Matthew 13: The Parables of the Kingdom of Heaven

As we have said, the Gospel of Matthew is probably the key gospel to the Bible. It is the open door to both the Old and the New Testaments. If that is true, then chapter 13 is the key to the Gospel of Matthew. This makes chapter 13 all-important. It will give us a better understanding of what the kingdom of heaven is than any other place in the book. 

Chapter 13 is called by some the Mystery Parables Discourse, and it is one of the three major discourses in the Gospel of Matthew.


1. The Sermon on the Mount looks back to the past. It is the law for the land.

2. The Mystery Parables Discourse reveals the condition of the kingdom of heaven in the world during the present age.

3.The Olivet Discourse looks to the future, to the return of the King and the things beyond this age.

Let me remind you that our Lord followed John the Baptist in preaching, " ... Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17). And our Lord enunciated the law of that kingdom, the Sermon on the Mount. Then He demonstrated that He had the power, the dynamic, and the authority after which He sent His disciples out with the message. The message was met by rejection when Israel rejected its King. Therefore, our Lord hands down a judgment against the cities where His mighty works had been done and against the religious rulers. When they asked Him for a sign, He said that no sign would be given to them except that of Jonah. Jonah was a resurrection sign, and they were to have that fulfilled in Christ shortly after this. Finally, He gave that very personal invitation, "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you." (Matt. 11:28). Now the question arises: What will happen to the kingdom of heaven? It is apparent that He will not establish it on the earth at His first coming. So what will happen to the kingdom of heaven during the interval between the suffering and the glory of Christ?

These Mystery Parables show the direction of the kingdom after it had been offered and rejected by Israel. They reveal what is going to take place between the time of Christ's rejection and the time when He returns to the earth as King. With these parables our Lord covers the entire period between His rejection by Israel and His return to the earth to establish His kingdom. I consider them very important.

As we begin this chapter, notice that the very actions of Jesus are interesting. 

The same day Jesus going out of the house, sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered unto him, so that he went up into a boat and sat: and all the multitude stood on the shore. [Matt. 13:1-2].

Notice the symbolism here. "The same day Jesus going out of the house," which speaks of the house of Israel. The sea represents the gentile nations (a symbolism used elsewhere in Scripture). Our Lord is leaving the nation of Israel and turning to the world. He is now speaking of what will take place in the world until He returns as King.

This act denotes a tremendous change that has taken place in His method. Great multitudes were gathered together to hear Him, and He went into a ship and began to talk to them as they stood on the shore.

Although our Lord gives several parables in this chapter, He interprets only two of them: the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and tares. His interpretation is a guide to the symbolism in the other parables. For instance, in this parable of the sower, the birds represent Satan. Now when He uses the symbol of birds in another parable, we may be sure that they do not represent something good. We need to be consistent and follow our Lord's interpretation. The parable of the sower is the first of the Mystery Parables and may be considered as the foundation for all of them.

And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying: Behold the sower went forth to sow. [Matt. 13:3].

I'll just run ahead and give you our Lord's interpretation of the sower. He will tell us later that the sower is the Son of man and that the seed represents the Word of God. 

And whilst he soweth some fell by the way side, and the birds of the air came and ate them up. And other some fell upon stony ground, where they had not much earth: and they sprung up immediately, because they had no deepness of earth. And when the sun was up they were scorched: and because they had not root, they withered away. And others fell among thorns: and the thorns grew up and choked them. And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. [Matt. 13:4-8].

Sowing seed was a familiar sight in Palestine. They would sort of scratch the surface of the ground with a very crude plow. Sometimes they didn't even do that much. Then the sower would go out and fling the seeds upon the earth. Even today in the springtime, you will see farmers sowing wheat, corn, and cotton. It is a very familiar sight---of course, we use machines to sow the seed, while in that day it was sown by hand.

As I have mentioned, the sower represents the Lord Jesus-we learn this from the parable of the wheat and tares in vs 37. The Lord Jesus is the One sowing the seed, and I feel that this defines His work today in the world. He was the King, but He laid aside His regal robes, and today He is doing the work of a farmer, sowing seed-but He is still the King.

The seed, we learn from verse 19, represents the Word of God. The field symbolizes the world (v. 38). Notice that it is the world, not the Church. We are talking about a world situation. Some Christians misquote this parable and say, "Since Jesus said that both wheat and tares must be allowed to grow in the church, we should not separate them. So we must allow unconverted people and converted people to be in the church. They say that because they haven't read the Scriptures properly. The field is the world-and it is there that God allows believers and unbelievers to grow together -not in the church.

The Church sets out specific guidelines regarding who can and cannot receive the Lord’s Body and Blood in Communion. First, you must be in a state of grace. "Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice." (1 Corinthians 1:27–28). This is an absolute requirement which can never be dispensed with. To receive the Eucharist without sanctifying grace in your soul profanes the Eucharist in the most grievous manner.

A mortal sin is any sin whose matter is grave and which has been committed willfully and with knowledge of its seriousness.

Grave matter includes, but is not limited to, murder, receiving or participating in an abortion, A homosexual lifestyle, fornication, adultery, marrying another while still in a marriage to some one else in the eyes of God, and deliberately engaging in impure thoughts (Matthew 5:28–29). Scripture contains lists of mortal sins (for example, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 and Galatians 5:19–21).

Second, you must have been to confession since your last mortal sin.

The Didache witnesses to this practice of the early Church. "But first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one".

 Third, you must believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation.

"For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment and damnation to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:29).

Fourth, you must observe the Eucharistic fast.

