Continuing on in Matthew’s gospel, we arrive in chapter 13 where Jesus is making His way to the Sea of Galilee.
If you are now joining this study, you can read Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1 here.
We just left off in chapter 12 where Jesus encountered conflict with the Pharisees and continued to perform healings and miracles. Now in chapter 13 we will read a series of parables from Jesus describing what the kingdom of heaven is like.
From the outset, crowds of people gather around Jesus as His reputation is spreading and people desire to know more about this man Jesus: the one healing, preaching and performing miracles. Jesus becomes enveloped by so many people that He decides to find a boat He can float in by the seashore, so that everyone can see and hear him teach.
Then Jesus begins to teach via parables.
7 parables to be exact.
4 of the parables are focused towards the crowds of people. 3 of the parables are focused towards Jesus’ disciples when He is alone with them.
Parables are short stories, allegorical and symbolic in nature, meant to convey a deeper meaning. We have seen Jesus employ this teaching methodology earlier in chapter 5:14-16, chapter 7:24-27, chapter 9:16-17, all of which are short parables.
Now in chapter 13, Jesus resumes this style of teaching in a series of many parables all working together to describe one idea: the kingdom of heaven.
Using parables to describe such a lofty place and idea as the kingdom of heaven causes Jesus’ listeners to think and process what He’s saying, while also acting as a filtering mechanism by which Jesus speaks to those who will believe and those will not believe. We will talk more about this when we arrive at verses 10-17.
In verse 3, Jesus begins His first parable in this particular set of parables.
In verses 3-9, Jesus tells the crowds of people a parable about a man planting seeds on different kinds of soils.
1) seeds that the birds came and ate, 2) seeds on rocky ground that immediately sprang up but have no deep roots and withered, 3) seeds growing beside thorns and got choked by the thorns, and 4) seeds on good soil, producing grain in various measures.
Remember: Jesus’ audience is comprised of Jewish people who had been following Him for quite some time now.
They have heard His words, seen His miracles, witnessed His healings.
Now it’s time to see what it’s producing in them.
Matthew is brilliant to highlight this parable right here at the beginning of Jesus’ series of parables, since this parable in itself is like a mini summary telling the reader the whole point of parables in the first place: to filter those who will believe in Jesus and those who will not.
This is why Jesus teaches in parables.
Because there are different kinds of soils, or different kinds of responses from people.
And only the ones who truly want Jesus and believe in Him will produce well and grow.
In verses 10-16, Jesus pauses to explain why He teaches in parables since His disciples are confused why Jesus is teaching this way.
Their confusion regarding the parables is understandable considering the disciples don’t yet know what Jesus is doing here with His sermon strategy.
We as modern day studiers of the Bible see have had time to look at Jesus’ rhetoric here and see His purpose in it, but the disciples had no such luxury. They didn’t know what to think about it in the moment. They hadn’t even known Him for very long. They were probably thinking…why don’t you just tell them what you want them to know Jesus? Why are you talking so metaphorically about truths as lofty and mysterious as the kingdom of heaven?
But Jesus has a reason.
Parables prepare the unbelieving heart to start processing truths from God that require the Holy Spirit for clarity.
Jesus plants the seed (parables) and the Holy Spirit waters (understanding).
Therefore, no one will be able to hear what He is saying without God’s help.
If Jesus were to tell them about God directly, the Holy Spirit would not have as much room to work and give understanding, because the people would not be looking for understanding when they already think they understand it. Parables increase the Holy Spirit’s power to work in their hearts.
In other words, if someone hears a parable and doesn’t understand it, then telling him directly will not profit him….because he doesn’t truly understand it by God’s spirit, only by his own earthly mind. Hearing something directly is easy for anyone to understand. But if the Holy Spirit is involved, then one can both understand it directly and through a parable. So God tells the parables first.
It’s a filtering mechanism by which Jesus sifts through the people who will believe in Him and those who will not.
The ones on God’s side and those who are not.
The 2 opposing forces we established back in chapter 2 and have seen at work throughout Matthew’s gospel.
The reality of the kingdom of heaven has been concealed by God for this long and now Jesus has come to reveal it, as He tells us later in verse 35.
But this revelation is in process.
Jesus reveals it slowly in a way that makes His listeners slow down to process it and really think about it. This is what forces them to choose: do I want to know more about this or don’t I? It’s sparks curiosity. It makes room for the Holy Spirit of God to draw them to faith in Jesus. And it filters out the ones who are not genuine.
Thus, parables are actually good for the ones who don’t yet believe in Jesus.
