THE SUPREME VALUE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD MOTIVATES AN APPROPRIATION OF TOTAL COMMITMENT
Stu Weber: These parables (:44-46) answer two closely related questions from the surrounding context.
- First, why should we give our lives for a kingdom we cannot see?
- Second, can the kingdom truly be the answer to our search for ultimate fulfillment?
Grant Osborne: Several ideas are intertwined in this collection of parables.
(1) The kingdom has overwhelming value, worth everything a person has (vv. 44–46).
(2) Certain judgment is reserved for those who reject the kingdom (vv. 47–50).
(3) Finally, the disciples have attained an understanding that makes them responsible to teach others the new truths of the kingdom as well as the old truths of the Torah (vv. 51–52).
R. T. France: They are about enthusiastic and whole-hearted commitment to the kingdom of heaven, with the secondary theme of costly renunciation for the sake of the greater good. It is only those who make the kingdom of heaven their top priority who will enjoy its blessings. These parables also continue the theme of the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven” in that the treasure is “hidden” from others and the pearl has to be “found” (it is not thrown before any old pigs, 7:6!).
The relevance of these parables to the disciples is obvious, especially in view of their having “left” their previous lifestyle and its material possessions in the call-stories of 4:20, 22 (and cf. 9:9), a theme which will be taken up again in 19:27–29, where it is provoked by the example of the rich man who was unwilling to sell his possessions in order to gain “treasure in heaven” (19:16–22). The same contrast between earthly and heavenly possessions and security has been explored in 6:19–34, where it is specifically commitment to God’s kingship (6:33) which must take priority over other concerns. In the treasure-finder and the pearl-dealer, then, we find the opposite attitude to the “worries of this world and the false lure of wealth” which stood in the way of true discipleship in v. 22. To find the kingdom of heaven is to find the one treasure which outweighs all other valuation. It is worth any cost to seize this unique and unrepeatable opportunity.
Walter Wilson: However the opportunity presents itself, the only appropriate response to the kingdom is one of complete and unqualified commitment.
D. A. Carson: The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl are a pair; and pairing is not uncommon in Matthew (e.g., 5:14b–16; 6:26–30; 7:6; 9:16–17; 10:24–25; 12:25; 13:31–33; 24:43–51), an excellent way of reinforcing a point. Like the paired parables with which these two are chiastically coordinated (mustard seed and yeast, vv.31–33), these two make the same general point but have significant individual emphases.
Donald Hagner: The brief fifth and sixth parables have as their focus the glorious character of the kingdom brought by Jesus, which justifies the cost of absolute discipleship. They are linked with the preceding parables, however, by the continuing motif of hiddenness and smallness. Thus the hidden treasure corresponds to the hidden leaven and the smallness of the pearl with that of the mustard seed. These parables, again like those of the mustard seed and the leaven, receive no explanation in the text; this may be because they are spoken to the disciples, who will know their meaning.
I. (:44) PARABLE OF HIDDEN TREASURE – JOY OF DISCOVERY
A. Hidden Nature of the Kingdom
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field,”
Grant Osborne: In a society that had no banks or safety-deposit boxes, all one could do with valuables was hide them underground. Archaeologists have often found jars of gold coins or even precious jewels and pearls buried in a field. This parable would be such a case, as the original owners were either killed on a journey or died suddenly and the treasure remained hidden. It is a story that captures the imagination in every culture and time, for buried treasure is a universal symbol of personal fortune.
Daniel Doriani: The ancients had nothing like banks or safe deposit boxes. When brigands threatened or war forced sudden flight, people buried their treasures, often in clay jars. If those who fled did not return, the treasure was lost until someone stumbled upon it.
Ray Fowler: At the start of the story the treasure is not in plain sight but is hidden. That tells you something about the kingdom. The value of the kingdom is not always obvious to people at first. They hear about God or Jesus or the church, but they don’t realize how important, how essential, how necessary God is to their lives. And so, they go day after day, week after week, year after year, without submitting themselves to God’s rule in their life.
