Parables of the Kingdom – Matthew 13

Read the Passage: Matthew 13:1-43

Parable of the Soils (13:1–9, 18–23)

Matthew chapter 13 is a theologically rich chapter, as here Jesus gives eight parables to describe the Kingdom of God, five of which only occur in Matthew’s Gospel. Note that the word “parable” means “to come [or cast] alongside,” as parables were short stories given in order to teach listeners on a certain topic. The parables contained in this chapter are: The Parable of the Soils (13:1–23), The Parable of the Wheat and Tares (13:24–30, 34–43)*, The Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31–32), The Parable of the Leaven (13:33), The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (13:44)*, The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (13:45–46)*, The Parable of the Dragnet (13:47–50)*, and The Parable of the Householder (13:51–52)*. The parables in this list that are marked with an asterisk (*) are the ones that are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.

The Parable of the Soils occurs in three of the Gospels and is one of the longest of Jesus’ parables. In this well-known story, Jesus teaches upon the effect of the gospel as it is shared by his followers with those in the world. This parable is unique in that in Matt. 13:18–23 Christ himself interprets the parable. As Jesus explains, within the parable the seed represents the gospel, the soils represent the hearts of the hearers of the gospel, and the result of the sowing represents the effect of the gospel (or the spiritual status) of the hearers. Two interesting observations from Jesus’ teaching are: (1) In two of the four soils there is an initial appearance of growth, but no long-term growth or fruit; and (2) It is only in one of the soils—which is just ¼ of those which receive the seed—where there is authentic, long term growth and production.

Parables in Jesus’ Ministry (13:10–17)

The Parable of the Soils is an interesting narrative in that it is punctuated by a discussion between Jesus and his disciples as to why He chose to teach the crowds using parables. While we may be tempted to think that Jesus’ used parables to illustrate His teachings, in asking Jesus why He taught in parables (cf. Matt. 13:10), the disciples were observing that the crowds couldn’t understand Jesus’ teaching because of His parables. Jesus’ response is surprising. Essentially, Christ replied that the very reason why He taught in parables was to keep the truth of His teachings hidden from the unbelieving crowds (cf. Luke 8:10). Of course, the crowd’s failure to understand Christ’s parables was a natural result of their own rebellion, yet Jesus’ veiling of truth was also divine judicial blinding of the crowds because of their sin. All of this, Jesus notes, is in fulfillment of Isa. 6:9–10.

Parable of the Wheat and Tares (13:24–30, 36–43)

In Matt. 13:24–30 Jesus gives what has become known as the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. It is important to note that with this parable, Jesus is teaching what “the Kingdom of Heaven is like” (Matt. 13:24). The story that Christ gives involves a common agricultural picture in biblical times—that is, a man sowed good seed in his own field. Yet, in Jesus’ parable, while the man was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed tares in the field. The tares mentioned here were probably a plant known as darnel, a common local weed that was indistinguishable from wheat until fully grown. Indeed, it was not unusual in the ancient world to sow darnel in the fields of one’s enemy, as it would destroy a food supply and weaken the people. In fact, apart from a military context, there were strict punishments in Roman law for sowing tares in the wheat field of another.

In Jesus’ teaching, once the servants saw the tares, they asked the owner of the field if he wanted for them to remove the tares. In Matt. 13:29 the landowner gave the surprising response to his servants, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.” So, the owner instructed that the wheat and the tares be allowed to grow together until harvest time. Then, at that time, he said he would instruct the reapers to “gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them” (Matt. 13:30). It seems here that Christ is teaching that it is actually beneficial for the wheat that the tares remain, knowing that at the time of the harvest, all will be made well. By way of application, we can say that the presence of the enemies of Christ in our context is a means by which we are being made stronger, as suffering and persecution tends to purify the church.

Application Questions:

  1. How would you define the Kingdom of God? Is the Kingdom of God already here or is it yet to come? How can we recognize the Kingdom of God (cf. Luke 17:21; Rom. 14:17)?
  2. In Matt. 24:13 Jesus taught, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” How does this teaching relate to the Parable of the Soils?
  3. Does God expect all believers to be equally spiritually fruitful (cf. Matt. 7:16; John 15:5, 8)? Is inequality between believers acceptable to God?
  4. Jesus gave roughly forty different parables in the Gospels. Why did Jesus teach in parables (cf. Matt. 13:10–13; Luke 8:10)?
  5. Where does evil come from? How does it relate to the Kingdom of God? Why does God allow His enemies to work in the world? Why do we suffer?
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