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Go to Bible: Matthew 13
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|Mat 13:2||- (top)|
“parables.” Matthew 13:3 is the first use of “parable” in the New Testament. A parable is a story that illustrates one or more points, principles, or instructive lessons that the speaker wants to make. Parables typically use familiar situations from everyday life or use things that are well-known or commonly believed. A parable differs from a fable. Parables use human characters and situations that are known and understood while fables generally use non-human characters such as plants, animals, and inanimate objects. Jotham made his point in a fable when he said, “The trees once went out to anoint a king over them” (Judges 9:8; cp. Judg. 9:7-20). Parables also differ from allegories. In an allegory, each major part of the allegory has a counterpart in real life; there is no single important point like there is in many parables. However, many parables have aspects of an allegory in that they have more than one important point that has a counterpoint in real life.
Rhetoricians have argued for years about parables and whether they use similes or metaphors, or whether they make one point or can make several. The reason for the lack of rhetorical clarity with parables is almost certainly that in centuries past no one analyzed parables—or cared to analyze them—the way that rhetoricians and grammarians try to do now. The people like Jesus Christ who used parables used them to make a point or points, and sometimes the parable was only a sentence long, and sometimes it was a whole story; sometimes the speaker used similes, sometimes metaphors, and sometimes the figure hypocatastasis; sometimes many points were significant but often there was only one major point. The student of the Bible will find much more value in learning the meaning of each parable—the point or points it makes and why, when, and to whom it was spoken—than in trying to figure out if the parable really is a “parable” based on man-made rhetorical definitions.
Often a speaker will use a parable because the point that he or she is trying to make is immediately understood and quite easily remembered by the audience. But Jesus Christ used parables in a very unique way: he used them in such a way that the spiritually mature usually understood what he meant, but people with no spiritual understanding—the curiosity seekers; the doubters; the proud—did not understand what he meant. This caused some consternation among his disciples. They wanted the audience to understand Jesus, so they asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus explained that part of the reason he spoke in parables was that it revealed the heart and character of the people in his audience (see commentary on Matt. 13:13).
We are now some 2,000 years after Christ and his parables are doing now what they did in Christ’s day; confusing the spiritually immature, and blessing the spiritually mature.
[For more on the figures of comparison; simile, metaphor, and hypocatastasis, see commentary on Rev. 20:2.]
“The Sower.” The Parable of the Sower and its explanation is in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:3-9, 14-20; and Luke 8:5-8, 11-15.
The parable Jesus tells in verses 3-8 is almost universally referred to as “The Parable of the Sower” because that is what Jesus called it (Matt. 13:18). However, it could just as well be called “The Parable of the Soils,” because the parable is not primarily about God who sows the seed; nor is it about the seed itself, which is the Word of God (Mark 4:14; Luke 8:11). The parables have different names in different Bibles and commentaries because they are not named in the Bible itself: different scholars named the parables according to their best understanding of the subject of the parable.
In the Parable of the Sower, the people would have likely thought that the “sower” was God, but Jesus could have been referring to himself as he did in the parable of the weeds of the field (Matt. 13:27). Actually, however, in the Parable of the Sower, the “sower” is not specifically named because it is anyone who speaks the Word to lead people to salvation. The seed in this parable is the word of God (Mark 4:14; Luke 8:11), specifically the “message about the kingdom” (Matt. 13:19) which Jesus and others were preaching and teaching, and if a person believed the message and obeyed God they would be saved. Today, after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), we are in the Administration of Grace and people who believe in the death, resurrection, and Lordship of Jesus are saved (Rom. 10:9).
The focus of the Parable of the Sower is not the seed, but the people who hear the Word of God and the kind of soil they are. The important but unstated lesson in the Parable of the Sower is that each person determines the kind of “soil” they are: like the path (v. 4); like rocky places (v. 5); like thorny ground (v. 7), or good soil (v. 8). It is misreading this parable and misunderstanding life to read the parable and say, “we are what we are,” and we are stuck that way. Christ did not teach about the types of soils so we can discover what kind of soil we are but cannot change that. He taught about them as a warning, so people who need to change can change.
It is a powerful lesson that the first parable in the New Testament is Jesus speaking about people being different kinds of soil. Jesus was always trying to get people to focus on God and thus be saved and also have great rewards in his coming kingdom. He knew that in the huge crowd he was addressing all kinds of people were there: “path people,” “rocky soil people,” “among-the-weeds people,” and “good soil people,” and the goal of his parable was to wake people up to the kind of soil they were being and get them to change and be good soil. No wonder he ended his parable with, “Anyone who has ears had better listen!” Today, some 2,000 years after Jesus taught the parable, it should still be having the same effect Jesus meant it to have: waking each person up to the necessity of being a “good-soil” person.
