In this chapter: Parables of Sower (and its explanation), Weeds (Tares), Mustard Seed, and Leaven; parables are only for the crowds, to separate the discerning from the dull; Parables of Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Value, the Net, treasures old and new; finally, Jesus is rejected at Nazareth. A long discussion of the end times is also included here.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. But I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I do not offer it in competition with the excellent published ones or because I think mine is better or necessary. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-9)
1 On that same day, Jesus left the house and sat by the lake. 2 Many crowds gathered together to him, so that he got in a boat and sat down. The crowd stood on the shore. 3 Then he spoke to them in many parables, saying:
“Look! A sower went out to sow. 4 And while he was sowing, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Others fell on rocks which did not have much soil, and they sprang up because they did not have deep soil. 6 When the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they had no roots, they withered. 7 Others fell among thorn-plants, and the thorn-plants grew up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good soil and produced fruit: one hundred, sixty and thirty times. 9 Anyone who has ears, let him hear!”
This parable has been called the Parable of the Soils and even the Parable of the Seeds. But I stayed with tradition, though the Parable of the Soils makes sense, while the third option does not (not to me, at least).
Let’s wait to interpret the parable in vv. 18-23, when Jesus does.
“Look!” This is an updated version of “behold!” Jesus could have acted out this parable, a little, by tossing seeds or appearing to toss seeds. Or one could update it with a mental word, like “Consider!”
These three verses are transitional from the previous teachings and encounters with false religious leaders and Satan and disease. Jesus overcame all of them. (In him, you can too).
Scientifically, water does reflect sound (his voice), so that crowds could hear better. Remember: he had no amplification system in those says.
“parables”: literally, the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable. Here you must see yourself in the parable.
Matthew is keen to show that Jesus could gather a crowd. This time he did not heal them, as far as we know, but taught them. Teaching the kingdom of God is equal to or even better than healing through the power of the Spirit because eventually this physical body will wear out, but the teaching will last forever. His word will not pass away (Matt. 24:35). Renewalists who like the sensational aspect of the kingdom of God, as it comes in power and healing, need to remember the teaching part of ministry. They must reinforce their basic Bible knowledge and doctrine, so they can explain it to the people and so that the flashy ministers themselves won’t go astray.
“lake”: it is most often translated as “sea,” because of the Greek word, but the Shorter Lexicon offers the option of “lake.” And since the body of water in Galilee is a lake, I chose this term. The old traditional title, “The Sea of Galilee,” to modern readers, makes no sense when they see it on an online map; the term is inaccurate.
A sower made a pouch with a robe, slung it around his shoulder, full of seed, and reached into it, grabbed a handful, and threw it, sweeping his hand back and forth. After his hand emptied out, he reached in his bag and grabbed another handful.
Some of his seed fell on the road was trampled underfoot, and the seeds that were not pushed into the dirt by sandals and bare feet were eaten by birds.
In v. 7, the Greek verb “grew up” indicates that the thorns “rose up” or “went up.” It is almost as if the thorn-plant purposely did this. The cares of the world will rise up and strangle your new-found faith.
The Purpose of Parables (Matt. 13:10-17)
10 Then his disciples approached and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Because it is granted to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted, 12 for whoever has, it shall be given to him, even overflowing. But whoever does not have, even what he ‘has’ shall be taken from him. 13 For this reason I speak to them in parables, because even though they ‘see,’ they do not see, and even though they ‘hear,’ they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Then this prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled about them, saying:
You shall ‘hear’ with the act of ‘hearing,’ and you shall not understand,
And even though you ‘see’ carefully, you shall ‘see’ and not perceive.
15 For the heart of this people has become dull,
And the ears have become hard of hearing,
And their eyes have shut,
In case they might hear with their ears,
And with their hearts they might understand and might turn
And I would heal them. [Is. 6:9-10]
16 But your eyes are blessed because they see, and your ears are blessed because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth: many prophets and righteous people yearned to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it.
After two introductory points about a Hebrew idiom and the granting to know spiritual truths, let’s tackle this entire pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section or unit of Scripture as a whole.
First, yes, there is a Hebrew idiom “hear with hearing” = “hear intently,” but I like what BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, says: they hear with “the act of hearing.” So I kept it. I put some key words in quotations because there is irony. They seem to hear and hear, but in in reality they do not.
“mysteries”: modern translations say “secret.” The Greek noun is mystērion (pronounced moo-stay-ree-on or mee-stay-ree-on), and yes, we get our word mystery directly from it. It is used 28 times. Now let’s define the term.
BDAG says: In the Greco-Roman world, a mystērion is about mystery religions, “with their secrets teachings, religious and political in nature, concealed with many strange customs and ceremonies. The principal rites remain unknown because of a reluctance in antiquity to divulge things.” In other words, Greco-Roman mysteries were about concealment.
In contrast, in the NT, it will be about disclosure of God’s plan, revealed only in part in Bible prophecies, and now these mysteries were fulfilled and completely revealed in Christ. As God’s plan moves from one age to the next, this is called eschatology (the study or science of last things or a shift in ages that God ordains).
Next, Jesus says that the disciples have been “granted” to know. What does that mean? In these verses, there are several passive verbs (“be granted” or “be given”). This speaks of the divine passive, which is an understated way of saying that God is behind the scenes doing the work.
Some sort of predestination to know, while others sit in ignorance by God’s plan, so that he would not heal them if they really did have hungry hearts (v. 15)? Not quite. This grant or gift to know is predicated or built on the condition of their heart. Originally, God predicted that the majority of Israel would reject Isaiah’s ministry (Is. 6:8-13). Why? They were being corrupted by their environment; they did not drive out bad influences—the Canaanites and their surrounding cultures and their religions—in their lives, so their hearts were becoming dull and sinful. There is a certain class of people who just don’t get it. Do they have hope, or are they doomed by their own thick heads and broken moral compass? Whatever your answer to that double-sided question, God was reaching out to them, so it is not likely that he caused their hearts to become wicked. Instead, their hearts were shutting down because of bad human (and demonic) influences, and then God was letting them go to figure things out—all the while sending Isaiah and many other prophets to speak the truth to their self-deceived hearts. No, God is not the author of corrupt or sinful hearts, but they can get that way on their own. Then God takes them as they are.
With those two acknowledgements, let’s move on to the significance of the long statement in the whole pericope. This statement is about knowledge and ignorance and hunger and complacency, two sets of opposites. What do you know and not know? When does your hunger for God propel you out of your complacency or self-satisfaction?
The issue of knowledge and ignorance boils down to irony. Let’s illustrate it. First there is comic irony. I have used the illustration of Hogan’s Heroes, the sitcom of the 1960’s and early 1970s. Col. Klink boasted that there has never been a successful escape from Stalag 13, but the inmates could come and go as they pleased. He was a victim of his self-deception and “self-ignorance” and absence of knowledge. He was a vain man. He thought he knew more than he actually did. He was ignorant.
Then there is tragic irony. Oedipus the king was considered wise, and he was to a certain degree. And now a plague was attacking the city-state of Thebes. Thebans were dying. He thought that he could figure out the cause and threatened anyone who may be it. He learned at the end that he was the cause. He gouged out his eyes. He was the victim of irony because he thought the cause was someone else and he huffed and puffed as king, but he caused his own downfall. He abdicated and left the city. His ignorance was left behind, and his knowledge grew. Therefore, he was no longer the victim of irony—in the end. He reached true knowledge.
