You are here

12. The Parable of the Lost Treasure

– Chapter 12 –

The Parable of the Lost Treasure

Matthew 13:44

Montreal, September 3, 1978


“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44, ESV)

How is treasure hidden in a field in the first place?

Today we continue our study of the Lord’s parables, by looking at the Parable of the Lost Treasure in Matthew 13:44, in which we have a complete parable in just one verse. I never cease to be amazed when I study the words of the Lord Jesus, how he can pack so much riches in a single verse. This parable is sometimes called “The Parable of the Treasure in the Field,” but as we go along, we might come up with a more compre­hensive name for the parable.

Let us imagine the picture. The Lord Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like a man who is walking through a field. Maybe he is working in the field, maybe he is just walking through. Jesus doesn’t say which, but let us for a moment assume that this man is walking through the field. As he walks, he looks around and sees something that looks like a rock or a stone, but has a smooth well-defined surface. He goes over to take a look.

And what does he find there? Not a rock or a stone, but a jar, an earthenware vessel. And he immediately knows what this could mean for him because in those days, earthenware vessels or earthen jars were used to store treasure! The trea­sure was usually silver or gold coins. Or sometimes jewels, diamonds and precious stones.

In those days, how do you store up valuables? You cannot visit a local bank and put your valuables in a safe deposit box stored in a vault. Instead, the valuables would be put into a jar because earthen­ware, which is often used to hold water, is waterproof and provides good protection for the trea­sure inside. The jar would then be sealed and buried in the ground.

Money is always uncertain. In this world of inflation, money tends to depreciate, so people don’t put their confid­ence in money. They would buy gold, jewels or diamonds as an investment since these don’t usually lose their value. They may go up and down in value for a while, but in the long term, their value is basically stable.

What is more, these valuables are easier to carry around. If you buy a house, you can live in it, but you cannot carry it around with you. In wartime, people don’t invest in property, especially in Palestine where there is constant war. The enemy comes and burns your house down, and you lose everything. If you had lived in war-torn China decades ago, you would know that a house can be worth next to nothing. Nobody wants to buy a house in wartime because it will be­come a liability. Even a danger. The enemy bombs the place, or fighting takes place, and your house is destroyed.

You also don’t want to keep paper money. At various times in history, people would be paid with a suitcase full of money, and they would rush off to the nearest money dealer to ex­change their paper money for valuables. If you don’t do this fast enough, you could be left with a pile of paper that won’t even buy you a loaf of bread!

People in Palestine looked for security, so they would store their valuables in an earthen vessel, and hide it in a field. Of course it is important to remember where you hid it! You have to remember that it is 20 steps east of the oak tree, then 32 steps north. If somebody cuts down the tree, you will have a problem because how are you going to find your treasure if the land­marks are gone?

There are lots of lost treasures in the world because the owners hid them but could not find them again. Another reason could be that the owners were killed in war, or were captured, or were deported. This often happened to the Jews, such that they could not come back for their treasure. Others hid their treasure and never told anybody about it. When they got sick and died, or got killed, the treasure would be lost.

When archeologists dig in a field, time and again they would uncover treasure. In Israel today, when bulldoz­ers clear the ground, they would sometimes find treasure under­neath, perhaps Roman coins, gold coins, or other valuables.

The Lord Jesus is talking about a practice that was familiar to the people of his day. It is unfamiliar to us today because we don’t normally hide trea­sure in earthenware. But in an­cient times, it wasn’t uncommon for people to find treasure while working in a field. It may have been hidden hundreds of years earlier by someone who didn’t remember the location of his own treasure, or was captured or killed.

Rain can wash away the earth, exposing the top part of the jar. A person walking through the field might think it is a stone. An earthen­ware jug in the ground may look like a stone, or a piece of potsherd sticking out of the ground. If you go to Palestine, you will find broken pot pieces all over the place, so you might not take notice of them. But this man noticed something, and when he took a closer look, he saw that it was a sealed vessel, and he immediately knows what it could be — treasure! Or someone may be plowing in the field, and then hits an ob­ject. Most people may think it is just a stone, but this man stops for a closer look, and finds treasure! He is filled with joy!

Finding treasure is not something that hap­pens every day. When we take a walk, we would sometimes find a dime (a 10-cent coin) lying on the ground. That’s not bad! Or a quarter (a 25-cent coin). But it’s not every day that you find hidden treasure. So the man is filled with joy, and what does he do? He goes and sells everything he has and buys the field.

Why buy the whole field?