Jesus’ explanation reveals the lesson.
[For more on the future kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth. For more on rewards in the future, see commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10, “good or evil.”]
“Pay attention.” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. Ordinarily, it would have been good to translate this as “Listen,” but since the parable ends with a command to “listen” (v. 9), it would have seemed an undue emphasis to double up on that word, thus the translation here, “pay attention.” See commentary on Matthew 1:20.(top)
“and the birds came and devoured them.” To best understand the Parable of the Sower it is helpful to understand that in biblical times, birds were usually considered evil or harmful. The ancient Hebrews lived close to nature and took note of the beauty, songs, and behavior of birds, and taught many lessons from them. Also, they enjoyed bird songs (Song of Sol. 2:12), and some of them were eaten as food (Matt. 10:29; Luke 12:6). Nonetheless, from a practical standpoint, most often birds were considered harmful or associated with evil. In this case, the “birds” in Matthew 13:4 represent the Devil and his demons and the demonic influence they exert in the world. Thus, in Jesus’ explanation of the parable, the birds are “the Wicked One” (Matt. 13:19), “the Adversary” (Mark 4:15); and “the Devil” (Luke 8:12).
Part of the reason that birds were much more harmful in biblical times than they are today has to do with the way farming was done back then. Today, tractors dig trenches in the dirt and put the seeds in the trench, and then cover the trench back up so that the seeds are protected from birds. But in biblical times the October rains—the former rains—softened the hard ground, then the farmer loosened the soil with his scratch plow, and then the seeds were scattered on the top of the ground, as we see in the Parable of the Sower. The seeds on the ground were exposed and so they were easily eaten by the birds, so the birds were dangerous and evil, and furthermore, they were very hard to get rid of. Some varieties of birds also ate the fruit that people were trying to grow.
The result of this harmful interaction between birds and people was that often in the Bible birds are associated with evil. In Genesis 15:11, birds try to eat Abraham’s sacrifice. In Ecclesiastes 10:20, birds tell your secrets to people and can cause trouble. In Genesis 40:17-19, birds are an evil omen in the dream of Pharaoh’s chief baker, and after he was executed they ate the flesh of his dead body. In Deuteronomy 28:6, birds will eat the dead body of those who disobey God (birds eating people’s dead bodies so that they would not be buried was a common curse in the ancient Middle East, cp. 1 Sam. 17:44, 46; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:24; Ps. 79:2; Jer. 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ezek. 39:17; Rev. 19:21). Birds especially tend to peck out people’s eyes (cp. Prov. 30:17). The people who were listening to Jesus tell the parable knew that the birds that ate the seed scattered by the sower were harmful, and literally took food out of the mouth of God’s people.
[For more on the former and latter rains in the Bible, see commentary on James 5:7. For more on plowing and sowing in the Bible, see commentary on Ecc. 11:1.](top)
“because the soil was not deep.” The Greek is more literally, “because they had no depth of soil,” but that is awkward in English (cp. CEB; NAB; NET).(top)
|Mat 13:6||- (top)|
|Mat 13:7||- (top)|
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“Anyone who has ears had better listen!” See commentary on Matthew 11:5. This is the same Greek phrase. Jesus has just taught the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-8), which shows that each person has the responsibility before God to do something godly with his life and bring forth fruit. Unfortunately, as the parable shows, many people will never do what it takes to bring forth fruit, but that does not absolve us from the responsibility to do so. Each person should heed the words of Jesus and strongly endeavor to bring forth fruit.(top)
“Why do you speak to them in parables?” This question is asked and answered in Matthew 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; and Luke 8:9-10. Matthew has the most complete answer.(top)
“sacred secrets”. We translate the Greek word mustērion (#3466 μυστήριον) as “sacred secret” because that is what mustērion actually refers to: a secret in the religious or sacred realm.
[For more information on the “Sacred Secret” and the Administration of Grace, see commentary on Ephesians 3:9.]
“the Kingdom of Heaven.” The “kingdom of heaven” is the coming kingdom of Christ on earth.
[For more information on the coming kingdom of Christ, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”](top)
“For whoever has.” Jesus taught this principle of having and not having five different times. See commentary on Matthew 25:29.(top)
“nor do they understand.” Jesus spoke in parables to reveal the hearts of the people who were hearing him speak. Why did some people listen to Jesus but not understand? They did not bother to find out what the teachings meant. Humble, godly people found out what the parables meant while pious, arrogant people did not make the effort to find out. In their arrogance, they covered their ears and closed their hearts, as Matthew’s record portrays (Matthew 13:14-15). This truth is given via the idiom of permission by saying that God has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts (John 12:38-40). Matthew 13:13-15 cannot be understood without understanding the Semitic idiom that many scholars call “the idiom of permission” (for more on the idiom of permission, see commentary on Romans 9:18; for a good example of the idiom of permission see Exodus 4:21 and its commentary).
