top of page
  • EmmanuelWhiteOak

The Kingdom of Heaven

July 30, 2023 |The Kingdom of Heaven|Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

JD Cutler

Have you ever been trying to explain something to someone, a friend, a co-worker, one of your kids, and used the words, It’s like…

Comparing one thing to another for the sake of understanding or explaining something better.

We do this all the time, don’t we?

Parents, think about how you would finish this sentence.

Parenting is like…

I searched for some common answers to that question and here are a few that I found.

"Parenting is like trying to stand up in a hammock and not spill your lemonade”

“Parenting is like being in a bar: everyone's yelling, everything's sticky, it's the same music over and over again and occasionally someone throws up

“Parenting is like continually having to clean up after a party you didn’t attend.”

“Parenting is like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire and you're on fire and everything is on fire.”

“Parenting is like a walk in the park…if the park is Jurassic Park and the power is out.”

“(Parenting) Raising and caring for children is…like tending a garden: it involves ‘a lot of exhausted digging and wallowing in manure’ to create a safe, nurturing space in which innovation, adaptability and resilience can thrive."

All of these seek to convey something about parenting by comparing it to something else. That’s not so different from what we have been looking at the last couple of weeks in Matthew 13.

For the last couple of weeks we have been looking at Jesus’ use of parables. These short stories, designed to communicate deeper truths to those who want to understand.

It is interesting that the way Jesus introduces parables changes from parable to parable.

For instance, in the parable of the sower, he simply starts telling a story about a sower.

It isn’t until the disciples ask that we find out that it represents the proclamation of the kingdom and its reception by various types of people.

In the parable of the wheats and tares that we looked at last week, Jesus begins with, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…”

That is to say, the following parable can be set beside the kingdom of God and we can learn about the kingdom by understanding the parable, indeed in his explanation, Jesus does just that.

The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed is the sons of the kingdom, etc….

It is an invitation to compare the parable with the kingdom.

In the last five parables in Matthew chapter 13, Jesus switches to yet another introduction to each parable. He says, the kingdom of heaven is like…

We might read it like, the kingdom of heaven is similar to…

Particularly in the last three of these parables, we see Jesus talking directly to the disciples alone, those that have been given ears to hear and eyes to see. The implication is then that there is some similarity that can be drawn between the kingdom and the individual parable.

It is also interesting to note that the disciples do not ask for the explanation of these parables like they do for the sower and the wheat and tares. By understanding the larger of the parables, these seem simpler and more readily understood for those who desire to do so.

We know that Jesus is teaching important spiritual truths about the kingdom of Heaven through these parables. This morning we are going to look at these various truths under three headings.

We will pick up where we left of last week in Matthew 13, asking the question “what is the kingdom of heaven like?” We are going to look at the way Jesus answers that question by looking at three characteristics of the kingdom.

Matthew 13:31-33 (ESV) 31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

The first characteristic of the kingdom is…

The inevitable advancement of the kingdom

These first set of two parables are told while Jesus is still before the crowds, between his telling of the parable of the weeds to the crowds on the shore and his explanation of it to the disciples in a house.

They share many commonalities.

  • They would both be readily available imagery for his audience, because they both came from everyday life. One from the fields and one from the house.

  • Each starts with a relatively and proportionately small beginning. One seed, one piece of leaven.

  • Each one experiences growth and each one reaches maturity. The seed becomes a tree and the dough is completely leavened.

I want you to see that when we take the two together, they present a message of hope for the kingdom.

In the parable of the sowers, Jesus has said that in the proclamation of the kingdom many will not receive it, some will receive it but it will ultimately prove unfruitful, and in some it will produce fruit.

In the parable of the weeds, Jesus adds that not only will the soil of men’s hearts reject the good news, but there is an enemy actively trying to thwart the work of the kingdom by sowing bad seed among the good.

But lest the disciples become discouraged, Jesus gives two images that he says the kingdom of heaven are like.

Let’s look at each one together.

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. I don’t know if you have ever seen a mustard seed, but they are pretty small. In Jesus’ day and in his culture, this was the smallest seed that they cultivated.

In comparison Jesus points out that when it is fully grown it is the largest plant that they cultivated.

But he goes further. Remember that parables often include a surprising twist or an exaggerated detail. This is that detail. The mustard seed usually produced a bush from 6’ to 12’ tall.

