CHAPTER XXV

PARABLES

ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
(Matthew 13:1-58)


On that day Jesus went forth out of the house and sat beside the sea; 2 and great multitudes were gathered to Him, so that He, entering a boat, sat down; and all the multitude had taken their stand on the beach. 3 And He spoke to them many things in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went forth to sow; 4 and, in his sowing, some seeds fell along the way, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 And others fell upon the rocky ground, where they had not much earth, and immediately they sprang up on account of their not having any depth of soil; 6 and, when the sun had arisen, they were scorched; and on account of not having root, they withered. 7 And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. 8 And still others fell upon the good soil and kept bearing fruit—some one hundred, some sixty, and some thirtyfold. 9 The one who has ears, let him listen.

10 And the disciples came up to Him and said, Why art Thou speaking in parables to them? 11 And replying, He said, Because to you it has been granted to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For to whoever has, it shall be given, and he shall have more in abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 Therefore I am speaking to them in parables, because, though they keep on seeing, they never see, and, though they keep on hearing, they never hear, or understand. 14 The prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in them, which declares:

By hearing you will hear,
But by no means will understand;
And, seeing repeatedly, you will see,
But will by no means perceive.
15 For the heart of this people has grown fat,
And they hear with their ears with difficulty,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest perchance they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And should turn again,
And I should heal them.¹

16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. 17 For in solemn truth I am saying to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you are seeing, but did not see, and to hear what you are hearing, but did not hear.

¹ Isaiah 6:9,10. For a freer, but very helpful, translation of these verses, see The New Testament, translated by Edgar J. Goodspeed.

18 Now listen attentively to the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, but does not understand, the evil one comes and snatches away that which has been sown in his heart; the same is the one sown along the wayside. 20 And the one sown on the rock, this one is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 but he does not have root in himself, but is short-lived, so that, when tribulation and persecution arise on account of the word, immediately he is caused to stumble. 22 The one that is sown among the thorns, the same is the one who hears the word, and the cares of the age and the deceitfulness of riches choke out the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But the one sown upon good ground, the same is the one who hears the word and understands, who indeed bears fruit and yields—some one hundred, some sixty, and some thirtyfold.

24 Another parable he set forth before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while men slept, an enemy of his came and sowed tares among the wheat and went away. 26 But when the stalk grew up and bore fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27 Then the servants of the householder said to him, Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Whence then has it tares? 28 And he said to them, A hostile man has done this. But the servants say to him, Do you desire therefore, that we should go and gather these? 29 And he said, No, lest perhaps in gathering the tares, you root up at the same time the wheat. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the season of the harvest I shall say to the reapers, Gather together first the tares, and bind them in bundles in order to burn them, but the wheat gather into my granary.

31 Another parable He set before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a seed of mustard which a man took and sowed in his field, 32 and which is less than all of the seeds; but, when it grew up, it was greater than the garden herbs and became a tree, so that the birds of the heaven came and roosted in its branches.

33 Another parable He spoke to them, The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened.

34 All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitudes, and apart from a parable He was speaking nothing to them, 35 in order that the word might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,

I shall open my mouth in parables;
I shall utter things hidden since creation.²

36 Then leaving the multitudes, He went into the house, and His disciples came to Him, saying, Explain thoroughly to us the parable of the tares of the field. 37 And replying, He said, The one sowing the good seed is the Son of man; 38 the field is the world; the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; but the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed these is the devil; and the harvest is the consummation of the age; and the reapers are the angels. 40 As, therefore, the tares are gathered together and are burned in fire, thus shall it be in the consummation of the age. 41 The Son of man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that are causes of stumbling and those who practice lawlessness; 42 and they will cast them into the furnace of fire; there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The one who has ears, let him hear.

² Psalm 78:2, not a literal translation. Jesus gave something in addition.

44 The kingdom of heaven is like to a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid, and out of his joy he went and sold all which he had and purchased that field.

45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking good pearls; 46 and, having found one
especially valuable pearl, he went away, sold all things whatsoever he had, and purchased it.

47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet, thrown into the sea and enclosing fish of every sort, 48 which, when it was full, they hauled up on the beach; and, having sat down, they gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they threw away. 49 In like manner will it be in the consummation of the age. The angels will go forth, and separate the evil from among the righteous, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 Do you understand all these things? They said to Him, Yes. 52 And He said to them, Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a man, a householder, who brings forth continually out of his treasure things both new and old.

53 And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from that place.

54 And coming into His own country, He was teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were amazed and said, Whence does this man have this wisdom and the powers? 55 Is He not the son of the carpenter? Is not His mother named Mary and His brothers, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Whence, therefore, does He have all these things? 57 And they took offense at Him. And Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honor, except in his own locality and in his house. 58 And there He did not perform many powers because of their unbelief.