Why did the Lord speak to the crowds with parables? To this question, Christ could have responded that he takes his own advice, by not throwing his pearls before the swine (Matt. 7:6). Furthermore, God says, “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words” (Prov. 23:9). Parables are designed so that the hearers must think, seek, and even ask to understand. By speaking to the crowds in this way, the Lord separates those who have a will to listen and learn from those who foolishly reject his teachings without giving them any thought.
All three synoptic gospels record the parable of the Sower in the context of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Matt. 13:10-18; Mark 4:2-12; Luke 8:9-11). John does not relate the Sower parable but speaks of the prophecy of Isaiah (John 12:35-42). It is interesting that the Parable of the Sower is in this context, for that parable deals with how one’s heart is prepared to receive the Good News. In the Parable of the Sower there is no indication that God decides what kind of soil one’s heart is. Rather, it is the person who decides by their thoughts and actions what kind of soil they are. This is where the quotation from Isaiah comes in. Jesus says in Matthew the prophecy “is fulfilled” (Mat. 13:14, present indicative), in that some of those listening had dull hearts and could barely hear, and also that they chose to close their eyes and ears lest they see, hear, understand, and turn. The Greek word for “lest,” mepote (#3379 μήποτε), is an indicator of negative purpose, showing the sinful people purposely intended to not see, hear, or understand. Those Jews hardened their hearts against God, and in general evil people do not want to know God (cp. Job. 21:14; 22:17; Isa. 30:11; Micah 2:6).
John begins the record by pointing out that even though Jesus had done so many signs before these people, they still did not believe in him (John 12:37). This “resulted in” another word of Isaiah being fulfilled regarding Israel’s unbelief: “Who has believed what he heard from us” (John 12:38). The “resulted in” in John 12:38 comes from the Greek preposition hina which in that verse introduced a result clause (cp. commentary on Matt. 2:15; “resulting in…what was spoken being fulfilled”). John says it was “for this reason,” “on account of this,” (Greek: dia touto) that these people could not believe (John 12:39). That is to say, because they rejected Jesus and refused to believe, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them” (John 12:40).
God is portrayed as doing the blinding and hardening in the passage in John. Yet we know from Matthew these people hardened their own hearts first by choosing not to believe. John tells us that it was because of this unbelief they were blinded. How are we to understand this blinding? It is not as though God actively hardens the hearts of those who close their eyes to the truth. Rather, he has allowed them to be blinded by setting in place a spiritual principle that while one is rejecting Jesus they are left in a state of spiritual blindness. It is the idiom of permission. Scripture teaches that in actuality, the Devil is the one who blinds these people: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4); it is only when they turn to the Lord that the veil is taken away (2 Cor. 3:14-16). Unbelievers have dull hearts and ears that can barely hear, but whether they will turn to the Lord or decide to close their eyes is their free choice. If they turn to him, the veil is lifted off their hearts and they can see. But if they choose to reject Christ and close their eyes then those people remain under Satan’s dominion of spiritual blindness. This is why Christ told these people, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you… While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light (John 12:35-36).
Once someone rejects the light they are “overtaken” by darkness and they remain in that state until they turn to the Lord and are healed. Only in the sense of the idiom of permission can it be said that God blinds people and hardens their hearts. Thus we can get to the proper understanding of passages like Matthew 13:13-15 only if we consider the whole of scripture and understand the language and idioms that it uses. We must put the records together to understand the full picture, that people first choose to harden their own hearts and as a result, they are left in a state of spiritual blindness.
When this record occurs in Mark 4:12 and Luke 8:10 it comes in the form of two purpose-result clauses (see commentary on Matt. 2:15; “resulting in…what was spoken being fulfilled”), thus sandwiching the truth revealed in Matthew and John together into one perspective. Taken together and in the scope of Scripture, they show that Jesus taught in parables “so that” the people may see but not perceive, and hear but not understand (cp. Mark 4:12). The “so that” indicates the purpose and the result of the speaking in parables, which was to teach the humble and godly but reveal the arrogant heart of the ungodly.(top)
|Mat 13:14||- (top)|
This quote of Isa. 6:9-10 follows the Greek Septuagint, which differs from the Hebrew text.(top)
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|Mat 13:17||- (top)|
For an explanation of the parable of the Sower, see commentary on Matthew 13:3.(top)
“Wicked One.” The Greek is poneros (#4190 πονηρός), “pertaining to being morally or socially worthless; therefore, ‘wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, and degenerate.’”a Poneros is an adjective, but it is a substantive (an adjective used as a noun; for more on substantives, see the commentary on Matthew 5:37).