By forcing their contemplation, Jesus is actually trying to soften their hearts and set them up for spiritual regeneration through Him and His Spirit.
“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand,” in verse 13.
It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want the crowds of people to know about the kingdom of heaven and is denying them knowledge. But most of the people in the crowds are just not open to Jesus right now. And thus they would not even hear it if it were spoken to them.
Only the ones chosen by Jesus so far and who have reciprocated this choice by choosing Him back (His disciples) have the gift of immediately understanding what Jesus is saying.
So when the disciples ask Jesus why He is telling the other people parables, He says this in verse 11,
“And He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (emphasis mine).
The disciples already chose Jesus.
They want Him.
They believe in Him.
Thus, they were given the gift of knowing the secrets about heaven and God that others are not fully given yet. Until they also choose.
But Jesus is kind and actually continues to explain this parable to the crowds of people.
In verses 18-23, Jesus resumes His teaching and takes time to explain this particular parable to the crowds of people.
Reading through this, I’m wondering…why does Jesus explain this parable?
As He goes on, He doesn’t explain any other parables that He tells the crowds in this chapter. He will go on to explain one parable to the disciples in private but not to the crowds. So the explanation to this particular parable must be important. Jesus wants them to know what it means.
Going back to what we talked about earlier regarding this parable of the seeds and soils being a mini summary of the purpose for all parables (a filtering mechanism), Jesus also wants to make this clear to the crowds of people. That each one of them is like one of these kinds of soil.
Jesus explains each kind of soil and how it correlates to a person hearing Jesus’ words and following Him or not.
This is certainly a call to action.
Jesus wants His followers to understand that following Him from place to place is not enough.
They need to decide.
Are they going to believe Jesus’ words or not?
Not everyone in the crowd would have gotten this however.
Only the ones who wanted Jesus would be able to feel conviction, a desire to believe Jesus’ words and the ability to understand it:
“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understand it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty,” in verse 23.
Jesus is now at the point in chapter 13 where time has passed and He’s challenging the people to consider: which kind of soil are you?
They’ve been following Jesus for this long. Are they going to let Jesus’ words take root in their souls or not?
In verses 24-30, Jesus tells the crowds of people a parable about a man who planted good seeds in his field but then found that his enemy had come in the middle of the night to plant weeds in that field.
I think Jesus follows up with this parable to encourage and equip the ones who are starting to believe in Jesus.
It’s likely there are those in the crowd who are really understanding what Jesus is teaching and thus saying, “Yes, I want Jesus and I believe in Him!”
Now, Jesus is now preparing them for what will happen when they start to follow Him. The struggles. The obstacles. The attacks. The assault from the devil.
“ ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ ” Jesus says in verse 27 while telling the parable.
Jesus wants them to be ready when the enemy comes and tries to contaminate what God has planted. But the enemy will not prevail.
Jesus provides an eschatological answer to this problem in verse 30, promising that God will have his reapers, or angels, gather up the weeds and burn them but gather the grain from the good seed into His barn, or His kingdom. Jesus doesn’t say that He will eliminate the weeds when they spring up. Because then, it would uproot the wheat. Thus, bad things happen for the sake of sustaining all of our existence. Until Jesus comes back and God wipes away evil.
In verses 31-32, Jesus tells the crowds of people a parable about a small mustard seed being planted and it growing into the largest tree of all the plants.
Again, Jesus is describing the kingdom of heaven here.
This seems odd, because the kingdom of heaven seems pretty magnificent!
Why compare it to a mustard seed?
Jesus wants to convey that anything they can comprehend about God and heaven is only a small taste of what it really is. A mustard seed. And what it will be when we are with Jesus one day is greater than anything we can see now.
Additionally, to a Jewish audience who may be confused by Jesus’ teaching and understanding of “kingdom of heaven,” this parable likely speaks to their expectations of the Messiah coming to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Most Jews were waiting for the Messiah to arrive and stop their oppression under the Romans and establish God’s kingdom on earth. But this is not what’s happening.
Jesus is not there to establish His own kingdom.
He is there to tell of the kingdom to come.
A “mustard seed” is all they can see of the kingdom of heaven right now.
But one day, they will see the “tree.”
Revelation 22:1-3 says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, nut the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His people will worship Him.”
When I read this, I see this parable working to convey to His audience that they may not see a lot happening now… but one day, they will indeed see the kingdom of heaven and it will be more beautiful and greater than anything they’ve ever known or seen.
Just because you don’t see anything happening doesn’t mean the fruit isn’t on the way.
