Wednesday, April 18, 2012


In Matthew 13, we find a series of seven parables taught by Jesus, mostly having to do with the coming Kingdom.  According to verses 10 and 34, these parables were spoken to “the crowds,” while Jesus explained the meanings of some to His disciples.

The parables are:
·        The Sower and the Soils (verses 3-9); interpretation (verses 18-23).
·        The Weeds and the Wheat (verses 24-30); interpretation (verses 36-43).
·        The Mustard Seed (verses 31, 32).
·        The Leaven (verse 33).
·        The Hidden Treasure (verse 44).
·        The Precious Pearl (verses 45, 46).
·        The Net (verses 47, 48); interpretation (verses 49, 50).

Jesus only gives interpretations to three of these:  The Sower and the Soils, The Weeds and the Wheat and The Net; the others are left to the disciples and the readers to understand.

Of the seven, two (The Hidden Treasure and The Precious Pearl) are especially beautiful.  Yet strangely it is these two that are, I believe, most often misinterpreted.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant man, seeking beautiful pearls.  And finding one extremely precious pearl, he went away and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45, 46).

These two are usually understood as a call to radical discipleship, such as Jesus demanded elsewhere in the gospels.  By this interpretation, the man who buys the field and the pearl-merchant represent the believer who commits his all to follow Jesus in His inauguration of the Kingdom.  He sells all to gain the treasure or the pearl.

In a variation of this interpretation, this person does this to gain the Kingdom or eternal life.  “Both parables make the point that a sinner who understands the priceless riches of the kingdom will gladly yield everything else he cherishes in order to obtain it.  The corresponding truth is also clear by implication:  those who cling to their earthly treasures forfeit the far greater wealth of the kingdom.”  (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, page 135.)

Though the interpretation of the parables as a call to discipleship is an old one (“classic” according to Mr. MacArthur), it ignores the context of the other parables.  And it certainly is not “the gospel” of eternal life.  Our salvation is gained by faith in Christ and His work, not by our “selling all.”

Some points to consider:
·        In the other parables, the initiator of the action is someone who represents “the Son of Man” (Jesus):  The “Sower” in the first two parables (verse 37), the “man” in the third and the “woman” in the fourth.  The “they” in the last parable are said to be angels (verses 48, 49).  It would seem reasonable to assume that the two initiators in verses 44-46 would also be the same.  None of the others speak of disciples or others as initiating the action.
·        Both “The Kingdom of Heaven” and its subjects are in the other parables represented by things, objects.  The only actual persons mentioned beside those representing Jesus are “the devil” (verse 39) and “the angels” (verse 49.  Why should these two parables be understood differently?
·        In verse 38, Jesus tells His disciples that “the field is the world.”  In verse 44, the treasure is hidden in “the field.”  There seems to be no good reason why this word would have a different meaning in both passages.

I believe a more accurate interpretation of these two parables gives us a beautiful picture of the work of Christ.  By this understanding, both the man who buys the field and the pearl-merchant represent Christ Himself.  As in the other parables, He initiates the action.

We then, His elect, His chosen ones, those who will believe in Him are the treasure in the field and the precious pearl.

We need to remember in interpreting a parable, an extended simile, that it is just that, not an allegory.  All the details need not correspond.  Therefore, we do not need to be concerned about the ethics of the man who re-hides the treasure to apparently scam the field’s current owner.

Nor do we need to be overly concerned about what may appear immodest claims about ourselves and our own intrinsic worth.  We are of value in Jesus’ sight, as those created in His image, as the objects of His love.

So here we have the beautiful picture of the love of God the Son Who “sold all that He had” to purchase us, or as Paul puts it, He
“… emptied Himself
taking the form of a slave
becoming in the likeness of man
and being found in appearance as man
He humbled Himself
becoming obedient right up to death
even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7, 8).

And, of course, the only reasonable reaction on our part is to respond by giving our all to Him.


Canadian Atheist said...

Good piece, Bill. It brought to mind a piece I was thinking of working on. It's a bit off topic and political in nature but maybe it will give you an idea for another blog post. I've been wondering about the Republican Party there in the US and how they've been pretty much taken over by theocrats. The thing that bothers me is how they seem to favor things that would be distinctly against the things that Jesus supposedly taught, such as greed, power, the death penalty etc.

Maybe you could give me your thoughts on that?

Bill Ball said...

CA: As Jesus to one of his questioners -- "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34). :^)

I'll get back with you later on this.

gary said...

i have seen these both ways.i started at the cross like many others and try to work backwards. however, i am not sure the cross has been mentioned yet in matthew.when i try to look at it as if i began reading in genisis and remove myself from all the false teaching at the time i might still see it that way.when jesus said yoke up yo him, i am not sure if i would have wanted to be going his way or's much easier for us to follow now i think.we have He loved us first.