IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 1, Number 25, August 16 to August 22, 1999

Matthew 13:24-58

by Dr. Knox Chamblin

IV. THE PARABLE OF THE WEEDS. 13:24-30, 36-43.
The parable itself is separated from the explanation, the latter being reserved until Jesus and the disciples are away from the crowds, v. 36. It will be convenient to take the two sections together.
  1. The Picture. 13:24-30.

    "The kingdom of heaven is like" - not a man, but the whole of the following picture. "The appearance of some tares [zizanion, "darnel, a poisonous plant," and, according to BAGD, s.v., one resembling wheat] would not have surprised the slaves. Their surprise [v. 27] therefore implies a large number due to deliberate sowing" (Gundry, 264). The enemy has sown so many tares that their roots have become intertwined with those of the wheat (Gundry, 265); hence the instructions, vv. 29-30.

  2. The Explanation. 13:36-43.

    1. The Preacher. We can now understand why, in the picture, it is (strangely) the owner himself who sows the seed, not his servants (13:24, 27). For, says Jesus, the sower "is the Son of Man" (v. 37). He supremely is the one who proclaims the gospel of the kingdom (4:17, 23; etc.).

    2. The mission field. "The field is the world" (v. 38a). Jesus anticipates the mission to the nations (28:19).

    3. The church. The word "church" (ekklasia) does not appear in the passage; but the concept of the church is present, as the community in which the Rule of God is realized during the time between the advents of Christ. Moreover, the church is here represented as a mixed company, consisting of true believers ("the sons of the kingdom") and false ("the sons of the evil one"). It is not enough to think of "the sons of the evil one" as standing in the world, outside (or alongside) the church; for the picture speaks of the sowing of tares among the wheat, and the explanation speaks of the angels' weeding out of his kingdom "all who do evil."

    4. The enemy. "The enemy who sows [the tares] is the devil" (v. 39a). This parable teaches that Satan opposes God's people from within as well as from without. One might reflect upon the various ways in which the presence of non-believers in the Church advances the cause of Satan. In the face of the evil one's infiltration of the Church, we gain special hope from the words of Jesus in 16:18.

    5. The judgment. The burden of the parable is that in the end there will be a separation of the good from the evil, of the genuine believers from the spurious. The Final Judgment is principally an act of discernment, of discrimination, an act that will bring to light the actual condition of those being judged. This teaches in part that one's lot in the Final Judgment depends on his or her present response to the gospel of the kingdom and the claims of Jesus. An attendant lesson is that churchmen beware of hastily pronouncing judgment before the appointed Time. "The delay in the separation of true and false till the last judgment makes a prohibition against rigorism in church discipline, particularly against private judgments" (Gundry, 262, cf. 264). Cf. 5:21-22; 7:1-5; 18:15-20; 1 Cor 4:5.


  1. The Pictures.

    Again "the kingdom of heaven is like" - not the mustard seed or the yeast, but the entirety of each picture.

    1. The mustard. "The mustard seed was the smallest of Palestinian seeds that could be seen with the naked eye and had become proverbial for smallness" (Gundry, 267). Its being the smallest Palestinian seed explains the NIV's "the smallest of all your [for which there is no underlying Greek] seeds" (v. 32a). "Yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants [a justifiable translation for lachanon, "edible garden herb," BAGD s.v.] and becomes a tree [reaching a height of 8-12 feet, Gundry 267]..." (v. 32b).

    2. The yeast. "Three measures [sata tria] of flour amounted to about a bushel, give or take a little, and made the largest amount of dough [cf. NIV, "a large amount of flour"] a woman could knead.... The text reads that the woman 'hid' the leaven in the flour, as though the large amount of flour engulfed the small amount of leaven (cf. the smallness of the mustard seed)" (Gundry, 268, 269).

  2. The Explanation.

    1. The kingdom's hiddenness. As the very small mustard seed is buried in the field, and as the leaven is engulfed by the dough and hidden away, so the kingdom has small, inauspicious beginnings. But, says Jesus, beware lest the present hiddenness of the kingdom, blind you to its present reality. The kingdom has been inaugurated, its powers are already mightily at work (11:4-6; 12:28). Just as power is released in the seed and in the yeast even - or precisely - as they are hidden away, so too the powers of the kingdom are being unleashed precisely here and now, in the time of its small beginning. And just as the full-grown mustard tree is potentially present in the seed, so the kingdom that is presently manifested is the kingdom that will one day be fully manifested.

    2. The kingdom's magnitude. These are both parables of growth. The powers released now do not abate until they have achieved their full effect. Out of the smallest of seeds emerges the full-grown mustard tree. (As the stress falls as much on the tree as on the seed, it is preferable to use the above title rather than "mustard seed." Gundry prefers the title, "parable of the mustard tree.") And the yeast does not stop exerting its power till it has permeated the whole batch of dough. The implication is that one day the kingdom will be all-encompassing - i.e. (recalling v. 38) one that reaches to the ends of the earth (cf. 28:19a; 8:11). In this regard, "the birds of the air" may well represent the Gentile nations (so e.g. T. W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, 133, n. 1; Gundry, 267, 268).