So now the simple of heart—the disciples—could understand (after an explanation)—the parables. But not the crowds. Jesus knew that he was on his way to Jerusalem, to be rejected by the religious establishment and the people as a whole, so he intended that he withhold the mystery of the kingdom—himself and his teaching—from them, because their hearts were dull and heavy. They were oppressed by the Romans, so this too distracted their knowledge away from the truth; they fell victim of their own conceit. They insisted on the Messiah being a conquering hero, but he was a mystery, revealed gradually. They were ignorant of God’s plan of a Savior who would save people from their own sins and not the Romans.
So, who qualifies to break the irony? How? The complacent or self-pleased do not qualify. They are happy with the status quo or they are hungry for the wrong thing—the Messianic conquering hero, again. They were living in irony because they were hungry for external deliverance, and not an inward work of God. This is ironical, because many of them went out to seek John’s baptism and the forgiveness of sins, and maybe many received it. However, Jesus was different. He worked miracles. He could deliver the people from the Romans. No, sorry. They were self-deceived.
So who qualifies to understand the ways of God? They humble and hungry. They allow God’s plan to unfold as he wants, not as they want. The disciples would eventually catch on, but some not even until the resurrection, and some not even until after Pentecost. Then their knowledge grew by leaps and bounds, because by faith they allowed God to unfold his plan, and they submitted to it, even when they did not understand it entirely. Eventually they understood the mystery and came to know the truth and leave their irony behind.
One more time: There is no predestination in the sense of God who is hardening hearts. The people had the precondition of open or closed hearts.
One final point related to v. 11 and the kingdom of heaven. Let’s define it here since it appears many times in this chapter.
“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And, since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.
Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
In v. 12 a modern saying could help: “Nothing succeeds like success” (France offers this idea). If you have success, you have more success. If you have more of the kingdom, then your soul or mind is enlarged to receive more of it. God is looking for hungry and expansive souls, so he can deposit more kingdom riches in them.
As for vv. 13-14, they could be paraphrased thus: “I speak parables to them instead of plain teaching because they have spiritually dull and stubborn minds. The parables do not promote spiritual dullness or stubbornness but they only make it easier to remain dull and stubborn and therefore the dull and stubborn lose what little they have at first” (France, p. 513, n. 15, who got the idea from C. A. Evans).
“I tell you the truth”: Matthew uses this expression thirty times in his Gospel. “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement, but Jesus’ “introductory uses of amēn to confirm his own words is unique” (France at his comment on 5:18). The authoritative formula emphasizes pronouncements which are noteworthy and will be surprising or uncomfortable to the listener.
I like what Wessel and Strauss say in their commentary on Mark’s Gospel in the parallel passage: Isaiah is the background, and in his ministry he was commanded to preach, even though it would do no good. God had already pronounced his judgment on ancient Israel (Wessel and Strauss, p. 756). And so it is with Jesus’s ministry. He was called to proclaim the good news, but judgment is coming, for Jesus was destined to be rejected by the Jerusalem establishment and then judgement would fall.
I add: Only those who were hungry and perceptive would escape judgment. Many people followed him during his ministry, but would they be insightful and perceptive enough to grasp the gospel told through parables? We know that thousands converted to the Messiah after Pentecost (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20). They were the insightful and perceptive ones.
In v. 16 (“But your eyes are blessed because they see, and your ears are blessed because they hear”), this is the divine passive, which is an understated way of saying that God is behind the scenes, working. He is the one blessing your eyes and your hearing. He has to have something–your open heart–to work with; then he gives you more insight and wisdom to understand what he is doing and his ways.
In v. 17, the OT writers wrote about the Messiah, both in explicit terms, which the NT writers quote, or in their types and shadows and patterns. Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross fulfills the animals sacrifices, for example. The OT all points to Jesus, if you know where to look and use proper interpretation.
Messianic Prophecies (a long table of quoted verses)
GrowApp for Matt. 13:10-17
A.. How hungry are you for God and his ways? Or do you tend to be your own leader? Are you willing to submit to God, so he can lead you in his good plans?
Parable of the Sower Explained (Matt. 13:18-23)
18 Then hear the parable of the sower: 19 When everyone hears the message of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches the seed sown in his heart; this is the one sown along the path. 20 Then the seed sown on the rock—this is the one who hears the message and immediately receives it with joy, 21 but does not have roots in himself, but is temporary when a trial or persecution comes because of the message he falls away. 22 The one sown in the thorn-plants—this one hears the message, and anxiety of the age and deceitfulness of riches choke the word and is fruitless. 23 But the one sown on good soil—this one hears the message and understands, who indeed is fruitful and produces a hundred, sixty and thirty times.
A.. First soil / heart: Packed down as hard as a footpath.
B.. Second soil / heart: rocky ground so roots don’t go down deep.
C.. Third soil / heart: thorn bushes can grow there, which choke out good growth.
D.. Fourth soil / heart: Good heart so the word can grow and produce mature fruit.
“This is not inadvertent ignorance, but studied rejection, a ‘sin with a high hand’ (Num 15:30-32, ‘sins defiantly’ in TNIV) that must be punished” (Osborne, comment on 13:19).
“parable”: see v. 3 for more comment.
“message”: It is the noun logos (pronounced lo-goss), and it is rich in meaning. It is the same noun for word in all the verses in this section (vv. 11-15). It is used 330 times in the NT. Since it is so important, let’s explore the noun more deeply, as I do in this entire commentary series.
The noun is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. (Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level!) Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to make sense, also. Matthew’s Gospel has logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational and logical side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible.
On the other side of the word logos, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia who believe that they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true.
Bottom line: Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
In any case, we now know the seed is the word or message of the kingdom in the parable. This word explains the kingdom of God and its power to transform people’s hearts, if their hearts are receptive. There is no “done deal,” except for those who persevere (endure or hang in there).
It is the same word logos throughout these verses, which I translated as “message,” but if you want “word,” you can certainly use it.
First soil / heart: the packed-down path or road. The seeds never even got a chance to put down roots before people trampled on them and birds ate them.
“the evil one”: the devil is the (collective) birds. He can read people’s heart well enough that he can steal the word from it. No, his reading hearts does not make him omniscient; it just means he can read hearts! He can certainly read it well enough to snatch the word from your heart.
Don’t let the devil rob you of the good word planted in you. “Is this really real? Is the word true?” You can ask those questions but go to someone who is more mature than you to get answers.
The hearers did not understand it, so the word did not hold; therefore, the devil could steal it.
Second soil / heart: rocky ground. People can receive the word with joy when they hear it. But the rocky soil prevents the roots from going deep enough for them to soak up the moisture.
Scorching sunlight (= trials and temptations) is implied in this verse.
“temporary” is proskairos (pronounced pross-ky-ross), and it can be transitory.
So the hearers believe (present tense), but in the time of testing or temptation they fall away. “Fall away” could be translated more literally as a stumbling block. It is easy to imagine that the hearers, receivers and believers walk away or stand away from the word after they go through temptation or testing.
Be prepared for trials and temptations.
Third soil / heart: the thorn plants grow there. The thorn bushes (another translation) grow with the seed and choke it. Here the thorn bushes are explained as the anxieties and deceitfulness of riches—and these things choke the word. The people heard it, and they produce fruit, but it does not mature. No, money and certain pleasure are not bad in themselves, but too often they do choke out our relationship with God.
“is fruitless”: The verb is in the present tense, implying that if the word had not been choked out, the fruit would have grown to maturity; one has to keep going to maturity. So the picture is that the hearer produces some fruit, but then the entire plant gets choked out by the anxieties and deceitfulness of riches.
Fourth soil / heart: This person produces a lot of grain. “This continues the definition of true Christianity in Matthew: it is more than mere profession but is shown in righteous conduct and obedience to Jesus’ teaching. As stated in v. 8, the remarkable yield shows the power of God in the lives of his followers and proceeds from the greatest to the least to stress the diversity of responses disciples make. Yet even thirtyfold is a great result, and the kingdom reality makes a great difference in the lives of Jesus’ followers” (Osborne, comment on 13:23).
