The Hidden Treasure, the Pearl, and the Net
In chapter 13 of his gospel account, Matthew includes seven parables, one after another, focused on the kingdom of God. We’ve reached the end of this section, where Jesus leaves the crowds and speaks to his disciples in private. Today, we will consider three parables: the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value, and the net.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure – Matthew 13:44
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.
Here we have a simple parable. A man finds a treasure in a field, covers it up, sells all he has, and buys the field, buying also the treasure within. Simple though it is, this parable raises many questions. Why would someone bury treasure in a field? When he found it, was the man ethical in covering and then purchasing the field? What does the treasure represent? Interpretations have varied throughout church history. And while those are important things to consider, I’d like to summarize the answers quickly so that we can consider what I believe to be the real power of the parable.
In Jesus’s day, no one put their money in a bank. If they needed to keep it safe, they would bury it in the ground. We see this in the parable of the talents, where the man with one talent is fearful of losing it, so he buries it until the Master returns (Matthew 25:25). To find treasure in the ground would not have been surprising to Jesus’s audience. Furthermore, the man would not have been considered unethical for covering it and purchasing the field. Jewish law stated, basically, whatever you find outside someone’s house is yours—finders keepers.
Now, what is the treasure? This is the big question of the parable. What is worth so much that the man sells everything he has and, in joy, buys the field? Here in chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells parables to explain the Kingdom of God (kingdom of heaven, in Matthew’s words). Considering the context, we must force ourselves to stay inside the kingdom lines and listen to what Jesus is saying. He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 13:9).
Jesus is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that the kingdom is very valuable. It is also, apparently, very accessible. The man who found the treasure did not travel to a far away galaxy. He didn’t change his situation. He went about his day and, to his surprise, dug up the treasure.
Out of these seven parables of Matthew 13, four of them feature a field as its location. Coming after the sower, the weeds, and the mustard seed, Jesus must want to communicate something about the kingdom using fields. What is it? Tim Keller talks about the ordinariness of the ways of God. Just before Jesus tells these parables, he has miraculously healed people. That’s not ordinary. But when he gets to his teaching about the Kingdom of God, he puts away talk of miracles and begins speaking about ordinary things. Why? Because the normal working of God is found in the ordinary. He can work outside of that, but his normal workings are inside of everyday life.
A field is something we take for granted. We pass by them all the time, and we give almost no thought to what’s inside. The kingdom of God is like that. It’s always around but seldom on our mind. In these parables, Jesus is bringing the Kingdom of God to the forefront of our mind. He’s telling us what it’s like and how important it is.
At this point, some commentators would say the parable is about the cost of discipleship. Jesus is, after all, talking to his disciples, having left the crowds and entered a house (v. 36). I believe there is much to be said about following Jesus from this parable, but I do not believe that is Jesus’s primary concern. His focus is on the Kingdom of God. That includes discipleship, but something must happen before you give your life to Christ. You have to find something, and that’s what Jesus is telling us about here: what it’s like to find. Finding comes before life-giving. When we find a treasure like God’s Kingdom, the cost to follow becomes insignificant. This means the parable isn’t so much about what we’re willing to give up to gain the kingdom but that the kingdom is worth losing everything to gain it. That may sound the same, but in a world at war with God, coming under his rule is not like paying dues to the country club. It’s more like suffering the abuse of the world. Paul puts it this way in Philippians 3:7-8, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, 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.” Those aren’t the words of a man who lost anything. He found something worth suffering everything. This parable is not about losing. This parable is about gaining.
So, what are we to gain? When God created the world, he did not blast it from his finger and step away. He is no remote, unconcerned God. He created it with care, and he oversees it with the same care. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrew 1:3). One way God reveals himself is through his creation. “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). Therefore, God, in creation, placed us in our home on Earth as a Father would his child in a house, where the pictures on the wall remind us of whose world we live in. We are his creation living inside his creation.
But being on the planet is no guarantee we are in the Kingdom of God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they stepped outside of God’s care and into Satan’s destruction. Their eyes became dull. Their God-sense broke. They entered death and all that comes with it. Before, they walked with God in the cool of the day. After, they were banished from the Garden. From that moment on, the Kingdom was veiled from our eyes. It became hard to see the glory of God due to the darkness of sin. That’s why, when Jesus begins speaking in parables, he tells us repeatedly, “he who has ears, let him hear.”