  1. A Conclusion.

    These verses pointedly bring to a close the collection of parables addressed to the crowds (vv. 1-9, 24-33), and prepare for those to be addressed to the disciples exclusively (vv. 36-52).

  2. The Original Meaning of Psalm 78:2.

    Ps 78 recites "the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD" (v. 4) from the Exodus to the reign of David (from Zoan to Zion: D. Kidner, Psalms, 280). Asaph declares his purpose in verse 2: "I will open my mouth in parables [mashal], I will utter things hidden from of old...." "Basically [mashal] means a comparison, i.e., a saying which uses one realm of life to illuminate another" (ibid., 281).

    Asaph's mashal recounts the past - including both Yahweh's mighty acts and the people's repeated rebellions - for the sake of present and (v. 4) future generations. The past is held up as a mirror to the present (Kidner): the two are compared, so that Asaph's own generation might be reminded of (v. 3) and learn from both Yahweh's initiatives of grace and the people's sinful response. In other words, "things hidden from of old" (v. 2b) are now brought out into the open by means of Asaph's utterance; by his careful selecting and combining of events, he both solves the enigmas of the past and makes clear their relevance for present and future generations. Cf. Carson, 321.

  3. Matthew's Use of Psalm 78:2.

    1. The audience. The v. is applied specifically to Jesus' speaking to the crowds (ochlois, v. 34) by means of parables.

    2. The medium. As in the original of Ps 78:2, "parables" stands in synonymous parallelism with "things hidden"; the parables do not merely contain, they are the hidden things.

    3. The hiddenness of the message. The quote echoes the point of 13:10-15, that the parables are a means of judgment, to conceal "the secrets of the kingdom" (v. 11). If this exhausts Matthew's meaning, then his use of Ps 78:2 is manifestly different from Asaph's.

    4. The openness of the message. Mt's use of parabola is not identical to that of mashal in Ps 78:2. Yet parabola may properly be used - as in the LXX's translation of mashal at Psalm 78(77):2 - to embrace both hiddenness and openness. Moreover, Jesus' teaching, like Asaph's, illuminates the present by reference to the past. The entirety of the OT prepares for Jesus' coming; he interprets his whole ministry as the fulfillment of the OT (5:17-48 et passim). As Asaph stands within the OT period, and Jesus beyond it, the teaching of the latter represents fulfillment in a way that the former could not (see the formula of v. 35, and cf. comments on the plarao of 1:22). Asaph stops with David (78:70-72); Jesus is the Son of David, the Messianic King. (For thoughts concerning Jesus' selecting and combining OT material in the manner of Asaph, see Carson, 322. Jesus as Messiah "unites in himself streams of revelation from the old covenant that had not been so clearly united before.") For those with eyes to see and ears to hear (vv. 9, 16), the riddles of the kingdom are now being solved, things formerly mysterious are being explained, things formerly hidden are being revealed. The problem lies not in the content of the parables but in the crowds' lack of understanding (cf. Gundry, 271). Enlightenment is presently withheld from them. But once they rightly respond to the light they have received, further light upon the truth will be granted. The "things hidden since the creation," are potentially intelligible to them as well.


  1. The Pictures.

    Again "the kingdom of heaven is like" - not the treasure and the merchant, but the entirety of each picture.

    1. The hidden treasure. "The frequency of invasions often led people to bury their treasures in the ground.... We are probably to understand the parable as referring to a day laborer who was plowing another man's field, discovered an old treasure buried before the present owner's lifetime or acquisition of the field, and did not extract the treasure but carefully covered it back up so as to purchase the field and forestall the possibility of the present owner's claiming to have buried the treasure himself" (Gundry, 276-78).

    2. The pearl. "Pearls were fished in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean.... emporo marks the merchant as a wholesale dealer, a big businessman who travelled to such places, not a small-time, shop-keeping retailer (kapalos)" (Gundry, 279).

  2. The Explanation.

    These parables depict the kingdom as a value different from others, and far greater - so that obtaining this treasure is worth abandoning all else ("sold all that he had," "sold everything he had"; the merchant does not find the pearl in his merchandise, for in this case selling it would be unnecessary). Cf. 6:33; 10:34-39; 13:18-23; 19:29.

This is self-evidently a companion to the parable of the weeds. Here, as there, (1) the worldwide outreach of the kingdom is in view (on the "sea" as the world, see Gundry 279), (2) the church is represented as a mixed company (the angels "separate the wicked from [ek mesou] the righteous"), and (3) the accent is upon the separation at the end (a separation based on discerning existing conditions).
Verse 52 refers initially to Matthew himself (see the INTRODUCTION). It also refers, by extension, to true disciples generally who at this juncture of their education are able to produce treasures old (what they knew before these parables) and new (what they know now, since Jesus has both told and explained the parables). Cf. Gundry 281-82.
In emphasizing this (especially v. 58; on differences from Mk 6:5-6, cf. Gundry 284), Matthew provides a fitting climax to the chapter, which has stressed the disciples' understanding versus the crowds' lack of understanding (the Nazarenes strikingly illustrate the latter). As persons impressed by Jesus' wisdom and miraculous powers (v. 54), but who persist in asking about their source (vv. 54, 56) and in "taking offense at him" (v. 57), they come close to adopting the stance of the Pharisees stated in 12:24.

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