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Parables Of The Heavenly Kingdom (Part 1): Salvation For All
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KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada

Editor’s note: In Matthew 13, Jesus used parables to define the kingdom of God, explaining the rules for entering this kingdom and painting a picture of life inside and outside the kingdom. This is the first in a series of articles on these parables.

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:

I will open My mouth in parables;

 I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Mt 13:34–35)

This verse is the key to the parables recorded in Matthew chapter 13. Quoting the psalm of Asaph (Ps 78:2), Matthew notes that the Lord Jesus used parables to utter (i.e., speak out) “things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” According to Jesus, these things kept secret are “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 13:11). In other words, the parables in Matthew 13 collectively reveal mysteries concerning the heavenly kingdom—the church. As this series of articles will discuss, these parables speak of the establishment and development of the church on earth, the challenges she will face, and judgment in the end time—how the righteous shall live and the wicked shall suffer eternal punishment.


The “things [plural] kept secret from the foundation of the world” are part of the over-arching mystery (singular) that belonged to the Creator. That mystery is of Christ (Col 2:2). When the time was right, this mystery was revealed to the saints—after Jesus ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit was poured down (Col 1:26; Acts 1:4, 9; 2:1–4). The Holy Spirit not only established the church on earth, He also gave revelations to the apostles and the New Testament prophets so that they could understand the mystery that had been hidden in God from the beginning of the ages (Eph 3:3–4).

This mystery was that, in Christ Jesus, the Gentiles would become fellow heirs with the Jewish believers, of the same body, and partakers of God’s promise in Christ through the gospel (Eph 3:5–6). This mystery of Christ is the church: through the church, all people shall receive the gospel of salvation; through the church, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (all created beings of the spiritual realm) will know the manifold wisdom of God, and receive the revelation of the mystery that was hidden in God (Eph 3:8–11).

The Book of Colossians reiterates the universality of the gospel. Paul says that for the sake of Christ’s body, the church, he would rejoice in sufferings and minister, according to the stewardship of God, to fulfill the word of God—to fulfill “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints” (Col 1:24–26). For the sake of the church, Paul preached the love of God, initially the sole possession of the Old Testament elect (Deut 7:6–11), to the Gentiles (Col 1:27).

In short, through the parables recorded in Matthew 13, the Lord Jesus expounded the mystery of Christ hidden since the beginning of the ages—namely, the church, and her journey from beginning to end.


While Matthew and Luke refer to “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 13:11; Lk 8:10), Mark refers to “the mystery [singular] of the kingdom of God” (Mk 4:11). But what and where is the kingdom of God?

Heart of Man

When the Pharisees asked the Lord Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you [ESV: in the midst of you[1]]” (Lk 17:20–21). What the Lord meant was that He had already brought the kingdom of God into their midst. But they were still full of curiosity and doubts, and did not have the faith to accept it.

The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom in which the Lord Jesus reigns (Jn 18:36–37). It can thus refer to the hearts of believers. If one enthrones Christ Jesus as the Lord within one’s heart, then this heart is the kingdom that the Lord Jesus has called out from the world (Jn 17:16–21). Such believers may be in the world, but they are not of the world; they are of His saved true church.

Of the parables in Matthew 13, only two were explained by Jesus: the parables of the sower and the tares. The parable of the sower highlights the reality that people respond differently to the same word sown into their hearts. The parable of the tares focuses on the origin of the church, the situations she will encounter, and how she will have to endure trials till the end of the world. 

When expounding these two parables, the Lord Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (cf. Mt 13:9, Mk 4:9, Lk 8:8). He uttered this phrase once before explaining the parable of the sower, and a second time after explaining the parable of the tares. This phrase is significant for two reasons. First, “He who has ears” reveals the target audience of these parables: all humans have ears, so these two parables are relevant to everyone, throughout all time. They explicitly state that if anyone wishes to receive the grace of salvation and enter into eternal life, he must change his thoughts and behavior in accordance with the teachings of these parables. Not only does he need to listen to the words, and put these words into practice (Mt 13:23), he must endure to the end (Mt 13:43).

