From: Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 1 to 14 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2018
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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:
Quickly Understanding Matthew
(Volume 1: Chapters 13-14)
Parable of the Sower of Seed (Matthew 13:1-9): 1 On that day after Jesus went out of the house, he sat by the lake. 2 And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat to sit while the whole crowd stood on the shore. 3 He told them many things in parables, saying:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. 6 But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. 7 Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. 8 But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. 9 The one who has ears had better listen!” --New English Translation (for comparison)
13:1 On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. “On the same day:” Often this time relationship is merely implied--or at least read as if implied--based upon one incident being immediately narrated after another, but it is unusual for it to be made explicit in this manner. Left tantalizingly out of the picture is whether Jesus had yet spoken at all with His family (). If He had, He was still promptly out about His teaching business once again and their effort to “bring Him home with them” had failed.
great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and
sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. In a mountain setting Jesus could be
seated a bit above His listeners so they could look up and see and hear
Him better (as in Matthew 5:1). On the
13:3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. The fact that He spoke “many things” in that manner warns the reader that on that day (1) the instruction was either exclusively or dominated by teaching in the parable format and (2) that there were a significant number of them--it was not a single passing story used to convey a point.
He begins with an example that any adult of that age had surely seen time and again, a sower who goes out to sow the seed for a new crop. No sowing = no reaping = no food = starvation. It was essential to physical survival. They all knew it and were well acquainted with the reality.
Sidebar on the nature of parables: “This is the first occurrence of the word in Matthew’s Gospel, and it is clear from the question of the disciples in verse 10 [‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’] that it was in some sense a new form of teaching to them. There had been illustrations and similitudes before, as in that of the houses built on the sand and on the rock in Matthew 7:24-27, and that of the unclean spirit in Matthew 12:43-45, but now for the first time He speaks to the multitude in a parable, without an explanation.
“The word, which has passed through its use in the Gospels into most modern European languages (palabras, parôle, parabel),means literally, a comparison. It had been employed by the Greek translators of the Old Testament for the Hebrew word mashed, which we commonly render by ‘proverb,’ and which, like the Greek parabole, has the sense of similitude. Of many, perhaps of most, Eastern proverbs it was true that they were condensed parables, just as many parables are expanded proverbs. (Compare John 16:25, 29.) In the later and New Testament use of the word, however, the parable takes the fuller form of a narrative embracing facts natural and probable in themselves, and in this respect differs from the fable which (as in those of Æsop and Phædrus, or that of the trees choosing a king in Judges 9:8-15) does not keep within the limits even of possibility.
“The mode of teaching by parables was familiar enough in the schools of the Rabbis, and the Talmud contains many of great beauty and interest. As used by them, however, they were regarded as belonging to those who were receiving a higher education, and the son of Sirach was expressing the current feeling of the schools when he said of the tillers of the soil and the herdsmen of flocks that they ‘were not found where parables were spoken’ (Ecclesiasticus 38:33). With what purpose our Lord now used this mode of instruction will appear in His answer to the question of the disciples. The prominence given in the first three Gospels to the parable that follows, shows how deep an impression it made on the minds of men, and so far justified the choice of this method of teaching by the divine Master.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
13:4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. By the very nature of farmland, the hand-sowed seed would not all land on good ground where it could easily grow. Some, like here, would land on the rough edge of the field or on a walkway through the field and the birds would quickly devour it for their own nourishment.
13:5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. There would be places with an infestation of rocks, hidden by a thin veneer of earth--even large ledges of rock just inches beneath the surface. There the seed would take root but it had nowhere to grow. So it would quickly bud into the light before it had set down the deep roots it needed to survive.
13:6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. With mediocre, virtually non-existent roots to provide nourishment from the earth, it had nothing to counter the intense sunlight. Like a man stumbling through a hot desert, the combination of lack of water and vicious sunbeams would cause the grain to wither and perish. The only question was how quickly it would happen.
13:7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. Heat was not the only danger--thorns, seen and unseen, were always a danger as well. These might even be grown as a kind of “fence” around a field. You wanted to plant every inch of the field you could so some seed was going to be thrown so close to that protective “fence”--protective against external intrusion--that some would “bounce” or “roll” too far and land in its midst.
the roots of thorns from the previous year might be lying undetected beneath
the surface. (The wording “sprang up”
would more naturally suggest left over roots sprouting up from the previous
growing season, roots missed or not adequately pried out before planting in the
current one.) Either way the grain has
deadly competition for the same space and would perish.
Sidebar: A nineteenth century writer described how farming conditions in that area continued to reflect the conditions that Jesus described--“Dean Stanley, approaching the plain of Gennesareth, says: ‘A slight recess in the hillside, close upon the plain, disclosed at once, in detail and with a conjunction which I remember nowhere else in Palestine, every feature of the great parable. There was the undulating cornfield descending to the water's edge. There was the trodden pathway running through the midst of it, with no fence or hedge to prevent the seed from falling here and there on either side of it or upon it; itself hard with the constant tramp of horse and mule and human feet. There was the ‘good’ rich soil which distinguishes the whole of that plain and its neighborhood from the bare hills elsewhere descending into the lake, and which, where there is no interruption, produces one vast mass of corn. There was the rocky ground of the hillside protruding here and there through the cornfields, as elsewhere through the grassy slopes. There were the large bushes of thorn - the nabk, that kind of which tradition says that the crown of thorns was woven - springing up, like the fruit-trees of the more inland parts, in the very midst of the waving wheat’ (Sinai and Palestine).” (Vincent’s Word Studies)
13:8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. What makes farming practical is that most seed will germinate and avoid the kind of catastrophes Jesus describes. Yet even under the best of conditions the yield varies, from the outsize hundredfold that Isaac once harvested (Genesis 26:12) down through declining numbers. Yet even in each of those cases it is still abundant.
As in every field, every human life has a different potential to produce spiritual good and benefit from the “seed” of God's word. Of both physical seed and spiritual seed planted in our hearts, the fact that the potential is realized is the important part and not how much “greater” the “yield” might be in our case when compared with someone else.
13:9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” There is the element of challenge to His listeners in these words: “You think of yourself as perceptive and well meaning in spiritual matters; then hear and understand My point!” Note how “hear” shifts significance from literal hearing capacity to the constructive use of that capacity to produce greater understanding and insight.
The Reason Jesus Spoke in Parables (Matthew -17): 10 Then the disciples came to him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He replied, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. 12 For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.
14 “And concerning them the
prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand, you will
look closely yet will never comprehend. 15 or the heart of this
people has become dull; they are hard of hearing, and they have shut their
eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes
and hear with their earsand understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 “But your eyes are blessed
because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth,
many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see
it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Parable speaking--at least to the extent the Lord did it that particular day--must have been an innovation for the disciples to inquire why He was doing it. Jesus had earlier made three brief comparative allusions that might loosely be called “parables”--and normally are: (1) the lamp placed on a stand to give better light (-15), (2) new cloth sewed on old garments () and (3) new wine poured into old wineskins (). The point seems clear in each example. The story of the wise and foolish builders (-27) deserves separate mention because it is more than just a passing allusion, but even here the explanation is crystal clear in its intent.