To me, this passage is always applicable.
In every situation, we trust in God to grow what He planted.
To complete what He started.
It’s what faith is all about.
Jesus tells the crowds another parable in verses 33 about a woman waiting for leaven to rise.
These back-to-back parables about the mustard seed and the leaven both reinforce the other…that the kingdom of heaven is something we must wait for. And it will come. Then the waiting will be over. We will receive the blessing.
Matthew inserts authorial narration in verses 34-35, informing the reader that everything Jesus is saying at this point in time is via parables.
Then Matthew connects Jesus’ use of parables to a prophecy found in Psalm 78:2:
“I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Remember, Matthew writes with a Jewish audience in mind.
Thus, he includes scriptures from the Old Testament that prophesy of Jesus to make it more clear to the reader that Jesus really is the Jewish Messiah that the Old Testament has been prophesying about. Matthew has included Old Testament prophetic scriptures before as we have been reading along in his gospel and he will continue.
At this point in verse 36, Jesus leaves the crowds of people and goes back into the house that He exited at the beginning of the chapter.
Jesus’ disciples come to Him.
They want to know the meaning of the parable about the seeds growing with the weeds.
In verse 36, Jesus teaching shifts from teaching the crowds to teaching His disciples. Thus, the parable He tells in verses 3-35 are different in purpose and focus than the parables He tells in verses 36-58.
We’ve already discussed this parable in its content and why Jesus may have included it in His teaching, so now we will look at what Jesus is doing as He explains this parable to His disciples.
Jesus sees that His disciples are curious and a little confused.
However, we will see by verse 51 that the disciples understand more than they realize!
I love that Jesus takes time to talk with His disciples privately about what He is teaching. He always prioritizes them and appreciates them as His ministry partners.
In verse 43, Jesus says again “…He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
We’ve seen Jesus say this phrase before to the people when He’s teaching, but I’m a little confused at why He is saying this to the disciples. Sure, He wants to make sure the people are hearing what He’s saying. But it seems that the disciples are already hearing fully what Jesus is saying because they have chosen to follow Him. So doesn’t Jesus already know that the disciples do hear and do understand? Why would He exhort them like this?
But if we keep reading, we see that this is not so much an exhortation as it is an affirmation.
In verse 51, Jesus asks them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.”
Jesus wants them to notice out loud that they do indeed understand.
This is so significant!
Seeing this in this passage is my favorite thing about this chapter!!!! I want you to see it too!!!
And it’s this:
→Jesus notices that the disciples are confused and uncertain if they understand all that Jesus is saying. Jesus doesn’t reject their feelings. He doesn’t say, why of course you understand! No. He cares about the fear underneath their doubt about being able to understand. He puts them in a scenario where that fear is tested (the fear of not being able to understand His parables)…thus, Jesus tells them a few parables just by theirselves, without the uncertainty of the crowds rubbing off on them. And then He asks them “Do you understand?” And they reply “yes!”. What!!??!?! I totally was surprised when I was reading this because I expected them to say “No.” Because they seem to not think they have the ability to understand.
The disciples were not confident in their ability to understand Jesus’ parables and thus they thought they couldn’t.
But really…they could!!!
They just needed Jesus to help them see that they already knew! what they already possessed! who they already were!
Wow I just love this!!!
What an extra bonus this passage produces in showing us just how much we need Jesus to be who we are called to be and to be who we already are in Him! So glad Matthew wrote it this way. Freaking genius if you ask me : )
We see that Jesus awakens our potential and affirms our aptitude.
This is what He did for the disciples.
I love this connection in this passage!
In verse 52, Jesus goes on to affirm the disciples’ identity:
“And He said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like an owner of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
This is significant because the disciples were not actual scribes trained in the Jewish way.Yet, Jesus deems them scribes. And not just any scribe. But scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven. What an honor!
Jesus entrusts His disciples with responsibility and leadership.
It’s a blessing He bestows upon them.
And it’s not based on their qualifications, but on Jesus’ own choice to choose them and train them.
Going back to verses 44-46 specifically, Jesus tells His disciples 2 short parables that illustrate 2 scenarios of someone giving everything they have for the new treasure they have found.
The kingdom of heaven is this treasure.
Jesus wants the disciples to see that everything they have given their life for is worth it. It is far more valuable than the life they would have had. And what they will experience when they are in this “kingdom of heaven” for real will be worth everything they are doing right now with Jesus.
Jesus continuously points them towards an eschatological hope which is found in Him.