The Devil (the “Slanderer”) is the fount and foundation of wickedness. It was in him that wickedness was first found, when he was lifted up with pride and decided to rebel against God. Ever since that time he has been true to his name, “the Wicked One,” and has been doing and causing wickedness wherever he can, which, since he is “the god of this age,” is a considerable amount of wickedness.
[For more names of the Slanderer (the Devil) and their meanings, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil.”]
“the seed.” The Greek text does not have the word “seed,” but it is the understood object since it is what was “sown.”(top)
|Mat 13:21||- (top)|
“the seed.” The Greek text does not have the word “seed,” but it is the understood object since it is what was “sown.”
“and he becomes unfruitful.” The Greek verb “becomes” does not have a gender, so it can be translated as “he,” “she,” or “it,” and the versions are divided between “he” (ASV; DBY; DRA; KJV; NKJV) and “it” (CEB; CJB; CSB; ESV; NET; NRSV). The REV translated the verb as a “he” because that best fits the context. In Matthew 13:19, the soil of the path was a “he,” a person, and the word was snatched from his heart. Then, in Matthew 13:20-21 the rocky soil was a “he,” who had no root in himself. Then, in Matthew 13:23 the good soil was a “he” who brought forth fruit, with some people bringing forth a hundredfold increase, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. In the light of the other three soils being people, it does not seem correct that in Matthew 13:22 the teaching about the seed being sown on weedy soil would suddenly shift and be the only “it” in the context. It is the person who was the soil and it was the person who became unfruitful, just as with the “path-soil” and “rocky soil” people.(top)
“the seed.” The Greek text does not have the word “seed,” but it is the understood object since it is what was “sown.”(top)
“a man.” In his explanation, Jesus said that he was the man (Matt. 13:37: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man”).(top)
“darnel.” The Greek word is zizanion (#2215 ζιζάνιον) and it refers to the plant Lolium temulentum, or the Bearded Darnel. There are other varieties of Lolium, but they do not closely resemble wheat, and therefore are almost certainly not the plant referred to in the parable. The Bearded Darnel looks so much like wheat that it cannot be distinguished from it except by an expert until the grain starts to form. The darnel grain is much smaller than wheat and dark brown. The seeds of the darnel were believed to be poisonous to men and animals (although not fowl). It has now been asserted by some botanists that it is not the seed of the darnel that is poisonous, but rather that it is easily susceptible to getting a mold that is poisonous.a Nevertheless, the ancients, and even the modern Arabs, do not make any such distinction and consider the seeds to be poisonous. The symptoms of eating the darnel include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and sometimes even death. The roots of the darnel are quite extensive, and when it appears in a wheat field, become entangled with the roots of the wheat so that if anyone tried to pull up the darnel they would most certainly pull up the wheat also.
Using the translation “weeds” as many modern translations do misses much of the depth of the parable. People frequently “weed” their gardens, and it is not hurtful but even helps the other plants grow. Only by knowing that one cannot do that with darnel makes that part of the parable make sense. Also, the parable epitomizes “by their fruit you will know them,” because it is when the grain starts to appear that the darnel can be easily seen.
|Mat 13:26||- (top)|
“Then where did the darnel come from?” The Greek is idiomatic: “Then where has darnel?” Different versions have brought the idiomatic Greek into English in slightly different ways.(top)
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|Mat 13:29||- (top)|
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“mustard seed.” See commentary on Matthew 13:32.
“sowed.” The Greek word can mean “scattered,” and in the biblical world, seed was often scattered on the top of the ground.
“smaller...becomes a tree.” The mustard seed is a very tiny seed but grows into a very tall plant, which Jesus hyperbolically calls a “tree.” Although there has historically been some disagreement about it, today scholars identify the “mustard” in the parable as the common black mustard (brassica nigra). In the parable, the man purposely grew this mustard in his garden, just as people still do today, and mustard was valued as a spice and for the oil it produced. Although these annual plants commonly grew to only 3 to 4 feet tall, much larger plants are regularly observed, some growing to 10-15 feet tall with a central stem as large as a man’s forearm, and especially in the fall as the lack of rain hardens the plant they are well able to support a bird’s nest.a
The context of Jesus’ statement about the size of the mustard seed is the man sowing seed in his garden, which is confirmed by the word “garden plants” (lachanon; #3001 λάχανον; a potable herb; a vegetable). This verse is not a botanical reference to the size of every seed known to man, but rather a comparison of the mustard seed to the other seeds a gardener would typically sow in his garden in the biblical world at the time of Christ. It is absurd, and a misuse and misunderstanding of how the Word of God is written, to try to prove an error in the Word of God by finding a seed smaller than a mustard seed. Harold and Alma Moldenke correctly point out, “Such statements as that concerning the size of the mustard seed must always be judged in the light of the knowledge of the time of the people involved.”b Furthermore, but less likely, Jesus may also have been using a natural hyperbole (exaggeration), a common figure of speech used in discourse, the same way many Westerners will say, “I am starving” when they are just hungry, or “I’m freezing” when they are just cold. The point of Jesus’ parable was that just as the mustard seed starts out very small but becomes very big, so too the Kingdom of Heaven seems to have a small start, but will one day fill the earth. When Jesus said the seed “becomes a tree,” we must remember that the word “tree” is flexible and can refer to both large and small trees, and many of the trees in the Middle East are quite small. Thus a mustard plant that grew to 10 or 15 feet (2 or 3 meters) could rightly be said to “become a tree.”
Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6 refer to “trust like a mustard seed.” The mustard seed is small, but it has complete trust that it can grow into the large garden herb. See commentary on Matthew 17:20.
“the birds of heaven.” The word translated as “heaven” is the standard Greek word that refers to heaven, the atmosphere, or the air. These are not “spiritual birds.”
“leaven.” “Leaven” was something that made dough rise, “leaven” is typically yeast. Although leaven is often portrayed as an evil thing such as sin, in this parable it is a good thing, the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not uncommon for things in the Bible to be either bad or good depending on the context. For example, Satan is called a lion (1 Pet. 5:8), but so is Jesus (Rev. 5:5).
“that a woman took and hid.” No woman “hides” yeast in bread dough; they put it in so that the dough will rise. In this parable, God is compared to a woman hiding yeast in bread, and the wording reveals the purpose and activity of God. God conceals the Kingdom as people get saved and join it, and as the yeast spreads throughout the loaf, Kingdom people, saved people, spread throughout the world, mainly being ignored by the worldly people.
“50 pounds.” The Greek measure is three satons, and “saton,” was the Greek name for the Hebrew term “seah” (Sarah used three seahs of flour for her divine guests in Gen. 18:6). A saton is a little over 16 pounds (7 kg) of dry measure (or just over 13 liters). So this was over 47 lbs (21 kg) of flour total, which would feed more than 100 people. No ordinary housewife would cook that much meal, so the parable points to the Kingdom of God and His provision for all the people who would be saved and enter the Kingdom.(top)
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|Mat 13:35||- (top)|
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“the Wicked One.” See commentary on Matthew 13:19.(top)
“Devil.” The Greek word is diabolos (#1228 διάβολος), which literally means “Slanderer,” but diabolos gets transliterated into English as our more familiar name, “the Devil.” Slander is so central to who the Devil is and how he operates that one of his primary names is “the Slanderer.”
[For more information on the names of the Devil, see Appendix 14: “Names of the Devil.”](top)
“burned up.” The Greek is katakaiō (#2618 κατακαίω), and means to burn up, or to consume. It cannot be overstated that the weeds “burn up,” they do not burn forever. Similarly, the people who are unsaved will be burned up in Gehenna, they will not burn forever.
“the end of the age.” The Jews taught that we are in the present evil age, but there was a wonderful Messianic Age coming in the future. Although some versions read “world” instead of “age,” that is misleading. The world will not come to an end, but this evil age will. See commentary on Galatians 1:4.(top)
“The Son of Man will send out his angels.” Matthew 13:41-43 describes what happens after the Battle of Armageddon: Jesus sends out his angels and gathers the people of the earth who have survived the Great Tribulation and the Battle of Armageddon and separates them into two groups: the godly (“sheep”) and the ungodly (“goats”). Then he judges them and the sheep are allowed to enter his kingdom while the goats are thrown into the Lake of Fire. This judgment is described in more detail in Matthew 25:31-46.
[For more on the Sheep and Goat Judgment, see commentary on Matt. 25:31; 25:32; and 25:33. For more about Jesus’ future kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]
“those who are guilty of lawlessness.” The Greek text is more literally, those who “are doing lawlessness,” but that does not read well in English. Some versions have “those who practice lawlessness,” but that does not read well in English either. The phrase, “those who are guilty of lawlessness” catches the sense well (cp. CSB).(top)
“the furnace of fire.” Here in Matthew 13:42, Jesus refers to the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14-15) as a “furnace.” The Greek word translated “furnace” was used of furnaces that smelted metal (cp. Rev. 1:15) or potters kilns for hardening clay. The people thrown into the Lake of Fire will eventually burn up (Matt. 13:40).
[For more on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”]
“sobbing and gnashing of teeth.” The mention of sobbing and gnashing of teeth occurs seven times in the Bible (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). All of these occurrences are in the Gospels. There is only one future Messianic Kingdom, and it fills the whole earth. The unsaved are not part of that Kingdom but are thrown into the Lake of Fire where there is sobbing and gnashing of teeth (Rev. 20:13-15).
