The Kingdom Parables…Matthew 13 (Part 3)
By Jack Kelley
In part 3 of our series on the Kingdom Parables, we’ll look at the 5th and 6th parables and find that the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles in the Lord’s Kingdom was always intended.
Remember, a parable is a heavenly story put into an earthly context. The meaning of the Greek word for parable is “to place alongside” as in a comparison. This means that everything in the parable symbolizes something else. Correctly interpreting the symbols is the key that unlocks understanding.
Since Jesus was speaking to Jews in Israel engaged in an agrarian economy it makes sense that we should try and replicate their perspective in understanding the symbols He used. His listeners were only familiar with their Scriptures so we’ll rely on the Old Testament as our theological guide and since most worked the land we’ll use our knowledge of agriculture to give us the proper social and historical context. Since we covered the first four parables in parts 1 & 2, let’s begin with number 5.
5) The Hidden Treasure
The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field (Matt. 13:44).
Following the Principle of Expositional Constancy, where the symbolic use of things in scripture tends to be consistent, we know from the first three parables that the man is the Lord and the field is the world. He found a treasure in the world but didn’t remove it. Instead He gave every thing He had to purchase the whole world, just to get the treasure. When the Lord created Adam He gave him dominion over the whole world (Gen 1:28). Adam subsequently lost it to Satan, and that’s why Satan is called the prince of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, & 16:11) and the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). Later the Lord discovered a hidden treasure in the world, but didn’t remove it. Instead He came to Earth as a man and gave His life (everything He had), redeeming the whole world to gain the treasure.
In Exodus 19:5, Deut 7:6, and Malachi 3:17 Israel is described as God’s treasure. No other people are given this distinction, the history and destiny of Israel has always been tied to the world, and the Lord gave His life to redeem her. In the Millennium Israel is restored to her former glory and once again becomes the pre-eminent nation on earth, God’s treasured possession.
6) The Pearl Of Great Price
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Matt 13:45).
Some see this as just a continuation of the previous parable; another way of saying the same thing. In a way that’s true, but there is one huge difference. Pearls come from oysters, which are not “kosher.” Oysters, having neither fins nor scales, were forbidden for Israel (Lev. 11:10-12) and so pearls were not prized by them like they were by gentiles. Pearls are distinctly Gentile in nature and in many ways the formation and ultimate destiny of a pearl is remarkably similar to that of the Church.
A pearl is the only gem derived from a living organism, formed in response to an irritant. Somehow a grain of sand gets lodged inside an oyster shell irritating its flesh. Unable to remove the irritant, the oyster secretes a fluid that hardens around the sand forming a smooth round ball relieving the irritation. We call this hardened round ball a pearl. When the oyster is harvested the pearl is removed from its natural habitat to become an object of adornment. The Church is a living organism that has always experienced its most dramatic growth as a response to persecution. One day soon, the Lord will come and remove His Church from the world, her natural habitat, to make her His bride, the object of His affection.
Don’t be fooled by some commentators who use these parables to teach that the Kingdom is both the treasure and the pearl and we should be willing to give everything we have to purchase our place in it. That view violates the context and intent of the parables, and is theologically unfounded. We have nothing God needs. In His sight we are totally without merit or substance, unable to purchase anything from Him. Entry into the Kingdom is free for the asking, because the Lord gave everything He had to make it so. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
In these 2 parables then, we see the destinies of both Israel and the Church symbolized. In Jewish eschatology the Lord promised to return and live among them in His Holy Land, the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: the land of Israel (Ezek. 40-48). In Christian Eschatology, we are promised that one day the Lord will come to take us to be with Him in Heaven (John 14:1-3). As the treasure is left in the field, Israel is left in the world. As the pearl is removed from the oyster, the church is removed from the earth. In both cases the Lord impoverished Himself to purchase that which He desired, giving each the destiny He promised.
But Wait A Minute
There’s a phrase in Matt 13:44 that is often overlooked but has always astonished me. “In his joy he went and sold everything he had.” On the night of His betrayal Scriptures tell us that after their meal Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn and went out to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30). There He would be betrayed, arrested and subjected to the most intense humiliation and deprivation, and finally beaten to within an inch of His life before dying the most painful death known to man. All of this would happen within the span of the day just begun, for the Jewish day begins at sunset, and by the following sunset He would be in the grave. Of course He knew this from the beginning (Matt 26:52-54).
By tradition the hymn sung following the Passover meal comes from Psalm 118:22-24. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cap stone. The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
This was the day ordained from before the foundation of the world when by agreement the Son of God would become the Redeemer of Israel, and beyond that a Light for the Gentiles to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:5-6). This was the day when He would pay the required price to purchase His Bride, and when He would make possible the reconciliation between God and His Creation (Col 1:19-20). Even His knowledge of the torment, anguish, and pain He would endure was not enough to diminish the joy He felt at being able to give the greatest gift of love ever given. He sang, “This is the day the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebr. 12:2).