The Kingdom Parables… Matthew 13 (Part 1)

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Kingdom Parables

It occurred to me after reviewing last week’s article that although I have led numerous studies on the subject, some of which have been recorded, I’ve never published a commentary on the Kingdom Parables. Therefore my references to them last week may have confused some, so herewith, I present my view of the Lord’s description of His Kingdom on Earth.

Context Please

The Kingdom Parables are found in Matthew 13. In the previous chapter of Matthew, the Jewish leadership had attacked Jesus, denouncing His teachings, and finally attributing His miracles to the power of Beelzebub (Satan). This prompted the Lord’s statement that their sins of unbelief were unpardonable. The attribution of any of God’s work to any other source, whether it be another god, or chance, or the current favorite, ourselves, is blasphemy and, therefore, a sin (Isaiah 42:8). What makes sin unpardonable is the refusal to accept the remedy God has provided in His Son, which is what they were doing.

Matthew 13 opens with the “timestamp” that places this teaching later that same day, so we’ll expect to find some expansion of his statement about the unpardonable sin. And although they’re sometimes called the 7 Kingdom Parables, there are really only six that begin with the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven is like … ” The first parable describes the world in general. A parable, you know, is a heavenly story put into an earthly context. The meaning of the Greek word for parable is “to place alongside” as in a comparison. This means that everything in the parable symbolizes something else. Correctly interpreting the symbols is the key that unlocks understanding. Some think of parables simply as marvelous teaching tools but when the disciples asked Jesus why He taught in parables, He told them that His purpose was two-fold; to enlighten believers while at the same time confusing unbelievers (Matt 13:11-15), and in fact, there has been much confusion among commentators in correctly interpreting the symbols of the Kingdom Parables, as we’ll see.

To begin with, Matthew’s use of the word “heaven” in the parables has led some gentile theologians off the track. I believe Matthew wrote His gospel to Jews to convince them that Jesus was their Messiah. The use of the word God is avoided in Judaism to preclude breaking a commandment, and even today, Jewish writers will often leave out the vowel, writing G-d to avoid offending Him. I think Matthew substituted the word Heaven for God in consideration of his Jewish readers. Some have also equated the phrase Kingdom of Heaven with the Church, which I believe is another error we’ll discover.

One Final Note

Keep in mind that Jesus was speaking to Jews in Israel engaged in an agrarian economy. So it’s logical that we should try and replicate their perspective in understanding the symbols He used. Since His listeners were only familiar with their Scriptures, we’ll rely on the Old Testament as our theological guide, and since most worked the land, we’ll use our knowledge of agriculture to give us the proper context.

1) The Parable Of The Sower

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering his seed some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow but when the sun came up the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still others fell on good soil where it produced a crop a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears let him hear. (Matt 13:3-9)

In this first parable in the farmer’s field symbolizes the world, and the seed is His Word sown throughout the Age of Man. The four kinds of soil describe humanity’s various responses to His Word, and the birds represent Satan. We know this because the Lord Himself interpreted this parable for us in Matt. 13:18-23.

“Listen to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” This tells us some people who hear the word do not become believers.

“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root it lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Some people hold the word in their minds but never allow it into their hearts. The fact that they fall away proves it was only an intellectual understanding, not an emotional commitment. To people like this the Lord may be a great teacher with an important message, but He’s not their Lord, and He’s not their Savior.

“The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it making it unfruitful.” Since salvation is not a fruit-bearing event, the Lord was speaking here of the vast majority of Christians.  They believe the gospel and are saved, but their lives cannot be distinguished from those of the nonbelievers around them.  They’re totally immersed in the things of the world and bear no fruit for the Kingdom.

“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop yielding a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was sown.” This is the believer who exemplifies Romans 12:1-2 and no longer conforms to the pattern of this world, but is transformed by the renewing of his or her mind and bears much fruit.

His explanation is critical to us because of a principle of interpretation called “expositional constancy” which holds that symbolism tends to be consistent in Scripture. And so the Lord’s explanation of His symbolism in the first parable helps us understand the others. You’ll find that some commentators violate this principle in interpreting the Kingdom Parables because they don’t like what it tells them. We’ll avoid that trap.

2) The Parable Of The Weeds

The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” “An enemy did this,” he replied. The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” “No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling up the weeds you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together till the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned. Then gather the wheat and put it in my barn.” (Matt. 13:24-30)

The Lord also interpreted this parable for us in Matthew 13:37-43. Here again the Farmer is the Lord, and the field the world. This time the good seed is further clarified as the effect His Word has had on some men (sons of the Kingdom), while the bad seed describes the effect Satan has had on others (sons of the evil one). This is additional proof that the Lord is describing the Age of Man where good and evil dwell side by side, and where the battle still continues for men’s souls. Please note that there are only two kinds of seed in the field, indicating that there have only been two kinds of people on Earth, sons of the Kingdom and sons of the evil one. We’re all one or the other. At the end of the age, the Lord will send out his angels to “weed out of His Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their father.” (Matt. 13:41-43)

That Was Your First Mistake

Some Christians use this parable to defend a post-tribulation rapture position for the Church, but the description of events doesn’t match other descriptions of the rapture. He doesn’t send out angels to gather His church; He comes Himself (1 Thes. 4:16). Also there are those in His Kingdom who aren’t part of the Church. There are Old Testament Believers who died in faith of a coming Messiah but didn’t live to see the events of the cross.  They’re part of His Kingdom. And then there are the Tribulation Saints who come to faith after the Rapture and are martyred during the Great Tribulation. They’re part of His Kingdom too. Just because these parables are in the Gospels doesn’t mean they only apply to the Church. So using them to support a position unique to the Church takes them out of context. The Great Tribulation takes place on Earth. Its purpose is to judge the nations and purify Israel (Jeremiah 30:1-11) before bringing surviving believers into His Kingdom. The order and description of events in this parable fit that purpose.  Then there’s the problem that the doctrine of the Rapture (1 Thes 4:16-17 & 1 Cor. 15:51-52) wasn’t introduced on earth until after the Lord’s death for reasons explained in 1 Cor. 2:7-10.

Remembering that our method of interpretation requires a literal, historical, and grammatical view means we can’t take this or any other passage out of context to support a preconceived position or apply it only from the narrow confines of our own perspective. The Bible cannot contradict itself. Things either fit, or they don’t. Next time we’ll see how the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast have been twisted to produce a totally inaccurate picture of God’s Kingdom on Earth during the Age of Man.