This is now the third time we’ve spent studying Matthew 13. I’ve said before that it contains seven parables about God’s heavenly kingdom which Christ came to establish on the earth. There’s the parable of the sower and the seed which fell along the path and on the rocky ground and among the thorns and on the good soil. And the point of that parable was to teach us that, despite the opposition of Satan who snatches away the word, and despite the unbelief of sinful men and women who are put off by trouble and who are distracted by worries and wealth, nevertheless God’s heavenly kingdom will grow; and when Christ comes again, the end-time harvest will be very great.
Then there was the parable of the wheat and the weeds which we studied last week. The servants wanted to pull up the weeds immediately, but the farmer told them that they must wait until the time of the harvest before pulling them up. And the point of that parable is that the day of judgment has not yet arrived. It has been postponed to the end of the age. If the disciples were expecting him to punish his enemies immediately, they needed to learn that he did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save his people by laying down his life for them on the cross. So, now is not the time for judgment. Now is the time for sowing and for the reading and preaching of God’s word in the world.
That’s what we were thinking about last week. Today we’re going to think about the remaining five parables in this chapter. So, there’s the parable of the mustard seed; and of the yeast; and of the hidden treasure; and the pearl of great price; and of the fishing net.
Mustard seed and yeast
We’ll take the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast together because they make a similar point. The Lord tells us in verse 31 that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field.
Mustard seed is tiny. When you hold it in the palm of your hand, it’s barely there; and it wouldn’t take much wind to blow it away. And you look at it and you wonder how anything would ever come from it, because it’s so small. And yet, as the Lord says, when it grows it becomes the largest of the garden plants. It becomes so large that it can be compared to a tree, which the birds can perch in.
And so, the mustard seed starts off tiny, but it ends up large. And the point of the parable is that the kingdom of God seems small and insignificant. It seems like nothing. When the Lord was on the earth, there were only a few disciples. And even today, it seems that the number of those who believe and who belong to God’s heavenly kingdom is very small compared to the number of those who do not believe. And you look at the church and think that it won’t ever amount to anything, because its small and weak and its members are not very important in the eyes of the world. And an unbelieving world looks at us with contempt and they regard us as fools for believing in God.
But the final state of the kingdom of God will be glorious, because when Christ comes again, every other kingdom and nation will be destroyed, and the only kingdom that will be left will be God’s heavenly kingdom which will be for ever. And God’s heavenly kingdom will comprise a great multitude of people which cannot be counted from every nation and tribe and people and language. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which is very small and weak and insignificant, but it will become glorious.
And then in verse 33 the Lord said that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast which a woman mixed with flour to make bread. And the parable is once again about something small: a little bit of yeast. But the yeast spreads throughout the whole dough. And so, the kingdom starts off small and insignificant, but it spreads throughout the world. And when Christ comes again, the kingdom will embrace everything, because in the end, it will fill the new heavens and earth.
So, in the parable of the mustard seed something tiny became something great. And in the parable of the yeast, something small spread beyond its small size. And for now, God’s heavenly kingdom seems small and insignificant. But in the end, it will be very great. It will be glorious when Christ comes again and his kingdom will be the only kingdom and it will fill the new heavens and earth. Do you remember King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 about the statue which was smashed into pieces by a small rock? And Daniel interpreted the dream by explaining that the statue represents the kingdoms of the earth which are destined to perish; and the small rock which was left represents God’s kingdom which will not be destroyed but which will last forever. And, in the dream, the small rock grew and became a mountain which filled the whole earth. Even now God’s heavenly kingdom is spreading throughout the world through the reading and preaching of the gospel. It’s spreading everywhere. And when Christ comes again it will fill the earth.
And so, we should not be discouraged when the world despises us, but we must keep in mind the glorious future state of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Hidden Treasure and Pearl
Let’s move on now to the parables of the hidden treasure and of the pearl of great price. I’ll take these parables together because they make the same point about the value of the kingdom.
