THE SEVEN PARABLES.
I. The thirteenth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew
contains seven parables, which the Lord Jesus Christ uttered, after His people
had rejected the message of the kingdom. This chapter is one of the greatest
importance. It demands, therefore, our closest attention, and this more so
because the revelation which our Lord gives here, the unfolding of the
mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, has been and still is grossly
misunderstood and falsely interpreted. Precisely that which our Lord did not
mean has been read into this chapter. The whole chapter has been, so to speak,
turned upside down by most of the learned commentators of Christendom. For any
believer to turn to these for light and instruction will only result in getting
thoroughly confused. It may be said if this chapter would he rightly understood
hi the professing church, the consequences would certainly be the most
far-reaching. But one almost despairs of seeing the true meaning of the mystery
of the kingdom in Matthew xiii believed in Christendom. The professing church
continues, and will continue, to build upon the misinterpretation of our Lord's
parables the optimistic dreams of the enlargement of the church, the
foreshadowing of the universal extension of the kingdom and the continued good
work of the leaven in the three measures of meal, etc. It is hard to get the
individual believer, brought up in these wrong conceptions, to see the true
meaning; and often the true testimony given is rejected. Let us then carefully
and prayerfully look into the chapter before us, and may our Lord give His
blessing; and while the many may reject what is taught in these parables a few
will receive light through the entrance of His Word, and all believers in these
truths will be strengthened by our meditations.
Let us notice, first of all, two verses in this chapter; "Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it is not given" (verse ii); "All these things Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, and without a parable He did not speak to them, so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden from the worlds foundation" (verses 34-35). These verses then tell us what our Lord makes known in this chapter, namely "the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens"-"Things uttered, which were hidden from the worlds foundation."
In Genesis we read of one who is called "Zaphnath-paaneah" which, according to rabbinical interpretation, means "Revealer of secrets." He is Joseph, the Hebrew lad rejected by his brethren, that most perfect type of our Lord. After his rejection by his brethren, Joseph becomes the revealer of the secrets, and that through the wisdom of God.
Here in this chapter Christ appears as the rejected one, and now after the offer of the kingdom is rejected by the people of the kingdom, and He as king, is likewise rejected, He becomes the revealer of the secrets, to show what will take place after the kingdom has been rejected by Israel.
That He is the rejected one and the important witness He gives now is evident in the very opening verses. "And that same day Jesus went out from the house and sat down by the sea." Leaving the house means, He severed His relations with His people as we see at the close of the twelfth chapter. Taking His place by the sea, the sea typifying nations, shows that His testimony to be given now, the mysteries to be revealed have, a different sphere; they are relative to the nations. "And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that going on board of a ship Himself, He sat down, and the whole crowd stood on the shore." He separated himself from the multitude, while in the first part of this Gospel He moves in the midst of the multitudes, here He takes His place alone. What a scene it must have been. There on the seashore the multitudes, and He alone some ways from the shore - He cannot be reached by touch now. All is significant. Then when all eyes hang upon His lips, He began to speak.
What He says is in parables, and without parables He did not speak to them. He utters seven parables. In no other Gospel do we find them grouped together as here. Why is this? The reason is obvious. This is the great dispensational Gospel. Here Gods plan of the ages is revealed as in no other Gospel. The Holy Spirit in giving us this Gospel, the Genesis of the New Testament, is not tied down to chronological order, but He arranges everything to suit His sublime purpose. After the kingdom was offered and rejected, the Lord makes known what is to be after His rejection, and during the time of His absence. Therefore these parables, seven in number, denoting completeness, are put right in here. Now the important question is when the Lord says six times in these parables, "The kingdom of the heavens is like" what does He mean by the term "Kingdom of the heavens?" That it can no longer mean the kingdom as it is revealed in the Old Testament, as it is promised to Israel, and as He offered it to the people, is evident. For in the first place, the offer was made and rejected. The preaching of Him and the messengers He sent out was, "The kingdom of the heavens is at hand, repent." Not a word do we hear of this in the thirteenth chapter, nor after this chapter. And in the second place, if our Lord had had the Old Testament kingdom promised to Israel in view, when He says here "The kingdom of the heavens is like," He could not have said that He uttered things hidden from the worlds foundation, for the kingdom in the Old Testament is not a mystery, but clearly revealed.