In chapter 13 Jesus speaks at greater length and provides no explanation at all--either in the story or in the context in which it is spoken. No wonder the apostles want to know why He is teaching in such an indirect manner without providing an explanation of the point He is driving at! Some have suggested quite reasonably that this was such a shock because it differed dramatically from His blunt direct comments on repentance and obeying God in our behavior.
In addition it was easy to be startled by this kind of “covert teaching”--if we may use the expression--because it was the kind you might expect for religious experts and specialists and not for everyday folk like the apostles and others. But Jesus knew that they were fully capable of far greater perception than they realized. They needed to learn to “think things out” and not expect everything to be in overly simplistic form.
He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. Jesus responds to them that parables provide them the ability to “know” (= understand, grasp the meaning of) what had previously been mere “mysteries” to them (undisclosed or unclear truths about the kingdom). Paradoxically the same teaching would be of no enlightenment to outsiders--they would understand while the outsiders would not.
This seems a bit odd: Why teach these outsiders anything at all if the intent is not made clear? He could have answered that they needed to be given the opportunity to self-determine which group they most wanted to be in.
Instead Jesus in the following verses chooses to stress prophetic precedent and the warning that some will see and never grasp the truth. In other words, many are so spiritually and ethically blind that no matter how clear you make it, it will always be strange and mysterious to the hearer. (Think of how hard it is to convince many that their behavior is explicitly sinful even though you have the clearest of texts to show it is!)
Hence teaching on “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” is designed to enlightened genuine disciples about matters outsiders would not--and even could not--accept or embrace. Mysteries are “the secrets about the establishment and development of God's realm, which cannot be discovered by human reason, but which are made known to the initiated. Under the term ‘mystery,’ Paul refers to such revealed secrets as the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:3-4, 9; Colossians [-27]), the conversion of the Jews (Romans ), the relation of Christ to the Church being like that of husband and wife (Ephesians ), and the general resurrection (1 Corinthians ).” (Pulpit Commentary)
For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. The reward for those who have developed a knowledge of God's will is the potential for greater knowledge--the natural course is for it to grow in “abundance.” Anything else aborts the very purpose of God's word being within us. But those who fail to develop even the basics will find the importance of their limited knowledge disintegrate in importance--it “will be taken away from” them. Their perception and understanding will wither and remain on only a “token level,” if even that. It will be like an old movie we once saw on television but we never much (if ever) think of it again.
Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Parables served both a purpose of enlightenment for disciples (verse 11) and the purpose of avoiding enlightenment so far as others. The difference lies in pre-existing attitudes. Even seeing Jesus’ supernatural “wonders” and hearing His distinctive and penetrating teaching, the skeptics did not see the true import of what Jesus said and did. In a similar manner the message in parable form makes no sense to them since their very skepticism has removed the potential it had to benefit them.
Today we sometimes describe the phenomena as “not being on the same wave length.” Jesus won’t deny them the opportunity to learn more, but He sees they won’t benefit by it and much prefers to stress teaching subjects and styles that will benefit those more attuned to their own spiritual weaknesses and needs.
And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: / Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, / And seeing you will see and not perceive. This attitude of Jesus might sound cruel or unkind, but it is unquestionably a realistic appraisal of many individuals: It does not represent the way He would like the world to be but is a realistic evaluation of how much of it is. And it is within that framework of realism that we must all ultimately function. Hopeful but not blind as to others.
Nor is He the first to recognize this: He bluntly refers to how it is not without scriptural precedent. He points His disciples to an ancient prophecy of Isaiah (6:9-10) which dealt with similarly unperceptive souls and why they were such. They would “hear” but the “understand[ing]” that should come with it would be lacking; they would “see” but they would not “perceive” the import or importance of what was being seen. It wasn’t a failure of the message but of the listener.
For the hearts of this people have grown dull. / Their ears are hard of hearing, / And their eyes they have closed, / Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, / Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, / So that I should heal them.’ The reason for this sad state came from within. It came not from a failure in what was observed to adequately prove a point, but in their inability any longer to accurately observe and accept. The “hearts” were no longer concerned or perceptive--they had grown “dull.” They were no longer interested in hearing or seeing what would challenge their thinking: hence they were now hard of hearing and did not see because they had closed their eyes. (Today we would probably say, “they closed their minds.”)
The reason was that they did not want to run the risk of having to change their thinking. They might well “understand with their hearts” and change for the better if they permitted themselves to give the evidence an honest hearing. This way they avoided the discomfort of changing lifestyle or convictions. But the price they paid was high for the desired Divine healing would pass them by.
Perhaps a good commentary on this would be John 3:19: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear. In contrast to His foes--both intellectuals and the minimal spiritual unconcern of the masses--Jesus is happy to see that His apostles are far different. Your eyes are willing to see. Your ears are willing to hear. They might not necessarily like what they heard, but they were still willing to learn and embrace the full truth.
13:17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. The disciples’ open-mindedness is even more praiseworthy for there were many who died without seeing what they had seen and without hearing the message they had heard. They had wanted to see it and in their minds they could (John ), but to actually be there when it happened was denied to them--but not to the apostles.
Notice here the clearly implied picture of Jesus as the culmination of prophetic hopes. And, of course, it was the Messiah that the prophets had spoken of. He doesn’t need to use the term itself for the manner of description makes that the obvious subject to the hearers on that day.
Explanation of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:18-23): 18 “So listen to the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path.
20 “The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.
22 “The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing.
23 “But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
“Therefore hear the parable of the sower. Having stressed that outsiders do not want to hear or accept the message if it takes much effort (verse 13), Jesus next works from the--justified--assumption that His disciples are far more receptive to the spiritual truth hiding behind the “secular” story . . . and proceeds to develop at length the meaning of the narrative.
13:19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. The seed is not physical seed, of course. Physical seed is necessary to raise the crops to eat and survive. But He is concerned with the spiritual seed that can provide moral and religious insight and development. Physical and spiritual are supposed to go hand-in-hand, neither to the exclusion of the other.
Hence the “seed” represents the message of the kingdom that Jesus has preached and the central purpose of this parable is to stress that the failure to accept it does not indicate any weakness in the message or the speaker (Jesus) but within those who hear the teaching. To begin with, there are some who won’t give the seed message a moment’s careful consideration. In such cases the person is so under the influence of “the wicked one” that he is able to grab it away before it can have any impact at all. (Although Satan is surely in mind as the thief, any earthly foe of Christ that successfully steers a potential convert away from the gospel would fit quite snuggly into the label of “wicked” as well.)
Sidebar: Vincent’s Word Studies makes the quite valid point that the teaching and the snatching go on simultaneously: “The rendering would be made even more graphic by preserving the continuous force of the present tense, as exhibiting action in progress, and the simultaneousness of Satan's work with that of the gospel instructor: ‘While any one is hearing, the evil one is coming and snatching away, just as the birds do not wait for the sower to be out of the way, but are at work while he is sowing.’ ”
But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Then there are those who have a layer of rock beneath their exterior. The exterior they are willing to alter so long as it does not require the breaking into pieces of their inner core of self-centeredness and self-service. Such a person, not recognizing the full implications of what is being heard, may well embrace “with joy” the new message. It makes him feel good and the joys of full acceptance by God fill him with happiness.
yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Unfortunately, the inner core of self-interest has not assimilated the gospel into its very essence; it has gained ‘no root’--no depth. The religion exists, but does not go beyond the superficial level. Hence when external difficulty occurs because of the word, he or she quickly “stumbles” and does the wrong thing. A euphemism in this context, apparently, not merely for temporarily erring but for full apostasy. The word is crushed between external hostility and an untransformed inner nature.
