1. Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him,
Now after the event we just considered in chapter 7 in the home of Simon the Pharisee, the Lord continues His ministry, passing through every city and village. His message everywhere He went was not Himself, but rather the Kingdom of God. It is important that we know what exactly the Kingdom of God is, or else we will have no idea what the Lord Jesus was talking about in His ministry. He was proclaiming this kingdom, and bringing the glad tidings of it to people. This involved not just a message, but also a demonstration of all that people could expect once the kingdom comes in full. He demonstrated this gospel to them in healings, casting out of evil spirits, and even in raising the dead. Thus He proved Himself most unlike politicians who make many promises they are not able to keep. He demonstrated that He has the power to do the miraculous things that need to be done to bring in the perfect conditions of God’s government on earth.
2. And certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities–Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons,
Here we are introduced to certain women followers whom the Lord had. These were women whom He had healed of evil spirits and infirmities. The first one mentioned is Mary called Magdalene. This woman’s name really was Mary (Maria in Greek), unlike the Lord’s mother whose name was actually Miriam.
Much has been made of this Mary, and she has been treated rather unfairly by the ideas and teachings of men surrounding her, moreso, perhaps, than any other one of the Lord’s disciples. First of all, some would identify her with the woman who was a sinner in the previous chapter. There is no more reason to do this than to identify Joanna or Susanna in the next verse with this woman. We are not told that Mary was a sinner, just that out of her had come seven demons. Mary Magdalene is also identified by some with the woman caught in adultery of John 8. Again, there is no reason to make any such connection.
Worst of all, some teach based on certain writings of the Gnostics hundreds of years after the resurrection of Christ that Mary and Christ were lovers, either married or having an affair. This is, of course, abhorrent to those who believe in the Deity of Christ, and is absolutely contrary to the Scriptural narrative. The only evidence for it remains the writings of those who lived long after the Lord was dead, and who knew nothing of the Lord or the situation in which He lived. The fact that some have adopted this idea shows how eager they are to discredit the Word, which by contrast was written by those who were eyewitnesses to these things, and to dispense with any thought of Christ as sinless or Lord.
Popular thought also seems to hold that Mary was a reformed prostitute. It is even common with some in English to designate a reformed prostitute as a “Magdalene” based on this idea. Again, this idea is without Scriptural evidence. There is no reason to think that Mary was a prostitute. We know nothing of her life prior to meeting the Lord, other than that she had seven demons. While we would not expect such a condition to result in a life of upstanding morality, we nevertheless cannot connect Mary with prostitution in any way. The Scripture does not say this, and we cannot go beyond its testimony.
What we do know about Mary is that she was rescued from a very horrible situation by the Lord, and from then on she followed Him in love and gratitude. Also from the next verse it is clear that she was a woman of some means, and used them now to support the Lord.
3. And Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.
Two more women are listed by name. First is Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. Whether or not her husband, steward for the godless Herod, was also a follower of Christ we cannot determine. Then there is Susanna, and many others who are not listed by name. These women were not just followers of the Lord, but also were actually providing for His needs from their own possessions. Thus we see how important women were to Christ’s ministry! The service that women render to God can hardly be overestimated, as long as they are willing to submit and serve Him as He commands, not as they see fit.
Notice that, while these women were no doubt very dear to the Lord and crucial to His ministry, none of the twelve were women. This does not mean that women were not important to the Lord, only that they were to serve Him in the role that God intended for them. Too many women today think that women cannot serve God properly unless they are allowed into every facet of ministry and every role of service. This is not the way God has ordered it, and is not His plan.
4. And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable:
A great multitude gathers to Him from every city. The Lord never lacked a following during His ministry. Now He began to teach them a parable. Notice that this is specifically stated to be a parable. Though Scripture does not need to specifically state every time a parable was being spoken, we still need to use care that we do not call things parables that are not parables and vice versa. Moreover, we must keep in mind as we read this parable that it has been interpreted for us later in the chapter. We need to use care that we are not guilty of interpreting God’s interpretation, as if His interpretation were insufficient. God’s interpretations are not a second parable to be interpreted, but rather are the true interpretation.
