Matthew Thirteen

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

Matthew 13:1 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.

Matthew 13:2 And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

Matthew 13:3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

parables. This is the first mention of “parables” in the New Testament. This parable of the sower is preeminently important among all of Jesus' parables. In the parallel account in Mark, He made this clear: “Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?” (Mark 4:13).

Matthew 13:4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

seeds. The “seeds” which are being sown are the word of God (Luke 8:11), and the “field” in which they are to be sown is the whole world (Matthew 13:38).

way side. The parallel account in Luke says these seeds on the wayside were “trodden down” (Luke 8:5).

fowls. These birds of the air, eating up the seed before it can take root, represent the minions of “the wicked one” (Matthew 13:19), whether evil spirits or ungodly men, who do all they can to destroy the message of God's Word.

Matthew 13:5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

no deepness of earth. Luke 8:6 says also that this stony ground “lacked moisture.” The sown seed, which is the Word of God, must also be watered by the Word (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Matthew 13:6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

no root. Although the sower was right to scatter seed everywhere, it would have been more effective if he had first removed the stones (i.e., intellectual or other stumbling-stones inhibiting faith in the Word), then also watered the ground. Without this preparation, even though the seed sprang up “forthwith,” it did not last. It is sadly true that “instant conversions” more often than not are superficial and fade away in the heat of persecution, or even mere intellectual peer pressure.

Matthew 13:7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

Matthew 13:8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

an hundred fold. It is noteworthy that the very first reference in the Bible to seed-sowing speaks of Isaac's seed as bringing forth in the very year that he sowed “an hundredfold: and the Lord blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). The promise of spiritual fruit from spiritual seed is found throughout the Bible (e.g., Ecclesiastes 11:1, 4-6; Isaiah 55:10-11; John 4:37-38; 1 Corinthians 3:6-8).

thirtyfold. This suggested threefold division of fruit-bearing indicates that even when seed-sowers are careful to sow on good ground (that is, in hearts properly prepared to receive the Word), the hearers can be categorized in three groups. There are other examples of this threefold division in Scripture. In His parable of the vine, Jesus spoke of bearing “fruit,” “more fruit” and “much fruit” (John 15:2, 5). He indicated, too, that the “much fruit” category is for those who “die” to this world (John 12:24-25). Peter speaks of a three-fold categorization of rewards—“praise and honour and glory” (1 Peter 1:7). “Every man shall have [his] praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5), and “if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:26). But “if ye be reproached for the name of Christ, … the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). Note also how God pared Gideon's small army of 32,000 (facing 135,000 Midianites) first down to 10,000 then to 300 (Judges 7:3, 6; 8:10) before they were ready to fight the enemy. Among Christians there were believers, disciples (that is, believers who were also learners and followers), and apostles (that is, “sent ones,” disciples who were also called and sent forth for special ministries of full dedication, witness and sacrifice). The fruitful Christian life can also be characterized as, first, “separation” from the world, then “service” for the Lord, and then “suffering” for His sake.

Matthew 13:9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Matthew 13:10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?

Why speakest thou. It is significant that the Lord Jesus often used parables in his teaching, but never fables or myths. The illustrations in the parables were always possible real-life situations, not fantasies or distortions of truth.

Matthew 13:11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

it is not given. This answer to the disciples' question about Christ's use of parables may seem surprising. Many modern teachers say that He spoke in parables to help His listeners understand spiritual truth, but He said it was to keep them from understanding! These “mysteries of the kingdom” are couched in parables so that only those who have spiritual “ears” (Matthew 13:9) will comprehend. This exhortation (“he that hath ears to hear, let him hear”) occurs no less than sixteen times in the New Testament.

Matthew 13:12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

Matthew 13:13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

Matthew 13:14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

the prophecy of Esaias. Christ's indicates that His scathing rebuke of religionists who “have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5) is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-10, which originally was applied to the Jewish leaders of Isaiah's time. Since Christ indicated it also applied to His own time, it evidently is a general principle applicable to all ages. Those who truly desire to know God's truth will receive it abundantly (Matthew 13:12); those professing Christians who persist in rejecting or distorting God's Word will eventually lose even what they seem to have.