The word parable appears several times in the writings of Moses and the Prophets. An examination of each context in which it appears shows that it is a name of a terse statement, which is usually in the poetical form of Hebrew parallelism. The Book of Proverbs is called the Book of Parables. In the New Testament this word is derived from two Greek terms, a preposition and a verb, which mean "to lay or thrown down beside." The thought is, for instance, that there is an unknown distance to be measured. A person has a standard of measurement. This fundamental idea developed into that of an illustration. Parables were primarily, therefore, used to make plain the thought to be conveyed.

A study of the four Records of the Gospel shows that from the first Passover during the earthly ministry of Jesus onward there was an increasing hostility toward Him on the part of some of the leaders of Israel. He labored in Judea approximately six months. During the first full year of His preaching ministry, this hostility continued to grow until it became evident to all that the breach would never be healed. During the first part of His ministry, He spoke plainly. After certain of the Pharisees took counsel against Him how they might destroy him (Matt. 12:14), He seems to have adopted a definite principle with reference to His teaching ministry and service. This method becomes apparent to the student who closely studies Matthew's Record of the Gospel.

John the Baptist had announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. When Jesus began His ministry, He did likewise. So did the apostles. Considering the message of Matthew, chapter 13, one sees that Jesus began the use of parables in a special manner. Why did He do so?

I. THE PURPOSE OF PARABLES

A parable is an illustration to make plain some unknown truth or principle. An illustration that does not generally clarify the subject fails of its purpose. God wants everyone to have the truth, to come to a knowledge of it, and to be saved eternally; but He does not force any man's will. The path of the just, that is, the good moral man, is uprightness. He selects only such a course of conduct for himself. The Lord who is upright desires the salvation of all and directs the path of the honest, conscientious one toward the truth:

The way of the just is uprightness: thou that art upright dost direct the path of the just (Isa. 26:7).

It is, therefore, with the idea of leading the honest, conscientious souls to a knowledge of the truth that the parables found in the Bible ordinarily were used.

But some of the parables of Jesus are exceptions to the rule. He knew the temper of His audiences and frequently used parables to meet the situation. He often used parables to conceal, instead of to reveal, the truth, as Matthew 13:10-15 clearly shows. Doubtless, many in the audience on this particular occasion had no appreciation of truth whatsoever. In fact, many of them were probably hostile and were eager to catch some word out of His mouth to use against Him. He, therefore, used parables to conceal the truth from them. In the Sermon on the Mount He told His disciples not to give that which is holy to the dogs or to cast pearls before swine. He practiced what He preached.

His reason for concealing the truth from these bitter enemies is stated in His own words: "Therefore I am speaking to them in parables because, though they keep on seeing, they never see, and, though they hear, they never hear or understand" (Matt. 13:13). They saw, and yet they did not see. This statement of Jesus seems to be a contradiction, but it is not. To show what He meant, He quoted from Isaiah 6:9,10. Isaiah was commissioned to preach continually to Israel, proclaiming the message of God, but was assured that his preaching would harden the hearts of the people. Hence they would be unable to understand his message. The form of the Hebrew verb in this passage is significant. It shows that Isaiah was commanded to continue to preach the same message, and that the repetition would continue to cause the hardening of the heart. The effect that the preaching of the Word of God has upon the heart is determined by the attitude which the hearer takes toward it. Heat melts wax, but hardens clay. The same force or element has exactly opposite effects upon the two different substances. Thus it is with the Word of God. It hardens the heart that is not receptive, and that does not want it; it mellows and melts the heart of the one who is thirsting after God, and who wants truth and facts.


II. THE PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM
(Matthew 13:1-58)

Matthew records seven parables of the kingdom of heaven. In the parallel passage found in Mark, chapter 4, it is stated that on this occasion Jesus spoke to the multitudes in many like parables (vv. 33,34). The two accounts, however, are not contradictory. Jesus did in reality use many parables, but Matthew gives only seven. As all Bible students well recognize, the number seven denotes completeness and perfection. Doubtless it was for the purpose of giving a complete picture of the various phases of the kingdom of heaven that Matthew was divinely led to record these seven parables.

The first of these parables is that of the sower who went forth to sow seed. This sower is interpreted by Jesus Himself as being the Son of man. He was the one who left heaven, came to earth, and began to sow the seed of the Word of God in a new and a peculiar manner. The word of this great salvation, as Hebrews 2:1-4 shows, was begun by the preaching of Jesus, the Son of man, the God-man. The last parable of the series is that of the dragnet, which Jesus interprets as referring to the situation which will exist in the kingdom of heaven when He comes back to earth at the end of the Tribulation. The series, as just stated, covers the entire period during which the spiritual phase of the kingdom of heaven will be in existence. The parables employed between the first and the last set forth the unfolding of the idea of the kingdom of heaven.

This period under the spotlight of these parables is the Christian Dispensation, which intervenes between the first and the second coming of the Messiah.

In the period of His rejection He is in glory, awaiting the time when Israel turns to Him and calls upon Him for deliverance. (See Book Two, Chapter XIII.) Let us look at these parables briefly to see the general thought and development of the teaching through the seven.

