KKH, CFP, by Watchman Nee
The first thirteen chapters of Matthew can be simply outlined as follows:
Chapters 1-4: Preparation for the Lord’s coming as King
Chapters 5-7: The moral nature of the kingdom of heaven
Chapters 8-12: The Lord’s allusion to the Gentile as well as Jewish side
Chapter 13: The mysteries or outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven
The primary objective of the Scriptures is not moral but doctrinal in nature. Only one verse in the entire New Testament tells us of the usefulness of the Scriptures, and that is in 2 Timothy: “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction [or discipline] which is in righteousness” (3.16 mg.). The first item mentioned is teaching, which should be translated “doctrine”; only afterwards is attention paid to the moral side: they are profitable for correction and for discipline which is in righteousness.
Although Matthew 13 is so rich to the point of being inexhaustible, the emphasis is not on morals but on doctrine. Though the moral side is not overlooked, the position doctrine occupies in its narrative is of paramount significance. The subject of Matthew’s Gospel is the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The word “mystery” is used a number of times in the New Testament (some suggest there are seven mysteries, though this cannot be determined very exactly). All the mysteries are of the same nature except one, which is viewed from a different stance. They are called mysteries because unless the Spirit of God reveals them no man can understand. Of God’s manifold mysteries those concerning the kingdom of heaven are all one. (The chief mysteries in the New Testament are found in the following passages: Eph. 1.9-10, 3.4-6, 5.32; Col. 1.27; 1 Cor. 15.51;1 Cor 2.7; Rev. 17.5; Rom.16.25; and 1 Tim. 3.16.)
Whatever mysteries there be that remain must be revealed in their appointed times (from the first coming of Christ to His second coming). They cannot happen either before or after that period. Hence the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven must transpire in this age and bear no relationship to the age to come.
From 13.35 we may learn that the mysteries which occur today were hidden during the Old Testament time.
v.1 “On that day”—the day in which the Lord severs His relationship with the children of Israel. “House” signifies belonging, boundary, calmness. Sea denotes openness, no limit, agitation. That the Lord comes out of the house proves that God has come out of a restricted boundary into an unlimited field.
The wicked are like the tumultuous sea, whereas the Pharisees are like a house that is calm and well-regulated. Nevertheless the Lord leaves the moral people and goes to the sinful. Or speaking more frankly, He leaves the Jews and goes to the Gentiles (see Rev. 13.1,2,11 and Dan 7.3—sea in the Scriptures always points directly to the Gentiles, while land points to the Jews.)
v.2 He comes out of the house; yet He does not go into the sea either, since we find that He sits in a boat (see Mark 4.1). The boat is in the sea, but it does not belong to the sea. Hence the boat denotes the church—which is in the world yet not of the world.
The Lord leaves the Jews and goes to the Gentiles. He reveals His thoughts in the church. He does not go to all the Gentiles, only those Gentiles who are in the boat.
Why does He speak in parables (see v.3)? Verse 11 points out plainly that it is given to the disciples to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven but to the multitudes it is not given. The disciples have believed and understood, so more is given in order that they shall have abundance. From the others, however, even what they have shall be taken away from them. They have seen the miracles and wonders which the Lord performed in their midst, but due to their unbelief no more miracles or wonders will be performed. The reason for speaking in parables is because seeing they perceive not and hearing they hear not. Since their hearts are waxed gross, their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes are closed. They reject the grace of God, therefore there is no way for them to be saved (see 2 Thess. 2.10-12). From this we know that all the parables in the New Testament are spoken to the believing disciples, not to the Jews. This is a principle to be remembered.
“The kingdom of heaven is like” [or “likened unto . . .”]—This introductory statement is used six times in this chapter. There are seven parables, and if the parable of things old and new is included, there would be eight. Please note that the first parable does not open with these introductory words. Three parables are spoken in the house, they being exclusively for the disciples; but three are spoken by the seaside where both the Jews and the disciples gather. Whenever the Bible uses the numbers three, seven, ten, twelve, and so forth, they all convey the thought of completeness. Three is the complete number of God; seven, the completeness in time (that which is temporary); ten, the completeness of man; and twelve (that number which signifies the intimate relationship between God and man), the completeness in eternity. Though the parables in Matthew 13 do not appear to be altogether positive, they nevertheless follow a progressive line (moving towards God). By contrast, the conditions of the seven churches spoken of in Revelation 2 and 3 follow a regressive line.
A very important principle to gain in studying the Bible is to recognize that the release of truth occurring in the time frame of the Scriptures has its dispensational restrictions. For this reason we must submit ourselves under the mighty hand of God, waiting for light to be given at the time of specific need.
Let us review the things we have already seen previously concerning the kingdom of heaven. After the birth of Christ, there comes one who prepares the way for Him. His name is John, and he proclaims that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The Lord, together with the apostles whom He sends forth, announce the same news. What does it mean? Later on, as noted in chapters 8 and 9, we see that the Lord heals the sick and casts out demons, and that all these are closely related to the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5-7 speaks of the nature of the kingdom of heaven: which is, that those who belong to this kingdom are absolutely righteous towards themselves, absolutely gracious towards others, and absolutely pure towards God. In Matthew 10 we learn that the Lord sends out His apostles. And in Matthew 11-12 we see that a great transition begins occurring, as though the kingdom of heaven is now being taken away from the Jews.
Now with regard to the kingdom of heaven found spoken of in Matthew 13, some interpreters have asserted that the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are the kingdom of heaven in mystery. Such an assertion is logically unsound when it is held up against all the things which we have just seen: how that both John and the Lord as well as His disciples proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, how that the Lord then announces the nature or character of this kingdom, and how after He is rejected by the children of Israel He in the thirteenth chapter is found declaring only the outward boundary of this kingdom (what we see in this age being but the outward appearance). So that chapter 13 does not deal with the character or nature of the kingdom of heaven, for this has already been described in Matthew 5-7.
Some, on the other hand, contend that all who desire to enter the kingdom of heaven mentioned in chapter 13 must possess the character of the kingdom of heaven as laid down in chapters 5-7. This interpretation again is impossible to accept, since in chapter 13 we have presented the tares, the leaven, and so forth as being in the kingdom of heaven. So that this chapter presents to us nothing but the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is not the millennial kingdom; it is the reigning in the millennial kingdom. Let us see that the kingdom of heaven has three different aspects.
