1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.
2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them.
4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.
5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’
7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’
9 The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’
10 When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.
11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’
12 But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’
13 Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.”
Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with his disciples, responding to their questions about the future destruction of the Temple and the end of the age. Just before this, in Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces woes on the Jewish leaders for their hypocrisy. Then, leaving the Temple and crossing over the Kidron Valley, He tells His disciples that the Temple, a glistening monument to Jewish nationalism (but a stale house of worship where He was rejected as Messiah), would soon be demolished. Shocked by this prediction, His disciples ask him in Matt. 24:3, “When will these things happen (the destruction of the Temple)? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus responds in the rest of Matthew 24-25 in what is known as the Olivet Discourse. The parable of the 10 virgins comes in the middle of this message.
The central theme of this parable is that people should stay alert and be prepared for the return of Christ.
The central character in this parable is the bridegroom, or Christ, who is delayed in his coming for the bride, the church. Scripture often refers to the church as the bride and Christ as the bridegroom (Matt. 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29). Believers are “espoused” or “betrothed” to Jesus, who promises He will come one day and take them to His Father’s house (John 14:1-3).
An understanding of the Jewish wedding custom is helpful in navigating this parable. In Jesus’ day, if a young man has acquired sufficient means to provide a marriage dowry – or payment for a bride – then his parents select a girl for him, call in a “friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29) to represent them and begin negotiations with the bride’s father, who also selects a representative. If consent is given for the bride to be married, and if there is agreement on the amount to be paid, congratulations are exchanged, coffee is brought out and everyone drinks as a seal of the marriage covenant. Later, the families of the bride and groom meet. The young man gives the young woman a gold ring, some article of value, or simply a document in which he promises to marry her, saying, “See by this ring (or this token) thou art set apart for me, according to the law of Moses and of Israel.” The young man then leaves his bride-to-be, promising to return once he has prepared a place for her.
He then returns to his father’s home and, under his father’s supervision, prepares a wedding chamber for his bride. The period of betrothal normally lasts a year or more and may only be broken by obtaining a bill of divorcement. While the bridegroom works on the wedding chamber, the bride prepares herself for the wedding and remains chaste – covering her face with a veil in public to show she is pledged to be married.
At last, the father gives word to his son that all is ready and the night of the wedding arrives. The groom dresses as much like a king as possible. If he is wealthy enough, he wears a gold crown; otherwise, it is a garland of fresh flowers. The bride, meanwhile, goes through an elaborate and costly adorning. Every effort is made to make her complexion glossy and shining like marble. Her dark locks of hair are braided with gold and pearls, and she is decked with all the precious stones and jewels her family has inherited from previous generations.
The groom sets out from his father’s house to the home of the bride in a night-time procession attended by wedding guests bearing torches. The bride steps out to meet him, receives the blessing of her relatives, and then proceeds across town with the groom to his father’s home. A grand procession follows them. The invited guests who did not go to the bride’s home are allowed to join the march along the way, and go with the whole group to the marriage feast. Since the streets are dark, the guests need a torch or lamp, without which they may not join the procession or enter the feast.
There are demonstrations of joy all along the route. Family members hand out ears of parched grain to the children, musical instruments are played, and there is dancing and shouts of “Behold, the bridegroom comes!” At last they reach the home of the bridegroom’s father, where the specially built wedding chamber is prepared. Together they enter the suite and shut the door, and for seven days they stay inside, alone. Meanwhile, a seven-day celebration breaks out. At the end of the seven days, the bride and groom emerge, leave the father’s house and set out to establish their own home.
This is the context in which Jesus’ disciples hear the parable, so the truths about the bridegroom going away, preparing a place and returning are well-known, as are the elements of delay and surprise. This parable clearly is a teaching that Jesus, after His suffering, death and resurrection, would return to His Father, prepare a place in heaven for believers, and then call His bride to meet Him in the air in an event known as the rapture (1 Cor. 15:50-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The seven-day honeymoon perhaps depicts the seven years the church is in heaven while the tribulation takes place on earth. And the leaving of the father’s house after the honeymoon may picture the glorious appearing of Christ when He returns to earth with the saints, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling the earth with His bride.