The Kingdom of God is less about location and more about rule. Who reigns over your life? Whoever it is, that’s whose kingdom you live in. Because of this, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom that costs you everything and nothing. It costs you everything—you’re completely changed, altered from the inside out. It costs you nothing—the price has already been paid. Let me explain.
The Kingdom of God costs you everything because, when you find it, you can’t stay who you once were. Your life is radically changed. Your loves are altered. Your purpose is different.
The Kingdom of God costs you nothing because Jesus paid the price to give it to you. He gave you the right to be called a child of God (John 1:12). Now, because of him, it's your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).
This parable has been misunderstood from time to time. Some think it’s telling us we can purchase the kingdom. They use it to preach works righteousness. That’s not what Jesus is saying. Throughout, the Bible talks about the free gift of grace (Romans 5:15). Isaiah called out to God’s people, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1). What Jesus accomplished on the cross was not only salvation from sin. It was also the entrance into the Father’s house. He paid the price on our behalf. All we do is stumble into it like a man digging in a field.
Gaining the Kingdom doesn’t cost us anything. Receiving the Kingdom costs us everything. And it’s a happy trade-off. Everything we’ve ever longed for is inside. In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value – Matthew 13:45-46
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.
Again, Jesus tells us what the Kingdom of God is like. Here, it’s like a merchant in search of pearls. Unlike the man who, to his surprise, found the hidden treasure as he was going about his work digging in the field, this merchant is seeking something valuable. He’s on the hunt.
In many ways, this is like the parable of the hidden treasure. Both include men finding something worth more than everything they have. But their circumstances are different. Why does Jesus use these two men? One reason is because these two parables show us two ways people find the kingdom of God. One way is totally surprising. The kingdom appears in a flash, unexpectedly. Another way is less surprising. The merchant is looking for something valuable; he just had no idea he could find something this valuable. Both ways transform your life.
Everyone you know is looking for spiritual truth. Some don’t know they’re looking, and they just go about their life one day at a time, waiting for something to happen. Others are in pursuit, traveling to far off places in search of the meaning of life. Spiritual truth seems elusive to so many. But Jesus is saying the truth is here. All we need to do is recognize it when we see it.
Do you know what’s so amazing about both of these parables? The man found a treasure in a field. How many others walked by that field without thinking anything of value could be hidden there? The man who purchased the pearl bought it from someone. Why could no one else see its value? Jesus is telling us the spiritual truth we’re looking for is here, in this world, around us now. All we need is the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Here is Jesus, God incarnate, bringing God’s word about God’s kingdom of God’s grace to earth. He’s surrounded by so many but not all can recognize him. He’s telling us not to miss out. Pay attention.
Jesus is telling us the kingdom of God is something like finding a treasure in a field or a pearl worth everything we own. But the truth is, the kingdom of God is better than either of those things, or both of those things combined. The Kingdom of God, as Jesus describes, is far better than we could ever imagine. The question for us is, do we see it that way?
At the beginning of the explanation of the parable of the weeds, Matthew tells us that Jesus left the crowds and entered a house. Inside that house, Jesus was surrounded by his disciples who asked him to explain the weeds. It’s immediately after that explanation that Jesus tells his disciples these two parables. Why put them here?
Imagine being there in the first century. You’ve heard Jesus’s teaching. You’ve seen his miracles. You know the Old Testament scriptures. You’re convinced he’s the Christ. You’re hoping he’s going to lead the rebellion against Rome and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Now, you’ve just heard his parables, and what he’s saying sounds like the kingdom isn’t coming quickly. It sounds like slow growth over a long time, not a rapid overthrow of the emperor. You’re not sure about this. Your hopes are a little dashed, like receiving socks on Christmas.
