The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
The apostle Paul lived a complex life before he became a Christian (Phil. 3:4–6). He tried to keep all the laws and traditions of Judaism. He tried to accomplish various works that he hoped would be credited to his account. But in all his pursuits, he was seeking something he couldn’t find. Then one day, on the road to Damascus, he was confronted by the living Christ and realized He was everything Paul had been looking for.
Paul describes the exchange that was made: “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7–8). When Paul met Christ, he realized everything in his asset column was actually a liability. He found that Christ was all he needed.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. (13:44)
As He does in the other parables, Jesus builds this simple story around an experience or situation familiar to His hearers. Few, if any, would themselves have found such a treasure; but the practice of hiding valuables in the ground was common. Because there were no banks or other public depositories, most people protected their valuables in a secret spot in the ground. When they needed money or decided to sell or trade a piece of jewelry, for instance, they would go to the place at night, uncover the jar or storage box, take out what was desired, and rebury the rest.
Because Palestine had been a battleground for hundreds of years, families would often even bury food, clothing, and various household objects to protect them from plundering enemy soldiers. The famed Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “The gold and the silver and the rest of that most precious furniture which the Jews had and which the owners treasured underground was done to withstand the fortunes of war.”
Over the years, the ground of Palestine became a veritable treasure house. When the owner of buried treasure died or was forcefully driven from the land-sometimes deported to a foreign land such as Assyria or Babylon-the treasure would be forever lost unless someone accidentally discovered it, as occasionally happened.
No doubt that was the fate of the treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again. The man may have stumbled over part of the treasure or seen some of it protruding above ground as he happened to pass through the field. Or he may have been a hired hand who inadvertently dug it up while plowing or cultivating. In any case, the field did not belong to him, because, from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.
Many Christians are embarrassed by this story, thinking Jesus used an unethical act to illustrate a spiritual truth. It seems to them that the man was obligated to tell the owner of the field about the treasure, since it was on his property and therefore rightfully belonged to him.
The point of the parable does not involve the ethics of what the man did, but rather his willingness to sacrifice everything he had in order to possess the treasure. But what he did was not unethical or dishonest.
In the first place, it is obvious that the treasure was not hidden by the present owner of the field and was unknown to him. Otherwise, he would have retrieved it before he sold the field. The man who bought the field obviously knew the owner was not aware of the treasure or he would not have offered to buy the field, knowing the treasure would not be included in the deal.
In the second place, rabbinic law provided that “if a man finds scattered fruit or money, it belongs to the finder.” If a person came across money or other valuables that were obviously lost and whose owner was dead or unknown, the finder had the right to keep what was found.
In the third place, the basic honesty of the man is testified to by the fact that, had he been dishonest, he would simply have taken the treasure without any thought of buying the field. But he did not even use part of the treasure to buy the field; rather, he sells all that he has, and buys that field.
- The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and covered up. Then, in his joy over it, he goes and sells all he has and buys that field. The attention in this parable is fixed on a man who, while digging in a field, unexpectedly came upon a treasure. The picture is true to life. Due to wars, raids, and the difficulty of finding a secure place to store valuables in houses that offered rather easy access to accomplished burglars (6:19), a home-owner would at times resort to burying in the ground his most durable precious possessions or a portion of them. In the case here described the man who, probably in a chest, had buried his treasure in the ground may have died before informing anyone about his deed. Someone else now owns the field.
So now the digger, suddenly finds it. By what right he was digging in somebody else’s field is not stated in the parable. Let us assume that he had this right. One possibility would be that he was a renter. His sense of fairness (or shall we say, fear that he himself might otherwise not escape punishment?) prevents him from scooping up the entire find and running off with it. So he covers up his find. He realizes that in order to claim legal ownership of the treasure he must first of all own the field. So he buys the field, even though in order to acquire the purchase price he must sell all he has. Not in the least does he mind this, so delighted is he to obtain possession of the treasure.
The point of the parable is that the kingdom of heaven, the glad recognition of God’s rule over heart and life, including salvation for the present and for the future, for soul and ultimately also for the body, the great privilege of being thereby made a blessing to others to the glory of God, all this, is a treasure so inestimably precious that one who obtains it is willing to surrender for it whatever could interfere with having it. It is the supreme treasure because it fully satisfies the needs of the heart. It brings inner peace and satisfaction (Acts 7:54–60).
An excellent commentary on this parable is Paul’s experience as recorded in his autobiographical note: “Yes, what is more, I certainly do count all things to be sheer loss because of the all-surpassing excellence of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all these things, and am still counting them refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil. 3:8, 9a). Paul had come upon this treasure suddenly, unexpectedly (Acts 9:1–19). Moreover, he was not reading the Bible when it happened. All extraneous ideas—for example, that in this parable the field indicates Scripture—should be dropped. When God leads the sinner to the discovery that causes him to shout for joy he employs all kinds of ways and methods. Think of his dealings with Nathanael (John 1:46–51), with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1–44), with the man born blind (John 9), etc. Of course, the possession of the treasure also implies love for the Word, but rather than loading the parable with subjective allegorical embellishments of individual items, we should grasp its one important lesson: the incalculable preciousness of salvation for those who discover it and obtain possession of it without even looking for it!
