by John Grant
The thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is one of the great discourses of the book. It unfolds the “mysteries of the kingdom” (v. 11). These are not the mysteries concerning the Church which were revealed to the apostle Paul. Here we have revealed mysteries concerning the Kingdom of Heaven, but what is this? The previous chapter marks the end of a distinct phase in Matthew’s presentation of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. Israel rejects Him as King, not only by refusing to accept His claims, but also by positively declaring that He is led and empowered by Satan. Such was their complete lack of understanding (12.24). In view of this, the Lord Jesus, knowing their thoughts (12.25), and how decisive was their rejection, pronounces judgment on them, thus leaving a question to be answered. If the nation of Israel rejects its King, where now is His Kingdom, where now does He rule, and who are His subjects? These are the matters addressed in the seven parables of the Kingdom unfolded in this chapter.
Note that this is the first occasion when parables are used in this Gospel, indeed v. 3 is
the first usage of the word in the New Testament. This clearly indicates that the ministry of the Lord is now entering a new phase. Up to this point He has spoken clearly and has been
concerned with the Kingdom as Israel ought to have understood it. Now He will unveil the
mysteries of the Kingdom (v. 11), things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world (v. 35), the nature of the Kingdom from the time of Israel’s rejection of Him down to the end of the age, and He will do so in parables. This new method of teaching involves the laying of one thing against another, the revealing of truth by means of narratives from common-place incidents. Only those taught of God will be able to draw spiritual truth from the parables, others will discern nothing (vv. 12,13). Thus, in summary, the Kingdom is entering a new phase, with new subjects, in a new form, the truth of which is taught in a new way.
In surveying the whole chapter it is noticeable that the seven parables are divided into two distinct groups. The first four are all spoken from the boat to the multitude and are concerned with the Kingdom and its external manifestation. The parables of the sower, the tares, the mustard seed, and the leaven all teach us truths about how the Kingdom is seen on earth. These parables are concerned with growth in one form or another, as the point at issue is the character of growth of the Kingdom to the end. We note, in general terms, that the Kingdom will be subject to opposition, and will be the object of satanic malice and hatred. The fowls of the air, the sower of the tares, the great tree, and the work of the leaven all warn us of the varied methods which will be employed by Satan to suppress growth and discredit this work of God. The last three parables are spoken in the house and to His disciples. The parables of the treasure, the pearl, and the net all instruct us in the character of the Kingdom as seen from the divine view point. The value placed on it is emphasised in the first of these two parables and the eventual purging of all false elements from it in the third.