Often it is the understanding of the general picture that best serves to ground us in God’s truth. Without this broader understanding, the minute details of Scripture are too easily manipulated by human wisdom and reasoning. All too often, and for the most part unknowingly, we set aside any possibility of the Spirit of God becoming our teacher, and with this the potential of receiving divine truth and instruction. How does the Christian believer possess the mind of Christ? How can we possibly know the things given to Jesus by the Father, except we truly humble ourselves to be taught by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13–15)?
There is a general sequence of dispensational transition that can be discovered in the ordering of the chapters in the middle of Matthew’s gospel. By closely considering and apprehending the general content these chapters present, we find just how much they align themselves with the transitional purpose of the Holy Spirit.
- Chapter Ten: We have already outlined this chapter’s content back in a previous chapter of this book titled, the Dispensational Importance of Matthew’s gospel. From the time Jesus starts speaking here to His disciples, we are given the remaining history of Jewish things and the mission of Messiah to Israel. The disciples are looked at by the Spirit as a believing Jewish remnant given divine power for this Messianic testimony among the Jews. This chapter has a three-fold timing: while Jesus is still with them; the disciples’ lifetimes after He is gone from them;227 and finally, jumping over to the time of His return (the time of the Christian dispensation entirely omitted). Strictly Jewish things are dealt with in this chapter. The presentation of Jehovah to the Jewish mind is one of the divine purposes of this gospel – only God can give His divine power for men to use (v. 1). This chapter shows the gathering out of a faithful remnant, and passing over this time to the end, an end-time Jewish remnant when the Son of Man returns (v. 23).
227 [the testimony rendered by these disciples after Jesus had returned to heaven is depicted in the first seven chapters of Acts. Their ministry was strictly to the Jews and they became known in Scripture as the apostles of the circumcision (Gal. 2:6–9). After Jesus was gone, the Messianic mission continued for some time in Israel by the power of the Spirit through this faithful Jewish remnant (Matt. 10:20). Upon the martyring of Stephen, God raised up Paul in sovereign grace to become the apostle of the Gentiles (uncircumcised) and to fulfill the commission we find given at the end of this gospel (Matt. 28:18–20)]
- Chapter Eleven and Twelve: Here we have the general testimony of the rejection of Jesus by the Jews as the Messiah of Israel. Because he did not see any deliverance for Israel, even the Baptist begins to doubt Jesus is the Messiah (11:3). The Lord renders testimony concerning John, calling him greater than all the prophets or any man born of women, but His testimony of John turns into an obvious dispensational transition concerning the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” We see both Christ’s rejection and that of the Baptist in the parable – He came and played the flute for them, but they refused to dance (11:16–19). Then we start to see God’s rejection of them (11:20–24). However, in spite of all this rejection, both the Jews of Christ and He of the Jews, God will have His own sheep in sovereign grace (11:25–30).
Chapter twelve is, without exception, all rejection. The most serious charge made by the Jews is that Jesus is Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (12:24). Everything beyond this in the chapter is God setting Israel aside. In the end Israel would be judged because they refused to receive the Spirit’s testimony of Jesus as their Messiah or recognize His work (12:28, 31 – this corresponds to Stephen’s condemnation of the Jews for their rejection of the Holy Spirit’s testimony of a risen Messiah after the day of Pentecost, before God turned to the Gentiles, Acts 7:51). The Jews had become an evil and adulterous generation (12:39). In unbelief, they still are this today.
Chapter twelve ends with two illustrations. The first is the unclean spirit going out of a man (12:43–45). Jesus uses this to prophetically show what the nation of Israel’s moral condition will be at the end during the future tribulation. The unclean spirit is Israel’s idolatry, which was their major offence and failure up to the Babylonian captivity. At that time the unclean spirit left Israel and they were an empty house swept clean. This was their condition when Jesus came to them. Because they rejected Him, their house would remain empty and desolate (Matt. 23:37–39). The unclean spirit of idolatry will return to Israel. Their condition in the end will be seven times worse.228
228 [The use of the number seven in prophetic passages always refers to the thought of completeness, wholeness, and perfection. This is true for descriptions of both good and evil things. The number is used many times in the book of Revelation, which is definitely a prophetic book. It is used in Matthew thirteen, where seven parables give the complete prophetic picture of the Christian dispensation. Here in Matthew twelve, it speaks prophetically of Israel’s moral condition in idolatry at the end – the complete perfection of her moral evil]
The second illustration involved the Lord’s mother and brothers seeking to speak to Him (12:46–50). This represents his break with Israel in the flesh. The principle of natural descent, so prominent in the order of the Jewish dispensation, was soon to be discarded by God in setting Israel aside. God would soon begin to value new and different relationships, based on the death and resurrection of Christ, those born of God and not of women, in the coming new dispensation. For the divine purpose, these two illustrations are perfectly positioned here at the end of chapter twelve, arranged this way by the Spirit of God through Matthew.