A. The Sower
(Matthew 13:3-9; 18-23)

The sower is none other than the Son of man, the Lord Jesus Christ. He goes forth to sow seed. Some of the seeds fall on the wayside and are devoured by the birds. Other seeds fall on rocky ground where there is little earth. They spring up; and, when the sun becomes hot, the tender plants are scorched and wither. Still other seeds fall among the thorns, which choke them out, while some seeds fall on good ground and bring forth fruit, some yielding a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.

The same seeds fall on four different types of soil. The effect is different in each instance. The seeds falling beside the way are devoured by the birds. Jesus interprets this statement as follows: When the Word is preached and falls into a heart that is like the hard soil of the road, the devil snatches away the message, and the man is exactly where he was when he heard it—except he is hardened to a certain extent, because the Word always hardens the heart when not accepted and embraced. There is also a class of people in whose hearts the Word is sowed, and who enthusiastically accept it, but they have no depth of character or stability and by and by become offended and discouraged by the Word; hence they fall away. Such people are never regenerated. Their interest in spiritual matters is simply a passing fancy in their lives. Seeds falling among the thorns are the Word that falls in the hearts of certain ones who receive the message enthusiastically, but the cares of life and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word so that it does not bring forth fruit to perfection. These people likewise are not saved. The fourth class of hearers, those represented by the seeds falling on good ground, consists of those who hear the Word, who have depth of purpose and a yearning for God, and who accept the Word with all enthusiasm and with purpose of heart. They bring forth fruit, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold. This class is the only one that really amounts to anything in the kingdom of God.

B. The Wheat and the Tares
(Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43)

The second parable is that of the wheat and the tares. A certain man sowed good seed in his field. While men slept at night, an enemy came and sowed tares also in the field, which sprang up and began to grow. The servants of the landlord, discovering the presence of the tares, reported their find to their master and asked what they should do. His instructions were that they should let both the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest, when he would instruct the reapers to bind the tares in bundles for burning and to gather the wheat into his garner. This parable is an advance upon the first one. It shows that in the kingdom of heaven there are good as well as bad—saved as well as unsaved—people.

C. The Mustard Seed
(Matthew 13:31,32)

The third parable, that of the mustard seed, is a still further advance in the development of the thought regarding the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed "which a man took and sowed in his field, and which is less than all of the seeds." The plant springing therefrom develops abnormally until it is sufficiently large for the birds of the heavens to roost in it. By this abnormal, unnatural growth, the plant doubtless foreshadows the kingdom of heaven, which has a lowly beginning, and which develops into a monstrous organization. Keen students of the Word have seen the fulfillment of this parable in the conversion of Constantine the Great, who adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire and forced the people, irrespective of position and Christian experience, to become members of the church—an abnormal, unnatural development, which proved disastrous in its blighting, blasting effects upon true New Testament Christianity.

D. The Leaven in Three Measures of Meal
(Matthew 13:33)

The next parable, that of the woman who put leaven in three measures of meal, carries the thought of the kingdom another step forward. An examination of all Scriptures where leaven is used symbolically shows that it signifies something evil. Since there is no evidence in the context of this parable that indicates a departure from this usual symbolic meaning, one must conclude that leaven in this parable represents something that is evil. When the woman in the parable puts the leaven into three measures of meal, it spreads through all the meal. Thus the leaven signifies some corrupting element introduced into Christianity which affects the entire movement. Some excellent expositors interpret this parable as setting forth what was done by the great body of the Christian movement during the Dark Ages (A.D. 600-1517).

E. The Treasure in the Field
(Matthew 13:44)

The fifth parable is that of the treasure which a man discovered in a field, and thereupon sold all his possessions and bought the field in order that the treasure might become his. According to the parable of the wheat and the tares, the field is the world. There is a hidden treasure in it. What is this treasure? Some excellent Bible students—and with them I agree—think that this treasure is Israel. The one purchasing the field is none other than the Son of man who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor (II Cor. 8:9). He purchased the world with His sacrificial death upon the cross in order that He might ransom the treasure and obtain it by actual price. He is especially interested in Israel, this hidden treasure in the field.

F. The Pearl of Great Price
(Matthew 13:45,46)

The sixth parable is that of the pearl of great price, which a merchant seeking goodly pearls found, and sold everything that he had, and purchased it. Since the treasure of the preceding parable signifies Israel, the pearl of great price doubtless indicates the Church—people called from all nations, tribes, tongues, and languages and formed into a spiritual communion and fellowship spoken of as the body of Jesus Christ.

G. The Dragnet
(Matthew 13:47-50)

The last parable of the series is that of the dragnet. As such a net catches all the life within reach, so the kingdom of heaven is a great spiritual dragnet that gathers all kinds, both good and bad. This parable represents God's taking into hand the world situation at the time of Christ's Second Coming. God will gather out and cast aside that which is bad, but will preserve that which is good. Then shall the righteous shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.

From this brief survey of these parables, it is quite evident that they portray in a very vivid way the course of history from the first coming of Christ to His Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation.