Like Hidden Treasure
Passage: Matthew 13:44–52
Matthew’s Gospel is known to revolve around five blocks of teaching where Jesus explains the kingdom of heaven. Block one was the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus explains the fulfillment of the kingdom. Block two was chapter 10—expect opposition for preaching the kingdom.
Chapter 13 is block three, where we’ve been hearing several parables about the nature of the kingdom. It’s not what we’d expect, is it? Instead of immediate political takeover, the kingdom of heaven is more like the slow growth of a mustard seed, or the way leaven works through flour. From the outside, it might even appear like the kingdom is shot through with evil and our missionary efforts aren’t that effective. But in the end, Jesus’ parables reassure us that the kingdom will prevail.
Today, we’ll look at four more parables about the nature of the kingdom; and these last four parables compel us to act. Remember, not all respond to Jesus’ parables positively. There are some who harden their hearts against Jesus such that the kingdom remains hidden. But for those who respond to Jesus with humility, he opens their eyes to the kingdom. So, as we listen now to Jesus’ words, let’s be sure we’re hearing with a right disposition toward Jesus. He’s the King. Listen to his words, starting in verse 44…
44 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. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 Have you understood all these things?” They [i.e., the disciples] said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
The Meaning of the Kingdom
The kingdom of heaven—we keep hearing this phrase in Matthew. It appears four times in our passage. So, it’s worth pausing to make sure we remember what it means. Is it a specific place? Can you travel to this kingdom? Are we looking for castles? The assumption in Matthew is that we know some of what Jesus is talking about.
For starters, we know the kingdom of heaven fulfills Old Testament promise. Matthew starts his Gospel by explaining that Jesus is the long-awaited king in David’s line; and to understand the significance of that connection, we need to remember the bigger story. Numerous places in the Old Testament refer to God’s kingship. Psalm 29:10, “The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” Psalm 47:7, “God is king of all the earth.” In the beginning, Adam and Eve acknowledged God’s rule. God even created them to image his rule.[i] But when tempted to rule their own lives, Adam and Eve gave in; and sin entered the world.[ii] Since that day, the nations have rejected God’s rule (Ps 2:1).
Never does this mean God loses control as King. Quite the opposite. God proves his kingship by judging sin. God banishes humanity from his presence.[iii] God curses the world with disease and death.[iv] Confusion and chaos wreck our relationships.[v] God even promises to judge and exclude all evil from his creation one day.[vi]
But in this Old Testament story there’s also a complementary way God proves his kingship; and that’s by redemption. God aims to establish his heavenly rule on earth, to bring peace to the chaos, to heal all that’s broken, to replace the evil with good. A new reality on earth. But even more amazing—he’d also redeem a people to live in it. In mercy, he would save rebels and make them citizens of his new world.
Shadows of this kingdom exist throughout the Old Testament. But the ultimate kingdom hope was tied to only One who would reign on David’s throne forever. With this King would come wisdom and might—Isaiah 11:2. With this King would come righteousness—Isaiah 11:4. With this King would also come a divine reversal of the curse. Isaiah 35:6 anticipates the lame leaping like the deer. To encounter this King would be to encounter the rule of God making all things right. That’s the promise.
Matthew begins his Gospel with a big red arrow that says, “Jesus is the son of David.” In Jesus, the hopes bound up with God’s kingdom start to unfold. That’s why Jesus starts his ministry, how? Preaching the good news of the kingdom.[vii] Then he starts healing people, casting out demons, and raising the dead to prove that his kingdom restores all that sin has ruined. Jesus can say things like he does in 12:27—“the kingdom of God has come upon you”—because the King has truly arrived.[viii]
Now, as Matthew’s Gospel rolls on, there’s more to learn about this kingdom and the nature of its coming. It doesn’t come all at once. It comes in stages—there’s an already-not-yet aspect to it. Jesus also doesn’t establish the kingdom through immediate, military power. He rejects that temptation by Satan in chapter 4, because the rest of the story will show he intends to win the nations by a cross. The kingdom of heaven is entered only through a relationship with Jesus, who gives his life as a ransom for many.
That’s the backdrop to this phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” It’s not a realm we go to yet. But it is a rule you can see. The kingdom of heaven refers to God’s rule manifesting itself in Jesus Christ and the people who follow him. It comes in stages, slowly like the mustard seed growing into a large tree. We will see its final fullness when Jesus returns—Matthew 24. But put simply, the kingdom of heaven is God’s rule manifesting itself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Now, with that in mind, let’s consider a few more things Jesus wants us to see about this kingdom.