[For a more complete explanation of the sobbing and gnashing of teeth, see commentary on Matt. 8:12.](top)
“Anyone who has ears had better listen!” See commentary on Matthew 11:15. This is the same Greek phrase. Jesus has just finished teaching that wicked people will be burned in Gehenna, while godly people will live and shine in the Kingdom of God. This is not mere threats. There will be a Judgment and unsaved people will be annihilated in Gehenna while saved people will live forever. Everyone better listen and pay attention.
[For more on annihilation in Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, see commentary on Rev. 20:10.](top)
|Mat 13:44||- (top)|
“fine pearls.” Matthew 13:45-46 contains a short but powerful parable about the value of attaining everlasting life and living in the Messianic Kingdom, which Jesus often referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven.” As clear as the parable about the pearl of great price seems to us, it was much clearer to people who lived before the 1900s. The early 1900s saw the collapse of the pearl industry and the decline in the value of pearls as a status symbol because it was then that the Japanese invented a way to grow cultured pearls. Worse, not too long after that, plastics and resins were also used to produce very realistic pearl look-alikes. Then finally, the invention of the scuba diving system made gathering real pearls much easier and safer. The result of all this was that pearls, which for millennia had been a mark of high culture, social standing, and financial wealth, were suddenly seemingly being worn by anyone who wanted to. This caused them to be less of a status symbol and less desirable to wear. As the attraction of pearls wore off, they were worn by fewer and fewer people, even being ignored by those who could afford the “real” ones. So while there are natural pearls of great value still around, the desire to own and wear them, and the status they project, are not what they were in years past.
However, the value of pearls in the biblical period is why Jesus chose a pearl to compare the value of the Kingdom of Heaven to, instead of something else. In the biblical world, the pearl was incredibly expensive, in fact, it was the apex gem in the culture. The Roman historian, Pliny the Elder (23 AD – August 24, 79 AD), said this about pearls: “The topmost rank of all things of price is held by pearls.”
Oysters that produce pearls are found all over the world, in both saltwater and fresh, and yet the round, white pearls that have been so prized in history are amazingly rare. Although the translation “pearls” is disputed, Job 28:18 (ESV) certainly shows the value of pearls when it is trying to show the value of wisdom: “the price of wisdom is above pearls.” When pointing out that women should not dress extravagantly, 1 Timothy 2:9 says women should not dress with gold and pearls (not that women should not wear gold and pearls, but they should not flaunt them as if worldly wealth was the important thing in life).
Part of the mystique of pearls in the first century was that, even by the time of the early church, people were not sure where they came from. Expensive pearls that came into the Roman world from the Persian Gulf (still today perhaps the most reliable source of natural pearls) and from India had traveled far, and anyone who deals in vulnerable and expensive items knows that creating an air of mystery and guarding your sources can create value in the item and also protect your source of supply. “Pliny claimed that pearls rose to the sea’s surface and swallowed dew to achieve their luster and beauty, while other authors suggested that lightning hitting an oyster produced the gem.”a
Although some pearls were discovered in shallow water, most pearls in the ancient world were brought up from deeper water. In the Persian Gulf region, a fruitful source of pearls in biblical times, they were often at a depth of about 40 meters (about 45 yards). To get down to the oyster beds, divers held a weight on a rope to make a quick descent to the beds. The weight was pulled back up to the ship by the rope, while the diver swam back up, having put the oysters he had gathered into a sack he had with him. Until the invention of scuba gear, this diving-with-a-weight method of pearling was the common way of pearling, with only slight improvements over the years, such as hand and foot protection from the sharp oysters, and face masks to enable better vision and protect the eyes. It was a dangerous way to make a living and a major reason that natural pearls continued to be so expensive until our modern times.
When we understand the rarity of a round, white, pearl in the biblical world, and understand the mystique that surrounded them as well as the monetary and social value they had, we are in a position to see why Jesus compared gaining the Kingdom of Heaven to finding and buying a pearl of great value. The pearl of great price was valuable, but nothing is more valuable than salvation and everlasting life. And just as no merchant in the ancient world would hesitate to sell everything else he owned to gain a very valuable pearl, no person should hesitate to make every effort to be saved and be assured of everlasting life.
[For more about the wonderful Kingdom of Heaven on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.]
“pearl.” Pearls were very expensive in the ancient world, and very highly valued.
[For more on pearls, see commentaries on Revelation 18:12 and Matthew 13:45.]
