In Matthew 13, Jesus taught parables describing the kingdom of heaven. Christians typically believe that the “kingdom of heaven” on earth involves exclusively the body of born-again believers—only the true Church of Jesus Christ on earth. We will examine the parables to find out whether or not this belief is correct. Amazingly, we will discover from Scripture that simply being in the kingdom of heaven does not at all mean that we have eternal life.
The Parable of the Sower
Matthew 13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.
It’s important first to understand the context surrounding the teaching of the parables here. Large crowds gathered around Jesus. Drawn to Jesus in these large crowds were varied and different sorts of people, including Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Let’s look at what Jesus told these crowds by the lake.
3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
Jesus teaches them the parable of the sower. He told them that there are four types of people corresponding to the four types of soil. But only one type of person out of the four was “good” and would produce fruit for God. Remember that Jesus spoke this parable to the large crowds that had gathered around him. These crowds consisted of these four types of people, all of whom had come hear him.
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ”‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
Jesus spoke to the crowd by the lake in veiled parables because he knew that most of them had calloused hearts, closed ears, and blinded eyes. This is significant because all of these people had taken the time and made the effort to come hear him speak. Nevertheless, the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven was not given to them, but only to his disciples. The disciples would be given an abundance, but the crowd would be left with nothing.
Interestingly, on another occasion on which the crowds were increasing, Luke records the following observation by Jesus.
Luke 11:29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.
Modern-day preachers rejoice when crowds increase at their events. But Jesus knew the hearts of the people and was not impressed by the size of the crowds who came to him. Let’s now look at the second parable Jesus told the big crowd by the lake.
The Parable of the Weeds
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 ”‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 ”‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Typically, Christians interpret this parable as meaning that at the end of the age Christians and non-Christians in the world will be separated. Christians will be taken to heaven, and non-Christians to hell. Let’s look at this parable in greater detail. Is it related in meaning to the first parable which Jesus taught to the large crowd? In the first parable Jesus taught about the four different types of people who come to hear him.
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “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 stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
There is evidence here that this second parable is related in meaning to the first parable. According to verse 41 above, there are now weeds in Christ’s kingdom. At the end of the age He will send his angels to weed out of his kingdom “the sons of the evil one” identified as the weeds in verse 38b. The present kingdom of heaven on earth, therefore, consists of both sons of the kingdom as well as sons of the evil one. Let’s now study the third parable which Jesus taught to the crowd by the lake. It is, not surprisingly, similar in meaning to the second. Let’s go back to the lake where Jesus is still speaking to the crowd.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a tiny mustard seed which grows so large that even the birds of the air come to perch in its branches. What is the significance of these birds? To find out, let us look at the very first parable above where Jesus also mentions birds. There Jesus explains that the birds symbolize “the evil one.” Therefore the kingdom of heaven on earth at this time has sons of the evil one perched and living in its branches. In general, birds carry a very negative connotation whenever mentioned in Scripture as symbolic of a spiritual entity. The exception is the dove, symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Let’s now look at the fourth parable which Jesus taught the crowd by the lake.
The Parable of the Yeast
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
The kingdom of heaven on earth here is compared to a large amount of flour into which yeast is mixed and allowed to spread throughout the dough. Yeast almost universally carries a negative connotation in Scripture and is symbolic of sin. Jesus elsewhere taught that the yeast of the Pharisees is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). Therefore this parable teaches that sin and hypocrisy have spread and worked all through the kingdom of heaven on earth.
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
After leaving the crowd by the lake and going into the house, Jesus teaches more parables about the kingdom of heaven on earth to his disciples.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Notice that the treasure is hidden in a field. The man who found it went and sold all he had and bought that field. This field represents the kingdom of heaven on earth. What the man was really after was not the entire field, but only the treasure buried in the field. But in order to get the treasure, he was required to take the entire field. The field included weeds, a lot of dirt, worms, insects, and so forth, in addition to the treasure.
Eventually the man of course digs the treasure out of the ground, brushes off all the dirt, and leaves with his treasure. This parable therefore also teaches that the kingdom of heaven on earth consists of not only the disciples of Jesus Christ symbolized by the treasure, the flour and the wheat, but also includes the sons of the evil one symbolized by the dirt, the yeast, the weeds, the chaff, and the birds. One day Christ will separate the wheat and the chaff with his winnowing fork. He will gather the wheat into the barn, but will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17).
Before then, the righteous and the wicked in the kingdom of heaven must co-exist. By nature, wheat and weeds must be allowed to grow together. Weeds are not pulled out, because while we are pulling the weeds, we might root up the wheat with them. We allow both to grow together until the harvest. Only then they are separated. Therefore the sons of the evil one must remain in our midst in the Church until the end of the age when they are removed by the angels. Amazingly, we must conclude that it is important for us to exercise discernment and good judgment when we “go to church.”
Then Jesus told another parable which should be interpreted in the same way.
The Parable of the Pearl
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
There seems to be an inconsistency in this parable. The merchant sold everything he had and bought the one pearl of great value. The presence of the sons of the evil one in the kingdom of heaven is not apparent here as it is in the other parables so far.