The Value of the Kingdom
First in our passage is the value of the kingdom. Listen again to verses 44-46, “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.”
Two parables, making the same point. Notice several similarities. In both, Jesus depicts the kingdom as something hidden—the treasure is hidden; the pearl of great value must be searched for. This matches what Jesus said earlier about the parables concealing things from those unwilling to hear. It’s not hidden in the sense that God keeps things too mysterious. It’s also not hidden in the sense that it’s without visible evidence—Jesus had done plenty of miracles to prove the kingdom.
Rather, it’s hidden in that the kingdom is contrary to the way we often think. Normally, the rich and powerful run kingdoms. But Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). Normally, greatness means putting others down, lording your position over them. But Jesus says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:28). That’s upside-down from the way we often think.
His kingdom is also inside-out. The Pharisees observe the law externally but neglect the heart (Matt 5:20). They claim to keep the ritual of Sabbath, but they have no desire for mercy (Matt 12:7). So, it’s hidden from people in that sense. It’s not something we expect in the pride of our darkened hearts.
But when Jesus changes your heart, when Jesus opens your eyes to see the kingdom, it’s then that you discover its true value. You become like the man who discovers a great treasure that fills you with joy. It’s a great joy that leads him to sell everything he has. You suddenly become like the merchant who finds one pearl of great value. How many pearls did this guy already own? Yet it’s this one pearl that, even if all the others were combined—this one surpasses them in value.
That’s what finding the kingdom is like. By grace, you begin to see its beauty and worth such that you give everything to have it. Both parables stress that the kingdom is of such great value, the characters joyfully sell everything they own to gain the treasure, to buy the pearl. The point isn’t buying your way into the kingdom; but that those to whom the kingdom is given find it to be of surpassing value. Their joy is so full in what they’ve obtained in Jesus, that it’s worth giving everything for.
You may have also noticed that the man in the first parable seems to stumble upon the treasure, whereas the man in the second parable is on a quest. He’s searching diligently. Perhaps this is to point out how the kingdom encounters people of all kinds. God isn’t bound to save only the seeker-type. By sovereign grace, he’ll save whom he pleases. So, you might have a man like Cornelius in Acts 10, seeking to know this God of Israel, and you might have the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 who’s just doing his job one day as a guard and suddenly confronted with the gospel.
But whatever one’s situation, the point is that once you see the kingdom, your joy in the kingdom compels you to great sacrifice for the kingdom. Think of Paul in Philippians 3:8—“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Or think of the Christians in Hebrews 10:34. “You endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” Why? “Since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Joy in the kingdom motivates great sacrifice for the kingdom.
One of our practices as a church is to welcome new members after hearing how the Lord saved them. We come to members meetings and listen to folks testify about finding this very joy. Different stories, different backgrounds, different sins, but all share in the same joy of finding Jesus and belonging to his kingdom. That’s where the Christian life begins—with joy over the incredible worth of knowing Jesus.
That’s why we sing. That’s why we gather weekly to take the Lord’s Supper. That’s why there’s laughter at the table when we show hospitality, and why there’s hope when loved ones die in the Lord. Christianity isn’t first about loss, but about the joy you gain in Christ. He is the treasure that surpasses all others. That’s why we can be Christians for decades and it never gets old talking about Jesus, hearing about him. Pray that you would have such joy. Pray that such joy would characterize our church.
What about you? What is the kingdom worth to you? Are you seeing the kingdom of heaven this way, as the treasure worth giving everything for? Do you know this joy? Christianity begins here and it continues there. Jesus isn’t just another teacher among others that excites us. His kingdom isn’t just another thing we do among other rituals. He’s the treasure that beats all others combined.
He’s infinite in perfection, without need and in himself all-sufficient. He dwells in unapproachable light, immutable, immense, eternal, Almighty, most pure, most holy, most wise, most sovereign, for whom and by whom all things exist. He is abundant in goodness and truth, just, loving, gracious, merciful, and for our sake he took on flesh to live the righteous life we couldn’t, die for the penalty we deserved, rise to conquer sin, death, and the devil, and bring us into God’s presence forever where joy abounds and peace reigns and glory will restore all things. There’s no one else like Jesus.
