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Matthew 12:46-50, 13:1-23

As we come to the end of chapter 12, we find that Matthew is transitioning to a new section in his gospel,
which contains a very particular teaching of Jesus. Before we embark upon that, I want to briefly review
with you what has led up to this transition, in the last two chapters.

Matthew had recorded the sending out of His twelve apostles to preach the gospel of the kingdom in the
cities of Galilee, even as He Himself did the same. What followed in the account was the reaction of
various groups, to that preaching.

Some of the cities of Galilee were rebuked by Jesus because they did not repent (11:20), while a few
individual Jews believed into Jesus, and became His disciples (11:25-30).

And then there were the religious rulers, both from Galilee as well as from Jerusalem. Jesus exposed
certain of these as being in fixed opposition to God and His purposes; in league with God’s enemy, Satan

Finally, we observed Jesus condemning those religious rulers who demanded to see yet another sign from
Him - when He had done so many miraculous signs, showing Himself to be their Messiah.

Those Jews of Jesus’ day who followed the leading of their rulers would find themselves in a worse state
than the days when Israel pursued idol worship - for their religious system of Judaism was a more
deceptive product of the world system, subtly opposed to God and His Christ.

As Jesus was concluding His words to the rulers and the crowd, there was an interruption. This begins in
verse 46.

[Matthew 12:46-50]

The mention of the mother of Jesus - Mary - clearly informs us that Matthew is referring to actual members
of Jesus’ earthly family, and not to certain disciples, who might be called brothers or brethren, also. These
would be half-brothers of Jesus; sons that were born to Joseph and Mary.

You might remember that Matthew indicated Joseph did not “know” Mary - have sexual relations with her
- until after the birth of Jesus, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the virgin womb of Mary (Mt 1:20,
25). The sense is that Joseph did “know” Mary this way afterwards - and they had children.

That Jesus had siblings is recorded by all four gospel writers. Both sons and daughters are mentioned by
both Matthew and Mark; the sons by name (Mt 13:55-56; Mk 6:3). The omission of Joseph, the husband of
Mary, suggests that he may have died, by this time.

Now, remember that Jesus had cast out the demon and had His confrontation with the religious rulers in a
house (Mk 3:19); probably one of the larger homes, for a crowd to fit inside. Meanwhile, His family came
to see Him - here we read that they were seeking to speak with Him. Luke indicates they could not
approach Him, because of the crowd (Lk 8:19). Mark, likely speaking of the same incident, says that they
had come to lay hold of Jesus, for they said, “He is out of His mind” (Mk 3:21).
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In the context, it would seem the family was alarmed by the sensational appeal of Jesus, and the multitudes
that were following Him; perhaps they feared He would invoke a response by the Romans. The family at
this time did not appear to understand the mission of Jesus; in fact, His brothers did not yet believe who He
was (Jn 7:5).

Since they were unable to reach Jesus, the family sent in word, to let Him know that they were there;
standing outside the house. So did Jesus let them in? Or did He go outside to meet them? Apparently not,
from what Matthew says here; instead, Jesus uses them as a teaching point.

Now, we are not to take this as repudiation by Jesus of His natural family. He was just using them as a
point of comparison. To whom? To His disciples.

Jesus had a natural bond to His earthly family. But those who had believed into Jesus had been born again,
right into the family of God; they were now God’s children, and Jesus was God’s Son. The spiritual bond
between Jesus and His disciples had preeminence over the bond of natural relations; it was stronger; it was
closer; it was eternal. And that spiritual bond has preeminence, even in this life.

The final comment of Jesus to the Jews in verse 50 gave further definition to those whom He intended as
His true relations, here. They were those who did the will of His Father in heaven. Their obedience to the
truth (1 Pet 1:22) - to believe in the One whom God sent - confirmed that they were members of God’s

Notice in verse 50 that Jesus adds “sister” to mother and brothers. This tells us that He was likely gesturing
to more than just the Twelve, here - and that some of His disciples included women, by this time.

As we continue in chapter 13, the action resumes on the same day - the day that began with Jesus being
challenged by the religious rulers.

13:1-3c We’ll stop here for a moment, because there is much we need to absorb about what Jesus is doing,
and the setting for His teaching. This teaching continues all the way to verse 52.

First, what could we say is the subject of the teaching? Jesus Himself sums it up in verse 11; do you see
what He says there? It’s “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”. Remember that Matthew tends to use
the term “kingdom of heaven” where others writers say “kingdom of God”; the terms are generally

A mystery in the NT does not refer to something mysterious, as the English would lead us to believe.
Instead it simply means something that is hidden; something that was secret in time past, but that now, God
was making known.