“produce fruit”: it is one verb karpophoreō (pronounced kahr-poh-foh-reh-oh), and it is in the present tense—you keep producing fruit. It is a compound verb. The karp– stem means “fruit,” and the phor– stem means to “carry” or “bear” or “produce.” This hearer produced fruit. It seems he was a true disciple, if only a young or recent one.
For the quarrel between professional theologians over “once save, always saved” and the possibility of walking away from salvation, please see:
GrowApp for Matt. 13:18-23
A.. Are you prepared to go all the way to the end, through trials and tribulation and even persecution for your faith?
B.. What is good soil? How can it apply to your spiritual walk with Christ?
Parable of Weeds among Wheat (Matt. 13:24-30)
24 He presented to them another parable, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 While the laborers were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and left. 26 When the grass sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 The servants of the head of household approached and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed your field? Where then do the weeds come from?’ 28 He said to them, ‘The enemy did this!’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and pull them out’? 29 But he said, ‘No, in case you uproot both the wheat and the weeds while you gather the weeds. 30 Leave both to grow together until the harvest, and at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather first the weeds and tie them into bundle to burn them. But gather the wheat into my barn.”’
Jesus interprets this parable in vv. 36-43. Let’s wait till then to go into more detail. For now, here are some briefer comments.
“parable”: see v. 3 for more comments.
“kingdom of heaven”: see vv. 11-17 for more explanation.
“man”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. However, I chose “man,” since he was mainly the one who sowed the seeds; however, a woman could have done this outdoor farm work.
“laborers”: it literally reads “men,” but the context allows for “laborers.” They could include women since they too went out to harvest. Everyone had to work during peak sowing and growing season.
“weeds”: the darnel plant that looks a lot like wheat during their sprouting, but having poisonous seeds (Olmstead, p. 326). “It would be difficult for the workers to root out so many tares without damaging the wheat at this stage. … They had grown enough that their roots were already intertwined with those of the wheat; uprooting thus might endanger the wheat (13:29). After the wheat and darnel were grown, they were easily distinguished and reapers could gather the darnel, which did have one use: given the scarcity of fuel, it would be burned. … Wheat was normally gathered and bound in sheaves, then transported, probably on donkeys, to the village (or, in this case, the large estate own) threshing floor … then stored” (Keener, p. 387).
“servants”: The word servants here is doulos (singular and pronounced doo-loss; the plural is douloi and pronounced doo-loi) and could be translated as slaves, but I chose servants because in Jewish culture a Hebrew man who sold himself into servitude to his fellow Jew was like an indentured servant whose term of service had a limit; he was freed in the seventh year. But then the indentured servant could stay with his family, if he liked his owner (Exod. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:38-46; Deut. 15:12-18). So there was a lot of liberty even in servitude, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
It is a sure thing, however, that Matthew’s Greek-speaking audience, knowledgeable about Greek culture, would have heard “slaves” in the word douloi. So if you wish to interpret it like that, then that’s your decision. But culturally at that time, slavery had nothing to do with colonial or modern slavery.
In v. 30, “harvesttime” comes from the noun kairos (pronounced kye-ross and is used 85 times), which speaks more of a quality time than quantity. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the noun as follows: (1) a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with the implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology. (a) Generally a welcome time or difficult time … fruitful times; (b) a moment or period as especially appropriate the right, proper, favorable time … at the right time; (2) a defined period for an event, definite, fixed time (e.g. period of fasting or mourning in accord with the changes in season), in due time (Gal. 6:9); (3) a period characterized by some aspect of special crisis, time; (a) generally the present time (Rom. 13:11; 12:11); (b) One of the chief terms relating to the endtime … the time of crisis, the last times.
All of this stand in a mild contrast—not a sharp contrast—from chronos. Greek has another word for time: chronos (pronounced khro-noss), which measures one day, one week or one month after another.
In this context, it means both the end times and the first definition and (b). God will send out his harvesters and separate them out (vv. 41-42).
Blomberg says that we should not be over-zealous and purge the world of evil:
Just as the wheat and weeds were often superficially similar in appearance and if sown too close to each other were too intermingled in their root systems to be pulled up separately, so too God’s people are sometimes outwardly hard to distinguish from his enemies. They can be too interconnected with them in society for anyone to try to purify the world from evil without hurting those who are good. Nevertheless, in Jesus’ society many Zealots, and at times even his disciples (cf. Luke 9:54), were often eager for precisely this to happen. Jesus warns them they must wait for the final judgment. (comment on 13:24-30)
I add: too many over-zealous Christians want to remove people from the kingdom, too.
GrowApp for Matt. 13:24-30
A.. How has the enemy sown bad seed (false gospel and doctrine) into your life? How did you overcome it?
Parables of Mustard Seed and Leaven (Matt. 13:31-33)
31 He presented to them another parable, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man takes and sows in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but which grows up bigger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”
33 He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman takes and hides in three measures of flour until it leavens the whole lump.”
See v. 3 for further comment on the meaning of “parable.”
These two short parables are similes or “like” or “similar.” This is like that. He is about to compare the kingdom to two ordinary items in everyday life in first-century Israel.
The comparisons or similes are revealing.
First, the kingdom is compared to a mustard seed, which in his culture, was the smallest seed. Then a person takes it and sows it in his garden. It grows into a tree-like plant. It is not a literal tree, so here it is rhetoric, but the mustard plant could grow to a height of 10-25 ft (3-7.5m). So what is the point of the short parable? It is that the kingdom has a small beginning and is seemingly insignificant to the undiscerning. The mustard seed is a symbol for what is tiny; it was the smallest seed. This is the mystery of the kingdom, for it will have a large ending. Jesus is one God-man, so the beginning of the kingdom at first seems small and even lonely, despite the large number of disciples following him. Now, thankfully, it is going around the globe. But this does not mean the parable teaches the kingdom’s political dominance, as Dan. 2:44 teaches, which wipes out all other kingdoms. Instead, the kingdom that Jesus taught enters quietly into the world, but more specifically into a person’s heart.
“Although not literally the smallest of seeds and yielding a shrub rather than a ‘tree’ in the technical botanical sense, the mustard plant hyperbolically conveyed Jesus’ point (the inconspicuous becomes mighty) better than any other” (Keener, p. 388). Hyperbole means a rhetorical exaggeration for effective speaking. “This is not an error on Jesus’ part, though some have claimed it as such. Jesus is using rabbinic hyperbole to stress the great difference between miniscule size (it can barely be seen in the palm of a hand) and a great tree it produces (nine to ten feet high) [3m], and at the same time this was the smallest seed known to his Palestinian audience” (Osborne, comment on 13:32).
Second, the kingdom is compared to a small amount of yeast or leaven. A woman puts it in 47 lbs. (21 kg) (literally “three measures” where one measure = 16 lbs. or 7 kg) of wheat dough, and the whole, massive lump of dough rises or leavens. It could feed one hundred people. “Thus this is not a daily event but a banquet … So Jesus is saying that an insignificant amount of yeast-dough could permeate an entire village. Often yeast occurs as a negative image, describing the spreading of evil (Matt 16:6 par; Luke 12:1; 1 Cor 5:6-7; Gal 5:9), but here it is positive, speaking of the spread of the kingdom in history, more eschatological success than the messianic banquet” (Osborne, comment on 13:33).
The point of this simile-parable is the same as the previous simile. The kingdom starts out small, so small that the lump of dough can hide it. The leaven is unobservable. The kingdom is not one a fireworks and great glory, as we see in Dan. 2:44, as noted. In that OT passage the kingdom levels every worldly kingdom in its path. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is small and starts invisibly. Then it grows to be massively influential, globally powerful, but only when people surrender to it.
