The Kingdom of Heaven is Like
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:44-50)
In these seven verses we have the parables of the treasure hidden in a field, the pearl of great price, and the net cast into the sea. Each of these three parables is full of rich, spiritual instruction for all who are taught of God. May God The Holy Spirit, who inspired Matthew to record these parables for us, be our Teacher as we study them together.
Treasure Hidden in a Field
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (v. 44).
The parable of the treasure hidden in a field is designed to teach us how precious, highly valued and esteemed, and greatly loved God’s elect are to the Lord Jesus Christ. Who can describe the love of Christ for God’s elect, his chosen body and bride, the church? Yet, the picture before us in this parable, simple as it is, beautifully portrays that love which moved the Son of God to redeem us with his own precious blood.
The treasure hidden in a field is, in my opinion, the church of God’s elect. Yes, we are the Lord’s treasure, the portion of his inheritance, the apple of his eye, and the jewels of his crown. Though in ourselves, by nature and by birth, we are nothing but sinners, worthless and useless, because of God’s sovereign love and distinguishing grace we are precious in his sight, so precious that he has sacrificed men and nations for us (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut. 32:8-10; Ps. 135:4; Isa. 43:4). God’s elect are so precious as the objects of his love and grace that he gave his own darling Son to redeem us and save us (John 3:16; Gal. 2:21; Tit. 2:14; 1 John 3:16; 4:9-10).
Roll this thought around in your heart. If you trust Christ as your Treasure, you are his treasure, the treasure of the Triune God! God’s elect are like a treasure hidden in a field. The field in which they have been hidden is the world and the nations of it. Throughout the Scriptures God’s elect are spoken of as a people scattered among the nations, chosen from, redeemed out of, and called from the nations of the world.
The treasure was found by divine election. (2 Thess. 2:13-14), and it was hidden by divine predestination and providence. The Lord God scattered and hid his elect among the nations of the world. He did so after the sin and fall of our father Adam (Gen. 3:24). He did so after the flood (Gen. 9:20-27). And he did so after the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). This scattering of the elect, hiding them in the earth, was God’s work of judgment that he might gather them in everlasting mercy, love, and grace (Jer. 30:11; Ezek. 11:16-18; Gen. 49:10; Isa. 11:10; 56:8; 66:18).
The man in this parable, if I am not mistaken, is the God-man our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He bargained for us in old eternity as our Surety in the everlasting covenant of grace. He sacrificed everything he had that he might obtain the object of his love, his bride, the church, which he treasures above all things (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:5-8). And he did it with joy! So great is his love for his elect that he joyfully came into this world to suffer the wrath of God for us to save us (Heb. 12:2).
There was no joy in his sufferings. When our blessed Savior anticipated being made sin for us, his heart was crushed within him in Gethsemane. If that which we read in Gethsemane displays the agony of our Savior’s holy soul in anticipation of the cross, how utterly inexpressible must have been his agony of soul when he was actually made sin for us and made to suffer all the unmitigated fury of the wrath of God at Calvary! Yet, he endured the cross, despising the shame, “for the joy set before him.” What joy?” you might ask. — The joy of seeing his seed with him in glory!
The Scriptures clearly teach that which is commonly called, “Limited Atonement”, or “Particular Redemption,” that the Lord Jesus Christ died and effectually redeemed his elect alone (Isa. 53:8-11; 63:9; Dan. 9:24; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; John 10:11, 15, 26; 11:51-52; Rom. 5:11, 15, 19; 8:33-34; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13-14; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 1:1-3; 2:16; 9:12, 28; 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; 2:21; 3:18; 1 John 3:16; Rev. 1:5-6; 5:9-10). Justice was not satisfied for the world. Christ did not put away everyone’s sins. It was never the intent of the Son of God to redeem and save the whole world by his death. He died for God’s elect. He satisfied divine justice for God’s elect. He redeemed God’s elect. And he put away the sins of God’s elect.
Yet, as the God-man, as our Mediator, the Lord Jesus bought the world. Understand what I mean. I do not mean that the Son of God has redeemed every man in this world. Such an absurd pretense I have never made. But I do mean this – Christ has purchased the right to rule this world as the mediator King for the salvation of his elect (John 17:2; Isa. 53:10-12; 2 Pet. 2:1). Our blessed Savior has redeemed God’s creation from the curse of sin (2 Pet. 3:11-13; Rom. 8:18-23). As a result of our Savior’s redemption work, this world shall be purged of all sin and restored to its pristine beauty. Not so much as a blade of grass shall be allowed to bear the curse brought upon it by sin. And when all things are created new, righteousness shall again flourish in the earth! The slime of the serpent’s trail shall not be found in God’s creation.
Our Lord Jesus bought the field (the world) that he might get the treasure hidden in the field. Our Lord Jesus, as a Man, bought the world that he might save his elect. This parable does not teach universal redemption. Not on your life! It teaches particular, effectual redemption. Christ did not make atonement for the world (the field). He made atonement for his elect (the treasure). But as a man he bought the right to rule the field and to dispose of the field, as he will, for the salvation of his elect (Ps. 2:8; John 17:2). When he has gathered his treasure out of this field, he will burn the field, destroy all that is evil in it, and make this field anew, making it a suitable habitation for his saints. The parable of the treasure hidden in the field is designed to show us a picture of Christ’s love for his bride, the church of God’s elect.
“Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou my God shouldest die for me?”
Pearl of Great Price
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (vv. 45-46).
The parable of the pearl of great price is intended to teach us how precious, highly valued and esteemed, and greatly loved the Lord Jesus Christ is to God’s elect. Christ is the believer’s portion. “Unto you therefore which believe, he is precious” (1 Pet. 2:7).
