Last time we examined Jesus’ Parable of the Leaven detailing two potential interpretations of the parable based on whether Jesus intended the leaven to symbolize something good, or to symbolize sin and corruption as it does everywhere else in the Word of God.
Matthew 13 – Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Value
We now examine the last two of the seven so-called “Kingdom Parables” that Jesus taught while sitting in a boat along the shore of the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum – the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value. Since these two parables are so similar, we will examine them as a pair.
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.Matthew 13:44-46 [ESV]
Recall from Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Weeds that the field in that parable symbolized the world. Just so, the field here in this parable represents the world. So who exactly does the “man” in this parable represent? Just as we have seen differing popular interpretations of the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven, so there are opposing opinions about the Parable of the Hidden Treasure.
Some say that the man in this parable is one seeking salvation out of sin and death when he discovers the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – symbolized by the treasure and the pearl of great value in the parables. If this is the case, then the man’s actions in response to discovering the Truth seem odd. First the man covers up his discovery and keeps it secret until he can implement his plan to hoard the Truth to himself. This would certainly run contrary to Jesus’ own teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16 [ESV]
Here and elsewhere in His Word Jesus clearly directs his disciples to share the Good News of our salvation in Him and not hide it. So it seems incongruous that Jesus would liken the hiding of His Gospel to the Kingdom of Heaven here in this parable. Furthermore, the parable goes on to say that the man redeemed the field (and the treasure hidden in it) by joyfully selling all he had to buy the field for himself. Yet God’s Word is clear that salvation in Christ cannot be bought with money.
22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 6:22-23 [ESV]
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,Ephesians 2:8 [ESV]
14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!Acts 8:14-20 [ESV]
Of course, the man’s selling all that he had to gain the treasure may itself be symbolic of the need for sinners seeking redemption in Christ to wholly forsake our former lives and the things of this world in order to be free to repent of our sins and turn instead to following Jesus. Paul wrote of this in his letter to the church at Philippi.
7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain ChristPhilippians 3:7-8 [ESV]
We see perfect examples of this wholehearted commitment to leave behind the things of the world to follow Christ in Jesus calling of His apostles – particularly Matthew himself.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.Matthew 9:9 [ESV]
Matthew’s vocation as a tax collector was personally lucrative, and Matthew would have been quite well off if not perhaps dazzlingly wealthy and powerful. Matthew had chosen to make his living as a tax collector despite being shunned by his Jewish brethren as a hated collaborator in the Roman occupation. Yet Matthew suddenly and completely turned away from his comfortable life at Jesus’ beckoning to “Follow me.” It isn’t easy for most of us to leave behind our comforts and sinful pleasures of the flesh in order to gain Christ. Such was the case of the rich young man who earnestly desired salvation from Jesus, but was unwilling to leave worldly riches and pleasures behind.
16And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.Matthew 19:16-22 [ESV]
Of course Jesus Himself gave everything He had for our redemption so that we might know just how truly He loves us and desires for us to follow and dwell with Him.
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant [δοῦλος doulos – slave, bondservant], being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:5-8 [ESV]
With all that said though, the interpretation of the “man” in the parable symbolizing one who finds the Gospel of salvation hidden in the field of the world has serious issues in relation to the rest of the counsel of God’s Word. Therefore we might seek another interpretation that will better align with Biblical teaching. What if the “man” in the parable represents Jesus Himself as in the other kingdom parables we have studied? What then is the treasure that the man uncovered? Regardless of what the hidden treasure in the parable represents, it is clear that the man who desired to claim it had to sacrifice everything in order to obtain it. If we assume the man in the parable represents the LORD Jesus, then it is clear from the parable that the LORD had to give everything He had to obtain the treasure. This can only be referring to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
One possibility suggested by J. Vernon McGee is that the treasure is the nation of Israel which God chose out of the world as His own people long ages ago. Yet Israel repeatedly rebelled against the commandments and covenants of God. But God in His infinite love and mercy has preserved a remnant of Israel down through the ages even after they were scattered around the globe and “hidden” in the field of the world. He continues to nurture and protect His chosen people Israel until the time comes when He will restore His Kingdom in the world and wrest control of His field from our enemy satan. When He restores His lordship over the earth, He will finally ransom Israel out of the world as His own.
7Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, 8and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”Zechariah 8:7-8 [ESV]
Another possibility is that the treasure represents the Gospel of mankind’s redemption through the atoning blood of Jesus. It was hidden in creation from the very beginning until it was revealed when the “man” Jesus came as Immanuel – God with us. But this doesn’t really explain what is meant in the parable by the man re-burying the treasure until the “man” Jesus returns to buy the “field” and the treasure buried within it for Himself. Also, this interpretation of what the treasure represents doesn’t really explain why Jesus would need to claim it. After all, the Gospel has been Jesus’ own since before the beginning – part and parcel of His plan of creation and redemption all along. As we saw in the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the tiny seed of the Gospel first planted by Jesus during His earthly ministry hasn’t remained buried, but has blossomed forth dramatically since Jesus ascended back to His Father.