B. Joy of Discovery of the Kingdom
“which a man found and hid; and from joy over it”
William Barclay: In this parable, the great point is the joy of the discovery that made the man willing to give up everything to make sure beyond question that the treasure became his own. Nothing else in the parable really matters.
Ray Fowler: The second part of the story has to do with the joy of discovery. Jesus says when the man found the treasure, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.
Joy is an important part of this story. The man does not go dutifully off to sell his possessions but does so at the sheer joy of discovering the treasure. He is not upset that he has to go and sell everything. In fact, he doesn’t have to go and sell anything at all. He does it because he wants to. He does it because he is glad to. He is so full of joy at the discovery of the treasure that he is glad to sell everything he has in order to obtain the treasure.
John MacArthur: that which was hidden in the field did not belong to the man who owned the field. If it was his, he wouldn’t be selling his field without digging it up. He didn’t know it was there. He had not gone to the effort to uncover it and dig it out. No doubt it belonged to a previous owner of that same field who had buried it there, died in battle, or died by accident, unable to recover it and so it was no more the number one’s owner than it was the number two’s owner. So he had no prior right to it. And the man who had uncover it…uncovered it by Jewish law did have the claim on it. The other man had not done that. . .
The point of the parable is here is a man who found something so valuable that he sold everything that he had to get it. That’s the point of the parable. He was so overjoyed, he was so ecstatic that he was willing to do anything to get that treasure.
David Turner: The ethics of the man who finds the treasure and then buys the field are irrelevant to the parable (W. Davies and Allison 1991: 436).
Charles Swindoll: It’s an interesting side note that whoever owned the field and sold it to the man didn’t realize the vast treasure he had been sitting on, something that suggests neglect of the field by this deed holder and/or heir. At this point, the disciples may have wondered if the indifference of the original owner of the field in the story was meant to symbolize the kind of negligence increasingly shown by the scribes, Pharisees, and other leaders of Israel. These religious leaders had been “entrusted with the oracles of God” (see Rom. 3:2) but did not recognize the hidden treasure of the gospel of the person and work of Christ and relinquished it to those who did.
C. Supreme Value of the Kingdom – Motivating Total Commitment
“he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.”
Grant Osborne: The point is obviously the absolute value of the kingdom, worth surrendering everything to attain.8 No other aspect is highlighted in this short parable, so clearly this is a call for radical discipleship (and especially of financial sacrifices needed) in light of the overwhelming value of the kingdom. Only a few know its worth, and they should surrender everything to obtain it.
S. Lewis Johnson: Now, there are differing interpretations, and I want to mention two or three of these interpretations, not to degrade them, but to let you know there are different interpretations, and it is possible that my interpretation is wrong. So I want to suggest some of the others and then give you what I think is the interpretation of the parable. . .
It is the opinion of some that the church of the Lord Jesus is the treasure, and that the man who found the treasure is the Lord Jesus himself, and that when the man of the parable sells all that he has and buys that field, that is a picture of the Lord Jesus giving all that the possessed in the sacrifice on the cross for the church of the Lord Jesus.
Now, there are some biblical sentiments expressed by this, of course. It is true that the church is a kind of treasure so far as God is concerned. It’s obvious that he would not have redeemed the church if he did not have in mind for the church great purposes. But of course, the church is no great treasure in herself. And she is only valuable by virtue of that which God does for her. She is totally worthless otherwise. But nevertheless, it is true that the church has a great place in the purpose of God and might be called a treasure in that sense. And of course, it is true that the Lord Jesus gave his life for the redemption of the church.
But how could the church be “found” by the Lord Jesus when she was chosen before the foundation of the world? How could the church be represented as something the Lord stumbled over while he was wandering through a field? In the light of the fact that Paul says we are chosen in him before the foundation of the world, what is the second hiding that is referred to also, here? So while that interpretation has some things that commend it, I really do not think that it satisfies everything that is found in this context.