- Chapter Thirteen: In relation to the divine purpose, this is likely the most important chapter in Matthew’s gospel. It contains seven parables chosen and purposely grouped together by the Spirit of God.229 This arrangement shows forth the complete prophetic history and character of the yet-to-be-established Christian dispensation (a.k.a. the kingdom of heaven in mystery). With Israel being set aside by God in Matthew, the Spirit brings out the revelation of three things which replace the Jewish system:
- The kingdom of heaven – the new form the kingdom of God takes during the Christian dispensation (Ch. 13)
- The new prophetic revelation of the church by Jesus (Ch. 16)
- The glory of the future millennial kingdom (Ch. 17)
229 [This collection of parables is not repeated in any of the other gospels. These seven parables are grouped together purposely by the Spirit in order to form this chapter in Matthew. The same thing is true concerning the Sermon on the Mount that is found in Matthew – the Spirit of God grouped together numerous different teachings in these chapters (Matt. 5, 6, 7) to support the dispensational purpose in writing Matthew’s gospel. It is very unlikely that the order of the teaching in Matthew’s Sermon or chapter thirteen is historically accurate. Again, the same thing can be said concerning Matthew’s prophetic chapters 24 and 25. But then, a chronologically accurate order of events or teachings isn’t the Spirit’s purpose for Matthew. Neither is it for Luke or John. Mark’s gospel should be considered the most historically accurate of the four as to the chronology of events and teachings in the life of Christ]
Chapter thirteen begins by continuing the testimony of God’s rejection of Israel. The prophet Isaiah’s condemning testimony of the Jews is quoted by Jesus and said to be now fulfilled (13:11–15). The Jews, in general, were not given by God eyes to see or ears to hear. But these things were given to Christ’s disciples (13:16). Even in comparison to the prophets and righteous men of old, the disciples had been given a far better advantage for spiritual understanding. They had been chosen by God in sovereign grace (13:17).
This comparison serves the divine purpose of dispensational transition in Matthew. In this passage the two groups are placed in direct contrast with each other. The Christian position in the Christian dispensation is contrasted with the Jewish position in their dispensation. All true Christians have received the Holy Spirit given to them by God, by which they may apprehend and know the things of God (1 Cor. 2:10–16, John 16:25). This can’t be said of the Jews. What the chapter impresses concerning Israel is that, in general, they were not given the ability or resources by God to acquire these understandings, nor to come into the position represented by His disciples. Because of this, He speaks to them in obscure parables, and even what they possess from God will be taken away from them (13:12–13).
There is one more example of Israel’s rejection by God at the beginning of the chapter. It reads, “On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.” The Son of Man becomes the Sower (13:3). He represents God and does God’s work. The Lord would begin something new – a new planting and a new dispensation. God is no longer looking for fruit from His old vineyard Israel (Isa. 5:1–7, Matt. 21:33–44). Symbolically, Jesus quits the house of Israel and goes out to begin a new work from God in the world. This is the significance of this chapter.
Matthew 13:11 (NKJV)
11 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.
Remembering what we’ve previously established, “the kingdom of heaven” is a unique phrase serving the divine purpose in Matthew’s gospel. It represents the new form the kingdom of God takes in the time of the Christian dispensation. This form is the expanse of Christendom growing up in the world. There are mysteries associated with this new form. Christianity is the new religion sanctioned by God for the new dispensation. There are plenty of mysteries associated with this new religion. It has been given to Christian believers to know and comprehend the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. We have been given the Holy Spirit. He lives within us and is our Teacher, so that the Christian may possess the mind of Christ.
But what are the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven? We know in specific detail from Scripture that the body of Christ, the church, is considered the mystery of God hidden from the prophets and ages past (Eph. 3:1–11, Col. 1:24–26). It would be reasonable then to consider the things dependent on the existence of the church to also be hidden – Christians, Christendom, Christianity, and the Christian dispensation.