Apart from God revealing these mysteries, they would remain hidden. Now - with the coming of Jesus to
the earth - some of these mysteries were being revealed.

But look at how they were being revealed, by Jesus: as parables, in verse 3. A parable is often a short story
or saying that does not carry its meaning on the surface; its meaning is hidden. This requires thought and
perception if the hearer is to benefit from it.

So Jesus is revealing the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but in the form of parables, which themselves
conceal the meaning! We will learn the reason why He is doing that, as we get further into the chapter.
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Now, parables often use earthly illustrations to convey a spiritual or heavenly reality. Verse 3 says that
Jesus spoke many things to them, in parables. To who? To the crowd; a great multitude of them. The
parables were also spoken to His disciples.

The setting for the disclosure of these mysteries is highly significant. In fact, the imagery takes us back to
the previous action which brought Jesus to this teaching.

What had Jesus been experiencing, based on His preaching throughout Galilee? Rejection - culminating
with the rejection by the religious rulers, and the dire warning of Jesus to the wicked generation of Israel,
that would follow their rulers in rejecting Him.

So we have the rejection of Jesus by His own people - the Jews. And the next scene that Matthew presents
is the family of Jesus - His own people, so to speak - on the outside; and the disciples, inside with Jesus.
The believers are the insiders; the unbelievers, the outsiders.

Matthew changes the scene again. Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the sea. This would be the Sea
of Galilee. Remember, sitting is the position a rabbi assumed, for teaching.

But Jesus was so thronged by the great crowd that He had to get into one of the small fishing vessels and
push out onto the sea. This gave Him some distance from the crowd, and enabled Him to sit and teach
them all, as His voice would carry over the water.

Presumably His disciples went with Him, as we find them inquiring of Him, after the first parable. So the
disciples, the believers, are close to Jesus; the crowd of mostly unbelieving Jews, they are distant.

Notice that Matthew, who is usually very abbreviated, has recorded each detail of Jesus’ movement here -
the whole progression. He does so to continue to set the scene for the parables.

Jesus leaving the house reflects the coming time when He will set aside the house of Israel, because of their
unbelief. And what will be the progression, of the teaching of Jesus, through the gospel? From Jerusalem
to where? To Judea, Samaria - to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8) - to Gentile territory.

The sea is often used in the OT as a symbol of the Gentile nations (Is 23:11; 60:5). This scene then actually
becomes part of the mystery of the kingdom of God; that the setting aside of Israel will result in the
reconciling of the Gentiles, who choose to believe (Rom 11:15). This occurs during the church age.

Having set the scene, Matthew then records these parables of Jesus. We’ll begin with verse 3.

13:3-9 That completes the first parable, which Jesus preached to the multitudes on the shore.

Now, teachers often used parables as a means of illustrating a point that they were teaching. Is this what
Jesus had done? No; He never had an original teaching point, here; He simply related this parable to the
people, and then exhorted those who would be receptive to it to understand it. Without an original teaching
point, and without an explanation, the meaning of the parable would certainly remain hidden, to most.

Now, why would Jesus teach like this? Well, that’s what His disciples wanted to know.

13:10-13 Notice in verse 10 that the disciples came to Jesus, meaning they approached Him. Where is
Jesus? He’s in that fishing vessel, out on the water. If the disciples came to Him, the simplest explanation
is that they were in the boat with Him, and they moved closer to Him, in order to question Him.
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The disciples most likely perceived this to be a great opportunity, for Jesus. This is the first time in
Matthew’s gospel that the term “great multitudes” has been used (v. 2).

More people than ever had come to hear Jesus - in that region, these would have been mostly Jews. And
instead of clearly preaching to them the gospel of the kingdom, Jesus preaches this cryptic message - and
then leaves it up to the crowd, as to what they would make of it. Why was Jesus doing that?

So Jesus explains what He is doing, to His disciples. First, He shares with His disciples His teaching point
- these parables concern the mysteries of the kingdom of God - how God was obtaining a kingdom;
something that had been concealed from men in times past, but was now being revealed in the coming of
Jesus - by His telling of these parables.

But only certain men would receive the revelation - specifically, the disciples; those who had chosen to put
their faith in Jesus, as the Messiah whom God sent. For those who had chosen not to believe, no revelation
would be made; only the parable, which kept the truth hidden from them.

