thrown away.
As in the case of the wheat and tares, angels are involved in the judgment described here, separating the wicked from the just. This is clearly a pre-millennial judgment, similar to the second parable. But the mention of all kinds of fish indicates that here Gentile nations were in view.
As mentioned earlier in this series, pre-millennial judgments are not relevant to the church which is to be caught up before the tribulation and judgment period. It is clear here that Gentile nations are to be judged according to their true character, a theme further developed at the end of our Lord's third major discourse, Matt. 25. 31-46.
The seven kingdom parables cover the period between our Lord's first and second advents. Throughout the age the seed of the word will be sown. At the same time the devil will sow false seed to confuse men and women and, if it were possible, detract from the glory of Christ. He will sow false ideas concerning His person.
The kingdom of heaven, distinct from the kingdom of God, embraces both the true and professing church which will become of giant proportions, yet increasingly corrupt inwardly.
Out of this confusion the Lord Jesus Christ will secure for Himself a treasure of great price out of this world.
The age will end with judgment, both of Israel and the nations but not the church which will have been raised to meet the Lord before tribulation and judgment take place. The wicked will be excluded from God's kingdom on earth, into which the righteous will enter and over which our Lord will reign supreme, Isa. 2. 2-4, etc.