In verses 47-50 specifically, Jesus tells His disciples one last parable.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a net being thrown into the sea catching an assortment of fish, which will be sorted out by fishermen. He goes on to explain how this represents the angels separating out the evil and the righteous at the end of times when Jesus comes back and eradicates evil and Satan for good.
Jesus will continue to tell His disciples insider-knowledge, if you will, about what is going to happen in the future.
Luckily, for us as readers, we can follow this as recorded in Matthew’s gospel and see the progression of Jesus’ words come to fruition, especially in His prediction of His own death and resurrection after 3 days. Just proves even more that Jesus is the Messiah. And this helps Jewish readers to see the prophetic evidence of Jesus’ divinity.
In verses 53-58, Jesus and His disciples leave and travel to Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, where they encounter a much different reception than they had received in other places.
Jesus and His disciples arrive in Nazareth and Jesus goes to a synagogue to preach.
After preaching in the synagogue there in Nazareth, all the people are astonished.
But it’s not because they want to know more. It’s because they are skeptical of Him and how He has become who He is. Everyone is questioning His identity, wisdom, insight and power.
They all remember Jesus just as the little boy that used to live in Nazareth.
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us?” it says in verse 55-56.
The hometown people of Nazareth think they know Jesus.
But they don’t. They don’t respect Him for who He truly is.
Jesus says in verse 57, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”
Again, this highlights the 2 opposing forces at work in Matthew’s gospel that we have witnessed ever since chapter 2: the ones on God’s side and those who are not. The ones who believe in Jesus and those who do not.
Chapter 13 ends with Matthew telling the reader that Jesus “did not do many works there because of their unbelief” in verse 58.
Ending this study of Matthew chapter 13, we see how Jesus desires to soften the hearts of the people in Galilee who are following Him and curious about Him. Thus He teaches in parables to help them stop and think about what He is saying regarding the kingdom of heaven and faith in God.
By now at the end of chapter 13, Jesus has finished a longer set of teachings via parables.
As we progress into chapter 14, Jesus will transition to performing miracles.
But first, we will change scenery to find out what is going on with John the Baptist, who is in prison under Herod’s rule in the beginning verses of chapter 14.
Until then, may God richly bless you as you dive into the gospel of Matthew, learning more about the life of our beautiful, strong Savior Jesus Christ. Let His words soothe your heart and His life inspire your love.
Summary of Matthew 13
Jesus exits His family’s house and goes to the sea (of Galilee); Jesus gets into a boat to teach to the people who are now surrounding Him; Jesus begins to teach via parables; Jesus tells the crowds a parable about a sower; Jesus explains the parable of the sower; Jesus tells the crowds a parable of good seeds and weeds in a field; Jesus tells the crowds a parable of a mustard seed; Jesus tells the crowds a parable of leaven rising; Jesus leaves the crowds; Jesus explains to the disciples the parable of the good seeds and weeds in the field; Jesus tells His disciples a parable of hidden treasure; Jesus tells His disciples a parable of a valuable pearl; Jesus tells His disciples a parable of a net catching fish; Jesus affirms His disciples understanding of the parables; Jesus leaves and goes to Nazareth; Jesus is rejected by the people in His hometown; Jesus does not perform many miracles or healings in Nazareth.