(1) an outward appearance, boundary, or scope as is shown to us in Matthew 13;
(2) a spiritual reality, that is to say, a kind of spiritual conduct which is formed as a result of learning righteousness and grace progressively under the authority of God and which is elucidated for us in Matthew 5-7; and
(3) a reigning with Christ in the future millennial kingdom as revealed in the fact of our future reward as told to us in Matthew 5-7.
Accordingly, we must first of all enter into the sphere or boundary of this kingdom of heaven by being sons of the kingdom; then secondly, we need to have the kind of conduct described for us in Matthew 5-7—which is to have real spiritual conduct; and lastly, as a consequence we may reign with the Lord.
Today there are three different kinds of people:
(1) those who have entered within the sphere of the kingdom of heaven and yet are unsaved; these are represented by the tares.
(2) those who have been saved and are in the domain of the kingdom of heaven, yet they fail to keep the teaching of Matthew 5-7.
(3) those who are saved and also keep the teaching of Matthew 5-7; they truly overcome, and therefore in the future they shall reign with the Lord in the third stage or aspect of the kingdom of heaven.
A Comparison between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God
The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are distinguishable but are not separable. Let us consider in some detail these two descriptive phrases found in the Scriptures.
(1) With certain parables Matthew employs the statement “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto. . .”; but Luke uses the words “The kingdom of God is like. . .” for the same parables—thus indicating that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are one and the same. Both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven in these parallel instances refer to the outward domain of the kingdom. On this level, it can be said that the outward appearances of both the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are alike. Parables such as that of the leaven belong to this category.
(2) Yet the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are not synonymous with respect to the second aspect of the kingdom of heaven, inasmuch as what is described in Matthew 5-7 speaks of actual overt behavior whereas “the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14.17). The one stresses spiritual conduct; the other, inner spiritual condition.
(3) Even so, in the third aspect the kingdom of heaven is again similar to the kingdom of God since both refer to the matter of reigning during the millennial period.
Though the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are similar as regards the first aspect, the kingdom of God covers also the time of which the prophets in the Old Testament speak—for whenever the sovereignty of God is present, His domain is there at the same time. But this characteristic is not applicable to the kingdom of heaven.
With regard to the third aspect, it is true that the kingdom of God is the same as the kingdom of heaven in that both refer to ruling with Christ in the millennium; yet the kingdom of God extends further on into eternity since in eternity God also reigns —but by that time the kingdom of heaven will have passed away. With respect to the third aspect, therefore, the kingdom of God exists longer than the kingdom of heaven.
In a certain sense it can be said that the kingdom of God includes the kingdom of heaven, but not vice versa.
So far as the outward official history of the church on earth goes today, there can be said to be the Roman Catholic Church, the national churches, and the private churches. The Roman Catholic Church claims that the entire world is under her domain and that no national church is therefore allowed. The national church such as the Anglican Church asserts that every citizen of the nation belongs to the Church. But due to dissatisfaction with the national churches, there came into being the so-called private churches.
As regards the outward sphere, as long as people say they are Christians, no one can drive them out of the kingdom of heaven; for the Lord has not promised to weed out the tares today. At communion or the Lord’s Table or the breaking of bread, however, the church may indeed weed out or separate the unsaved and the wicked from the saved ones. So that in the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven, such as in a national church, unbelieving people may be included therein, but in the sphere of the believing assembly an unsaved person may be excluded from fellowship. This clarifies the two totally different spheres: that of the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven and that of the church. Within the boundary of the outward appearance of the kingdom of heaven there may be tares; but within the church as the body of Christ there is only wheat but no tares.
The Parable of Sowing
Before proceeding to discuss this particular parable, it might be well to indicate that the parables to be found in this chapter may be divided into several parts:
(1) The parable of sowing heads up all the parables.
(2) The parable of the wheat and the tares is in contrast to the parable of the net. As in seeds with their good wheat and bad tares, so in fishes there are both good and bad.
(3) The parable of the mustard seed is parallel with the parable of the leaven, except that the mustard seed speaks of the external while the leaven speaks of the internal.
(4)The parable of the treasure runs parallel with the parable of the pearl. The treasure signifies the outside whereas the pearl signifies the inside.
Contrast is not for repetition but for emphasis.
(5) If the passage on things old and new is also considered a parable, it compares with the first one, the parable of sowing.
v.3 This parable does not begin with “The kingdom of heaven is like” because the work of sowing is done by the Lord himself. The outward sphere (or domain) of the kingdom of heaven does not appear until the Lord is rejected and the disciples begin to labor; so that this parable applies exclusively to the result of the work of our Lord Jesus on earth. The sowing occurs before “the kingdom of heaven is likened unto. . .” According to strict interpretation, this is the only possible explanation.
In 13.24-25 there are two classes of men mentioned: the first man is singular, which points to the Son of man; the second in the original is plural, and these men are the servants who sleep. The first man—the Son of man—does His work alone. Nobody shares in His labor.
How many kinds of seeds are there? Only one kind. But how about the soil? There are four different types. What is the seed? The word of the kingdom. What is the soil? The human heart. And the sower is Jesus Christ.
“Went forth to sow”—If this is not the beginning of a new dispensation, then it must be the preparation for the new dispensation. In the Old Testament, God was seen as the One who planted. The Old Testament used the vine to represent the children of Israel. A vine is planted in a vineyard. Out of all the nations, God chose Israel and planted her in the vineyard. The root of a vine constantly draws water from the earth. Hence the vine typifies God’s earthly people. The first evidence concerning Canaan brought back to the children of Israel was a branch with one cluster of grapes from the valley of Eshcol. The blessing Israel enjoyed was earthly in nature. Now although the Old Testament does mention the fig tree, it is not employed to represent the children of Israel. Instead it uses the vine to typify them. In the New Testament, however, the fig tree is used to represent the children of Israel. In Luke 13.6, for example, a fig tree is planted in a vineyard. Due to their unfaithfulness, God is going to set them aside temporarily from the place of election. The fig tree is to be watched for three years to see if it will bear fruit. The fig tree is therefore a type of temporary Israel, whereas the vine is a type of permanent Israel.