So does this power and influence mean that Christians should take over governments? Not necessarily. The kingdom does not so permeate the world’s political systems that outward righteousness is achieved. Rather, it is better, in my view, to preach the gospel, train the new converts to live righteously and lovingly in Christ, and together, in unity, their righteous lives and deeds will transform society.
“man”: see v. 24 for more comments.
GrowApp for Matt. 13:31-33
A.. God starts out small in your life: your initial conversion. Have been impatient with this process? How have you learned to wait patiently for kingdom growth to happen?
The Use of Parables (Matt. 13:34-35)
34 Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds and apart from parables he did not say anything, 35 so that the word spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, “I shall open my mouth in parables, and I shall proclaim hidden things from creation.” [Ps. 78:2]
Throughout his Gospel, Matthew is careful to distinguish between disciples and crowds and religious leaders.
The Sermon on the Mount was spoken before disciples (Matt. 5:1), and even in this three-chapter sermon (5-7), he deployed illustrations, like good and bad trees. A careful search from this sermon to Matt. 13 shows that he never proclaimed a major teaching, but he did many miracles and Matthew uses summaries. And even his brief teachings in that span of Scripture used illustrations or mini-parables (e.g. 8:10-12; 20; 9:14-17, 37; 10:26-33, 34, 38; 11:7-19).
Further, a careful search from Matt. 13 to the end of the Gospel reveals that in all his teachings or discourses to the crowds Jesus used only parables or short illustrations. The other pericopes are about miracles or the Mount of Transfiguration before three disciples (Matt. 17:1-13). It is true that he called the people to him and taught them about clean and unclean foods, but he used an illustration (15:10-11), and then the disciples pulled him aside to ask for an explanation (vv. 12-20). It is true that he straightforwardly taught his disciples about forgiving others, but these were his disciples, not the crowds (18:15-20). It is true that when Pharisees came to him and asked about divorce, he told them straightforwardly about it, but this is not to the crowds, but religious leaders and disciples (19:1-12). It is true that he straightforwardly taught the Sadducees about the resurrection and marriage in the Next Age, but they were religious leaders, not the crowds (22:23-33). He denounced the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in front of the crowds and disciples, but this is not a teaching; it is a rebuke, and even in this long discourse he used quick illustrations (23:1-36). He spoke of the Coming of the Lord, but this discourse was delivered to his disciples (Matt. 24), and he inserted an illustration about a fig tree (vv. 32-35). His discourse about Final Judgment used the illustration of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). The rest of the Gospel (26-28) is all about action, from another plot to kill Jesus and his anointing at Bethany to his ascension. In those three chapters he spoke no teaching to the crowds.
Therefore, Matthew’s words here in 13:34-35 about Jesus teaching the crowds only in parables are literally fulfilled, according to the purpose of his Gospel.
However, this is a generalization, because in Luke’s Gospel he does not make such a sharp division (e.g. the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-19). Sometimes the crowds did hear direct teaching. Thus, “apart from parables he did not say anything” is a Semitic way of saying he emphasized parables over direct discourse. Yet Matthew accomplished his literary purposes by distinguishing the disciples from the religious leaders and the crowds.
Why, though, did Jesus use parables for the crowds? The answer is found in my comments at vv. 10-17. It is about knowledge and ignorance and hunger and complacency. Are they hungry enough to push through spiritual dullness and thick-headedness (ignorance) and learn about who God really is (true knowledge)? At this Second Coming, Jesus will separate out the edible fish and the other things caught in a dragnet (vv. 47-50). Many listeners of his message delivered by the church today will remain in ignorance. But they do not have stay that way.
Pray for your wayward sons and daughters and relatives. Pray for your co-workers. Ask God to change their hearts and save them. Never give up! Never stop praying!
France on these two verses:
Matthew’s statement can hardly be intended to apply to the whole teaching ministry of Jesus as recorded in this gospel, since crowds have been part of the audience to a great deal of nonparabolic teaching in chs. 5-7 while 12:46 identifies the crowds as the audience for at least some the preceding teaching. Nor does it seem likely that all the teaching which according to 22:33 impressed the crowds in Jerusalem took the form of parables. The diatribe of ch. 23 is addressed to the crowds as well as the disciples (23:1). What is observed here is not so much a watertight distinction of literary and rhetorical style, but rather that Jesus’s public teaching, even when not cast in the form we would recognize as parabolē, remains elusive, challenging, and unsettling, leaving his audience in a dilemma as to what response they should make. And that is what parables do, when given without explanation. (pp. 529-30)
So his interpretation is much more expansive than mine. You can take it or leave mine or take mine or leave his. It’s up to you. I’m a learner, just as you are.
GrowApp for Matt. 13:34-35
A.. Jesus spoke in parables to the crowds in order to produce hunger in them search hard for the truth. Examine your hearts. Are you in a relentless search of the truth contained in Jesus’s words? Or are you complacent?
Parable of Weeds among Wheat Explained (Matt. 13:36-43)
36 At that time he dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37 In reply, he said, “The one who sows is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world. And the good seed are the sons and daughters of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons and daughters of the evil one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the harvesters are the angels. 40 So then just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of Man shall send out his angels, and they shall gather from out of his kingdom all causes of sin and those practicing lawlessness. 42 And they shall throw them in the fiery oven; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 At that time the righteous shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Anyone who has ears—let him hear!”
The fact that God delays the final harvest and judgment, despite all the evil we see around us, is gracious. He wants all people, everywhere, to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
Sower of Good Seed = Son of Man (It both means the powerful, divine Son of man [Dan. 7:13-14] and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel [numerous references]. Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.)
Field = World
Good Seeds = Sons and Daughters of Kingdom
Sower of Weeds = The Devil
Bad Seeds = Sons and Daughters of Evil One (Devil)
Harvest = End of Age
Harvesters = Angels
Weeds = Causers of Sin and Doers of Lawlessness
Fate of Weeds = Burned in Fiery Oven, with Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
Fate of Good Seeds = Righteous Shining like the Sun in their Father’s Kingdom
Some interpret the field as the church, but here Jesus actually says it is the world. There are differences between the church and the kingdom.
Now we have a mighty struggle between the kingdom of the Son of Man and those who belong to the evil one in his domain. Satan has his people in his prison-kingdom; the weeds. Recall from vv. 24-30, it is a plant that looks like wheat and whose seeds are poisonous. It is called the darnel. We should not partake of their worldly ways and eat their poison. However, our job, which is not mentioned in this particular parable, is to go out and rescue them, by preaching and making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Let’s not judge them prematurely and cast them into the fiery oven before the angels can harvest!
“Note that there is no emphasis in this parable on the church as the force by which the kingdom reaches the world. God is the power behind the spreading power of the kingdom” (Osborne, comment on 13:38).
“fire”: other verses speak of outer darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). So some ask: how can fire, which produces light, coexist with farthest or outer darkness? They cannot. Therefore, some interpreters conclude that punishment in the afterlife takes on different dimensions: fire in one place, and darkness in another. Still another interpretation is possible. Charismatic theologian J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams does not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism) (see the three links, below in a three-part series.
If you want to take the images of darkness and fire literally, you may certainly do so. It’s up to you. It should be noted that Jesus says nothing about the fire lasting for eternity here. If anything, the word “age” speaks of punishment for an age, not for eternity. It’s “new-age” or “age-long” punishment.
Let’s review the three main theories.
First, eternal conscious torment, which says unredeemed people burn forever in the fires of hell, even Hitler and your kind and generous but unredeemed grandmother, bobbing up and down, next to each other. This is the traditional or standard view. It should be noted that v. 41 says nothing about the fiery oven burning people forever. In fact, it could teach the opposite. How long does it take weeds to burn? Forever? No, a short time.
