The Hidden Treasure, and the Valuable Pearl stories.

God’s kingdom is worth everything we have.

Matthew 13.44-46

Two quick parables Jesus told in Matthew are sorta parallel with one another. Maybe Jesus told the same story two different ways, so Matthew bunched ’em together. In any case here they are.

Matthew 13.44-46 KWL
44 “Heaven’s kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field which a person found—and hid it again.
In his joy, he runs off and sells all he has, and buys that field.
45 Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a person—a trader seeking good pearls.
46 Leaving after finding one valuable pearl, he’s sold everything he has, and bought it.”

In both cases Jesus describes people who discover something so valuable, so worth it, they’re willing to give up absolutely everything they have for it. We’re not unfamiliar with the idea of Mammonists, gross materialists, who are willing to say and do anything for wealth. Including risk their existing wealth, if they figure the payoff is vast enough. Well, God’s kingdom is the very same way: It has just as vast a payoff.

But let me deal with the rather obvious bit of unethical behavior in that first story, the Hidden Treasure story: Dude finds treasure in a field, so he buys the field. But he doesn’t tell the owner what he found. He hid what he found. Either buried it back up again, or moved it elsewhere to hide it again; Jesus left it to our imaginations.

Didn’t this guy have an obligation to mention this to the owner?—who’s the rightful owner of this treasure? Didn’t this lack of disclosure mean he stole the treasure right out from under the previous owner? I mean, if someone bought your wallet for two bucks, and didn’t tell you you’d left 20 hundred-dollar bills in it, they just made $1,998 off your mistake. But it doesn’t matter if you overlooked the money; your deal was for the wallet, not the cash. That’s straight-up theft, innit?

Yes. Yes it is.

What, you expected the characters in Jesus’s parables to be as good as he is? They aren’t always, y’know. They include murderers, thieves, wastrels, and all sorts. Yet God’s kingdom is like them. Did you forget sinners are getting into the kingdom?

C.I. Scofield’s misinterpretation.

Occasionally Christians like to play connect-the-dots, and try to find meanings for the elements in Jesus’s parables, with metaphors found in other verses in the scriptures. Darbyists are notorious for this behavior. Hence Darbyism popularizer C.I. Scofield’s spin on things in his reference bible:

The interpretation of the parable of the treasure which makes the buyer of the field to be a sinner who is seeking Christ, has no warrant in the parable itself. The field is declared to be the world. Mt 13.38 The seeking sinner does not buy, but forsakes the world to gain Christ. Furthermore, the sinner has nothing to sell; neither is Christ for sale or hidden in a field; nor, having found Christ, does the sinner hide him again. cf. Mk 7.24, Ac 4.20 At every point the interpretation breaks down.

The field is the world, Mt 13.38 which was purchased by our Lord at the priceless cost of his own blood in order that he might have the treasure. 1Pe 1.18 As Israel was God’s treasure in O.T. times, Ex 19.5, Ps 135.4 so there is at the present time “a remnant [of Israel] chosen by grace.” Ro 11.5 Those who compose the remnant are no longer considered Jews Ga 3.28 but are members of the “one body” together with saved gentiles Ep 2.14-18, 4.4 and thus Christ’s inheritance Ep 1.18 and his joy. He 12.2

Scofield at Mt 13.44

Sounds like a proper biblical interpretation, doesn’t it? Here’s why it’s loopy.

Scofield’s first premise is that the field is the world. It’s based on the field in the Wheat and Weeds story. Jesus states that field represents the world. Mt 13.38 He doesn’t state what this field represents; it’s an entirely different parable. But to Darbyists, parables are codes, and “field” in one story means the same as “field” does in another story. All you need is a comprehensive interpretation key of every parable and every apocalyptic vision, and they’re pretty sure that’s what the bible provides.

Yep, Scofield’s very first premise is wrong. Stands to reason the rest of his interpretation will fall apart.

