Foundational Truths: The Bible is God’s self-revelation.
God is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator; all that He creates is good.
Man is a responsible agent, held to a moral standard.
Sin originates within a person, separating us from God.
God declares one righteous by faith alone, apart from works.
The glory of God is the centerpiece and goal of all existence.
God’s glory is maximally realized in the promised, coming Kingdom.
Matthew 13 is a major shift in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Before this, Jesus had not spoken in parables in Matthew’s Gospel, but with the rejection of His kingdom offer by the Pharisees, a new direction was being set forth. While Jesus had previously used illustrations in communicating truth (7:24–27; 9:16–17; 11:16–19; 12:29), these should not be considered parables. This new direction that is set forth is not just a view to the cross and resurrection, but also a view to the salvation of the Gentiles. This should not surprise us because of the national rejection He has received from the Jews (Matt 12:24; John 1:11) and the fulfillment of prophecy that had taken place in Matthew 12:17-21 where Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42:1-4a referring to “justice” being proclaimed to the Gentiles and that “in His name the Gentiles will hope” (Matt 12:21).
In history, this shift seems to start here in Matthew 12 and goes until Acts 10:44 when Cornelius and his house (who were all Gentiles) believed in the message preached to them by Peter. As we know, Acts 2 is the beginning of the Church Age where Jew and Gentile are made “one new man” in Christ (1 Cor 10:32; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 3:26-29; Eph 2:13-16), which is something that had never been done before. With this in mind, Jesus teaches in a different way about the things that are to come, some of which were previously unknown.
Matthew 13:1-3a.The first verse starts with the words “that day,” showing a connection between the events recorded in Matthew 12 and the change that was unfolding in Matthew 13. This could either refer to the same day as the remarks made in 12:46-50 or the same day referring to the previous event of the Pharisees’ blasphemy (12:22-45). It would seem that the best choice would be the latter event of the Pharisees’ blasphemy.
On that day, Jesus makes an intentional move from the “house” to the “sea,” with Matthew recording this move under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If we were to trace the movements of Jesus, we see Him in the grain fields in Matthew 12:1, moving to a synagogue in 12:9, withdrawing from the synagogue in 12:15, and being amongst a crowd (12:22-23) or at least in the hearing of the Pharisees (12:25), so we cannot conclude that this altercation took place inside a house. This altercation with the Pharisees lasts from 12:25-45. Comparing this scene with its parallel account in Mark 3, we find in v.20 that Jesus is meeting with these crowds inside of a house.
When we consider the immediate context of Matthew’s Gospel, we have a reference to the strong man’s “house” (oikia) being plundered by One greater in 12:29 which speaks of Jesus overpowering Satan. We also see the use of “house” (oikos) in 12:44 which is what the demon who had been cast out calls the man from which he was cast.
Especially in this last instance, Jesus’ intention in using the “man/house/man” grouping in 12:43-45 speaks directly to the “house” of Israel. They were a nation that had responded to John’s message of the kingdom by going out to the wilderness for his baptism of repentance (Matt 3:2, 5, 6). They were “making ready the way of the Lord” by “making their paths straight” because Jesus was the One that they were to believe in (Acts 19:1-4). The “house” had been vacated but the vacancy was never filled with the One who had the right to reside amongst His people. Thus, the “house” that the demons return to speaks of the nation of Israel. This is clear from Jesus’ application in 12:45b, “That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” With an exclusive focus on the Jews in His ministry thus far (4:23; 8:10; 9:1, 35; 10:6; 11:21, 23), the use of the term “generation” in Matthew 11:16, 12:39, 41, and 42, along with v.45, all serve in specifying that the nation of Israel had been the sole recipient of Jesus’ message of the kingdom.
With Matthew 13:1, Jesus is leaving the house and sits by the sea. There is no doubt that this is what Jesus literally did, but He made this move intentionally to demonstrate the shift of His ministry and focus. With the leaders of Israel in anti-belief (Matt 12:24) and the nation of Israel largely in unbelief, Jesus now turns to the “sea.” In the Bible, many scholars and commentators believe that the “sea” can serve as a representation, or a metaphor, for the Gentiles.Jesus’ focus and ministry was changing and Israel would be “broken off” for a time and new branches would be “grafted in” (Rom 11:17-21).
Upon exiting the house and sitting by the sea (Matt 13:1), a large crowd of people surrounded Him, so He got into a boat and sat down to teach, which was the customary teaching position of a rabbi when addressing His followers (See Matt 5:1). The crowds stood upon the shore waiting to hear what He would say. In 13:3 we see that a general statement is made that Jesus taught them “many things” in “parables.” An explanation of what a parable is will be addressed by Jesus in Matthew 13:10-17.