It is interesting to note that the bride is not mentioned in this parable. While Scripture often refers to Christ’s church as His bride, the focus in this parable is on the bridegroom and the virgins, or attendants. It is not necessary for believers to be represented as both bride and bridal attendants, or this would present difficulties Jesus did not intend. Remember that His parables generally illustrate one key spiritual truth – and this parable warns all those who profess Christianity to make sure they are ready for Christ’s return.
Therefore, let’s see the virgins as professors of the faith, those who claim to know the Bridegroom and await His coming. Some are “wise” and some are “foolish” – not good and bad. There is at least a degree of goodwill, and good intentions, in the foolish as well as in the wise. The difference is in the depth of their commitment, which is evident by their readiness for the Bridegroom’s coming.
The wise virgins are those who truly know Christ and are known by Him. They understand that His coming may be delayed, so they are prepared with an abundance of oil, “that inward reality of grace which alone will stand when He appears whose eyes are as a flame of fire” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary). They may not be excused for slumbering while the Bridegroom tarries – even Christ’s closest followers could not stay awake one hour while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane – yet they persevere and are allowed into the marriage feast.
The foolish virgins are those who profess to know Christ but lack a genuine relationship with Him. They carry their lamps – an outward profession of their faith in the Messiah – but they lack the reserve of oil that is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. When the Bridegroom comes, their lamps are dark.
The supply of oil may be seen as that inward grace of Christ that has enduring character. Whereas God’s grace is given to all in a general sense, only those who have entered into a relationship with Him receive His Spirit Who, like the oil of the wise, is abundant and sufficient.
Nothing should be made of the fact that there are 10 virgins, other than that Jews would not hold synagogue, a wedding or another ceremony without at least 10 witnesses. The fact that five of the virgins are wise and five are foolish should not be taken to mean that half of all professing Christians are lost. There is folly in reading too much into the details of Christ’s parables.
All 10 of the virgins “slumbered and slept.” The word “slumbered” signifies “nodding off” or “becoming drowsy.” The word “slept” is the usual word for lying down to sleep. This denotes two states of spiritual stupor – first, “that half-involuntary lethargy or drowsiness which is apt to steal over one who falls into inactivity; and then a conscious, deliberate yielding to it, after a little vain resistance” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).
The lamps are of two general kinds. The first consists of rags wrapped around one end of a wooden pole and dipped in oil. The second, and most likely, consists of a “round receptacle for pitch or oil for the wick. This was placed in a hollow cup or deep saucer … which was fastened by a pointed end into a long wooden pole, on which it was born a loft” (Dr. Alfred Edersheim, quoted in Manners and Customs of Bible Lands).
When the bridegroom comes at last, the foolish virgins need oil, for their lamps are going out, and so they ask the wise for oil. The response of the wise is important in two respects. First, they deny the request for oil – not out of selfishness or a judgmental nature, but because all 10 virgins would be undone. Salvation is not to be acquired from believers but from God. Second, the wise virgins tell the foolish to buy their own reserve of oil. This does not imply that salvation may be purchased, only that the foolish need to acquire salvation the same way the wise did.
When the bridegroom comes, the wise are ready. They join the wedding procession with their blazing lamps and are welcomed in. The foolish come too late, after the door has been shut, and are excluded from the wedding feast. Today, believers and unbelievers populate the visible church; in a day to come, God will separate those who merely profess to know Christ from those who truly do.
There is no improving on the words of Jesus, “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” when the Bridegroom will come (Matt. 25:13).
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
2 After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.
4 To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went.
5 About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing.
6 Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’
7 ‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him. ‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them.
8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’
9 When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius.
10 So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each.
11 When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner:
12 ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!’
