Bible Study Outline
Read Matt. 13:1-17:
The subject material of the present season’s outlines is the Parables of our Lord. We may say at the very outset that the subject is not an easy one, but very worthwhile. You will need to put forth some extra effort in your study and discussion, but it will be well repaid. If your society succeeds in carrying on a good discussion without too much difficulty, you may rest assured you have a very good society.
PARABLES: WHAT ARE THEY?
Parables may briefly be defined as: earthly stories teaching spiritual truths. Parables are imaginary stories, which in their details could very actually transpire, the purpose of the stories being to inculcate and illustrate spiritual truths. The word “parable” signifies a placing of two or more objects together, usually for the purpose of comparison. According to Mark. 4:11 Jesus said that the things of the kingdom “are done” (i.e. take place, happen) in parables. In other words, Jesus means to say that these spiritual truths are actually happening day by day before our eyes (as e.g. in the parable of the sower). Christ merely points out the preaching, which although hidden from the foundation of the earth, was there nevertheless. God made the world and its fullness an image of the heavenly and eternal things, and therefore they point upward. Consequently, parables are not fortunate comparisons, products of human ingenuity, but divinely ordained testimonies present since the foundation of the world in which God ever preaches of heavenly things.
QUESTIONS: Besides the revelation in Scripture, where else has God revealed himself? Prove that the present world is a picture and image of the world to come. What difference is there between a parable and a fable? Are there any fables in the Bible? Are there other parables in the Bible apart from those of the Lord Himself?
PARABLES, A NEW METHOD OF TEACHING.
Before the particular time to which vs. 1 refers, Jesus had never used parables. According to the best chronology of events the Lord had been actively engaged in his Public Ministry for more than a year and a half, but he had never yet spoken in parables. It was thus, when the opposition toward him and of his ministry was crystalizing and taking on a very definite form, that Jesus adopted this new form of teaching. From that time on he frequently spoke in parables. Hence, you can understand the but natural and pertinent question of the disciples. “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?”
QUESTIONS: What method of teaching did Jesus employ prior to the time that he began to use parables? Was the parabolic method of teaching something wholly new, or did other teachers in Jesus’ day use it also? How long was Jesus’ public ministry? According to Matt. 12 what took place on the same day that Jesus began to speak in parables?
WHY THIS NEW METHOD OF TEACHING?
Why did Jesus adopt this new form of teaching? From the question: “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” it is evident that the disciples felt that this change had something to do with the multitude that was now more and more taking a stand against him. Hence, according to Mk. 4:10 they asked Jesus this question in private, that is, when the multitude was absent. In Christ’s answer as we have it in Matthew 13:11-17 and in Mark 4:11. 12 we have:
- In verse 11a division of his hearers into two groups: them to whom it is given to know the things of the kingdom (the believers) and them to whom it is not given (the unbelievers)
- In vs. 12 the general rule of the purpose and effect of the preaching: that he that hath shall receive more, while he that hath not from him shall be taken away what he hath (what he seemeth to have, Lk. 8:18).
- In vs. 13ff: The spirits have been revealed in the past, they must still more clearly be revealed. They must clearly, emphatically and continually see the things of God’s kingdom. The preaching must never be able to be said to have gone over their heads. The wicked must understand with their natural minds, very, very, clearly so that they can never say that they did not understand. It must be evident that although they naturally understood, it was their spiritual and ethical attitude of unbelief that became evident. The wicked must be wholly without excuse.
Therefore, Christ speaks in parables, pointed lessons which they could not fail to understand. And the wicked did understand, as is evident from Matt. 22:45, but did not believe. Thus, the actual effect as well as the divine purpose of the parable in respect to the reprobate is their hardening. This hardening takes place in a manner compatible with human responsibility. But parables also have a positive purpose and effect in them to whom it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom. They can understand the things of God’s kingdom still better and are drawn closer thereby. Hence, vss. 16, 17. (For a further study of the purpose of parables, consult by Rev. H. Hoeksema, The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches.)