1. He could be charged with stealing

Immediately there are one or two legal questions we have to ask. Why doesn’t the man just pick up the treasure and walk away with it? The treasure is partly visible but it is mostly concealed, so digging it up would not be a moment’s work, but would take a while. But then you have a legal problem. Digging in somebody’s field constitutes theft and tres­passing, and you could be hauled to court for that. What is more, the owner of the field will not only take you to court for trespassing, you will lose the treasure to him. You have no legal claim to the treasure so long as the field belongs to the other person. Once you see the legal situation, you will see why the man doesn’t dig up the treasure right there and then. Even if nobody knows where he got the treasure, if he is ever questioned about where he found it, he would have to tell them it’s the field that belongs to the other person. Then they will ask him: Who gave you the right to dig in his field? Then you will be charged with trespassing and stealing.

2. The treasure doesn’t belong to the owner of the field either

There is another side to the matter. Does the treasure belong to the owner of the field by right? In fact, under Jewish law, it doesn’t belong to the owner of the field. This is the other side of the legal issue that you have to under­stand. Under Jewish law, the treasure doesn’t belong to the owner of the field, because when he bought the field, that was all he bought. He didn’t know of the treasure buried in it. He could not buy what he did not know was there. So he cannot claim the treasure as his own after buying the field, because he didn’t even know the treasure was there. That is how the Jewish law looks at the matter. The treasure doesn’t belong to the owner of the field unless he himself found it prior to purchasing the field.

As for the man who found the treasure, the field is not his, so he goes and buys the field.

Legally speaking, the man is doing everything right so far. He knows that the treasure doesn’t belong to the owner of the field under Jewish law, but also that he himself may not dig it up, for that would be trespassing on somebody’s property.

You may ask, Why did he go into someone’s field in the first place? It is because a path would often go through a field. The Gospels often speak of a path in a field. For example, the disciples walked through a field and plucked the ears of corn, which is allowed under Jewish law. You are allowed to walk through a field, but you may not dig in the field, for this would constitute trespassing. The only way he could legally claim the treasure would be to buy the field. Once we under­stand the legal situation, we would see nothing unethical or wrong in this matter. Everything is being done properly.

Two views of the parable

What then is the meaning of the parable? What is the Lord Jesus say­ing to us? There are only two possibilities: either the hidden treasure is Christ (in which case we find Jesus in the field, the world), or the treasure represents us (in which case Jesus finds us in the world). Which of the two is correct?

I would like to say from the start that the exposition of God’s Word is neither guesswork, nor a matter of opinion, nor a matter of liking one interpretation over another. It is like trying to understand a legal clause in a legal document; it is not a matter of private interpret­ation for there are rules governing what a legal statement means. Similarly there are correct procedures for expounding the Word of God.

The popular interpretation is that the lost treasure repre­sents Jesus Christ, and we are the ones who happen to find him hidden in the field. I used to accept this view, but I have since abandoned it after having studied and analyzed the parable more carefully. I am going to tell you the reas­ons for that, and let you be the judge of the matter. You will again see that, as in the case of the Parable of the Leaven, the evid­ence is over­whelm­ing. That’s why I ask myself, Why didn’t I see it before? The reason was my doctrinal prejudice. I am going to confess to you my prejudice, so that you may see that our pre­judices and indoctrin­ation can close our eyes to God’s Word.

Wrong view: The hidden treasure is Jesus

As I was tackling this parable, I worked through both possi­bilities right to their logical conclusions through rigorous and faithful exegesis. I said to myself, “I don’t have an ax to grind. I just want to know what the Word of God says. I am on neither side of the matter. Just let God speak to me. May I be so open as to hear what He has to say.” I discovered that I had more prejudices than I had realized, and that is what I would like to confess to you.

We consider the problems first, because I want to clear them away and get on to the meaning of this parable. It is so rich and wonderful once you see its meaning. Let us begin with the view that the treasure is Jesus Christ, and that it is we who find this treasure. As I said, that was the view I once held.

I recently tried to work it through exegetically one more time, but this view would not go through. This is what I have discovered about the Word of God, that when an exegesis is wrong, you simply cannot get it through. In other words, you have to force the issue through the Scriptures because it refuses to yield to an inaccurate exposition of the passage. Let me explain what I mean by this. The problems are enormous when we take the view that the treasure is Jesus.