But is the existence of the church one of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven? We would reason that it has to be. Although there will be a more detailed treatment of the parable of the wheat and tares in the next chapter, the wheat planted by the Son of Man are individual Christians who together form what is known as the church, the body of Christ (13:37–38). Two parables coming later in the chapter reveal God’s mind regarding the value of the true church to Him and her position in the kingdom of heaven – she is the hidden treasure in the field and the pearl of great price (13:44–46). This establishes the church in direct association with the kingdom of heaven and its teachings.
It is chapter thirteen of Matthew that makes this critical association between the future church and the soon-to-be established kingdom of heaven. The body of Christ is the mystery of God and is one of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. By association, all the remainder – individual Christians, Christendom, Christianity, and the Christian dispensation – are also mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. And please remember, the phrase is found thirty-two times in this gospel. It was used twelve times in the chapters before we come to the thirteenth. All the uses of the phrase must be referencing something that has an association with the Christian dispensation. This is the conclusion the Spirit brings us to based on the details of this chapter. This further impresses the importance of Matthew thirteen.
This isn’t the only way we should be thinking of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The mysteries are also all the matters of faith associated with the Christian dispensation and the Christian religion. Think about it – Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Every Christian is saved by the grace of God through faith – we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:8–10). But in this redemption, God was unseen, as also was Jesus.229B Christianity is a walk of faith by the believer as he sojourns as a pilgrim through the wilderness of this world (2 Cor. 5:7). For the true Christian, his walk is based solely on faith in things unseen. The things hoped for by the true believer are all beyond this present time and dispensation; they are only his when he arrives in glory in the next dispensation (Matt. 13:43). Christianity instructs him to not look at things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen (2 Cor. 4:18). The believer can only do this with the eye of faith. The practice of Christian discipleship is taking up a cross of rejection by this world and following Jesus. Yet in the Christian dispensation, we never get to see or touch this one we love and follow.
229B [In one sense, the existence of true Christians is part of the mystery of the Christian dispensation when compared to Israel in the Jewish dispensation. For the Jews, all one does is look at their birth certificate to know they are part of Israel. Their privileges and responsibility come from a relationship established by physical birth. There is no mystery in verifying this. But true Christians are born of God (John 1:12-13) and made sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). God is unseen and the relationship He creates is unseen; yet it is, in truth, a much greater reality. This cannot be seen with the naked eye or proven by a birth certificate]
For emphasis allow me to repeat this important understanding. The things unseen account for most of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, for which only Christians are given the resources to know and understand (Matt. 13:11). All the mysteries are given to the true Christian to comprehend. He alone has the potential to see them with the eye of faith, to walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Only through true faith can the believer walk pleasing to God (2 Cor. 5:9, Heb. 11:6).
The world does not walk by faith in things unseen. It has no ability to do so. The world can only walk by sight and physical senses. Therefore, we define Judaism as a religion of the world – it is a walk by sight and senses, a worldly religion adapted to man in the flesh and a fallen sinner. The Jews have always been part of the world. There are no mysteries to be pondered associated with Judaism or the Jewish dispensation. The law did not deal in faith, but instead was based on human works, human responsibility. The shekinah glory, the manifested presence of Jehovah, dwelt in the midst of Israel. When they failed in this, this manifested Presence departed from them. Towards the end of the Jewish dispensation, God’s Son took on human flesh and came to the Jews as their promised Messiah (according to the flesh, Rom. 9:5). The Jews demand a sign (1 Cor. 1:22). This is not faith or mystery. The kingdom of heaven has the mysteries of faith because it is associated with the Christian dispensation and Christianity as its sanctioned religion. This subject of “mysteries” associated with the kingdom of heaven is part of the overall transitional purpose of Mathew’s gospel as well as part of the individual significance of chapter thirteen.
The chapter is prophetic. In a descriptive way, Jesus reveals what will be the character and progression of the kingdom of heaven “at hand” till the end of the age. In the chapter we can see a few general patterns common to prophetic passages. The following material is more of a technical nature but does help one understand the overall significance of this chapter.
