Select your language
Nuer (Sudan/South-Sudan)
Tshiluba (DR Congo)

The Hidden Treasure and the Costly Pearl

William John Hocking

In the two parables or similitudes given in Matthew 13:44–46, the intrinsic worth and spiritual beauty to be found in the kingdom of heaven are shown as existing, in spite of the intermixture of evil which is apparent to the cursory glance. The wheat mingled with darnel, the wide-spreading, umbrageous tree, and the meal permeated with leaven were discernible to all, and must plainly set forth the general outward appearance. But the hidden treasure and the rare and costly pearl imply qualities that could only be appreciated by the finder. And so in the great mass of Christian profession, the eyes of the world are able to very readily detect the iniquity that shelters itself under the guise of religion, but only the eye of omniscient grace is able to mark the internal worth and the indestructible unity existing beneath such an unpromising exterior.

The hidden treasure

The former of the two parables likens the kingdom of heaven to ‘treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field’ (Matt. 13:44).

The two prominent features in this parable are: first, the treasure hidden in the field; and second, the purchase of the field for the sake of the treasure.

In the first place then, what is signified by the figure of the hidden treasure? Some have hastily assumed from Proverbs 2:4–5 (‘if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God’) that the treasure is Christ, and that the parable has a figurative reference to the manner in which the blessings of the gospel are acquired. Without doubt, in Proverbs, the point is to inculcate a spirit of earnestness in pursuit of wisdom. As in seeking for silver and treasure, the energies are by that very fact stimulated, so it should be in the spiritual analogue. But in Matthew 13 we have a similar figure used for a different purpose. Here it is not the diligence of the searcher so much as the value of the treasure sought that is most prominent. Besides it is not the king but the kingdom that is likened to treasure hidden in a field.

If the general trend of the series of parables be borne in mind, the meaning of the figure before us appears on the surface. In the enunciation to the crowds of the similitudes of the outward form of the kingdom in mystery, the Lord used figures that spoke of good being largely alloyed with evil. Subsequently, to His own disciples, He gave the interpretation of the wheat and the tares which in general intention resembled the leavened meal and the wide-branched mustard tree. The Lord then likens the kingdom to hidden treasure, using a similitude that suggests a pure, unmixed character and not an amalgam as before. In point of fact, the terms in which this parable is expressed forbid us to think of anything but a view of the kingdom of heaven contrasted with those that precede. In the earlier parables, elements (such as the tares, the birds, and the leaven) are introduced which tend to diminish the value it possessed in its incipient stage, but here there is nothing of the kind — its value is given without a single mark of qualification.

God’s good pleasure in men

The first consideration of this truth leads to the reflection that God’s ways of sovereign grace must be marvellous indeed when He finds, in spite of man’s irreparable sinfulness and his invariable abuse of everything entrusted to him, that which from His own point of view He represents in the parable by treasure. For whatever may be the slowness of man’s heart to believe all that is written, the truth abides, here and in not a few other scriptures (e.g. Luke 2:14), that God in and by means of Christ has found His good pleasure in men.

But though undoubtedly the New Testament gives us this blessed revelation in its fullest application, a similar expression is used in the Old Testament concerning God’s chosen nation. From Mount Sinai, the word of Jehovah came unto the children of Israel: ‘Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people’ (Ex. 19:4, 5). But on account of the transgressions of the people under the first covenant, this purpose of God was never realised. Not that it was thereby abrogated, for it still holds good that Jehovah ‘hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure’ (Ps. 135:4). And in the millennial day this shall be owned by every nation, from the rising to the setting of the sun. For then Jehovah will save Israel, He will rejoice over her with joy, He will rest in His love, He will joy over her with singing (Zeph. 3:17).

But in the present interval, while Israel is in strange lands, the Lord finds in the midst of His nominal kingdom where evil lifts its head in unrebuked defiance of good, that which His own heart esteems a special treasure. This treasure is not the favoured nation of Palestine, which, as has been shown, does not come within the scope of this series of parables, but it is the New Testament saints in that ideal character which they possess in the mind and eternal purpose of God.

Now in the epistles of Paul, especially in that to the Ephesians, we have this character presented in the form of doctrine. In Matthew the time had not come to give more than a figurative reference to what the great apostle of the Gentiles was subsequently commissioned to communicate in detail. In his writings therefore, we learn that the church is destined and designed to be the vehicle for the display of divine grace and wisdom.

