Matthew chapter 13

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What does Matthew chapter 13 mean?

A huge group of people follow Jesus from the overcrowded house He was teaching in at the end of the previous chapter to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. So many people gather around Him that they cannot all see and hear Him. To solve this, Jesus gets in a boat and sits just a bit offshore. The crowd stands on the beach and listens as He begins to teach them in parables (Matthew 13:1–3).

Parables are usually short stories designed to emphasize a greater truth. The main purpose of a parable is to make large or abstract ideas easier to grasp. By relating something to more common experiences, parables make those deeper concepts more accessible. At the same time, because they rely on symbolism and metaphor, parables can be somewhat obscure. They certainly blur minute details, but those are not their primary purpose. The disciples ask Jesus to explain at least one to them, which He does during this chapter.

Jesus intentionally avoids explaining the meaning of the parables to the larger crowd, however. He tells the disciples that it has been given to them to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Israel at large, however, especially her religious leaders, was rejecting Jesus' role as the Messiah and the truth His miracles were powered by God. Because of that, Jesus says the people would fulfill Isiah's prophecies about those with dull hearts who will not see or hear or understand. The idea is that the people were resistant first, and in response, God amplified their misunderstanding as a form of judgment. Christ's disciples, though, are blessed to be able to see and hear what so many prophets and righteous people longed to see and hear down through Israel's history (Matthew 13:10–17).

Matthew notes that Jesus now teaches the crowds in parables partly to fulfill a prophetic statement in Psalm 78 (Matthew 13:34–35). These specific teachings are in the context of Israel's response to Jesus' ministry. While there are useful parallels to how the gospel is received, or rejected, the main purpose of these teachings is not to present a litmus test for salvation. The parable of the sower, in particular, has been picked apart in an effort to create a sort of "salvation spectrum," but this is not the intent of the message.

The first parable taught to the crowd is that of the sower who was planting a field. To get the maximum harvest, farmers would scatter seeds right over the border of the prepared soil. So, some seeds fall on hard-packed paths which are not ready for planting; birds eat those. Other seeds land on thin soil and begin to grow, but underlying rocks prevent growth; those sprouts die in a heatwave. Other seeds fell among thorns that choked the plants as they grew, preventing them from being abundant. Finally, some seeds landed on good soil and grew to have enormous yields (Matthew 3:3–9).

Jesus explains—only to His disciples—that the seeds represent the word of the kingdom. Those who do not understand it are the hard soil of the path. Such persons are hardened or resistant, and the message never even penetrates the surface. Satan snatches away that truth like a bird grabbing a seed. Rocky soil represents those who seem to accept the truth, but without any depth. As soon as difficulty comes, they wither and fail. Thorns represent competing interests from the world, like money. Lives choked with those distractions have no room to allow truth to flourish. The good soil is those who receive the word and are productive with it (Matthew 13:18–23).

The kingdom of heaven is described by Jesus using yet another parable. This one involves a man who sows grain in a field. His enemy comes by night and scatters weeds among the good wheat seeds. This is a known tactic used to sabotage another person's crops. The plant in question is likely darnel, also called tares: inedible grasses that look almost exactly like wheat until they produce seeds. Rather than uproot the good wheat, the farmer wisely waits until the harvest. At that time, all the plants will be harvested, but the weeds will be separated out, bundled up, and burned (Matthew 13:24–30).

In a later moment, Jesus explains to His disciples that He is the farmer, and the field is the entire world. The children of God's kingdom are the good wheat, and the children of the Devil are the weeds. For now, both will be allowed to live and grow. In the end judgment, however, they will be separated, and the evil ones will be thrown into a furnace (Matthew 13:36–43).

In a similar teaching, Jesus depicts the use of nets to catch fish. As the net is pulled through the water, it collects many different things. Once everything has been caught, fishermen sort what's valuable from what's not. In the same way, God's final judgment will distinguish between those who are His children and those who are not (Matthew 13:47–50).

The kingdom of heaven is also compared to a grain of mustard seed that grows to a large plant. This represents how the kingdom will be great and glorious, just as the Old Testament predicted—but not immediately. Rather, it will grow into that state (Matthew 13:31–32).

Christ also symbolizes the kingdom of heaven is like leaven in flour. What appears to be a tiny thing—small amounts of yeast—hidden among something large—a huge batch of flour. Likewise, the kingdom's apparently small, obscure beginning will come to affect the entire earth (Matthew 13:33).

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, or a costly pearl. Wise people recognize the value of these items and give up everything else to acquire them. The point of these parables is not that one must sacrifice everything to obtain salvation, but that there is a clear difference in value between earthly things and heavenly things. Giving up all we have only seems radical when we don't realize how valuable the rewards of the kingdom really are (Matthew 13:44–46).

When Jesus asks the disciples if they comprehend all He has told them, they answer "yes." They certainly grasp more about how the kingdom of God will be, compared to what they knew before. Jesus relates this to a wealthy person who shows others his treasures—both what is old and what is new. This represents the disciples being trained to teach others how lessons of the Old Testament fit with revelations from the New Testament. Despite the disciples insisting they know exactly what Jesus is saying, later incidents in Matthew's gospel show they still lack complete understanding (Matthew 13:51–52; 16:21–23; 26:6–13).

The chapter concludes with a trip to Jesus' hometown of Nazareth, where the people reject Him despite His wisdom and the mighty works He performs. Since they know Him—or, rather, think they do—they refuse to even consider new information. In fact, they're insulted at the suggestion that someone they think little of could be so important. Since the people are insincere and disinterested (Matthew 7:6), Jesus does little supernatural work there (Matthew 13:53–58).
What is the Gospel?
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