1. It is a repetition of the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

Firstly, this view makes this parable, the Parable of the Lost Treasure, simply a repetition of the next one, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, with the two parables saying nothing much different. So you simply have two parables saying the same thing. Why would the Lord Jesus give two parables that say the same thing? Does he like to repeat himself? Is there any reason for him to repeat himself? This is the first point. But it doesn’t really matter much. Maybe the Lord Jesus likes to repeat himself. He has the freedom to repeat himself if he wants to. That in itself is not a fatal objection, though it’s an exegetical objection nonetheless, since I don’t find that Jesus ever wastes words to repeat something that doesn’t need repeating.

2. Does God hide Jesus in the world?

Just a verses earlier, in Matthew 13:38, within the same dis­course on the parables, we are told that the field is the world. So if we take the view that Jesus is the treasure, it would mean that Jesus is hidden in the world. If some­one had hidden this treasure which is Jesus, it would be God. The more you think about it, the more meaningless it gets.

So the second objection is this: Would God hide Jesus in the world? It may sound plausible at first, but not when you begin to understand the exposition of this parable.

From the Parable of the Leaven which we studied last time, we saw that God does not hide the gospel or His salvation, for He wants us to be saved. So what then is this idea of God hiding Jesus, the Savior King He has sent? Do you find any­where in the Bible’s teaching of salvation that Jesus is hiding in, and from, the world? I cannot find it. If you find it, please tell me.

Many commentat­ors interpret the leaven in the previous parable as something good, yet we saw that leaven in the Bible always means something evil. They concluded without any exegetical reason that the leaven is the kingdom of God, and that God hides the kingdom in the world. But nowhere do you find that God hides the kingdom. The more I think about it, the less I understand the view that God hides the king­dom in the world. God does nothing of the kind.

We also saw in 2 Corinthians 4:3–4 that the gospel is not hidden; but if it is ever hidden, it is the god of this world who hides it from those who are perishing. Let us not attribute to God what Satan does. If there is any concealing of the king­dom of God, it’s not God but Satan who conceals it from our eyes.

I don’t find anywhere in the Bible that God’s kingdom is concealed. Jesus is the light of the world, the shining sun in the world (John 8:12). He came to reveal, not conceal, God’s light. The light is not hidden from the world. “No one lights a lamp to put it under a basket” (Mt. 5:15). He has said all this, so it has been made clear to us.

But even if Jesus wanted to hide himself, he cannot. Mark 7:24 says of Jesus that “he could not be hidden.” He tried to hide himself from the people who sought him for the wrong reason — to gain benefits from his miracles — but he could not be hidden even for a brief moment. Such is the nature of Jesus that you cannot hide him, and he himself cannot be hidden even if he tried.

John 3:14–16 makes it plain that God does not hide Jesus whom He has sent into the world:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14–16, ESV)

How plain is the message! Nowhere in the Bible do I find any­thing about Jesus being hidden. I challenge you to find one instance of that. No, Jesus came to be lifted high on the cross, so that whoever gazes at him will be saved from God’s judg­ment and have eternal life.

At the important Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, Jesus stood up and cried out for everyone to hear: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37–38) Jesus stands up time and again to teach and to preach. He says to those who are about to arrest him, “I stood in the public places, even the temple, which is the most public place in all of Jerusalem, to preach and to teach, yet you did not arrest me. And now you come in the night to arrest me?” (cf. Mt. 26:55). There is simply no way for you to exege­tically prove that Jesus is the treasure hidden in the world.

3. Having found Jesus in the field, do you hide him again?

If Jesus is the treasure that you find in the field, do you hide him again, and then sell everything you have to make him your own possession? What exactly does that correspond to in actual Christian experience?

The German commentator Rudolf E. Stier has great prob­lems with this issue. He wrestles with this issue of hiding the treasure, but gets nowhere. So he simply says, “We conceal Jesus in our heart.” So one moment the field is the world, the next moment it is our heart. This shows the kind of twisting and juggling one resorts to in trying to make sense of it. Let us keep our facts straight. It is the world in which the treasure is hidden.

4. Do we sell everything to buy the world?

Following the logic of the view that Jesus is the treasure, what do you do after you sell all that you have? You buy the field.

Stier wrestles with this, and gets into a mess. He says that the field is the church. But nowhere in the Bible is the field the church, and Stier gives no evidence for this. The plain fact is that in the Scriptures, the field is never the church. Jesus already said that the field is the world just a few verses earlier, in Matthew 13:38. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel, the wheat is the church, with darnel sown among the wheat. The wheat crop is the church, the kingdom of God. But the field is not the church, contrary to what Stier pro­poses. In any case, what does it mean to give up everything to buy the church? Does it make sense?

