Summary: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all he had and bought it”
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45,46).
The popular and current interpretation of this parable claims Christianity is like a man who earnestly desires and diligently seeks salvation. Ultimately his efforts are rewarded by his finding Christ, the Pearl of great price. Having found Him, as presented in the Gospel, the sinner sells all that he has; that is to say, he forsakes all that the flesh holds dear, he abandons his worldly companions, he surrenders his will, he dedicates his life to God; and in that way, secures his salvation. The awful thing is that this interpretation is the one that is taught and preached in almost every church today. That is what is taught in the great majority of the denominational Sunday school periodicals.
What is wrong in this interpretation? First, we are told this parable teaches that the sinner earnestly and diligently seeks salvation. But the truth is there has never been a single sinner on this earth who took the initiative in seeking salvation. He ought to seek salvation because he needs more than anything else he desires. He ought to seek salvation because God commands him forsake his wicked way and evil thoughts and return to the Lord. He is to seek the Lord while He may be found. But fallen man in his natural state never does and never will seek the Lord or His salvation.
When Adam sinned, and in the cool of the day he heard the voice of the Lord in the garden what did he do? Did he cast himself at His feet and cry for mercy? He didn’t seek the Lord he tried to flee from the Lord. He didn’t seek the Lord, the Lord sought him. Did Abram seek the Lord? There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that Abraham sought God. However it is revealed in the Scriptures he was a heathen, his parents were idolaters worshiping other gods and the Lord suddenly appeared to him in that heathen city Ur. Abraham had not been seeking God; it was God who sought him. And thus it has been all through the ages. When the Savior came here He declared, "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). He didn’t come because that which was lost was seeking Him.
This is not a denial there are Christians who say there was a time when they sought the Lord and found Him. What caused them to seek the Lord? It was the wooing of the Holy Spirit. The sheep don’t seek the Shepherd, the Shepherd seek the sheep; and having sought the sheep, He creates in the heart of that sheep a desire for the Shepherd then it begins to seek Him.
The claim this parable teaches the natural man, an unconverted sinner, seeking Christ, "the Pearl of great price," is contrary to what is taught in the Scriptures. In Romans 3:11 we are told “There is none that seeks after God." There are multitudes that seek after pleasure and wealth, but there is none that seeks after "God." He is the great Seeker.
The popular interpretation of this parable claims having sought and found Christ, the Pearl of great price, the sinner sells all that he has and buys it. How can this be true? He has nothing to sell. He has no righteousness, Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteousness is as "filthy rags." In him there is no goodness. Romans 3:12 tells us "There is none that does good, no, not one." He has no faith. Faith is God’s "gift" (Ephesians 2:8). The sinner has nothing to sell.
According to the popular interpretation of this parable when the sinner sells all that he has and buys the one pearl of great price, he buys salvation. If there is one thing taught more clearly than anything else in the Scriptures it is that salvation cannot be purchased by man: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5). It is a "gift" it is not to be sold or bartered.
The first thing we need to do is identify the merchant. The merchant is the man that sowed the good Seed in the field in the first parable. He is the landowner who had tares sowed among His wheat. He is the man who found the treasure hidden in the field. The "man" referred to in verse 24 at the beginning of the second parable is Christ, and the "man" in this parable, the "merchant" is the Lord Jesus.
The parable begins by telling us a Merchant set His heart upon this pearl. The pearl represents His church in its entirety, and that people, that church, the Lord Jesus desired. This is something the human mind cannot comprehend. What is there in us poor, fallen, depraved, sinful creatures the Lord Jesus would desire? Nothing. It is the love in the heart of the Lord Jesus. His love for us is expressed in the promise He made to the disciples. He would prepare a place for them and He will come again and take them to the place He has prepared so that they may be with Him. Our Lord Jesus will not be satisfied until He has His own blood-bought people around Himself. This parable reveals the desire of Jesus, the pearl.