Any one who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least a period of three hours before Holy Communion. Non-alcoholic liquids may be taken up to one hour from Holy Communion. A fast from midnight is recommended for morning Mass for those who are able. Those of us who are sick, and their caretakers are excused from the Eucharistic fast.

Finally, one must not be under an ecclesiastical censure.

In other words those who are excommunicated or prohibited after a penalty has been declared or imposed on a person as well as those who willfully persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.

The others are welcome to attend and watch and listen but it must be made clear to them that they cannot be in communion with Christ and His Church until they are scripturally born again born again through baptism, and without any mortal sin in their life.

So the picture is something like this: Here is the Church in the world, and outside in the fields there are multitudes of people (different types of grounds) who have not received Christ. The Word of God is given to this one, and the Word is given to that one, and the Word is given to another. One accepts, another does not accept. Our business is to sow the seed, although not everyone will receive it.

The Lord Jesus, has charge of this great program of sowing seed. He has given you and me, under the authority of His “Prime Minister” the Pope, a little corner to work in, and my business is to sow seed. I want to be specific here. This is the day for sowing seed. I don't want to split hairs, but the "harvest" is not the picture for today. But someone says, "Didn't Christ say, 'Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest'?" Yes, and let's look at Matthew 9:36-38 again: And seeing the multitudes, he had compassion on them: because they were distressed, and lying like sheep that have no shepherd. Then he saith to his disciples, The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.

This passage occurs just before the Lord sent out His apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The age of the Law was coming to an end. Harvest time comes after seed has been sown. For fifteen hundred years, approximately, under Law, the seed had been sown. Then the harvest came, and a new age, a new dispensation, came in. At the close of one age there is a harvest, and at the beginning of another age is the sowing of seed. But I want to emphasize that the harvest at the end of an age is judgment. We will see that in some of the parables which follow.

However, in our day we are to be sowing the seed of the Word of God. Some people will hear the word of God for several years, and finally the seed germinates and brings forth fruit. It is my business to sow the seed while I am in the world, and by the way it is your business also to sow the seed.

Now notice where the seed falls. It falls on four types of soil, and three-fourths of the seeds do not grow-they die. There was nothing wrong with the seed, but the soil was the problem. The condition of the soil is all important as far as the seed is concerned.

Now let's look at our Lord's interpretation of the types of soil on which the seed fell.

In verse 4 He says that some of it fell by the wayside, and the birds came and ate it up.

In verse 19 He explains to His disciples the meaning of it-

When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, there cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart: this is he that received the seed by the way side. [Matthew 13:19].

The birds represent the wicked one, that is the Devil. The Devil takes away the seed sown by the wayside. This is something which ought to cause every one of us to examine our own heart. Don't apply this to the other fellow, apply it to yourself.

The wayside soil apparently represents those that heard the Word of God, but it was not the hearing of faith. The Word was not mixed with faith-or if it was, it was a formal, intellectual faith which simply nodded the head. In other words, to folk like this, Being a Catholic is a sideline. Belonging to the Church is like belonging to a lodge or a club. These folk are in deep freeze. Not only do we find them in our Parishes, but some of them have fallen away from the Church and haven't stepped through the door of a church in years.

The second group are represented by the rocky soil.

And he that received the seed upon stony ground, is he that heareth the word, and immediately receiveth it with joy. Yet hath he not root in himself, but is only for a time: and when there ariseth tribulation and persecution because of the word, he is presently scandalized. [Matthew 13:20-21].

These rocky-ground people are the opposite of the first group. It was the Devil who took the Word away from the other hearers, but the flesh is the culprit with this group. There was not enough soil for the seed to take root. According to St. Mark's account, the seed fell upon stony ground, where it had not much earth; and it shot up immediately, because it had no depth of earth. And when the sun was risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

The sun beat down upon the seed, and instead of making it sprout and come forth into life, it burned it so that it did not grow, but withered instead. This person is attentive, easily persuaded, and seemingly happy to accept the Word of God. He seems eager, enthusiastic, and demonstrative. On the surface this looks like a genuine conversion but the soil was not there. It is often the case that superficial and transient religious impressions produce a speedier and mor boisterous “joy” than those which are deep and genuine.

The third group of hearers is like thorny ground-

He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful [Matthew 13:22].

With these people the world crowds out the Word of God. The Devil got the wayside hearers, and the flesh took care of the rocky-ground hearers, but the world chokes out the Word for this class of hearers. The cares of the world move in. Sometimes it is poverty, and other times it is the deceitfulness of riches. It is quite interesting that people at each end of the social spectrum-extreme poverty and extreme prosperity-are people who are the most difficult to reach for Christ. I find that a great many people have let the cares of the world crowd out the Word of God. These three types of soil do not represent three types of Christians. They have heard the Word and have only professed to receive it. My friend, it is well for all of us to examine ourselves to see whether or not we are really in the faith.

Now we see that some seed falls on good ground, and our Lord interprets this for us:

But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty. [Matthew 13:23].

These are the hearers who receive the Word and understand it. Some of them don't bring forth much fruit---only thirtyfold, but some bring forth an hundredfold!

There must be an understanding of the Word. The Ethiopian eunuch, you remember, was reading the Word, but he didn't understand it-although he wanted to understand it. So the Spirit of God put Philip there. He explained the Word to him-that the One who was led as a sheep to the slaughter was the Lord Jesus Christ, that He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. The Ethiopian believed and received Him.

Philip was sowing the seed of the Word of God. This is a kingdom-of-heaven situation as it reveals that the Sower, the Lord Jesus Christ, is sowing the seed of the Word of God in the world through His Church and that the Holy Spirit applies it to the hearts of those who want to believe.