Yet here in this parable there is not found the type either of permanent or temporary Israel. What is found instead is the sowing of the seed of wheat. And when it ripens it dries up and so is harvested. This is none other than a type or picture of Christians.
vv.4,19 “By the way side”—The field is the world. The way side is that which borders the field, hence this description speaks of the air (that which borders the entire earth)—the habitation of evil spirits. “By the way side” typifies those who are near to evil spirits such as the necromancers, the idol worshipers, the demon-possessed, and the morally corrupt. These people will not accept the word of the kingdom of heaven. “Birds” stand for the evil one, even Satan. The word is preached to the heart, so Satan tries to blind the minds of the unbelieving so that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ should not dawn upon them (see 2 Cor. 4.4). These people do not understand because their “heart is waxed gross” and “their eyes they have closed” (these words in 13.15 point to the Jews who reject Christ). This class of people are not saved.
vv.5,6,20,21 “Upon the rocky places”—Underneath is rock and above is a thin layer of soil. The seeds spring up quickly. This class of people shows the best appearance. After hearing the word, they respond most emotionally (cf. John 2.23-25). Revivalists should beware the rocky places and immediate sproutings. They should be afraid of people who cry too readily and are emotionally stirred too easily. They should not be satisfied simply with large numbers of people. (Many throng the Lord Jesus, but He feels nothing. But when one touches Him, immediately He senses power flowing out.) Those who are easily stirred emotionally exhibit instant enthusiasm; yet alas, there is no root and no life. They are alienated from the life of God because they have no way to draw nourishment. After revival meetings, many who seem to be stirred up fade quickly away. Why? because their stony hearts are not removed (see Ezek. 36.26). Soon they shall be withered. The sun represents tribulation or persecution. Sunlight is originally designed to help plant life to grow. Likewise, tribulation and persecution help the life of true believers to grow too.
vv.7,22 “Upon the thorns”—This class of people receives the word that they hear and thus have life. Unfortunately, they cannot later bear any fruit because they are choked. God’s word needs sowing, but the thorns require no sowing. Believers do not bear fruit nor do they understand the Bible because their hearts are choked with the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. Care seems to be so natural, yet the Lord says it ought not occupy our heart. Blessed are the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are the poor in heart, that is to say, it is a heart that is not entangled by the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. The Lord requires us to bear fruit as well as to have life.
vv.8,23 “Upon the good ground”—That is, upon a good heart, one that obeys God’s will. “Understandeth” means to understand in the spirit. For fruit bearing, more than faith is required. A hundredfold is perfect; sixty passes the half way mark; thirty is below half; but any below thirty is insignificant. Though the heart is good, there may yet be hindrance.
The Parable of the Tares
vv.24,36-38 The parable of the tares is the first parable of the kingdom of heaven that is qualified by the words “is likened unto. . .”: it is most comprehensive and it gives the outline of the kingdom of heaven. The parables are spoken by the seaside, yet the interpretations are given in the house. In the parable of sowing there are seed and earth, but the emphasis is on the seed which is the word of the kingdom. The parable of the tares lays stress on the good seed, and the field is one, which is the world. The parable of sowing speaks of the work of our Lord; it also serves as a prelude to our understanding of the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the tares refers to things which happen after the work of the Lord; it marks the commencement of the kingdom of heaven (all six parables relate to things following upon the Lord’s work).
“A man”—The Son of man, who is Christ. The “field” is the world. The dimension of the world is exceedingly broad (cf. Matt. 28.19). It is quite different from the sending of the Twelve cited in chapter 10. The gospel is now to be preached to all the world. What amazing grace of God this is! Earlier, the sending forth was limited to the children of Israel. Now, it is not just to the vineyard but to the whole world. Thus do we see that the sphere of the kingdom of heaven is equal to the dimension of the world. Not so, however, with the true church. For the church is the gathering of people out from the world to God, while the kingdom of heaven is the coming from God to the world.
“Good seed”—These are the sons of the kingdom. This is different from the seed being the word of the kingdom. The sons of the kingdom are those who belong to the kingdom of heaven. After the word of the kingdom is received, it begins to grow in the people who receive it and transforms them to be sons of the kingdom of heaven. Not that these men change themselves into the sons of the kingdom of heaven. Not at all. What happens is that as soon as people receive the word of the kingdom of heaven, they are born again and become good seed—even sons of the kingdom (cf. 1 Peter 1.23). Regeneration is but the expression of the growth of God’s word. In spite of the broadness of the sphere of the kingdom of heaven, only the good seed are sons of the kingdom of heaven, which means that they alone may inherit the kingdom.
“Then he left the multitudes” (v.36) should be rendered, “Then [Jesus] , having dismissed the crowds” (Darby).
vv.25,38,39 “While men slept”—The word “men” is in plural. They are His servants and therefore refer to believers, especially to those during the apostolic age in the first century. Sleep is natural, it being the consequence of weariness. Sleep here, though, speaks of not being watchful, of a lack of knowledge. The enemy is Satan and the tares are the sons of the evil one—people who are begotten by evil doctrines, though not necessarily all the unsaved in the world.
The tares are sown among the wheat and they look like wheat (not unlike the mixed multitude who came out of Egypt with the children of Israel). A Mr. Thompson, who was most familiar with Jewish background, once remarked that the tare and the wheat are totally indistinguishable when they grow to one or two feet tall. It is not until the time of fruit bearing that they become distinguishable. At that time the tare is black while the wheat is golden in colour. Before this occurs they look so much alike that even experts cannot distinguish them. There are therefore many tares today whom we have no way of distinguishing.
“And went away”—Satan leaves because he has accomplished his purpose. He feels safe and sure, for the tares do not need any watering but will grow by themselves. During the first century after Christ there were already tares (see 2 Peter 2, 2 John, 2 Thess. 2, and 1 Tim. 4). The apostle John was a mender of nets. And His ministry was always to lead people back to the beginning. Beholding the extensive spreading of heresy in his day, especially as it pertained to the person of the Lord Jesus, John paid special attention to Jesus as the Son of God. 2 Peter 2 foretells the destiny of the tares: the so-called modernists of our day are actually the progeny of the apostates of the early days. They embrace Satan’s teaching yet call themselves Christians.
v.26 “When the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit”—The springing up of the blade has two meanings: (1) it points to the time of harvesting, and (2) it refers to a certain manifestation in conduct.
Even though the servants did not know when Satan did his work, no modernist may be hidden forever. How subtle is Satan’s work. If he cannot oppose, he imitates, “for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light” (see 2 Cor. 11.13-15). When he finds out he cannot swallow up, he counterfeits and adds something more. He gives people that which is false. He may even give people false fellowship, false regeneration. Satan lays stress on “the knowledge which is falsely so called” (1 Tim. 6.20) and thus causes people to ignore the blood, the cross, and so forth. Experience without truth is false; it is merely psychological. Experience with truth is real; it is true salvation.
v.27 Due to the carelessness of the servants, tares are sown in the field. When they ask the master, the householder, it is already too late. How watchful must the workers be today, otherwise they will experience the same consequence.
vv.28-29 “An enemy hath done this”—Since the Lord calls Satan an enemy, Satan must be the true enemy. There is absolutely no comparison between Christians and modernists who are the messengers of Satan.
