The Parable of a Hidden Treasure – Matthew 13:44

As in the case of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast, the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price are linked thematically. In the previous two sayings, the smallness and hiddenness of the Kingdom was the main point. In these two parables, the kingdom is hidden and ultimately valuable are the main idea. In each parable, something valuable is discovered, then the discover sells everything he has in order to purchase the item of great value.

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Are these “insider parables”?

The final three parables in Matthew 13 are addressed only to the disciples, followed by Jesus asking his disciples if the disciples have understood “all these things” (13:51-52). In Matthew 11:25 Jesus thanks the Father because he has “hidden these things form the wise and revealed them to little children.” Matthew 12 is the decisive break with the Pharisees. It is not difficult to understand the “wise” as the Pharisees and teachers of the law and the “little children” as the disciples. The hidden things Jesus revealed to the disciples is the nature of the Kingdom of God, which is a mystery (Matthew 13) hidden from the religious teachers, aristocratic priests and other elites in Second Temple Judaism.

Most commentators draw a parallel between the hidden treasure and the pearl. But there is a contrast between the two seekers. One finds the treasure by accident; the other was searching for valuable pearls. Both find the treasure, and both sell everything in order to obtain it. If the point is merely “the kingdom is very valuable” then the parables say the same thing. The difference is the one who finds the kingdom; a difference which is present among Jesus’s disciples.

Hiding and Finding

It is not unusual for someone to hide treasure in the ground, especially prior to modern banking systems this was rather common (“stuffing money in your mattress”). There were no salvage laws with respect to finding treasure (basically “finders keepers,” see m. Baba Batra 4:8). Presumably the original owner of the field is not known, but the legality of the man’s actions is not really the point of the story.

Josephus reports that the Romans discovered all kinds of gold and silver buried by the Jews in anticipation of the invasion by Rome (JW 7.5.2). The Copper Scroll (3Q15) from Qumran lists a number of buried treasures although the scroll has never been deciphered and no actual treasure has been found.

In the wisdom literature there is a comparison drawn between finding wisdom and finding a hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-4; Sirach 20:30).

The man who finds the treasure sells everything he has to purchase the field. It is easy enough to get side-tracked on the legality of the action of the man in the story, but that is not the point. There is nothing in the Old Testament law that specifically deals with this situation, and given the fact that people buried their savings somewhat more commonly than today, it is possible that occasionally the situation being described could actually happen. Jesus is not commenting on the legally or morality of the action. The important thing is a hidden treasure has been found, one that is worth risking everything for.

Does re-hiding the hidden treasure mean anything? Some commentators have allegorized this part of the story to refer to the delay of the kingdom, but it is just part of the story, the “finder’s desperate effort to own the treasure” (Bailey, “The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and of the Pearl Merchant,” 179).  The man sells all that he has “in his joy” and buys the field so that he can take possession of the hidden treasure.

What Does the Parable Teach?

The point is the Kingdom is so valuable it is worth “selling out” in every way in order to obtain the kingdom. The man was not looking for a treasure but found it unexpectedly. It is ironic that the Pharisees sought the treasure (the kingdom of God), but they have not found it because it is hidden in Jesus’s ministry.

The man in the parable is a disciple so Jesus who has left everything behind to follow Jesus (Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 279). The disciples have more or less done this already. They left their homes and families to follow Jesus. The encouragement to future generations of disciples is to realize the value of what they are seeking.

Another aspect of the mystery of the kingdom in the parable of the hidden treasure is that the kingdom is discovered. In this case it is discovered by one who is not seeking it.  It comes suddenly, in a way that is not expected. There is not only a joy in the discovery, but the immediately realization that it is worth more than life itself.

For many of Jesus’s disciples, they found the kingdom even though they were not looking for it. They left their homes and family and have followed Jesus with total dedication. However, other disciples are equally dedicated to Jesus but were seeking the kingdom all along.

The Parable of Hidden Leaven – Matthew 13:33

After comparing the Kingdom to a Mustard Seed, Jesus teaches a parable about leaven hidden in a lump of dough.  

Arab Women Baking Bread

Like a mustard seed, a lump of leaven (ζύμη) is small and hidden into fresh dough. Like a sourdough starter, leaven is naturally present in flour. When you knead the leaven into flour and water, the leaven will ferment. If you let the dough sit for seven days, the dough will begin to rise. Then that starter batch can be worked into more dough to bake bread. There is a difference between leaven and yeast; yeast in the modern sense is a leavening agent that you can buy in a store as a dry powder. Leaven in the ancient world is simply fermenting dough.

