The Kingdom of Heaven, that Jesus established, was a difficult to understand concept for the ordinary people. Hence, Jesus used examples from the people’s experience to illustrate it. Chapter 13 of Matthew presents seven such parables, each giving different aspect of the kingdom. Jesus addressed the first four to the crowds that gathered around him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He shared the other three in private with the disciples at the house where he stayed in Capernaum. The parables of the treasure and pearl show the value of the Kingdom of Heaven, for which the disciples have to sacrifice everything else to gain them. The parable of the net warns of the separation of the good and evil. While the just will inherit the eternal reward, the wicked will face destruction. Hence let us value our church and practice the religion.
BIBLE TEXT (MATTHEW 13:44-52)
The Parables of the Treasure and the Pearl
(Mt 13:44) The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. The man who finds it buries it again; and so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, so that he may buy that field. (45) Again the kingdom of heaven is like a trader who is looking for fine pearls. (46) Once he has found a pearl of exceptional quality, he goes away, sells everything he has and buys it.
The Parable of the Net
(Mt 13:47) Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a big fishing net let down into the sea, in which every kind of fish has been caught. (48) When the net is full, it is dragged ashore. Then they sit down and gather the good fish in baskets, but throw the worthless ones away. (49) That is how it will be at the end of time; the angels will go out to separate the wicked from the just (50) and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (51) Jesus asked, “Have you understood all these things?” “Yes,” they answered. (52) So he said to them, “Well, therefore every teacher of the Law who becomes a disciple of the kingdom is like a householder who takes out from his storeroom things both new and old.”
Matthew’s 13th chapter is the third of the five discourses of Jesus in Matthew that gives seven parables on the Kingdom of Heaven. Hence, this discourse is known as the Parabolic Discourse. It also contains explanations of two parables by Jesus. He addressed the first four parables sitting on a boat at the sea of Galilee to enormous crowds stood around him at the shore (Mt 13:1-2). The parables in this discourse and their parallel passages in the other gospels are:
Jesus explained to the disciples the reason for speaking to the crowds in parables in Matthew 13:10-17. Then he dismissed the crowds, went into the house, and spoke the rest to his disciples (Mt 13:36). We are focusing on the three parables Jesus addressed to the disciples there.
Matthew 13:51-52 is the conclusion of the parables.
The chapter ends with the people of Jesus’ native place Nazareth, rejecting him while preaching in their synagogue (Mt 13:54-58).
The Growth of the Kingdom of God
The Parables of the Treasure and the Pearl
The parables of the treasure and the pearl have the same theme and message. Jesus compares a person who was fortunate to find a valuable treasure or pearl to the one who comes across the Kingdom of heaven. He understands the immeasurable value of it and purchases the land for the treasure or buys the pearl, sacrificing everything he has. Similarly, the one who finds and realizes the value of the Kingdom of Heaven will have to sacrifice everything he has to inherit that kingdom of eternal life. The apostles who had left everything they had, might have found assurance in their action and would be ready to face hardship in their ministry and even martyrdom for the eternal reward in heaven.
(Mt 13:44) The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. The man who finds it buries it again; and so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, so that he may buy that field.
Jesus told a parable in a single verse to compare the exceptional and unexpected cases of finding a hidden treasure to knowing the secret of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is like a treasure more valuable than all the material possessions one owns. Only a few people might find it.
The kingdom of heaven
The Synoptic gospels widely use the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. Both mean the same. Matthew preferred the Kingdom of heaven because he avoided the word “God” that his Jewish readers would not use. In a broader sense, both refer primarily to the rule of the Almighty over all the entire universe with no territory, because everything belongs to God without any border. “The LORD has set his throne in heaven; his dominion extends over all.” (Ps 103:19).
In a specific sense, Israel was the kingdom of God because God’s kingdom is a spiritual rule over the lives and hearts of those remain faithful to Him. Jesus reconstituted it, forming the church with Jesus as its head. This kingdom is spiritual, and that is why Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” (Jn 18:36). The church is only a foretaste of God’s kingdom that will happen later in its fullness when the time of redemption is over and when the time of judgement will arrive with the second coming of Christ. God will govern His kingdom that is eternal, peaceful, free from any struggle, and is open only for the faithful children of God. “In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.” (Dan 2:44). Thus, the Kingdom of God has various stages. God initially established it in the world at large, then among the chosen people of Israel, and later Jesus revived it by establishing the church, and it will come to its perfection with the second coming of Christ.
a treasure hidden in a field.