“Gather up” is a pulling up or a rooting out violently (cf. Prov. 2.22, Deut. 29.28). The Roman Catholic Church through the centuries has killed and burned many people, the majority of whom are wheat. The Lord definitely forbids such action. When James and John asked that fire be brought down from heaven to consume the Samaritans, the Lord rebuked them (see Luke 9.51-56).
vv.30,39 “Let both grow together”—This is absolutely impossible in the true church, for the church of the redeemed must maintain its pureness (see 1 Cor. 5). Hence this clearly applies to the outward domain of the kingdom of heaven.
“And the harvest is the end of the world”—The end of the world is the end of this evil age (Gal 1.4), and is also the end of the time of the Gentiles. Prior to the Babylonian Captivity God was called “the God of heaven and earth” whereas in Daniel 2.18,19,37 and 44 God was called “the God of heaven”; and Ezekiel 8-11 tells us how God gradually retreated from earth to be God in heaven because of the idol worship of His people. Thus Satan has become the god of this age. In the book of Nehemiah God was still only called “the God of heaven” even at the time of His restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. Since God is only God of heaven, we desire nothing on earth.
The post-millennialists and the advocates only of a social gospel expect the tares to turn into wheat. This is nothing but a sweet dream.
The “reapers” are “angels” as the verse itself tells us. “Bind them in bundles”—That is, gather the tares together. Today the tares are beginning to be gathered together.
Revelation 14 may be divided into four parts:
vv. 1-4, the firstfruits—the first rapture;
vv.6-13, the situation during the Great Tribulation;
vv.14-16, the reaping of the wheat—the rapture after the Great Tribulation;
vv.17-20, the vintage of the earth—also the battle of Har-Mageddon or the great slaughter by the One mentioned in Revelation 19 who rides a white horse.
Leviticus 23 has eight set feasts:
Sabbath (which is also considered to be a set feast)—Redemption gives God and men rest.
Passover—The month of the Passover is reckoned as the first month, for redemption commences all spiritual experiences.
Unleavened Bread—It follows Passover and typifies repentance and abhorrence of sin accompanied by a desire to get rid of it.
Firstfruits—Three days after Passover. Christ is the firstfruits (see 1 Cor. 15.20,23). The sheaf of firstfruits points to the saints in Jerusalem who were raised from the dead with Christ as His companion firstfruits. This set feast speaks of the resurrection of the Lord three days after He was crucified.
Pentecost—It signifies the coming of the Holy Spirit after the Lord has ascended to heaven.
Blowing of Trumpets—This denotes a gathering together. In the future there will be a great ingathering to the Lord of both the Jews and the Gentiles.
The Day of Atonement—This refers also to the future. Even so, today we enjoy it beforehand (see Heb. 6.5).
Tabernacles—This leaving of houses and dwelling in booths with great rejoicing points to the millennium; it nonetheless is still temporary, not eternal.
Leviticus shows four stages with regard to wheat:
(1) Firstfruits—which typifies the resurrection of the Lord. (Although in the Bible many are raised from the dead, the Lord is reckoned as the Firstborn from among the dead.) Firstfruits ripen before the rest and are therefore reaped the first.
(2) Pentecost—the two wave loaves signify the first rapture, occurring before the Great Tribulation.
(3) The harvest—that rapture occurring after the Great Tribulation.
(4) The gleaning—whatever is left behind after the harvest has been reaped is to be gleaned individually. This refers to fragmentary raptures.
Matthew 13 compares wheat with tares and shows their diverse destinies. Both Revelation 14 and Leviticus 23 compare wheat with wheat and record their different consequences. Though they are all wheat, they are not all reaped at the same time; for if all will be raptured before the Great Tribulation, the Lord would surely have said something like: Blessed are you, for you are wheat. Also, there would be no need for watchfulness nor for patience. Let us see that the condition for rapture is more than simply having life, or else all the warnings of Scripture are meaningless.
Wheat needs to be dried (it is different from grapes, which need water). It therefore needs sunlight. The yardstick for being reaped is the percentage of moisture remaining. The stalk and root must be completely dried before reaping. Now we are all wheat, yet we all need to be dried, that is to say, to cease seeking the pleasure of the world. “Wheat dries towards earth but ripens towards heaven,” D. M. Panton keenly observed. Now sunlight, which in its severity helps wheat to grow and to ripen, represents in a spiritual way the tribulation needed to dry us out from loving the world. (Let us understand that through tribulation sunlight stands for grace, whereas rain and dew stand for grace in blessing.)
Wheat is an annual not a perennial grain, signifying that the earth is not an eternal home. We are here only temporarily. Wheat is also not self-protective: it is neither thorny like a rose nor sturdy like a fig tree nor widespread like a vine: it is most tender, shaken easily by the wind.
How wise is our God in using wheat to represent the saints, the sons of the kingdom. He waits to see if we are ripened before He reaps. The time for the rapture of a believer is in a sense determined by his ripeness.
Before the coming of the Lord in the air there will occur the first rapture of relatively few saints (represented by the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 14). Those who are raptured will take their place in heaven before the throne.
Revelation 14.6-13 Here we find the gospel of judgment and the warning is to be proclaimed during the Great Tribulation.
Revelation 14.14-16 The reaper—the Son of man—is in the cloud, which coincides with the scene set forth in 1 Thessalonians 4. “For the harvest of the earth is ripe” or “is become dry” (14.15 mg.): if the sunlight of tribulation is ineffective, then the Lord will have to use much stronger persecution and tribulation than sunlight to dry up the remaining wheat. Believers will eventually forsake the world, they will finally be dried; if not by sunlight, then by the fire of persecution and tribulation: for one day the world which believers love will turn against them. The chief difference in the five foolish and the five wise virgins lies in this matter of time, namely, which believers ripen first? The “sickle” is symbolic of the harvesting angels (cf. Matt. 13.39).
Revelation 14.17-20 The word “grapes” denotes the wicked (and is not a type of Israel, for today Israel is typified by the fig tree). These “grapes” are the slain mentioned in chapter 19 who fall at the battle of Har-Mageddon (Armageddon). What follows afterwards is the Feast of the Tabernacles (see Deut. 16.13-15).