Like the mustard seed growing into a tree, there is hyperbole in the Parable of the Hidden Leaven. This woman is making a very large quantity of bread. “Three measures is the equivalent of almost 40 liters, enough for a meal for more than 150 persons or for approximately 110 pounds of bread” (Luz, Matthew 8-20, 262). About four pounds of leaven would be needed! This is not normal story about a woman baking bread for her family, it is a shocking hyperbole.

Leaven and Sin?

One problem with the parable of the Hidden Leaven is that in the rest of the Bible, leaven or yeast is a metaphor for sin. A week prior to the Passover, the Jews were to clean their homes and get rid of all the old leaven (Exodus 12:15, 19). This is called the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and explains the tradition of matzah bread at the Passover meal. Any bread made for Passover would not have any leaven in it and would therefore not rise. Cleaning out all the old leaven from the house represents removing sin before the Passover.

In Matthew 16:6-12 Jesus will warn his disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, referring to their teaching (16:12). In the overall context of Matthew the leaven of the Pharisees is their hypocrisy.

Paul uses leaven as a metaphor for sin in the Corinthian church (1 Cor 5:6; cf. Gal 5:9). Like a little leaven in a lump of dough causes the bread to rise, even a little bit of sin corrupts the whole church.

The Hiddenness of the Kingdom of God

Rather than focusing on the leaven as an image for sin, Jesus’s emphasis is on the hiddenness of the leaven. What the kingdom is not at all obvious during the ministry of Jesus. Like a bit of leaven hidden in a lump of dough, Jesus’s announcement that the kingdom is present in his ministry is not at all what the Jewish people were expected from the Messiah. When the kingdom comes, it comes all at once! It is the hole loaf, or the fully grown tree from the very start.

Like the tree in the previous parable, when the kingdom fully arrives it will bless the whole world (like a woman who bakes 110 pounds of bread!) Like the birds building their nests in a tree, there is no need to allegorize the parts of the saying. The woman, the bread, the oven are all props in the story necessary to describe hidden leaven.

Parables and Millennialism

Do the parables of the mustard seed and the hidden leaven teach that the church is “building the kingdom of God”? (Or, to put this in systematic theology terms, is Jesus teaching post-millennialism?) Not at all. But these are the best verses in favor of post-millennialism. For example, Swete thought the leaven refers to “the kingdom’s subtle power of spreading itself through society and transforming it” (The Parables of the Kingdom, 43-44).

However, there is an already state of the kingdom (the seed, the leaven) and the not yet state of the kingdom (the tree, the loaf). There is no middle state of the kingdom, there is nothing here instructing the disciples to be the growing tree or the fermenting leaven.

As with the parable of the mustard seed, this parable encourages the disciples of Jesus who may have wondered (along with the Pharisees and others) how Jesus’s announcement of the kingdom of God could possibly be related to the glorious promises of the Old Testament.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed – Matthew 13:31-32

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is the first of two short parables linked together by the theme of a small beginning that has great results that benefit a large group. This eventual conclusion is far more than one might have guessed. The Kingdom of God will begin very humbly (as a carpenter in Nazareth, the twelve disciples), yet the message of the kingdom will eventually bless the whole world. There is probably not a “growth” theme in the parables, the emphasis is in the small / large contrast, not on the mechanism for how that growth occurs (so no post-millennialism here!)

Mustard Seed

In this parable, Jesus says The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Mustard Seed, a small seed which grows into a tree.

While there is at least one rabbnic statement about a house using timber from a mustard plant for roofing material (BabTalmud Ketuboth, 111b, cited by Hagner). Most commentators see this as hyperbole for the sake of effect: a tiny seed grows into a massive tree.

The mustard seed is “proverbially small,” both Hellenistic and rabbinic sources are clear on this (see BAGD 751, SB 1:699 for sources, Hultgren 395 notes 12 and 13.)  The seed is only .075 inches in diameter and can produce a shrub as tall as large as fifteen feet tall. The modern world would probably not use the word tree to describe the plant, but the Greek dendron is sufficient broad in semantic range to include large shrubberies.

The tree is large enough that birds make nests in its branches. Like most of the parables, this is hyperbole, a mustard plant does not grow as large as an oak tree. The point the contrast between the small seed and the large tree is unexpected.