Some say, and indeed the popular and almost universally accepted interpretation is - it is the church. The Lord begins now to teach about the church. So that if He says: "The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, etc.," it is declared the church is meant, and the Gospel. The church is nowhere called the kingdom of the heavens. Oh, the sad and widespread confusion which exists on this topic. The Lord mentions the word church for the first time in the Gospel, in Matthew xvi, where He says that He will build His church. The church did not exist in the Old Testament, it was not known there at all; it was not in existence while the Lord walked on the earth, and nowhere does He refer to the church as the kingdom of the heavens, neither does the Holy Spirit speak of the church as the kingdom. He speaks of the church as the habitation of God, a house, a temple, the body of Christ and the Bride of Christ, but we repeat it, never as the kingdom of the heavens. All this modern application of the kingdom of the heavens to the church is foreign to the Word of God. It is the unscriptural theory of man. But what does our Lord mean when He says "the kingdom of the heavens?" The answer is a very simple one. The kingdom on the one hand was rejected by Israel, but on the other hand, God gives His Word to the Gentiles, a fact indicated in the Old Testament prophetic Word.
The mercy and grace offered to Israel is to go forth to the Gentiles, the nations, while the King Himself is absent. This very fact is indicated in the first parable where the sower went out, which stands for the fact of His going forth into the field, which is the world. So that which is extended to the Gentiles and that in which the name of Christ is confessed is now the kingdom of the heavens, and of this development of what He the Lord from heaven brought and left in the earth, our Lord speaks in these parables. In one word "the kingdom of the heavens" in Matthew is equivalent with "Christendom." It includes the whole sphere of Christian profession saved and unsaved, so-called Romanists and Protestants, all who are naming the name of Christ. Therefore the church is not the kingdom of the heavens, though the church is in the kingdom of the heavens.
The Lord teaches in the seven parables how matters will go in the earth while He is not here, and what men will do with that which He brought from heaven and left in the hands of men.
Before we take up the parables separately we must consider their general character. The seven parables are first divided into four and three. The first four He speaks before the multitudes. Then after He dismissed the crowds, He went into the house and in the presence of the disciples He utters the three last parables. These three last ones, the treasure hid in the field, the pearl of great price and the dragnet, have a deeper spiritual meaning than the first. The first two parables our Lord explains Himself to His disciples; the other five He leaves unexplained.
They may also be divided in the following way by twos:
i. The sower who went out to sow.
2. The enemy sowing tares, the spurious seed.
These refer in part to the beginning of the kingdom of the heavens in the hands of men, however the conditions pictured here last to the end, the time of the harvest.
3. The parable of the mustard seed.
4. The parable of the leaven.
These foretell the external and internal development of the kingdom of the heavens; the progress is described and it is an unnatural and evil progress.
5. The parable of the treasure hid in the field.
6. The parable of the one pearl.
These stand for the two mysteries in the kingdom, Gods earthly people hid in the field, the church the one pearl for which He has given all. First the pearl is taken, then the treasure is lifted in the field.
7. The parable of the dragnet.
It stands isolated, and refers to the end of the kingdom of the heavens in its mystery form.
Still another way of looking at them would be to conipare them with the seven church messages in Rev. ii and iii. Here the Lord speaks again, and this speaking is from the glory. In the seven messages we learn the beginning, the progress and the end of this present Christian age. It is the history of Christendom, the kingdom of the heavens.
i. The parable of the sower - Ephesus. The apostolic age. The beginning with its failure - leaving the first love.
2. The parable of the evil seed - Smyrna, meaning bitterness. The enemy revealed.
3. The parable of the mustard seed - Pergamos - meaning high tower or married. The professing church becomes big, a state institution under Constantine the Great. The big tree and the unclean birds (nations) find shelter there.
4. The parable of the leaven - Thyatira. This is Rome and her abomination. The woman Jezebel, the harlot, corresponds to the woman in the parable of the leaven.
5. The parable of the treasure hid - Sardis - the reformation age - having a name to live, but being dead and a remnant there. Israel, dead but belonging to Him who has purchased the field.
6. The parable of the Pearl - Philadelphia. The church, the one pearl. The one body of Christ and the removal of the church to be with Him.
7. The parable of the dragnet - Laodicea - Judgment. I will spue thee out of my mouth. We do not claim to teach all this in detail. That would take many pages, but we give these that each reader has hints in what way to search.
We add but one more fact to these introductory remarks for the study of the different parables. The key for their right interpretation is in themselves as well as in the scriptures. The sower in the first parable and in the second, is the Son of Man. What He sows is the wheat, that which stands throughout the scriptures for purity, for Christ himself. The Word He is Himself and the corn of wheat; the good seed are the sons of the kingdom. The field is the world. The enemy is the Devil. The man in the sixth parable who buys the field (the world) is the same Son of Man and the merchantman who sells all He has to purchase the one pearl He desires is the same person as the Sower. It is nonsense to make out of the merchantmen and out of the man who buys the field the sinner. That would mean that the sinner has something to give. He has not. And the field, meaning the world, it would mean the sinner is to buy the world. The three measures of meal of course come from the wheat, they always stand for that which is good. Leaven, however, never means anything good, but it always stands for evil. The closer study of these parables, which we now take up will bring out all this more fully.