Still others say, no, the church is not the treasure, Israel the Nation is the treasure, because does not the Old Testament say that in the beginning of Israel’s history “A peculiar treasure will I make of Thee unto me?”—the passage in Exodus chapter 19 and verse 5 would seem to suggest that Israel is a treasure to God, and could not Israel be the treasure over which the Lord Jesus stumbles? Again, remember the primary feature of these parables is the kingdom of heaven. The period of time between the first coming and the second coming in mystery form, but ultimately, the kingdom of the heavens in its manifested form begins at the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus and continues for a thousand years thereafter.
What he is doing is giving us things that have to do with the gathering of the sons of the kingdom during this present age, in order that they may enter that glorious Messianic kingdom of the future. And the kingdom is the thing that is stressed, and not the entities within the kingdom. The church is not found in Matthew chapter 13, so far as I can tell, nor is the Nation Israel, specifically found. He’s thinking about the kingdom. He’s thinking about this age, and the movements, and the works of God and of Satan that will characterize this inter-advent period.
Others have said the kingdom is the treasure and Jesus is the man finding it and giving himself for it. So, the kingdom is the treasure. With that, I certainly can agree. But is the kingdom that which the Lord Jesus finds and gives himself for? Again, that’s an appealing interpretation. It has some things about it that are attractive. The kingdom is a treasure and he is speaking about the kingdom, but is the man who stumbles over the hidden treasure a fit picture of the Lord Jesus? I think not. The discovery is a surprise to the man. I don’t think that this is a fit picture of the Lord Jesus. And yet again, I say, that there are some things that are appealing about that interpretation.
Let me suggest to you, with a little bit of diffidence, what I think is the correct interpretation of it. The kingdom is the treasure. The Lord Jesus is speaking about the kingdom. But the finder of the treasure is the one who becomes the believer and therefore, we are to look at this as a picture of how a man comes to the understanding and the possession of the kingdom as a treasure.
Now if that is true, if the kingdom is the treasure and the man who stumbles over it is the man who comes to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and appropriates the blessings of the kingdom himself, then these points are made. First of all, the kingdom is something of great value, but men may fail to see it by virtue of blindness. Now we know that that is true. The kingdom is something of great value. To possess the life of the kingdom is great. To possess the life of the kingdom and live in that future Messianic kingdom is something that is surely great, and it is held out as future for the believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I want you to know that I am looking forward to the day when I, by virtue of the grace of God, shall be able to live in that marvelous, glorious, Messianic kingdom, in which the world recognizes and must recognize the glory of our Savior God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a second thing that we may argue from this, and that is that the kingdom may be found unexpectedly. The Bible stresses this as one aspect of the truth. For example, we read in Isaiah chapter 65 and verse 1, “I was found by them that sought me not.” Isn’t that an interesting statement? I was found by them that sought me not. That is, those who weren’t paying any attention to me, were not seeking after me, have found me.
Now, every believer – well, I wouldn’t say every believer – but if we looked at our lives, we probably, every one of us, would come to the conviction that there was a time in our lives when we did not have any desire whatsoever for the relationship to the Lord Jesus, and that when we did come into that period of time in which there was a desire, it was something we recognized was not natural to us.
Jeffrey Crabtree: The parable stresses the supreme worth of the kingdom and its hiddenness from the eyes of most. It also teaches urgency, sacrifice (Newman and Stine 448), and wise choices. The parable shows the good fortune of those who discover the message of the kingdom (the hidden message of the parables, v. 35) and the kingdom itself. Mostly this parable teaches the sheer joy of finding something so valuable (Fee and Stuart 160; Bruner 2:47). The supreme value of the treasure justifies the total sacrifice of everything to possess a place in the kingdom (Wilkins 488; Phil. 3:8).
Daniel Doriani: Jesus makes a simple point: the kingdom is worth all we possess. Of course, the kingdom is not for sale. Indeed, we can do nothing to acquire it. But if it were for sale, if we had to sell all that we had to gain it, we should count it a bargain. It took all he had, but the worker bought the field. This represents the surpassing value of the kingdom. Despite its small beginning and great cost, it is worth all we have.
