This chapter brings to us a new revelation in connection with the presentation of kingdom truth. We have seen in the preceding chapter how the leaders of the people of Israel crossed the deadline and refused the offered kingdom by deliberately discrediting all the credentials of the King. They attributed His power (which they could not deny) to Beelzebub, and so committed the sin against the Holy Spirit for which there could be no forgiveness, either in that age or in the age to come. This resulted eventually in the setting aside, for the time being, of Israel nationally and the introduction of a new order of things that God had foreseen from eternity, but which had not been declared hitherto. In its fullness this involved the revelation of the mystery of the church as one body called out from Jews and Gentiles which the time had not come to unfold. But as preliminary to that Jesus spoke of other mysteries which had been kept secret from the foundation of the world, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
From this point on in Matthew’s gospel, the term “the kingdom of the heavens” refers specifically, not to the final establishment of the kingdom of God over all the earth, but to the mysterious, or rather, mystical form in which that kingdom was to be manifested after the King Himself had returned to heaven, and until His second advent in power and glory to root out of His kingdom all offences and destroy all who work iniquity.
Of this we have an outline in our present chapter. In these parables our Lord set forth the condition which He saw the kingdom would take on earth as a result of His rejection. This was all foreknown to God and provision was made for it. Christ, refused by the leaders of the nation of Israel, made propitiation for sin by His sacrificial death upon the cross Acts 2:23; 1 John 4:10, and then, as the rejected Man, left this scene, ascending to heaven, where He sits exalted at God’s right hand. The kingdom of the prophets is in abeyance, (or suspension), until His promised return to build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down Acts 15:16; but during His personal absence the Holy Spirit has come in a new way as the Comforter, to enable His servants to preach the Word in convicting power John 16:7-11. Wherever the gospel is carried, it is the seed of the kingdom Luke 8:11. As a result we see in the world today a great body of people who recognize in the Lord Jesus earth’s rightful King and give Him heart allegiance. There are millions more who give Him lip service and in an outward way own His authority, though their hearts are far from Him. These together constitute the kingdom in its mystical form (v. 11).
The kingdom promised to Israel by the prophets depended upon the reception of the King by the chosen nation. In rejecting Him, they lost their opportunity, and so the kingdom was taken from them (Matthew 21:43). When they turn to the Lord, He will appear in glory, and all things that are written concerning the kingdom will be fulfilled. In the meantime, as the Word of the kingdom is proclaimed, there will arise a mixed group who profess to own the authority of the Lord Jesus. These constitute the kingdom in mystery. It is a wider sphere than the church, inasmuch as it includes both true and false professors. The separation of the two groups will take place at the end of the age, after which the kingdom of the Son of Man will be established over all the earth.
The seven parables may be designated as follows:
1. The seed of the kingdom sown in the earth and its results.
2. Satanic imitation: the tares among the wheat.
3. The kingdom as a great world church harboring evil as well as good.
4. The false church inserting the leaven of corrupt teaching into the food of God’s people.
5. Israel, God’s peculiar treasure, purchased with the world but hidden among the nations during the present age.
6. The church the pearl for which the Lord impoverished Himself (2 Corinthians 8:9).
7. The condition of things at the end of the age.
With this outline in mind, let us examine each parable separately. Notice that the series is divided into four, which were spoken in the open air by the seaside, and three, which were given to the disciples only, after they had entered into the house.
The Mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven. (1) The Sower:
1 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side.
The first of this series of parables is not spoken of as a likeness of the kingdom, as in the case of the other six. But when the Lord explained the parable to His disciples He said it was given to them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, thus definitely identifying the sowing of the Word with the spreading of the kingdom, in its secret or mystical form, through the world. In verse 1 the Lord’s action (He “went… out of the house, and sat by the sea side”) seems to be parabolic. This, in itself, appears to indicate the break with Israel which we have already intimated.
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.
Multitudes gathered about Him, however, pressing closely to the water. He entered into a ship, probably Peter’s fishing boat, which Luke tells us was once so used (Luke 5:3), and from this as a pulpit He addressed the multitudes standing on the shore. The hills at this particular locality rise gently from the shore, thus making a natural open-air arena or theater, where the voice would carry easily to great throngs standing on the shore or sitting on the hillside.
3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
The sower in the first instance was the Lord Himself. He went from place to place sowing the seed of the Word of God. It should be a matter of encouragement to all those who engage in the same blessed occupation that even when the divine preacher Himself was ministering the Word the proportion was only one out of four in whose heart fruit resulted from the Word that was sown; even then there were different degrees as to the amount of fruit produced.
