Editor’s note: The seven parables in Matthew 13 reveal the knowledge of the kingdom of God, enabling men to find the true church. In the first parable—the parable of the sower—only seeds that fall on good soil will grow, be deeply rooted, flourish, and bear fruit. Everyone has an equal chance to find the kingdom of heaven, but only the truly receptive heart will understand the gospel, come to the true church, and continually walk in God’s word. In the second parable—the parable of the tares—tares sown among the good seed will ultimately be weeded out and destroyed. The devil works through false brethren to trouble the true church. True believers should not lose heart but trust God to ultimately eradicate these sons of the wicked one. In the third parable—the parable of the mustard seed—the eponymous seed grows into a huge tree, attracting birds to nest in its branches. The growing true church will suffer the infiltration of heresies. To continue to enjoy God’s abidance, the true church must firmly uphold the truth at all times. In the fourth parable—the parable of the leaven—leaven hidden within a small measure of meal leavened the entire lump. The true church must remain hypervigilant because the slightest tolerance of immorality and infidelity to the truth will corrupt and destroy the church.
This installment continues with the fifth and sixth parables.
THE PARABLE OF THE HIDDEN TREASURE
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Mt 13:44)
In ancient times, there were no convenient facilities such as banks and safe deposit boxes to keep valuables safe. Most people would hide their treasures in the ground (Mt 25:24–25). Over time, some of these treasure owners might forget their exact location or die without leaving instructions about their buried wealth. So the treasure would remain “lost” until someone “found” it. In the parable, the man who found the treasure was not a professional treasure hunter who went around searching for and collecting riches. He just happened to see the treasure, or part of it, protruding from the ground. Under rabbinic law, if a laborer unearthed something valuable buried in a field, it would belong to the landowner. In this case, the finder was honest enough not to steal the treasure. But he understood its great worth, so he carefully re-hid it before quickly selling all he had to purchase that field. By so doing, he gained rightful ownership over the treasure.
There are several aspects of the parable worth reflecting on. First, what treasure is so precious it is worth giving up everything one owns? The apostles and prophets give us some clues.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Phil 3:8)
Paul’s greatest treasure was the knowledge of Jesus Christ. In the past, he had high status, learning, and wealth. But he was willing to forsake all these for Christ. Moses was a prince dwelling in magnificent Egyptian palaces. However, he regarded the reproach of Christ as far greater riches than the treasures of Egypt because he looked to the reward (Heb 11:26). Thus, his greatest treasure was to suffer reproach for Christ. Similarly, although Peter and the apostles were arrested, questioned, beaten, and threatened by the council, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Lord’s name (Acts 5:41). These apostles treasured and gloried in the opportunity to suffer for Christ.
Second, the discovery of the treasure was completely serendipitous. The man did not set out to look for the treasure; the treasure found him! Realizing that such an opportunity may not come again, he immediately took action. Like the fortunate protagonist of Jesus’ parable, and like the apostles, we have freely received opportunities from the Lord to know Him, serve Him, and suffer for Him. The question is whether we recognize the value of this treasure and, if we do, whether we joyfully and immediately cast aside all the “rubbish” of our worldly lives to ensure that we secure these spiritual treasures.
Third, the man in the parable accidentally stumbled across the treasure, but the Scriptures tell us that there are hidden treasures that we should continually seek.
My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the LORD,
And find the knowledge of God. (Prov 2:1–5)
While different people would perceive different things as treasures, a person truly concerned about God’s kingdom and his spiritual life would constantly seek wisdom. Wisdom leads us to have a better knowledge of God and His word. Wisdom enables us to understand the true value of the trials we suffer (Jas 1:2–5).
Treasure in Earthen Vessels
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (2 Cor 4:7)
Fourth, it is believed that first-century Romans would bury their valuables in clay pots in the ground. Paul uses the metaphor—treasure in earthen vessels—to remind us of our commission. Earthen vessels refer to the lowly and weak bodies of the Lord’s servants. The treasure is the ministry that they have received (2 Cor 4:1, 5–6). Through the Holy Spirit’s revelation and guidance, they can proclaim God’s word and the gospel of salvation to shine forth Christ’s glorious light in a dark world.
RE-EMERGENCE OF THE TRUE CHURCH
Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. It was like the appearance of the vision which I saw—like the vision which I saw when I came to destroy the city. The visions were like the vision which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face. And the glory of the LORD came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple. (Ezek 43:1–5)
This treasure was hidden in the ground during the period represented by the latter part of the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven. Only when the fullness of time came would this treasure be found. According to various biblical passages, the true church would be from the “east” (Ezek 43:1–5; Rev 7:2).
The experience of the early workers of the True Jesus Church reflects that of the treasure-finder in the parable. Guided by the Holy Spirit’s revelation, these early workers gained the precious knowledge of the truth of salvation. They then joyfully “sold all that they had”—some sold land, some forsook family businesses—to travel to various places to preach the reformed truth and establish churches. This was the treasure they received: the commission of the Holy Spirit to preach the complete truth of salvation imparted by Him.
THE PARABLE OF THE PEARL
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls [plural], who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt 13:45–46)
Jesus begins this parable with the word “again,” which links it with the preceding parable of the hidden treasure. Both are about men who found something so valuable they were willing to sacrifice all they had to own it. However, in contrast to the laborer who accidentally discovered the hidden treasure, this parable is about a knowledgeable merchant who looked for fine pearls and succeeded in finding one. This merchant not only knew how to buy and sell, he knew how to seek beautiful pearls and could discern between good and bad pearls.
What does the beautiful pearl refer to?