And the gleaning occurs after the reaping, and hence represents various fragmentary raptures.
The coming of the Lord is imminent. Believers in the last days must pay attention to three essentials: (1) eternal life, (2) rapture, and (3) reward. Thank God, He has already provided us with the first essential. He has chosen us before the foundation of the world that through the death of Christ we should receive eternal life. The other two essentials are something required of us. Rapture is related to our manner of life as to whether we are watchful, patient, holy, and so forth. Reward is linked to our work. And these two are interrelated, such as is seen in the case of Philip the evangelist who was raptured while at work (a type).
Two passages of Scripture mention the conditions for rapture directly:
(1) Revelation 3.10 “Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth”—It says “the word of my [i.e., the Lord’s] patience” and not “my word of patience”: today in this age people curse the Lord, yet the Lord does not strike them to death with lightning (in the millennial kingdom, however, such conduct will not be tolerated). Christians stand with the Lord on the same ground and refuse glory from men because the Lord is now rejected and has not received glory yet.
(2) Luke 21.36 “But watch ye at every season, making supplication, that ye may prevail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man”—“that ye may prevail”: We need to watch at all seasons, not just be watchful for five minutes. We should not go to sleep, but instead discern the light of the Lord and the darkness of the world. And always praying that we may be counted worthy to be in the first rapture. If we do not resist the blessing of the world we cannot escape the woe of the Great Tribulation.
vv.30,39-42 The reapers are the angels, and so is the sickle. Otherwise, people may use this passage to justify the religious inquisitions of the Roman Catholic Church. “To burn them” is to be cast into the lake of fire (see Rev. 20.10, Is. 66.23-24) typified in the Scriptures by the Valley of Hinnom (which lies south and west of Jerusalem; please note, too, that the original New Testament word Gehenna—hell—is a corruption of Ge-Hinnom). “All things that cause stumbling” point directly to Satan and modernists, or broadly speaking, to those things which can serve as tools in Satan’s hands to cause stumbling, such as idol temples, gambling, dancing halls, theaters, and so forth. During the millennium, none of these and other things which cause stumbling will exist anywhere.
v.43 “The kingdom of their Father”—Three different terminologies are used; namely, (1) the kingdom of heaven, which delineates the sphere or domain; (2) the kingdom of the Son of man (v.41), which means His millennial kingship over the Jews as well as the Gentiles; and (3) the kingdom of the Father (v.43), which points to the heavenly portion of the millennial kingdom where the believers or the righteous ones shall shine as stars even as the Lord who shines as the Sun of righteousness. “He that hath ears, let him hear,” says the Scripture.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
vv.31-32 This mustard seed is not the seed in the first and second parables. The emphasis here is on the smallest of all seeds. The Jews usually used the mustard seed as a simile for smallest (see Matt. 17.20), just as we often use the dust particle to portray anything tiny.
Mustard seed represents the principle of the word of life, for God’s word is life. The man here is Christ, and the field is the world. The Lord unobtrusively plants the word of God in the world. Before 1828, the majority of commentators took this parable of the mustard seed as signifying the outward development of the church, for within a short period of time the church had spread over Asia. Further, they considered the parable of the leaven as representing the inner growth of the church, inasmuch as the three measures of meal are regarded as a symbol for the whole world. But since 1828,∗ people such as J.N. Darby and others have raised their voices against such an interpretation, deeming them totally unscriptural and of purely human imagination. For if the entire world were to be improved, then what is the explanation for why there are the tares and for why three-fourths of the soil is unproductive in the preceding parables? Moreover, if such improvement were to occur, there would not be mentioned the parable of the net which follows. Where in the Bible does the number three ever represent the world? Only the numbers two (the Gentiles and Jews) and four (Rev. 7.9—nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues) are used to suggest the whole world. Judging from the collective facts of all the parables, no good fruits are expected from the world.
How, then, should the parable of the mustard seed be explained? According to Genesis 1.11-12, whatever God created bears fruit after its own kind. The vegetables will always be vegetables, the birds will always be birds, and the monkeys will never become human beings. Yet this mustard bush grows abnormally into a tree. This is against the will of God. The church is ordained to be the smallest, the meekest, and the most inconspicuous. But alas, she has become a tree—she has developed today into the complicated entity known as
∗It should be noted that this specific year, mentioned frequently by the author throughout his study on Matthew, marked the beginning of the so-called Brethren movement, which has asserted a tremendous influence on the course of church history ever since.—Translator
Christianity. During the second and third centuries gnosticism invaded Christianity. This is typified by the parable of the leaven. Thereafter, the church, under the Roman Catholic system, has performed mockeries of all kinds. With a royal decree, for example, tens of thousands of soldiers were baptized in one day. Becoming a Christian in those days meant for a person to have special privileges: a gain of four pieces of silver, two changes of suit, and so forth. The church has indeed become like a tree! And in the parable of the mustard seed we can see that the birds of the heaven denote the evil one, even Satan (see vv.4,19) and his influences. Satan is most clever. He knows where he can roost, and he will not let go such an opportunity. How preposterous has the Roman Catholic Church become—a headquarters of Satan! Yet today’s Protestant church follows suit. Christmas, for example, is a bird which flew from the Roman Catholic Church into the Protestant Church.
What does the tree signify? And what are typified by the birds? In Daniel 4.20, 22 we learn that the tree represented the power and dominion of Babylon, and in Ezekiel 31.3-6 it represented the power and dominion of the king of Assyria. So that generally speaking, the tree points to earthly power—especially as it pertains to the political realm. Birds denote sins which come from Satan. The sins in the church today actually include all the sins of the world. Is there any sin which is not found in the church? The church has become Babylon, full of confusion; she has also become a large department store. Satan is most clever. If he devours the seed (v.4), he only partially succeeds. He therefore changes his tactic by inflating the church so as to make it possible for all the birds to come and roost. The brand trademark is Christianity, but the medicine sold is Satan’s.
What has the Lord ordained for the church? She is to be unknown to the world (1 John 3.1 ), the world is to be crucified to her (Gal. 6.14), and she is to be a sojourner and a pilgrim (1 Peter 2.11). How very insignificant is the church in the eyes of the world. She has no relationship with the world. D.M. Panton once said that in life the world is a pathway, in death it at most offers him a coffin. Let me say here that if it does not even give me a coffin, I will not mind at all.
How does the church become abnormally large? In the same way that a plant does; namely, by sending its roots deep down into the earth and drawing profusely the nutrition in the soil. So that in this sense the church grows with the help of the world. (For this reason, Christians should not seek glory from the world.)
