The King and His Kingdom (Mat. 13)
Jeremy Singer, Manchester, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5-7, the Lord Jesus, as King, presents His kingdom manifesto, showing people the principles upon which His kingdom is based. In the subsequent Sermon on the Boat, Matt. 13. 2, the King presents His kingdom mysteries using seven parables that describe different aspects of the kingdom. This teaching is presented in symbolic form, and only the curious disciples, vv. 10. 36, are initiated into the meaning of the parables.
As with most groups of seven in the scriptures, these kingdom parables divide naturally into distinct groups of four and three. The first four parables describe the kingdom as seen on earth, by men. In them, the true and false are intermingled, whilst enemy forces are at work. The ‘gates of hell’ can never prevail against God’s purpose, Matt. 16. 18, but they are seen to directly oppose it. The latter three parables describe the kingdom as seen from a heavenly perspective, by God. In them, attention is focused on all that He knows to be genuine about the kingdom, which He regards as complete, perfect and satisfying.
Whereas most commentaries on Matthew chapter 13 deal with various features of the kingdom, in this article the aim is different. I want to examine the passage to find the King Himself. This is surely our continuing objective. As Isaiah says, ‘Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty’, Isa. 33. 17. This promise will be fulfilled to the nation of Israel in the future when He returns in glory, but it should be the sincere desire of His saints today. After all, He is the chief attraction in His Kingdom; He is the ‘first love’ of His church, ‘He is thy Lord; and worship thou him’, Ps. 45. 11.
The Sower, vv. 3-8
The seed is ‘the word of the kingdom’, v. 19. This has been faithfully sown by God’s servants in all ages, primarily through the medium of preaching. Indeed, the Lord Jesus is the Prince of Preachers. He was the first to announce ‘so great salvation’, before the apostles and succeeding generations took up the work that we continue today, Heb. 2. 3-4. How patiently did the Lord sow ‘beside all waters’, Isa. 32. 20; whether to hard and barren Pharisees (cf. ‘the way side’, v. 4); potential disciples with more pressing engagements (cf. stony places, v. 5); business-minded rich rulers (cf. thorns, v. 7); or those few who gladly received Him (cf. good ground, v. 8).
The Householder, vv. 24-30
The second parable develops the King’s character beyond that of a patient sower of seed across the wide and varied field. Once the wheat has been corrupted with tares, the householder is seen as the perfect administrator. When the servants ask for his advice, he has the discernment to know that the enemy has been at work, the patience to wait until the harvest time, and the authority to direct others in their service. These three qualities are apparent in the Lord Jesus Christ. John describes His perfectly discerning eyes as ‘a flame of fire’, Rev. 1. 14. Peter recalls the Lord’s ‘longsuffering’, 2 Pet. 3. 9. Paul explains how the Lord has been exalted ‘far above all’ angelic beings by the Father, Eph. 1. 21.
The Tree, vv. 31-32, and the Meal, v. 33
In the next couple of parables, the King is not explicitly described. Interestingly, the Lord Himself does not explain the meaning of these parables to His followers. However, most commentators understand the word-pictures to refer to the unnatural growth and corruption of the kingdom, as seen from an earthly standpoint. Some people claim the name of Christ but have never experienced His salvation. When they finally meet him, He will say, ‘I never knew you’, Matt. 7. 23. Sadly, this situation may be true for many people who profess to be Christians in contemporary society.
We must acknowledge that every work of God, at its inception, is pure and good, Gen. 1. 31; 1 Tim. 4. 4. The kingdom only loses its pristine God-given status after man’s influence has taken hold. Thus, the young tree (before its extraordinary growth which provides a habitat for birds) and the carefully measured flour (before the unwelcome addition of yeast) are symbols of the kingdom as God intended it, I infer. This leads us on to the following point. True citizens of the kingdom should resemble the King Himself, even as Gideon’s regal characteristics could be observed in his family members, Judg. 8. 18. So, the tree and the meal should point us to the Lord Jesus. We can work back from the descriptions of the kingdom to appreciate things ‘touching the king’, Ps. 45. 1. We believe of course that there is no potential for corruption in Him.
Isaiah recounts how Jehovah views the earthly life of His perfect Servant, ‘For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground’, Isa. 53. 2. Amongst all the barren godlessness of earth, there was vitality and a refreshing virtue in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. This delighted the heart of the Father. Heaven’s silence was broken on two occasions as God declared, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’, Matt. 3. 17; 17. 5.
Like the humble beginnings of the mustard tree, the meal also represents what is true in the kingdom. Again, this symbol is reminiscent of Old Testament shadows of Christ. He is beautifully pre-figured in the meal offering, Lev. 2. The fine flour speaks of His perfect, sinless humanity. Paul, the man of intelligence, says that He ‘knew no sin’, 2 Cor. 5. 21. Peter, the man of impetuosity, says that He ‘did no sin’, 1 Pet. 2. 22. John, the man of intimacy, said, ‘In him is no sin’, 1 John 3. 5. The wonder of the Lord’s character can be presented in a positive aspect too. Every grace is perfectly blended, so no one attribute overshadows any other. Truly He is ‘full of grace and truth’, John 1. 14.
The Landowner, v. 44, and the Merchant, vv. 45-46
I believe the hidden treasure represents Israel, so long dispersed and disregarded in the world, yet still the object of Jehovah’s covenant love. I believe the pearl represents the church. Just as it was born in ocean depths as the product of pain, so the church is formed as a result of Christ’s most profound sufferings.
The King’s character is very similar in these two parables, since both the nation and the church belong to His kingdom realm. His careful searching befits the Son of man who came ‘to seek and to save’, Luke 19. 10. The emphasis of these parables is on the fact that He personally pays the price to gain the thing He desires. In each case, He sells all that He has. This phraseology is echoed in Philippians chapter 2 verses 6-7, ‘[He] thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation’. His voluntary selfhumiliation was motivated out of love for us, and a desire to claim us for Himself. This teaching brings great joy to our hearts as we consider the Lord’s sacrifice for us. Amazingly, it brings joy to His heart too. These two parables emphasize the alacrity and enthusiasm of the rich man as he exchanges all his possessions to claim the hidden treasure and the costly pearl. This is a beautiful demonstration of the Lord’s attitude toward us as He contemplated ‘the joy that was set before him’ when He ‘endured the cross’, Heb. 12. 2. The good Shepherd rejoices as lost sheep are returned home to the fold, Luke 15. 5-6. It is clear from these two kingdom parables that the King rejoices in the fullness of His coming Kingdom’s manifestation.
The Fisher King, vv. 47-48
Once again, in the final parable the King is not seen explicitly. However, the nature of kingdom expansion, in terms of fishing, is a familiar allegory. The Lord has already called fishermen authoritatively from the shores of Galilee, promising to make them ‘fishers of men’, Matt. 4. 19. Still, today, He calls us to this essential service. From this parable we notice that the bad is separated from the good with accurate discernment. This encourages us because we can rely on the fact that at the judgement seat Christ He will review our lives with godly discernment. We can also be sure that anyone who does not belong to the kingdom will be prohibited from entering the millennial period.
He places great value upon the good fish; they are to be kept safe in vessels, whereas the worthless catches are discarded. We are glad that ‘he which hath begun a good work in [us] will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’, Phil. 1. 6, and that ‘He is able to keep [us] from falling, and to present [us] faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy’, Jude 24. Surely, all glory and majesty belong to Him!