Jesus in Matthew 13
Jesus exit’s the house where his family was at (v. 1)
Jesus goes to sit beside the sea (v. 1)
Jesus draws many people to Him (v. 2)
Jesus is captivating (v. 2)
Jesus gets into a boat and sits since there were so many people around Him (v. 2)
Jesus goes to where everyone will be able to see and hear Him (v. 2)
Jesus is pragmatic (v. 2)
Jesus cares about everyone (v. 2)
Jesus begins to tell them parables (v. 3)
Jesus tells parables about what the kingdom of heaven is like (v. 3-52)
Jesus tells a parable of a sower sowing seeds on different kinds of soils (v. 3-9)
Jesus exhorts them to hear what He is saying (v. 9)
Jesus’ parables confuse His disciples (v. 10)
Jesus explains (v. 10)
Jesus tells the disciples that they are able to understand the secrets of God but others cannot (v.11)
Jesus tells parables to help the crowds of people understand, not confuse them (v. 11)
Jesus tells parables because they will not listen to Him if he tells them directly (v. 13)
Jesus supports this with a prophecy from Isaiah 6:9-10 regarding those who hear but don’t understand, and see but don’t see (v. 14-15)
Jesus calls the disciples eyes blessed (v. 16)
Jesus calls the disciples ears blessed (v. 16)
Jesus calls them blessed because they see (v. 16)
Jesus calls them blessed because they hear (v. 16)
Jesus declares that many prophets and righteous people longed to see what they see and hear what they hear, but never did (v. 17)
Jesus is the One they longed to see (v. 17)
Jesus is the One they longed to hear (v. 17)
Jesus is who everyone has been waiting for (v. 17)
Jesus explains the parable about the seed and the sower to the crowds (v. 18-23)
Jesus tells the crowds another parable about a man planting seed in a field and his enemy planting weeds in the same field (v. 24-30)
Jesus tells the crowds another parable about a man planting a mustard seed and it growing into a large tree (v. 31-32)
Jesus tells the crowds another parable about a woman waiting on leaven to rise (v. 33)
Jesus teaches the crowds about God and the kingdom of heaven through parables (v. 34)
Jesus fulfills the prophecy found in Psalm 78:2 (v. 35)
Jesus leaves the crowds (v. 36)
Jesus goes back into the house (v. 36)
Jesus’ disciples now ask Him to explain the parable of the weeds to them (v. 36)
Jesus now shifts to teaching His disciples (v. 36)
Jesus proceeds to tell them what everything in the parable represents (v. 37-39)
Jesus tells His disciples the one sowing seed is the Son of Man (v. 37)
Jesus is the Son of Man (v. 37)
Jesus tells His disciples the field is the world (v. 38)
Jesus tells His disciples the good seed is the sons of the kingdom (v. 38)
Jesus tells His disciples the weeds are the sons of the evil one (v. 38)
Jesus tells His disciples the enemy is the devil (v. 39)
Jesus tells His disciples the harvest is the end of the age (v. 39)
Jesus tells His disciples the reapers are the angels (v. 39)
Jesus says that the weeds burned with fire is what will happen at the end of the age (v. 40)
Jesus will send His angels to gather all sin and all the ones who don’t follow Him and throw them into the fiery furnace (v. 41-42)
Jesus says there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in the fiery furnace (v. 42)
Jesus says the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father (v. 43)
Jesus exhorts them to hear what He is saying (v. 43)
Jesus wants all to hear and listen (v. 43)
Jesus will not force anyone to hear (v. 43)
Jesus tells the disciples a parable about a man finding a treasure in a field and selling everything he has to buy that field (v. 44)
Jesus tells the disciples a parable about a man finding a very valuable pearl, who goes and sells all he has to buy it (v. 45-46)
Jesus tells the disciples a parable about a net catching many fish and men sorting through it (v. 47-48)
Jesus explains this, saying at the end of the age the angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous (v. 49)
Jesus talks about the fiery furnace again (v. 49-50)
Jesus says there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (v. 50)
Jesus asks his disciples if they understand (v. 51)
Jesus’ disciples says “yes” (v. 51)
Jesus disciples’ understand (v. 51)
Jesus cares about His disciples’ comprehension of what He is saying (v. 51)
Jesus doesn’t merely talk at them (v. 51)
Jesus declares responsibility upon His disciples because of the insight He is telling them (v. 52)
Jesus tells them they are like scribes being trained for the kingdom of heaven (v. 52)
Jesus tells them that they are to glean from both the new and old teaching, as leaders in the kingdom of heaven (v. 52)
Jesus finishes telling His parables (v. 53)
Jesus leaves (v. 53)
Jesus goes to Nazareth, His hometown (v. 54)
Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Nazareth (v. 54)
Jesus astonishes the people (v. 54)
Jesus astonishes them with His wisdom and insight (v. 54)
Jesus is questioned by the people in his hometown (v. 55-56)
Jesus is doubted by the people in his hometown (v. 55-56)
Jesus is disrespected by the ones in his hometown (v. 55-56)
Jesus is seen as the boy they always knew, not the Messiah he truly is (v. 55-56)
Jesus declares that a prophet is always dishonored in his hometown (v. 57)
Jesus declares that a prophet is always dishonored in his own household (v. 57)
Jesus could not do many mighty works in Nazareth because of the people’s unbelief (v. 58)
Jesus will not do mighty works for those who don’t believe Him (v. 58)
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Questions for Today:
- What are parables?
- Why does Jesus tell parables as a form of teaching?
- How does Jesus awaken the disciples’ potential and affirm their aptitude?
- How does Jesus show honor to His disciples?
- Why is Jesus not respected in his hometown?
- What stood out to me about Jesus in Matthew chapter 13?
“Great Things (Worth it All)” by Elevation Worship