Notice how Jesus emphasizes the divine initiative, here. It has been given by God to the disciples to know
these mysteries; but to those who refuse to believe, God has not given the revelation; He has kept these
mysteries hidden.

And Jesus provided an explanation of this, also - in verse 12. Let’s read it again.

v. 12 Whoever has - has what? What do the disciples have, that the unbelieving Jews don’t have? They
have eternal Life. And why do they have that? Because they received the word of Life - the good news of
the Savior, Jesus.

Because the disciples have the word of Life, more will be given to them - abundantly. They have Jesus
right there with them, teaching them, explaining things to them, and they are learning from Him. And they
have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, who is opening up their understanding to deep spiritual truths.

But what about those who do not have - those who have refused the word of Life? They will receive no
more; in fact, even what they have will be taken from them. In what sense? Since the Word that was
preached to them was rejected, their opportunity to receive eternal life through it passes away. The Word’s
Life-giving power has no effect, for them; they remain dead in their sins.

After explaining to His disciples this delineation by God between those who believe and those who refuse
to believe, Jesus then goes on to show how this explains why He speaks now in parables, in verse 13.

v. 13 The basic idea is that the parable gives those who have already rejected the most simple and
fundamental truth something further to reject. God is giving the Jews a more difficult teaching, which will
cause those who have refused the truth to clearly fix themselves in opposition to the One He sent.

Now, we might find it hard to understand, that God would do this. We might think, why not just break it
down more, or explain it more, or spend more time preaching, etc. It seems that the disciples did not
understand at first, either.

But by this time, Jesus had preached extensively throughout Galilee. He had taught the truth over and over
again, in the clearest manner. There was nothing more to say - just like there was no other sign to give
(12:39) - which would convince those who had already set their hearts against Jesus.
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Now, there is no sense that Jesus was including here those who were as yet undecided, about Him - of
which there were still likely some. The parables are a response to the general rejection of Jesus, by the
religious rulers and the Jews. So it is those who have made a decision to reject Jesus who are in view, here.

The parables are creating a distance, between them and Jesus - just as He was distant from them, on the
sea, as He spoke to them. The undecided will continue to have a choice, to believe the witness they have
already heard and seen of Jesus. And if they do, they could then gain the understanding of the parables -
for God would reveal it to them - just as He revealed things to you, when you believed.

As Jesus continued, He showed that speaking to the unbelieving Jews in parables was a fulfillment of a
prophecy of Isaiah.

v. 14-15 Jesus was quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT. This was when Isaiah
was being given His commission to the kingdom of Judah, to bring them the LORD’s words.

The LORD was warning Isaiah that the people would not be receptive to his message, for they were already
set against the LORD. The Hebrew gives the impression that the LORD is making the people deaf and blind;
but the idea is that the message causes them to be that way, as they harden their hearts against what the
LORD has to say to them, through Isaiah. This was fulfilled throughout Isaiah’s ministry.

Jesus was indicating that this prophecy was being fulfilled again in His day with the Jews, through His
speaking in parables to them. For those who had already closed their hearts to Jesus, the parables increased
their spiritual stupor. Their failure to repent and find healing from sin-sickness followed from the
hardening of their own hearts, to Jesus.

But as Jesus continued, He emphasized the privilege being given to the disciples.

v. 16-17 Who were the “prophets and righteous men” mentioned by Jesus? These would refer to the OT
saints; those who believed into the Coming One, as God had revealed Him through the OT Scriptures, and
the ceremonial Law. Peter makes a reference to some of these, also.

Turn to First Peter chapter 1. Peter was speaking of the salvation that was made available to men, through
faith in Jesus Christ.

[First Peter 1:10-12] The Spirit of Christ - the Holy Spirit - was in these OT prophets, revealing to them
the sufferings of Christ - what would that refer to, particularly? The cross. The Holy Spirit also revealed to
these prophets the glories that would follow - what does that point to? The resurrection and ascension of

By revelation, these things were foretold to the prophets, and we have their prophecies which show that.
Peter was saying, in the current day, they’ve all had the privilege of the preaching of the gospel - Christ
having come, and died, and risen, and returned to heaven in glory. It’s something angels couldn’t wait to
see unfold in time; but now, it had done so.

[Return to Matthew 13] And that is what Jesus meant, here. The disciples are blessed by God - privileged -
with seeing and hearing the fulfillment of what the OT saints only saw, pictured and prophesied to them.