13 He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius?
14 Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you.
15 ’Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’
16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Jesus is with His 12 disciples, who have just witnessed His dealings with the rich young ruler and have heard His teaching that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Startled, the disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus responds, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter points out that he and his fellow disciples have left everything to follow Jesus. “So what will there be for us?” he asks. Jesus assures Peter that everyone who has sacrificed for His name will be well compensated in the age to come. Jesus then closes out Matthew 19 by saying, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 30), a phrase repeated in the parable that follows and gives us a key to understanding its meaning.
The central theme of this parable is that all believers receive the complete reward of the kingdom. Commentaries suggest at least four possible interpretations:
- This is a parable about the Gentiles, who will enjoy the privileges of the new covenant, while the Jews, because of their rejection of the Messiah, will be set aside.
- This is a parable about God’s call to individual lives. The call early in the morning is for children; the call around nine is for youth; the call at noon is for adults; the call at three is for the aged; and the evening call is when sickness or other infirmities press hard on one’s life.
- This is a parable about the preaching of the gospel. The morning call is the preaching of John the Baptist; the second call is the preaching of Jesus; the third, the preaching of the fullness of the gospel after the ascension of Christ; the fourth, the mission of the apostles to the Jews; and the last call, the gospel presentation to the Gentiles.
- This is a parable about humble Christian service. The followers of Christ should labor in His vineyard, the church, fully confident they will receive their reward in heaven (see Matt. 5:12, 6:1; Luke 6:23). They need not be concerned that some have come into the kingdom before them, or after them, or that their length of service or degree of giftedness is different from theirs.
The fourth interpretation of this parable seems to be the most faithful to the context. Consider what commentator Albert Barnes wrote in the early 1800s in Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament:
To all justice shall be done. To all to whom the rewards of heaven were promised, they shall be given. Nothing shall be withheld that was promised. If among this number who are called into the kingdom I (God) choose to raise some to stations of distinguished usefulness, and to confer on them peculiar talents and higher rewards, I injure no other one. They shall enter heaven as was promised. If amidst the multitude of Christians, I choose to signalize such men as Paul, and Martyn, and Brainerd, and Spencer, and Summerfield – to appoint some of them to short labour, but to wide usefulness, and raise them to signal rewards – I injure not the great multitude of others who live long lives less useful, and less rewarded. All shall reach heaven, and all shall receive what I promise to the faithful.
Regarding Jesus’ summary words, “So the last will be first, and the first last,” F.F. Bruce comments, “What is the point of the saying in this context? It seems to be directed to the disciples and perhaps the point is that those who have given up most to follow Jesus must not suppose that the chief place in the kingdom of God is thereby granted to them” (The Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 199).
Herbert Lockyer adds, in All the Parables of the Bible, “As laborers may we ever remember that motive gives character to service, and that acceptable service is determined, not by duration, but by its spirit.”
The central character in this parable is the landowner, a picture of Jesus who is Creator of all things (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16), sovereign Lord over His creation, and the One to whom all judgment has been given (John 5:22). He actively and graciously seeks laborers for His vineyard, rewarding them justly for their work.
In the immediate context, the laborers are Christ’s disciples, who are among the first to labor in Christ’s vineyard. The workers who come along later symbolize others – Jews and Gentiles – who will receive Christ and serve Him throughout the church age. Matthew Henry comments, “God hires laborers, not because he needs them or their services … but as some charitable generous householders keep poor men to work, in kindness to them, to save them from idleness and poverty, and pay them for working for themselves” (Matthew Henry Unabridged).
The denarius is the customary wage of a solider or a day laborer. The word is rendered “penny” in the King James Version.
The vineyard may be seen as the kingdom of heaven, into which people of all walks of life are called. Some would say the vineyard is the church, which requires constant pruning and care.
