Nearly every biblical scholar believes that the purpose behind Matthew’s gospel is to portray Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. This is one of the reasons for the genealogy found in Matthew 1:1-17. It starts off with the foremost patriarch in Israel’s history, father Abraham. Then it focuses on the line of Judah, who was Israel’s fourth son, blessed with the right to rule over his brothers and from whom the future Messiah would come (Genesis 49:8-12, ESV). Several generations after Judah, a shepherd boy became Israel’s greatest king. He destroyed his people’s greatest threat in Goliath while establishing the most peaceful reign throughout Israel’s history. King David occupies the highest position out of all of Israel’s earthly kings; however, his reign foreshadows a time to come where a future descendant of his would sit on his throne in splendor and might (2 Samuel 7:12-16, ESV).
The gospel writer meticulously navigates Jesus’ lineage from David down to his parents, Mary and Joseph. Matthew’s efforts establish two things right up front: 1.) Jesus is a descendant of King David and of Judah, which is the kingly line; and 2.) Because Jesus descends from Judah, this makes him the son of Abraham, an Israelite by birth. Basically, Matthew’s genealogy demonstrates that Jesus is of royal stock and a true Israelite. This elaborate presentation of our Lord’s ancestry raises another key point, which bubbles underneath the surface of Matthew’s gospel. The Jewish people are the gospel writer’s intended audience. These are men and women who know their heritage and the Torah. At the risk of pretension, I view the gospel of Matthew as a Jewish one, or a message steeped in Jewish history and culture. I can hear the objection ringing in my ears. “What does this have to do with the kingdom parables found in Matthew thirteen?” It thrills me to no end that you asked this question.
In the original Greek, the word parabole translates into parables in English. It has several uses depending upon the context. When one examines a Greek concordance, the predominant use of the word parabole pertains to a story or narrative that illustrates a central truth. Whenever the word parabole pops up in the four gospels, this word means that Jesus employs a story to convey a key truth either with respect to the kingdom of heaven or its king. Because Matthew portrays Jesus as the Messiah, then it follows that his gospel narrative provides many examples of Jesus using parables to teach something about the nature of his kingdom and himself. It is my view that the kingdom parables of Matthew thirteen do not provide instruction for how one lives in the kingdom. Our Lord’s sermon on the mount in Matthew chapters five through seven serves as the believer’s manual for kingdom living. Matthew thirteen offers Jesus’ most concentrated teaching on the Messiah and his kingdom.
Now, I must include something about the purpose of the kingdom parables from Jesus’ perspective and Matthew, the writer. Our Lord makes a crucial distinction between his disciples and the crowds. He explains to his disciples that they have been granted to know the secrets of the kingdom instead of those in the crowd (Matthew 13:10-11, ESV). At first glance this comes off as preferential treatment, but Jesus develops his response even further by pointing out that his parables and the crowds’ response to them fulfills Old Testament scripture (Matthew 13:13-15, ESV). The difference between the disciples and the crowd has to do with the former’s relationship with Jesus. This enables the disciples to have open hearts to the Lord’s message, which paves the way to receive his kingdom truths. Their open hearts lead them to having the ears to hear his kingdom truths, and the eyes to see those truths.
When it comes to the crowds, they do not know Jesus. He confirms this fact by citing the words of Israel’s greatest recorder of prophecy, Isaiah the prophet, which are found in Isaiah 6:9-10. This particular passage resides within a larger section of scripture, which depicts God the Father calling for a prophet, Isaiah’s response to the Father’s call, and his being sent by the Father to prophesy to the nation of Israel. From my perspective, the parallels between Isaiah and Christ are too obvious to miss. Both men are sent with the Father’s message for an obstinate people. History tells us that Isaiah died as a martyr. The same thing takes place with our Lord. I believe that Jesus knew these parallels, and intended to point them out to his disciples. The striking thing to realize is that Isaiah penned his words about 700 years before Jesus uses them. Apparently, nothing really changed among the people of Israel from Isaiah’s day to the time of Christ.
The apostle Matthew asserts that Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy by teaching in parables. He comments “that [Jesus’ teaching] was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world'” (Matthew 13:35, ESV). Matthew’s citation comes from the book of Psalms in the seventy-eighth chapter and second verse. He uses this passage to demonstrate that Jesus uses parables precisely for the purpose of revealing truths about the kingdom, which had been hidden or veiled by the Father. The unique thing about Psalm seventy-eight is that it traces the Father’s guidance of Israel throughout history. Toward the end of this Psalm, the writer references King David leading God’s people like a shepherd (Psalm 78:70-72, ESV). I submit to my readers that this points to Christ himself as the one, true shepherd of Israel.
Finally, here are some quick hits about the thirteenth chapter of Matthew. It contains seven parables, but a good argument could be made that Jesus’ account of the kingdom scribe is an eighth one (Matthew 13:52, ESV). He delivers the first four parables to a mixed audience: the crowd and the disciples. Jesus speaks the other three (or four) parables only in the presence of the disciples. The Lord interprets only two of the seven or (eight) parables for them, which is a huge bummer. There has been so much ink spilled over the ones left uninterpreted by Jesus. Over the next week, I will examine these kingdom parables. It is my sense that our Lord desires for us to see something about the nature of his king and his kingdom.