The Parables of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:24-53)
This passage contains several parables describing the kingdom of heaven. Heaven is where "The King" reigns from, but His kingdom describes where His people live. It's here and now –not somewhere that we go after we die.
These all begin with a phrase like "the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed..." They can be better understood by reading this as "The kingdom of heaven can be described by the story in which a man who sowed good seed..." I say this because people sometimes get confused and think that the man represents the kingdom; but it's the entire story (told in six different ways) that represents the kingdom.
- Wheat and Tares
- Mustard Seed
- Yeast and Flour
- Hidden Treasure
- Pearl of Great Price
- Net Full of Fish
Each of these parables shows a contrast of those who belong to the King and those who do not. Obviously, not every person living within the realm of the kingdom accepts Him as King. Some are aliens who will accept Him in the future and some are life-long rebels. As you read these, remember that parables are not to be understood by those who have not accepted Him. (See "Overview of Parables".)
Each parable has a different context: a farmer, a gardener, a cook, a treasure seeker, a merchant, a fisherman. The intent is for the reader to identify himself with at least one of these so that the message is relevant to him. But the theme is the same. God has sown His message and the Devil has sown his. It's up to us to decide which one will take root in our heart. One brings eternal life (presence forever with God); the other brings eternal death (an on-going existence in torment). And while we (who have believed His message) live here we will encounter the same rejection from the world (which has believed the enemy's message) that Jesus received because it has not believed Him.
A Field with Wheat and Tares
Let's establish some terms that are used symbolically in the parables –and for that matter the same symbolic meaning is used throughout the Bible. The soil, field, or earth, is representative of mankind's heart –his very core where his beliefs live and his actions are birthed. Seeds represent a message that a person accepts in his heart as factual; it becomes part of his beliefs –his faith. When the seed is from God, it's a truth and when the seed is from the enemy (Satan), it's a lie. The one that takes root and matures is an expression of the person's final destination.
Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
"'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
"'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'" (Matthew 13:24-30)
Tares (sometimes translated "weeds") are a grass similar to wheat and difficult to distinguish until it's fully grown. He explains most of this a little later. For now, the significant fact is that the two coexist until the day of harvest.
A Mustard Seed Planted in a Field
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)
Trees represent the authority that people have –either spiritual or worldly. An example of worldly authority is contained in chapter four of Daniel where Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of himself as a great tree. Its greatness reached up to the sky and its dominion extended to the distant parts of the earth. It provided shelter and food for all those who lived there –that was until he rejected God and was cut down.
In this mustard seed parable, the garden represents the hearts of men. The seed (the good seed) has grown into a tall tree –taller than the other plants. God's message of redemption sprouts and grows in individuals –and in the body of Christ as a whole. The birds of the air –perched in the branches– symbolize God's messengers who bring sweet music (the gospel) for others to hear.
Yeast Mixed into the Flour
He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matthew 13:33)
Flour comes from the good seed. And that seed represents the gospel. Jesus' redemptive work on the cross provided forgiveness for all and is sufficient for those who trust in Him to be raised to eternal life. Oil (the Holy Spirit) and water (of life) are added to the flour to make a batch of dough. When yeast is mixed into the dough, it works its way throughout the batch. The yeast, or leaven, is the message from the enemy. Satan's message is one of legalism –telling us that Jesus' work on the cross plus our own works are needed to make us presentable to God. Like the yeast that puffs up the whole batch of bread, the enemy's message puffs up a person's pride with thoughts of what he has accomplished. He shows off his self-importance with legalistic actions and teachings. In the kingdom of heaven –that is where we live here on earth today– the gospel and legalism are thoroughly mixed together. So we must be aware of what we hear and carefully discern what we believe in our heart.
Jesus Explains the Parable of the Wheat and Tares
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."
Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."
He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:34-43)
To those who have the Spirit, Jesus' message is clear. Two sets of people live in this world. We need to take heart –be encouraged– because although the evil people in this world seem powerful, there is an end to them and their ways in sight. For them it's a destination of torment; but for us it's being clothed in righteousness and being present with our Father forever more.
This brings us to the question, "Why doesn't God 'pull up the weeds' –removing the others ?"
"Pulling the weeds" would remove the tools that God is using to change us. Of course we want the easy life of no difficulties. But without "the weeds" and the troubles they bring into our lives, we would not be changed into the image of His Son. These are crucial for the building up of our spiritual beings –enduring the sufferings of Christ.
There is one other element to consider. Before we became children of God –sons of the King– we, too, were weeds. We were alienated from God and considered to be His enemies. So as we complain about the "bad people in the world" –those should have believed the lie– let's not forget that is where we were one time. Thank God for His patience!
Treasure Hidden in a Field
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)
This parable tells two stories. The first is about a man who finds something so precious that he gives up his entire way of life in order to be the owner of the treasure. He exchanges his old identity for a brand new one.
The second story tells about what our Lord did when He found a person with a heart seeking after God. He gave all He had in order to redeem us from sin and its resulting death. Jesus gave up His life for us.
Actually, the two stories are described in 2 Corinthians 5 at the end of the chapter where we read about the exchange that took place. It's where He became our sin offering for us –dying for us –taking on our identity; so that we could become the righteousness of God –taking on His identity. Jesus knocks at the door of all of our hearts. Some accept His Life and some don't (or haven't yet).
The Pearl of Great Price
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)
This parable is another view of the Treasure Hidden in a Field –the exchanged life. He gave us His perfection (righteousness, sinless-ness) so that there is no penalty of death awaiting us at judgement. But the payment for our sin still had to be made –and it had to be death. He took on remainder of our life –exchanging ours for His– so that the Law's punishment was fully carried out in His death. Our debt is now paid in full –It Is Finished! There is nothing greater that a man can do that give his life for a friend.
A Net Full of Fish
"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47-50)
There are two kinds of fish caught in the net. There are the good ones representing those who have believed Jesus' message about Himself –that He is the only source of eternal life. And there are the bad fish representing those who reject His message and end up in hell. Again, the kingdom –it's here on earth– has both children of God and children of the Devil (1 John 3:10) living here until death, or the day of judgement –which ever comes first.
Putting It All Together
"Have you understood all these things?" Jesus asked.
"Yes," they replied.
He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. (Matthew 13:51-53)
It is essential that Christians understand what the Bible says. It contains the Law which explicitly shows us our condition of death and our need for life; and the Gospel which tells of the life available through the finished work of Jesus, our Savior. The "old treasures" are the Law which demands our death and the "new treasures" are the good news about the One who has redeemed us for God. Both of these are thoroughly woven throughout whole Bible –both the the Old and New Testaments.
Continue reading about parables: "Wheat and Tares"
Law (Legalism) vs. Grace
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20 - NIV)