Also for those who obtain possession of the kingdom after diligent search it is the summum bonum (highest good), as is made clear in
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price
The parable of the hidden treasure (13:44)
For the way these parables relate to the structure of the chapter, see comments at vv. 10–17.
The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl are a pair; and pairing is not uncommon in Matthew (e.g., 5:14b–16; 6:26–30; 7:6; 9:16–17; 10:24–25; 12:25; 13:31–33; 24:43–51), an excellent way of reinforcing a point. Like the paired parables with which these two are chiastically coordinated (mustard seed and yeast, vv. 31–33), these two make the same general point but have significant individual emphases.
Unlike the parables earlier in the chapter, these two do not deal so much with the hidden, inaugurated form of the kingdom and the concomitant delay of the Parousia as with the superlative worth of the kingdom of heaven. Yet even here, the previous eschatological structure underlies them, for in traditional Jewish apocalyptic, one could scarcely liken the kingdom to a man finding a treasure or buying a pearl. The kingdom was to come apocalyptically at the end of the age by an act of God alone. In contrast to this, some kind of realized or inaugurated eschatology is here presupposed.
44 On the “is like” language, see comments at v. 24. The kingdom is not simply like a treasure, but its situation is like the situation of a treasure hidden in a field. The Greek articles are generic (cf. Turner, Syntax, 179). Finding the treasure appears to be by chance. In a land as frequently ravaged as Palestine, many people doubtless buried their treasures; but as Huffman (“Atypical Features in the Parables,” 213) points out, actually to find a treasure would happen once in a thousand lifetimes. Thus the extravagance of the parable dramatizes the supreme importance of the kingdom.
Derrett (Law in the New Testament, 1–16) has pointed out that under rabbinic law if a workman came on a treasure in a field and lifted it out, it would belong to his master, the field’s owner; but here the man is careful not to lift the treasure out until he has bought the field. So the parable deals with neither the legality nor the morality of the situation (as with the parable of the thief in the night) but with the value of the treasure, which is worth every sacrifice. When the man buys the field at such sacrifice, he possesses far more than the price paid (cf. 10:39). The kingdom of heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of discipleship, and those who know where the treasure lies joyfully abandon everything else to secure it.
Two alternative interpretations must be dismissed.
- The first, represented by Walvoord, understands the treasure to represent Israel and Jesus as the man who sold everything to purchase her. He rejects the above view by making the parable mean that “a believer in Christ has nothing to offer and the treasure is not for sale” and proposes his own interpretation by noting that in Exodus 19:5 Israel is called God’s treasure. But any view, including Walvoord’s, can be made to look foolish by pressing a parable into a detailed allegory. For instance, one could rebut his view by showing that it entails Israel’s being worth far more than the price paid, and that of course would constitute an implicit depreciation of Christ’s sacrifice, which no thoughtful Christian would accept. One must come to grips with the nature of parables (see comments at v. 3a). And “treasure” has a vast range of associations in the OT and NT; on what basis, then, does Walvoord select Exodus 19:5? Above all, his interpretation does not adequately handle the opening clause.
- J. D. Crossan (Finding Is the First Act [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979], esp. 93 ff.) argues that “sold all he had” must be taken so absolutely that “all” includes the parable itself. One must give up the parable itself and, in abandoning all, abandon even abandonment. The parable is therefore a paradox, like the sign that reads “Do not read this sign.” Crossan’s interpretation is unacceptable for exegetical, literary, historical, and theological reasons: exegetical, in that this parable does not speak of “abandoning” or “giving up” things but of “selling,” and one cannot imagine giving the parable away by selling it; literary, in that Crossan, like Walvoord, fastens on one word and rides it so hard that the nature of parables is overlooked; historical, in that ascription of such existentialist results to Jesus or to Matthew is so anachronistic as to make a historian wince; theological, in that his interpretation of “paradox” is defective and is used in undifferentiated ways. Crossan oscillates between paradox construed as a merely formal contradiction and paradox construed as antinomy or even incoherence.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (13:44)
All the parables so far have taught that there will be good and evil in the kingdom, righteous and unrighteous subjects. The next two parables show that there will be two classes of the righteous subjects: (1) believing Jews during the periods before and after the Church Age; (2) believing Jews and Gentiles during the present age.
In the parable of the treasure, Jesus compares the kingdom to treasure hidden in a field. A man finds it, covers it up, then gladly sells all he has and buys that field.
We would suggest that the man is the Lord Jesus Himself. (He was the man in the parable of the wheat and tares, v. 37.) The treasure represents a godly remnant of believing Jews such as existed during Jesus’ earthly ministry and will exist again after the church is raptured (see Psalm 135:4 where Israel is called God’s peculiar treasure). They are hidden in the field in that they are dispersed throughout the world and in a real sense unknown to any but God. Jesus is pictured as discovering this treasure, then going to the cross and giving all that He had in order to buy the world (2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Jn. 2:2) where the treasure was hidden. Redeemed Israel will be brought out of hiding when her Deliverer comes out of Zion and sets up the long-awaited Messianic Kingdom.
The parable is sometimes applied to a sinner, giving up all in order to find Christ, the greatest Treasure. But this interpretation violates the doctrine of grace which insists that salvation is without price (Isa. 55:1; Eph. 2:8, 9).
 MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 154). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 13:44). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 575–576). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 375–376). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1258–1259). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.