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The Parables of the Lord Jesus (4)

A Wiseman, Bournemouth

PARABLES IN THE GOSPEL BY MATTHEW

Matthew’s Gospel displays the Lord Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, the heir to David’s throne, and His Kingship is evident from ch.1 where His genealogy is given. Chapter 2 opens with the question, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?". It is in that capacity that Jesus presented Himself to the people in fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy (Zech 9.9; Mt 21.5). We also find the title in ch.25 when the Son of man comes as King, to sit on the throne of His glory, dividing the nations as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats.

Although there are some parabolic pictures in the early part of this Gospel, the first use of the word "parable" is in ch.13, where Matthew gives us the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven. The other Gospels refer to the "kingdom of God", but Matthew, writing primarily to the Jews, uses the term, "kingdom of heaven". He does, however, occasionally depart from his customary form, and on one occasion, commenting on the rich young ruler, he brings the two ideas together. "A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (19.23-24). These verses suggest that the terms are interchangeable, and whichever is used, the reference is to that sphere where the rule of God is acknowledged.

It should be observed that Israel’s rejection of Jesus as King has necessitated an interval before the King and His Kingdom are manifested. In the meantime, Jesus speaks of "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (13.11). These are revelations of truth appreciated only by those loyal to Christ.

We read in ch.12 how the Pharisees completely rejected the Messianic claims of the Lord Jesus, and even accused Him of casting out demons by Beelzebub the prince of demons. Jesus, therefore, likens that nation to a house once occupied by an unclean spirit, but now swept and garnished, though unoccupied and thus ready to receive seven spirits worse than the first. He also taught that His true mother and brethren are not those linked by natural ties, but those who do the will of His Father (12.43-50). At that point, He left the house where He was, and began to teach by the sea side (13.1). His teaching took the form of a series of seven parables.

We have seen when dealing with Mark’s parables, that the parable of the sower is introductory to the others. There remain therefore two sets of three parables - that of the wheat and tares (vv.24-30), the mustard seed (vv.31-32), and the leaven in the meal (v.33) in the first set; followed by that of the treasure (v.44), the pearl of great price (vv.45-46), and the dragnet (vv.47-50).

The parable of the wheat and tares shows that in the field where good seed has been sown, an enemy has also been at work, stealthily sowing tares among the wheat, and then leaving. It is noticeable that the evil work was done "while men slept". The New Testament gives repeated advice on the need for vigilance in the things of God since the enemy Satan and his emissaries are ever active. The Lord shows that the good seed represents the children of the Kingdom, whereas the children of the wicked one are represented by the tares. These must be left until at the end of the age when all that is offensive will be burnt up, and the good will then "shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father". It is clear that from a very early stage the Kingdom was marred by the insertion of a false element. It is encouraging to observe that although the devil has made his mark in Christendom, the ultimate outcome is not in doubt.

The parable of the mustard seed shows an abnormal growth from the smallest of seeds to the greatest of herbs, becoming a tree in which the birds of the air lodge. These birds are the agents which devoured the seed in the parable of the sower.

The same principles are emphasised in the parable of the leaven. The leaven corrupts the meal until the whole is leavened. From the first Passover in Exodus ch.12, when God ordered the removal of all leaven from Israel’s dwellings, leaven always needs to be purged out to preserve the purity of that which is good (cp. 1 Cor 5.7-8; Gal 5-9).

The parables of the treasure hidden in the field and of the merchantman purchasing the pearl of great price differ from the earlier parables in that nothing is seen that would detract from the value or beauty of the object that filled the heart of the seeker. The earlier parables reveal the outward features of the Kingdom of Heaven, but here we have opened to us the intrinsic preciousness of the Kingdom to God.

Although they possess similarities, there are distinct differences between these parables. The first reminds us that Israel was chosen by God as His own peculiar treasure (Ex 19.5-6; Ps 135.4; Mal 3.17). On the other hand, pearls are not found in the Old Testament (Job 28.18 is better rendered "crystal"), so this parable represents something new. Attention has often been drawn to the unique features of a pearl that we see in the "one pearl of great price" a beautiful picture of the Church. One of the lovely facets of the pearl’s construction is its oneness, and the church as one body is emphasised elsewhere in our New Testament. Both parables stress the immensity of the cost to the purchaser. For this great redemptive work, He who was rich became poor (2 Cor 8.9). Paul reminds the elders from Ephesus of "the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20.28). At Calvary the price was paid that no other but the Lord Jesus could sustain.

The final parable in the set is that of the drag-net! It is not unlike the parable of the wheat and tares, except that in the first there is a harvest of the earth and in this a harvest of the sea. Little is said about the details of the net and its catch, but everything is focused on the final analysis at the end of the age. There may well be an allusion here to the fact that the Gospel of the Kingdom has been proclaimed widely, and now, at consummation of the age, the net is drawn to the shore. We are told that the good is gathered into vessels, and the bad is cast away. Both here and in v.41 the angels are involved in the segregation. This parable reminds us that there will be a work for God on the earth after the church age has run its course, and that there will be results for God in those dark tribulation days.

As to the remaining parables in Matthew’s Gospel, the late Mr Fred Cundick makes an interesting observation on some of them from chs.18-25 in connection with Matthew’s old profession as a tax collector! He writes: "The parables of the Unmerciful Servant (18.23-35); the Labourers in the Vineyard (20.1-16); the Talents (25.14-30), all these "Payment Parables" are given in Matthew only. The miracle of the Stater (the "piece of money") in the fish’s mouth (17.24-27) is also peculiar to him. This selection shows the special interest these words and deeds held for Matthew as one schooled in monetary transactions".1

The last of Matthew’s parables are found in ch.25, following the Lord’s Olivet Discourse. The wise and foolish virgins underline the need for watchfulness; the talents, the need for faithfulness; the sheep and the goats, the need for readiness to reach out to those who are suffering, especially in the cause of Christ. Although the general truth of these parables has a very obvious present day application, they come within a prophetic section of the Gospel, and it is probably better to interpret them chronologically as relating to Israel following the events predicted in ch.24 and referring to the future days of tribulation, when in the most difficult circumstances a faithful remnant will take comfort from the fact that their King is indeed coming again to reign, and they will eagerly await His return to usher in an age of world peace and prosperity under His sceptre of righteousness.

However we look at this chapter, the truth is that prior to those future events the Lord will come to the air for us the church, His body and bride, whose citizenship is in Heaven. In this present midnight scene of moral and spiritual darkness we should be waiting with expectation to meet Him whom as yet having not seen, we love.

Concluded

1 The Kingdom in the Gospel of Matthew: p.92

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