The two parables within our study communicate the same basic truth, yet they do so using different similes that present it from two angles. The big idea behind these deceptively simple parables is that the kingdom of heaven is exceedingly valuable. In fact, it is worth losing everything you have in order to obtain it. It is such a great treasure, such a valuable pearl, that even if you possessed nothing else, you would be rich beyond measure. Both parables communicate this essential reality.
LIKE HIDDEN TREASURE
The first parable reads, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). First, we find that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure. It is, as we previously stated, exceedingly valuable, and we can witness the worth of the kingdom by beholding its glorious King. The kingdom of heaven is so called because God is enthroned in the heavens; therefore, to speak of the heavens in this sense is a reference to God Himself. He is the King who is high and exalted, far greater in majesty and splendor than all others. Like the sun surpasses the radiance of a candle so does the LORD stand supreme among rulers and kings, whether human or angelic.
Second, we also find that the kingdom is a hidden treasure. In what way is the kingdom hidden, and is God unjust to hide it? In the most basic sense, the kingdom is hidden because we choose not to see it. By our sin, we willfully reject God’s kingdom in favor of our own. Adam and Eve were the first to do this, but they were certainly not the last. By their rebellion, they were exiled from Eden, barred from entering the kingdom, and we do the same. The one who says in his heart that there is no God is a fool because in Romans 1-2 Paul states that deep down we all know that God is real. In the same way, the kingdom is hidden behind the walls of our own sin, walls that we would not tear down if we could. Or simply consider how Paul describes our previous mindset before Christ saved us:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.Ephesians 4:17-19
LIKE A MERCHANT IN SEARCH OF FINE PEARLS
This second parable is distinct from the first because the kingdom is not described as being like the pearl of great value (which is what we would expect); instead, the kingdom is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. The point of this parable is to emphasize that those who find the kingdom are those who seek for it. The merchant was looking for fine pearls until he found the pearl that surpassed all other pearls. In the same, citizens of the kingdom are those who are looking for it.
Does this contradict the sovereign election that Paul describes in places like Ephesians 1:3-4? Not at all. Jesus is not addressing here how we decide to seek the kingdom, which we know is only by the grace of God stirring our hearts toward Himself. Instead, Jesus is speaking of the act of seeking itself. And we must indeed seek His kingdom, for the one who seeks will find it.
But how then do we seek the kingdom? Song of Solomon 1:7-8 gives a playful dialogue between a woman and her beloved:
Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock,
where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who veils herself
beside the flocks of your companions?
If you do not know,
O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your young goats
beside the shepherds’ tents.
First, the woman asks where her beloved is pasturing his flock so that she can be with him, and he then responds flirtatious by telling her to “follow the tracks of the flock.” In the same way, we seek Christ and His kingdom by going following the tracks of His flock, by going where we know He will be, which we often call the spiritual disciplines.
The three most basic of these are the Word, prayer, and community. As we learn from Psalm 1, to reject the company of the wicked in favor of delighting and meditating upon God’s Word is to be blessed, to be favored by God. Likewise, prayer is the act of speaking before the throne of our Father in heaven by our high priest and mediator Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Christ has promised to be among His people, so to gather with the church is to be in the presence of the earthly body and bride of our Lord. These are how we seek God’s kingdom. We come to behold the beauties of Christ by searching for the His beauty.
Furthermore, note the singularity in value of Christ and His kingdom. This hidden treasure is beyond all others, and this pearl is unlike any other pearls, no matter how fine. In a way, the singularity of the kingdom is a freeing prospect. Joe Barnard notes how scandalous is this simplicity:
Recently, I was asked what verse Christian men need to hear more than any other. My answer was Luke 10:42, ‘One thing is needed.’ Repeatedly, Jesus’ perspective on life is scandalously simple. There is no bucket-list. There is no call for rabid multitasking. There is one thing. In fact, Jesus promises that if our chief objective is earnestly pursued then God will supply our other needs. In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, ‘Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you’ (Matt. 6:31, 33). Christian discipleship might be challenging, but it is not complicated. The objectives of life are reduced to a bare minimum, one. Our calling is to follow Christ.
ALL THAT HE HAS
Finally, we must note that both parables end similarly with the men selling everything they own in order to purchase their treasure, their pearl of great value. Of course, we should first point out that this is not teaching that the kingdom of heaven can be bought, whether by actual currency or by our good works. Simon the magician in Acts 8 made that mistake whenever he offered the apostles money in order to obtain the power to give people the Holy Spirit. No, the kingdom only comes to us through the grace of Christ.
Instead, Jesus is teaching that the worth of the kingdom exceeds the loss of everything else. Of course, Jesus warned us of the high cost of following Him: a cross. Being a disciple of Jesus involves a daily crucifixion of our own desires and sins in favor of living as Christ’s servant instead. Life in Christ is the death of self. Such a path is difficult, narrow, and few will find it (because they aren’t really looking). Yet the kingdom is worth it. It is worth the daily crucifixion, and it is worthy of the literal crucifixion that many Christians faced. Indeed, we can testify with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).