In this parable it grows until it functions as a tree. So large that birds come and make nests in its branches.

There may be some significance in this description referring to some Old Testament passages that describe birds coming and nesting as symbolic of Gentile nations finding safety and security. Even if not, we know that is a reality of the kingdom.

As it grew it expanded beyond the children of Israel to include the gentiles as well.

But even without that symbolism, the plain picture is encouraging concerning the advancement of the kingdom.

It will grow.

As the pressure and rejection mounted from the religious leaders how insignificant must the disciples have felt. John the Baptist had been put to death and already the religious leaders were accusing Jesus of casting out demons because he got his power from Satan.

What impact could this one outsider rabbi and his band of fishermen and tax collectors have that would possibly last?

To that Jesus points them to the mustard seed, although it seems small, relatively unimportant, it will grow to be the largest plant in the garden. Indeed it will grow beyond what is even expected until it is like a tree. So too, would the kingdom of heaven grow from its humble beginnings until it affected men and women on every continent and corner of the world.

The second parable is similar. Jesus moves from the field to the kitchen. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour.

Nothing surprising about this process either. This is how bread was made unless it was unleavened bread during the prescribed periods.

Leaven is a small piece of dough, usually from the batch made the day before that has been allowed to mature. This is especially interesting to me as a bread maker who works with natural leaven or sourdough.

That with nothing more than flour, water, and time leaven can be made.

Once mature, it can be perpetuated over and over again.

The surprising part of this parable is the amount of dough that she is making. Most households made enough bread for their house.

Three measures of flour doesn’t really mean much to you and I but if you dig into the amounts it is incredible.

A measure of flour is a dry measurement equal to about 3 gallons, 3 measures then is about 9 gallons. Flour weighs between 7 to 7.5 lbs per gallon so we are talking about 63-68 pounds of flour.

When you take into account the water needed to accommodate this much flour you are now looking at around 130 lbs of dough. This lady is making bread for the whole town.

I did the math and this would be about 65 loaves of our sourdough bread.

If you don’t make bread you may be thinking, what does any of this have to do with the kingdom? What you have to understand is the relatively small amount of leaven that is normally used. For that large amount of dough, 130 pounds, we would use about 13 lbs of leaven, or 10%, and we could confidently use half of that and the results would be the same.

Once the leaven is ‘hid’ or mixed in with the dough, it will leaven the entire batch. This is why Paul says in two of his letters, 1 Corinthians 5:6b(ESV) Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

You can slow it down, you can speed it up, but once you mix the leaven, it will continue to grow until the whole batch is leavened.

There is an inevitability to the leavening process, as long as the leaven has food obtained by the mixing of flour and water it will consume it and reproduce until the whole mixture is thoroughly leavened.

This inevitability is what Jesus is stressing here.

Both the seed and the leaven, without any interruptions, will march steadily towards maturity.

It is their nature, it is their design, it is inevitable.

Jesus says, the kingdom of heaven is like that.

Although its beginnings were small in the grand scheme of things, it will march towards maturity. It will not be defeated, overcome, stopped, or destroyed.

Think about that. It has outlasted great empires, it has crossed cultural boundaries, it has withstood persecution and every attempt to defeat it and it will continue to do so until it has reached its maturity.

This is the hope, this is the encouragement, the kingdom will advance until it ultimately consumes the entire world.

Although its beginnings were small in the grand scheme of things, it will march towards maturity. It will not be defeated, overcome, stopped, or destroyed.

This is the first characteristic Jesus gives of the kingdom, its inevitable advancement, the second characteristic of the kingdom is…

The incredible value of the kingdom

We see this in a set of two parables told to his disciples after explaining the parable of the weeds. These are part of three final parables that he shares with his disciples before he asks if they understand all of these things.

Similarly to the reason we tied the mustard seed and the leaven together because of their shared emphasis, we see these two related by their emphasis on the value of the kingdom.

Let’s read them together now. Matthew 13:44-45

Matthew 13:44-46 (ESV) 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.

Like the last set of parables, they are commonalities.

  • In each one there is a great treasure found. One undescribed treasure and one pearl of great value.

  • In each one, the one who found it is willing to sell everything they have in order to possess it.

It's not hard to see that when we take the two together, they present a message concerning the value of the kingdom.