In the ancient times, when there was no banking system or safety locker, people used to hide their non-perishable treasure by burying it in clay pots in the ground so that the thief would not find to steal it. They used this method mostly during war to avoid plunder by the enemy. Because of war, the owner of the treasure might die, taken in exile, or flee until the war is over with the hope of return to retake the treasure. But the owner might not come back to claim it and the treasure would remain unknown to all. So, whoever owns the land later will be unaware of the hidden treasure in his or her property.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.
Jesus compares the hidden treasure one owns to the Kingdom of heaven. Though it is among the people, they might not know of it. Unlike the secrecy kept for the unknown treasure, John the Baptist and Jesus revealed that to the world on time. “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Mt 3:1-2). Only through repentance one can unearth and possess it. When King Herod Antipas arrested John, Jesus withdrew from Judea to Galilee. He preached in Capernaum by the sea and said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). Jesus was announcing the Kingdom of Heaven through parables, “lain hidden from the foundation of the world” (Mt 13:35b).
The man who finds it buries it again
The laborer who plows or unearths the land for cultivation or construction might accidentally find a hidden treasure. He would keep it secret and bury again so no one else might know of it. According to the law of the time, the treasure would belong to the landowner and not the one who unearthed it. So, after burying it again in secret, he sells everything he has and buys that field. Similar instances would have happened those days that were known to the people.
Though the Kingdom of Heaven is the most valuable treasure, one can gain it only by joining the church Jesus established. Here the church represents the field with the treasure. Being a member of the church could be challenging, especially in the early church when there was severe persecution from the Jews and the Romans.
Since the Kingdom of Heaven is spiritual, only those who are receptive to the teachings of Jesus will find it. While Jesus was teaching on his Kingdom in parables to the crowd, the disciples asked him why he was speaking to them in parables. His reply was, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted” (Mt 13:11). Only those who are open-minded and receptive to Jesus’ teachings could find and understand the Kingdom of Heaven. “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Mt 11:25).
Unlike the one who finds the hidden treasure buries it again to gain that for himself, Jesus and his disciples reveal the Kingdom of Heaven to all the nations so that those who believe them can possess it (Lk 9:1-6; Mk 15:15-16; Mt 24:14). Quoting Isaiah 6:9-10, Jesus said, “You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them” (Mt 13:14-15). So, finding the treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven is a gift of God for those who welcome the messengers of the Kingdom.
so happy is he, that he goes and sells everything he has, so that he may buy that field.
In the secular world, the one who finds the hidden treasure will bargain with the owner of the treasure- hidden land to purchase it. The owner who does not know of his hidden treasure might sell it at a reasonable price. The one who buys it will sell everything he has to purchase the treasure-hidden land, knowing that he would have a high benefit by losing everything else he had. So, he would be happy to lose everything to gain the most valuable treasure that would make him rich instantly. The conduct of the man in this parable is immoral or unlawful according to the modern standards. As a parable, the point here is the value of precious treasure one discovers, the joy in finding it, and the sacrifice of giving up everything he owns to buy the field that contains the treasure compared to the immense value and joy in finding the Kingdom of Heaven and one’s sacrifices to achieve it.
Renouncing the worldly possession for the Kingdom of Heaven was one condition Jesus laid out to become his disciple. He taught, “Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33). To a young man who wished to be perfect, Jesus said, “‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Mt 19:21-23).
The apostles left everything they had to follow Jesus to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven he established. However, Judas Iscariot failed in his vocation when he resumed his greed for money. Simon Peter asked Jesus, “‘We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life’” (Mt 19:27-29). Jesus preached during the sermon on the mountain, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:19-21). Thus, Jesus taught his disciples to gain the Kingdom of Heaven by sacrificing the worldly treasures. They did it, suffered for the church Jesus established, and even became martyrs for the Kingdom.
Paul expressed his joy in suffering and losing everything for the Kingdom of God. “In everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in a holy spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise. We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful; as unrecognized and yet acknowledged; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor 6:4-10).