QUESTIONS: What is a mystery? Which are the mysteries of the kingdom Christ has in mind in vs. 11? Is the Christian Reformed position of two conflicting wills in God—one according to which he wills the salvation of the elect only, and one according to which he wills the salvation of every man—a mystery? How is it possible to take away from a man that hath not, even that which he hath? Did Jesus intend parables to be a well-meaning offer of salvation on the part of God? How is the doctrine of reprobation and election clearly taught in this portion of Scripture?
CLASSIFICATION OF THE PARABLES:
For your information we wish to give a brief sketch of the arrangement and classification of parables we will follow. There are, properly speaking, twenty seven parables. They may be divided into three groups:
GROUP 1 — The Seven Parables of Matt. 13. They were the first parables spoken, and treat seven aspects of the growth and development of the kingdom. These are:
- The Parable of the Sower.
- The Tares.
- The Mustard Seed.
- The Leaven.
- The Hid Treasure.
- The Pearl of Great Price.
- The Dragnet.
GROUP II — This group comprises Thirteen Parables. They were spoken during the last year of Jesus’ public ministry and shortly before his last journey to Jerusalem. This group treats of moral-ethical relationships as evaluated in the light of the kingdom. Included in this list are:
- The Unmerciful Servant. Matt. 18.
- The Good Samaritan. Luke 10.
- The Impudent Friend. Luke 11.
- The Rich Fool. Luke 12.
- The Barren Fig Tree. Luke 13.
- The Great Supper. Luke 14.
- The Lost Sheep. Luke 15.
- The Lost Coin. Luke 15.
- The Prodigal Son. Luke 15.
- The Unjust Steward. Luke 16.
- The Rich Man and Lazarus. Luke 16.
- The Unjust Judge. Luke 18.
- The Pharisee and the Publican. Luke 18.
GROUP III — This group also consists of Seven Parables. They were spoken during the Savior’s final stay in Jerusalem, and belong to Good Friday week. They may be called the parables of judgment, since they speak of the judgment of the kingdom, both as it pertained to the Jewish nation and as it will be finally. Here belong the following:
- The Pounds. Luke 19.
- The Wicked Husbandmen. Luke 20; Matt. 21; Mk. 12.
- The Laborers in the Vineyard. Matt 20.
- The Two Sons. Matt. 21.
- The Wedding Feast. Matt. 22.
- The Ten Virgins. Matt. 25.
- The Talents. Matt. 25.
The Parable of The Sower
Read Matt. 13:3-9; 18-23.
The things of God’s Kingdom are done, they happen before our very eyes in parables. How evidently true that is from this very first parable; how world-wide common that a sower goes forth to sow and that the seed falls on different grounds and does not grow alike! Good seed is not enough, it needs good earth. Christ interpreted the first two parables for us, and thereby also taught us the method of interpreting all parables. Note that the Savior does not interpret every detail (e.g. that there are only four kinds of earth mentioned and no more), emphasizing thereby that we must never try to interpret every detail of the parable.
In general every parable has one main lesson, and it is this main lesson that is the all-important matter. The lesson of this parable may be briefly summarized in the words of Luke 8:18. “Take heed therefore how ye hear’’. It is not so much what we hear, but how we hear that is the point of this parable.
THE SEED SOWN
The seed sown is the Word of God (Lk. 8:11), also called the Word of the kingdom (Matt. 13: 19), or simply the Word (Mk. 4: 14). The sower is the preacher, in the last instance the Christ (Matt. 13:37). Apostles, prophets, ministers are his messengers, Matt. 10: 20, 40.
QUESTIONS: What is meant by promiscuous preaching of the Word? How does the parable imply that the gospel must be preached promiscuously? Does the minister who fails to preach God’s Word sow seed? Does the sowing of the parable refer to the external or to the internal calling?
The preaching of the Word does not bear fruit in all that hear; not because the Word itself is different, but because of the inner spiritual condition of the hearers. The four soils represent four ways of hearing. Those by the wayside are those so engrossed in things natural that the preaching makes no impression upon them at all. There is hardly any impact. They hardly remember the sermon or even the text as they leave the church.