Sidebar: Consider the warning of Jesus about the
dangers and horrors that would occur in the years leading up to the destruction
Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. Persecution does not represent the only danger. There are also the spiritual equivalent of “thorns:” the things of this life that don’t kill you but which can inflict serious pain and injury. They wear out the believer and ultimately “choke” the influence of the seed/word within. In verse 21 the fault comes from lack of spiritual depth and commitment; in verse 22 we have the good intentioned individual who is simply worn down and worn out by circumstances beyond personal control. “Life stinks” is too often a grim reality.
But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Finally there are those who receive the seed/message and who demonstrate its full potential. They are like “the good ground” for a fertile crop and, like that parallel in physical nature, these individuals bring forth a varying degree of “fruit” (= positive good in life). The exact amount will vary, but the amount of “fruit” is always abundant.
Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: How the Righteous and the Rebel Against God Live Together in the Same World but Have a Different Destiny (Matthew 13:24-30): 24 He presented them with another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the plants sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “So the slaves of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ 28 He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ” --New English Translation (for comparison)
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. In the parable of the sower, Jesus is describing “the kingdom of heaven” () and that language is again invoked, as He moves on to this spiritual illustration. Hence in presenting these lessons the disciples are being (collectively) made identical with the kingdom and the spiritual kingdom/disciple movement is illustrated by parallels with the grain crop of an earthly field. The field becomes the world and the crop is the kingdom in the world. (Compare the concept of Christians and the church being “in the world but not of the world”--John .)
But the parable was subject to an easy misunderstanding: if the failures fall away (as in the sower parable) then all those who remain in the “visible” kingdom (= church) must be spiritual successes. The parable of the treacherous neighbor (-30) is designed to rid them of this potential delusion: the earthly kingdom will never be perfect and that imperfection is something that must be survived through the endurance of faith rather than the physical destruction of the evil.
He begins this point by speaking of the hard work of the sower who has carefully spread quality product--“good seed”--in the field. Whatever failures that arise, therefore, can't come from some inadequacy of the “seed” itself, it must come from other sources instead.
but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. For someone to do something this hostile, the foe is clearly not only an “enemy” but an “unscrupulous and bitter enemy” as well--one who is willing to spitefully do anything and everything he can get away with to do harm. That person comes and sows unproductive tares as a sign of contempt and out of the hope to do damage by destroying the man's crop. Remember these are often going to be little more than subsistence farmers. Hence “no crops” equals “no food to eat” and potential starvation. (And even when they are planting enough to have something left over to sell, sabotaging of the crop means that needed cash income gets destroyed as well.)
Sidebar: What are “tares?”--“The tares, known to botanists as the Lolium temulentum, or darnel, grew up at first with stalk and blade like the wheat; and it was not till fructification began [= the time that stalks budded into corn] that the difference was easily detected. It adds to the point of the parable to remember that the seeds of the tares were not merely useless as food, but were positively noxious.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
Consumption can “produce violent nausea, convulsions, and diarrhea” and, not uncommonly, outright death. (Pulpit Commentary) In other words we are talking far beyond mere hostility but outright malice to carry out such an extreme act. Its “virtue” to an enemy was that, done discretely, the chance of detection was modest and the damage inflicted vastly greater than the effort to carry it out.
But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. “Seed” looks like “seed” unless you have a reason for microscopically examining it closely--which they didn’t have and which would have been prohibitively costly in time even if the technology had existed! Hence “if it looks like seed it is seed”--you have to work on that assumption as a farmer. Hence the treachery is not detected until the grain begins to visibly sprout and, simultaneously, the tares mixed in as well.
So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ The servants were naturally perplexed by the discovery and inquire of the owner how this could possibly have happened. Admittedly part of this could be the desire not to be blamed for what they had no role in, but the bulk of it was surely honest perplexity: “How in the world could this have happened? Surely you brought only quality [= ‘good’] seed”--with the last words surely being delivered in a tone of voice somewhere between a statement of fact and outright perplexity.
He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ Since the owner is fully aware that his negligence played no role in the situation, he quite logically concludes that an enemy must have done it. But that did not resolve the immediate problem of what to do next: Since the tares were worthless and would deny some growing room to the desirable plants, the servants wondered whether it would be good for them to immediately root them out.
But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Although appealing in some ways (getting rid of the embarrassment and the insult), there was the inevitability that varying amounts of the innocent good grain would be uprooted and destroyed as well. Lest any of the good crop be lost, the owner instructs them not to immediately do anything about the problem. On a human level: You don't “solve” a problem by inflicting needless danger to the innocent.
Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ” The postponement does not mean that the problem will never be dealt with. Rather they were to wait until the time harvest had arrived and it would be easy to physically distinguish grain from tares and separate the latter into its own piles. Then they would gather them and “burn” them in the fire while the grain was safely stored in the barn.
The spiritual point is often explained as: You will never have a perfect church in the here and now and one must wait until the judgment day for the hindrances to be purged out when they are fully developed. Though some problems and imperfections can be taken care of now, there are others that must be left for the judgment day for One wiser than the rest of us to resolve.
Certainly indirect and partial applications to the church of today can reasonably be made: if one can identify the “tare” in the church through his or her evil behaving characteristics, we need to avoid imitating their ill behavior while trying to educate them better (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). In extreme cases even purging from membership if repentance does not occur (such as in Matthew -17).
In either case this is far more restrained behavior than when the predicted events of come to pass. There the judgment will not be in our fallible hands, but that of the Lord. Furthermore any primary application to the church seems clearly ruled out by the words of the text. Jesus Himself explained that “the field is the world” (verse 36)--rather than identifying it as “the church.” Methinks He is a considerably more skilled exegete of such matters than you or I.
Now as to applications to the world we should also consider this: Evil can never be fully removed from the it lest in our efforts to do so we harm the people of God in our excess zeal. Both the “tares” (those rejecting the truth) and the “good crop” (those accepting the truth) are intended to inhabit the same world until the time of ultimate judgment occurs. And the separation of the two are by hands uncontaminated by any human preference or bias. (A very useful lesson when one is tempted to blend Christianity into one pillar of any political movement.)
Though God’s Kingdom Begins Tiny, It Grows to Huge Size: The Parables of the Mustard Seed (Matthew -32) and the Leaven (): 31 He gave them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Having analyzed one “seed” parable in detail, He now throws out two short parables as if in a silent challenge to them to apply for themselves the kind of lessons He has just drawn.
which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” In popular opinion it was counted as the “least” of all seeds. Yet when it was fully grown it was often taller than a man and became a virtual “tree” in spite of its tiny beginnings. On the spiritual level, Jesus’ movement looked nothing bigger than a mustard seed in comparison with the status quo. Yet, He assures them, it was going to grow into something so large and important that no one would be able to so cavalierly dismiss it.