Warren Wiersbe: [Alternative View] The common interpretation of this parable is that the sinner finds Christ and gives up all that he possesses to gain Him and be saved. But this interpretation presents several problems. To begin with, Jesus Christ is not a hidden treasure. He is perhaps the best-known Person of history. In the second place, the sinner cannot “find Christ” for he is blind and stubborn (Rom. 3:10ff.). It is the Savior who finds the lost sinner (Luke 19:10). And no sinner could ever purchase salvation! Please note that the man in the parable did not purchase the treasure; he purchased the whole field. “The field is the world” (Matt. 13:38). Must the lost sinner purchase the world to gain Christ? Does he hide Him again?
Once again, Old Testament symbolism assists us in our interpretation. The treasure is the nation of Israel (Ex. 19:5; Ps. 135:4). That nation was placed in the world to bring glory to God, but it failed. It became a nation hidden, a treasure not being invested to produce dividends for God. Jesus Christ gave His all to purchase the whole world in order to save the nation (John 11:51). On the cross, Jesus died for the whole world, but in a special way, He died for Israel (Isa. 53:8). The nation suffered judgment and seeming destruction, but in God’s sight it is “hidden” and will be revealed again in glory.
There is, then, a future for Israel. Politically, the nation was reborn on May 14, 1948. But the nation is far from what it ought to be spiritually. God sees Israel as His treasure, and one day He will establish her in her glorious kingdom.
II. (:45-46) PARABLE OF VALUABLE PEARL – PRECIOUS VALUE
A. (:45) Search for Ultimate Value
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls,”
Donald Hagner: The kingdom is like a small, inconspicuous pearl but one of incalculable value that, once discovered, calls for unrestrained response in the form of absolute discipleship. The kingdom of God is the greatest of treasures. Though its worth is immeasurable by any standard (cf. concerning wisdom, Wis 7:7–9, 14), it is now present only in veiled form and can be possessed by some without the knowledge of those near them. Like a hidden treasure or a pearl that can be held in one’s hand, the kingdom is known only to its joyful possessors. Yet those who find the kingdom, i.e., who receive the message and who respond in discipleship, have begun to experience the wonder of the kingdom’s presence. They know that the kingdom is a reality that is worth everything. And thus they joyfully make it their one priority in life (cf. 4:18–22; 10:39). They seek first the kingdom, sacrificing all to it, but at the same time paradoxically finding with the kingdom all they need (6:33).
S. Lewis Johnson: The kingdom is the pearl. And the man is the believer who is awakened and is looking for the answer to that which the Holy Spirit has awakened in his heart. So if the kingdom is the pearl, and after all, he does say the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant man seeking fine pearls, then we can make these points.
The kingdom is the loveliest of all possessions. This man, incidentally, was a professional. He was a professional pearl hunter. He was a merchant man. He was a jeweler. He knew pearls. And he went around, according to this parable, looking for the finest of pearls. And with all of his professional knowledge, he finally set upon one pearl of great price, the Lord Jesus trying by that to stress the greatness and the loveliness of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. And notice it is one pearl of great price – one pearl, not many – one pearl of great price. . .
I think another thing that this parable teaches us is that entrance may come after a search. The Bible says there is none that seeketh after God, no not one, but the word of God also says, seek him while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. And we know that we harmonize these two apparently contradictory things by pointing out that when men seek God, it’s because he has worked first in their lives. . .
This parable also illustrates the fact that the appropriation of the ministry of the Lord Jesus, the relationship to him involves great personal self-renunciation – selling all that we have.
B. (:46a) Pearl of Supreme Value
“and upon finding one pearl of great value,”
John Nolland: Since pearls come in a great range of qualities and sizes, by far the highest value will attach to the best of the pearls. The merchant finds a pearl which is so outstanding that the wealthiest of buyers will vie for its ownership. For him this will be the business deal of a lifetime! But to buy such a pearl will stretch his resources to the limit: only by liquidating all his assets can he raise the capital to close the deal. The opportunity is too good to lose: he acts decisively and secures the pearl. . . The role of the liquidation of assets is very similar in the two parables.