What is important to note here is that Matthew sums up the totality of this chapter with the phrase “many things.” A break occurs in between the first parable (13:3b-9) and the second parable (13:24-30), with Jesus giving His disciples the rationale for why He is teaching the crowds in a parabolic manner, while also speaking to them of their privileged position (13:10-17). He then proceeds to give His disciples the explanation of the first parable (13:18-23). Therefore, Matthew’s use of “many things… in parables” (13:3) is a general statement that covers four of the parables up until when Jesus leaves the crowds and re-enters the house (13:36).
Matthew 13:3b-9.The Parable of the Sower. First, the emphasis is on the soils in their present condition at the time that the seed was scattered upon it. There is no mention of plowing but only of a wide scattering of seed.
The first soilis “beside the road” (13:4). This would be ground that had been frequently traveled, having hard-packed dirt where anything rarely grows. With these seeds, the birds swooped in and ate them. The second soilis rocky and the actual soil is hard to come by (13:5). The seed that was scattered germinated quickly from the heat of the sun but without a solid root to pull nutrients from the ground, the sun overtakes and withers the plant. Here we see quick growth but a lack of sustain. The third soilfinds the seed among thorns which choke the plant from any production (13:7). The fourth and final soilhas the seed falling on soft ground, and in doing so a useful, healthy production takes place, which varies in increments depending on the plant. Jesus then commissions the crowd with “He who has ears, let him hear” (13:9), which is a statement that “goes beyond physical hearing and implies an inner spiritual reception of truth.”This teaching was meant to illicit a response from those who could understand it.
Matthew 13:10-17.The question posed in Matthew 13:10 asks why Jesus speaks in “parables,” being noticeably in the plural. For the sake of explanation, Matthew may have edited his material in such a way that followed a logical flow of thought without worrying about maintaining the chronology of the teaching.
The word “parable” is parabolēmeaning literally “a placing of one thing by the side of another,”with para being “from, at, besides,” and ballōmeaning “to throw or let go,” which when put together means “to cast (throw) alongside.” A parable is a story that is cast alongside the truth that it is seeking to explain. While the parables are simple to read and easy to comprehend, they are difficult to interpret. In this situation, we are blessed to see that Jesus interprets the Parable of the Sower for us (13:18-23). The Parable of the Sower is to serve in aiding with the interpretation of the other parables that follow in Matthew 13.
The question posed by the disciples is one of astonishment. Why was Jesus teaching in this manner? This was clearly something different. This was not simply Jesus trying out a new approach, but unveiling high and lofty things in a disguised manner that served as an act of judgment upon those who had rejected Him, but were later clarified in private to the disciples, making them the recipients of privileged revelation. Jesus answers clearly that “to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted” (Matt 13:11). This was a move that granted greater favor to the faithful while further shunning those who had rejected Him. By teaching in this way, we find that prophecy is being fulfilled (13:14), to which Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted.
Much has been made about the word “mystery” when Jesus speaks of the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (13:11). What this verse does not say is that there is a “mystery form of the kingdom” going on which explains the time between the first and second comings of Christ known as the “inter-advent age.” This has been the view of many respected dispensational teachers including C.I. Scofield, J. Dwight Pentecost, and Arnold Fruchtenbaum, all being brilliant and sincere men of God who have served our Lord faithfully. Fruchtenbaum writes that “perhaps the best single word to define the Mystery Kingdom is the term ‘Christendom,’”yet he later notes that this Mystery Kingdom is not the same as the Eternal Kingdom, the Theocratic Kingdom, the Spiritual Kingdom, the Messianic Kingdom, or the Church, but is restricted to the time between the rejection of Israel (Matt 12) and the Second Coming of Christ (Rev 19:11).A major point of contention with this view is that it strays from what Matthew’s Gospel has understood as the “kingdom of heaven” this entire time, not to mention the connection of the “kingdom” as promoted and understood to the Jewish people in the Old Testament, as well as the “kingdom” that was anticipated by the apostles just before Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:6).
A plain, literal reading of the text within the context of Matthew’s Gospel will lead us to understand the “kingdom” as it has always been understood by the Jewish people: the future reign of the promised Messiah of Israel over the entire Earth. What we know from the immediate context is that the kingdom has been postponed due to the rejection of the nation of Israel. With that truth in place, we can only conclude that there will be a future fulfillment of this promise of the kingdom of heaven, but we are never given a reason to think differently about the word “kingdom” than what we have seen throughout Matthew’s Gospel.