Sidebar: Jesus does not say all mustard seeds produce something this large, but that it happened commonly enough that everyone recognized the potential. An encouragement for the apostles for those occasions when the growth of the church was slow rather than great.
Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” If the mustard seed seems tiny, yet this is even more so in the case of yeast. It is extremely small and yet it ferments and the leaven makes the entire loaf expand. In a similar vein, Jesus’ movement is no more impressive than that leaven--yet. But because of it its fermenting power it will create a very visible and a very obvious presence in the future when it has expanded to its full potential.
Sidebar: A goodly number of people interpret this to mean that a small amount of evil ultimately corrupts the entire church. Although leaven is normally used in a negative sense, there is nothing in the current context to indicate that such is in mind. He has just attempted to build up their hopes for the future of their work (verses 32-33), is He really going to immediately throw in “but what you do is actually going to rot anyway”? It doesn’t seem very probable, does it?
Prophetic Precedent for Using Earthly Realities to Present Spiritual Truths in Disguise (Matthew -35): 34 Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds; he did not speak to them without a parable. 35 This fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them. Hence on this day of seaside teaching (13:1) the entirety of His teaching was done in parables. It was a type of teaching as far distant as imaginable from the direct discourse of chapters 5-7. Yet, in its own way, parables could convey spiritual truths just as well. Not as abstract truths that can be memorized but as principles that could be applied.
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; / I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Such teaching, Matthew argues, was done (“fulfilled”) in accordance with the Old Testament text that spoke of how “parables” would reveal things that had previously been kept hidden (“secret”) from the human race (Psalm 78:2-3)--kept “secret,” however, by its historical forgetfulness and stubborness since the events the Psalmist reviewed should have been known by any scripturally literate Israelite. In other words, the evidence was quite readily available but they declined to yield it the attention it deserved. The current generation was also ignoring evidence that was now readily available as well.
Jesus does not say that the Psalms predicted that He would teach in parables but that He intended to meet the precedent of what the Psalmist himself had done . . . do the same thing as the Palmist . . . speak of things the world ignored or had forgotten. In other words, He had divine precedent on His side.
Explaining the Parable of the Tares: Moral Evil Will Ultimately Be Purged Out of the World in the Triumph of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 13:36-43): 36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world and the good seed are the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
40 “As the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everything that causes sin as well as all lawbreakers. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The one who has ears had better listen!” --New English Translation (for comparison)
Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” Having done all the teaching He wished to engage in for the day, Jesus dismissed the crowd. He and His inner group of disciples--i.e., just the twelve apostles, because they all went into the same “house”--were now alone and they asked Him for an explanation of the parable of the tares. If the point was unclear to the hearers at large, it was also to the apostles as well.
He answered and said to them: “He
who sows the good seed is the Son of
The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The field is the world in which we live. Taken narrowly this is the environment, the particular society in which we dwell. However the use of the expression “world” shows that more than our own immediate national social context is in mind; His teaching accurately describes the situation everywhere there are human beings. Similarly, both locally and internationally, the product of the good seed are the true members of the kingdom.
The tares share that world with us but we are of two fundamentally different natures. The ones responsible for our existence are different and those who each group owes ultimate loyalty to is different.
Sidebar: Heresy within the church is not the subject of the parable. We can not overstress the fact that “the field is the world”--not the church. The scriptures provide clear-cut admonitions against false teaching and practice within the believing community, however, but this is not one of them. Go to the relevant passages, not this one. (For the other side of the case as to the identity of the field, see verse 41.)
The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. The fundamental character of the Devil is revealed by the fact that He has played games with the “field” (world) that rightly belongs to God--by planting His disciples (“tares”) within it. His depiction as “the wicked one” (in the previous verse) is the logical deduction drawn from this fact.
Whatever loyalties the “tares” think they may have, when all the illusions are stripped aside their “kinship” is unfortunately with evil and not with good. Since this harvest scene is transposed from the current earth into the time of ultimate Divine evaluation of good and evil, it is not surprising that the reapers turn out to be angels sent out at “the end of the age.”
Sidebar on the role of angels at the conclusion of the current world: “What will be the actual work of the ministry of angels in the final judgment it is not easy to define, but their presence is implied in all our Lord’s greater prophetic utterances about it (Matthew 25:31). That ministry had been brought prominently before men in the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Daniel, in which for the first time the name of the Son of Man is identified with the future Christ (Daniel 7:13 [cf. the two terms used interchangeably in Luke 9:20-22], and the Messianic kingdom itself brought into new distinctness in connection with a final judgment. Our Lord’s teaching does but expand the hints of the ‘thousand times ten thousand’ that ministered before the Ancient of Days when the books were opened (Daniel 7:9-10), and of Michael the prince as connected with the resurrection of ‘many that sleep in the dust of the earth’ (Daniel 12:1-2).” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. Just as the physical tares are disposed of in fire, so likewise the spiritual tares (= those whose loyalties are ultimately other than on Jesus’ side). Simply because you lived doesn't earn you an automatic “pass” to Divine reward nor the simple fact that somewhere, sometime you took up the fantasy of calling yourself a “Christian.”
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness. It is tempting to read the text in this manner: Here we explicitly find the tares identified as being part of Christ’s kingdom in this world. Yet appearances have been deceptive and in reality they “offend” Jesus and have been among those “who practice lawlessness” (i.e., defy the requirements of moral law and do whatever they please).
On the other hand if we see this as a description of sinners in general rather than just failed Christians in particular, then the allusion is to the fact that this entire world is rightly part of God's kingdom. He created the earth and the human species; He “owns” it by virtue of creation and the abuser of it ultimately answers to Him.
In favor of this broader reading is that it fits better with the Jesus' self-interpretation that “the field is the world” (verse 38). Against this approach, however, is the fact that the assumption of the parable is that the bulk of “the field” is of good grain and only a minority bad tares. This hardly fits with the proportion that exists in today's world--or the first century--does it?
Perhaps the most satisfactory solution is that Jesus is asserting here that just as the world is doing wrong, so are certain Christians. Since they have become tare-like, they also will suffer the same destiny as the tares. They will not escape simply because they claim to be part of the “good grain.”
and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. They are worse off than physical tares. The physical tares are thrown into a fire and feel nothing for they are not conscious. These human tares are thrown into fire and continue to exist, manifesting sorrow and pain by their “wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Through the centuries people have had passionate debates about how “literal” such words are intended and for how “long” such punishment actually lasts. Such matters are worthy of study, but no matter what interpretation one wishes to put on the language it implies--at an absolute minimum--discomfort, pain, and anguish. Define its cause and duration however one wishes.
Albert Barnes rightly stresses that Jesus never makes empty or non-existent promises and threats. They will all come true in a fashion that will make full sense when compared with the words He has spoken: “We have no idea of more acute suffering than to be thrown into the fire, and to have our bodies made capable of bearing the burning heat, and living on in this burning heat forever and forever. It is not certain that our Savior meant to teach here that hell is made up of ‘material’ fire; but it is certain that He meant to teach that this would be a proper ‘representation’ of the sufferings of the lost. We may be further assured that the Redeemer would not deceive us, or use words to torment and tantalize us. He would not talk of hell-fire which had no existence, nor would the Savior of people hold out frightful images merely to terrify mankind. If He has spoken of hell, then there is a hell. If He meant to say that the wicked shall suffer, then they will suffer.”
Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! With the wicked removed from the picture, only the righteous will be in the kingdom that remains. They will shine forth as bright as the sun in their moral integrity and honor. In Daniel 12 in regard to the resurrection that ancient prophet had written: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (verse 3).
Next we once again have Jesus’ admonition to listen and to heed--if you have ears to hear, hear!--again playing on the multiple meanings that the word “hear” can have (i.e., not only hear the mere words, but also to embrace, adopt, and make them part of your spiritual essence and lifestyle). So the words about condemnation aren’t spoken merely to warn the outsider who might happen to hear these words repeated by the apostles that change for the better is essential. They are, rather, targeting those who claim to be “faithful” lest--when all is said and done--their destiny is to be among those to be punished as well. Freedom of choice exists until we die.
Sidebar: “In verse 38 they were spoken of as ‘the sons of the kingdom;’ here their Father is expressly mentioned, not ‘the Son of man’ (verses 37, 41). The same reference to His Father rather than to Himself is found in Matthew 26:29. Did our Lord wish already to hint that ‘then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father’ (1 Corinthians )? Had Paul's teaching also here a direct connection with that of our Lord (verse 41)?” (Pulpit Commentary)
The Huge Value of God’s Kingdom: The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew ) and the Parable of the
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 46 When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
13:44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Now come the mini-parable of the kingdom being as valuable as a newly discovered treasure. In this world, the finder immediately rushes out and sells all his current possessions so that he can obtain this even more valuable object. In other words, the kingdom is so precious that it is worth sacrificing everything we have. Furthermore in that age of first generation believers, it was “hidden:” most people stumbled across it by accident--or with the help of acquaintances--rather than because they were of families raised within it.
Sidebar: Treasures might be hidden in such an extreme manner due to the desire to always have a portion where no one could possibly find it. Literally a “hidden reserve” that would not be tapped except in times of crisis. In other cases it would be a crisis like turmoil or war that would cause it to be secreted where no one could recover it except by accident. But if unexpected death or flight occurred, one would have abandoned valuables and left them to the good fortune of some later finder.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls. The previous mini-parable is about a person who finds the truth by accident. But others will find it because they are zealously looking for it. In other words, one might be like the merchant. The merchant is consciously always on the outlook for pearls whose beauty is such that they may be resold at a handsome profit.
Sidebar: The only mention of pearls in the Old Testament may be found in Job 28:18--but the meaning of the word found there is uncertain. By the first century they had the status that is now ascribed to diamonds. If a woman wished to be on an ego trip she would be sure to wear “gold or pearls or costly clothing”--or all three (1 Timothy 2:9).
who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. That conscious looker for the valuable will give up everything he has to buy the exquisite pearl whose beauty he knows will never be surpassed. Again, we have the element of everything being given up for something even more important. Something that is fully worth giving up everything for. The underlying message is equally relevant to both the poor and the rich, however: The willingness to sacrifice everything we need to in order to be part of God’s people.
God’s Kingdom in This World Draws Into It Both the Worthy and the Unworthy (Matthew -50): 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, they pulled it ashore, sat down, and put the good fish into containers and threw the bad away. 49 It will be this way at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind. In the next few verses (-50) Jesus returns to the theme described in the parable of the tares: that the people of God will have both the good and the evil in their midst. This time the point is conveyed by the kingdom being pictured as a giant dragnet. However broad (or narrow) a reading we put on “the field is the world” in , here the emphasis is explicitly on what “the kingdom of heaven” is like on earth. By its very size and nature, the international preaching of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20) scoops up every kind of “fish” that comes its way.
on the type of net that is used: “The reference is to the large drag-net or seine (Greek σαγήνη—the word in
the text . . . ).
One end of the seine is held on
the shore, the other is hauled off by a boat and then
returned to the land. In this way a
large number of fishes of all kinds is enclosed. Seine-fishing is still practiced on the coasts
which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. In much real life commercial fishing of that day, the nets were then drawn to shore just like here. The eatable and tasty fish were saved in containers for sale and those that were too small or considered “unclean” under the Mosaical system thrown away as useless.
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just. In a parallel manner to the temporal fishermen, there will be a separation of the “wicked” from the “just” at the “end of the age.” Once again (as in the parable of the tares) we find that the active agents will be the angels. The fisherman in the previous verse occasionally made bad “judgment calls;” by their very nature angels both can't and won't. They will get it infallibly right. Clearly angels do not believe in “universal salvation!”
and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” The elements of pain (“furnace of fire”) and personal consciousness and suffering (“wailing and gnashing of teeth”) are repeated from the earlier parable of the tares (verse 42). The evil of the individuals is not belabored. The punishment itself is not described at length. In pithy and pointed phrases it is simply pointed out once again as a warning. If these are not adequate to convince one of the grim reality of ultimate punishment, would going into it in thousands of words be any more so? In both cases, it comes down to the same fundamental decision: Do we heed the warning or ignore it?
Although it is easy to apply this to non-Christians we should never forget that Jesus is actually targeting believers like you and me: “The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind” (verse 47). We may have the veneer of faith . . . we may even go to church regularly . . . but unless we have the inner substance of developed and practicing faith it is all ultimately futile.
The Importance of Understanding Jesus’ Parables (Matthew -52): 51 “Have you understood all these things?” They replied, “Yes.” 52 Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Teaching has the purpose of conveying understanding. Many a time I have told people, “I’m not concerned with whether you agree with me half as much as whether you understand what I’m driving at.” For understanding is the basis of either informed agreement or informed disagreement. If the latter, it offers the opportunity for further discussion and illustration to resolve the difference. Therefore it is not surprising to have Jesus challenge the disciples with the question whether they have truly understood the points He has been driving at. They insist they have.
Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” A teacher should neither be buried in such traditionalism that change of any type is psychologically impossible nor so much given to innovation that one’s convictions are subject to disruptive and never-ending alteration. The effective teacher has things both “new and old” to bring forth from his or her years of study and consideration.
The immediate message to the disciples, though, was that there were going to be elements of continuity and discontinuity with their religion as they had previously understood it. Some elements (such as the full acceptance of Gentiles as equals) would not come for years--and that by Divine revelation--but the key precedents in manner of thinking and behavior had already begun to be set by Jesus’ action and teaching during His personal ministry. And that had been based upon the proper interpretation of the moral principles of the Old Testament stripped of the interpretive scribal and Pharisaic glosses that allowed people guilt free violation of its ethical demands.
Jesus Rejected at Nazareth Because They Think It Is Impossible for Such a Spiritually Astute Person to Have Come Out of Such Humble Family Roots (Matthew 13:53-58): 53 Now when Jesus finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Then he came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and miraculous powers? 55 Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? A nd aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56 And aren’t all his sisters here with us? Where did he get all this?”