(45) Again the kingdom of heaven is like a trader who is looking for fine pearls. (46) Once he has found a pearl of exceptional quality, he goes away, sells everything he has and buys it.
Jesus connects the parable of fine pearls with that of the hidden treasure by using the word “again.” The pearls were highly valuable in the past than now. Hence Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt 7:6).
There are similarities and differences among the pearl, the treasure, and the Kingdom of Heaven. The similarities are:
The differences in the parables of the hidden treasure, the fine pearl, and the Kingdom of Heaven are:
Like the trader who had been seeking the fine pearl found the exceptional quality pearl, those who have been waiting for the Kingdom of God found it. Jesus told his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Mt 13:17). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the east came in search of the newborn King of the Jews and found him after a long journey of hardships and adverse weather (Mt 2:1-12). For them, Infant Jesus, who was born as the Messiah, was the pearl of exceptional quality they have been strenuously searching for. Simeon, who blessed infant Jesus when his parents presented him in the Temple, “was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord” (Lk 2:25-26). Anna, the prophetess, and the people in the Temple were waiting for the Messiah. “Coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Lk 7:19). Thus, many have been seeking the Messiah and found him in Jesus.
The Parable of the Net
This parable speaks about what would happen to those who join the Kingdom of God in this world, the church. Seeking and entering the Kingdom is not enough. The discipleship involves continuous commitment to God and action based on Jesus’ teachings. He told his disciples, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mt 7:21-23). Though many are selected into the Kingdom of God in this world, there will be a final selection of the righteous at the last judgement when the Son of God comes again at the end of time.
Though Jesus has conquered Satan and freed humanity from the original sin, we are still under attack from Satan until the second coming of Christ. There can be scandal and bad people in the church who joined it for diverse reasons. So, Jesus will make a final selection of the righteous who would inherit the Kingdom of Heaven in its fullness in the afterlife.
(Mt 13:47) Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a big fishing net let down into the sea, in which every kind of fish has been caught.
Since Jesus was preaching near the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were familiar with fishing. Besides, at least seven of them were fishermen. Jesus selected them as fishers of men (Mt 4:19; Mk 1:17; Lk 5:10). So, they could well understand this parable Jesus applied from the fishing industry. He compared the church to a large fishing drag-net cast into the sea that stands for the world. The net receives all kinds of fish, good and bad.
Jesus’ inclusion of Judas Iscariot as one of the apostles is an example. The separation of the good and rejection of the bad would take place only after the completion of fishing. This parable has resemblance to the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30) and to the ten virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom (Mt 25:1-13). There is a mixture of good and evil within the members of the church who would stay together until the final separation and judgement (Mt 25:31-46).
(48) When the net is full, it is dragged ashore. Then they sit down and gather the good fish in baskets, but throw the worthless ones away.
The sea contains a variety of creatures. During the fishing with the drag-net, all types of sea creatures and weeds will get into the net. Some of them are unsuitable for use. So, the fishermen will sort out the catch collecting the good ones in baskets for sale or personal use and throw away the rest. Jesus presents this to imply how the church would also contain good and worthless members.
(49) That is how it will be at the end of time; the angels will go out to separate the wicked from the just.
Similar to what happens at the end of fishing would take place at the end of the age. The angels who are the agents of God would separate the unfaithful people from the just. This is like the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30). “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned [up] with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 13: 39-42).
Another example Jesus used is the separation of the sheep from the goats. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Mt 25:31-33). This will happen when Jesus returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, and to establish his kingdom forever. That will be the end of evil in the world.
the wicked from the just
This gospel passage does not clarify what makes one wicked or just. However, we find that elsewhere in the gospels. According to Jesus in John 3:15-21, everyone who believes in Jesus will have eternal life. “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed” (Jn 3:18-20). Faith in Jesus includes faith in action, keeping the commandments of God that came through Jesus. “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death” (Jn 8:51). The verdict of the last judgement gives specific examples of the difference between the good and the bad (Mt 25:31-46).
(50) and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The fishermen will throw away the sea weeds and worthless creatures. However, in the Kingdom of God and in the parable of the weeds among the wheat, the angels will throw the wicked people in blazing furnace. That shows the everlasting and unbearable suffering the wicked people will end up. “Blazing furnace” or “fiery Gehenna” is a metaphorical presentation of the eternal punishment for the sinners. Literal meaning of Gehenna is “the valley of the sons of Hinnom.” Though unknown today, Hinnom must be the name of someone lived in ancient Israel.