Thus in Ephesians, we are not only introduced to the inexpressible fulness of our blessing in Christ, but also to the inconceivable fact that by means of us His holy name will be magnified and exalted. ‘Having marked us out beforehand for adoption through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace’ (1:5, 6), and again, ‘In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory’ (vs. 11, 12). Here then (it is submitted with all due deference to the judgment of others) we see that character of the church in which it corresponds with the figure of ‘treasure’ in Matthew 13:44. Treasure is such because of the use that may be made of it. And the saints are of value simply because God has deigned to utilise them as the media whereby to display His manifold wisdom. So the Scriptures declare the purpose of God to be that ‘now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God’ (Eph. 3:10).

But this treasure is said to be ‘hid in a field’; and the church, described in the Pauline epistles as a ‘mystery’ (that is, a secret, previously hidden but now made known), remarkably tallies with the figure (cf. Rom. 16:25, 26; Eph. 3:4, 5, 9; Col. 1:26; 2:2, 3). In this respect the church affords a contrast to the nation of Israel for when the Israelites were called out of Egypt to be Jehovah’s treasure (Ex. 19:4–6), it was not said to be hid in a field because their deliverance from the oppressor and their introduction to Canaan was but the due accomplishment of promises made centuries previous to Abraham their forefather. But the calling and privileges of the church were never the subject of promise. From Genesis to Malachi, no revelation from on high was given concerning the church of the heavenly calling. The mystery was hidden from the sons of men, hidden in God. The divine seeker alone was aware of its existence; He alone knew and appreciated its worth. Truly there is a day coming when the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13:43). But Christ discerns beforehand and divests Himself of all to obtain the treasure — a treasure whose value is the product of His own grace, and which apart from Him is worthless and worse.

God has purchased the whole world

The second striking feature in the similitude of the hidden treasure is that the field was purchased for the purpose of acquiring the treasure: ‘the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field’.

In this particular, also, the analogy is in strict accordance with the doctrinal truth conveyed by inspiration by the apostles, and through them to us and to all saints. For the Lord by means of His mighty work of redemption, purchased not believers only but the world out of which they were taken. This is no matter of speculation but of revelation. Indeed the fact that in consequence of His death, the Lord bears a relation to all mankind and further to all creation is repeated in Scripture in various connections. He is Lord of all (Acts 10:36). He has received power over all flesh as well as to give eternal life to as many as the Father has given Him (John 17:2). He gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time (1 Tim. 2:6), as well as giving His life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). He tasted death for every thing as well as for the many sons He is bringing to glory (Heb. 2:9, 10). He reconciles not only those who were sometime alienated in their minds by wicked works, but all things whether in heaven or in earth (Col. 1:20, 21). The saints of today are His purchase or possession (1 Pet. 2:9); but also of false teachers it is said, ‘who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them’ (2 Pet. 2:1).

There is therefore abundant witness that the Lord Jesus has obtained a right over the whole world including those who become heirs of salvation. So in the days of old it was under the title of the ‘Lord of all the earth’ (Josh. 3:13) that Jehovah drove out the Canaanites and established His chosen people in the promised land. And in a coming day the Lord Jesus shall be manifested in the fulness of His acquired glory. Then shall He receive the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Ps. 2:8). But this is not in the present day. For in John 17:9, the Son said to His Father, ‘I pray  for them (the treasure); I ask not for the world (the field), but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.’[1]

Along with this parabolic assertion of the universal lordship of Christ, two attendant circumstances are given which call for remark: the joy of finding the treasure and anticipating its possession, and the renunciation of all in order to acquire the treasure.

The prophets had borne witness to the joy of Jehovah over His people Israel when they shall be restored. ‘Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married ... and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee’ (Isa. 62:4, 5; see also Isa. 65:19; Zeph. 3:17). This, however, is during that blessed epoch when ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (Isa. 11:9). But the truth in the parable is that, even during the period when tares, unclean birds and leaven defile the kingdom of heaven, the saints constitute such a treasure in the Lord’s own estimation as to afford Him abundant joy.

It is indeed marvellous and incomprehensible that grace should be delighted with objects such as we; nevertheless the fact remains. For Luke 15 shows that even one repentant sinner causes joy in the presence of the angels of God. Who then shall conceive with what exceeding joy the whole company of redeemed saints shall be presented faultless before the presence of His glory (Jude 24)?

Doubtless the supposition that it is impossible that Christ should find joy in the acquisition of His own, or that they should be of value to Him, has led to the popular interpretation of the actor of the parable being not Christ but the sinner. A well-known writer declares that to see Christ in the passage ‘strangely reverses the whole matter’ and he characterises the view at its best to be no more than ‘ingenious’.

