In the Gospel of Matthew, we read a beautiful exposition of Jesus comparing the kingdom of heaven to various natural things (Matthew 13). He contrasts not only to follow a Hebraic method of teaching (parables and similitudes), but to provide instruction on how we are to obtain the kingdom of heaven, for those who have [spiritual] eyes to see and ears to hear (Matthew 13:13). One such teaching is the parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44), and although short in length, this parable contains a profound meaning buried beyond its surface. Jesus likens the Kingdom of heaven to treasure hidden in a field, and the earliest Christians understood and taught to their successors the profound symbolisms of what this treasure is.
If the kingdom of heaven is explained parabolically, can we obtain it if we do not understand the parables? A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning (1), and to the multitudes Jesus taught only in parables (Matthew 13:34; Mark 4:34). Therefore, it is imperative we understand them, otherwise we will not accurately understand Him, as He is the Word made flesh (John 1:14).
Jesus explains: “Again, 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.” (Matthew 13:44). Concerning this parable, renowned Christian theologian of the second-third century, Origen, comments:
The field, indeed, seems to me according to these things to be the Scripture, which was planted with what is manifest in the words of the history, and the law, and the prophets, and the rest of the thoughts; for great and varied is the planting of the words in the whole Scripture; but the treasure hidden in the field is the thoughts concealed and lying under that which is manifest, “of wisdom hidden in a mystery,” (2Cor_2:7) “even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.” (Col_2:3). (2)
Origen explains that the “field” is symbolic of the entirety of Scripture, which contains the plantings of various writings, and the “treasure hidden” in the field are the mysteries of the scripture, which is Christ. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus states: “To you [the disciples] it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables.” (Mark 4:11). Jesus taught His disciples the hidden treasures of the scriptures, and in turn, they schooled their own disciples. Furthermore, Origen highlights that there are hidden treasures (of Christ) in the books of the Old Testament, which echoes Jesus, who stated that He came in the volume (totality) of the Book (Hebrews 10:7; Psalm 40:7).
Origen quotes the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 2:7), who writes to the Church in Corinth- “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-7). Apostle Paul articulates that there is a hidden wisdom of God, also referred to as a mystery and in Hebraic thought, a mystery is something needing to be revealed (unveiled), not kept secret. The word mystery in Greek is musterion and refers to the sacred thing[s] hidden or secret which is naturally unknown to the human reason and is only known by the revelation of God… Musterion denotes a spiritual truth couched under an external representation or similitude and concealed or hidden thereby unless an explanation is given. (3) Hence, the mysteries, or hidden treasure, are veiled in the parables (Mark 4:11), needing to be revealed by God.
Later Origen continues,
For, going round to visit the field and searching the Scriptures and seeking to understand the Christ, he finds the treasure in it; and, having found it, he hides it, thinking that it is not without danger to reveal to everybody the secret meanings of the Scriptures, or the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ. (2)
Origen conveys something very important here, that the cause for the man who discovers a treasure in the scriptures, and hides it, is because the secret meanings of Scriptures were not for all to hear. As previously discussed, Jesus stated that the mysteries of Scripture were only revealed to His disciples and veiled to the multitudes (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10), to discriminate between the sincere and insincere (4). Veiling the scriptures was also a means of protection, which the early church understood and upheld. Clement of Alexandria, theologian in the second-third century, comments on this in his instructions on the Christian life:
Then it was not suitable for all to understand, so that they might not receive harm in consequence of taking in another sense the things declared for salvation by the Holy Spirit. Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in the parables – preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the scriptures is parabolic. (5)
Clement explains that there is harm in misinterpreting the scriptures, hence the treasures are hidden, revealed to those wise men who seek to understand (Proverbs 1:2-7). The apostle Peter taught in this same vein, when he wrote regarding apostle Pauls’ letters “some parts of his letter are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
Back to the matter at hand, Origen comments on what it means to sell all and buy the field:
And, having hidden it, he goes away, working and devising how he shall buy the field, or the Scriptures, that he may make them his own possession, receiving from the people of God the oracles of God with which the Jews were first entrusted. (Rom_3:2) And when the man taught by Christ has bought the field, the kingdom of God which, according to another parable, is a vineyard, “is taken from them and is given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” (Mat_21:43) – to him who in faith has bought the field, as the fruit of his having sold all that he had, and no longer keeping by him anything that was formerly his; for they were a source of evil to him. And you will give the same application, if the field containing the hidden treasure be Christ, for those who give up all things and follow Him, have, as it were in another way, sold their possessions, in order that, by having sold and surrendered them, and having received in their place from God – their helper – a noble resolution, they may purchase, at great cost worthy of the field, the field containing the treasure hidden in itself. (2)
Concluding his discourse, Origen explains that the man who sells all he has, to buy the field, is one who has surrendered all to follow Christ, and in doing so, he pays the price to obtain the hidden treasure. This nullifies a common doctrine taught in many churches today- that a simple prayer will bring one salvation. The early church understood the calling card to salvation, which Jesus Himself told us, was to forsake all to follow Him (cf. Matthew 16:24; Mark 10:21; Luke 14:33). Does this mean a physical selling of one’s possessions? Origen highlights that he who has faith has sold what was formerly a source of evil to him, and throughout scripture evil (or wickedness) is stated in reference to being ignorant of, or misinterpreting the Word of God.
To the church in Ephesus the apostle Paul explains it in this way:
17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24, emphasis added).
Apostle Paul outlines the importance of having true understanding of the Word, not being blinded in our minds. The Gentiles did not understand God’s Word, and therefore could not discover the hidden treasures found within it. He states that it is by being taught by Christ, that our minds are renewed, by having the true spiritual understanding of the Word. In his de principiis, Origen writes, “that deeper and profounder “spiritual” meaning are the very hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge which the Holy Spirit by Isaiah calls the dark and invisible and hidden treasures (Isaiah 45:3), for the finding out of which the divine help is required” (6).
In delving into the divine Word and writings of the early church, we have discovered some hidden treasures… We can see a prophetic picture of salvation in this parable (of the Hidden Treasure): 1. Coming to the Word/Christ, 2. Seeking to understand the true hidden meaning (treasure) of scripture, and 3. Obtaining the fulness of Christ- which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). By diligently seeking to understand the hidden things of scripture, we can attain to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3). Let us continue to dig deeper, for it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but it is the glory of kings to search out a matter (Proverbs 25:2).
- Thayer’s Greek definitions: Parable (G3850)
- Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Bk. X
- The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Mystery (G3466)
- Fausset’s Bible Dictionary: Parable
- Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Bk. VI, Ch. XV
- Origen, De Principiis, Bk. IV, Ch. I
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.