Summary: The thirteenth chapter of Matthew opens with these words "That day Jesus went out of the house, and was sitting by the sea.”

The thirteenth chapter of Matthew opens with these words "That day Jesus went out of the house, and was sitting by the sea.” This statement clearly looks back to the preceding chapter, where Matthew records Israel’s rejection of their King. At the beginning of Matthew 12 we find the Pharisees challenging the disciples of Jesus because they had plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath day, which is followed by the Lord’s vindication of them. Next we are told, “The Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (v. 14). This is the first time that we read of anything like this in Matthew’s Gospel.

In verses 22-24 we are told, "Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the blind and mute both spoke and saw." Up to that point this was the most remarkable miracle that the Lord Jesus had performed, in fact, it was three miracles in one. Such an impression was produced upon those who witnessed it that we are told, "all the people were amazed, and were saying, This man cannot be the Son of David can He?" Following this we are told, "When the Pharisees heard this, they said, this man casts out demons only by Beelzebub the ruler of the demons"—there they committed the sin for which there was no forgiveness.

Following our Lord’s sentence upon the Pharisees for their unpardonable blasphemy, we are told; "some of the scribes and the Pharisees said to Him, Teacher, we want to see a sign from You" (v. 38). His response was that no sign will be given to that evil and unfaithful generation but "the sign of the prophet Jonah," that is after three days in the place of death the Son of Man will come forth and the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah and yet someone greater than Jonah was standing before them and they reject Him. Following this, the Lord solemnly pronounced the coming judgment of Heaven upon that wicked generation, so that their last state should be worse than the first (vv. 43-45).

The chapter closes by telling us that while Christ yet talked to the people one said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” Jesus asked, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" Then He pointed to His disciples and said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! For whosoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister, and mother" (vv. 46-50). This was a severing o£ fleshly ties by Jesus. It denoted the Savior’s break with Israel: it announced that from this point to the end of time He would only own as His kinsmen those who did the will of His Father which was in heaven.

The opening words of Matthew 13 supply the first key to the interpretation of what follows. The parables of this chapter were spoken by Christ "the same day" when the Pharisees had taken council together to destroy Him, when they committed the unpardonable sin, when He pronounced judgment upon the nation, and when He severed the fleshly ties which united Him to the Jews and had intimated that henceforth there will be a people united to Him by spiritual bonds. Thus the relation between Matthew 12 and Matthew 13 is that of cause to effect; in other words, Matthew 12 makes known the cause which led up to Christ’s acting as He did in the thirteenth chapter: that cause was Israel’s rejection of their King and His rejection of them. His action in Matthew 13:1 is an anticipation of what is developed in the book of Acts—God, temporarily, turning away from the Jews and turning to the Gentiles.

Jesus going out of the house to a place of natural ties and sitting by the sea is a confirmation of His own words at the close of Matthew 12: the link which had bound Him to the Jews was now severed. Christ’s next act was to take His place by the seaside. This also had a deep symbolical significance for those who had eyes to see. The "sea" speaks of fallen man in the restlessness and barrenness of nature, of man apart from God "And He spoke many things to them in parables. This marked a departure in Jesus’ method of teaching. The first twelve chapters of this Gospel will be searched in vain for any parables. Prior to chapter 13 Jesus instructed the people in plain language, using simple terms of speech; but now His message was veiled and His meaning hidden. This explains what we are told in the tenth verse: "And the disciples came, and said to Him, Why, do you speak to them in parables?” The disciples were surprised: not being accustomed to this form of teaching, they were at a loss to account for it. The Lord’s answer to their question is recorded in verses 11-15. His answer is further proof that Israel had rejected their King. In consequence of this rejection He had taken a place of distance from them, as this new form of teaching plainly evidenced. It is a principle exemplified all through the Scriptures that, wherever parables or symbolic utterances were employed they are addressed to a people separated from God.

The second important key which unlocks the contents of chapter 13 is Jesus refers to the parables as "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." The word mystery refers to something not revealed in the Old Testament. The word kingdom in this incident refers to royal authority, sovereign power, rule, dominion. The term "kingdom" does not refer to a localized sphere of territory, but refers to the form of its government and speaks of the sovereignty of its ruler. Therefore the "kingdom of heaven" is not heaven itself, but a people who are under the sovereign authority of heaven.