What then do the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value our LORD was willing to give His all to obtain represent. I would submit to you that they symbolize the hearts of those of us whom He came to redeem out of death through His sacrifice on the cross. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure says that the man sold everything he had to buy the field and redeem the treasure “…in his joy…”. This is reminiscent of what Paul wrote at the conclusion of the Great Hall of Faith chapter in the book of Hebrews.
1Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [those people of faith Paul listed in Hebrews 11], let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2 [NKJV]
When I was just a baby Christian, our pastor in Tucson was preaching on this passage one evening and asked the question, “What was the joy that was set before Him?” In that room full of hundreds of people, Pastor Robert looked straight into my eyes and said, “It was your heart!” When we meditate on Jesus’ sacrifice, we often think of it sorrowfully and regretfully because we recognize that it was our sin that brought Him to the cross. We need to remember that Jesus gave His all for us on the cross out of pure joy at the prospect of sharing true fellowship between His Spirit and ours.
11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”John 10:11-18 [ESV]
It is even more humbling when we consider that in the very instant that Jesus – the Word of God – spoke our universe into existence when He said, “Let there be light,” (Genesis 1:3) He knew that by doing so He was setting into motion a sequence of events that would eventually lead Him to the cross and the terrifying prospect of being separated in death from His Father and Spirit with whom He had been in constant fellowship for all eternity past. Yet so great is Jesus’ love for us and His desire for fellowship with our spirits, He pressed forward with His plan of creation and redemption in that moment.
Even more amazing and humbling is the lesson we can glean from the Parable of the Pearl of Great Value.
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.Matthew 13:45-46 [ESV]
Since Jesus ascended back to His Father, billions of true believers have come to saving faith in His Gospel and true fellowship with His Spirit just as He ordained even before the beginning. But the unfathomable truth is that if you or I were the only single person saved out of death by Jesus throughout all the ages, Jesus would still have gone to the cross (sold all that he had) just to redeem a single person (pearl of great value) out of death.
4“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.Luke 15:4-7 [ESV]
Furthermore, Jesus’ willingness to give everything He has to redeem each individual person is entirely independent of our own character, actions, words, and thoughts. If each of us is symbolized by the pearl in the parable, our value to Him is intrinsic to each individual person regardless of any other factor whatsoever. We are “hard-wired” with such great value that our LORD was willing to give all that He had to redeem us.
When we come to a saving relationship with the LORD Jesus, He seals His new covenant with us by the indwelling of our hearts by His Spirit. One of the great inscrutable mysteries of this sealing of our salvation is that we don’t have access to a billionth portion of His Spirit continually, nor do we have access to God’s entire devotion for a billionth part of the time. All of Him is present within all of us all the time. This sort of “multitasking” is something that human beings are not only incapable of, but we are not even able to understand how it could even be possible. Our nature is so locked into space/time, we can’t even imagine a God who is not – who is fully present everywhere for all eternity. Even more mind blowing is that this God who is capable of such a thing has delegated to each of us the power to govern whether we even allow Him to enter our consciousness at all – much less govern our lives.
Like any good teacher, when Jesus finished teaching these parables, He gave a quick learning check to His pupils.
51“Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”Matthew 13:51-52 [ESV]
Firstly, of whom was Jesus asking this question? Was it His own disciples, or the crowd who had just heard Him teach the Kingdom Parables from the boat? Regardless, I seriously doubt they were being entirely straightforward in answering “Yes.” After all, we still struggle to understand most of these parables fully even though we have access to Jesus’ own explanations of the parables of the Sower and the Wheat and Tares. Even Jesus’ own chosen apostles who accompanied Him throughout His ministry and were given His private explanations of some of His parables still failed to fully grasp the true meaning of His Gospel until after He had ascended back to His Father. So we can well imagine that when His hearers responded that they understood His teaching, they perhaps did so sheepishly, each of them looking furtively at those around them trying to discern whether anyone else in the crowd didn’t really understand or whether they were the only ones. In fact, they were likely so confused by the parables they didn’t even know what to ask about them despite the fact that Jesus clearly offered them the opportunity to ask questions right here.
With all that said though, exactly what did Jesus mean by His statement in Matthew 13:52? It may be helpful for us to simply assume that He had asked His own disciples the question whether they understood what He had just taught them, and that when they affirmed they did they were being truthful. Then Jesus explained to them that He had been training them in the Gospel so that they could go out and share it with others. He says that those who were being trained as His evangelists, were to share not only His own teachings that they had heard, and their personal testimonies regarding the mighty works He had done during His ministry (the new treasures He mentions here), but also the Messianic prophecies and other truths contained in His Word (the old treasures of which Jesus spoke). Remember that when Jesus said this, the written Scripture these people had available to them was what we now know as the Old Testament. Some of those to whom He addressed His question in Matthew 13:51 would go on later to write down the new treasures of which He spoke so that we ourselves have access to them nearly 2000 years later. Hallelujah!
Next time, God willing, we will conclude our study in Matthew 13 with a look at the story of Jesus’ rejection in His home town of Nazareth.