- Often prophetic passages, chapters, or books have patterns embedded in them which show a differing viewpoint or perspective, giving a certain character to different passages. For example, in Daniel’s book there are two separate visions which concern the exact same subject. The first vision was a dream given to king Nebuchadnezzar for which the prophet was given the interpretation (Dan 2:27–45). This was of the great and glorious statue in Daniel two. The subject of this prophetic dream was the progressive development of four world civil empires of the Gentiles. The viewpoint of the king’s dream is how man sees this development outwardly in the world – his perspective is that this is something great and glorious accomplished by his own hands. The second vision concerning the same four empires was given directly to Daniel (Dan. 7). Here the four empires are depicted as different animals, unruly in character, which go their own way and do their own thing. The viewpoint of this vision is the mind of God – the true character He sees in these four empires of man. They do not obey the will of God; they do not rule with God’s mind or laws.
We have a similar general pattern in Matthew thirteen. Early in the chapter there are teachings and parables by Jesus given to the multitudes (Matt. 13:1–35). This is His public teaching heard by the crowds, which included His disciples. This section is delineated by the description at the beginning of the chapter – Great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so He sat by the sea in a boat and spoke to them in parables. The content of this teaching has a certain viewpoint. The general presentation to the multitudes is what any man can see outwardly in the world concerning the development of the kingdom of heaven. It is man’s perspective; it is what the world sees superficially with their eyes; it is man’s judgment of the value of what he thinks he has accomplished by his own hands.
The teaching and parables spoken to the disciples in private forms the second section of this prophetic chapter (Matt. 13:36–52). This part is delineated by the words, “Then Jesus sent the multitudes away and went into the house.” The content of this teaching reveals to the believer the mind of God in His counsels for the kingdom of heaven. It shows God’s viewpoint, and what is of greatest value to Him in the kingdom, and what intrinsic character that object holds in His sight. This material can only be understood by those of faith – true Christians, the sons of the kingdom who have God as their Father (13:38, 43).
- There is another way the prophetic material in this chapter can be divided. This involves the number seven. Prophetically, this number means perfection, completeness, or wholeness. Starting with the parable of the Sower and through the parable of the dragnet, we are given the complete prophetic history and character of the kingdom of heaven (the Christian dispensation). But often this number can be divided into groups of three and four, or four and three. This is true concerning the judgments coming from the throne of God down on the earth in the Revelation – the seals, the trumpets, the bowls. It is particularly true concerning the seven churches early in the book (Rev. 2, 3). The messages to these churches prophetically reveal the progression of Christendom through its complete history during the time of the Christian dispensation. The first three churches represent the progression of three early epics of Christendom’s history that have already passed. The remaining four are forms of Christendom which will exist independently at the end. This is the three and four division of the seven. But these churches can also be divided as four and three – the first four progress through epics of time to form Romanism as the main body of Christendom; the final three form the Protestant arm developed after the Reformation.
In Matthew thirteen, the first four parables were spoken to the multitudes (13:3, 24, 31, 33). As mentioned above, these give the external viewpoint of man. Anyone with some measure of human perception can see a crop growing in a field (13:26), a tree growing up (13:32), and three measures of meal (13:33). All four of these first parables reveal the fact of evil entering into the kingdom of heaven. This is harder to perceive. I believe the existence of evil in these parables can only be perceived by those of faith (please see 2 Thess. 2:7) – believers are given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. By the Spirit of God, Christians should know the danger of birds devouring seeds or nesting in trees, tares being planted by the evil one, and leaven purposely spread through meal.
The remaining three parables reveal the mind of God to the believer. In the first two parables of this section, the object of God’s delight is the body of Christ, the true church. She is such a great treasure to the Son of Man that He goes and sells all He has in order to purchase a field and hide it therein (13:44). This shows the value and glory the church holds in God’s estimation, as well as God’s willingness to allow the church to be hidden from sight in the world for the time of the present dispensation. Also, the church is the pearl of great price for which the Son of Man sells all He has, to purchase it and possess it (13:45–46). The pearl represents the intrinsic moral character and beauty the church has as ordained by God in His counsels and plans (please see Eph. 5:25–27). Finally, in this portion we are given the results in God’s hands at the end of the Christian dispensation (13:47–50). Here, the first two verses are the parable and the following two verses the explanation. The dragnet contains all the good and bad which Christendom has gathered by the gospel (the net) out of the world (the sea). It is God’s work to separate and judge Christendom at the end of the age. It is not the world that is being judged here, because in this parable the sea is the world and the net of Christendom did not gather everything that was in the sea.