57 And so they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own house.” 58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. --New English Translation (for comparison)
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. Having completed this day of parables and parable explanation, Jesus decided that His period of ministry in the region was completed and therefore moved on to other areas. He felt no usefulness would come from dwelling there longer.
had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they
were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom
and these mighty works?
When His travels brought Him back to His hometown of
Yet the listeners were still faced with two phenomena that they should have tried to resolve: How could Jesus possibly have such spiritual insight (“wisdom”) and how could He possibly be performing such “mighty works” of healing? Rather than honestly face their problem, they remove their difficulty with what amounts to, “It can’t happen” even when it was happening in front of them! Hence they don’t have to find a solution!
Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? It just did not seem possible that Jesus could conceivably be saying and doing what He was doing. Was He not a mere carpenter’s son? Yes, He might build good furniture or even build a good house--the word “carpenter” being capable of including a wider variety of skills than today. However respected He might be in those areas, none of this prepared them for His manifested spiritual and intellectual talents.
For that matter, did they not know His family? They weren't anything special where one expected wondrous accomplishments from this brother of their’s. Note the implicit reasoning blindness: “They aren’t anything special--so Jesus can’t be either.”
Sidebar on Jesus’ trade: “Although the word, ο τεκτων, rendered carpenter, may mean one that works either in wood, iron, or stone, yet it is probable that carpenter, properly so called, is here intended. Accordingly Justin Martyr tells us that Jesus, before he entered on his public ministry, was employed in this occupation: and the ancient Christians were all of the same opinion. The Jewish canons required that all parents should teach their children some trade; and, probably, the poverty of the family engaged Christ, while he was at home with Joseph, to work at his.” (Benson Commentary)
And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” If thinking of His brothers gave no indication of the family being something “special,” neither did looking at His sisters who still lived in their community. Hence there was nothing obvious in either gender to suggest that any of their close kin could be so insightful and powerful. Where then did He gain such manifest and obvious capabilities? They realize they have a problem but refuse to consider any answer. Because they don’t like conceding His rightness and authority in what He has to say. Again, an implicit “it can’t be so, so it won’t be so.”
So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” He simply didn't “fit in” with what he “should” have. Rather than feel hurt, Jesus simply reminded them that this was typical in all ages: no matter how great a prophet might be, the last place to give him the respect due him would be where he lived and within his own household.
To admit that some one had succeeded so brilliantly beyond their own limitations was psychologically unacceptable. Since it “shouldn't” have happened, it “hadn't” and “couldn’t” happen--and their minds are closed in automatic disbelief and rejection, refusing to even consider the possibility that the problem might be in them rather than the Teacher.
Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. Since they choose to reject Him, Jesus limited how many miracles He performed. Not vindictiveness or He would have worked none at all. Just the acute recognition that if a gift will not be appreciated, why should one go out of one’s way to exercise it?
Sidebar: If Luke 4:16-30’s description of a visit to Nazareth is, contrary to our analysis, the same as this one, then one can only say that Matthew was extremely restrained concerning a city where he could have painted the locals in far darker and more dangerous colors. Luke was from a different country--literally--and perhaps felt for that reason more willing to detail just how much greater a hostility had been present.
John the Baptist’s Moral Teaching Results in His Being Beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12): 1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead! And because of this, miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had repeatedly told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Although Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the crowd because they accepted John as a prophet.
6 But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, 7 so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Instructed by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 Although it grieved the king, because of his oath and the dinner guests he commanded it to be given.
10 So he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 Then John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus. --New English Translation (for comparison)
14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus. Although Herod may have had the courtesy title of “king” applied to him, he was technically only a “tetrarch” in official standing. This did not affect his authority within his boundaries, however. Being a ruler who wished to remain such, he was naturally careful to keep track of events. Hence it was no surprise that the reports about Jesus’ teaching, healings, and clashes with the Pharisees would come to his attention. Not only because a capable ruler wanted to know what was happening within his borders, but also because he had killed John the Baptist, the other popular and charismatic champion of moral reform of the time.
Sidebar: The setting of this Herod in his historical
son of Herod the Great by Malthace. Under his
father’s will he succeeded to the government of
“The marriage, at once adulterous and by the Mosaic law doubly incestuous, shocked the conscience of all the stricter Jews. It involved Antipas in a war with the father of the wife whom he had divorced and dismissed, and it was probably in connection with this war that we read of soldiers on actual duty as coming under the teaching of the Baptist in Luke 3:14.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
14:2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” The underlying reaction to the equating of the two, however, was surely not one of joy (as with disciples) nor of anger (as with many Pharisees). Instead it must have been one of horror and apprehension motivated by his own personal guilt: Having put John the Baptist to death without just cause, he would be less than human if he did not fear that the great power manifested in Jesus’ acts was made possible by his really being the Baptist resurrected from the dead (verse 3).
This was certainly a better explanation than that of the Pharisees: if Jesus’ powers had been demonically based one would have expected them to be exercised in a solely destructive and hurtful manner. At least Herod recognized that Jesus was using them for good and therefore God must somehow be behind them.
14:3 For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. The causes of Herod’s justified guilt is now explained. Herod had not merely opposed John. He had actually chained him and thrown him in jail because of John’s criticism of his marriage to Herodias. This was not an abstract question of "what is truth" but of knowing defiance of truth.
14:4 Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod was a divorced man and John’s objection was not based upon a claim that he had no right to remarry. It was, instead, based upon a very specific prohibition of the Torah of Moses: you could not marry your brother’s wife as he had done (cf. verse 3). We often speak of how the Torah permitted remarriage for any reason--actually Deuteronomy 24:1-4 limits it to the specific cause of moral uncleanness, but the text typically was and is read in the broader manner. Yet even in the most permissive reading of the passage, there still remained a few situations in which remarriage to a specific type of person was prohibited. This near a kin was a good example (Leviticus ; Leviticus ).
14:5 And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. At times he wanted to remove the problem by removing the “problem causer”--which he deluded himself into believing was the one who rebuked the sin rather than the one doing it. He avoided doing this both because John was generally considered a “prophet” and that the execution risked provoking a revolt.
There are two options available to us since other New Testament accounts speak of Herod having a more mellow attitude toward John: (1) the imprisonment began with a wish for the man’s death and then moderated into a less passionate reaction or (2) the personal conversations they had (Mark 6:17-20) bred an even more severe hostility since John refused to budge on the matter. Herod was now in a no win situation: (1) because of popular opinion it was not practical to execute him without major risk. (2) He would naturally fear a fatal split with his wife by releasing him.
14:6 But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Jewish customs did not include the observance of birthdays. Herod, as a Romanified ruler, embraced the practice, however. His step daughter, the daughter of Herodias (i.e. Salome), was permitted to dance before the varied guests of the king. Perhaps Herod was already well drunk in order to be convinced to allow his own kin (if only by marriage) to perform in such a manner. It certainly blatantly violated the social norms one would have expected for the time.
on the future of the dancer: “She was afterwards married to her uncle Herod-Philip,
the tetrarch, and on his death to Aristobulus,
grandson of Herod the Great.” (
14:7 Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. It was such a sexually arousing and pleasing performance that Herod promised, with a formal oath, to give her whatever reward she sought. In fairness to him, he surely thought in term of some expensive jewelry or rare beauty ointment or something else that would cater to her vanity. That there could ever be anything more “serious” than items like this would not have entered his mind.