Second, terminalism or conditionalism, which says the eternality of the soul depends only on God or is conditional only on God. The soul is not automatically eternal by virtue of being a soul. People are punished in hell for a time suitable to their good or bad deeds, but then they pass out of existence or their soul is destroyed. The ending may not be a happy one, but this theory eliminates the eternal torment. And v. 41, weeds being thrown in a fiery oven, supports this theory because it does not take forever to burn weeds.
Third, universal reconciliation or restoration, which says that each unredeemed person is punished in hell for a duration suitable to their bad deeds; then they are brought into God’s presence and restored and reconciled to him.
Please see my three posts on the topic and the Scriptural support for each theory:
Whichever theory you land on, please don’t call the other theory heretical or heterodox. All three theories have enough Scriptural support to be plausible. We simply don’t know enough about the details of punishment and its intensity and kind to be arrogant name-callers. Don’t believe it? Then take some time to read all three posts. Start with the first one, because the verses that seem to support eternal, conscious torment are not really “slam dunks” after all.
Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories.
“close of the age”: The final harvest is the end of the age. The Greek word which I translate “close” is the noun sunteleia (pronounced soon-teh-lay-ah) or synteleia (pronounced sin-teh-lay-ah), and it is used in Matthew’s Gospel five times (13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20 and once in Heb. 9:26). It has taken on a specialized sense of a brand new age that closes out one age and begins the Messianic Age. This word will play a key role in my interpretation of the Olivet Discourse in Matt. 24.
Here’s a flow chart:
________________← This Age ——–→| Synteleia (Closing) of This Age
First Coming ———————————→ Parousia → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / Age to Come
In the above, This Age began with the Fall in Gen. 2-3. The first coming begins the movement towards the Parousia (pronounced pah-roo-SEE-ah or pah-ROO-see-ah) or Second Coming. At the Parousia (Second Coming) the synteleia (closing) of This Age occurs, and subsequently the New Messianic Age or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come (all three describe the same thing) begins in full manifestation. In Matt. 28:20b, Jesus promises the synteleia, the closing out of the age, which is a fitting capstone on Matthew’s Gospel. “And remember this: I am with you every day, until the end [synteleia] of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).
The Messianic Age or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come begins and will last forever. In short: Messianic Age = Kingdom Age = The Age to Come. Just because different terms are used does not mean they are different things. All three terms refer to the same (wonderful) reality.
Now let’s add in one element: the inaugurated kingdom. When Jesus came the first time and was in the process of inaugurating the kingdom of God, the kingdom came subtly and mysteriously. When he comes a second time, his inaugurated kingdom will be fully accomplished or realized.
Here it is in a flow chart:
________________← This Age –—–→| Synteleia (Closing) of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom → Parousia → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come
Before the kingdom is fully realized at his Second Coming, the kingdom is announced and ushered in by Jesus at the launch of his ministry. So there is overlap between This Age and the Kingdom Age.
Now let’s add one more important event. In the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, particularly 13:39-43; and in the Parable of the Net, particularly 13:49-50; in Matt. 16:27; and in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46), when Jesus returns at his Second Coming, there is the final judgment of the redeemed and unredeemed at the same time.
We can depict things in this flow chart:
___________← This Age ——⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom → Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / Age to Come
For simplicity, I have taken out the Greek noun synteleia (close-out of This Age) and put in “End.” And I have inserted the Second Coming instead of the Greek noun Parousia, because the Second Coming is the same thing. The Second Coming (Parousia) stops This Age. Then there is one big judgment, in which the righteous and wicked are judged together. One can even say that the final judgment happens during the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come. Finally, the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated at his first coming will have been fully realized and accomplished at his Second Coming (Parousia), after judgment. And so after God sweeps aside the wicked and Satan and demons, the New Messianic or Kingdom Age can begin in true and pure rulership.
Bottom line: All of the New Testament (outside of a few contested verses in the Revelation) fully and clearly and consistently teach this flow chart:
___________← This Age ———⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom —→ Second Coming → Judgment → Fully Realized Kingdom Age
To see how consistent Jesus’s teaching is in the above, bottom-line flow chart, please see these posts:
Matthew 16 (scroll down to vv. 27-28)
Matthew 19 (scroll down to vv. 28-29)
Matthew 22 (scroll down to vv. 29-33)
Matthew 24 (scroll down to Summary and Conclusion)
Matthew 25 (scroll down to Summary and Conclusion)
Matthew 28 (scroll down to v. 20)
What about the Church? The Father and the resurrected and ascended Son and the outpoured Spirit, by means of the inaugurated kingdom, created the church at Pentecost (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:1-4). It exists in This Age and preaches the gospel of the kingdom. It will be snatched up or raptured at the Second Coming, meet Jesus in the air, descend with him, go through judgment, and then finally will last forever in the Fully Realized Kingdom Age.
Let’s look more deeply at the overlapping This Age and the Kingdom Age. Until and before the Second Coming, we now live in the conflict and battle between This Age and the Inaugurated Kingdom, proclaimed by Jesus during his ministry. (They are not the same things but are at war with each other!) We are in the process of binding Satan and his demonic hordes, by expelling demons from people’s lives but mainly by preaching the gospel, so people surrender to the Son’s Lordship, and then Satan is pushed back and people experience victory in their lives. The gospel and life in the Spirit, coming after Jesus’s ascension in This Age, but are part of the inaugurated Kingdom, are so powerful that saved and redeemed kingdom citizens can experience victory over the power of sin in their lives in This Age. The presence of sin in their lives is not removed until they get their new resurrected and transformed bodies and minds in The Age to Come. The Second Coming stops This Age, which is replaced and displaced with the fully realized Messianic or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come.
Let’s wander just a little way from Matthew’s Gospel and discuss other eschatological teachings circulating around the Church today, the American Church in particular.
In Jesus’s teaching throughout the Gospel of Matthew, there is no word on a literal thousand-year reign with two comings and “several first” resurrections. And there is no separate rapture that makes the church disappear, before the Second Coming. If Jesus believed in a separate rapture, he would have taught it here; he missed his chance. However, he did not miss his chance and he did not teach it. Therefore, he did not believe in a separate rapture. All of it is too convoluted. Instead, the Gospels (and Epistles) present a streamlined picture of salvation history and God’s dealing with his human creation and the return of Christ.
An amillennialist believes that the millennium begins with the Inaugurated Kingdom, but apparently it is quiet and behind the scenes (note, for example, the Parable of the Mustard Seed and its slow growth in Matt. 13:31-32); Satan is not literally bound with chains (as if a spirit being could be), even though Jesus did teach that he bound the strongman (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22). So what this binding means is that Satan cannot now fully stop the advance of the kingdom (as Satan did to the ancient Israelites, except a remnant). Before Jesus came, every nation was bound by satanic deception. However, after Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, even under Islamic and communist regimes, the gospel has a way of infiltrating societies, even if underground. Satan can no longer deceive the nations as he did before Jesus came. Instead, kingdom citizens, surrendered to the Kingship of the King and following him, are plundering Satan’s domain of This Age and rescuing people out of it and transferring them to the inaugurated kingdom of God. The final victory over Satan will be fully manifested at his Second Coming.
In contrast, based on his interpretation of a few verses in Rev. 20, one chapter in the most symbolic book of the Bible, a premillennialist believes that a literal thousand years of Christ (not shown in flow charts) is ushered in at the Second Coming, where there will be peace and harmony. And Satan is literally bound in chains until the end of the thousand years. During the literal millennium, people will still die, so the last enemy (death) is not defeated after all at the Second Coming (even though Paul said death would be defeated, in 1 Cor. 15:23-26, 51-56). However, the theory of a literal thousand years says that death and Satan are defeated at the end of the millennium, when another resurrection and another judgment will take place.