But to any who are bound by Scripture, the phrase ‘for joy thereof’ should offer an insurmountable difficulty to making the interpretation of the parable descriptive of man’s entrance into the kingdom. For it is to be observed that the Word nowhere teaches that the sinner receives the gospel with joyfulness, whatever joy may and does follow in due course (Rom. 5:2, 3, 11). In fact the same may be gathered from the parable of the sower in this very chapter. There we find that the one who received the word ‘with joy’ was he who had no root in himself, and who, as soon as tribulation and persecution arose because of the word, was immediately stumbled. And not a word is mentioned as to joy in connection with the ‘good ground’ hearers. And no support can be obtained from Acts 2:41: ‘Then they that gladly received his word were baptized’; for scholars are agreed that the word ‘gladly’ is an unwarranted interpolation. It is true the truth heals, but it does so because it first wounds. It leads to the Saviour which is joy indeed, but it previously convicts of sin which is never a pleasant process. The view in question therefore does not correspond with the plain statements of Scripture. But passages have already been pointed out which show that the Lord finds joy in the redemption of His saints. In Hebrews 12:2, it says of Jesus: ‘Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God’.

We may therefore conclude that it is Christ who ‘for joy thereof’ sold all He had and bought the field. For the sinner is never told to sell all that he has to purchase the gospel which is without money and without price. And the reference to the word to the ruler, ‘Go and sell that thou hast’ (Matt. 19:21), is of no avail whatever. This was a test whether so rigid an observer of the law was able to take the path and position of a disciple of the rejected Messiah. He failed as all must, and thus really condemns the theory of those who rob the parable of its force. The allusion to Paul’s renunciation of all things for Christ’s sake, detailed in Philippians 3:4–9, is also without point. This was the experience of one who knew Christ. It is quite a different thing, having found Christ, to yield up all for His sake than to surrender all things as the condition of finding Him. The latter exists in the imaginations of men but not in the gospel.

But this leads to the second point: that the finder sells all that he has and buys the field. In what way was this fulfilled in Christ? Surely in this that, though He came to the house of Israel as the promised seed of Abraham and of David to reign over the house of Jacob forever, He renounced that earthly glory, which was and is His by oath and promise, in order that He might have the saints of the heavenly calling, which manifestly could not be had the kingdom then been set up in power. Thus in Matthew 16:20, directly after He speaks of the assembly, which would be composed of those who confess His name in the hour of His rejection, He charges His disciples to tell no man He is Christ. He puts aside His Jewish title and comes before them as the Son of the living God, and He is rejected and crucified (v. 16; John 19:7). But in resurrection He is offered to all, not to Jews alone; for the gospel delivers those who believe from all earthly distinctions and associates them with Christ on high. And this goes on even now, when the Lord waives His Jewish rights that He may gather His treasure out of the field.

Similarities and differences of the two parables

In considering these two parables, one can scarcely fail to be struck by their general resemblance. In both, the finder esteems his prize so highly that he is thereby constrained to part with all for the purpose of acquiring the same. This points to the conclusion that the main subjects of the parables are intimately connected, if not identical. So that as the treasure has already been shown to indicate that nucleus of truth and faithfulness existing in the world, so does the pearl of great price figure that same nucleus, though of course in a different aspect. For the two parables before us give a double view of the ‘good’ in the kingdom of heaven, just as the third and fourth of the series give the two characters of ‘evil’, namely, the mustard tree, showing the outward conformation to the world and its ways, and the leaven, marking the corruption that permeates to the very core.

The difference between the parables of the treasure and the pearl seems to be that the first views the saints of God in their individual capacity as precious in the sight of the Lord, while the second discloses that remarkable unity which is a distinct characteristic of the children of God during the present interval. The term ‘treasure’ might include gold, silver or any articles of value, and thus be of a very composite nature; but the beauty and value of the pearl depends entirely upon its homogeneity. So we find that in the latter parable the merchant is especially declared to have found one pearl of great price’.

It is of no small importance that the distinction thus laid down by these two parables at the very inception, so to speak, of the present order of divine things should be borne in mind. Dilating upon the privileges and responsibilities of the church to the obliteration of those of the individual is as far from the truth as exalting the individual at the expense of the church. To ignore, or even weaken either, must result in confusion of mind and failure of testimony.

And it was undoubtedly seen needful to unfold this dual relationship of the saints of God, at this juncture, lest it might be supposed that, in their remarkable unification, their recognition as individuals was thereby destroyed. We have therefore the parable of the treasure preceding that of the pearl. The interest of Christ in His own is shown to be towards them personally before it is collectively. They are said to be His, first severally, and then jointly.

We have this order in the presentation of these truths in the Epistle to the Ephesians. The apostle there writes to the saints and faithful, and unfolds God’s eternal purpose concerning them. He first enumerates the blessings they possess as individuals rather than as a corporate body. They were blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ (1:3). They were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (v. 4). They were predestinated to the adoption of sons (v. 5). They had redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (v. 7). In Him they had obtained an inheritance (v. 11). In Him also, after they had believed, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (v. 13). These all are the sure portion of every soul saved in this day of grace, both at Ephesus and everywhere else, Gentile or Jew. The blessings are common to all, as is the mighty power of God which quickens and raises them though previously dead in trespasses and sins.