The marketplace may be seen as the world. The soul of man stands ready to be hired, for God made us to work. The devil seeks to hire people to waste their inheritance and feed swine, while the Lord calls them to dress His vineyard. We are put to the choice, for we must choose whom we will serve (Josh. 24:15).
It’s important to note that some manuscripts add, “… for many are called, but few are chosen” to verse 16. Albert Barnes comments in Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament:
The meaning of this, in this connexion [sic], I take to be simply this: “Many are called into my kingdom; they come and labour as I command them; they are comparatively unknown and obscure; yet they are real Christians, and shall receive the proper reward. A few I have chosen for higher stations in the church. I have endowed them with apostolic gifts, or superior talents, or wider usefulness. They may not be so long in the vineyard; their race may be sooner run; but I have chosen to honour them in this manner; and I have a right to do it. I injure no one; and have a right to do what I will with mine own.”
As grateful laborers in Christ’s vineyard, all believers should be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us, confident that we will receive our promised reward. At the same time, we should not be envious of those who may overtake us in length or fruitfulness of service.
24 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left.
26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared.
27 The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this!’ he told them. “ ‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up?’ the slaves asked him.
29 “‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn. ’”
Jesus Interprets the Wheat and the Weeds
36 Then He dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached Him and said, “Explain the parable of the weeds in the field to us.”
37 He replied: “The One who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
38 the field is the world; and the good seed—these are the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and
39 the enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 Therefore just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.
41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness.
42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!”
Jesus continues teaching the crowds from His boat at the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. He has just explained the parable of the sower to His disciples, as well as why He is teaching the mysteries of the kingdom in parables (see chapters 2 and 3). Now, without further delay, Matthew records that Jesus “presented another parable to them” (v. 24). As with the parable of the sower, Jesus later explains the parable of the wheat and tares to His disciples.
Keep in mind what Jesus has said in Matt. 12:28. It is crucial in setting the stage for Jesus’ parables in chapter 13: “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” Jesus declares that the long-awaited kingdom of heaven has come – but not in the way the Jewish leaders were expecting. Rather than as a political and military machine, the kingdom has come quietly and with great spiritual power, invading Satan’s kingdom and binding him (the “strong man” of Matt. 12:29) so that He may plunder the evil one’s kingdom.
The scribes and Pharisees will have none of this teaching and reject the King and His Kingdom. So in chapter 13, as Jesus leaves Peter’s house and sits beside the sea, multitudes gather around Him, having witnessed His miracles and having heard His declaration that the kingdom of heaven has come. Jesus gets into a boat – perhaps Peter’s boat or a boat made available for Jesus’ use whenever He needed it – and begins a series of eight parables on the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the wheat and tares is the second of these parables.
The central theme of this parable is that God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom will exist side-by-side during this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Contrary to the Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be a conquering political king, Jesus comes the first time as the Suffering Servant to invade Satan’s kingdom and rescue His own out of it (Col. 1:13). This is the “mystery” of the kingdom. The day will come when Jesus “abolishes all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24), but that day is future. For now, believers and unbelievers will live together – in many cases indistinguishable from one another – until the resurrection and judgment.
The “good seed” are believers and the “weeds” or “tares” are unbelievers – more specifically, unbelievers who are “holding to the form of religion but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Manners and Customs of Bible Lands gives us a clearer image of these false professors of the faith by describing the nature of tares:
In the Holy Land, tares are something called ‘wild wheat,’ because they resemble wheat, only the grains are black. Thomson has this to say about the tares:
“The Arabic name for tares is zawan, and they abound all over the East, and are a great nuisance to the farmer. The grain is small, and is arranged along the upper part of the stalk, which stands perfectly erect. Its taste is bitter, and when eaten separately, or when diffused in ordinary bread, it causes dizziness, and often acts as an emetic. In short, it is a strong soporific poison, and must be carefully winnowed, and picked out of the wheat, grain by grain, before grinding, or the flour is not healthy. Of course the farmers are very anxious to exterminate it, but that is nearly impossible.”