Stier goes on to say that we appropriate the church. This makes no sense either because we don’t appro­priate the church; it is the church that appropriates us when we become part of the church. There is no way to make sense out of this view, which is the greatest stumbling block to interpreting the parable.

Blinded by doctrinal prejudice

Having dealt with this, let us look at the other view of the parable that doesn’t interpret the treasure as Jesus, though he is the pearl of great price in the next parable. In the present parable, the evidence is abun­dant which shows that the treasure is not Jesus but us, the church.

I confess that in reading the parable of the treasure, in the past I was blinded by doctrinal prejudice, and the same could be true of you. The reason is that we are not accustomed to thinking of people, even ourselves, as treasure. The more I ponder the matter, the more I ask myself: Why did I reject the plain meaning of this parable? It is because I was brought up on the doctrine of original sin and the total depravity of man, which says that man is utterly rotten, corrupt, sinful, vile, and diseased. So what value is there in man who is totally depraved, who has inherited original sin, who is rotten to the core of his being, who is sick beyond remedy?

I see the value of a box of good and wholesome apples, but will I find any value in a box of apples that are rotten to the core and full of stench? They are worthless rubbish to be thrown into the garbage bin. Brothers and sisters, that is the way I was brought up to think of sinners. Were you brought up to think like that too?

I thank God for the words of the Lord Jesus! His words are like a sword that pierces into the heart and examines our intentions and under­standing (cf. Heb. 4:12). It certainly revealed my attitude towards the unsaved. I feel humbled and ashamed of myself that I was brought up on this kind of doctrine. I regarded the unsaved as rotten and diseased, people of little value until God puts some value into them. How can you love them? You don’t love rotten apples fit for the garbage bin. There is nothing you can do with sinful people, rotten and corrupt, except to reject them!

This kind of thinking has so penetrated some Christians that it has the most disastrous effect on the way we look at non-Christians. This view is taken to its logical consequences by some churches I have known personally and will not mention by name. They want to be so secluded from rotten humanity as to have nothing to do with them lest they, the good apples, be polluted by the rotten apples. You can only look upon perish­ing humanity with pity and condescension because they are rotten.

Combine this with the doctrine of predestination, and what will come out of that? An attitude towards non-Christians which regards them as utterly abhorrent: “These rotten people will be consigned to the flames of hell by God’s predestinarian purpose!” Any Christian who thinks like this will have contempt for, and condescension towards, the non-Christian: “I, an elect of God, live in this world of corrupt men who are predestined to destruction.”

This doctrine is most horrifying in the light of Scriptural teaching. Yet this is the kind of doctrine I was brought up on. I thank God for Jesus’ words that revealed the arrogance — the spiritual arrogance — of my heart. There is no point in saying that all this is of God’s grace. If “God’s grace” can instill arro­gance in our hearts, then God forbid that this be called grace.

I pray that God may so change my heart that I will look at people as the Lord Jesus sees them. How does he see them? As treasure! The more I study his teaching, the more it amazes me! He never saw them as rotten apples, or as worth­less scrap metal, or as garbage. No, he saw them as precious! Only when we see people with Jesus’ eyes will we go out to them in God’s love. Only when we put away these doctrines which have corrupted our minds and put a subtle pride in our hearts, will we look at people with love. It’s only then that we can say it is all of grace, unlike the so-called grace that makes you proud.

The Israelites fell into that pit, and we pray that we won’t fall into it. Some Israelites say, “We are God’s chosen people who are many cuts above the multitudes,” just as some Christians speak of massa damnata — the condemned mass. Massa damnata is a Latin phrase used by Augustine. With all due respect to Augustine, “a damned mass of people” or “a con­demned mass” is a fearful phrase that Augustine dared to use. What condemned mass? They are a treasure in God’s eyes!

God values the lost, but abhors the hypocrite

When God opened my eyes, and I looked at Jesus’ teaching again, I was amazed that he never abhorred the unsaved person. Consider the three parables in Luke chapter 15. The first parable is the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The second is the Parable of the Lost Coin. The third is the Parable of the Lost Son. Are these things valueless? The sheep is valuable even today, and especially to a poor Palestinian farmer. The silver coin the woman lost is of great value to her. If the point is not clear enough, the Lord Jesus speaks of the lost son.

Why did God send Jesus into the world to die for “worthless” humanity? Why does God love the “rotten” and the “corrupt,” a people in whom there is no goodness whatsoever?

