The Parables in their Setting - Part 3

Denis Clapham, Birmingham

Part 3 of 6 of the series The Parables in their Setting

Before considering in detail the eight parables recorded in Matthew 13 it will be necessary to think about certain general matters affecting them all The opening words of the chapter, "The same day", serve to emphasize that everything spoken by the King at that time immediately followed His solemn pronouncements, on the generation of Jews to whom He had been sent, 12. 39, 41, 42, 45, and His declaration concerning those who, from then onwards, He regarded as being in a true relationship with Himself, 12. 46-50. An important point of departure in His course was reached that day, and it is signified by the fact that Jesus went "out of the house, and sat by the seaside". If we interpret aright this deliberate step which the King took, He was no longer to appeal exclusively to His own nation, but equally to every nation; cf. John 1. 11-13. His words, however, were to be veiled. He chose to speak in parables, and, in addition to the reasons we have already noted, it was so that His disciples might become scribes "instructed unto the kingdom of heaven", Matt. 13. 52.

Seeing that these parables are said to contain "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven", 13. 11, another matter calling for careful thought is the expression

The Kingdom of Heaven. A close reading of Matthew 13 will show that the kingdom is variously referred to as

i. The kingdom of heaven, 13.11,24,31,33,44,45,47,52.

ii. The kingdom of the Son of man, 13. 41.

iii. The kingdom of their Father, 13. 43. There is another expression occurring frequently elsewhere, although only five times in this Gospel, which some think is identical in meaning with i. above. It is:

iv. The kingdom of God, 6. 33; 12. 28; 19. 24; 21. 31, 43.

The term "The kingdom of heaven" (lit. "the heavens"), occurs only in Matthew's Gospel in the New Testament (32 times in all in the Authorised Version). It does not occur in the Old Testament although many parts allude to it, in typical history, praising Psalm, and forecasting prophecy. For example in Daniel we read that when the times of the Gentiles began it was the God of heaven who gave Nebuchadnezzar his world kingdom, and appointed three subsequent Gentile world powers, each of which was to rule in turn over all the earth. It was the God of heaven who also determined that Gentile world rule would be brought to an end by another, final kingdom, which should stand for ever, Dan. 2. 36-45. Now the first great lesson which Nebuchadnezzar had to be taught by God was that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will", 4. 25,32. Having learned this, his testimony for the benefit of all succeeding kings was that the dominion of the Most High is "an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation", v. 34. Although he was the supreme ruler on earth he under-Stood what so few lesser rulers have acknowledged, namely, that it is the God of heaven who "removeth kings, and setteth up kings", 2, 21, and "that the heavens do rule", 4. 26, 32-37.

We can see from this that even as Gentile world dominion was being established the God of heaven was clearly marking its ultimate destruction, and foretelling the inauguration of an indestructible world kingdom by Himself. It is to this kingdom we believe Matthew refers when he writes of the kingdom of heaven.

The first mention of the expression is in Matthew 3. 2 where it is written that John the Baptist came saying, "the kingdom of heaven is at hand", namely "has drawn near". The import­ance of this note in his message is seen in that both Jesus, and the twelve, sound it too; see 4. 17; 10. 7. Thus the King, His forerunner, and His emissaries, all announce the same message. They all proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom because God's King had come out of heaven to reign over all the earth. And, as He Himself declared to the representative of the fourth and last Gentile world power, His kingdom is not of this world; it is in origin, and character, the kingdom of heaven; cf. John 18. 36.

Yet another matter must be raised before considering the eight parables. What is to be understood by the term

Mysteries which is applied to them? Do the mysteries relate solely to the kingdom of heaven, or to the Church, or to Christendom, or to all of these? And what is the period of time which they cover? Is it a period that runs continuously from the time of the sowing to the harvest, Matt. 13. 24, 30; or from the time of the casting of the net into the sea to the sorting out of the catch, 13. 47, 49? Or is it a period that is broken by an interval, or another "dispensation", during which another gospel is proclaimed, involving a distinctive calling and the divulging of different mysteries?

These questions are raised here, not to provoke disputes and wrangling, nor to supply answers which might appear to ignore what others both have taught and still do teach, but in order to promote further thought, and to offer an exposition of the parables as seen in their inspired setting.

"Have ye understood all these things?" This question, asked by the King, received an affirmative answer from his disciples, 13. 51. May our understanding be such that we also shall be able to say, "Yea, Lord".

The word mystery is a transliteration of the Septuagint rendering for the Hebrew word "secret" occurring in Daniel 2. 18, 19, 27, 29, 30, 47; 4. 9. It simply means a secret known only to the initiated. How fitting that the King should be the One to initiate the disciples into the secret things of the king­dom of heaven, seeing that He was party to the counsels of God relating to its establishment on earth. It is often said today that "The kingdom is in mystery", as if to imply that it has gone underground. That it is not now to be seen on earth as a developing thing is true, but when we grasp that the kingdom of heaven once "drew near", is now "distant", and will very soon be "established on earth in power", all because of the position of the King in relation to the earth, it becomes plain that the term "the mysteries of the kingdom" relates not to a secret kingdom but to the secrets of the kingdom, which things these parables contain.

This leads us to state our belief that in these parables the King described various characteristics of the kingdom of heaven, emphasizing the work done by Himself, by friend and foe, and by the angels, before it will be finally established. These things were told to the disciples, and are written for us, although the kingdom will not come until the present work of the Holy Spirit is consummated in the translation of the saints who partake of the heavenly calling. We do not believe that these parables are intended to present the heavenly side of the kingdom, or that their teaching covers the period from the time they were spoken to the completion of the age. Rather^ as we hope to show in the next paper, is it related to the parts of the age in which the Gospel of the kingdom is preached and sons of the kingdom are produced.


Seaside - Multitudes,    1-2    House - Disciples,. 36

1. Sower . . . 3-9


Parables (a) . 1.0-17

Interpretation of Sower (1)   .18-23)  Interpretation of Wheat and Tares (2) 37-43

2.  Wheat and Tares .24-30 5. Treasure ...  44

3.  Mustard Seed       .31-32 6. Pearl   . . . . 45-46

4.  Leaven . 33    7. Net .... 47-50

Parables (b)    .34-35 Disciples   . . . 51-52

8. Householder  . 52