Second, “let him hear” signifies that the Lord Jesus wants us to constantly examine ourselves to see whether we are receiving the teachings of heaven with a sincere and truthful heart (Lk 8:15). It also tells us that we should endure and bear fruit. At the same time, we must also examine whether our present state of faith makes us wheat or tare. We must constantly rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to cleanse and purify ourselves through the word of the Lord in order to remain (or become) wheat.

The Church

In totality, this set of parables provides a complete picture of how the kingdom of heaven was established on earth. It outlines the origin of the church, as well as her development over the history of humankind, from sowing, to growing, to degradation, to revival, and to future salvation.


The disciples came and said to [Jesus], “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Mt 13:10–11) 

Through the parables, the Lord Jesus divided the people around Him into two categories: those who understood and those who did not. This was an important division, because Jesus said:

For whoever has, to him more will be given and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  And in them, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled.” (Mt 13:12–14a)

It is not that the Lord typecasts people as those who understand and those who never will. A good shepherd knows His sheep (Jn 10:14), and, in turn, His sheep will know His voice and follow Him (Jn 10:27). Some may not understand initially, but can grow to understand by being willing to search with a humble heart. What is most important is a person’s heart when he receives God’s word. As long as one is willing to open his heart, and “has the heart” to seek and follow the Lord, he will become “he who has,” and will understand the mysteries spoken by the Lord.

Before His arrest, the Lord Jesus prayed for the disciples. He said:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (Jn 17:20–21)

Those who understood in Jesus’ time (“these,” in the above verse) were the disciples, and “those who will believe in [the Lord] through their word” refer to those who will subsequently believe based on the teachings of the disciples. They will become one in the truth and one in the Lord, making up the true church in the spirit.

The Lord Jesus said, “[A]ssuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Mt 13:17).  Indeed, those prophets and righteous men who lived during the Old Testament era feared and served God all their life. But they did not see God manifested in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16) or nailed on the tree to redeem sinners from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13). They did not see Jesus Christ—God incarnate—redeem men through His blood (Eph 1:7), or the church that was established on earth as a result. Through the church, He bestowed salvation grace, to overcome the authority of the gates of Hades (Mt 16:18). All these were mysteries hidden in God, which is why the ancient saints neither saw nor heard what was witnessed by the disciples.


Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Mt 12:38–40)

Just before Jesus spoke of the parables, the scribes and Pharisees asked Him to give them a sign. The sign that Jesus would give them was the sign of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of the great fish—signifying that the Lord Jesus Himself would die for the sins of the world, be buried, and resurrect on the third day. This is the only sign that the Lord would give to an “evil and adulterous generation” because He was willing to save sinners. Without this sign, humankind would be without hope. Later the same day, Jesus spoke these parables to illustrate the mysteries of the kingdom of God, revealing the effects of that sign. Through His church, bought by His blood (Acts 20:28), He brings humankind from the world of darkness into the glorious kingdom.

The Lord once told Paul “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). All who believe in Jesus, and are washed and sanctified (1 Cor 6:11), will receive the everlasting inheritance. Cleansed, they become God’s blameless children in this crooked and perverse generation, shining as lights in the world. 


Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 highlight several important blessings that we, His believers, receive. First, we are indeed greatly blessed because we now know the great mystery that had been hidden since creation, and was not even known by the ancient saints. Second, this mystery pertains to the universality of the grace of salvation, which our Lord Jesus accomplished through His death; it is freely offered to us. We, as Gentiles—the wild olive shoots—can now be grafted onto and made part of God’s household through His grace and our faith (Rom 11:17). Third, the Lord does not discriminate against us if we do not initially understand His word. If we seek and thirst for Him with a sincere heart, we will find Him. Finally, the sign of Jonah—Jesus’ death and resurrection—reminds us not to take these blessings for granted. Instead, we should persevere in our faith and strive to freely share the grace that we have freely received.

[1] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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Author: KC Tsai
Publisher: True Jesus Church