Never mind, however, that in John 5:28-29 and Matt. 13:41-43 and 25:31-46, Jesus teaches that the wicked and righteous are judged together at the end of This Age, as indicated in the above flow charts. Interpreting literally a deliberately and intentionally symbolic book (Revelation) runs aground quickly. Things soon become convoluted and complicated, in comparison with the nonsymbolic, streamlined Gospel and Epistles.
So then where does the rapture fit in? When all peoples are called out of their tombs and those who are alive also respond to Christ descending from heaven at the Second Coming, they will be “caught up” (the rapture) and meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Then they will descend with Jesus to a new heaven and new earth, which will have been recreated, renewed, renovated or reconstituted. They will be judged, and the wicked will be sent away to punishment, and the righteous will be welcomed into the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come (as distinct from This Age). In other words, the rapture and the Second Coming happen at the same time and are the same event.
Please see my post:
There is no reason, biblically, to over-think and complicate these verses and insert a separate rapture that happens before the Second Coming. Just because a teaching is popular does not make it right.
Personally, I am now rapidly trending towards amillennialism because it is streamlined, and I don’t believe the NT teaches convoluted theories. The entire NT fits together if we adopt amillennialism, from Matt. 1 to Rev. 22. I cannot allow, in my own Bible interpretation, a few contested verses in Rev. 20 to confuse the clear teaching of Jesus in the Gospels and the apostolic teaching in the Epistles. That is, I don’t believe we should allow Rev. 20 (the only few verses where one thousand years are mentioned) or the entire book of the Revelation (after chapter 3), the most symbolic book of the Bible, to guide our interpretation of these clear teachings in the Gospels and the Epistles. Instead, we should allow the clear, straightforward, nonsymbolic teachings in the Gospels and Epistles to guide our interpretations of the most symbolic book in the Bible, in which even the numbers may be symbolic and probably are. To see everything fit together, all we have to do is turn the kaleidoscope one notch or click and adopt amillennialism. I am willing to do that.
This guidance in interpreting Scripture is called the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. Clarity guides the unclear portions. My main point: keep the plain thing the main thing in hermeneutics (science of interpretation), and let the clear verses guide the unclear ones.
This interpretation enjoys the beauty of simplicity by eliminating all the complications that popular end-time Bible prophecy teachers have been imposing on the Gospels and Epistles for decades—over a century. Since this tradition has deep roots—not to say entrenched—in the conservative sectors of American Evangelicalism (broadly defined to incorporate the Renewal Movements), these teachers won’t give up their interpretation easily. So I hope to reach and teach the younger church generations and all other openminded people of all generations. They need to prepare for tough times ahead. I’m not a pastor, but I can still have a teacher’s pastoral heart.
But in these eschatological (end-time) discussions:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
We should not lose fellowship with those with whom we differ in eschatological matters.
Now let’s move on.
“sons and daughters”: As I note in my comment on 8:12, Carson says the phrasing means “belonging to” or “destined for” “those who belong to” God. But I like the family clarity here. Also I translated it as “sons and daughters,” because in this context, the term is generic and inclusive.
Maybe these verses in Matt. 7 can clarify what is happening here:
21 Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? And in your name expel demons? And in your name do many miracles?” 23 And then I’ll declare to them, “I never knew you! Depart from me, you practitioners of lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:21-23)
The key parallel between these verses are the practitioners or workers of lawlessness.
“in that place”: The Greek says ekei (pronounced eh-kay), which means “there” or “that place.” Unfortunately most translation don’t pick up on the ambiguity of their translations: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here it is more awkwardly but accurate: “The weeping and the gnashing will be there.” The standard translation (“there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth)” makes “there” into the wrong kind of adverb, or at least it is not clear in English. The clearer translation is as I have it.
So where is “that place”? Matthew uses the metaphor of a fiery oven. It is verses like this one that prompt nonliteral interpretations of darkness (8:12) and fire (v. 42).
Recall what Charismatic theologian J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment. Read the excerpt, above. It should be noted that Jesus says nothing about the oven lasting for eternity here.
“weeping and gnashing”: Keener says that weeping means mourning over damnation, and gnashing of teeth may indicate anger or a strong emotion similar to it. Carson says weeping may indicate suffering, and gnashing indicates despair, and Osborne agrees. In any case, existence in punishment is unhappy and produces despair and even anger. Perhaps the gnashing can also mean cursing in anger. (See these verses for gnashing: Acts 7:54; Job 16:9; Pss. 34:16; 36:12; 112:10; Lam. 2:16). Since weeping indicates remorse, it is not quite accurate to claim that hell is locked from the inside as if people want to be there, though maybe only the enraged do want this.
It is best to avoid such punishment, whatever it entails, by putting your faith in Christ and staying in union with him.
See my posts about Satan in the field of systematic theology:
See my posts about angels, also from the point of view of systematic theology:
GrowApp for Matt. 13:36-43
A.. This is a sobering parable about not judging people in the world too quickly. Can you think of ways you need to let God sort out people’s behavior and not prejudge them?
B.. The weeds speak of poison. Read 1 Cor. 15:33. How do you separate from the poisonous influence of the world and yet reach out to people caught there?
Three Short Parables (Matt. 13:44-50)
44 The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a person finds and hides, and because of joy, goes and sells everything he has and buys that field.
45 Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great value, he goes out and sells everything he had and purchased it.
47 Again the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet thrown into the lake and gathers all kinds of things. 48 When it is full, they haul it up on to the beach and sit and gather the good ones into containers, and they threw the bad things outside. 49 It shall be like this at the close of the age. The angels shall go forth and separate the evil people from the middle of the righteous people. 50 And they shall throw them into the fiery oven. In that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This short parable is about doing whatever it takes to acquire the kingdom of God. Are you willing to give everything for it? Buried treasure stories were a big hit in the ancient world. In the days of unstable banking burying coins and jewels was security against famine and Roman armies. In Matt. 25:25 a servant buried his one talent.
Jewish texts discussed what to do when someone found buried treasure. However, let’s not be so precise about the law, here. Let’s assume that the finder found it legally. In the colonial days in our country, people scoured the forests and countryside looking for the best land; then they staked their claims and worked hard for it. On the other hand, if someone else owned the land but missed the fertile fields and did not see the potential, yet he sold it, then so much the worse for him. The new buyer is now rich.
Don’t miss out on the kingdom of God.
“person”: see v. 3 for more comments.
“The point is obviously the absolute value of the kingdom, worth surrendering everything to attain. No other aspect is highlighted in this short parable, so clearly this a call for radical discipleship (and especially financial sacrifices needed) in light of the overwhelming value of the kingdom. Only a few know its worth, and they surrender everything to obtain it” (Osborne, comment on 13:44).
Blomberg warns against over-interpreting the details of the man’s behavior:
One should not worry about the man’s ethics in hiding the treasure. We need neither justify his behavior nor imitate it. This is simply part of the story line that helps to make sense of the plot. Jesus frequently tells parables in which unscrupulous characters nevertheless display some virtue from which Christians can learn (cf. esp. Luke 16:1–8; 18:1–8). (Comment on 13:44)
This short parable illustrates the same thing as the previous one. The pearl of high value is the kingdom of God. A wise merchant finds it and sells everything he has to acquire it. Are you willing to sell everything—give up your life and soul and self-will to sign up for God’s eternal kingdom and let him take over your life? This man is in search of wealth, while the agrarian stumbled across the treasure. The kingdom has a way of working in a variety of people and their goals.
