1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “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, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” – Matthew 13:1-17 ESV
Jesus had begun His public ministry by declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). But as the opposition of the religious leaders intensified, He began to speak of the coming kingdom using more cryptic language. While His message remained unchanged, He did alter the means by which He communicated the nature of His coming kingdom. Specifically, He began to utilize parables on an increasing basis. This was not a teaching style unique to Jesus, and it would not be the first time He used parables to teach spiritual truths. But, as Matthew records in chapter 13, the parables of Jesus begin to focus in on new details concerning the coming kingdom.
As had been stated before, chapter 12 marks a watershed moment in the ministry of Jesus. Up until that point, Jesus had focused His ministry on the nation of Israel. When sending out His disciples on their first missionary journey, He had instructed them:
“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” – Matthew 10:5-7 ESV
But the message of the kingdom would be rejected by the majority of the Jews who heard it. While the people who witnessed the miracles of Jesus were awed by what they had seen, they could not bring themselves to believe He was the Messiah. Jesus even condemned the predominantly Jewish cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, for their unrepentant hearts, as evidenced by their refusal to accept Him as their Messiah.
Jesus had to deal with centuries-worth of misperception and misinterpretation on the part of the Jewish people when it came to the coming Messiah. Their expectations of this long-awaited king of Israel were unfulfilled in Jesus. He was not what they had been looking or hoping for. He had no army. And while His miracles were impressive, He did nothing to indicate that He was going to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to power and prominence. Jesus didn’t even have the backing of the nation’s religious leadership. How could He be the Messiah? How would He ever be able to set up His kingdom without backing from the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, and other religious and political parties of Israel?
With all that said, the crowds following Jesus did not diminish in size. They continued to show up in great numbers, attracted by His miracles and intrigued by His message.
And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. – Matthew 13:2 ESV
But it had become clear that they were not going to accept Him as who He claimed to be. Belief in Him was the missing factor in the relationship the people of Israel had with Him. They were intrigued by Jesus but were not willing to place their faith in Him. But, in spite of Jesus’ reference to them as an evil generation, the crowds continued to show up.
So, that same day, with the crowds gathered on the seashore, Jesus entered a boat and began to teach them. And Matthew adds the important detail: “And he told them many things in parables.” Again, this is not the first time Jesus used parables to teach, but it does signal an overall shift in His strategy. A parable was a common teaching tool that utilized comparison in order to drive home an important lesson. A parable was a simple story that contained imagery familiar to the audience but was intended to teach a deeper spiritual truth.
In this case, Jesus used the imagery of sowing seeds, something His audience would have readily understood. But as this chapter unfolds, it will become apparent that the message behind His parable escaped those in His audience, including His disciples. His closest followers will end up asking Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables? (Matthew 13:10 ESV).
In a sense, they were asking Jesus why He didn’t just say what He wanted to say. They were curious as to why He chose to utilize parables as His primary means of communication. So, Jesus explained to them the purpose behind His chosen teaching style.
He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables…” – Matthew 13:11-13 NLT
Simply put, His parables contained the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was revealing truth that had previously been hidden. He was providing enlightenment about God’s Kingdom that the people of Israel had missed. In fact, He told His disciples that “many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17 ESV).
While the Old Testament Scriptures were full of promises concerning the Messiah, the people of Israel had failed to fully understand who He would be and what He would do when He came. Their understanding of the Messiah’s reign was that of an earthly kingdom, like that of David and Solomon. They had been looking for a king who would set up His kingdom in Jerusalem and revive Israel’s glorious past.
Jesus was letting His disciples know that the expectations of the people were not wrong, but only premature. A day was coming when He would establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem and rule from the throne of David, all in keeping with the promises of God made to David. But first, the people would reject Him as their Messiah. And it would be their rejection of Him that would lead to His crucifixion by them. Their refusal to accept their Messiah and King would result in the Gospel being taken to the Gentiles. And Jesus pointed out that their refusal of Him was in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
“This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
‘When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’” – Matthew 13:14-15 NLT
But Jesus will go on to explain the meaning of His parables to His disciples. Because of their belief in Him, He will reveal the truth contained in His messages.
“For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” – Matthew 13:12 ESV
These men had been called by Jesus and given a chance to sit under His teaching. Each of them had answered His call and left behind their former lives in a display of faith. They didn’t fully understand who He was and were still wrestling with their own expectations and the seeming incongruities of Jesus‘ actions. But they were willingly walking with Him, even in the face of growing opposition. And Jesus promised that, because of their faith, they would be given even more insight into the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The key was their faith. Yes, it was small at times. They regularly wrestled with unbelief and doubt. But they remained by His side, eagerly listening and learning, watching and waiting to see what their Messiah was going to do. And over time, Jesus would continue to provide them with enlightenment and insight into the true nature of His Kingdom. And Jesus will reveal to them the hidden message contained in the parable of the soils. He won’t leave them hanging or left wondering about its meaning. And, over time, they will grow to understand more fully who He is and what He has come to do.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.