QUESTIONS: Who is the wicked one of vs. 19 that catches away that which was sown? (Cf. Mk. 4:15) Can a true Christian ever be in the spiritual condition of the soil by the wayside? What does vs. 19 mean by “understandeth it not”: is this said in reference to spiritual discernment or in reference to natural understanding also?
THE STONY PLACES:
From Ps. 5 it is evident that the soil intended is not ground full of stones, but soil that consists of a thin layer of earth over rock, i.e. hard-pan. These receive the Word with joy at once; they shout hallelujah’s and amen’s. But, note, vs. 21 says they have no root in themselves. Hence, when tribulation (suffering for Christ’s sake in the more general form) or persecution (suffering for Christ’s sake in the more special manifestation) arise they are offended. They are as immediately offended as they believed, Mk. 4:17. The real hearer can weather the storms of opposition: temporary faith cannot because it has no root in itself. It is merely a matter of superficial feeling, not of the heart.
QUESTIONS: What four kinds of faith does Reformed doctrine distinguish? Does temporary faith differ from saving faith only in duration? (Cf. Canons of Dort, V, Rejection 7.) Can one know for himself whether his faith is only temporary faith or true faith? Can others judge this before the temporary faith reveals itself by turning away? Is there a real falling away from grace?
The societies will undoubtedly find enough material in the above for one evening’s discussion, and therefore the thorns and the good soil can be reserved for next week’s discussion.
The Sower (cont.)
Read Matt. 13:7-9,22, 23
Although in this case also the heart remained untouched, it appeared for a time that the seed was growing well, thriving and coming to fruit-bearing. Yet it became unfruitful. The heart was a bed of thorn seeds. The cares of this world, whose reverse side is the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of this life (as Lk. adds) are the weeds that choked the seed. By the cares of this world are to be understood the everyday cares of eating and drinking, clothing and shelter; by the deceitfulness of riches, the temptations of prosperity, the goods of this world that easily turn man’s head away from God: by the pleasure of this life, amusements, etc.
QUESTIONS: Why does Scripture speak of the deceitfulness of riches? Which of the three things mentioned is most likely to turn the heart of men in the days of their youth? Do you think that a mother’s responsibility to prepare the Sunday dinner can help to rob her of the full benefit of the preaching? Does the fault lie with the cares of this world, with riches or with the pleasures of this life in themselves? Is the seed ever choked by thorns in the case of a true believer?
THE GOOD SOIL:
The good soil represents those hearers that receive the Word “in an honest and good heart” (Lk.), i.e. with a regenerated, believing heart. Such a heart is the gift of grace, Matt. 13:11. In this case there is fruit-bearing: repentance, faith, sanctification. Lk. 8:15 adds that the fruit-bearing is “with patience”, undoubtedly implying perseverance in the face of tribulations and persecutions. Perseverance is characteristic of all true faith, Matt. 24:13. Note that the fruit-bearing differs in degree: hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold. One hundredfold does not imply that a Christian can attain perfection here below: hundred, sixty, thirty here emphasize that all true faith does not bear the same number of fruits. All are not Jobs, Pauls, etc. Yet all are true believers.
QUESTIONS: Wherein does fruit-bearing consist? Prove from Scripture that no Christian can attain absolute perfection in this life. Is the difference in fruit-bearing to be explained from the measure of grace bestowed upon each? If so, does this exclude that a Christian should strive toward the one hundredfold? Can the preaching produce a good heart, or is a good heart the immediate gift of God in regeneration?
Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. There are people that are naturally deaf, but there are also those that are spiritually deaf. Jesus addresses those whose ears are opened, who are capable of spiritually hearing. They alone will profit from this parable and its lesson.
QUESTIONS: What is the one main lesson of this parable? Cf. Lk. 8:18a. If the preacher must prepare to speak the Word, do you think the hearers ought to prepare to hear it? Is the fact that some people profit more than others due to the preacher or to the receptivity of the hearers? In this parable Jesus does not teach us to ask, “How well did the preacher preach?” but, “How did I hear?” Prove that there is room for this exhortation.