He deduces the person buying the field can’t be a sinner who recognizes its hidden value, ’cause if the field’s the world, what’s the sinner doing buying the world? But Jesus could buy the world—and did, dying to save it Jn 3.17 and take away its sin. 1Jn 2.2 So the kingdom is like Jesus buying the world so he could get at the treasure hidden within it, the kingdom.

Except this: What’s the kingdom doing hidden in the world?

Well, Scofield figured, the treasure—the kingdom—is Israel. And today’s church is a combination of the people of Israel who embraced their Messiah, plus all the gentiles who joined ’em in following Jesus. Israel was in the world in Jesus’s day, though oppressed and powerless. We might arguably call that “hidden.” Kinda works.

But it doesn’t. God’s kingdom isn’t hidden in the world. It’s not of this world; Jn 18.36 not yet. Jesus came into the world to declare it’s come near, Mk 1.15 and is among us. Lk 17.21 It’s only visible when Christians are following Jesus. It’s not when we’re not.

If the kingdom’s not to be found within the world, the field in this parable obviously isn’t the world, Scofield notwithstanding.

What is the field? Doesn’t say. Doesn’t really matter. The key idea is the kingdom’s hidden… but somebody discovered it, rejoiced, and gave up all he had to acquire the kingdom. The field’s irrelevant, both in the parable, and to the guy buying the field. The treasure’s what counts.

And when we compare the Hidden Treasure story with the Valuable Pearl story, we see their common theme: A person discovers something so valuable, they gotta have it, and will give up everything else to get it. If we overanalyze the other elements in these stories—what the field represents, what’s so significant about pearls and how they’re made (and the fact they come from ritually unclean animals), and whatever deductions we can make about how Jesus feels about capitalism—we’re missing the point. We’re inventing new points to compete with Jesus’s points. We’re creating distractions.

Darbyists love a good mystery. Their main deal is they wanna uncover how the End Times work. In the meanwhile they’ll also try to uncover mysteries which aren’t really there, and try to plumb the hidden depths of parables when Jesus never created such depths. It’s not that complicated an idea. Christians pretty much got it right from the beginning: A seeker found the kingdom, and it’s worth everything they have. The analogy only breaks down after you’ve built some unnecessary extra things upon it.

The kingdom can be bought?

Another thing which hung up Scofield was how Jesus described both people as buying the objects they prized—the field and the pearl. As we all know, you don’t buy God’s kingdom. Not that simoniacs won’t try to sell it.

Yep, the kingdom is given to us entirely through God’s grace and good pleasure. Lk 12.32 But lest we get hung up on those words agorádzei/“buys” and igórasen/“bought,” John Calvin pointed out this interesting passage the Holy Spirit says in Isaiah:

Isaiah 55.1-3 KWL
1 “Oy, all you thirsty! Come to the waters!
You who have no silver: Come buy grain! Eat!
Come buy grain without silver! Wine and milk at no cost!
2 Why weigh out silver for what isn’t bread? Toil for what doesn’t fill you?
Listen, listen to me. Eat good food! Delight your souls with fat.
3 Stretch out your ear. Come to me. Listen. Let your soul live!
I offer an eternal relationship with you. Trustworthy David-style love.”

Stop striving after worthless things, and come buy stuff without money. Because really, it’s already paid for. You just have to sign off on it.

Like Calvin said, “[T]he heavenly life, and eery thing that belongs to it, is the free gift of God, yet we are said to ‘buy’ it, when we cheerfully relinquish the desires of the flesh, that nothing may prevent us from obtaining it.” Commentary at Mt 13.46 We don’t just sit on our keisters and passively receive; we prioritize God’s kingdom above everything else, and behave in a manner worthy of the kingdom we covet.

So when Jesus describes people buying his kingdom—or trying to achieve it, struggling to be worthy of it, doing what gets ’em approved, fighting to get in, or various activities which don’t sound consistent with grace—relax. Don’t make the mistake of overanalyzing the parables. The kingdom’s only like these things. Don’t be distracted by artificial discrepancies. Stick to the main point: The kingdom is worth everything we have. So that’s what we oughta give.