II. After having studied this important chapter in a general .way, we shall now look at the seven parables separately and to learn from them the development of the Kingdom of the Heavens in its mystery form. Throughout our study the dispensational aspect of the parables is to be kept strongly in theforeground, for it is dispensational truth which is taught here.
The first parable is the well-known one of the sower. "And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying, "Behold the sower went out to sow." Two things attract our attention in this opening sentence of the parable. We notice first that our Lord speaks of the sower, not of a sower, and when He expounds the parable later to His disciples He does not tell them who this sower is, but He only speaks of what happens to the seed He sowed. The second thing we mention is that the sower went out. The personality of the sower is not difficult to clear up, for in explaining the second parable our Lord says: "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man." Our Lord Himself is the Sower. He came with the precious seed, the fine wheat, and of course He Himself is the corn of wheat. The seed He sows can only bring forth as it falls upon good ground, and in the ground it dies, and out of death comes the fruit. All this is indicated here. We would, however, take this parable in the first sense to apply to the days of our Lord in the earth. In a wider sense it must be taken as typical of the entire age, in which He is absent from the earth. The sowing He began continues still, and the result of the sowing is likewise the same.
And what is the significance that it is written that the sower went out to sow? It shows the beginning of something new; a new work which the Lord now takes up. Israel had failed to yield fruit. Israel was the vineyard of Isaiah v. "He fenced it in, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vines, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine press therein; and He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes . . . and now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down." (Is. v:2-7.) Israel is the fig tree of the parable; the Lord came and found no fruit. The vineyard is laid waste and the fig tree stands barren. It is true, it will not be always so. The vine and the fig tree will bring fruit at last, but in the meantime, while Israel is unfruitful, the sower has gone out to sow. Where has he gone? Where does the sower generally deposit the seed? In the field? What is the field? The divine interpreter gives us the answer. "The field is the world." So we have here the fact established that after Israel failed the Word is to go forth into the wide world, "beginning in Jerusalem unto Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth." The question comes at once, what will be the result? Will all the world receive it and every part of the entire field be cultivated? Will the whole field be reached by the seed and the seed spring up and bear an abundant harvest? Will not a single grain be lost? The parable has this very thought as its centre, What becomes of the seed?
What we learn from the parable is far from teaching us the optimistic dream of Christendom of world conversion, so often founded upon a wrong application of these parables. The parable proves that it will not be a universal acceptance of the Word which we can look for in this age; only the fourth part of the seed sown brings forth fruit, and there is again a marked difference in the quantity of fruit in that fourth part. Our Lord then impresses here in this simple parable the fact, which later the Holy Spirit repeats, the age in which He is absent and in which His Word is preached and His grace is offered, that Word will be in greater part rejected, and only a fourth part yields the fruit; the rest is failure. It is very significant that we meet this important dispensational fact at the very threshold of Matthew xiii. Alas; it has not been believed by the great mass of professing Christians. To speak of failure in this age and deny a soon coming world conversion is frowned upon as a miserable, unbelieving pessimism. One is sometimes even accused of disbelieving the power of the Holy Spirit to convert the whole world, as if the Holy Spirit had been sent down from heaven for world conversion. But we shall now read what came from the lips of our Lord in this parable.
"Behold the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some grains fell along the way, and the birds came and devoured them; and others fell upon the rocky places where they had not much earth, and immediately they sprang up out of the ground, because of not having any depth of earth, but when the sun rose they were burned up, and because of not having any root were dried up; and others fell upon the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them; and others fell upon the good ground, and produced fruit, one a hundred, one sixty, and one thirty. He that has ears let him hear" (verses 5-9). We need not to guess the meaning of this parable, for the Lord Himself tells His disciples what He meant by the birds and the rocky place and the thorns. And so we shall take His own explanation with such comments as may be helpful for a fuller understanding. "The disciples came up to Him and said, Why speakest thou to them in parables ?" This question came at once after He had finished this first parable. They had never heard a parable from His lips. What He had spoken before to the people and their leaders had been in simple words, easily to be understood by every one, and now for the first time He spoke something which they could not comprehend. It was veiled. The answer which our Lord gives is of great solemnity, as it announces the judgment upon Israel. "And He answering said to them, Because to you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of the Heavens, but to them it is not given." The disciples, representing believers, were to understand the mysteries coming in now while the nation who had refused the light would be in darkness. "For whosoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall be caused to be in abundance. But he who has not, even what he has shall be taken away from him." The disciples had received the Lord and He gave them more, while Israel had not, they rejected Christ and so what they had still as His earthly people was to be taken away from them. But this two-edged sword cuts in another way. The principle our Lord here utters is still active. The true believers composing the church have, and by and by we shall be caused to be in abundance, while an apostate Christendom which has not shall lose even what it boasts to have.