The differences between a vegetable and a tree are as follows:
(1) A vegetable is an annual or bi-annual plant requiring re-seeding over and over again, whereas a tree takes many years to grow and is therefore perennial in character. How the church, like the mustard plant in the parable, has lost her sojourner-and stranger-like character.
(2) Vegetables have leaves, but trees have branches. Let us observe how the activities of the church are so heavily advertised and how divided is the church into many sects!
(3) A vegetable root is only two or three inches, but the root of a tree is several times the height of the tree’s own trunk and grows down very deeply into the ground. Similarly, the church has become worldly and is deeply rooted in the world. Unlike the vegetable which generally dies in three months, the tree lives a long life.
How the church has lost her original quality of depending on God. God wants His church to return to the vegetable state as presented in Genesis, but she would rather be a tree. She has become a tree having an enormous outward form, yet she is so lacking in reality. She has lost her chastity, and is thus unable to lead the world to repentance. And in all of this, Satan gains the most profit.
Let us therefore maintain the appropriate “smallness”. Do not admire the greatness of men. In honor prefer one another; in suffering, outdo one another. Let us have the will to suffer. Let our pocket be poor if necessary, if only our spirit may be rich. The secret of victory lies in standing on the ground which the Lord has given us. When Saul esteemed himself as small, God used him. But when he became self-important, God sought for another person—David. The person whom the Lord seeks is a small vessel, not a big one.
The Parable of the Leaven
v.33 In the entire record of the Scriptures leaven always points to something bad. This is an irrefutable principle of the Bible (see Ex.12.15,19-20;13.6-8; Lev. 2.4-5,11; 6.17;10.12; Deut.16. 3-4; and Amos 4.4-5).
In the New Testament, leaven is used to represent the teachings of (1) the Pharisees (Matt. 16.12)—who, stressing outward grandeur in manners and rituals, are invariably proud; (2) the Sadducees (same verse)—who, by not believing in the supernatural, serve as ancient models for today’s modernists who rebel against God; and (3) the Herodians (Mark 8.15)—who are the worldly ones.
“Leaven” may mean teaching (Matt. 16.12) or conduct (1 Cor. 5.6-18). These two are closely related. First improper doctrine, then improper behavior.
“Woman” here represents religious organization, and refers specifically to the Roman Catholic Church, although the word may also be broadly applied to all who propagate heresies.
“Three measures of meal”—This is the customary quantity for making bread (see Gen. 18.6; 1 Sam. 1.24—where an “ephah” equals three measures).
Flour is used in the oblation of a meal-offering. It typifies Christ as being the food of His people. The three measures of meal suggests the manifestation of Christ (one in the Scriptures is God’s number, and three is the number for God’s manifestations).
By joining all these symbols together we end up with a picture of the Roman Catholic Church having mingled the leaven of her teaching and conduct with the pure food which Christ gave to His people, so that the whole lump of the church is leavened. In the future the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church will join hands. In having these heresies, Christianity appears to be prosperous. Yet hear the voice of the Lord: “Come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6.17). And again: “Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18.4). Today there is leaven everywhere; it is easily encountered. Therefore, we must reject (1) outward grandeur, and (2) inward heresies.
vv.34-35 Without a parable the Lord speaks nothing to them. This is because the Jews have already rejected Him. Instead of speaking plainly as before He uses parables, so that hearing they may not hear and seeing they may not see and understand. Thus is the word of Psalm 78.2 fulfilled.
v.36 “Left” should be translated “sent away” or “having dismissed” (Darby). “Went into the house”—Note that the contents of verses 1-35 happen by the seaside, that of verses 36-52 occur in the house. This house points not to Israel but to the church. The seven parables may be divided into two groups: (1) those of sowing, the tares, the mustard seed, and the leaven are one group, and (2) those of the treasure, the pearl, and the net form a second group. The Lord begins with explaining the parable of the tares because it is the first of the parables of the kingdom of heaven. It is of great importance and has a very wide scope. So that if this one is comprehended, the other parables may easily be understood too. The parables spoken in the house are more precious and more intimate, and they are spoken to the disciples who have already understood what has been said before. Consequently, these latter parables must be more advanced in nature.
The Parable of the Hid Treasure
v.44 “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden [past participle] in the field; which a man found [past tense], and hid [past] ; and in his joy he goeth [present] and selleth [present] all that he hath [present], and buyeth [present] that field”—Most commentators interpret this parable in one of the following ways:
(1) The treasure is Christ, the field is the gospel. So Christ hides the gospel. The man is the sinner. He forsakes all to follow the Lord. But we would like to ask the following questions: (a) The gospel is to manifest Christ, how can it then be hidden instead? (b) Where in the Scriptures does “field” ever point to the gospel? (c) What can a sinner buy? (d) Is Christ an article of merchandise which costs something? (e) “Found” and “hid” here are totally at variance with the facts. (f) How do you hide the gospel? (g) If the gospel may be bought, it no longer is the gospel.
(2) The field is the Bible, the treasure is salvation, and the man is the sinner. Hence salvation is hidden in the Bible, and when man finds salvation he forsakes all to obtain it. Again, we would ask some questions and make some observations: (a) Does the Bible reveal or hide salvation? (b) Does man find salvation or is salvation preached to men? (c) Must one pay a price to know the Bible? (d) As a matter of fact, it does not require such a great price to purchase a Bible. (e) There is no guarantee that one would gain Christ after he has purchased a Bible anyway. (f) And why should anyone hide Christ after he has come to know Him? Why should he be afraid of being discovered by somebody else?
(3) The field is the world, the treasure is the church, and the man is Christ. Having seen the church, Christ forsakes all to buy her. Nevertheless, we would like to inquire into the following matters: (a) When and where did Christ discover the church while He was on earth? (b) Or if the treasure signifies the glory of the church, then while the Lord was on earth when did the church ever manifest her glory? (c) Or if the treasure speaks of sinners, the Lord met sinners everywhere he went and there was therefore no need to find them. (d) Why should Christ hide the sinners once He has found them?
Now if the above interpretations are faulty at various points, how then should we explain the parable of the treasure? Since the Lord has not himself explained it, we must interpret it by the use of other Scriptures. In 1 Chronicles 27.25 the word “treasures” is an expression for the glory of the kingdom of David. In Ecclesiastes the term “treasure” is used to show forth the abundance of Solomon’s kingdom. The glory of a kingdom lies in its treasures. Even in the time of the Hebraic theocracy—that is to say, from Moses to the last of the judges—treasures represented glory. When the nation was strong, she kept her treasures; while she was weak, her treasures were taken as spoil.