Fourth Week of October
Read Matt. 13:24-30; 37b-43
The material of this outline can be arranged under the three headings: present admixture, patient waiting, final separation.
TARES IN THE WORLD:
The parable teaches, first of all: present admixture. The good seed in this parable is not the Word preached but the true children of God in whom that Word is implanted. This good seed is said to be sown by the Son of Man. The tares are the children of the Wicked One. Tares, according to The International Bible Encyclopedia, are a wild-wheat closely resembling wheat, so closely that it cannot be clearly distinguished until it is in the ear. The tares are the children of the Devil, who although in the midst of the church institute are not truly of her. Although “the field is the world” could mean the world in general, we take it to mean the visible church institute throughout the length and the breadth of the world. If you take the word “world” in the general sense, then Christ here teaches that there will be wicked people on earth to the end. That does not imply, of course, that they are in the midst of the church institute. If you take the word “world” in the limited sense of “ecclesiastical world” (church institute in the broadest sense), then the parable means there will be children of the Devil in the church institute unto the end of the world. We leave the question for your discussion. But remember: (1) This is a parable of the kingdom, a term which is nearly equivalent at times to the term church (Matt. 16:18, 19). The word “world” usually must be understood in a limited sense, as determined by the context and Scripture in general. (2) Would Jesus devote a parable to teach that there always will be wicked men on earth?
WHENCE THE TARES?
Vs. 27 asks, “Sir didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?” Naturally. either the good seed contained tares and then it is the master’s own fault, or the tares came from elsewhere and do not belong there. The answer is, an enemy has done this. It is said that expelled renters would deliberately sow tares in the landlord’s field. The enemy here is Satan, the Devil. Indeed, God has a purpose with the presence of tares in the church: but their spiritual-ethical origin is not from Christ but from the Devil. Christ does not bear tares, only wheat; his Spirit never works unbelief, only faith. He does this secretly, at night, under cover of darkness, “while men slept”.
QUESTIONS: Prove that Jesus believed in a personal Devil? Does our modern world believe in a Devil? Is the church of our day enough aware of his existence and wicked work? Mention various ways by which Satan sows tares in the church? Why do you believe that the word ‘‘field” must be understood in the limited sense of the church institute? Prove that although the tares are spiritually the work of the Devil, God has a purpose in their presence in the church. Does “while men slept” imply that the servants were lax and thus to blame for the planting of the tares? Do the servants appear lax in the parable, vs. 27, 28?
The parable teaches, secondly, patient waiting. The question, “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?” was but natural. The servants were good servants, servants who sought their lord’s welfare. Which Christian delights in tares in the church? Some have attempted to create a pure church by rejecting infant baptism, by setting up strict tests for confession, etc. All these attempts are doomed to fail. Christ simply says, “Let both grow together until harvest”. That does not, of course, imply that there is to be no exercise of Christian discipline in the church. There must be: cf. Matt. 18:1-5-20; I Cor. 5:5, 13. The parable does mean, however, that final separation cannot be made here and now. Discipline can only be over the walk, not over the heart. To attempt establishing a church free from tares always results in pulling out the wheat with the tares.
QUESTIONS: Prove from Scripture that Christian discipline must be exercised in the church institute? Why is it impossible that this parable teaches no discipline? Is it wrong to desire a church free from tares? May we try to weed out tares? Why does Christ allow the tares to remain: Is it in love to the tares?
This parable teaches, thirdly, final separation. The time of harvest is the end of the world: then the separation takes place. The angels are the reapers, cf. Matt. 16:27; Matt. 24:31: II Thess. 1:7. Notice, they will take the tares out of the wheat, not vice-versa. The church is saved, but the hypocrites are taken out of it. They shall be cast into hell. The positive result for the church will be that “then the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father”.
QUESTIONS: Is hell really a place? Why is it figuratively called a “furnace of fire” and a place of “wailing and gnashing of teeth”? Can you show from Scripture in general that the angels are very much interested in the salvation of the church? In what sense is it meant when the saved are called “the righteous”? What hides the glory of the church in this dispensation?