The Treasure and the Pearl
44"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."
Here Jesus tells two closely related parables. As we have previously stated in our studies of the other parables, all of the parables in this chapter deal, in some way, with the division of men into the righteous and the wicked; they deal with the divisiion of men into those who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and those who are not. This common theme actually aids us in the interpretation of the parables told in verses 44 and 45. In interpreting these parables, we will go against the interpretation given by the vast majority of commentators, yet our interpretation (we believe) makes more sense, even if the parables stood alone and out of the context of the rest of the parables. However, within the context of the other parables, our interpretation is vastly more sensible than the common interpretation, because the common interpretation does not relate at all to the themes of each and every other parable in this chapter.
Jesus tells the parables: "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it" (vss. 44-45). The common interpretation of these parables is as follows (in the words of an eminent commentator): "The general idea which the parable illustrates seems to be this. If a man fully discovers and appreciates the advantages of Christ’s service, he will be so anxious to make those blessings his own as to sacrifice any and everything that may be necessary for that purpose" [Broadus, on vs. 44]. Concerning the second parable: "In like manner, to be a subject of Messiah’s reign is so precious a privilege, that a man might willingly sacrifice everything else to obtain it; whatever pleasures, honors, possessions, or attainments it is necessary to give up he might willingly abandon—whatever efforts are requisite he might make—in order to secure that which is worth so much" [Broadus, on vs. 45].
Certainly, these interpretations are well written, and in some way compelling. It is true that the gospel message is valuable and to be a member of the kingdom of heaven is a great privilege. However, I cannot bring myself to agree with these interpretations for two primary reasons: First, the kingdom of heaven is not for sale; it is the free gift of God. Both parables depict a man giving up all he has to buy the desired object. We Christians in no way buy any of the manifestations of God’s grace. On the contrary, God’s grace is a gift, freely given by God: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…" (John 3:16); "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23); "For it is grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).
The second reason I do not agree with the common interpretation is that (as I have mentioned) the common interpretation does not fit the context of the other parables in the chapter. All of the other parables deal in some way with division of men in the world into those who are members of the kingdom and those who are not. In summary, the parable of the sower (vss. 3-9) deals with the sowing of the gospel message and the differing responses to it by different hearers, thus dividing people into those who respond to the gospel and those who do not; the parable of the tares (vss. 24-30) deals with coexistence in the world of the members of the kingdom and the non-members, until the end of the age when the two types of people are separated; the parable of the mustard seed (vss. 31-33) depicts the growing Church, with a corrupting influence invading and coexisting in the Church along with the members of the kingdom; the parable of the yeast (vs. 33) depicts the growing Church being corrupted from within; the parable of the net (vss. 47-50), as we shall see, similar to the parable of the tares, speaks of the separation at the end of the age of the righteous and the wicked. The common interpretation of the parable of the treasure and the parable of the pearl speaks solely of the gospel message and its value to the members of the kingdom. In my opinion, this interpretation does not fit the context of the five other parables in the chapter.
To guide us to (what I believe is) the proper interpretation of the parables in verse 44 and 45, let me ask: in the Gospel message, who is it that does the buying? It is Jesus, of course, who buys (or redeems) the Church with His blood. As Paul tells us: "You are not your own; you were bought at a price" (I Cor. 6:19, 20). He also tells the Ephesians, in his farewell message to them: "Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). Peter specifically tells us that our redemption does not come at the price of worldly things: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (I Pet. 1:18, 19). From these verses, it becomes clear that the man in parables is none other than Jesus, and the treasure (in the first parable) and the pearl (in the second parable) is the Church. Just as the men in these parables sell everything to buy their treasures, "so did Jesus Himself, at the utmost cost, buy the world to gain His Church, which was the treasure which He desired" [Spurgeon, on vs. 44]. Jesus "made Himself nothing" (see Phil. 2:7). "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (II Cor. 8:9).
So, in verse 44, the field is the world (significantly, just as "the field is the world" in the parable of the tares, see vs. 38), and the treasure is the Church hidden in the world. Again, we have the coexistence of the wicked and the righteous in the world, just as we have in each of the other parables in this chapter. In this parable, the thing that distinguishes the members of the kingdom from those that aren’t is that Jesus "in His joy went and sold all He had and bought the field" so as to obtain the treasure, which is the Church. Note that it was "in his joy" that the man sold all he had to buy the field. We are told that Jesus also redeemed "in His joy": "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).
Likewise, in verse 45, the merchant is Jesus. This parable emphasizes the importance of the individual to Jesus. The merchant "found one [pearl] of great value." And for this one pearl, "went away and sold everything he had and bought it." This is reminiscent of the parable of the lost sheep, where Jesus is typified as especially searching for the one lost sheep. Jesus died specifically for each one of us, and to Him, each of us is a pearl of great value.