The treasure we gain in knowing Jesus leads us to follow Jesus at all costs. Is there anything interfering with you having the kingdom? Anything that you’re unwilling to part with to gain more of Christ? Jesus points us here to the incalculable value of the kingdom of heaven. There are days when the sacrifices you make—you can start feeling like, “Why am I doing this? Is it worth it?” And Jesus’ parable reminds you of the great privilege we have, the great treasure we gain, that far outweighs any sacrifice we’ll make.
The Finality of the Kingdom
Something else Jesus wants us to see: the finality of the kingdom. Verse 47, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This is much like the parable of the weeds back in verses 36-43, where Jesus explains how his kingdom doesn’t come all at once. Some in Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to come and bring the end swiftly. But Jesus’ point there was to say, that’s not quite right. For a time, both the evil and the good will exist together in the world. That same point is made briefly here. The net has already gone down into the water. And for a while both the bad and the good will remain. But once the net is drawn up—once the end of the age has come—then God will sort things out. Stated differently, the inbreaking of God’s kingdom determines final destinies.
The parable of the weeds mentioned the righteous shining like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. But the parable of the net focuses on the wicked. The angels will throw them into the “fiery furnace.” Now, “fiery furnace” is but one of many images the Bible uses to describe eternal punishment. We need to be careful with how literally we take these images. After all, elsewhere it’s called “the lake of fire.” Is it a lake or a furnace? It’s also called “outer darkness.” How’s it dark if there’s fire?
These are symbols, which doesn’t mean they’re less than what they’re pointing to. The symbols only scratch the surface of the awful punishment. This one, “the fiery furnace” seems to recall God’s punishment on Sodom where “the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.” It’s a punishment of final and irreversible ruin.
The only ones who escape are “the righteous.” The righteous is a title given to those who belong to Jesus, who speak on behalf of Jesus (Matt 10:41). God is their Father, according to verse 43. Apart from God’s grace, there is no one who’s righteous. No not one, Romans 3 reminds us. But for all who belong to Jesus, they become his righteous ones. His cross sets them free from their sins. Jesus is now their master. Having been made right with God, they are now committed to righteous things.
This whole situation is crucial for Jesus’ disciples to know. For one, Jesus already mentioned how there’d be wolves in sheep’s clothing—7:15. This parable clarifies that God isn’t duped by pretenders. He will have the final sorting out. Also, considering the anticipated persecution by religious leaders, the disciples need reassurance that evil will not prevail. God will have the final say. There’s no need to panic when the synagogue starts throwing Jesus’ followers into prison. Evil doers will not have the final word. God will. The Lord will deal justly with the wicked.
But this also becomes a sobering reminder for all of us. There’s great joy in the kingdom—that’s what the other two parables touched on. But there’s also a great seriousness about it. The kingdom of heaven decides eternal destinies, and that kingdom growth has already begun in the world. The great net is sweeping through the waters right now. Question is, are you ready for that day? Will you be found among the righteous? J. C. Ryle once said, “Happy is that man who does not leave these things uncertain, but never rests till he has the witness of the Spirit within him that he is a child of God.”
Brothers and sisters, knowing the judgment to come should alert all of us to the seriousness of sin. It should make us careful to follow God’s word, to be watchful and alert to Satan’s schemes. We should think soberly about how we do church, how we interact with our neighbors and coworkers. Do you sense the kingdom’s finality? Does that finality make you more concerned for each other as you fight sin and laziness? How does it shape your prayers for the lost or your evangelism efforts? Does it put more fervency behind helping a fellow church member persevere? Let’s pray that all of us sense the finality of God’s kingdom and live accordingly.
The Disciples of the Kingdom
Lastly, Jesus wants us to see the disciples of the kingdom. Verse 51—Jesus asks his disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” He’s speaking about the parables. In verse 13 he said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Many people didn’t understand, because of their hardness of heart.
But we also learn of a great work of grace in the disciples. “To you,” he says, “it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” God has changed their hearts such that they receive the teachings of Jesus. By grace, his teaching gives them understanding. So he asks, “Have you understood all these things?” The disciples say, “Yes!”—which you’ve got to love about the disciples. Such confidence—and they’re still going to get some things wrong very soon. Yet even with all their weaknesses, even in the things they don’t yet fully understand, Jesus accepts them.
He even makes them his messengers. He says in verse 52, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” It’s amazing that Jesus uses the word, “scribe.” Elsewhere that refers to the religious authorities in Israel. What’s Jesus implying? That those who truly understand God’s kingdom are Jesus’ disciples, those who learn from Jesus. Jesus has trained them for the kingdom of heaven.