Does Jesus draw on the Old Testament for the Parable of the Mustard Seed ?

There are several texts which describe a large kingdom as a tree that gives food and shelter to the birds. In Daniel 4:12, 21, Nebuchadnezzar has a vision of Babylon as a great tree supplying food and shelter to all the animals and birds. A similar metaphor is used in Ezekiel 31:1-9, Egypt was like a towering tree where all the birds made their nests. So great was this tree that the trees of Eden envied it!

In both of these cases, the tree represents the arrogance of nation and foreshadows the eventual demise of the great kingdom (God will chop the tree down and it will come to nothing). In the case of Egypt, it is brought down to Sheol. Jewish writers interpreted the birds of Daniel’s vision as Gentiles and thought this indicated Gentiles will participate in the Kingdom.

However, in Jesus’s Parable of the Mustard Seed, Gentile salvation is not the point at all. Jesus’s point is that the mustard plant grows from a tiny seed to tree large enough for birds to nest.

A more likely source for the image of a large tree for the kingdom of God is Ezekiel 17:22-24. In the future God will plant a tree on the heights of Israel and it will grow into a “noble cedar” and every kind of bird will live in its branches.

Ezekiel 17:22–24 (ESV) Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”

Ezekiel is talking about the restoration of Israel after the exile. The Lord will bring them back to the land and they will be like a large cedar tree and bless the whole world.

What is the Meaning of the Parable of the Mustard Seed?

If the tree represents some aspect of the kingdom, the restoration of Israel in the land, living in peace and prosperity, then the unexpected, shocking part of the parable is that this kingdom will start small, almost invisible, but will eventually bless the whole world.

The parable of the mustard seed answers the question – “what could Jesus and his disciples have to do the Kingdom of God?”

“This wretched band, comprising so many disreputable characters … God’s miraculous power” will “cause … to swell into the mighty host of the people of God in the Messianic Age” (Jeremias, Parables, 149).

“What may not look like much to the world will in fact fulfill all God’s promises” (Blomberg, Matthew, 220).

How could someone as humble as Jesus be the Messiah?  How could someone like Jesus establish the kingdom over the Roman Empire? This question could come from both the faithful disciples (who perhaps were beginning to wonder about the direction of Jesus’s teachings) and from detractors to Jesus’ ministry who were not seeing the sorts of things that they expected from the so-called Messiah-Jesus.

The mystery of the kingdom of God here is that the kingdom will begin in an unexpected way. The Jewish people in the first century were expecting a mighty cedar tree, but Jesus is more like a tiny seed.

Imagine the comfort of this teaching to the disciples who first heard it and later recalled it as they were being persecuted in the early years of the church. Despite their own humble origins and the difficulties of their suffering, God will certainly do great things.

The Parable of the Weeds – Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

The Parable of the Weeds compares the kingdom of heaven to a field sown with both wheat and weeds. No one can tell the difference between Jesus’s true disciples until the coming judgment.

Wheat and Weeds

The Parable (13:24-30)

The parable of the weeds compares the kingdom of heaven to a man sowing good seed in his field. Although the farmer sowed good seed, an enemy sowed bad seed into his field (13:24b-26).

The weed is darnel (ζιζάνιον, sometimes translated as “tares”), a slightly poisonous grass which looks very much like wheat. Keener says Lolium temulentum is referred to as “false wheat” (Keener, Matthew, 387). Eating the weed can cause a drunken nausea, the Latin temulentus means “drunk.” Sowing a wheat field with this type of weed would cause a great deal of trouble at the harvest since it would need to be carefully sorted from the wheat.

When the workers see the wheat and weeds growing together, they ask if they wonder whether weed the field (13:27). The owner of the field suggests they wait until the harvest and then separate the good wheat from the bad weeds (13:28-30) The good wheat into the barn and the bad weeds are thrown on to the fire.

The Interpretation (13:36-43)

Like the parable of the Sower, the disciples ask about the meaning of the parable of the weeds.  On the interpretation of the parable, Klyne Snodgrass comments “The differences between the parable and its interpretation in Matthew make this one of the more difficult parables” (Stories with Intent, Second Edition, 191).

