“And that same day Jesus went out from the house and sat down by the sea. And great crowds were gathered together to him, so that going on board ship himself he sat down, and the whole crowd stood on the shore. And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went out to sow:” Matt 13:1-3
In Matthew 13 we have a remarkable set of 7 parables that the Lord Jesus spoke when He was here on earth. The first four parables are spoken by the sea and the last three are spoken in the house. Just a bit of background, the Lord was rejected by His people in chapter 12, where at the end of the chapter He broke all of His natural ties with the Jews – see Matt 12:46-50. Then at the start of chapter 13 He went out of the house, which speaks of the Jews, and sat down by the sea. The sea speaks of the restless nations, or the Gentiles.
The first four parables give us an illustration of a moral declining stage of the system of Christendom, which includes all professing Christians, whether true or false. While these parables do not represent the assembly or Church (true believers), we can still see the declining stage of the assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3, as represented by the seven parables.
The first parable is that of the sower. We would all agree that the sower is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matt 13:37). The seed is the Word of God (Matt 13:19). I do not wish to go through the details of this parable or the others, but will draw comparisons with the assemblies in Revelation 2 and 3. In this first parable, there were those who did not respond to the Word of God, which we have in the assembly in Ephesus. The Lord Jesus said in Rev 2:4-5, “but I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works: but if not, I am coming to thee, and I will remove thy lamp out of its place, except thou shalt repent.” These people in Ephesus had the apostles’ warnings, but did not heed them, and we need to be careful, even if we do not understand, we need to simply accept the teachings of the Word of God and respond in a positive manner.
The second parable is that of the wheat and darnel, or tares. “Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man sowing good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel amongst the wheat, and went away.” (Matt 13:24-25). We have yet another stage of moral decline, in that the enemy, Satan, uses those who are false, to dwell among us. Yet we need to prove those who are false, however, we cannot cut them off or judge them, as this is not our job. The second assembly in Smyrna corresponds with this parable – “I know thy tribulation and thy poverty; but thou art rich; and the railing of those who say that they themselves are Jews, and are not, but a synagogue of Satan.” (Rev 2:9). We are, however, encouraged to be faithful (Rev 2:10) and not fall asleep.
The third parable is that of the mustard seed, which became a great tree and the birds of the air (Satan) roosted its branches. A similar expression, “A great house” is used in 2 Timothy, to use the illustration of the system of Christendom. The third assembly, Pergamos, corresponds with this third parable. “I know where thou dwellest, where the throne of Satan is; and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in the days in which Antipas my faithful witness was, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against thee: that thou hast there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a snare before the sons of Israel, to eat of idol sacrifices and commit fornication.” (Rev 2:13-14). So this now gets to the stage where Satan dwells in the church, in Pergamos, because the warnings of the apostles went unheeded. We ought to take heed to the warnings of the apostles and not allow evil to be among us in the assembly.
The fourth parable is that of the leaven. Some say that here the leaven is a good thing, but leaven always speaks of evil (1 Cor 5:6; Gal 5:9). We have in this parable, a woman instead of a man. It is quite remarkable, that the fourth assembly in Revelation 2 also speaks of a woman – the woman Jezebel – Rev 2:20-22.
We now come to the last three parables, the treasure, the pearl of great price and the dragnet.
The treasure does not speak of Israel, but of each individual believer. Some say that the treasure hid in the field speaks of the remnant of the Jews who are hidden in the world among the nations. Though this may be true, I would not exclusively say that it speaks of the remnant only, but of each individual believer. The fifth assembly in Sardis corresponds to the treasure – Rev 3:4, “But thou hast a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, because they are worthy.”
Then the sixth parable is that of the pearl of great price. Many hold the false teaching that the pearl is Christ and the merchant is us, but this degrades the truth of the Gospel that Christ came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Christ is the One who valued the assembly, or church, of which the pearl speaks – see Titus 2:14. He sold all that He had – see Philippians 2:6-8. We were poor, and we cannot buy Christ at all, and we did not seek Him, yet He sought us and redeemed us. How precious is that truth! The sixth assembly in Revelation 3, Philadelphia, compares with the parable of the pearl. In that assembly, there were moral features that pleased the Lord – see Rev 3:10. This verse is another wonderful example that the assembly will not go through the Great Tribulation.
The last parable is that of the dragnet. The net is cast into the sea, and some have drawn the illustration that the net is the gospel, or the wide-spreading of the gospel of Christ to mankind – to all the nations. However, at the end, there will be the true and the false who profess the name of Christ. The false would be cast away as those rejected. The last assembly, Laodicea, is a striking example – see Rev 3:15-16. The expression, “I am about to spue thee out of my mouth” is a very solemn one indeed. May we not be lukewarm. May we take heed of the warnings of the apostles and not lose our first love, not let evil enter amongst our fellowship, and may the Lord help us and guide us to be always faithful in the midst of an evil world.