However, an examination of the Greek text reveals that there is a valid alternative translation for verse 46: “When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought them.” The English translation of the final word autos in this sentence depends on the antecedent. Therefore the pronoun can be translated either “it,” referring to the “one of great value,” or “them,” referring to the “fine pearls” which he had been examining.
As a possibility, the merchant had looked through a bag of fine pearls. But upon discovering that one of them was extremely valuable and very costly, he purchased the entire bag in order to secure the one. The very costly and extremely valuable pearl represents the body of born-again disciples. This interpretation is consistent with the meaning of the parable of the hidden treasure and the other parables in this study as well. Let’s now look at the final and seventh parable Jesus taught in Matthew Chapter 13. It further confirms what we have learned.
The Parable of the Net
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The net obviously does not catch all the fish in the lake, but only some of them. After the net is full of fish, it is taken ashore and opened. The fisherman then separate the good fish into baskets and the bad fish are thrown away. Again, we see that before the end of the age the kingdom of heaven on earth will consist of the good and the bad, the righteous and the wicked, and the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one. They will be separated by the Lord’s angels at the end of the age.
One final parable
Jesus taught an eighth parable in Matthew 22 which clearly strengthens the conclusions we have drawn from the seven parables in Chapter 13. Here Jesus is speaking to a crowd which in particular includes the chief priests and the Pharisees. Listen to what he said.
Matthew 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Just as Jesus said, the Jewish nation for the most part would reject him as their Messiah. Eventually Jerusalem was sacked in 70 AD by the army of the Roman general Titus in line with his words. The gospel was then later extended to the gentiles, and today the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world are in fact gentiles. In this parable, these are the guests the king commanded his servants to bring in from the outside to fill the wedding hall.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Both “good and bad” guests filled the wedding hall. The “bad” guests had not put on Jesus Christ; they had not lived holy and obedient lives worthy of their heavenly calling. The king had these “bad” guests bound and thrown outside into the darkness. Therefore at the end of the age there will be a separation of the good from the bad within the kingdom of heaven on earth: a separation of the sons of the kingdom from the sons of the evil one. For many are invited, and many in fact do come as evidenced by the large crowds seen at Christian meetings around the world. But few of these are chosen and enter eternal life.
The parables relating the separation between two groups here do not, as commonly interpreted, describe the separation of “Christians” from “non-Christians” at the end of the age. (This event may be another matter altogether which is treated separately below.) Rather they teach the end time separation of the righteous from the wicked within the kingdom of heaven on earth—within what is known as “the Church” on earth.
In the Church are millions upon millions of people who consider themselves Christians. Large crowds can gather at Christian meetings. Large crowds also gathered to hear Jesus himself when he was on earth two thousand years ago. But Jesus clearly said that although many people are invited and many actually show up, few are actually chosen for eternal life. Many in the Church will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is traditional church teaching which has given us a false gospel of “cheap grace” and a false sense of security regarding eternal life. It is now time for sobriety. We are in the last days preceding the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
There are many warnings in the New Testament about false prophets, false apostles, false teachers, and false brethren in the Church. “In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ”‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” They are all around us in the Church and in our meetings. They cannot be removed from our midst until the end of the age. Like Israel in the time of the Lord’s first coming is the Church in the time of the Lord’s second coming.
These false brethren are right in our midst in the Church. We must therefore exercise discernment in the Church based on the Holy Scriptures. By comparison, warnings in Scripture to be careful of people in the world outside of the Church are less emphatic. We must therefore exercise caution and good judgment especially in the Church, and not only in the world. Observe what Paul said to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 5:9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
We should be careful of entrusting our salvation to another fallible human being simply because he or she is a leader in the Church or has some ecclesiastical title. For the sake of our own salvation, we should do our best to study the Scriptures so that we can correctly understand and handle the word of God. We must be sure that we are in fact saved and that we have eternal life according to the requirements set down in Scripture.
2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
If we persevere in living a holy life and in correct doctrine, we will save ourselves—especially those of us who lead and teach God’s people. The sons of the evil ones in the Church do not live holy and obedient lives. Or they do not have or teach correct doctrine. They are wolves in sheeps’ clothing. Of course, none of them will acknowledge being a son of the evil one. Many may not even be aware of it.
In contrast, judgment on the nations in Matthew 25
The language found in the passage in Matthew 25 which describes the separation of the sheep and the goats contrasts sharply with the language found in the parables describing the kingdom of heaven. Unlike this passage, Jesus’ parables usually begin with expression “the kingdom of heaven is like…” Moreover, those who do the separating in the parables are angels sent by the Lord. The sons of the evil one, the weeds, and the wicked are then sent to the darkness and to the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. However, the language found in the Matthew 25 passage is decidedly different. This teaching is not a parable, but rather describes what will actually take place when Christ comes in his glory.
Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
This is not a separation between the righteous and the wicked within the kingdom of heaven, but a separation of all nations. Jesus Christ the Judge himself, and not his angels, will separate the people into two groups on his right and on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
In the parables, the sons of the evil ones are sent to the darkness outside where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But in the passage here, the goats on the Lord’s left are sent into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The difference in language here leads us to conclude that this judgment is not what is described in the parables of Jesus where it involves those in the kingdom of heaven. This judgment rather involves the judgment of the nations.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). He who has ears, let him hear.