Gehenna is a deep and narrow valley in the south of Jerusalem that was famous for idolatrous worship of Molech where the pagan worshippers sacrificed their children (2 Chr 28:3). God strictly prohibited the pagan worship and child sacrifice though some Jews, including King Ahaz (2 Chr 28:1-3), sacrificed their children as burned offering to the false god (Jer 19:4). King Josiah later stopped the sacrifices in this cursed valley (2 Kgs 23:10).
Later Gehenna became a disposal place where people burned waste, including the dead bodies of animals and criminals. Because of the dumped refuse of the city, it was also a place of worms and maggots. Since the fire kept burning there all the time, this place became a symbol of everlasting destruction of sinners in the afterlife.
weeping and gnashing of teeth
The Bible frequently uses the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Wicked persons gnash their teeth against the righteous to express their hatred or anger as they did at the trial of Stephen (Acts 7:54). Psalm 37:12 states: “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them.” Jesus used this as a part of the last judgement. The grinding of teeth, along with wailing, expresses great and lasting anguish at the loss of everlasting life in heaven. It also would be their expression of disagreement in seeing others, like the Gentiles and former sinners, enjoying eternal reward with the ancestors. “And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out” (Lk 13:28).
(51) Jesus asked, “Have you understood all these things?” “Yes,” they answered.
Since Jesus was speaking in parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, a supernatural entity, the public could not understand the parables well. He explained them to the disciples at their request as a privilege for them. To the disciples’ question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus replied, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted” (Mt 13:10-11). So, Jesus asked the apostles to assure whether they understood his explanation about the Kingdom he was about to establish.
Though the disciples gave a positive answer, they got a full awareness only from the day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit. Even Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection was not clear to them. Like the other Jews during that period, they expected the Messiah to overthrow the foreign rule and establish an earthly kingdom according to God’s promise to David. Instead, Jesus taught them through parables that the kingdom will start with them on a small scale under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It will face persecution and will eventually spread all over the world. The wicked and the righteous will live together until the second coming of Christ when Jesus would destroy the unfaithful, and the just will enter the eternal life where Jesus will rule over them forever with no evil influence.
(52) So he said to them, “Well, therefore every teacher of the Law who becomes a disciple of the kingdom is like a householder who takes out from his storeroom things both new and old.”
every teacher of the Law who becomes a disciple of the kingdom.
The teacher of the law was an expert in the laws of Moses, given in the first five books of the Bible, called Torah or Pentateuch. People called these professionals, the scribes. They were experts in the Old Testament, made copies of the Holy Scripture, and served in the synagogues as readers and interpreters of the Bible. The difference between a scribe and scholar of the law is that the scholar of the law was a scribe who specialized in the Mosaic laws than in other sections of the scripture. Such scholars of the Torah were in demand because the written laws and their interpretations governed the whole lives of the Jews.
Jesus built up his church on the foundation of the Old Testament. His goal was not to abolish the laws and teachings of the Old Testament. Jesus told his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). However, he was not satisfied with the virtue of the Scribes and Pharisees. So, he advised his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). The advice of Jesus to the crowds and the disciples was, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice” (Mt 23:2-3). Jesus called them hypocrites who block entry into the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus was about to open. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter” (Mt 23:13). By rejecting the Messiah, they were preventing salvation of themselves and the people.
Jesus wanted his disciples, who had accepted him, to be aware of the Old and the New, to be teachers of the Kingdom of Heaven. After the resurrection, Jesus commanded his apostles, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Hence, Jesus assigned his disciples as teachers of the new law based on the old.
like a householder who takes out from his storeroom things both new and old.
Jesus compared his disciples like a house owner who uses the antique treasures of the old, along with the newly gained valuables. Christianity is not a break away from the past, but a renewal of the past based on God’s revelation through Jesus Christ. The old and new are not contrary, but complementary with additional revelations and practical applications. Matthew often quotes from the Old Testament to illustrate how Jesus fulfilled in his life and teachings the prophesies about the Messiah. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).