“great value.” The Greek word is polutimos (#4186 πολύτιμος), and it means to be of great value, or very expensive. To say the pearl was of “great price” is not as accurate a translation today because many things are priced way above, and sometimes way below, their actual value. This pearl was of great value, but the only way we know the price was high was that the man had to sell all he owned to buy it.(top)
“net that was let down.” The Greek word translated “net” is sagēnē (#4522 σαγήνη), and it refers to a dragnet or seine. The Greek word translated “let down” is ballō (#906 βάλλω), and it is usually translated as “cast” or “throw,” but when the context warrants it, as a transitive verb it can also be used as “of putting or placing someone or something somewhere: put (money into a treasury box), put (a sword into its scabbard), place (someone into a pool).”a
In this context, the net is a dragnet, and dragnets were let down into the water from a boat or usually a couple of boats. The dragnet was placed parallel to the shore and then dragged by people to the shore, who gathered the fish, keeping the good and throwing the bad away.
[For more information on fishing in Jesus’ time, see commentary on Mark 1:17.]
“lake.” He was teaching from a boat on the “Sea of Galilee,” which is actually a lake, so the context dictates that thalassō be translated as “lake.”
“and gathered fish of every kind.” The Kingdom of Heaven is the kingdom with heavenly qualities that is ruled by Christ when he comes from heaven, conquers the earth, and rules over it (Ps. 2:8; 72:8-11; Dan. 2:35; 7:14; Micah 5:4; Zech. 9:10). When Christ comes to earth and conquers it, there will be people of every sort left on earth, and the “good” will be allowed into the Kingdom, and the “evil” will be thrown away, into the Lake of Fire (Matt. 25:31-46; cp. commentary on Matt. 25:32).
[For more on the coming kingdom of Christ on earth, the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]
“when it was filled.” Here we see God’s timing in bringing His Kingdom to pass on earth and a detail in the parable that is different from fishing in real life. In the parable, the net was not drawn up until it was filled, whereas in real life the net is drawn up but there is no way of knowing until it gets into very shallow water if there are many fish in it or not. However, when it comes to bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into fulfillment here on earth, God will wait until He knows the saved have reached whatever full number He had in mind.
“but the bad they threw away.” The world would have us believe that every human is equally valuable, but that is not the testimony of the Word of God. Every person has the opportunity to be valuable by recognizing and obeying God, but those who ignore God or reject God or deny God have denied their Creator and thus prove themselves unfit to be in His everlasting Kingdom. God created people to love and serve Him and love and serve each other, and those who will not do that will be “thrown away,” they will be thrown into the Lake of Fire and annihilated.
[For more on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”](top)
“The angels will come out and separate the wicked from the midst of the righteous.” The separation of the righteous from the wicked that Jesus is referring to here is the Sheep and Goat Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). That Judgment occurs at the end of this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) and at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.
[For more information on the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”](top)
“sobbing and gnashing of teeth.” The mention of sobbing and gnashing of teeth occurs seven times in the Bible (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). All of these occurrences are in the Gospels. There is only one future Messianic Kingdom, and it fills the whole earth. The unsaved are not part of that Kingdom but are thrown into the Lake of Fire where there is sobbing and gnashing of teeth (Rev. 20:13-15). People in the Lake of Fire will suffer in proportion to their sin before they burn up and are annihilated.
[For a more complete explanation of the sobbing and gnashing of teeth, see commentary on Matt. 8:12. For more information on suffering in the Lake of Fire in proportion to one’s sin, see commentary on Rom. 2:5. For more information on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.”](top)
|Mat 13:51||- (top)|
“has been discipled.” The Greek word mathēteuō (#3100 μαθητεύω) means to be a disciple, and the fact that it is an aorist participle means that the disciple has graduated and finished his training and reached a level of expertise. It is related to the noun mathētēs (#3101 μαθητής; pronounced ma-thay-'tase) “disciple.” Some versions have “has been instructed,” but the REV reads “has been discipled” to maintain consistency with the word “disciple.”
“new and old.” The person who has been well trained about the Kingdom of Heaven has wisdom and knowledge and applies it well. Some of it is old knowledge that has been around for many generations, and some of it is new knowledge that has recently been revealed.(top)
|Mat 13:53||- (top)|
|Mat 13:54||- (top)|
“builder’s son.” The “builder” is Joseph, the father of Jesus, and Jesus himself is called a builder in Mark 6:3). The Greek word translated “builder” is tektōn (#5045 τέκτων). The Greek word tektōn can refer to a carpenter, builder, or craftsman of most any kind. For example, the Septuagint uses tektōn to describe a metalsmith (1 Sam. 13:19; Isa. 44:12), a worker in bronze or cast metal (1 Kings 7:14; Isa. 40:19), a craftsman who makes idols, which would usually be from wood, metal, or stone (Hos. 8:6), and a worker in wood (Isa. 40:20; 41:7; 44:13).