Pearls: Complete Truth of the Gospel of Salvation
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. …The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. (Rev 21:9–10, 21)
The Bride of the Lamb is the holy city, the New Jerusalem, and the spiritual true church which will descend from heaven. This is the city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God. It is prepared for the triumphant saints (Heb 11:8–10, 16).
But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Rev 21:27)
This is why the holy city has twelve gates, and each gate is a pearl. These twelve pearls stand guard as the gates of this city. Only those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life may enter. They enter the true church through the pearls.
The twelve pearls pertain to the complete requirements of God concerning righteousness. These refer to His complete word, the truth of the salvation gospel. We can infer this by comparing what the Lord Jesus and Peter once said.
According to our Lord, we should not “give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast [our] pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear [us] in pieces” (Mt 7:6). According to Peter, those who have “known the way of righteousness” and “turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” are like dogs who return to their vomit or pigs who, despite being washed, return to “wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet 2:21–22). In other words, “what is holy” and “pearls” refer to the holy commandment and the way of righteousness. These pearls are the teachings of the Lord and the salvation grace He has accomplished—the words of life and genuine, spiritual wisdom.
Pearl: Wisdom from Above
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 2:10–11)
The true church is likened to a connoisseur and merchant who seeks and can recognize a beautiful pearl (biblical truth, wisdom from above). However, success in one’s search for the pearl depends not on one’s skill but rather on opportunity. Through the Holy Spirit, God led the church to the valuable pearl. It is also the Holy Spirit who enabled her to see the value of the pearl. The early workers of the church thus forsook all that they had (the worldly wisdom and erroneous beliefs they once esteemed) in exchange for this pearl (the mysterious wisdom of God, the complete truth) (1 Cor 2:6–10).
Similarly, after the light of the Lord shone upon him, Paul understood the truth (Acts 9). All the things he used to cherish—the Jewish traditions, the requirements of the Old Testament law (Gal 1:13–14), and his high position within the sect of the Pharisees (Acts 22:3–5; 26:4–5)—were little more than rubbish. He counted “all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:8).
Pearl: Teachings from the Bible
Beautiful pearls (plural) refer to the teachings from the Bible. Biblical teachings are always consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments. For example, concerning forgiveness, the Lord Jesus said:
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt 6:14–15)
He also said, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Mt 18:35). The Old Testament perfectly illustrates this divine forgiveness: God forgave His people time and time again. This teaching regarding forgiveness is a beautiful pearl through which men can be forgiven by the heavenly Father. Others, like “love one another,” “honor your parents,” “do not judge,” “do not commit immorality,” and so on, are all beautiful pearls.
Pearl: Doctrine of the Church
This precious pearl is so valuable that the merchant could afford it only after he had sold all he had. The extent of the merchant’s sacrifice reflects his conviction that living without this pearl would be impossible. Today, this priceless pearl refers to the complete, pure, and genuine doctrine of the true church. Without this pearl, salvation becomes impossible.
Baptism for the remission of sin: Many Christians believe that the remission of sin happens at the point of belief. But after Paul was called and had understood the salvation grace of the Lord (i.e., he believed) Ananias told him, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). In other words, the remission of sins takes place at the point of baptism. Baptism is unquestionably not just an “outward act” of belief in the Lord but is for the “remission of sins” (Acts 2:38–39). Baptism is to be washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 6:11).
Footwashing to have a part with the Lord: When Jesus was washing His disciples’ feet, He told Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (Jn 13:8). After washing Peter’s feet, Jesus reiterated, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15). Therefore, if footwashing is not part of a Christian’s faith, then they “have no part in the Lord”—how can they then bring people before the Lord?
Holy Communion: The Lord Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:53–54). The Lord said His words are spirit and life (Jn 6:63). After thanksgiving, the unleavened bread and grape juice become respectively the flesh and blood of the Lord in spirit. Those who do not eat of it will have no life; whoever eats it shall have eternal life and resurrect on the last day.
Holy Spirit: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. …But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:9–11). If a believer of the Lord does not pray for the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13), how can he be raised from the dead through the Holy Spirit?
Sabbath: “Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants—everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa 56:6–7). How can a believer who does not keep God’s everlasting covenant by observing the Sabbath ascend the holy mountain of the Lord and be pleasing to the Lord in his prayers?
All these teachings and other core beliefs of the true church make up the complete doctrine (Jn 7:16–17). If there are flaws in any of this doctrine, it will be incomplete; and the church that holds an incomplete doctrine is not the true church as recorded in the Bible. This doctrine is a valuable pearl, which one can purchase only when he sells all he has.
CONCLUSION: TREASURE THE TRUTH
These two parables share a common theme. In them, the protagonists are prepared to sacrifice everything to own and retain the treasure they have found. The difference between them is that in one, the man came across the treasure serendipitously, while in the other, the man was seeking priceless pearls. Today, the true church has many believers who have had different journeys to the truth. Some of us stumbled across the church in various amazing ways, while others had searched for the truth and the true church for a long time. Recognizing how priceless this grace is, we have discarded previous beliefs to embark on the correct way to salvation, eschewing worldly pleasures to remain on this true path. We are prepared to obey the Lord Jesus’ commission to take His gospel to all corners of the world. Importantly, we must never tire of seeking wisdom from above to help us grow into the image and measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13). As a church, we have the priceless blessing of the truth and the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ. We must do all we can to keep this truth and contend for the faith.
 Jiazheng Zheng, Introduction to the True Jesus Church and Her Doctrinal Thoughts (Taichung: Philemon Bookstore, 2015), 14–15.