As I have been studying through Matthew, it has struck me how the correct pattern of interpretation has been stood upon its ear by so many of us. Pastors, in particular, I expect are anxious to get to the points of Application for their congregation, often resulting in the congregation never hearing the Primary Interpretation, the actual meaning of a passage, which can result in all sorts of misunderstandings.
Let’s look at the Parables of Matthew 13, for example. My bet is that few of us ever consider the Primary Interpretation of this chapter. Matthew’s literary structure is pretty cool here, too. He opens with an Introductory Parable (The Soils/aka The Sower). He TELLS it to the crowd, but only EXPLAINS it privately to His disciples. He gives His reason for teaching in Parables at this point in His ministry (v.11) – that His disciples would be given “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”. [As a really good Jew who is writing to a Jewish audience concerning the Messiah and the earthly Messianic Kingdom; Matthew usually substitutes “heaven” for “God” – a Jew considered the name of God as extremely holy. (Mark & Luke, having different audiences/purposes, call it “kingdom of God”.] Matthew is referring here to the earthly Messianic Kingdom promised in the Abrahamic & Davidic Covenants & all that OT prophecy…NO church yet remember. Think earthly…think Jewish…think OT!] Then he explains that those who have responded to the Messiah will have more information concerning the earthly Messianic Kingdom (which John the Baptiser & Jesus have been preaching is ‘near’). So the “sower” is Jesus (and John the Baptiser), the “soil” are the Jewish listeners (Chpts.3-11), the “seed” is truth about the earthly Messianic Kingdom/King (v.19), and the “fruit” is greater comprehension concerning the earthly Messianic Kingdom (v.11) [new info is to be given – a NT “mystery” is info concerning God’s program not previously revealed]. The Jews who have been observing His authenticating miracles and hearing His “gospel” message – that the earthly Messianic Kingdom is near (don’t jump ahead to the church yet!)have responded in the several ways mentioned in the parable. But only those responding in faith have been “good soil”, and as a result they will now receive MORE information with the exposition of 3 “mysteries” concerning the earthly Messianic Kingdom.
There is a cool Hebrew literary structure in the next 6 parables, which are presenting these 3 “mysteries” about the earthly Messianic kingdom in pairs:
1. The Tares/The Dragnet = same “mystery”; in the world there are 2 groups of Jews – those who will enter the earthly Messianic kingdom and those who will not. [Up to this point the Jews believed ALL descendents of Abraham would enter the Messianic Kingdom.]
2. The Mustard Seed/The Leaven = same “mystery”; the earthly Messianic Kingdom will start small and grow exceedingly large, permeating the whole world [Up to this point the Jews believed it only pertained to them.]
3. The Hidden Treasure/The Pearl of Great Price = the earthly Messianic kingdom is of great value and will remain “hidden” for a while [until the 2nd Advent of the Messiah]. There will be a postponment of the earthly Messianic Kingdom (because of the current national rejection of their Messiah).
NOW can come an “application” to the church [an unrevealed “mystery” itself at this point!!]. But you can see how reading Matthew 13 in the context of the first 12 chapters of Matthew is so very important! We really need to work at FIRST establishing Primary Interpretation IN CONTEXT. We’ve gotten out of the habit!