This parable is very similar to one given in Matthew 13 and in Mark 4. However, it is quite possible that this parable was actually given multiple times, and that each gospel records a different occasion. Remember that the Lord was a traveling preacher, and thus His audience was constantly changing. Few traveling preachers speak an entirely new message each time they come into a new town, but often repeat things they have already taught elsewhere, modifying them slightly to fit their perception of the audience to which they are speaking. Thus, the Lord probably told this parable many times, and it is not improbable to suggest that each gospel may record a different occasion.
5. “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it.
This parable uses an event that everyone in the audience would be familiar with: a farmer sowing grain. A sower would have been a common sight upon any farmland in Israel. Parables used everyday, common examples to set forth profound truths of God.
These farmers worked the fields for a living, and they would become quite expert at sowing. However, there were paths that ran through the fields, and inevitably some of the seed would fall upon these paths. This seed would be trampled down by the feet of those passing down the path, and being exposed on the hard surface would be easy pickings for birds of the air to come and devour. “The air” here is “the heaven” in Greek, and in this case means the sky.
6. “Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.
There would be various rocks in a typical field in Israel which were either too large for the farmer to bother moving them, or else which lay at the edges of his field, perhaps as boundary markers. There could also be rocks hidden under the ground which the farmer might not be fully aware of. Some of the seed would fall on these rocks. Though there may be a little dirt there for it to germinate in and spring up, and though the warmth from the rock might cause it to grow quite quickly at first, it would soon wither away because the lack of any depth of earth would deprive it of moisture.
7. “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.
Again the thorns would probably be in areas bordering his field where he had not bothered to weed. The seed might quickly spring up, but the thorns are hardier, and would easily dominate the resources and choke out the good seed.
8. “But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
In the final analysis, however, most of the seed would fall on the good ground that the farmer had prepared for it. Then, it would spring up, and yield the bountiful crop the farmer was expecting.
All these things are common agricultural facts that the Lord’s audience would have known very well. Yet the Lord meant far more by it than a simple declaration regarding farming, and He indicates this by crying out a challenge to all who have ears to hear to hear what He has said. The reference to the Lord crying sets forth a peculiarity of ancient Greek that we do not have in English. We tend to more or less speak at the same volume and in the same tone throughout a speech. In ancient Greek, however, it is likely that volume, tone, and even speed would be varied to set forth a mood. This reference to Jesus “crying” this phrase indicates the most solemn emphasis. These words were given for people to hear not just with the ear but also with the mind (in understanding) and the heart (in belief.) It is extremely important to have a hearing ear when we come to the Word of God. Many there are who read the truth, but refuse to hear it. If we really wish to qualify as believers in the Word, we must have a hearing ear. We must truly listen to what God has to say and truly believe it.
9. Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”
The disciples realized there was more to the Lord’s teaching than what was on the surface, and they wanted to understand the parable, but did not quite grasp what the Lord was saying. Thus they asked Him to explain.
10. And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’
Christ reveals to the disciples that, while they could know these “secrets” (for that is what the Greek word musterion really means,) the common people were not meant to understand them. It seems that God does not always mean for His words to be understood by all who read or hear them. Sometimes I think that we may not be meant to entirely understand some parts of the Bible like Revelation. Yet these disciples, by their dedication to the Lord and their willingness to follow Him, proved themselves worthy to know these secrets. To others, the truth was given in parables, that Isaiah’s prophecy might be true that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” (Isaiah 6:9)
11. “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
Now the interpretation of the parable begins. Notice that the seed is the word of God. The “word” here is the Greek word logos, which in John is used for the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the living Word of God, and here He speaks of the written or spoken word of God. The logos is the expression, and speaks of His words as a true expression of His mind and character. It is not necessarily the word of salvation, but could be any one of many truths from the Word. God has recorded many words for us in the Bible that have nothing to do with our salvation. Yet each new message of God’s that we read requires either the response of faith or of unbelief. It is not just salvation that this speaks of here!
In Matthew 13, the seed was said to be the word of the kingdom (Matthew 13:19). Either these are supplementary accounts, and the word of the kingdom is the specific word of God meant here, or else the two parables were given at different times, and with slightly different meanings. The latter is the view that Dr. Bullinger took in his Companion Bible. It does seem possible that this parable would have been told more than once. Remember that the Lord was a traveling speaker, and as such could have repeated a similar message several times, sometimes with a slightly different application. Certainly, these truths could apply to either the word in general, or the word of the kingdom in particular.