Matthew 13:15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

Matthew 13:16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

Matthew 13:17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

Matthew 13:18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.

Matthew 13:19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

the wicked one. Compare 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. “The god of this world” (i.e., Satan) blinds the minds of unwilling unbelievers.

Matthew 13:20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

with joy. This hearer's response is emotional rather than knowledgeably volitional. He hears what seems to be a happy release from his troubles and fears, and so receives Christ immediately and joyfully. But there is no root—or foundation—for his purely experiential faith. He feels good about it for a while, but salvation comes not through feelings.

Matthew 13:21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

because of the word. Unbelievers do not persecute believers because of their joyful feelings, but because of Christ and the Word. Emotional believers who have no grounding in the solid truth of the Word, and not knowing why they believe, cannot resist attacks of unbelievers (and of Satan) on their professed faith.

offended. Luke 8:13 adds that he will “fall away.”

Matthew 13:22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

deceitfulness of riches. Mark 4:19 adds “ … and the lusts of other things.” Not just worldly cares and riches, but time-absorbing interests (sports, music, etc.) in anything other than the kingdom of God will prevent the believer from bringing any “fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14).

Matthew 13:23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

understandeth. Mark says they both “hear the word, and receive it” (Mark 4:20). Matthew says also they understand it. The account in Luke is even more specific. These productive hearers, “in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience [endurance]” (Luke 8:15).

Matthew 13:24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:

kingdom of heaven. On the meaning of “the kingdom of heaven,” see note on Matthew 3:2. The earthly aspect of God's kingdom (essentially churches and other organizations participating in the work of the kingdom in the name of Christ) is in view here, since its constituencies include false Christians as well as true believers. From the preceding parable, it seems that both emotional believers and worldly believers (Matthew 13:20-22) may provide the “soil” in which the “tares” sown by the enemy can thrive, in which the “leaven” of false doctrine can spread (Matthew 13:33) and “birds of the air” that devour the good seed can lodge (Matthew 13:32).

Matthew 13:25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

while men slept. Matthew implies that if believers were sufficiently alert and informed, the “tares” could never have infiltrated the wheat.

enemy. In this parable, “the enemy” represents the devil, and “He that soweth good seed is the Son of man (Matthew 13:37, 39).

Matthew 13:26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

Matthew 13:27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?

Matthew 13:28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

Matthew 13:29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

also the wheat. Evidently it is impossible for anyone but the Lord Himself to distinguish unfruitful believers in the kingdom from false believers. Even the latter may not realize they are actually unsaved. Thus Peter warns those that are “barren” or “unfruitful” in Christ to “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:8, 10).

Matthew 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Matthew 13:31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:

Matthew 13:32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

least of all seeds. The mustard seed is a very small seed which may, indeed, produce a large “tree,” up to ten feet high. Jesus was not speaking to botanical specialists, of course, but to ordinary people, on their level. The actual Greek allows the meaning “among the least of all seeds.”

branches thereof. In the definitive parable of the sower, the birds of the air represented those emissaries of Satan who would snatch away the good seed whenever they could (Matthew 13:4, 19). Here they are seen comfortably perching in the tree which represents the growing physical aspect of the kingdom.

Matthew 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

leaven. Leaven is invariably symbolic of evil doctrine or practice. It produces fermentation, which is a decay process; decay and death, of course, were the precise features of God's great curse on the earth because of sin (Genesis 3:17-19). The Levitical offerings, for this reason, could not be “made with leaven” (Leviticus 2:1, 11), and the Passover memorial had to be observed with unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15). The spreading of leaven represents the corrupting influence of even a small amount of false doctrine (Galatians 5:9) or impure practice (1 Corinthians 5:6) into the kingdom.

three measures of meal. The “three measures of meal” correspond to the “three tenth deals of fine flour” (Leviticus 14:10), which were specified for the offerings. The woman of the parable, evidently preparing such an offering, surreptitiously “hid” leaven in the proposed offering, contrary to the law. The meal offering was actually a type of Christ (John 6:33), bringing life to the world, as our Passover, but His work was being corrupted by the world's leaven (1 Corinthians 5:8).