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
In verses 4-7 we read of the nonproductive soil upon which the seed fell- the trampled wayside where the fowls of the air devoured the seed almost as rapidly as it was strewn. Then the stony ground where at first it looked as though there would be fruit because the seed appeared to take root, and the green sprouts came up only to be parched by the sun, to the disappointment of the sower. Other seed fell among thorns, which soon choked the tender shoots so that there was no fruit whatever.
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
9 Who hath ears to hear let him hear.
That which fell into good ground took root, sprang up, and fructified, some producing one hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. This was the parable. For the moment, the Lord made no application, but left it for His hearers to weigh His words as He exclaimed, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
When opportunity arose and the multitudes had gone, the disciples came to Jesus asking for an explanation of the parable. This He gave them.
10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
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.
To those who trusted Him and set value upon His words the Lord was ready always to explain anything which seemed difficult for them to apprehend. In response to the question, “Why speaketh thou unto them in parables?” Jesus replied at once, “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” The word mysteries as here used does not necessarily mean something mysterious and, therefore, difficult to understand, but rather secrets which are revealed only to initiates. The Lord was ever ready to take into His confidence earnest seekers after the truth.
He used the parabolic form for a double purpose. He desired to test His hearers, as to whether they really desired to know the mind of God or not, and also to illumine His discourses. Where people already had faith and had accepted His testimony up to a certain point, He was prepared to give more; but where there was no real confidence in His message, they would become more bewildered by the parabolic form of instruction than if He had spoken in plain language. Some have quibbled over this, as though it indicated on the part of the Lord Jesus a deliberate intention to blind the eyes and close the ears of those who listened to His words. It was really the very opposite. Those who are anxious to know the truth would come to Him as the disciples would, asking for an explanation of what was beyond their comprehension. Those who were unexercised and indifferent would turn carelessly away and become even more unconcerned, because of not understanding the meaning of His illustrations. Jesus quoted from the prophecy of Isaiah (6:9-10) in which this very method was predicted.
It was never God’s desire to harden anyone’s heart or to close anyone’s eyes against the truth, but it is a principle that runs throughout the Word of God that the truth either softens or hardens. The very same sun that softens the wax hardens the clay, so the very same gospel message that breaks down honest hearts and leads to repentance hardens the hearts of the dishonest and confirms them in their path of disobedience.
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.
13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
This post was modified from its original form on 12 Oct, 9:39
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:
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.
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.
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.
Jesus pronounced a blessing upon the apostles, because they had eyes to see and ears to hear. Theirs was a place of peculiar privilege. Throughout the centuries, many prophets and righteous men had looked forward in faith to Messiah’s coming, and had longed to see what the followers of Jesus were then seeing and hear such teaching as that which He was giving, but this had been denied them.
18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
The Lord then proceeded to explain the parable.
19 When anyone 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.
This is the explanation of the seed scattered on the wayside, only to be devoured by the fowls of the air. Note that the message is called distinctly “the word of the kingdom,” making it clear that it is by sowing the Word that the kingdom makes its way through the world. Satan and his emissaries are ever busy trying to annul the effect of gospel preaching. It is their sinister aim to fill the hearts and minds of the hearers with prejudice and unreasonable opposition so that they do not fairly weigh the message as it comes from the preachers lips, thus there is no favorable response whatever. The Word heard with the outer ear only is soon forgotten.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himeslf, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
In vivid contrast with these utterly indifferent ones we have next the stony-ground hearers. These represent those exuberant people who are ever ready to take up with almost any kind of religious propaganda to listen to the proclamation of the gospel and its clearness without any depth of conviction or evidence of repentance. They profess faith in the Word, apparently receiving it joyfully, but because there is no root in them, nothing but an empty profession, they soon fall away, particularly when they find that the Christian way of life entails tribulation and persecution.
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.
The stony-ground hearers are those who are also seen at first to accept the message, but have never really counted the cost of faith in Christ. They are not characterized by the single eye but are double-minded, occupied with the cares of this world and seeking after wealth. The temporal responsibilities connected with these things choke the Word, and so there is no fruit.
23 But he that received seed unto 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.
In contrast with all these others we have the good-ground hearers where the soil has been prepared by the plowshare of conviction. The Word falling into an honest heart is received in faith, and the message is understood as the Holy Spirit opens it up. The result is that the soul is born again, and the life becomes fruitful for God. There are degrees of fruitfulness, however. All do not give the same evidence of devotion to Christ and appreciation of the truth, and so the Lord speaks of those who bring forth some an hundredfold, others sixtyfold, and others only thirtyfold.