New Defender's Study Bible Notes
13:23 understandeth. Mark says they both “hear the word, and receive it” (Mark 4:20). Matthew says also they understand it. The account in Luke is even more specific. These productive hearers, “in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience [endurance]” (Luke 8:15).
13:24 kingdom of heaven. On the meaning of “the kingdom of heaven,” see note on Matthew 3:2. The earthly aspect of God’s kingdom (essentially churches and other organizations participating in the work of the kingdom in the name of Christ) is in view here, since its constituencies include false Christians as well as true believers. From the preceding parable, it seems that both emotional believers and worldly believers (Matthew 13:20-22) may provide the “soil” in which the “tares” sown by the enemy can thrive, in which the “leaven” of false doctrine can spread (Matthew 13:33) and “birds of the air” that devour the good seed can lodge (Matthew 13:32).
13:25 while men slept. Matthew implies that if believers were sufficiently alert and informed, the “tares” could never have infiltrated the wheat.
13:25 enemy. In this parable, “the enemy” represents the devil, and “He that soweth good seed is the Son of man (Matthew 13:37,39).
13:29 also the wheat. Evidently it is impossible for anyone but the Lord Himself to distinguish unfruitful believers in the kingdom from false believers. Even the latter may not realize they are actually unsaved. Thus Peter warns those that are “barren” or “unfruitful” in Christ to “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:8,10).
13:32 least of all seeds. The mustard seed is a very small seed which may, indeed, produce a large “tree,” up to ten feet high. Jesus was not speaking to botanical specialists, of course, but to ordinary people, on their level. The actual Greek allows the meaning “among the least of all seeds.”
13:32 branches thereof. In the definitive parable of the sower, the birds of the air represented those emissaries of Satan who would snatch away the good seed whenever they could (Matthew 13:4,19). Here they are seen comfortably perching in the tree which represents the growing physical aspect of the kingdom.
13:33 leaven. Leaven is invariably symbolic of evil doctrine or practice. It produces fermentation, which is a decay process; decay and death, of course, were the precise features of God’s great curse on the earth because of sin (Genesis 3:17-19). The Levitical offerings, for this reason, could not be “made with leaven” (Leviticus 2:1,11), and the Passover memorial had to be observed with unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15). The spreading of leaven represents the corrupting influence of even a small amount of false doctrine (Galatians 5:9) or impure practice (I Corinthians 5:6) into the kingdom.
13:33 three measures of meal. The “three measures of meal” correspond to the “three tenth deals of fine flour” (Leviticus 14:10), which were specified for the offerings. The woman of the parable, evidently preparing such an offering, surreptitiously “hid” leaven in the proposed offering, contrary to the law. The meal offering was actually a type of Christ (John 6:33), bringing life to the world, as our Passover, but His work was being corrupted by the world’s leaven (I Corinthians 5:8).
13:33 whole was leavened. Both the growing mustard seed and spreading leaven indicate that, as the outward kingdom grows, both its membership and doctrine will increasingly become corrupted. The true spiritual kingdom within the outward kingdom, on the other hand, will always be a relatively “little flock” (Luke 12:32), surrounded by wolves (Matthew 10:16). Even at the future time of Christ’s return, the Lord anticipated that it will be difficult to find real “faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8). The common interpretation of these two parables (that they indicate the eventual conversion of the whole world through evangelism and development of a theocratic world government) is thus badly mistaken.
13:35 kept secret. The reference is to Psalm 78:2, which equates “parables” with “dark sayings of old.” That is, things previously kept secret from men are to be revealed only in Christ (note Deuteronomy 29:29), and even then only to those whose hearts were open (Matthew 13:10-17).
13:42 furnace of fire. It is sobering to realize that many who appear to be in the kingdom are really “tares,” destined for hell (see also Matthew 25:41-46). To such people, Christ warns that He “shall cut [them] asunder [with the reaping instruments, thereby separating them from the wheat], and appoint [them their] portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51).
13:43 shine forth. Note also Daniel 12:3, where “they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”