And we are privileged to have the full revelation of God - an additional blessing. Far be it from us to
despise what the Lord has counted precious, and has revealed to us - which includes these parables. So with
the help of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we, with the disciples, will gain understanding of them.
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Jesus then gave His disciples an explanation of this parable, starting in verse 18. We’ll now look at this,
along with what Jesus said initially in verses 3-8, as He preached to the crowd, initially.

v. 18-19 Notice that Jesus calls this the parable of the sower. Some in our day recognize that this parable is
really about the soils, that the sower’s seed falls upon. But the point is that everything begins with the

So who is the sower? Jesus actually identifies the sower in the second parable - in verse 37: “He who sows
the good seed is the Son of Man”. So the sower is - Jesus. He represents a farmer in this parable, and the

Why do farmers scatter seed - for what purpose? Is it to cause the seed to simply sprout? Is it to just get
some nice green shoots, and a few leaves? No; it is to obtain a harvest - a harvest of grain, in this case.
Without the sower, the soil would remain barren. Without the seed, the soil would remain barren. The
sower must sow the seed, in order to obtain the harvest.

God came to the earth in human form, as Jesus. He came preaching the word of the kingdom - that men
must repent of their sins, and receive the Savior God sent to deliver them from their sins and give them
eternal life, in order to enter the kingdom of God.

The Son of Man sowed and sowed His seed. That’s the good seed - the word of Life - the gospel. Jesus
would offer Himself as the sacrifice for men’s sins, die in their stead, and rise from the dead, bringing forth
eternal life for the body, for men.

The good seed is viable seed - it is the Word of Life. The sower is seen as the divine initiator: perfect in
His person and perfect in His work.

But does the farmer always obtain a harvest, from his seed? No. The parable shows us that it depends on
what soil it falls upon. So what does the soil represent, in the parable? Men’s hearts. The condition of the
soil reflects their receptivity, to the Word of Life. So the soils show human response, to the divine

Some men hear the Word of Life, but they don’t understand it. Now, Jesus did not mean that it was too
difficult for them to grasp; He meant they wouldn’t grasp it.

Think about it. The Word of the kingdom is simple. You’re a sinner. This will keep you out of God’s
kingdom. You need to have a change of heart, and repent; receive the One God has sent to save you; and
you will be saved. What’s difficult about that? Nothing - but some find it difficult to accept.

They refuse to recognize they’re a sinner. The Jews thought they could attain righteousness through
keeping the Law, and offering sacrifices.

Other men try to improve themselves; or become enlightened to their true self; or evolve. For some of
these, there is not even an acknowledgment that there is a God, and He is creating a kingdom; they are busy
making their own - a utopic society.

Men who won’t accept that they’re sinners who have offended holy God see no need to repent and to
receive a Savior. They are saving themselves - through perfecting themselves. This is what religion
appears to offer them.
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Jesus explained this is like the seed, that had fallen by the wayside. These were the hard, beaten walking
paths that surrounded the fields. Seed that fell there wasn’t in the field, and so it would never get plowed
under, and therefore would never penetrate the soil at all. It became easy pickings for the birds.

Notice back in verse 4 that Jesus said the birds came and devoured it. Birds are sometimes seen to be
symbols in Scripture for the emissaries of the evil one - Satan, the prince of the power of the air (Gen

The demonic spirits maintain Satan’s world system, which includes all religions - the many ways that have
been created for man to think that he can reach God, or perfect himself - ways that are by the side of the one
and only way, into the presence of the Father - Jesus.

In Paul’s second letter in the NT to the Corinthians, he was speaking to them of how the mind of the Jews
was veiled from seeing the truth, through Judaism - the religious system of works created from the Law.
This blinded the minds of the Jews to the gospel.

[Second Corinthians 4:3-4] Notice the idea is that the god of this age, Satan, used religion to put the
blinders on the Jews; so they could not see the gospel to be the truth, and believe it. Religion shows
another way to God, or to perfection - but it’s a false way.

[Return to Matthew 13]

So we see that the heart that has a set way it already adheres to - such as the religion of Judaism - is
impenetrable by the Word of Life. Luke records Jesus as saying that the devil comes and takes the word
out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved (Lk 8:12). This would describe the hearts of the
religious rulers Jesus had denounced. There was no room for the truth; a categorical rejection of it.

