We have concluded our study of the prophet Daniel, and at the conclusion, we discussed the stone cut from the mountain without hands that filled the whole earth (chapter 2), and the Son of Man, who was presented before the Ancient of Days and given an everlasting kingdom (chapter 7). Not by coincidence, we see that Jesus spoke quite a bit about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus spoke most of those kingdom parables, as recorded in Matthew 13 and Mark 4, He had just come out from the house, and large crowds gathered to Him as they usually did. The people were continually drawn to Him, for they hungered for the profound things of God that He uttered.
The text says that He got into a boat, and the crowd was standing on the beach. Keep in mind that sea level at the Sea of Galilee is minus 700 feet. Sea level is ocean level, or in this case, Mediterranean Sea level, but Galilee, which is nestled between mountains on all sides, feeds into the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth via the Jordan Valley, cut by the Jordan River.
Speech is not absorbed as it carries across a body of water; in fact, it is amplified, so by rowing a few meters from the shore, He could have addressed an enormous crowd with little difficulty. That is the setting in which Jesus spoke the most elegant and the most meaningful things He chose to utter – parables.
Many of the kingdom parables are similar, which makes understanding them easier because the concept is similar. For instance, there is the parable of the sower, that of the wheat and tares, the leaven, and the mustard seed. They are agricultural in nature and, therefore, would be familiar to His hearers. There was also that of the dragnet, which had to do with fishing, which was another occupation of many of His hearers.
Then there are those of the hidden treasure and the costly pearl – things of value in which the prudent and wise man would or should know how to treat them. In addition to those, there are those about the settling of accounts and of the wedding feast of which we should all take heed because they tell us how we should manage our finances, as well as how to treat others and to respect those in authority.
Speaking in parables itself is a unique method of communication in that a parable is a comparison or simile, in which one set of circumstances is likened to another. The word “parable” comes from the Greek preposition para, which means to come alongside or beside, and the Greek verb ballein, which means to throw or cast. It is where we get our word “parabola.” (Information in this paragraph is derived from Figures of Speech Used in the Bible; E.W. Bullinger; pp. 751-753)
In the parable of the sower and the soils from Mark 4:3-8 and Matthew 13:3-9, it says: “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. After the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
This parable, presented above, is taken from Mark’s gospel, for it and that of Matthew are nearly identical, so, for the sake of simplicity, we are using the rendering from Mark’s. In the explanation given below, we have separated the four groups of seed, and we show first Mark’s then Matthew’s, followed by whatever explanation we can offer.
The explanation, from Mark 4:14-20 and Matthew 13:18-23
Mark: The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.
Matthew: Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.
The only difference in the two above is that Matthew adds a qualifier by stating that those sown by the road hear but do not understand the word, and therefore Satan comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. In Matthew 22:14, Jesus tells us that many are called, but few are chosen. Suffice it to say those beside the road may have heard but did not respond.
Mark: Similarly, these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy;and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.
Matthew: The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
This group does respond, for they hear and understand the word and receive it with joy because the word is good and perfect and excellent. However, persecution and affliction come because of the word, for the world hates the things of God and those who follow Jesus (John 15:18-19). Therefore, they fall away.
Mark: And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
Matthew: And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful
This group is intriguing in that they are neither hopeless nor temporary, but worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things of the world (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16)) indicate a person who may be lasting but empty. Could they have faith but no works? Is this possible? James 2:14-26 says no, but these do not fall away; instead, they are spiritually paralyzed.
Mark: And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
Matthew: And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
Ah, now we come to the fourth group. These not only understand, but they also bear fruit. They have faith and the works to prove it. However, some “only” bear thirty fold while others sixty or a hundred; i.e., they are not equal. What are we to learn from this? Are those who produce thirtyfold to look with contempt, malice, or envy on those with sixty or a hundred? Are we to grumble and be as busybodies, being ungrateful, causing strife over what we have because others have more?