whole was leavened. Both the growing mustard seed and spreading leaven indicate that, as the outward kingdom grows, both its membership and doctrine will increasingly become corrupted. The true spiritual kingdom within the outward kingdom, on the other hand, will always be a relatively “little flock” (Luke 12:32), surrounded by wolves (Matthew 10:16). Even at the future time of Christ's return, the Lord anticipated that it will be difficult to find real “faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8). The common interpretation of these two parables (that they indicate the eventual conversion of the whole world through evangelism and development of a theocratic world government) is thus badly mistaken.

Matthew 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:

Matthew 13:35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.

kept secret. The reference is to Psalm 78:2, which equates “parables” with “dark sayings of old.” That is, things previously kept secret from men are to be revealed only in Christ (note Deuteronomy 29:29), and even then only to those whose hearts were open (Matthew 13:10-17).

Matthew 13:36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.

Matthew 13:37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;

Matthew 13:38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;

Matthew 13:39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

Matthew 13:40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.

Matthew 13:41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;

Matthew 13:42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

furnace of fire. It is sobering to realize that many who appear to be in the kingdom are really “tares,” destined for hell (see also Matthew 25:41-46). To such people, Christ warns that He “shall cut [them] asunder [with the reaping instruments, thereby separating them from the wheat], and appoint [them their] portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51).

Matthew 13:43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

shine forth. Note also Daniel 12:3, where “they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

Matthew 13:44 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Matthew 13:45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Matthew 13:46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

pearl of great price. The parables of “treasure hid in a field” (Matthew 13:44) and “one pearl of great price” both teach the same basic truth under two different figures, just as did the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. The latter two spoke of evil entering the growing kingdom. These two, on the other hand, both speak of the tremendous value of becoming true citizens of the kingdom. In both cases, the one finding the kingdom gave up everything he had to gain it. Just so, Paul said: “I have suffered the loss of all things, … that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8). God is pleased with those who—like the men in these two parables—“diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

The common opinion that the “man” in each case is Christ, the “treasure” is Israel, and the “pearl” is the Church seems to miss the thrust of the other parables in Matthew 13, all of which have to do with the character and people of the physical aspect of God's kingdom.

To gain the kingdom, the Lord may not call on us to give up all that we have, but we must, in effect, be willing to do so. We are “dead” in our sins, and dead men do not bargain, hoping to enter the kingdom and yet hold on to the world. Recall the experience of the rich young ruler who, when being told that he must give up all his possessions if he would “inherit eternal life,” refused to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-24).

Matthew 13:47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:

Matthew 13:48 Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.

Matthew 13:49 So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,

Matthew 13:50 And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:51 Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.

Matthew 13:52 Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.

out of his treasure. When we enter the kingdom and begin to understand its wonderful mysteries, we can continually find and share rich treasures of spiritual truth in God's Word and kingdom.

things new and old. New truths discovered in the Scriptures are necessarily consistent with already-known truths. Never will one contradict the other, if both are fully understood. In fact, some “new truth” will often be found to resolve a superficial conflict between old truths.

Matthew 13:53 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence.

Matthew 13:54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?

Matthew 13:55 Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

James, and Joses. An ossuary (ancient limestone burial box) has been found in Israel and publicized in 2002 as containing an inscription mentioning the name of its original inhabitant as being “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Sadly, the inscription was later proved to have been a forgery.

Matthew 13:56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?

Matthew 13:57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.

offended in him. Even though His fellow townsmen were astonished at His wisdom and His miracles (Matthew 13:54), they refused to believe that He was anything more than “the carpenter's son” (Matthew 13:55). Jesus noted sadly that this was a common trait of human nature for a person to be rejected in his homeland, and it has, indeed, been confirmed in the experience of many other great men, especially among Christians. Familiarity seems somehow to breed contempt, even in the case of Christ Himself.

Matthew 13:58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.