This is the first point in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus has described the value of the kingdom. These men had left their vocations as fishermen, tax collectors, they had walked away from their means of income, they have been hungry enough to eat grain from the fields, they are reliant on support from other followers of Christ.

Furthermore, Jesus has repeatedly emphasized the blessing of the impoverished.

When he sent them out they were to take no money for their ministry outside of whatever food was given them.

Maybe they were even beginning to question their decision that had essentially cost them everything. As we have already seen the pressure is mounting from the religious leaders and we know that they are expecting Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom where they would be important, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Perhaps, they are beginning to wonder if it is worth it.

To which Jesus answers with two short parables.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field…

The word treasure here implies something akin to finding a treasure chest. Likely it was some kind of clay pot filled with valuables. The word can be translated as a deposit, which is a pretty accurate description of the situation.

In this day with no banks and no safe places to store your valuables, if you wanted to hide it from thieves or if you had to flee from invaders, sometimes the most secure place would be to bury it with the intention of course of coming back to get it.

It was not uncommon for someone to be working in the fields and stumble on this kind of situation. Someone had buried a treasure and never returned. Now from what I understand about this, the finder of the treasure had rights to it, finder’s keepers, right?

But it appears this treasure was especially valuable so the man reburied it, and with great joy sells everything he has and buys the field.

A couple of interesting things to note. One, it seems he probably could have just taken the treasure and added it to the things he already owned.

Second, he could have sold just enough to buy the land if he wanted to secure the treasure.

But he doesn’t do any of that, he gets rid of everything else he owns in order to make sure that he gets the land. It is worth everything he has.

Third, he does so joyfully. Nothing he has compares with this treasure.

Let’s leave this parable for now and move to the next one.

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.

A merchant is more than a private collector, more than a retailer, this is someone who trades in goods, who travels extensively looking for valuables and deals, akin to a wholesaler.

This particular merchant is in search of fine pearls.

Before we learned how to farm pearls, natural occurring pearls were rare.

Historically we know that by Jesus’ time there were already large scale pearl industries. In this parable, this man is in search of fine pearls, that is he is looking for the best of the best. Jesus says he finds one pearl of great value- extremely valuable. He decided this one pearl was worth all the ones he had amassed before, it was worth everything he had, so he sold everything and bought this one pearl.

Pretty straightforward isn’t it? Compared to the kingdom of heaven, nothing compares in value.

But there are a few little nuances I want to highlight.

One, look at the differences in these two parables.

In one, the man stumbles on the treasure. He wasn’t looking for it, he simply recognized it’s worth when he did. In the other, the man diligently sought out the treasure, he knew pearls, he knew that they were inherently valuable, most likely he bought and sold many, but when he found this one pearl, he recognized its value and was willing to give up everything he had to have it.

In a similar way when someone comes to see the great value of the kingdom of heaven. They may be caught completely unaware or they may have been searching for something, either way they recognize the incredible value of the kingdom and recognize that there is nothing compared to it.

Two, Jesus is not saying that we can purchase the kingdom. This is where we do not push the parable beyond its purposes. The kingdom of heaven is not for sale. The only way into the kingdom of heaven is to be brought in by Jesus Christ because of grace, through faith in his atoning sacrifice for your sins.

But, we would do well to take notice of the attitude of those who have realized the incredible value of the kingdom of heaven.

They are willing to sell everything else they have in order to obtain it.

Joyfully, willingly, quickly.

The only way into the kingdom of heaven is to be brought in by Jesus Christ because of grace, through faith in his atoning sacrifice for your sins.

Don’t miss this one point. To sell everything is to completely walk away from your current life, right?

What is Jesus saying? When we come to him, do we have to sell everything we own and become impoverished nomads? Of course not, but what he implicitly states here, he explicitly states elsewhere.

Matthew 16:24-26 (ESV) 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

There is nothing in this world that is even worth being compared to the kingdom of heaven.

If you don’t believe that, if you wouldn’t give up anything and everything if necessary for the kingdom of heaven, I’m afraid you haven’t truly seen the incredible value of being brought into the kingdom through salvation.

To his disciples, he says, having found the kingdom of heaven, having left businesses and homes in following Jesus, they need not doubt, they need not regret, because what they have received is far more valuable than anything they have left behind.