D. A. Carson: Jesus is not interested in religious efforts or in affirming that one can “buy” the kingdom; on the contrary, he is saying that the person whose whole life has been bound up with “pearls”—the entire religious heritage of the Jews?—will, on comprehending the true value of the kingdom as Jesus presents it, gladly exchange all else to follow him.
C. (:46b) Worthy of Total Commitment
“he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
Grant Osborne: The treasure parable has the person accidentally “finding,” while this one has a merchant deliberately “seeking.” In other words, they build on each other, and the key is not so much the mode of discovery as it is the total surrender that accompanies it.
John MacArthur: Six Principles (from these 2 parallel parables):
1) The kingdom is priceless in value.
2) The kingdom is not superficially visible.
3) The kingdom is personally appropriated, and this is the crux of the parables.
4) The kingdom is the source of joy.
5) The kingdom may be entered from different circumstances.
In case number one, the man just comes across the treasure. In case number two, the man knows exactly what he’s looking for. Now even if number one was a treasure hunter, he didn’t know what he was looking for. Number two did. . . Now there are people who search, there are people who stumble into it. And then there are combinations of both, right?
6) The kingdom is made personal by a transaction.
Is. 55:1 – You buy it. You just don’t buy it with money. You give up all you have for all He has. . . Salvation is an act where I exchange me for Him as ruler of my life.
David Turner: This pair of parables fits into the pattern of positive response to the kingdom (Garland 1993: 151–52; Keener 1999: 391–92; Overman 1996:202–3). The kingdom is portrayed as a hidden treasure and a valuable pearl, pursued by men who sacrifice everything to gain it. This is the picture of discipleship found throughout Matthew. Jesus’s first disciples leave their families and fishing gear to follow Jesus (4:20, 22; cf. 9:9). Following Jesus entails the sacrifice of one’s life for Jesus (16:25–26). The rich young ruler will not sell all he has to follow Jesus (19:21–22), but all who do make such a sacrifice will be richly rewarded (19:27–29). These parables present both the sacrifice and the resulting joy of those who follow Jesus (13:44; cf. 2:10; 28:8; for temporary joy see 13:20). Despite the lure of wealth and worldly distractions (13:22), millions continue to follow Jesus at great cost in the present life but with greater prospects for the future. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3).
Warren Wiersbe: [Alternative View] A well-known gospel song perpetuates the interpretation that this pearl is Jesus Christ and His salvation. But the same objections apply to this interpretation as applied to the previous parable. The sinner does not find Christ; Christ finds the sinner. No sinner is able to pay for salvation, even though he sells all that he has.
The pearl represents the church. The Bible makes a distinction between Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Cor. 10:32). Today, the church, the body of Christ, is composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11ff.). Unlike most other gems, the pearl is a unity—it cannot be carved like a diamond or emerald. The church is a unity (Eph. 4:4–6), even though the professing church on earth is divided. Like a pearl, the church is the product of suffering. Christ died for the church (Eph. 5:25) and His suffering on the cross made possible her birth.
A pearl grows gradually, and the church grows gradually as the Spirit convicts and converts sinners. No one can see the making of the pearl, for it is hidden in the shell of the oyster under the waters. No one can see the growth of His church in the world. The church is among the nations today (waters in the Bible represent nations; Dan. 7:1–3; Rev. 13:1; 17:15) and one day will be revealed in its beauty.
So, in spite of Satan’s subtle working in this world, Christ is forming His church. He sold all that He had to purchase His church, and nothing Satan can do will cause Him to fail. There is but one church, a pearl of great price, though there are many local churches. Not everyone who is a member of a local church belongs to the one church, the body of Christ. It is only through repentance and faith in Christ that we become a part of His church. Of course, all true believers ought to identify with a local assembly where they can worship and serve.