“Field” is the world (see v.38). Why is the treasure hidden in the field? The glory of the kingdom of God has never been manifested on earth. Especially after the Jews were taken captive to Babylon, God was called the God of heaven. Men could not see that God actually ruled the universe. Even before the Captivity, the glory of God’s kingdom was hidden to all eyes except to a relatively few. It was not unveiled appreciably until the time of John the Baptist, who began to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven was near. How long was the glory of the kingdom of heaven hidden? From the time of creation until John the Baptist (see Matt. 13.35, 25.34). Who had hidden the glory of the kingdom of heaven? God himself had (see Prov. 25.2, Rom. 11.33). The field is the world as explained in verse 38, else the Lord would certainly have said otherwise here. All this goes to show that in the future the kingdom of heaven will be connected with the world, for the kingdom of heaven shall one day be manifested on earth (see Zech. 14.5,9; and also Ps. 8. 6-9—this latter Scripture being a psalm of the kingdom). The domain of the future kingdom of heaven shall be the earth (though its rule shall indeed be from heaven), for the world will not be destroyed until after the millennial kingdom is ended.
“Which a man found”—This refers to the work of Christ on earth. During the days of confusion in the world, there came one who cried in the wilderness, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”; and both the Lord and His disciples proclaimed the same message. The power (as manifested in healings and miracles) as well as the teaching of the kingdom of heaven were even then being made manifest (the word “found” in verse 44 actually means to have discovered without the necessity of earnest seeking). The Lord first discovered it; none before Him had even unearthed it. Therefore, the man here is Christ. Neither angels nor prophets could have disclosed it (see Heb. 2.5-8). And if the angels could not disclose it, who else but Christ could?
“And hid”—All actions which occurred before and including this one are cast in the past tense, indicating that the “hidden” and the “found” and the “hid” are all accomplished facts. The actions which follow in the verse are the things the Lord will do thereafter. But why is “hid” again mentioned? Because the Jews have rejected Christ and His kingdom (please recall that this rejection had already begun in the time of chapter 11 and is now fully manifested in the time of chapter 12). For this reason the glory of the kingdom of heaven is now hidden. Henceforth, the Lord does not perform many mighty works among the Jews (and if He does, He does so only for individuals). He also hides himself (see John 8.59, 12.36; Luke 4.30). And why does He hide? Because something is wrong (which points to the rejection of the Jews), and because there is now danger (which indicates the conspiracy of the Jews). He hides himself from the Jews as a nation, not from individuals or from His disciples. He may reject the nation of the Jews, but He never rejects any individual.
“In his joy”—For verses on the joy of the glory of the kingdom we must turn to Luke 10.17-20, 21: the latter verse being the only place in the Gospels where the joy of the Lord is recorded.
“He goeth”—Christ goes to the cross at Jerusalem.
“And selleth all that he hath”—A price must be paid. It costs Christ His life. When the Lord came to this world, He had already forsaken the greater part of His possessions (yet not all). Soon at the cross, He is to sacrifice all, even His life.
“And buyeth that field”—Buy (see Acts 20.28, 2 Peter 2.1, Rev. 5. 9). The purpose in buying is for the treasure in the field. The scope of the purchase is the world. According to 2 Peter 2.1, even the unsaved are also bought. Sin-offering is for believers, propitiation is for the whole world (1 John 2.2). God expects great things on earth, and so He purchases it. The future kingdom is connected with the earth, because the kingdom shall be on earth (see Rev. 11.15, Matt. 6.10). The Lord’s heart is also upon the earth (see Matt. 6.21); therefore, He will come again to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The Parable of the Pearl
vv.45-46 Most commentators chiefly interpret this parable in one of the following ways:
(1) The pearl is Christ (this interpretation has persisted from Luther to the present), the man is the believer. But how can Christ be bought? How can He be only a pearl of great price among many pearls?
(2) The pearl is the elite of the church, scattered throughout many churches. But men do not need to sell all in order to seek truth. Both the rich and poor may find the truth.
(3) The pearl is the righteousness of God (this was suggested a hundred years ago).
(4) The pearl is the church (this is partially correct).
How should this parable of the pearl be explained? The pearl stands for the beauty of the church. Such a beauty comes from life, not something manufactured by human effort. Pearls are found in the sea. As we have learned previously, the sea represents the Gentiles—the many peoples—while land represents the Jews. The mystery in Romans 11.25,26 is concerned with the Jews, but the mystery in Ephesians 3.5,6 is mainly concerned with the Gentiles. Treasure is either nationally- or family-owned, but a pearl is individually owned. Do take note of the following verses: Job 28.18 mg.; Matthew 7.6,13.45-46;1 Timothy 2.9; and Revelation 17.4, 18.12, 21.21. From such passages as these we may conclude that a pearl is for ornament, to give people beauty and satisfaction.
And the man in the parable is Christ. The Lord intends to obtain many pearls (finding pearls, in fact, is the work of Christ). He does not say He has not found any other pearls; He only states He has found a pearl of great price, for the beauty of the church surpasses all: “a glorious church, not having spot [no sin] or wrinkle [always fresh, never aging] or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5.27). She is like the little child in Matthew 11.25. “One pearl of great price”—Note what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians: “Ye were bought with a price” (6.20). “Sold all” speaks of the Lord’s death. The beauty of the church is the Lord’s ornament. People will see this beauty and will praise the Lord.
The story of the making of a pearl is most interesting. Pearls are produced by certain mollusks in the sea which are rather ugly-looking. This signifies how the church comes from a most humble Christ. A smooth, lustrous, varicoloured secretion, which is the very life of the mollusk, issues forth and surrounds a grain of sand or other foreign matter that finds its way into its shell. The mollusk must therefore be hurt if a pearl is ever to be formed. The roundness of the pearl depends on the tenderness of the mollusk. The more tender and sensitive the mollusk, the rounder the pearl. How soft and tender is our Christ. Now pearls are found in the sea. And the divers for them must search and kill the mollusks if they are to get any pearls. Unlike the preceding parable, the man in question (the merchant) must truly seek with effort for pearls.
The Parable of the Net, 13.47-50
This parable is most easily misunderstood. First of all, what are the common interpretations for it? They are as follows:
(1) The net is the gospel, the sea is the world, the fishermen are the preachers of the gospel, the good and bad fishes are the good and bad people who are mixed together in the church.