So far Jesus has given us hope in the inevitable advancement of the kingdom, he gives us encouragement in the incredible value of the kingdom, and lastly, the third characteristic of the kingdom is…

The inescapable reality of the kingdom

This last parable is not part of an immediately recognizable set. It stands alone as Jesus’ final parable to his disciples, but that is not to say that it does not share some commonalities with another parable in this section of parables. It is similar in many ways to the parable of the wheat and tares that we looked at last week.

Let’s pick up in verse 47.

Matthew 13:47-50 (ESV) 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.

It’s not hard to see the commonalities between the two.

  • Each one ends with a separation of good and evil

The tares are gathered and burned the wheat is gathered into the barn

The good fish are place into containers, the bad are thrown away

  • Each one ends with the same destination for the evil ones

The tares into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth

The fish into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth

  • Each one has the angels doing the separating

The angels are the reapers in the field

The angels separate the evil from the righteous

Therefore, we are to understand the net being full and drawn ashore as the ‘end of the age’, like the harvest.

The net here is not the regular fishing net that the disciples are recorded as using. It is a dragnet.

It is a net that is stretched between two boats or between two banks that extends down to the bottom of the body of water. As it is drawn towards the shore it catches all of the fish in its path. Therefore the dragging of the net is the same as the maturation of the wheat and tares. It is the period in which the good fish and the bad fish are together for a time.

There is a notable difference between the two though, while the enemy is said to have sown the bad seed among the good, the fish are simply presented as present among the good.

The most immediate application of the parable is this: not all who get caught up in the advancement of the kingdom will prove to be genuine in the end.

Will did a remarkable job last Sunday with the parable of the weeds. He shared a quote from D.A. Carson that said the weeds that were sowed by the enemy were almost certainly bearded darnel, which is botanically close to wheat and almost impossible to distinguish when the plants are young. Until the plants reach maturity and produce fruit and then there is no doubt which plant is which.

In both parables there is a time where plants and fish dwell together, sometimes almost indistinguishable, and yet fundamentally there are differences between them.

There are many invasive species of fish that look similar to native species and yet they do immense damage to the areas in which they live. Again, similar in appearance but vastly different in reality of their impact and their usefulness to a body of water.

What is the warning here? Not everyone who claims to be in the kingdom of heaven is in reality a part of it. This is where we must exercise discernment in everything from what music we affirm to what authors we read. Why? Because according to Jesus not everyone caught up in the kingdom will ultimately prove to be in the kingdom.

What is the warning here? Not everyone who claims to be in the kingdom of heaven is in reality a part of it.

That is definitely one application and one we would do well to heed.

But there is another one I would like to show you today. It is the inescapable reality of the kingdom. Every fish good or bad gets caught up in the net, every grain whether good or bad gets reaped.

Do you realize that in the end? At the end of the age there will only be one kingdom?

Regardless of popular opinion about multiple paths being the way to God and there being many religions that are right, the Bible teaches that there is just one kingdom of heaven and ultimately everyone will be caught up in it.

That is to say, that all people will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, all will find themselves before the creator God of the universe, the king of heaven and earth.

On that day, it will not matter how similarly you looked to Christians around you, or how close you were to those in the kingdom, it will matter whether or not you yourselves are in the kingdom of heaven or not. For those that are not, it will be a day of inexplicable sorrow, of which Jesus describes as weeping and gnashing of teeth. For those who are, it will be a day of inexplicable joy, as we are welcomed into the full consummation of the kingdom of heaven. As it fills heaven and earth with an eternal, unending, glorious kingdom.

Jesus shares five short parables in our text today that invite us to contemplate what the kingdom of heaven is like. From these we have summarized what he taught as three characteristics of the kingdom, the inevitable advancement, the incredible value, and the inescapable reality.

For those who have been brought into the kingdom, there is hope, encouragement, and a challenge to discernment in these parables.

For those outside the kingdom there is a reminder that no matter how big the world looks in comparison to the kingdom, the kingdom will continue to grow until it fills the whole world. No matter how valuable the things of the world seem, they pale in comparison to the kingdom, and no matter how close you are to the kingdom, if you are not in it, there awaits a horrible separation for you.

But it doesn’t have to end that way for you.

Jesus is still in the business of bringing people into his kingdom through faith.

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page