Although tektōn could refer to different types of craftsmen, the word “carpenter” was chosen by the ancient translators and that tradition continues today in most Bibles (cp. Tyndale’s Bible of 1534; Bishop’s Bible of 1595; Geneva Bible of 1599 and the King James Version of 1611, which all say “carpenter”). However, there are several reasons those older translators likely chose “carpenter” over “builder.” One reason is that the Greek they knew was the ancient Greek of Homer and Plato, and Greece had lots of trees so a tektōn in ancient Greek literature was often built with wood. Another reason is that England and Europe, where those older translations of the Bible were made, were covered with trees and so wood was the common material people built with. A third reason that “carpenter” would have been chosen as a translation of tektōn was that those ancient translators had never been to Israel. If they had, they would have realized that the sturdy wood used in building was fairly scarce in Israel, which is why when Solomon built the Temple, he had cedar wood brought down to Israel from Lebanon. The primary building material in Israel was stone, which has been a blessing to archaeologists because many of those stone buildings survive today to one extent or another even though they are thousands of years old. As “builders,” Joseph and his sons (who would have grown up in their father’s trade), would have been skilled in building with all kinds of materials. Primarily with stone, but also with mud brick, clay tile, wood, and to some extent metal, such as might be used for door hinges.
Once we understand that Joseph and his sons were builders, a few things about Jesus become clearer. One is that in the Roman society that controlled Israel and among the Jews who tried to fit in with Rome, being a builder was generally considered to be a lower-class job, not one that had a lot of prestige associated with it. Thus, when the people of Nazareth said of Jesus, “Is this not the builder’s son” (Matt. 13:55), and “Is this not the builder” (Mark 6:3), those were not compliments, but rather were derogatory remarks as if they had said, “Is this not the son of that common laborer Joseph?” So from Jesus’ job, we know he did not grow up being highly respected and well-treated by others but instead grew up being treated like the common laborer he was. Being humble about who he was and what he did was part of Jesus’ daily life, and no doubt Joseph coached Jesus through challenging situations as they worked together through the years. Also, that Joseph was a builder and did not have a prestigious job also helps explain why he could not afford a lamb as a birth-sacrifice after Jesus was born, but Mary had to offer birds instead (see commentary on Luke 2:24).
Another thing we learn about Jesus from the fact he was a builder is that he would have worked with other people almost every day. While a carpenter may well end up doing a lot of work alone, a builder in that society before any power tools almost always had to work with others, and the “others” that one worked with in the building trades were often crude and tough people. So Jesus’ daily work taught him how to deal with difficult people, something that would serve him well in his ministry.
Still another thing we learn about Jesus is that he would have had the strong and muscular body that comes with cutting, lifting, and setting stone every day. That means that those paintings that show Jesus as a pale-skinned, somewhat emaciated human being are simply off the mark. Jesus would be tanned and look like he worked out every day—because he did.
One more thing we can see from knowing that Jesus was a builder is that it gives good evidence that what the New Testament says about him is true. After all, if some author was going to invent a story about the Messiah who would one day rule the world, we would think that the author would give Jesus a prestigious career. Perhaps he would write that Jesus was a scribe or something like an independently wealthy farmer, but why invent a story that Jesus was a laborer? The Bible says Jesus was a builder because he was. Then at the proper time he left that trade, was anointed with holy spirit, and began his ministry as the Savior of the world.
“And his brothers, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas?” Women had no way of effective birth control and likely would not have wanted it if it was available. Mary herself had at least seven children. Her sons were Jesus, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, and she had at least two girls who were the “sisters” (plural) of those boys as well (cp. Mark 6:3). It was important to have large families for many reasons. Children supported their parents in their old age and lots of children died young, so a small number of children meant that there may be no one to take care of elderly parents if the children died. Also, there was no police force at that time, and people were responsible to figure out how to protect themselves and their property, and the best way to do that was to have a large family with lots of sons, uncles, and cousins. Psalm 127:5 says a man with a lot of children is blessed, and they will defend him when he needs it.(top)
|Mat 13:56||- (top)|
“A prophet is honored everywhere except.” The literal Greek is a double negative (actually a triple-negative), “not without...except,” which was much more easily understood in Greek than in English because the Greek language uses double negatives for different reasons. The double negative was changed in English for clarity (cp. CEB; NLT).(top)
“because of their unbelief.” There would have been no point to doing miracles in front of an unbelieving crowd. Miracles win people and bring them to a point of belief in some circumstances, but much of the time unbelievers stay unbelievers no matter what miracles and wonders are done around them, as the ministry of Jesus around Israel attested. God does not do miracles to entertain or just put on a show, they are to genuinely help people both physically and in their understanding and belief in God. If people have hard hearts there is no point in doing miracles and other mighty works. Jesus taught not to cast one’s pearls to pigs, and he followed his own teaching. Believers must learn an important lesson from Jesus. It is not that he loved the people here less than in other places, but he recognized that what he did was pointless, so he moved on, and his disciples must learn to walk in wisdom and follow his example.(top)