"For this cause," our Lord continues, "I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear nor understand; and in them is filled up the prophecy of Esaias, which says, Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and beholding ye shall behold and not see; for the heart of this people has grown fat, and they have heard heavily with their ears, and they have closed their eyes as asleep, lest they should see with the eyes, and hear with the ears, and understand with the heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." This passage is a quotation from Isaiah vi -io. Isaiah saw in a vision Jehovah sitting upon a throne, and He spoke these words to the prophet. If we turn to the xii. chapter in the Gospel of John we read the same words quoted again, and there is the significant addition, "These things said Esaias, when He saw His glory, and spoke of Him" (John xii:4o). The Jehovah Isaiah saw upon His throne was our Lord Jesus Christ. Once more do we read the same words brought to remembrance by the Holy Spirit. In the last chapter of Acts, when Israels apostasy and unbelief is fully established, Paul speaks them to the assembled Jews and adds, "Be it known therefore unto you that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles and they will hear."
And now after our Lord declares them blessed on account of what they see and hear, He explains the parable Himself. "Ye, therefore, hear the parable of the sower. From every one who hears the word of the Kingdom and does not understand it, the wicked one comes and catches away what was sown in his heart; this is he that is sown at the wayside" (v. 18-19). How easy is it then understood. The wayside is hard and trodden down by feet, there the seed fell and birds were ready to snatch it up and devour it. A hearer or a class of hearers is given here who do not understand the Word. But is it the question of mental capacity of an intellectual understanding? Certainly not The Lord says the word was "sown in the hearts" it had directed itself to the conscience and could either be accepted or rejected. But the heart would not have it and turned against it "and does not understand it," means "he would not understand or receive it." No sooner is this the case and the seed has fallen upon such a ground, a hard heart like the wayside, then the birds come and devour the seed. The birds represent the wicked one. He is present with his agencies and busy to take up whatever was given. Once more do we read in this chapter of birds; it is in the third parable, that of the mustard seed. The birds there mean nothing is good but that which is evil, as in the first parable.
"But he that is sown on the rocky places - this is he that hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy, but has no root in himself, but is for a time only; and when tribulation happens on account of the Word, he is immediately offended" (vv. 20-21). The rocky ground is lightly covered with earth. There is a sudden springing up, an enthusiastic reception one might say, which pushes itself along. But the sun rises higher, the heat is felt, and there is no resistance, no life to combat these conditions; the delicate thing drops over and is burned up. It had no roots. This little earth on top of the rock may well represent the natural heart of man as the way trodden by men represents it. Only here is the brightest side of the flesh, if one can speak of it in such a way. But behind that little earth is the solid rock, which no plow has broken and in which no life is present. How large is this class? It is the great class of professing Christians. They are covering over this old, desperately wicked heart with a little earth. They put on the form of Godliness, while they know nothing of its power. There is also a great deal of enthusiasm, a springing up of the seed; it looks almost as if there is to be a great result - but alas! there is only the name to live, but death is behind it.
"When the sun rose they were burned up." May we not apply this word also dispensationally? The rocky ground sowers will flourish, and they flourish and increase now with their empty profession and their enthusiastic show of religiousness and world improvement. But the sun will rise, tribulation will come. The great tribulation and the judgments, which precede the rising of the Sun of Righteousness will burn them up and sweep them away. "And he that is sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the Word, and the anxious care of this life and the deceit of riches choke the Word and he becomes unfruitful" (verse 22). This is so plain that it needs hardly any comment at all. "The deceit of riches" hinder the growth of the Word. It becomes choked and there is no fruit. How true this is of the present day we all know. The world, the pleasures of the earth, cares and anxiety in getting as much as possible of these phantom things here seems to control more and more the outwardly professing masses. All that is of God becomes choked. Thus we see in these three classes, in which the seed perishes and brings no fruit, the Devil, the Flesh and the World represented. The Devil snatches up and devours, the Flesh attempts and fails, the World surrounds and chokes. And yet how much else might be said in connection with these three classes! No human being could have spoken such a simple parable with such a deep and far-reaching meaning. The Revealer of Secrets speaks, who knows the hidden things. "But he that is sown upon the good ground, this is he who hears and understands the Word, who bears fruit also and produces one a hundred, one sixty, and one thirty" (verse 23). Hearing, understanding, which is in faith and through faith, fruitbearing and producing, this is the process of the seed in the good ground, a receptive heart prepared by the Grace of God.
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