Jesus continued His explanation to the disciples.

v. 20-21 The people who were listening to Jesus that day would certainly have known what He was talking
about, when He initially described this soil to them. The soil in Galilee had a great deal of bedrock under
it. Sometimes the rock lay very close to the surface, but was covered by a thin layer of soil.

It looked like good soil - promising - but it was superficial; it had no depth. The seed was able to
germinate, and the plant sprang up quite quickly, being near the surface. But the root of the sprout had
nowhere to go, to anchor the plant, and to obtain nutrients and water. The heat of the sun quickly scorched
the sprout, and it perished.

Now, the fact that the seed germinated makes it evident that the seed was a living seed. Well, the farmer
knows his seed is living. But is germinated seed his goal? No; his goal is not seed, but fruit; a harvest of

So this seed did not produce the desired effect, any more than the snatched seed. Was it the seed’s fault?
No; the fault was with the soil.

Jesus shows that this represents those who have a sensational response to the Word of Life. This is the
reaction of most in the multitudes, who flocked around Jesus.

They were astonished by the wisdom of His words. They were amazed by His miraculous works. But their
enthusiasm was just an emotional reaction to what they were hearing and seeing.
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They never took what was said to heart; they never allowed it to penetrate to the spirit of their being. They
remained untouched by the Word, personally. So there was no conviction, and no commitment. When the
first hard thing came along, their enthusiasm dried up - like the little sprout. The stumbling reflects that
they fell away from the truth.

Jesus describes yet another soil, explaining it to His disciples.

v. 22 Jesus described this soil as full of thorns. Weeds were often cut or burned in a field after a harvest,
but could then grow up with the next sowing of seed. In this case the good seed germinated, and it grew;
but the thorny weeds grew also, and they grew faster.

The thorns competed for the light and the nourishment that the sprout needed, to mature. The plant grew,
but never grew to fruition. The thorny weeds had choked out the possibility of grain - the purpose of the

Jesus indicates this was like the person who is caught up with the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness
of riches. How do riches deceive? They give the illusion of security; of success.

Success for the soil was to fulfill the purpose of the farmer: for the good seed to reproduce grain. Instead,
the thorns in this soil caused the plant to fail.

Here was a heart with divided loyalties. This would represent Jews - or anyone - consumed with worldly
concerns. But Jesus had shown that one must leave all, to follow Him. He had told the Jews that they
cannot serve God and Mammon; that they must not worry about their lives, but instead put the kingdom of
God first (Mat 6:19-34). If instead they put the world first, their worldliness choked out any possibility of
godliness - and Life.

Jesus had shown three soils - three hearts - none of which fulfilled the purpose of the farmer, to bring forth
a harvest of grain. Although the proportions are not literal, the idea is certainly that most of the Jews would
reject Him. It is exactly as He had told the disciples - seeing they do not see, hearing they do not hear. But
now Jesus comes to the blessed, who do see and hear.

v. 23 What is the idea of “good ground”? Are we speaking of good people? Not; the idea is soil that is
conducive to the taking in and the growth of the seed; men with receptive hearts, like the disciples.

This understanding is not to be interpreted as a purely intellectual grasp of truth; it is rather a taking to
heart; a penetration to the innermost being of spirit; and a responsive commitment of the life, to what is

We see that Jesus mentions various harvests of grain, obtained from the seed in this good soil - a
hundredfold, sixty, thirty. Some have supposed that the decreasing harvest reflects a decrease in believers,
over time, through the church age. But Mark has them in reverse order, so I don’t think we can make too
much of that (Mk 4:8).

On the other hand, I do think Jesus was intending to say that good ground can produce differing yields of
grain. Assuming Jesus was referring to how many grains each germinated seed reproduced, thirty-fold,
meaning 30 grains, would be the low side of normal. Sixty-fold, 60 grains, would be average. And one
hundred-fold - 100 grains - would be a very good harvest indeed.
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And what do these grains of wheat, represent? Jesus doesn’t specifically say. But when Jesus referred to
Himself as the grain of wheat, which must fall into the ground and die, to reproduce much grain, the much
grain referred to those who would believe in Him - to become sons of God (Jn 12:24).

And that is surely the meaning, here. The Word of Life germinates in the heart of a man, giving him eternal
life, and as the believer shares that Word with others, it takes root there, also giving him Life. This is how
God is obtaining a harvest of souls for His kingdom - the sons of God. So our response - and continued
responsiveness to Him - determines just how fruitful we will be.

Reading: Matthew 13:24-43; 2 Cor 11:1-4; Mat 25:31-46