Then, Jesus draws you near and tells you that the kingdom that is coming, and, in fact, is already here, is as good as you always hoped. No, it’s better. Far better, indeed. It’s like a treasure in a field that you suddenly found. It’s like a pearl of great value that you never knew existed. The slow, methodical growth is not a decline to letdown; it’s a build up to consummation. God’s patience is part of his grace and mercy, spreading through the world in ways we would never think of. He’s using the ordinary to do the extraordinary. He’s leading people to the treasure and placing pearls of great value all over the world. And people are finding it. Can you see it?
The thing about God’s kingdom is that it’s not relegated to one area of the world. There are no boundary lines. It’s as big as the universe. That means the kingdom we’re saved into is the kingdom above all others. It’s a new reality in the midst of our current reality, where the joy of heaven can be experienced in the pains of this world, which God then uses as a witness to his grace in order to save more people. He could have overthrown Rome in a moment, but if he did, Jesus would’ve never died on the cross. We might have the kingdom we always wanted on this earth but we’d miss out on the one God wants for us. And if we know anything about God, it’s that his way is best.
Earthly kingdoms are always established by the rich and powerful. Even if the over-throwers start out poor and oppressed, they never stay that way. We position ourselves in hierarchies and castes. But in God’s kingdom, the King became poor and friendless on the cross. And when he was raised again to life, he took his position on the throne but of a different kind. His throne became for us a throne of grace, where the King himself helps us in our time of need. He became the one leading us to the treasure, placing the pearl before our eyes.
The Kingdom of God is unlike any this world has ever seen. But it’s not because it’s other-worldly. It’s present now. It always has been. It’s thoroughly worldly—ordinary, in fact. And so, it’s ordinariness causes us to overlook it. We miss the treasure in the field simply because we’d never imagine we could find God there. We go looking for pearls of some value never dreaming something of such great value exists. The Kingdom of God is the only kingdom we don’t have to fight our way into. There’s no admission test, no entry fee, only grace upon grace accepted in humility. Every other religion’s god says, “This is the way, work toward it.” Jesus alone says, “I am the way, come to me.” And when we come, like the man in the field and the merchant in the marketplace, we gladly leave what we have because of what he is.
The Parable of the Net – Matthew 13:47-50
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.
Jesus closes his parables of the kingdom with the parable of the net. No matter what our response to the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value is, Jesus remains king, and in the end, he will have the final say. That’s the purpose of the parable of the net.
The kind of net Jesus refers to is a dragnet, which stretches across a wide area of the water, gathering whatever comes in its boundaries. This was a common fishing method in the region Jesus was visiting, but more than that, it’s a comment about the way the end of the age will occur. Jesus is saying even if you don’t receive the kingdom, you’re still going to be gathered at the end. On that day, you want to be found a good fish, not a bad one. So, be sure you’re a good fish.
This parable reminds us of the parable of the weeds, where the weeds are allowed to grow up with the wheat. Only at the time of harvest is there a great sorting of good and bad. In context, Jesus is warning us not to miss receiving the joy of the kingdom right now. We don’t know when the Fisherman will drop his net. The time to ensure you’re found in good standing is today. He who has ears, let him hear.
This parable can concern us, especially those of us who hold to the doctrines of grace. It sounds like Jesus is telling us to make ourselves a good fish. But how can we make ourselves good fish? Jesus doesn’t tell us. All he says is at the end of the age, he will sort the good from the bad. We have to take the rest of the chapter into consideration to determine the kind of fish we are.
Think back to the two preceding parables. How did each man receive the treasure? One found it, one searched for it. But how did they find it? It was placed before them. How did that happen? Lucky circumstance, perhaps. But if that’s the case, why didn’t all the others who passed by the field or ran the pearl through their hands notice the great value? How could so many miss it but these two see it? Something else happened to them. Not only was the treasure placed before their eyes, they were also given the eyes to see it. They had, to use Jesus’s phrase, ears to hear, so they heard.
In the parables of the kingdom, Jesus is not telling us to purchase our way in. He’s not telling us to sort ourselves out to become wheat or good fish. He’s not telling us to make sure we cultivate good soil on our own. He’s telling us the kingdom has come and all we must do to receive it is hear what he’s saying. All we need is the humility to lay aside our expectations of God and receive the grace of God. If we can see it, we can have it. The kingdom is here. The end of the age is approaching. It’s time to enter. Will we?