The word “mystery” has also been translated as “secret” and should be understood as something that was previously unknown but is now being revealed. Walvoord writes, “A mystery truth, accordingly, has two elements. First, it has to be hidden in the Old Testament and not revealed there. Second, it has to be revealed in the New Testament. It is not necessarily a reference to a truth difficult to understand, but rather to truths that can be understood only on the basis of divine revelation.”This is consistent with Matthew 13:35 when Jesus quotes Psalm 78:2 which says “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” This is also consistent with the teaching of a “mystery” in Ephesians 3:4-7 which speaks of the Gentile inclusion with the Jews into a brand-new entity known as the Church. With a “mystery,” something previously unknown is being taught.
Toussaint provides great clarity in this matter:
The same kingdom is in view in Matthew 13 as the one which was proclaimed as being at hand in Matthew 3:2; 4:17, and 10:7. In chapter thirteen the King is giving additional information which has never before been revealed. He is instructing His disciples regarding a hitherto unrevealed period of time prior to the establishment of the kingdom. This new age would not be the promised kingdom, nor would it be, strictly speaking, a kingdom in the so-called “mystery form.” Thus the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens relate to the span in which the millennial kingdom is being postponed.
Toussaint’s assessment makes coherent and consistent sense with the surrounding context, seeing that the call was for national repentance and the result of such repentance would have been the establishment of the kingdom. With this opportunity rendered null and void for the present generation, and with the kingdom being postponed to a future time, Jesus teaches on how the word of the kingdom will or will not be received, and the results that it will bear.
As Christians in the Church Age, we must be careful not to make a critical mistake that an overwhelming majority of our brothers and sisters in Church history have made:
The teaching of the kingdom does not go away.
This is a conclusion based on Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom after His resurrection and before His ascension (Acts 1:3) and He does not rebuke His apostles for asking about it in Acts 1:6. In Acts 8:12 we find Philip teaching about the kingdom “and the name of Jesus Christ.” Luke obviously sees both relevance and distinction. The message that Paul and Barnabas taught the disciples of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch
was that they should continue steadfast in the faith and that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In going to the synagogue in Ephesus, Paul preached the kingdom of God for three months (Acts 19:8).
While addressing the Ephesians elders for the last time, Paul says, “I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face” (Acts 20:25). This verse informs us that in the three years that Paul spent with this church, his main overarching subject was the kingdom, meaning that the kingdom serves in a sanctification capacity for the church. The “word of the kingdom” is a discipleship message.
While in Rome, Paul called a meeting with the leading Jewish men to regarding his incarceration (Acts 28:16-21). In explaining his views, he spoke to them “about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening” (Acts 28:23). Notice that the subjects are separately mentioned. Being Jews, they were already familiar with the concept of the Kingdom in which Messiah will reign, however, they do not know that Jesus is and was that Messiah. From Acts 28:24, we see that some believed and some did not.
Continuing this narrative, consider is Acts 28:25-31. As the Jews were leaving Paul, he spoke to them concerning Isaiah 6:9-10, which is the same passage that is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 13:14-15 speaking of the Jews’ refusal to accept the word of the kingdom. This further strengthens our understanding that the word of the kingdom is a message that is easily rejected, even by those who are most knowledgeable about it, and that it is still a message that has relevance to this day, even for the Gentiles.
By believing in Christ, a Gentile becomes part of the Church along with believing Jews. This is clear from Paul’s comment in Acts 28:28 which states, “let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” The conclusion of the book shows Paul preaching for two years to those who came to him regarding the kingdom and the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30-31).
Again, this quick analysis proves that the word of the kingdom was a doctrine that did not go away, but included the Gentiles who became members of the Church upon believing in Jesus Christ.
The disciples were blessed to hear and see what they did concerning the kingdom of heaven. Jesus notes that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what the disciples were seeing but the fulfillment of these truths did not come along in their lifetime. This may take the believer’s mind to Hebrews 11 which speaks of the great acts of faith on behalf of those who believed God. Of particular interest is Abraham who was looking to the promise of an inheritance in the land but did not receive it in his lifetime. His view was loftier than a common dwelling. He looked for “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). We also see v.13-16 which serves as a summary, stating:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that countryfrom which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
What they desired was the coming kingdom of Messiah and the very truths that the disciples were now hearing (Also, Hebrews 11:39-40 makes a further case for this hope). The disciples were truly “blessed” (Matt 13:16) in this moment for what was being revealed to them.
Matthew 13:18-23.Jesus provides an explanation for His disciples only regarding the Parable of the Sower. The interpretation is a plain one, but it is also one that has been greatly misconstrued by many to say something that it simply does not say.
First, the sower is not identified. Jesus never says that it is Him, nor does He name anyone else. The focus is on the seed being scattered and the ground that receives it.