And so, in verse 44 the Lord compares the kingdom to treasure hidden in a field. In those days, when there were no banks or security vaults or safes, people would hide their money in a field. That way your enemy couldn’t get it. However, if the person who hid the treasure died, the money was often lost, because no one else knew where it was. And so, in the parable, the Lord says that a man was working in a field and, by accident, he came across buried treasure that no one else knew about. And so, he hid the treasure again and went off and sold everything he possessed in order to raise the funds to buy the field. And once he bought the field, the treasure would be his. And, of course, we should note that he didn’t sell his other possessions reluctantly, but he did it with joy. He gladly gave up everything else for the sake of owning that treasure. That’s how valuable the treasure was to him. Having that treasure was more valuable to him than everything else. And the Lord is saying that belonging to God’s heavenly kingdom is just like that. Belonging to God’s kingdom is more wonderful and more precious than anything else. Nothing else matters in comparison to that.
And then in verse 45 the Lord compares the kingdom to a pearl of great price. Here’s a merchant who was out looking for fine pearls. And this man is probably a wealthy trader, travelling from place to place to find fine pearls to add to his stock. But then one day he came across not just a fine pearl, but the finest pearl, a perfect pearl, a pearl of great price. It’s so wonderful that he must have it. And look! — he’s prepared to sell everything he had in order to buy this one pearl. So, he didn’t just sell his other pearls. He sold everything he had, all his other possessions, in order to possess this one, precious, perfect pearl. And the point is once again that belonging to God’s kingdom is more wonderful and more precious than anything else. Nothing else matters in comparison.
And belonging to God’s heavenly kingdom is so precious because whoever belongs to God’s heavenly kingdom has Christ as their King. And he’s a wonderful King who was prepared to give up his life for our salvation. And he’s able to shield us by his mighty power and he promises to keep us for ever. And belonging to God’s heavenly kingdom is so precious because whoever belongs to God’s heavenly kingdom has eternal life.
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and like yeast, because just as a mustard seed and yeast start off small, so the kingdom of God may seem small and insignificant now. But just as a mustard seed grows into a large plant and a little yeast spreads through the whole dough, so the kingdom of God will, in the end, be glorious and it will fill the new heavens and earth. And the kingdom of God is like treasure which someone found and it’s like a pearl of great price, because belonging to God’s heavenly kingdom is so wonderful and so worthwhile that nothing else matters in comparison.
But then the kingdom of heaven is also like a net. We’re now looking at verses 47 to 50. The fishermen let down the net into the lake and they catch all kinds of fish: good and bad. And when the net was full, the fishermen drag it to shore and they go through their catch, keeping the good fish and disposing of the bad fish.
As with the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the Lord explained the meaning of the parable. And he made clear that he’s describing the end of the age. So, he’s referring to the day when he comes in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead. And on that day, his angels will separate the wicked from the righteous. The Lord doesn’t say here what will happen to the righteous, but we know from elsewhere that they will be brought into the presence of God to live with him forever where there will be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. But the wicked will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Lord is depicting their eternal sorrow and suffering.
And so, this parable is similar to the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Just as the wheat and the weeds were not separated until the harvet, so the good and bad fish are not separated until after the net is full. And the point is that the time for judgment when the righteous and the wicked are separated has not yet come. The judgment has been postponed and it will not take place until the end of the age. And so, the disciples must not expect the Lord to punish the wicked immediately, because he did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. And so, now is not the time for judgment. Now is the time for preaching the good news. And, as we learnt from the other parables, although the kingdom may seem small and weak and the response may seem discouraging, God’s heavenly kingdom will grow in the world and the end-time harvest will be very great.
New and old
And the passage ends with the Lord referring to every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven. Normally the teachers of the law are linked in the gospels with the Pharisees who opposed the Lord Jesus. And so, they’re normally depicted in a negative light. However, the Lord is not referring here to those teachers of the law who were against him. He’s talking about teachers in his kingdom. And he says they’re like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.
It’s not entirely clear what the Lord means by this, but perhaps when he mentions old treasures, he’s referring to what we learn about the kingdom from the Old Testament; and when he mentions new treasures, he’s referring to what we learn about the kingdom from the New Testament. The Old Testament taught God’s people to expect God’s Anointed King to come; but the New Testament makes clear that Christ is God’s Anointed King. And it makes clear that he did not come to kill and destroy, as King David did; but he came to be killed in order to save his people from our sin and misery. And the New Testament makes clear that God’s judgment on his enemies will not take place immediately, but it will only take place in the future. And the New Testament makes clear that while the kingdom may seem small and weak now, it will one day be glorious and it will fill the earth.