There are other ways the seven parables may be compared. The Sower parable stands alone as the only one not a simile of the kingdom of heaven. Nevertheless, it is related because it gives us the active agent in the work of God associated with the kingdom (Matt. 13:19). In the explanation of this parable Jesus says, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom…” It would also be important to realize that Christians are not the sowers but that Jesus, the Son of Man, is this alone. The planting of the seed is the work of God. If the word falls into good soil it is because God has prepared it beforehand. The temptation for us is to bring Arminian thoughts into the interpretation of the Sower parable – that men are doing God’s work or that some people inherently have hearts made of good soil.
In comparison to the Sower parable, the remaining six not only are similes of the kingdom of heaven but are prophetic in their general character. Excluding the first then, we have six parables easily divided into three and three – the ones spoken in public and ones spoken in private. An important general distinction is made by these remaining parables, especially by the wheat and tares – they speak of something completely new coming to pass in the world. God would soon initiate a new planting in the world different from the old vine He brought out of Egypt, of which He never received any good fruit (Isa. 5:1–7). And the six being of a prophetic character, they must be speaking of future things (the Christian dispensation).
Of the remaining six, the wheat and tares and the dragnet parables are very similar. These two reveal dispensational details showing the common course that the dispensation follows. Both show that Christendom would contain both good and bad during its dispensation; both show the same judgment and separation of Christendom at the end of the age (13:40, 49). It is a distinctive judgment separate from God’s general judgment of the world. Both show that the judgment and separation of Christendom is God’s work alone, done by His angels (the dragnet parable is told in 13:47-48; the following two verses are its interpretation, 13:49-50). There is a slight contrast in the general emphasis of the two: the wheat and tares is the sowing abroad in the world; the dragnet is the separative process at the end, when the full net of Christendom is dragged to the shore.
There are four intermediate parables without any interpretation given. They are generally descriptive and encompass the time of the Christian dispensation. When taken together as a group, the four describe the contrasting character of two separate corporate entities. The first two – the muster seed and the leaven parables – were spoken to the multitudes and immediately follow the wheat and tares parable (13:31–33). Like the wheat and tares, these refer to Christendom. The muster seed speaks of how Christendom starts from small beginnings and grows into a large worldly power (the symbol of a tree). The meal and leaven show how false doctrine will be introduced and spread throughout Christendom in the dispensation.230 When we group the wheat and tares parable with these two, to the eye of faith we have the disclosure of evil entering into the professing body and the understanding of its general form. The world does not discern such things. All they see is the outward forms of Christendom and consider them as generally good.
230 [I have felt that this evil doctrine spreading throughout Christendom refers to the Arminian influence and teachings which are the impetus for Judaizing the Christian faith. However, it may refer to the general false profession of Christ so widespread in Christendom]
The other two are similarly descriptive and also without a given interpretation (13:44–46). But these were told to the disciples in private.231 They reveal to faith the mind of God concerning the church, the body of Christ. They describe the value the corporate church has to God in that the Son of Man gives up everything in order to possess it. During the dispensation the pearl is not displayed and the treasure is hidden. God allowed the true church to become hidden yet secured in this way. Instead, it is the corporate body of Christendom that is readily seen in the world.
231 [Although the wheat and tares parable itself was spoken to the crowds, it is significant that its interpretation was given to the disciples in private – there are many important mysteries opened up to the understanding of faith by this important interpretation. This fact points back to what Jesus said to them earlier in the chapter – it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. Also, Matthew sites Psalm 78:2 as part of a precursor to the private session in the house (Matt. 13:34–36). Some of the things kept secret from the foundation of the world are the church, Christendom, and the Christian dispensation. But now was the time to reveal these mysteries, and God’s deliberate intention was to make them known only to Christians]
The bigger picture is important to comprehend. Above we noticed the similarity between the wheat and tares and the dragnet parable. There is also a noticeable connection that may be seen in the four intermediate parables. By way of contrast, the first ones of the different groups answer to each other, as do the second ones. The great tree so clearly seen growing up in the field is an obvious contrast to the hidden treasure in the field; the evil leaven spreading through the three measures of meal is the moral contrast to the pearl of great value. In both cases the Spirit of God is contrasting Christendom with the true church. This is significant when we realize that very few Christian teachers and theologians recognize God speaking of Christendom in His word.
In a similar way that Daniel and the Revelation are prophetic books, Matthew thirteen is a prophetic chapter. Once the believer comprehends the dispensational character of Matthew’s gospel, it becomes easier to see the importance of this chapter. It is perfectly positioned by the Spirit to show God’s transitioning to a new dispensation. The content of the seven parables reveal the prophetic history of the kingdom of heaven – the new Christian dispensation.