Interestingly, Satan’s deception is so great that even the tares suppose themselves to be children of the kingdom (Matt. 7:21-23).
Jesus describes Himself (the Son of Man) as the sower. Apart from Him, there is no everlasting life. And like the sower in His preceding parable (Matt. 13:1-9), Jesus determined that the gospel of the kingdom would be spread broadly, taking root across all racial and ethnic lines (Rev. 5:9-10). That’s why the “good seed,” or believers, would not just be restricted to the nation of Israel.
“The field” is the world, the mass of humanity stretched across the globe. God has placed believers everywhere.
“The enemy” is Satan, who craftily plants his counterfeit Christians wherever believers spring up. He does so “while people are sleeping,” a warning to the church to be ever vigilant against false teachers who, Paul says, are “savage wolves” bent on destroying the flock (Acts 20:29-31).
“The harvest” is the end of the age – this present evil age (Gal. 1:4) – at which time God will separate true believers from false ones.
“The harvesters” are God’s angels, who assist Him in resurrection and judgment (Matt. 24:30-31).
The day is coming, says Jesus, when there will be a harvest and a gathering – resurrection and judgment in which He will separate believers from nonbelievers (John 5:28-29). Just as the tares are gathered and burned, those who have rejected Christ will receive the same judgment pronounced on Satan: everlasting separation from God in hell (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10-15).
Believers, however, will receive glorified bodies similar to Christ’s resurrected body, be rewarded for their faithfulness and spend eternity with Him (John 14:1-3; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 21:1-8).
While eagerly anticipating that day, believers should be diligent to “confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10) and to be on guard against false professors of the faith who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15).
1 On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea.
2 Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore.
3 Then He told them many things in parables, saying: “Consider the sower who went out to sow.
4 As he was sowing, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up.
5 Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep.
6 But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered.
7 Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them.
8 Still others fell on good ground, and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times [what was sown].
9 Anyone who has ears should listen!”
18 “You, then, listen to the parable of the sower:
19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path.
20 And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy.
21 Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles.
22 Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
23 But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times [what was sown].”
(This parable also is found in Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 and in Luke 8:4-8, 11-15.)
Jesus probably is staying with Peter at his home in Capernaum. He has just tussled with the scribes and Pharisees who accused him of eating “unlawfully” and of healing on the Sabbath. He has foiled a plot by the Pharisees to kill Him. He has cast a demon out of a man and then answered the Pharisees’ accusation that He is casting out demons by Satan’s power. He has rebuked the Pharisees for demanding a sign that He is the Christ. And he has denied his own family’s request to see Him by declaring that His family consists of all who believe in Him. Now, in chapter 13, the Scripture says in verse one, “On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea [of Galilee].”
It is significant that in chapter 12 Jesus shows clear evidence He is the Messiah and that His kingdom has invaded Satan’s kingdom:
- He declares Himself greater than the Temple and is indeed “Lord of the Sabbath.”
- He casts out demons and heals the sick.
- He foretells His death, burial and resurrection as the one sure sign He is the Son of God.
- He rebukes the Jews of His generation for their wickedness and foretells their judgment (which falls in 70 A.D.).
- And He declares that His true family is not earthly but heavenly, not of flesh and blood but of spirit.
Matt. 12:28 is crucial in setting the stage for Jesus’ parables in chapter 13: “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” Jesus declares that the long-awaited kingdom of heaven has come – but not in the way the Jewish leaders were expecting. Rather than as a political and military machine, the kingdom has come quietly and with great spiritual power, invading Satan’s kingdom and binding him (the “strong man” of Matt. 12:29) so that He may plunder the evil one’s kingdom.