12. “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
The ones by the wayside are those who hear and the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts. Anyone who has proclaimed much of the pure Word of God has seen this happen. Notice that the devil can actually block people from hearing the word and being saved! Although this is spoken of as being active here, I believe that many times his blockades are already in place in the form of various prejudices and traditions that he sows into men’s minds before they ever hear the words of God. Yet it may be that the true Word is never spoken without the devil and his forces going into action to try to counter it. He knows that whenever the true Word is proclaimed, men can hear it and believe, and thus be saved. This is the last thing he wants to see happen.
13. “But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.
The ones on the rock are now explained. While these initially believe, their hearts are not prepared to hold the word for long. These sorts of people seem to have some flaw in their dedication that does not allow the word to remain and grow. Though they may joyfully receive it at first, they have no deep love or commitment to the truth. Thus, when trouble comes, they fall away, having no depth to back up their belief. They do not understand that the devil will tempt men away from the truth, and the Lord will test our faith to prove whether or not it is genuine. The devil tempts to try to get us to fall, and the Lord tests to try to help us succeed, but this sort of person cannot stand up to either. Their faith is just shallow, and soon fades away.
14. “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
Now the seed that fell among thorns are explained. These are those who hear and may never stop believing, but at the same time the word never really has any real affect on their lives. They are far more worried about other things, and never really take the time to produce anything godly in their lives. How common this is today! We have so many cares in the complex world we live in. The pursuit of riches is so enticing, and the pleasures of life that we have available to us so many, that it seems that the majority of those who hear the word in our day end up in this category, and never bring any fruit to maturity. What a waste!
15. “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.
Now the good ground is explained as the hearts of those who were prepared to hear the word. Notice that the good ground is not good because it was just naturally that way, but rather because it was prepared by the farmer. The hearts of many in Israel had been prepared by John the Baptist, as we saw in verses 29 and 30 of the last chapter. These people were prepared for the truth, and so it found good soil in them. Their hearts were noble and good before God, and so they keep the truth and bear fruit with the patience that every believer so desperately needs in this world.
We can learn much from this parable. As we attempt to grow in truth as we study the Word, it is important to request of God that He prepare our hearts for each new revelation He brings to us. Otherwise, when some new truth comes, we may not be ready to receive it. Let us all strive to cultivate a prepared heart.
16. “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.
It would be foolish to cover a light so that no one could see it. What would be the point of having the light then? In the same way, the light that we have should not be hidden. We have received from God the truth of the Word. It is our job to allow this truth to be seen. We should not be afraid to proclaim the truth merely out of fear of offending someone. God’s truths are a light, but they are only helpful if they can be seen.
17. “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.
Just as men would not hide a light under a vessel or a bed, in the same way, God does not allow the light He has shined into people’s hearts to be hidden there, but brings it out into the open for all to see. There are many things that are hidden and secret now. Yet when the kingdom comes, these things will be revealed. As Paul said, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3. Yet though our lives are hidden, they will not always be this way. “When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:4. Thus we see that our life, although hidden now, will most certainly be brought to light in God’s future plan.
18. “Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”
The Lord warns them to take heed or to watch how they hear. When we do not have truth from God, then when we hear the message of God we will not be able to understand it. Thus we need to be careful how we hear God’s words, lest we hear them in a way that strips them of their truth. Many people have theological systems so worked out that they seem to see them on every page of the Bible. Yet this knowledge that they think they have will be taken away from them, for no real truth lies behind it. Yet one who does have the truth can build on it and acquire even more.
This also has definite application to the kingdom of God. When the kingdom comes, the kingdom blessings will, at first, be poured out on all. For example, I believe that when the kingdom comes, it will bring a gift of perfect health to all men on earth. Yet this health will do little good to those whom God judges as being unworthy of the kingdom. Those who have the Lord will be given these things, and will end up with much more than they have now. Yet ultimately, those who do not have faith, though they may receive the kingdom blessings just because they are alive when the kingdom comes, will end up having all these taken away, and their lives besides.