  • The one who sows good seed is the Son of Man (13:37). As is typical of the parables either God or Jesus is the main character of the story and there are two contrasting characters, the (good) wheat and the (bad) weeds.
  • The field is the world (13:38). In 9:35-38 Jesus used the metaphor of a field for the place where ministry of the Gospel happens.
  • The good seed is the “sons of the kingdom” (13:38). This refers to the disciples, those who have responded properly to Jesus’s preaching of the kingdom of heaven.
  • The weeds are the “sons of the evil one” and the enemy is the devil (13:39a). How does the devil “sow weeds” in Jesus’s ministry?

The harvest is the “end of the age” (13:39b; 40). When the harvest comes, the wheat is harvested and brought into the barn (where it belongs) and the weeds are destroyed in the fire. The noun συντέλεια and the related verb (used in Mark 13:4 in the introduction to the Olivet Discourse) point to the fulfillment of the prophecies of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, the “end of the age” refers to the end of the present age when Jesus spoke, not necessarily the end of the church age. This is the culmination of Jewish expectations for the coming of the Son of Man who will rule over the nations (Dan 7:14).

The image of a harvest for the end of the age appears in other parables. In addition to Matthew 9:37-38 (the fields are plentiful), the parable of the wicked tenants (21:34-41). In Matthew 3:12 John the Baptist said the one who is coming has his winnowing fork in his hand and he will gather the wheat into the barn and put the chaff on an unquenchable fire.

The metaphor of a harvest for a final judgment on the day of the Lord appears in the Old Testament. In Joel 3:13, for example, “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.” A similar image is used in Revelation 14:14-20 (cf. 4 Ezra 4:28-32; 2 Baruch 70:2).

1 Enoch 42:11 Happy is he who sows right seed, for he shall harvest sevenfold!

4 Ezra 4:28-32 For the evil about which you ask me has been sown, but the harvest of it has not yet come. 29 If therefore that which has been sown is not reaped, and if the place where the evil has been sown does not pass away, the field where the good has been sown will not come. 30 For a grain of evil seed was sown in Adam’s heart from the beginning, and how much ungodliness it has produced until now, and will produce until the time of threshing comes! 31 Consider now for yourself how much fruit of ungodliness a grain of evil seed has produced. 32 When heads of grain without number are sown, how great a threshing floor they will fill!”

2 Baruch 70.2 Behold, the days are coming and it will happen when the time of the world has ripened and the harvest of the seed of the evil ones and the good ones has come that the Mighty One will cause to come over the earth and its inhabitants and its rulers confusion of the spirit and amazement of the heart.

Where there is Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

This parable ends with the apocalyptic judgment at the end of the age (13:40b-43). The Son of Man sends his angels to weed out anything which causes sin and evil from the kingdom.  In Matthew 15:12-14, in response to offending the Pharisees, Jesus says “every plant my heavenly father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.”

The weeds will be cast tin a blazing furnace, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This phrase appears in several similar contexts in Matthew. In Matthew 8:12, many who will come from the east and west and enter into the banquet, but the “sons of the kingdom” will be outside in the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In 13:50 the evil fish will be cast into a fiery furnace where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Matthew 22:13 the man who was not prepared for the wedding banquet is bound foot and hand and cast out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Matthew 24:51 the foolish servant is cut to pieces and put int eh place of the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In Matthew 25:11-12, the foolish virgins do not enter the wedding banquet and are left outside in the darkness. In Matthew 25:30 the worthless servant is cast out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Matthew 25:31-46 the Son of Man returns with all his holy ones and separates the sheep from the goats. These goats are sent away to the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (25:41); in 25:46 this is called “eternal punishment.”

The Meaning of the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew

The parable is directly applicable to the ministry of Jesus, and as we observed with the parable of the sower, there are two contrasting “seeds” – the wheat and the weeds.

Among the community of disciples following Jesus, there are some disciples that are weeds. At this point in the ministry of Jesus the weeds cannot be detected, but they will be “picked and burned” at the judgment. The obvious example is Judas, but all of the disciples fall away at the time of the arrest of Jesus. In Acts Ananias and Sapphira are people who appear to be true believers until their actions prove otherwise. Paul mentions several coworkers who abandoned him and were “shipwrecked in their faith.”

It is possible Matthew included the parable because there was a real conflict in his church. If there were false teachers causing a schism in the church, then they are the weeds and the true disciples need to be on their guard against them. The judgment of the weeds is saved for the end when Christ returns and renders final judgment. Until then, the true disciple must be aware of the dangers posed by people masquerading as true believers. The true disciples must contend with the bad until the day of judgment, knowing that there will always be the possibility of false discipleship.

