Note: Not everyone sees this as a parable, but I think it bears enough similarity to other parables in Matthew 13 to be considered a parable as well. Only this time the parable does not refer specifically to what the Kingdom of Heaven itself is like. Rather it refers to what scribes in the Kingdom of Heaven are like.
Of course, given that James speaks of relatively few people as among those who should be teachers, he most likely has in mind the particular role of the elders, whose special task it is to fill the teaching office in the churches. But I am sure he would agree with the Apostle Paul as well, when he taught the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (3:16).
So, there is a special teaching office in the Church that is to be held by relatively few of us, but there is also a sense in which we should all be teaching one another. And this leads me to the topic of this morning’s text, in which Jesus refers to the teaching role that His disciples will have. Although this role will be filled in a special way by the disciples who became the Apostles of the early church, there is a sense in which it may apply to all of us as well. In this passage we will see that Jesus proposes 1) a question about the disciples’ understanding of the Kingdom, and 2) a parable about the disciples’ role in the Kingdom.
I. A Question About the Disciples’ Understanding of the Kingdom
We find the question in verse 51:
NKJ Matthew 13:51 Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”
In order to properly grasp what is being said here, let’s consider first the question Jesus asks and then the answer the disciples give.
First, when Jesus asks the disciples “Have you understood all these things?” He appears to have in mind especially all the things He has been teaching about the mysteries of the kingdom, that is, all the things that are contained in the parables He has been teaching. For example, after Jesus taught the Parable of the Sower we read:
NKJ Matthew 13:10-12 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 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. 12 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.”
NKJ Matthew 13:16-17 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, 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.
Jesus then went on to explain the Parable of the Sower and to teach a number of other parables as well. Jesus explained some of these parables so as to make the teaching clear to the disciples, while other parables were more simple for them to understand.
Second, the disciples simply answer, “Yes, Lord,” indicating that they have understood the things Jesus has been saying. And Jesus assumes that they have done so as well – at least to some extent – as His following statements indicate.
This doesn’t mean, however, that they understood fully everything He has been teaching, nor that Jesus thinks that they have. As D.A. Carson observes in his commentary on this passage:
This is the only place in this chapter where the disciples themselves are explicitly said to understand, and they say it by themselves. It is as wrong to say that Matthew has portrayed them as understanding everything as it is to say that they understood nothing. The truth lies between the extremes. The disciples certainly understood more than the crowds; on the other hand, they are shortly to be rebuked for their dullness (15:16). Like another positive response in this Gospel (see on 20:22-23), this one cannot be simply dismissed as presumptuous enthusiasm (as if they think they know everything when in fact they know nothing) nor taken at face value (as if their understanding were in fact mature). (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 331)
This assessment is undoubtedly accurate. The fact is that the disciples were still growing in their understanding of the things that Jesus had been teaching, so that they could truly say that they understood, even if not yet completely. In fact, Jesus’ earlier words have assumed that they were growing in their understanding and would continue to do so. Remember what He said in verse 12, that “whoever has, to him more will be given.” Clearly He views the disciples as among those who already have a certain level of spiritual insight and understanding and thus gives them more.
The ESV Study Bible is correct when it says of this verse that, “True disciples grow in understanding through Jesus’ teaching (cf. 28:20)” (BibleWorks). It is this assumption that underlies Jesus’ teaching in the following verse, where we find …
II. A Parable About the Disciples’ Role in the Kingdom
Look with me at verse 52:
NKJ Matthew 13:52 Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed [μαθητεύω, mathēteúō] concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
There are at least three things we should pay special attention to in Jesus’ statements here.
First, when Jesus refers to every “scribe,” He uses the Greek word grammateús, which is often translated scribe – as here in the New King James Version – and which often refers to those who were regarded as expert interpreters and teachers of the Old Testament law and Jewish doctrine. So, Jesus is saying here that, just as the Jewish people had their scribes, even so the Kingdom of Heaven will have its scribes. The disciples to whom He was speaking would fill this role in a special way in the early Church. As a matter of fact, Jesus later prophesied about them using the same term:
NKJ Matthew 23:34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes [γραμματεύς, grammateús]: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city ….
But one cannot become a scribe of Jesus unless he is first a disciple, which is the next point we need to consider.
Second, when Jesus refers to every scribe “instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven,” He is indicating that those who teach must first have been taught. In fact, to be precise, He is indicating that those who are going to disciple others must first have been disciples themselves, for the Greek verb translated instructed here in the New King James Version is actually mathēteúō, which may be translated be a disciple or become a disciple. The related noun – mathētḗs – is regularly used to refer to Jesus’ followers and is commonly translated with the English word disciple.
This is why the NASB translates this phrase “every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven” (italics mine). I think Jesus is referring in this passage specifically to those who have been discipled by Himself. In the context He is referring to those who have come to understand and live according to the mysteries of the Kingdom and thus have become capable of teaching others also. Having been disciples, they are able to disciple others as well. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus later commands them to do:
NKJ Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples [μαθητεύω, mathēteúō] of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching [διδάσκω] them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
This has immediate application to the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking, but it also applies to all of those who follow in their footsteps. They are scribes of the Kingdom in a special sense, but there is a sense in which we are all called to be scribes in the Kingdom of Heaven as well.
This leads to the next thing we should notice, which is contained in the parable itself.
Third, when Jesus says that a scribe of the Kingdom of Heaven “is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old,” He must have in mind his teaching role in the kingdom since – as we have seen – this is the function of a scribe.
So, when Jesus says that their teaching will involve things new and old, He appears to have in mind both those things that had been previously revealed – i.e. in the Old Testament – and those things which were being newly revealed – i.e. in His teaching ministry and in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in His ministry, including what would become the New Testament.
Again, the ESV Study Bible is correct when it asserts, “They are like the man who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old, in that they understand both the ‘new’ revelation from Jesus and how it fulfills the ‘old’ promises in the OT” (BibleWorks).
Conclusion: I will conclude, then, with the same idea with which I began this message. There are those relative few called to the teaching office in the Church, but there is also a sense in which we are all called to a teaching role.
As we have seen, the early disciples of Jesus were called to a special teaching and discipling role, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t all have a teaching and discipling function to fill in the Church in some sense. After all, we have all been given the Great Commission.
We must all therefore carry on their work in whatever place God has given us in the Kingdom. And we must all be like that householder who brings out of His treasure things both new and old. Those of us who have a special teaching function – such as the elders – must, as Paul modeled for us, teach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). But all of us must have a commitment to be Kingdom scribes, who seek to understand and communicate His word to others. And this must come from our hearts. Again, as D.A. Carson put it in his commentary ion this passage:
The thēsauros (“storeroom” [treasure]) so regularly stands for a man’s “heart,” its wealth and cherished values (see above; esp. on 12:35), that we must understand the discipled scribe to be bringing things out of his heart – out of his understanding, personality, and very being. (EBC, Vol. 8, p. 332)
The Kingdom of Heaven must have captured our own hearts before we can share it with others as we ought. Has the Kingdom of Heaven – or rather, the King of Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ – so captured our hearts that we are able to share from the heart with others? For only then are we capable of truly being His disciples and scribes of the Kingdom.