14:8 So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” Having discussed the matter with her mother she provided the last request Herod would have imagined: the head of the Baptist. He might well have hesitated at the death of anyone, but this one was as intensely “personal” as one could get: The people knew full well that the imprisonment was a matter of his personal (and not regal) grievances and he feared the popular backlash from a popular revolt (verse 5).
Sidebar: The possibility that he might offer “whatever she might ask” (verse 7) rather than something more modest clearly had not occurred to her: She had to go get her mother’s opinion before answering (Mark ).
14:9 And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. The king naturally regretted the situation he had placed himself in. Because he had made the promise with oaths he felt obligated to fulfill it, but the text immediately adds cynically and realistically “and because of those who sat with him.”
In other words, if he backed down he would lose face in front of his subordinates. It was better that an innocent man die than that the ruler be embarrassed. Not to mention have an outraged spouse. He was willing to feel guilty--“the king was sorry”--rather than back down from an absurdly broad (and probably drunken) promise he had made.
If the prison was in the same complex as the celebratory chambers, they would immediately know of the betrayal of the pledge. If elsewhere, word would still come to their ears by word of mouth. In a king’s mansion “the walls listen--and talk to others.” Things like this could not be kept a secret.
So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. The wording of the verse is vague. The “prison” where John was held could have been part of the complex where Herod was celebrating. It could have been elsewhere. (Commentators have long wrestled with that question.) Either way, the pivotal order was issued and carried out by loyal subordinates.
on what history and later church writers speak of coming down on Herod and his
Jerome tells us that Herodias treated the head in a
very disdainful manner, pulling out the tongue, which she imagined had injured
her, and piercing it with a needle. Thus
they gratified themselves in the indulgence of their lusts, and triumphed in
the murder of this holy prophet, till the righteous judgment of God overtook
them all. For, as Dr. Whitby, with many others, observes,
And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Herodias had wanted the head this way (14:8). Herod took the request literally and had it so delivered. And she, in turn, gave platter and hated head to her mother who doubtless ate a good and happy meal afterwards in her bitter conquest over her enemy.
Sidebar: “It was customary for princes to require the heads of persons ordered for execution to be brought to them. For this there were two reasons: (1) To gratify their resentment - to feast their eyes on the proof that their enemy was dead; and, (2) To ascertain the fact that the sentence had been executed. There is a similar instance in Roman history of a woman requiring the head of an enemy to be brought to her. Agrippina, the mother of Nero, who was afterward emperor, sent an officer to put to death Lollia Paulina, who had been her rival for the imperial dignity. When Lollia's head was brought to her, not knowing it at first, she examined it with her own hands until she perceived some particular feature by which the lady was distinguished.” (Barnes Notes)
Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus. John had not been forgotten. His disciples requested permission to bury the body and it was granted to them. Since John and Jesus’ paths had crossed more than once . . . since John clearly had expressed public and profound respect for the Lord . . . and since Jesus’ prominence had become so great as well, it was natural for those disciples to convey word of the death to Him. Jesus would feel as sorrowful as they did--and they knew it.
of two times that Jesus wept: over the
coming destruction of
Jesus Miraculously Feeds Over Five Thousand Who Sought Him While He Was in the Countryside (Matthew 14:13-21): 13 Now when Jesus heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place. But when the crowd heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 1
5 When evening arrived, his disciples came to him saying, “This is an isolated place and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But he replied, “They don’t need to go. You give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 18 “Bring them here to me,” he replied.
19 Then he instructed the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, twelve baskets full. 21 Not counting women and children, there were about five thousand men who ate. --New English Translation (for comparison)
When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. Fear of Herod is unlikely as the cause of the departure. Herod’s enmity had been aimed, so far as we can tell, exclusively at John. But the execution would certainly stir up widespread resentment that could explode into violence. By withdrawing from the public view--even if only temporarily--Jesus avoided being immediately dragged into any unwise reactions that occurred . . . reactions that would center on violent retribution rather than on any moral issues of right and wrong.
And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. Withdrawn or not, word of His presence quickly spread (verse 13) and “a great multitude” were still so interested in hearing Him that they followed till they located Him. This, however, was not a crowd that gave any indication of exploding into insurrection. One can easily imagine that Jesus was moved not just “with compassion” (the only factor mentioned in our text) but also with relief that He could devote time to teaching and healing rather than calming down outraged voices.
When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.” Although being in an unpopulated area removed Jesus from any potentially incendiary urban crowds, it also had a major downside. Those who had come from a distance found themselves late in the day and a distance away from anywhere they could purchase food. Yes, the communities were out there, but they needed time to seek them out. Recognizing the problem, the disciples urged Jesus to send them away promptly--before it was too late for them to obtain food at all before night fell.
on the time of day “when it was evening:”
“In the Jewish division of the day
there were two evenings. According to
the most probable view the space of time called ‘between the evenings’ (Exodus
12:6 [in the Hebrew]) was from the ninth to the eleventh hour. Hence the first evening ended at , the second began at . In this
verse the first evening is meant, in Matthew the second.”
But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Jesus rejected the common sense suggestion that He had just received. Instead He insisted that the disciples had sufficient supplies to furnish them with nourishment. At first glance this seems so absurd that it is no wonder how they responded:
And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” How was this going to be adequate to feed themselves much less the massive crowd? What they overlooked is that they also had a miracle working Lord as their leader. The fact that the thought did not occur to them shows that either this was the first time that He ever performed such a wonder--altogether, we only read of two cases when He invoked such a power--or that it was so rare that it simply did not seem a realistic option to be automatically invoked.
The bread was of barley and both it and the fish were in the hands of a young boy accompanying either the apostles or the crowd (John 6:9). “Barley was a cheap kind of food, scarcely one-third the value of wheat, and was much used by poor people. A considerable part of the food of the people in that region was probably fish, as they lived on the borders of a lake that abounded in fish.” (Barnes Notes)
He said, “Bring them here to Me.” No further explanation is provided. They are going to have to proceed to the basis of trust. It sounded strange but they were confident that something constructive would ultimately come out of it. In dealing with Jesus, whatever He said had “somehow” managed to work out well in the past.
Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. Setting in neat groups on the grass was not only the utilitarian course, but also the only practical one to handle such a large crowd of people. After “blessing” the bread to their consumption (= giving thanks for it and praying that it might be of benefit to their bodies), Jesus passed the loaves to the disciples who then passed it on to the multitude.
Ancient Jewish blessings of this time appear to be short and to the point like ours: “May God, the ever-blessed One, bless what He has given us.” And: “Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, the King of the world, who hast produced this food and this drink from the earth and the vine.”
So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Somehow what began as an insignificant amount of food resulted in leftovers of twelve full baskets--which the apostles themselves could consume in the next few days before it went bad. . . . or, as opportunity arose, to pass on to those who were clearly in need.
Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children. What made the event even more amazing was the pure number of people involved: five thousand if one counted only the males --and that is emphasized by the stress on how the large number includes no effort to add in the women and children. The distance traveled to follow Jesus probably severely limited the latter categories; on the other hand, would it be worthy of mention at all if their numbers had been skimpy and irrelevant? Is this not a way of saying that the total number fed was far above five thousand?