What is the application of the parable “for today”? The weeds still exist and it is still trying to choke out the wheat. In the parable, it was difficult to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds because the enemy chose to make the damaging weeds look similar to the wheat. Most Christians are not tempted to start cooking meth or join a satanic murder cult. That looks so different from the truth it is easy to see and avoid. Satan’s tactics must be very subtle, making the weeds look like the wheat. There are many examples of people who appear to be good family value televangelist who are later discovered to be cheating on their wives or preying on young girls or boys. There are plenty of politicians who claim to be solid Christians to get elected but have no relationship with Christ outside of the image they want to put forward to the voters.

It is God who judges the weeds, not the disciples. We ought to be aware of and avoid bad seed. We must teach the truth in contrast to the weeds who try to choke out the true believers.

Why Does Jesus Teach in Parables? Matthew 13:10-17

After the Parable of the Sower, the disciples ask Jesus why he is teaching in parables (Matthew 13:10-17). Until Matthew 13, Jesus has not used parables to teach the crowds.

Jesus teaches in parables

The reason this type of teaching is a problem is that this is the first true parable that Jesus has used in the Gospel of Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount used figurative language (speck in your neighbor’s eye, salt and light, etc.), but now he is using a full blown, easy to hear but difficult to understand, parable!

The Secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven

Jesus explains why he now teaches in parables He says the “secrets of the kingdom” of heaven are given to the disciples (not the crowds) (13:11). “Secrets” is not esoteric knowledge. The Greek μυστήριον refers to something which must be revealed to be known. It is not the answer to a riddle which can be guessed from the clues, but more like “What have I got in my pocket?”

When something is described as a mystery, the idea of a revelation of something not previously revealed. A mystery is something that simply was not revealed before. It is not something that was there all along and you didn’t understand it. A mystery was something that was a secret, unknown, in the past, but is now being revealed to man.

What is the Mystery of the Kingdom?

The idea of kingdom is all over the Old Testament, so what is the secret part? Based on Jesus’s teaching in the parables of the kingdom, the unrevealed part of the Kingdom is the commitment required of the disciples of the Kingdom. “That there should be a coming of God’s kingdom in the way Jesus proclaimed, in a hidden secret form, working quietly among men, was utterly novel to Jesus’ contemporaries. The Old Testament gave no such promises.” (George Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 225).

For many Jews in the Second Temple period, what got you into the Kingdom was being Jewish. Now Jesus is teaching that not everybody who is Jewish is going to be included. In fact, many who were considered outsiders to the Pharisees (unclean, Samaritans, Gentiles, etc.) will be included, and surprisingly the Pharisees will be excluded.

Rather than attack the Romans, Jesus attacks Satan and destroys his kingdom, first through the miracles and preaching of his ministry, and then finally through this death and resurrection.The Jews only expected the physical kingdom, not the spiritual one that Jesus initiates.  The Kingdom is present in Jesus’s ministry because he is the king and he is exercising his control and authority over all things, especially those things that were a part of Satan’s realm.

What is the current “state of the Kingdom”? Is the Church the Kingdom?

Some argue that we are living in the kingdom, as established by Christ during his ministry, especially in his death and resurrection. This is the typical reformation position and implies several things.  First, the church replaces Israel as God’s people, and secondly, there is no future literal kingdom that follows the second coming.  This position is difficult to support if one desires to read the Old Testament prophets seriously.

The “restoration from exile” theme appears in nearly every prophet, with dozens of texts that imply a future utopian like period when God will rule earth. From looking at the Pauline epistles, especially Romans 9-11, there is certainly an anticipation of a restoration of the nation of Israel in the future. It is very often observed that the sort of Kingdom teaching found in the gospels disappears in the Pauline letters.

The kingdom cannot be present today because the King is gone, and the authority of the King is not being exercised today (although the Catholic church would say that the Pope exercises the King’s power for him until he returns!) Later in his ministry, Jesus explains that the kingdom will go into a “dormant” stage, when he is away, and will return in the future. He does not say that during that time the Jew and Gentile will be saved in one body, that is a mystery saved for the Apostle Paul to reveal. The interval seen by Jesus was a brief time of testing of Israel prior to his glorious return with “all his saints” (Matt 24-25).