Second, the seed being scattered is NOT the gospel of the grace of God through faith alone in Jesus Christ our Lord resulting in forgiveness of sin and eternal life. It is simply NOT there. The seed is specified as the “word of the kingdom” (13:19a), pointing to the literal, theocratic, Millennial Kingdom. In fact, every time that we see “the word” mentioned in these six verses it is referring back to the initial mention of the “word of the kingdom” in 13:19.
Third, the idea of one being saved or unsaved is not the topic of conversation here. From what we can gather, all are believing people, yet the “soils” speak to the condition and/or receptivity of their hearts to the message of the kingdom.
The first soil(13:19) is one who hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it. With this person, the devil snatches the truth of the kingdom away from them, though it was “sown in his heart” (13:19b).
The second soil(13:20-21) is one who hears the word of the kingdom (“the word”) and receives it with joy! There is excitement about this truth and it is immediately embraced. However, we are told that there is no firm root. This does not mean that this person is not saved, for one is not saved by accepting the word of the kingdom but by trusting in Christ (John 5:24). We are told that affliction and persecution come upon him BECAUSE of the word of the kingdom. In other words, his joyful acceptance of this truth and the change that was transpiring in his life because of this truth brought about persecution, so he abandons the word of the kingdom in order to stop the affliction and persecution that he was suffering.
While the specifics of the afflictions and persecutions are not mentioned, we can imagine that it could be anything from the destruction of one’s reputation, to name-calling, to exclusion, to physical assault and harm, to threats and shaming. This may bring our minds back to Paul’s teaching that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Instead of faithfulness to the word of the kingdom, it was abandoned in order to experience relief. Therefore, any benefit that would have been derived from holding fast to the word of the kingdom has been cut short. Instead of overcoming, they are overcome for personal safety and preservation.
The third soil(Matt 13:22) is one who hears the word of the kingdom but the worries of life and the desire for riches kill the person’s focus on the word and it is “choked,” halting any fruit from being produced. This is allowing the things of this world to overcome a person’s focus on what will transpire at the return of Christ when He establishes His kingdom. It is when the temporal overshadows the eternal.
Any fame that is offered comes with a price, one that we see every day in magazines and television shows. Uniformity, social acceptance, prestige, and keeping up appearances are the name of the game. We too soon forget that the world system is run by Satan. It is a system of his careful design and anything that we trust in the world, whether it is deemed good or bad, is a lie. Sadly, many love the lie. This may be why John warns us not to love the world or the things of the world (1 John 2:15-17). As before, instead of this person overcoming by holding fast to the word of the kingdom, they are overcome by the things of this world.
The fourth and final soil(Matt 13:23) is deemed “good soil” and the word of the kingdom is received with understanding. This understanding leads to fruit-bearing and the increments that are given by Jesus are 100-fold, 60-fold, and 30-fold. Notice that it is by understanding the word of the kingdom that fruit is produced, which tells us something that has already been noted before: the word of the kingdom is a concept that has to do with discipleship and sanctification.
This concept of “fruit-bearing” for those who understand the word of the kingdom matches perfectly with the rejection that has taken place which result in Jesus’ words in Matthew 21:43: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruitof it.” The kingdom is taken away from the Jews (which is Jesus’ audience here) and will be given to a people who produce the fruit of those who belong to the kingdom. I believe this to be the future coming Church, which is the next dispensation to take place in history at the time that Jesus spoke these words.
The word of the kingdom speaks to the return of Christ when He will sit on David’s throne and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem. Before this He will judge His disciples at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:11-15; 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10-12) and that judgment will determine the role or responsibilities that we will have in His coming, earthly, Millennial Reign. Therefore, His followers should prepare themselves while living in the present age.
We are told in 2 Timothy 2:12, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him.” If we hold fast to the word of the kingdom, which entails living our lives in light of His coming and not letting persecution deter us, or affliction derail us, or the world consume us, or the lies of financial prosperity to rob us, we will be productive and we will produce much for His glory because we have deemed His coming reign to be the reason for why we live now. Understanding this causes a shift in life which leads to living for eternity rather than for self and things. It is a life that is prioritized accordingly with the rule of our Savior’s return in sight. Keeping this focus makes one an overcomer who bears fruit.
How do you receive the word of the kingdom?
See Dan 7:3-7; Rev 13:1; 17:15. See also William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary,p. 2370; John F. Walvoord, “Revelation,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), p. 960; Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Revelation,” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal Volume 13, no. 1 (2008): 28.
Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 1164.
Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti(New York: Harper & Brothers., 1889), p. 479.
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “Israelology Part 2 of 6,” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal Volume 55, no. 3 (1999): 36.
John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come(Galaxie Software, 2007), p. 97.
Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), p. 171-172.