The scribes and Pharisees will have none of this teaching and reject the King and His kingdom. So in chapter 13, as Jesus leaves Peter’s house and sits beside the sea, multitudes gather around Him, having witnessed His miracles and having heard His declaration that the kingdom of heaven has come. So Jesus gets into a boat – perhaps Peter’s boat or a boat made available for Jesus’ use whenever He needed it – and begins a series of eight parables on the kingdom of heaven. In this first parable – the parable of the sower – it is possible that farmers on the hillsides along the sea were in their fields sowing seed, with the ever-present birds hovering in the air above them.
The central theme of this parable is that the kingdom of heaven has come among men and yet men can reject it. As George Eldon Ladd writes, “The mystery of the Kingdom is this: The Kingdom of God is here but not with irresistible power. The Kingdom of God has come, but it is not like a stone grinding an image to powder. It is not now destroying wickedness. On the contrary, it is like a man sowing seed. It does not force itself upon men…. This was a staggering thing to one who knew only the Old Testament…. One day God will indeed manifest His mighty power to purge the earth of wickedness, sin and evil; but not now. God’s Kingdom is working among men, but God will not compel them to bow before it. They must receive it; the response must come from a willing heart and a submissive will” (The Gospel of the Kingdom, pp. 56-57).
Christ no doubt is the sower, but in a sense every believer who shares the gospel is a sower as well. In Jesus’ day, farmers walked through their fields scattering seed by hand broadly across their property, knowing that a high percentage of the seed would not bear fruit. Normally, another member of the family would follow the sower closely and plow the seed under. But many of the seeds were eaten by birds as they fell on footpaths; others landed in shallow soil with a stratum of rock beneath; and others fell at the fringes of the property among thorn bushes that the farmers used to build small cooking fires. Still, the seed is broadcast widely, and some seed finds the good soil, thus raising up a crop.
Jesus interprets the parable for His disciples:
- The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11) – the good news that the kingdom has come in the Person of Jesus the Messiah and that all may enter into the kingdom by faith in Him, the Word (Logos, John 1:1).
- The birds represent Satan, who “takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).
- The seed along the path stands for the impact of the word on hearers who do not understand. Their hearts are hardened like the footpaths winding through ancient wheat fields. They cannot believe because they will not believe, much like the Jewish leaders Jesus described in Matt. 13:12-15.
- The seed on the rocky ground represents the impact of the word on shallow, uncommitted hearers. They may have an emotional response to the gospel but walk away when the reality of kingdom living – which may include pressure or persecution – sets in. Jesus’ followers who left him in John 6:66 are examples of those who loved Jesus’ miracles but balked at the call to discipleship.
- The seed among the thorns illustrates the impact of the word on worldly hearers. Though understanding the gospel of the kingdom, they prefer the “worries, riches, and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). The rich young ruler who encountered Jesus falls into this category of hearers (Luke 18:18-23).
- The seed in the good ground represents the impact of the word on those who, “having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit” (Luke 8:15) – “some 100, some 60, some 30 times [what was sown]” (Matt. 13:23).
In Jesus’ day, farmers sowed widely across their fields, knowing that perhaps one in three seeds would grow to maturity. As believers, we are to sow the gospel of the kingdom widely and indiscriminately, trusting God to grant the harvest.
Regarding the kingdom, Jesus’ parable of the sower is a clear message that His kingdom would not at this time come in power and great glory; instead, it would reside in the hearts of willing believers and be resisted by many. This is not what the Jews were expecting, and many rejected Jesus and His call to the kingdom because He is not the political and military leader they are seeking. At the same time, Satan, whose kingdom Jesus has invaded, will hover watchfully and snatch the gospel away from those whose hearts are hardened against it, lest, person by person, he lose power as “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4).
What is the kingdom of heaven? Is the kingdom here already, or are we to wait for it? Why did Jesus use parables to describe it? Who’s in the kingdom and who’s not? Why are some cast out of the kingdom? And what can we learn from Jesus’ stories of mustard seeds, pearls and bridesmaids? The Kingdom According to Jesus by Rob Phillips explores these questions in a simple and compelling way that encourages readers to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33).