Further proof of this is found in Jesus’ word to Peter as recorded in Matthew 16:19: "And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." "Keys" speak of two things: they are the symbol of authority and they are for the purpose of opening something and giving admission and access. In Revelation 1:18 Christ has "the keys of death and hades," which means that He has complete authority over them. The giving of the keys of the kingdom of heaven was a delegated authority. In the book of Acts the meaning of the Lord’s words to Peter are made plain. In the second chapter of the Acts we find Peter using those "keys" on the day of Pentecost—opening the door of the kingdom to the Jews. In Acts 10 he uses the keys to give the Gentiles access into the kingdom. That which Peter gave admission into was not heaven nor was it the Church, but the sphere of Christian profession.

The language of Matthew 13:11 assure us that the parables which follow deal with the rise of Christianity where the authority of heaven and the sovereignty of Christ are professed. As to the succession and vested right in "Peter’s keys" it is clearly taught in the New Testament Peter left the door of the kingdom wide open, anyone can walk in.

A third key is the word mysteries. In Scripture the term "mystery" signifies a Divine secret made known by the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed by what is told us in verse 35, namely, that Christ was here uttering "things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Thus, in these parables, Christ was making known that which was outside the scope of Old Testament prediction, something which God had not made known to Israel through the prophets. This needs to be carefully noted, for it refutes the popular interpretation of these parables. They contain predictions of the ushering in of the Millennium: those of the Mustard-tree and the Leaven are regarded as being parallel with the promise that "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea." But that statement is found in Isaiah 11:9, this was no "secret" in the Old Testament. None of the parables in Matthew 13 can be treating of the same subject as Isaiah 11:9 or what is stated in verse 35 would not be true. Matthew 13 deals with something not found in the Old Testament, it is an entirely new revelation.

The number of parables intimates that they are a complete outline or setting forth of something and that something is the history of Christianity. The first four parables deal with human responsibility. A picture of failure is painted in these four parables. Only one out of the four castings of the good seed yields any fruit. In the second, the crop as a whole is spoiled by the mingling of the tares among the wheat. In the third, the little mustard-seed develops into a great tree, whose branches afford shelter for the agents of Satan. In the fourth, the three measures of meal are, ultimately, completely corrupted by means of the leaven surreptitiously introduced into them.

From the Garden of Eden to the present whenever God has committed anything to man as a responsible creature, he has failed. God placed Adam in Eden on the ground of human responsibility and he fell. God gave to Noah the sword of authority and he failed to govern himself. God gave to Israel the law, and they broke it: before Moses came down from the mount they were worshipping the golden calf. God instituted priesthood in Israel, and Aaron and his sons were duly consecrated to their office; but on the very first day, two of them offered strange fire and judgment fell upon them. God instituted kingship in Israel and failure was written large upon this. God endowed Nebuchadnezzar with power, but he became so bloated with self-importance that he made an image to himself and demanded that all should worship it. Nor has the Christian profession proven any exception. Paul said, "Grievous wolves will enter the flock after my departure," (Acts 20), and they did. The evil introduced by Satan at the beginning of the Church age has never been eradicated, nor will it be till the harvest-time. Instead of things getting better, they will get worse—until Christ spews out (Rev. 3:16) the whole system which bears His name. But, blessed be His name, there is no failure in God. In spite of man’s failure and Satan’s opposition, He has been slowly but surely working out His eternal purpose. Acts 15:18 clear proof of this is given us in the unmistakable fulfillment of the prophetical parables of Matthew 13.

The seven parables of Matthew 13 divide into four and three, which is the usual division of a septenary series. The first four were spoken to the multitude on the seashore, the last three to the disciples inside the house. The first four give us the external view in the history of Christianity, while the last three give us the internal and spiritual view. The first four are arranged in two pairs: the sowing of the seed and sowing of the tares give us the individual aspects; the second pair, the mustard-tree and the corrupted meal, gives us a corporate view. The first parable shows us a sowing, while the fifth and sixth show the resultant crop. The second parable also shows us a sowing, while the third and fourth give us the resultant crop. Why is the "crop" of the second sowing given before the harvest from the first? It is normal in Scripture to give us first that which is natural, then that which is spiritual. In our next article we shall take up the parable of the Sower.