In part one, I dealt with the parables of the mustard seed and leaven. These two go hand-in-hand, or even better, represent two sides of the same coin. They depict the type of growth to expect in this present age of imperfection until the Messiah’s second coming. I stated that throughout the course of church history two schools of thought have arisen regarding the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. These divergent views remain hotly contested between scholars, but the real point is that responsible and Orthodox scholars arrive at different conclusions. Lastly, I mentioned that the mustard seed and leaven parables close out Jesus’ teaching to the crowds. The remaining three parables are given by the Lord in the presence of the disciples inside the house, which is where he had been teaching earlier in the day (Matthew 12:46 – 13:1 & 36, ESV). In this entry, I will examine the twin parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value. Here they are for our reading pleasure:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46, ESV).
Much like the duo of the mustard seed and the leaven, the above quoted parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value have attracted a variety of interpretations over the years. The heat over them is nowhere close to that associated with the mustard seed and the leaven. In fact, I do not believe it would be fair to characterize the disagreements over the meaning of the hidden treasure and the pearl as exhibiting heat. From the bit of reading that I have done, the scholars demonstrate genuine respect and good humor toward one another. The two most prevalent interpretations of the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value agree that these teach the same lesson. Like any debate, the issue with these parables turns on what lesson is Jesus teaching through them?
Before I interject my own allegiance, I will present the two interpretations and then their supporting reasons. Here are the two respective views. Number one, the common interpretation sees both the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price as depicting the immense value of the kingdom to the one who possesses it. Number two, the other interpretation believes that these two parables illustrate the depth of Christ’s love for his people, who are his inheritance. These are the two most dominant views of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price. If my readers observe the two positions closely, the difference is one of perspective. Here is what I mean. The first interpretation portrays the kingdom’s worth from man’s perspective while the second shows how valuable the people of the kingdom are to the King.
When it comes to the first view regarding the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, the man in each parable represents an individual who seeks out and possesses the kingdom of heaven. It is more valuable than any other possession in the entire world; therefore, someone will give up everything in order to acquire it. There might be some further ways to nuance that interpretation, but I have given the gist of it. Now, it is my belief that this view has a few issues with it. First, is the kingdom of heaven something that any man or woman can purchase, or is it a gift of God (an inheritance) to those who believe in the Son? Second, the man in both parables has the means to acquire the kingdom even if he ends up selling everything. Is there anything in me that earns or merits the kingdom? Isaiah 64:6b says that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” According to Psalm 14 and the first three verses, there is no one who seeks after God and no one who is righteous.
I agree that these two parables teach the same lesson; however, I believe that it pertains to Christ’s redemption of his people in order to inherit the kingdom. Salvation by grace through faith is the only way to possess the kingdom of heaven. In fact, Jesus tells Nicodemus that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and then the Lord repeats this two verses later using different words: “unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 & 5, ESV). Now then, remember that Jesus interpreted the man in the parable of the weeds as the Son of Man. In my mind, the man in both the hidden treasure and the pearl represents Christ. He is the one who seeks after the treasure and the pearl in order to purchase them (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23, ESV). Another way to state this is that Jesus left heaven, took on the form of a servant, and died on the cross to redeem a people as his own (Phil. 2:6-11, ESV).
What this means is that the hidden treasure and the pearl refer to the redeemed of the Lord, the church. There are passages in the Old Testament, which refer to God’s covenant people as his treasured possession (Exodus 19:5; Deut. 7:6, 14:2, 26:18; Mal. 3:17, ESV). The apostle Peter picks up the Exodus nineteen passage and applies it to the New Testament people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10, ESV). The church is the treasure possession. Each living stone or believer is a specially formed and prized, but so is the whole group of believers from both testaments. The pearl pictures the same truth in a similar way. Its formation is unique. A foreign object finds its way inside an oyster, which secretes layers of nacre over it. This is a painful process for the shell creature, but the pearl winds up being highly valuable. In the same way, Jesus bears the sin of his people, which causes him great harm even death. He clothes his people with his righteousness, which results in a glorious bride, the church (Rev. 5:9-10, 19:7-8, ESV).
How wonderful is the truth of the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl. It shines even brighter in relation to the previous four parables of the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, and the leaven. Those offered rays or glimmers of hope, but their overall tone is somber. Both the hidden treasure and the pearl parables speak to the present sanctifying work of the Spirit within the church and its future glorification at Christ’s second advent. If these two parables merely depicted the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, then that would be good news. Because the hidden treasure and the pearl promise the church’s future glorification at Christ’s return, then this is nothing short of miraculous or mind-blowing. The person and work of the Holy Spirit within God’s people seal and guarantees our eventual entrance into the kingdom of heaven. That will be a glorious day.