It is then particularly dwelt upon that Jew and Gentile, so long and so widely separated, are now seen alike children of wrath, once alike dead in sins; yea, also quickened together, raised together, and even seated together in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2). To faith it is now displayed in the very heavenlies that the ancient distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished. Indeed it could not be expected that any mere earthly privilege should hold good in the heavenlies, much less when all are viewed in Christ Jesus. Nothing could be a stronger affirmation of the establishment of an entirely new order of things than is here given. Far-off ones are made nigh in Christ Jesus. Both are made one by Him. He has made in Himself of twain one new[2] man. Both are reconciled to God in one body by the cross. He preached peace to the distant and to the nigh. Through Him both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Thus the Gentiles, who were strangers and foreigners, share not only the personal blessings (‘fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God’), but also the corporate (‘are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit’) in Ephesians 2.

Clearly this was a revelation not heard of, and not even hinted at, before. Neither Old Testament history nor prophecy spoke of Jew and Gentile on one common platform. The mystery of Christ ‘in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel’ (Eph. 3: 5, 6). Here again it is declared that the Gentiles, besides being ‘fellow-heirs’ which might not exclude class distinctions, were of the ‘same body’. So that the ‘unity of the Spirit’ (Eph. 4:3) is of an altogether unique character, and neither known nor prophesied of before.

In the millennium, Israel most certainly will not be merged in the other nations, nor on the other hand will the Gentiles be advanced to the same level as the Jew. In that day God’s ancient people shall be the ‘head’ and not the ‘tail’. The seed of Israel ‘shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited’ (Isa. 54:3). The supremacy of the people shall be owned, for ‘many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’ (Zech. 8:22, 23). Again, ‘many nations shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off’ (Micah 4:2, 3). These scriptures are surely sufficiently explicit to decide that the pearl would be no suitable figure for the kingdom set up in power, when the Gentiles will be subordinate to the Jews, in no way brought into such an intimate unity with them as is described in the Epistle to the Ephesians as existing at the present moment.

The costly pearl

In the epistles, the figure to which this unity is referred is that of the human body. ‘For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:12, 13; see also Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:12; Col. 1:18). This figure is beautifully adapted to illustrate the unity resulting from the coordination of the various component parts. The members, however diverse in themselves, are harmonised by the Spirit of God and brought into a state of mutually interdependent relationship, so that each member is essential to the perfect unity of the body and also to the due performance of its functions.[3] And herein lies the difference between the two figures — the ‘pearl’ sets forth unity joined with beauty and value, while the ‘body’ indicates unity along with activity and mutual co-operation. In the parable the church is viewed as in the divine mind and purpose, but in the epistles as in actual life and practice upon the earth, hence the variation in the emblem.

The beauty and consequent value of the pearl in question transcended that of all other pearls. Here we are brought into the presence of the inconceivable fact that the Lord Jesus saw that in the assembly which called out the ineffable delight of His heart. It is not ours to question here whether that quality be inherent or derived, though we may well be certain we shall never discover in ourselves any adequate cause. It befits us rather to ponder, wonderingly and adoringly, the words of Holy Scripture, ‘Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish’ (Eph. 5:25–27). He then is the lover of the assembly in its entirety; He gives nothing short of Himself for it. His object is to present to Himself the church perfected and unblemished in glory. And He lays claim to it because of His sacrifice. When He came to Israel, He came to ‘his own’. But He ‘gave himself for us’ (Titus 2:14). So that the Lord takes the church on the ground of His work on the cross, and not on that of promise or prophecy. In the expressive words of this parable, He ‘went and sold all that he had, and bought it’.

We have seen therefore that, in this comprehensive survey of the kingdom of heaven in its corrupted form, two parables are given to assure the hearts of the Lord’s people that, however extended may be the influence of evil principles and persons upon that which professes His name, they themselves are too much upon His heart to allow His purpose regarding them to be thwarted. The Lord knows, loves, and rejoices over them that are His. 

From: Truth & Testimony, 2020, initially published in The Bible Treasury vol. 20 June 1894, p. 85.

[1] In the original article the author draws attention to the Greek word erōtaō, translated ‘pray’ and ‘ask’ in this verse. This signifies a familiar request to a person where intimacy or equality exists (eds.).

[2] kainos — ‘new’ in point of character, not of time only.

[3] It may be added that the ‘body’ also is used to express the intimate relation between the living Head and its members, as well as between the members themselves.