An alternative interpretation says that the kingdom of heaven is like the merchant, and he goes out and finds the pearl. Who is the merchant? Jesus. Who is the pearl? You. You are the one whom Jesus looks for. That’s a wrongheaded interpretation (very American and the self-esteem movement); The commentators listed below correctly choose the first interpretation. The kingdom—not you—is of priceless value. I prefer the standard one. The kingdom as Jesus presented it is so valuable that we give up everything for it.
“merchant”: it literally reads anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), which is often translated as “person” or “man,” depending on the context. See vv. 24-30 for more comments. I chose the more specific “merchant” because of the noun emporos, which means “merchant” or “wholesale dealer” (the Shorter Lexicon). So it could literally be translated as “merchant man” or “merchant person.” Lydia, a woman, was a dealer in purple clothes and dyes (Acts 16:14).
This is another sobering parable, designed to reach ordinary people who understood fishing by the Lake of Galilee.
“lake”: see v. 1 for more comments
The dragnet is pulled between two boats, or it is dragged to shore by long ropes, after it was put in place by a boat. The fishermen tossed aside the unkosher fish and kept the kosher ones. Keener points out there were twenty-four species of fish, and many were unclean and therefore inedible (p. 392). The net did not distinguish between the two kinds, so the fishermen had to sort them out.
“close” see vv. 39-40 for more comments.
Application: The kingdom call goes out to the whole world. Many people join it. But, as noted in Matt. 13:41, people who seem to be in the kingdom actually cause sin and practice lawlessness. Angels will make the final determination.
Recall verses from Matt. 7:21-23. A big separation is coming. Let’s all live repentant, surrendered lives so we find ourselves on the right side. Luke 9:23 says to pick up our cross daily, which to me speaks of a daily surrender to Jesus. Practitioners of lawlessness are the opposite of those who are righteous—that’s behavioral righteousness. Behaving righteously is important to distinguish true kingdom citizens and false ones who practice lawlessness.
For more comments on the imagery of the fiery furnace or oven and the weeping and gnashing of teeth, see vv. 36-43.
GrowApp for Matt. 13:44-50
A.. How sold out are you for the kingdom of God? Describe.
B.. How ensure that angels will keep you at final judgment? How can you be assured that you are maintaining your connection to Jesus?
Treasure Old and New (Matt. 13:51-52)
51 “Do you understand these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 He said to them, “Because of this, every teacher of the law who has become a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings forth from his storehouse new and old things.”
These two verses teach that the disciples understood the seven previous parables, with v. 52 being the eighth. So who are the teachers of the law in v. 52? Did Jesus change the topic so suddenly? One teacher of the law said he would follow Jesus wherever Jesus went (Matt. 8:19). Another teacher of the law asked what was the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:34). So who is a teacher of the law in these two verses?
Here are three interpretive options:
(1). Jesus is establishing a new school for teachers, not trained by rabbinic schools, but by the instruction Jesus offered. Jesus said in Matt. 23:34 that he was going to send teachers of the law to the Pharisees and other recalcitrant religious leaders. Recall that many Jews of Jerusalem and priest converted (Acts. 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20).
(2). Jesus is establishing instructors who were educated enough to take writing and reading to compile records and teach others. Matthew the tax collector would be one of them, and so v. 52 refers to himself.
(3). They are Jesus’s disciples with a knowledge of the law (the old) and the instructions Jesus taught. Jesus is simply using this title teacher of the law expansively. Disciples know how to bring forth the truths of the Old Testament and incorporate it in the New Covenant. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus opened their minds to understand how all the parts fit together (Luke 24:45). Then the apostles taught the word, referencing many Scriptures in the first five chapters of Acts.
Given the context of Jesus asking his disciples whether they understood the parables, I like the third option.
“First, these are not ‘the new in place of the old (= replacement …); nor are they the Jesus tradition (the old) given new meaning in new situations … Rather, this refers to a new reality of Jesus fulfilling that of the old covenant reality” (Osborne, comment on 13:52).
Blomberg likes the third option:
Jesus nevertheless likens the disciples to scribes (“teachers of the law”) “instructed” (literally, discipled—as in 28:19) for the kingdom. Properly trained disciples may be compared with the Jewish teachers of the law in that they too are equipped to instruct others. No special gift or office of “scribe” seems to be in view here. But Matthew may be thinking of Jesus’ disciples, like other scribes, as endowed with wisdom, authority, the right understanding of the law, and perhaps some measure of prophetic inspiration. (comment on 13:52)
The householder—the disciple who understand the mysteries of the kingdom—brings forth or brings out treasures from the Old and New Testaments.
“householder”: it literally could be translated as “man householder” or “person householder.” It is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and see vv. 24-30 for more comments. So I chose “householder.”
“teachers of the law”: The term is often translated as “scribe.” See this post a look for the term, in alphabetical order.
Let’s explore more fully who these teachers of the law might be in the kingdom community. Teachers of the law or “scribes”:
Whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews qualifies to be a kingdom teacher of the law.
Of course Paul knew how to teach the OT as it should be taught, in his epistles.
In Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7), he gave a long overview of Israel’s history and how the ancient Israelites misunderstood God’s ways. Here Stephen repeats what Jesus is saying in his denunciation of the religious establishment in his time:
51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised of hearts and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit, as your forefathers did and you! 52 Which one of the prophets did your forefathers not persecute? And they killed forerunners who announced the coming of the Righteous One, and you have become his betrayers and murders, 53 who received the law as the ordinances of angels, which you have not kept!” (Acts 7:51-53)
Apollos particularly was a powerful teacher of the law:
24 A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, a learned man, powerful in Scripture, landed at Ephesus. 25 He was teaching the path of the Lord, and alive in the Spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the story of Jesus, understanding only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Pricilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and laid out before him the path of God more accurately. 27 When he intended go through Achaea, they encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. He arrived and greatly helped those who had believed by grace. 28 He powerfully refuted the Jews publicly, demonstrating from the Scriptures that the Messiah was Jesus. (Acts 28:24-28)
As noted, maybe a few priests who converted became teachers of the law:
And the Word of God was increasing, and the number of disciples was growing strongly in Jerusalem, and a large group of priests obeyed the faith. (Acts 6:7)
Jesus praised a teacher of the law for answering correctly, when the teacher said that love for God and for one’s neighbor is more important that burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus said that the man was not far from the kingdom (Mark 12:34). Who knows? Maybe he was converted to the resurrected Jesus and joined the large Messianic Jewish community of Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20).
It’s clear, particularly from Apollos’s example, that the treasures old and new refer to discovering the Messiah in the Old Testament and situating him in the New Covenant. Therefore, in v. 52, Jesus was referencing himself indirectly when he spoke of treasures.
GrowApp for Matt. 13:51-52
A.. How is your study of the Old Testament? Do you have study Bibles and other helps to guide you?
Jesus Is Rejected at Nazareth (Matt. 13:53-58)
53 And so it happened that when Jesus finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 When he went to his hometown, he was teaching them in their synagogue, with the result that they were amazed and said, “What is the source of this wisdom and these miracles for this one? 55 Isn’t he the builder’s son? Aren’t his mother called Mary and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And aren’t all his sisters with us? What is the source of all these things for this one?” 57 They were scandalized by him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not dishonored except in his hometown and household. 58 He did not do any many miracles there because of their unbelief.
It is best to move on, even after many victories. No one should rest on his laurels. Move forward to the next challenge. And the next challenge for Jesus was going to be tough.
“hometown”: it can be translated just as easily as home region, but hometown is meant because Jesus says his household or house (v. 57). Matthew informs us of where he settled: Nazareth (Matt. 2:23; 4:13). The town had at most 1600-2000 inhabitants in the surrounding area, and 500 lived in the town (Keener, p. 396).