(2) The sea is the Gentile world, the fishermen are the preachers of the gospel who rescue the unsaved from the world and get them into the boat of the church. The good are to be gathered into vessels, but the bad are to be cast away. Hence just to be in the boat is not enough.
The above two interpretations were the most popular ones in the medieval centuries.
However, this parable has two special features: (1) that the men are angels (to say that the men are preachers of the gospel is to contradict the explanation given by the Lord, else He would have stated otherwise); and (2) that the time for drawing the net is the end of the world. Considering these two features, it becomes evident that the above two interpretations are faulty.
The errors in these interpretations are as follows: (a) the fishermen are not preachers of the gospel, since the drawers of the net are the very ones who cast the net; (b) “cast” in the original is in the past tense: “was cast”; (c) the drawing of the net is at the end of the world and thus occurs only once, but the drawing of the gospel net today happens every day at any time; (d) the drawing is once and for all; (e) if the sea stands for the Gentiles, would not the church be composed only of Gentiles and none of the Jews? (and yet Romans 9.24 plainly states that there will be Jews); (f) as to the way of judgment, tares are bound into bundles for burning, but the fishes are selected one by one—bad fishes are therefore not limited only to false believers; (g) “when it [the net] was filled”—yet when is the gospel filled? (h) what does “the beach” represent? (i) the preachers of the gospel have no right to choose; (j) what is “gathered” is the gathering “of every kind” and not just fishes; (k) because obviously a gospel net would be drawn daily, can we at all say that every day is the end of the world? (l) who can decide to throw away the bad fishes?—certainly not men; (m) the Lord simply declared that we shall be fishers of men, but never did He describe a saved person as being caught in a net; and (n) the selection is done in the net—yet the gospel of grace accepts, never judges, people.
A comparison between the parable of the net and the parable of the tares yields this interesting contrast: The parable of the tares speaks of the beginning when men slept, whereas the parable of the net speaks of the end, that is, the fullness of time. Thus the parable of the net is placed at the conclusion of the series of parables.
v.47 “Again”—This shows that there is new light, hence this parable is different from the parable of the tares.
“Sea”—On the earth three fourths of its surface is sea (representing, as we have said, the Gentiles—see Daniel 7.2-3 and Is. 60.5) and one-fourth is land (again representing, as we have said, the Jews). As the land is different from the sea, so the children of Israel are a people who “dwelleth alone” and are not “reckoned among the nations” (Num. 23. 9).
“Net, that was cast into the sea”—“Net” here is the gospel of judgment (see Rev. 14.6-13). “The end of the world” is the Great Tribulation. The angel shall proclaim the eternal gospel at the time of the Great Tribulation. It is therefore a gospel of judgment. The angel casts the net, that is to say, the angel proclaims the eternal gospel to the nations (which include both the believing and the unbelieving): “Fear God, and give Him glory; for the hour of His judgment is come” (Rev. 14.7).
“Gathered of every kind” means all the Gentiles (cf. Ez. 47.10).
vv.48-50 “When it was filled”—When the eternal gospel is adequately proclaimed and the time is up.
“Drew up on the beach”—This speaks of judgment. The word of God gathers them, and everyone is compelled to leave his original habitation.
“Sat down” has two meanings: (1) having authority (1 Kings 1.13,20; Matt. 5.1 with 7.29; Matt. 20.21); and (2) judgment (Ex. 18.13, John 19.13).
“Sever the wicked from among the righteous”—This is a severing according to the rule laid down in Leviticus 11.9-13ff.
“The furnace of fire” —See Ezekiel 22.18-22 (cf. Is. 31.5-6, 8-9; Mal. 3.18,4.1; Is. 30.33; 66.20,23-24).
“The beach” is the border area between the sea and the land, which is to say, in the midst of the Gentiles and Jews.
Matthew 13.47-49 is similar to Matthew 25.31-36. The sheep are the good fishes and the goats are the bad fishes. The nations that fear God and treat kindly the pious Jews and Christians shall be those to be found in the millennial kingdom.
v.51 “Have ye understood all these things?”—The Lord asks this question because in speaking the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven He wants the disciples to understand thoroughly, whereas He wishes the blasphemers to be totally lost in not understanding His words (see Matt. 13.11-16). So that this question concludes the words found earlier in verses 11-16 of this chapter.
v.52 “Every scribe”—One who is familiar with the Old Testament. From this we are assured that the kingdom of heaven is not the Messianic kingdom, otherwise the scribe would have already been in the kingdom of heaven. A scribe to be made a disciple means a scribe who will have accepted the teaching of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (which points to the Christian faith today).
“A householder” is the scribe. A house has its boundary. The boundary is not the open air but is the chambers of a house (see S.S.1.4).
“Things new and old”—Old is the Old Testament and new is the New Testament. When we speak, we bring out of our treasure both the Old and the New Testaments.
The Rejection of the Lord, 13.54-14.12
Two classes of people reject the Lord—the common people (the residents of Nazareth) and the ruling class (King Herod and his followers).
v.54 The people in the city of Nazareth acknowledge that the Lord has wisdom and performs mighty works. They even admire Him. But they do something wrong when they ask “Whence . . . ?” They should know by now that the wisdom and mighty works of the Lord come from God. They should therefore not ask such a question.
v.55 Because of their doubt, the evil one injects some wrong thoughts into their mind. Through the sudden turn which this verse records, these people become hopeless.
v.56 The names of his sisters are not mentioned. These people know the Lord according to the flesh. They know His earthly father and mother, brothers and sisters. So they reject Him. How people everywhere love to see a touch of the mystic. If someone is so powerful, there must be something mysterious surrounding that person. But if everything is known about him, he becomes common in their eyes, since for them there is nothing special surrounding him. The people in Nazareth have the same weakness. They imagine that Christ ought to be rather enigmatic and aloof, someone quite different from themselves: “We know this man whence he is: but when the Christ cometh, no one knoweth whence he is” (John 7.27).
v.57 The Jews reject the Lord not only because of familiarity but also because of the fact that no prophet is honored in his own country.
v.58 How very sad are these words. Many hinder the mighty works of God through their unbelief. The mighty works of God are often limited by the lack of faith. God loves to perform His wonders in us, but our faith frequently proves to be inadequate. Our faith is like a waterpot, the mighty power of God is like a spring of water. Without a waterpot, we can have no water. Alas, our faith today is sometimes like a bamboo bucket which leaks away the power of God.