This miracle has often been explained away as the crowd becoming willing to share their food when placed in a situation where they were to be feed communally. This interpretation assumes that the apostles were incredibly ill informed as to how much food was actually available. That a few might be selfishly hoarding their resources was certainly possible. But for this explanation to be true, virtually everyone would have had to be doing so. How could so many have successfully kept their resources hidden from observation? It's not going to happen. (And that is laying aside the inspiration that guided the gospel writers. Even without that, this is mere common sense.)
After Staying Behind to Pray, Jesus Walks Across the Sea to Rejoin His Apostles (Matthew 14:22-33): 22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dispersed the crowds. 23 And after he sent the crowds away, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile the boat, already far from land, was taking a beating from the waves because the wind was against it.
25 As the night was ending, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out with fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 Peter said to him, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” 29 So he said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they went up into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. The gospel accounts like to keep things short and to the point, but this is one of those cases where we learn that the total picture was far more complex. As the gospel of John narrates the miracle, those who saw it wanted to compel Jesus to become a king whether He wanted to or not (John ). Jesus dealt with the problem by a two pronged strategy. First He sent the apostles away by boat--getting them out of the way of any complications that might arise. Then He announced to the crowds that the day’s teaching was ended:
And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. Having gone through whatever prayer or blessing or other mode of dismissing them that He utilized, Jesus followed neither the crowd nor attempted to walk around the Sea to the other side. Instead He climbed onto a mountain where He could pray in private and remained there by Himself into the sunset hours and then night. The unruly crowd could hardly deny Him some time alone to pray could they? They could easily find Him, couldn’t they?
Jesus had no intention of allowing that to happen, thereby protecting both His own agenda of peaceful moral reform and gutting their agenda of using Him as an excuse for political/military revolt. With them asleep, He discretely and quietly departed by a method they could hardly have anticipated.
Furthermore since He “no longer had the means to cross the Sea” (i.e., have a boat available), He had to be somewhere near where they were. This would cause a delay as they fruitlessly sought Him out and their passions cooled down.
But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. We are told nothing of what Jesus prayed about--though prayer that the unruly crowds would neither come to harm themselves or do harm to others would be obvious subjects. Not to mention strength to resist releasing their excess enthusiasm: Too often the most zealous lack an adequate counter-balance of judgment and appropriateness.
Meanwhile things were not going well with the apostles and their boat was being beset by heavy waves and a wind blowing them away from the shore they were trying to reach. This would have required them to use all the muscle they could put into the rowing to make any advance at all. Since this clearly took a number of hours they must have been near exhaustion from the effort by the time of what happened next.
Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. In the last watch of the night (), while they were still fighting to make progress, they were startled to see Jesus walking on the surface of the sea. With all the chaos of nature around them this familiar figure had to be the last thing they expected to encounter.
And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. The unexpected sight both startled and frightened them. (It would us too.) Some thought it must be his “ghost” rather than the actual man. Although “fear” motivated the words, the interpretation made as much sense as anything else out of an incredible phenomena they had never before witnessed--or had any expectation they ever would witness.
Sidebar: We don’t know exactly how they were defining “ghost,” but they clearly regarded it as something terrifying rather than uplifting or encouraging. Does not that kind of reaction argue that they feared that Jesus was now dead and that this was only an after death apparition? Making their current distress that much more horrifying! Whatever negative connotations the term had, Jesus promptly tried to set them right. . . .
But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus reaction to their fear was an immediate reassurance that it was really Himself. Since it was, they had no reason to be afraid. The storm might be something to be afraid of, but He surely wasn't!
And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Peter, at least, had enough confidence that He shouted out for Jesus to “command” Him to join Him on the water. If Jesus’ verbal commands could cast out demons, surely they would also miraculously enable Peter to join Him! But there is a shade of skepticism present as well, “if it is You, command Me to come.” In other words, it would be a confirmation that they were actually beholding Jesus and were not, somehow, deluded. If it were really Him, there was no question that it could be done.
So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. Jesus only required one word to convey what He wanted Peter to do. So Peter stepped out of the boat . . . and He did not sink but successfully started to walk toward Jesus. This worked fine until he stopped to think about the situation.
But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” Faith has its limits even in the strong. Peter had faith enough to get out of the boat, but when he looked around again and started paying attention to how dangerous the wind had made the waves, fear entered His heart and he began to sink. This time the plea was not to walk but to “save” him from drowning! From full confidence to “what in the world have I gotten myself into(!)” in a matter of seconds.
And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” One can almost hear the sadness in Jesus’ words as He reached out and grabbed Peter: He does not deny that the apostle has faith. But he describes it as “little faith” . . . a faith which had been successfully besieged by “doubt” and challenges Peter why he had let this happen: If he had gotten this far, how could he possibly be endangered in the rest of the walk?
And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. With the boat now available, there was no further need for anything so dramatic as walking further across the Sea so they both then entered the boat together. As they did so the wind creating the storm suddenly ceased and the waves began to return to their normal height.
Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Here we read of both what they did (“worshipped Him”) and what they said (acknowledging Him as “the Son of God”). Some readers might be tempted to reduce the connotation of both to that of just extreme respect and reverence. In contexts like this, however, we would be hard pressed to see how “worshipped” can possibly avoid the strict sense of the term and how “Son of God” can avoid the ideas of “supernatural” or “deity.”
If minimal (or no) past acquaintance with Jesus might argue for a modest and restricted interpretation of the expressions when used in some other contexts, the current one argues strongly for a maximization of the meaning of both. There is simply no dodging room whether one likes the conclusion or not.
On the Gennesaret Side of the Sea, Many Are Brought To Be Healed (Matthew -36): 34 After they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 When the people there recognized him, they sent word into all the surrounding area, and they brought all their sick to him. 36 They begged him if they could only touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. --New English Translation (for comparison)
When they had crossed over, they came
emphasis on “the
Sidebar: The size of the “land of Gennesaret”--“By this is meant the plain of Gennesaret,
two miles and a half in length and about one mile in breadth. Modern travelers [in the late 19th century]
speak of ‘its charming bays and its fertile soil rich with the scourings of the basaltic hills.’ Josephus describes the district in glowing
terms (B.J. iii. 10. 8).” (
And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick. Jesus had such a well developed reputation as a healer by this point, that that they quickly took advantage of this as an opportunity for those who were sick among them to be healed. Indeed, “they sent out” the message of Jesus’ presence in order to assure that everyone came who could--they “went out of their way” to spread the good news. This implies that word of His wonders had spread and had credibility throughout the broader region as well.
and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well. They might not understand how Jesus was capable of performing His healings, but they did recognize their own unworthiness both of the gift and of the privilege of being with such a Person. Hence they only requested the privilege of touching the edge of His garment and, as they clearly anticipated, they were made “perfectly well.” The concept of lengthy, gradual recoveries or of less than complete recuperations is utterly unknown in the ministry of Jesus. Other texts imply this reality while this is one of those that explicitly state it.
Sidebar: This desire to touch “the hem of His garment” probably implies that word of the healing in Matthew 9:20-22 had become widely known.