“he was teaching”: this one verb could be translated as “he began teaching.” In other words, he did not stay long, considering they rejected him.
“their”: And here we have another instance of their (see 4:23; 7:29; 8:34; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 22:7; 22:16). Why does Matthew keep saying “their synagogue or their city or their teachers of the law? My opinion: his community has moved well past Judaism and must distinguish between the newly formed Christian community and the Jewish community.
Regardless of the virgin birth which Matthew describes as happening down south in Bethlehem (the virginal conception happened in Nazareth), to the townspeople he was simply a builder’s son, and his brothers and sisters were well known to them. His sisters probably married local men and were still in Nazareth.
In Greek the “with us” roughly corresponds to chez nous in French (if that means anything to you). Better yet, it could be translated “among us.” They still lived in the village.
“What is the source?”: that’s a more or less literal translation.
“wisdom”: BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it translates the noun sophia (pronounced soh-fee-ah and used 51 times) as “the capacity to understand and function accordingly—wisdom.”
So biblical wisdom is very practical. It is not like the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, which was very abstract. But let’s not make too much of the differences. In the classical Greek lexicon, sophia can also mean: “skill in handcraft and art … knowledge of, acquaintance with a thing … sound judgment, intelligence, practical wisdom.” In a bad sense it can mean “cunning, shrewdness, craft” (Liddell and Scott).
The adjective is sophos (pronounced soh-fohss and used 20 times) and according to BDAG it means (1) “pertaining to knowing how to do something in a skillful manner, clever, skillful, experienced”; (2) “pertaining to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct, wise.”
“miracles”: A miracle happens only when God intervenes and patches up deficiencies in our soul and defects in our body. Fiery evangelists will not like the words “patches up,” and maybe they are right. So we can say “restore” our souls and heals our bodies. Something was wounded or missing in our souls, and he fills in our needs. Something is wrong with our bodies, but he straightens it out or heals it, so now our bodies are renewed. However, miracles can only last until we die. Then some part of our body will wear out. Further, miracles are not for show or to raise money. People are hurting, and miracles can help them and restore them. Jesus even downplayed his miracles. I don’t believe he would have filmed them and then pitched the videos to enrich himself.
See my posts on a thorough study of miracles:
This is a more philosophical look at miracles.
“builder”: the term in Greek is broader than carpenter and can include builder of any kind, so it can certainly be translated as “builder.” But the term primarily describes a woodworker, hence “carpenter” in many translations. They were probably subcontractors in the building industry, which was going on nearby in the town of Sepphoris and Tiberias, where there were building programs. It can also mean that they build furniture and put up beams.
“The people in Nazareth know Jesus’ family and his occupation and cannot accept that he is now the great rabbi (see on 12:2) and miracle worker all Galilee is talking about. That goes against over thirty years of watching him in a very small town” (Osborne, comment on 13:56).
Though the context is unhappy and antagonistic, I really like the names of his family, and I love how one of his brothers was named after their father Joseph. But I wish he had mentioned his sisters’ names. No offense to Catholics, but these two verses read naturally as describing the sons and daughters of Mary and Joseph; they are not stepbrothers or stepsisters or Jesus’s cousins. According to the Gospel of John they apparently did not believe in their brother’s full ministry, but they knew that he was special and had a call of God. They wanted him to show himself to the world. He declined. Then the text says, “For neither did his brothers believe in him” (John 7:7). So his brothers were promoting him, but they did not know what they were talking about. There is a lot of information in his family dynamics.
But eventually his brothers came around. Jesus’s brother James was a pillar in the church in Jerusalem until his martyrdom in A.D. 62. It must have been amazing when Jesus greeted his own brother in heaven and James saw angels and saints worship him! (James who was martyred in Acts 12:1, was one of the twelve apostles, brother of John, sons of Zebedee). Later church history records that Simon led the church in Jerusalem. James wrote the Epistle of James, and his brother Judas wrote the tiny Epistle of Jude (the Greek says Judas). By reading them, you can get a feel for how committed they were to their resurrected brother, who was King of kings and Lord of lords. Sibling rivalry over!
“scandalized”: it does come from the Greek verb skandalizō (pronounced skan-dah-lee-zoh), and in this context it means “take offense” “get angry” “shock.” The townspeople were offended and in disbelief. They saw him grow up. He was not as thoroughly educated as the Pharisees and teachers of the law. His hometown people folded their arms and harrumphed.
This saying sums things up nicely. He got much honor outside of his home area, but not here. Familiarity bred contempt.
“miracles”: it is the plural of the noun dunamis (or dynamis) (pronounced doo-na-mees or dee-na-mis, but most teachers prefer the first one). It is often translated as “power,” but also “miracle” or “miraculous power.” It means power in action, not static, but kinetic. It moves. Yes, we get our word dynamite from it, but God is never out of control, like dynamite is. Its purpose is to usher in the kingdom of God and repair and restore broken humanity, both in body and soul.
“miracles”: see v. 54 for some links.
He did not do many miracles, means he did a few. Mark’s version says that he could not do many miracles except heal a few sick people (6:5). People need to seek him, and apparently a few did, but most did not. Miracles that directly touch people’s minds and bodies require people to approach Jesus directly. Every healing he did in the four Gospels needed a response from people—even the man lying by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-8). People have to have faith. True, he was about to feed the five thousand (14:13-21), but he did not require faith from them because he was not healing their body, as he did the lepers and paralytics and the minds of the demonized. In other words, God is still sovereign over nature—multiplying bread and fish and his Son walking on water—without faith from the bystanders. But God requires faith from us when it involves the healing of our persons and bodies, but he does not need our faith when he acts sovereignly. His Son had the faith to walk on water and feed the five thousand.
For your healing, press in to God’s power and love with faith. For a sovereign miracle, press in to God’s power and love with faith. From our limited point of view, we need faith. From God’s unlimited point of view, he acts as he wills. So we have a person’s faith and God’s sovereignty interacting in this one verse. It is difficult to sort out (for me at least).
But down here on earth, God requires us to have faith in him, and we get faith by hearing the word about Christ (Rom. 10:17). Get Scripture in you, and it will build your faith. Ask the Lord for faith. “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That’s our part in the human-God interaction. Leave the results up to your loving and powerful Father.
GrowApp for Matt. 13:53-58
A.. Rejection from your own family and close friends is tough. How did you move on? What steps did you take?
Summary and Conclusion
Jesus was careful to teach in parables to the crowds. He taught in straightforward sermons or speeches to his disciples (e.g. Sermon on the Mount) and to religious leaders (e.g. resurrection to the Sadducees and denunciation of the Pharisees and teachers of the law).
Why teach the crowds in parables?
The reason is tied to human hunger and complacency and knowledge and ignorance. Crowds think they know, but they actually do not. When this difference between self-confidence in knowledge and not knowing one’s limitations takes place, then this is irony.
The way to conquer irony is to be hungry and humble. You have to acknowledge that you don’t know as much as you believe that you do. It takes humility to acknowledge one’s ignorance.
The way to break through one’s self-confident ignorance and go into true knowledge is to be hungry for the truth. One has to throw out the old ways and be open to the new way—Jesus and his gospel.
Jesus told the crowds parables so he could draw out hunger in them. He does the same for us. Which soil and plant are we? We each receive the seed of the word of God, but is our soil as hard as a well-traveled path? Is it rocky? Does it grow next to thorns? Or is our soil conducive for growth that produces grain or fruit? So we see ourselves in all the parables. If not, then we will never break through and get rid of our self-confident ignorance.
I refer to a community of Bible scholars. They are excellent. They humble me. Their books, however, can get technical. I hope I have clarified the main teachings in Matt. 13. And I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).