The Seven Similitudes of the Kingdom: Matthew 13

Matthew 13  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
In the Gospel of Matthew the Lord Jesus is brought before us as Israel’s true Messiah, their King, and He preached “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:1717From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)). John the Baptist had been sent as the forerunner to prepare His way (Matt. 3:33For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3)). The Spirit of God had marked out the Lord Jesus at His baptism, and the Father’s voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:1717And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)). The Lord Jesus did many wonderful works of power which the nation of Israel had seen and could not deny, but after all this, they rejected Him and sought to destroy Him (Matt. 12:1414Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. (Matthew 12:14)). Their crowning sin was to say that He cast out devils by Satan’s power (Matt. 12:2424But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. (Matthew 12:24)).
The Lord Leaves the “House”
This causes the Lord Jesus to go out of “the house,” a figure of Israel’s favored place as God’s earthly people, and He sits by the seaside (Matt. 13:11The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. (Matthew 13:1)). It was there that the Lord gave these seven similitudes of the kingdom of heaven. We might say that the expression “the kingdom of heaven” is speaking of the character of things in that part of the world which we often call “Christendom,” where there is an outward profession of Christianity, some real and some not. There are seven similitudes in Matthew 131The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. (Matthew 13:1), giving us a prophetic outline of what would take place in the absence of the Lord Jesus, the rightful King, whom we as believers own as such even now:
Christ of God, our souls confess Thee
King and Sovereign even now!
(Little Flock Hymnbook, #134)
The Lord As the “Sower”
The first parable is, in a sense, not a similitude, for it speaks of Christ as the sower of good seed of the Word of God and its effect upon those who hear it. Although the Lord Jesus is now absent, the sowing of the good seed goes on, and the effect is the same. The Lord Himself interprets the meaning of this parable to us, so we know its true meaning.
The first cast of seed fell by the wayside and Satan takes it away. How often this takes place after a gospel meeting. Satan occupies the mind of the hearers with other things and the solemnity of the message is forgotten.
The next cast of seed falls on stony places. The persons who hear may seem to enjoy the message, but there is no depth, no repentance of their sins, as is often said, “Religious but lost” (see John 2:23-2523Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. 24But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. (John 2:23‑25)). There has been no work of God in the conscience, and the person gives up when there is tribulation or persecution.
The next cast of seed falls among thorns and these persons value present things, riches and ease, more than the unsearchable riches of Christ, and they choose present things rather than eternal values.
But there are those whose consciences are reached, and the Word falls on good ground and springs up in life and bears fruit for the glory of God. These are true believers, but all believers do not bear the same amount of fruit, yet there is always some fruit for God when the person is truly born of God and is a new creature in Christ Jesus.
The Parable of the Tares
Now, in Matthew 13:2424Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: (Matthew 13:24) there is a real similitude in the parable of the tares. The enemy is brought before us here, the devil, who brings into the field of Christendom those who take the place of Christians, but the way they live and their evil teachings show they are not truly saved (see Acts 8:2121Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. (Acts 8:21)).
It is not our place to “root them out.” They grow together in the “field” of Christian profession. They gather in different groups (bundles), some denying the Person of Christ, His glorious work of redemption and other fundamental truth. This will continue till the Lord comes for His own, and then, being left behind at His coming, they will be brought into judgment.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
The next similitude is the parable of the grain of mustard seed, which when planted is only a tiny seed, but when grown it becomes a tree with the birds lodging in its branches. This is a picture of how Christianity, which had a very small beginning (about one hundred and twenty souls on the day of Pentecost; Acts 1:1515And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) (Acts 1:15)), becomes a great religious profession, where the messengers of Satan, like the birds in the tree (Satan is the prince of the power of the air; Eph. 2:22Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: (Ephesians 2:2)), find a lodging place.
The Parable of the Leaven
Then follows the similitude of the leaven, which was placed in the three measures of meal and worked till the whole was leavened. Leaven, as we learn from 1 Corinthians 5:88Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:8), is used in Scripture as a figure of evil. This similitude tells us of how there would be a system in Christendom which, while rightly maintaining the blessed truth of the Trinity the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:1919Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19)) would bring into their teaching many evil doctrines mixing truth and error and corrupting the truth.
The Lord Explains to the Disciples
After speaking to the multitude in these parables, the Lord goes into the “house” and explains their true meaning to the disciples, for while the world does not understand these things, the Lord would have His own to understand His ways and His purposes, for we are His friends (Matt. 13:1111He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (Matthew 13:11); John 15:1515Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. (John 15:15)). When the Lord has gone into “the house,” He speaks three more similitudes specially for His disciples to hear, for they show us, as the Lord says, about “things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 13:3535That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 13:35)).
The Parable of the Hid Treasure
Now that the multitude has been sent away, the Lord speaks of the “treasure hid in a field.” The Lord has already told us that “the field is the world” (Matt. 13:3838The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; (Matthew 13:38)). In this world, in spite of all the sin and wickedness, there is that which is precious to the Lord. Israel has been set aside for the time, and “not My people” is, so to speak, written upon them (Hosea 1:99Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God. (Hosea 1:9)). They will be blessed in a future day, and all is, of course, known before to the Lord (Acts 15:1818Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. (Acts 15:18)). The church is now being gathered out for heavenly glory. The Lord Jesus has “bought the field.” It was His by right as Creator, but Satan, the usurper, has taken the place as the “prince of this world” (John 14:3030Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. (John 14:30); Luke 4:66And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. (Luke 4:6)). The Lord Jesus will soon declare His rights to it (Rev. 4:11; 11:1511Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelation 4:11)
15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
) and all in heaven and earth will be brought under Him. Meanwhile He has “sold all that He had” to get the “treasure.” Now all the field belongs to the Lord as Creator and as Redeemer (1 Cor. 10:2626For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. (1 Corinthians 10:26)). He will soon claim it as His own.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price
Then comes the similitude of the pearl of great price. This refers to the church, for we are told in Ephesians 5:2525Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Ephesians 5:25) that “Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” Truly the Lord Jesus has not only “bought” the field but He gave Himself for this church, the object of His affection. What a blessed place we have in His affections now, and in a coming day the church will be presented to Him “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph. 5:2727That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)).
The Parable of the Great Net
Last of all we have the great net cast into the sea and gathering fish of every kind. This perhaps brings before us the great gospel activity of the last days, for the gospel net is gathering of every kind. There is a great deal of profession without reality. The intelligent fisherman is occupied with the “good fish,” those who are really saved. He does not occupy himself with the “bad fish”; he leaves them.
He is concerned with the good, the true Christians, that they might be “gathered... into vessels,” into a place of separation gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)), “sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:2121If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:21)).
The final judgment of the lost will take place later on, as we learn here (vss. 49-50). All this is given for our instruction that we might understand these ways of God and know what is going on in the “kingdom of heaven,” as well as understanding all His ways with men “things new and old.”
And when the day of glory
Shall burst upon this scene,
Dispelling all the darkness
Which deepening still had been;
Oh, then He’ll come in brightness,
Whom every eye shall see,
Arrayed in power and glory,
And we shall with Him be.
(Little Flock Hymnbook, #141)
G. H. Hayhoe