He makes them like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. The picture is that of a generous landowner. From his wealth he meets the needs of others. By teaching on the kingdom, Jesus is saying that he’s loaded up the disciples with all kinds of treasure. The truth of his kingdom has made them wealthy; and they’re now able to serve others from that treasure.
But the treasure he speaks of here isn’t material resources. It’s not lands and houses and money; it’s Jesus himself as he’s been revealed in the Scriptures of old and in God’s new work of fulfillment. That’s how I take “what is new and what is old.” I think it matches the broader teaching of Jesus that started with him saying, “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets [i.e., what is old], but I have come to fulfill them [i.e., what is new].” It’s similar to the new and old wineskins from 9:17—“new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both [i.e., the new and old] are preserved.”
When the disciples learn about the kingdom from Jesus, they begin to see how the old and new eras in God’s plan fit together and inform one another. Friends, your New Testament makes up but one-third of your Bible. If you’re going to make sense of Jesus and his kingdom, you need to know the first two-thirds very well. We confess that Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. He also rose in accordance with the Scriptures. You can’t make sense of Jesus and what his death means without the ongoing witness of the Scriptures of old.
At the same time, to read the Scriptures of old without God’s final self-revelation in Jesus will also lead to great error. That’s what many of the Pharisees were doing. They read the Law as an end in itself—not seeing its temporal purpose until the coming of Christ or how it all pointed to Christ. But as the old saying goes, the New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed; and the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed. God’s revelation in Jesus has opened to us a wealth of understanding to his saving purposes. Jesus’ kingdom is where everything was heading all along.
Jesus defeats the Serpent as the woman’s promised seed. Jesus saves humanity as the new and greater Adam. Jesus fulfills God’s promises to Abraham to bless all nations. Jesus delivers us from bondage to sin like God freed Israel from slavery. Jesus meets the Law’s demands as Israel’s faithful representative. Jesus brings all the sacrifices and priestly duties to their appointed end. Jesus ascended to David’s throne as supreme messianic King. Jesus pours out his Spirit to gather the nations he died for. Jesus is the center and goal of God’s great story.
By listening to Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom, disciples of Jesus become rich with a knowledge of God’s saving plan. I’m so thankful that our church is full of people committed to the whole of Scripture. Men and women alike are learning how to see Jesus in the Old Testament. As disciples, many of you have become like this master of the house. You’ve gained much treasure from Jesus’ teaching.
But are you bringing it out for others? Are there ways you’re helping others to understand what is new and what is old? Across the New Testament is a steady pattern of disciples of Jesus making more disciples of Jesus. Elders teaching the church, faithful men teaching faithful men, older women teaching younger women, husbands teaching wives, parents teaching children, individuals teaching each other—the steady pattern is that we’re all teaching others from the rich treasure Jesus has given us.
What about you? Are you drawing from this treasure to teach others? Perhaps you’re here today, and you don’t really know how. If that’s you, and you’re a woman, don’t hesitate to join the ladies Bible study on Monday nights. If Monday doesn’t work, make that need known in care group or find another woman skilled in the word. If you’re a man, come see me. I’m about to start another Shepherd’s Group this fall. Men’s Bible study will start again very soon on Tuesdays. There’s also a wealth of resources in the church library we can point you to. If you’re part of this church and you’ve been walking with Jesus a long while and learning how the Scriptures fit together, don’t hesitate to take someone else beneath your wing and teach them.
All of us need to pray for such activities to increase among us. Pray that the Lord will help us take the riches of his kingdom and train others. Pray that as we train others, it won’t become mere information transfer. Pray that it won’t become a point of pride and becoming puffed up with what we know. Pray that the Lord will use it to open our eyes further to the joy of his kingdom. If there’s one thing others say of our church, may it be this: they helped me see and treasure Jesus. He is the infinitely valuable one.
[i] Gen 1:26-31; Ps 8.
[ii] Gen 3:1-7; Rom 5:12ff.
[iii] Gen 3:22-24.
[iv] Gen 3:17-19; Rom 8:20-21.
[v] Rom 1:18-32; Tit 3:3; Jas 4:1-2.
[vi] Rev 20:11-15; 21:8.
[vii] Luke 4:38; 8:1; 9:11.
[viii] Luke 10:9, 11; 17:20-21.