Some people object to the use of terms like “awakened sinners” and “sensible sinners,” and certainly the terms may be pressed to mean more than I intend by them; but I do not know how else to describe the merchantman in this parable than this. – He represents a sinner who has been awakened to and made sensible of his need of salvation and acceptance with God. I do not say that he is regenerated, saved, or converted. But he is a person who knows he must meet God in eternity and he seeks to prepare for that awesome event.
Such men and women seek after a great variety of things, which, at first sight, seem to them to be “goodly pearls.” — Moral Reformations — Legal Righteousness — Religious Ritualism — A Profession of Faith — Church Membership — Works of Zeal, Devotion, and Piety, etc. For these things they are willing to exchange many things and imagine that they have made a good trade, until Christ is revealed in all the fullness of his glory and grace. Then, when the seeking sinner finds the sovereign Savior, he sees in the crucified Son of God everything he wants and needs (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:3; Col. 3:11). Believing Christ, the sinner says, “He is precious!” And he is willing to part with anything and everything for Christ (Mk. 8:34-37; Lk. 14:25-33).
Gracious Lord, incline Thine ear,
My request vouch safe to hear;
Hear my never ceasing cry,
Give me Christ, or else I die!
Wealth and Honor I disdain,
Earthly comforts all are vain’
These can never satisfy,
Give me Christ, or else I die!
Lord, deny me what Thou wilt,
Only ease me of my guilt,
Suppliant at Thy feet I lie,
Give me Christ, or else I die!
All to whom Christ is revealed in the fullness of his saving grace and glory willingly give up all things to win him and be found in him (Phil. 3:7-15). This parable, simple as it is, explains the life and behavior of all true Christians. The believer is what he is and does what he does because he is thoroughly convinced that “Christ is all.” He comes out of the world. He says “No” to the lusts of the flesh. He puts off the old man and puts on the new. He hates sin and pursues righteousness. He counts all things but loss for Christ, because he sees Christ to be “the Pearl of great price” that he must have, for which he gladly sells all that he has.
Many years ago, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, reading J. C. Ryle’s “True Christianity.” I was not trying to be obvious; but a man sitting next to me kept looking over, as if he wanted to talk. Finally, I laid the book on my lap for a few seconds, and the man said to me, “I couldn’t help noticing the title of the book you are reading. May I ask you something?” “Certainly,” I said. “What does it take to be a true Christian?” the man asked. “Nothing from me, but all of me,” I replied. Then I proceeded to tell him that faith in Christ is nothing more and nothing less than the surrender of myself to the Son of God as my Lord and Savior. That is the doctrine of this parable.
This parable, simple as it is, also explains the life and behavior of lost, unregenerate church members. Forgive me if I offend, but I must be plain if I am to help those who most need to understand our Lord’s doctrine.
Many who have for years professed to be Christians are always halting between two opinions. They flinch from decisiveness. They shrink from taking up the cross and following Christ. They wear his name, but not his garments. They venture nothing for Christ. They simply cannot make up their minds to sell all for Christ. Why? The answer is obvious. – They do not yet see that Christ is “the Pearl of great price.” He is not precious to them because they do not trust him. Therefore, they cannot and will not forsake all that they may have him. They may sing with their lips, “Take the world, but give me Jesus,” but everyday they say with their lives, “If it comes to that, I’ll take the world, somebody else can have Jesus!”
The parable of the Pearl of great price is intended to show us that Christ is incomparably precious to all true believers. He is “the Pearl of great price,” for which all who are born of God sell all that we may have him.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (vv. 47-50).
The parable of the net cast into the sea was given to show us the true nature of Christ’s visible church and kingdom in this world. The preaching of the gospel is like the casting of a great net into the sea of this world. It is our business to cast the net. But as a net cast into the sea gathers a great multitude of fish, some good and some bad, so the preaching of the gospel gathers into Christ’s visible church both genuine believers and carnal professors, both regenerate souls and unregenerate, both humble possessors of faith and hypocritical professors of faith. There is sure to be a time when the good fish are separated from the bad; but that is God’s doing, not ours. And he will not do it until the end of the world.
We will look at this parable in more detail in the next study. For now, I want to show you three things clearly revealed in it.
1. All the churches of Christ in this world are mixed assemblies of good and bad fish.
Throughout these parables, our Lord repeatedly stresses this point. There are good hearers and bad hearers, – tares and wheat, – good fish and bad fish. – Why? He means for us to understand that there is no perfect church, no perfect body of believers in this world. If we try to make the church perfect and pure by separating the bad from the good, we will both be disobedient to our Master and instruments of great harm to his people.
2. We must never be satisfied with an outward profession of faith and outward church membership.
You may be in the net, and yet not be in Christ. Multitudes have been buried in the waters of baptism, who have never been crucified with Christ. Thousands around the world regularly eat and drink the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, who never feed upon Christ by faith.
3. The true character of every person’s religion will soon be revealed. — “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (vv, 49-50).
When the Lord God draws the net to shore, he will gather the good and throw away the bad. There will be an eternal separation between the wicked and the just. There is a heaven for the just and a furnace of fire for the wicked. Richard Baxter wrote, “These plain words need more belief and consideration than exposition.” Have you bought “the Pearl of great price”? Are you in Christ?
 Excellent commentators give different interpretations of this parable. Because the Holy Spirit nowhere gives us the interpretation of them, none can be stated with absolute dogmatism. “The treasure hid in a field” Robert Hawker takes to be Christ himself, hidden, in the field of holy Scripture, from the wise and prudent, but revealed unto babes. John Gill takes it to be “the Gospel, which is a treasure consisting of rich truths, comparable to gold, silver, and precious stones; of the most valuable blessings, and of exceeding great, and precious promises; and reveals the riches of God, of Christ, and of the other world; and is a treasure unsearchable, solid, satisfying, and lasting.”