The commentators give no explanation for this despite God’s high view of humanity in Psalm 8:4: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” The whole point of Psalm 8:4 is that God is mindful of man! And the psalmist himself marvels at this. Why is a great and powerful God mindful of man? The next verse (v.5) gives us a clue: “You have made him a little less than God” (NASB, HCSB, NRSV, RSV). No wonder God is mindful of man, for He has made us in His image, to be His sons and daugh­ters. We are precious to Him, and are not rotten apples.

Psalm 115:12 says, “The Lord remembered us” (NIV, HCSB, ESV) or “the Lord has been mindful of us” (NASB, NKJV, NRSV). You cannot get any plainer than that. God cares for us, and is mindful of us, because we are valuable to Him! This is even plainer in Zechariah 2:8 which says, “He who touches you, touches the apple of His eye” (NASB). These words were spoken to a rebellious nation, yet God regarded the people as precious!

God says of Israel, a disobedient and rebel­lious nation, “And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteous­ness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. (Hosea 2:19, NRSV). What is more pre­cious to a man than his wife? God will not give them up, but will “redeem them from death,” and even “heal their apostasy” (Hosea 11:8; 13:14; 14:4).

We see the same picture in the New Testament. Whenever the Lord Jesus speaks of those who are lost, he speaks of them as having great value: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. The Parable of the Lost Coin in Luke 15:8–10 is “individual­ized” in the sense that God’s love is directed to each sinner individ­ually as a lost coin. If you take a lot of lost coins and put them together, what do you get? Lots of lost treasure! Whereas Matthew gives a collective picture, Luke tends to focus on the individual.

When you put together a lot of lost coins, you will get lost treasure, which represents all lost sinners. Now we are getting to the heart of the parable.

In the Parable of the Lost Treasure, the treasure was lost because the original owner was either killed, or deported, or dead from illness. Or because he could no longer locate the treasure. He simply lost it, and someone else found it. This parable is Matthew’s counterpart of Luke’s Parable of the Lost Coin.

Now the meaning of it all begins to emerge. Once we get past our prejudices, we will see that a lost person is not, in God’s eyes, worthless garbage fit for the fires of hell. On the contrary, he is most valuable to God!

You might ask, “What about the darnel?” Well, I hope that you have understood the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel. The darnel are worth­less, but they are worthless not as unbelievers but as false Christians. And what about the chaff? The chaff are also false Christians. The chaff used to be part of the wheat, which in the Bible always refers to Christians. The meaning begins to emerge. The only kind of people who are spiritually valueless in God’s eyes are the spiritual hypocrites. It is this kind of people, rather than the unsaved people, who are valueless. By contrast, the unsaved people are precious in God’s eyes. They may be lost, but they are nonetheless treasure that Jesus came to reclaim for God. Please remember that you and I, in God’s grace, were all part of that lost treasure which Jesus found in the field.

Once we get the correct meaning of the whole matter, the picture becomes exceedingly beautiful! It shows that God’s heart reaches out to lost humanity. I hope you will understand that they are precious to God! They are a treasure to Him even if they are lost. God sent Jesus for this very purpose: to find you and me, the lost treasure.

Notice the beautiful symbolism in this parable. The treasure is buried and lost. Burial is always a sign of death in the Bible. The sinner is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We were lost and concealed in this world, yet Jesus finds us. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us … made us alive together with Christ” (vv. 4–5). This is so beautiful! It brings out the significance and riches of the parable.

Consider the word “treasure” for a moment. The treasure consists of an earthen jar in which are gold or silver coins, jewels, and so on. The remarkable thing is that Paul applies this very picture to Christians: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7). The Christian has the treasure of the gospel in himself, which enhances his value to God — not just because of the value of the Christian himself, but also because of the treasure that God has put in him.

Going back to the parable, the Christian is now the “found” treasure, whereas he used to be the “lost” treasure as a non-Christian. This is the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. It doesn’t mean that the non-Christian is not treasure, but only that he is “lost” treasure who is nonetheless exceedingly precious to God.

God aims to find the lost

Let’s look at the word “find” as in finding the lost treasure. When we read the Bible, we see time and again that God searches for us with the goal of finding us. There is a beautiful verse in Psalm 119:176 in which the psalmist says, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

Does this remind you of any parable? The psalmist went astray like lost sheep, yet something of God’s “command­ments” still remained in him. It reminds me of Paul’s words, “With my mind, I serve the law of God; but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:25) — I am a slave of sin, yet I retain a knowledge of what is good.

Have you noticed that many non-Christians have a good under­stand­ing of right and wrong, and have a conscience? Has it ever struck you that a non-Christian often does deeds of kindness such as giving to the poor, and they do this not to save their own souls or establish their own self-righteous­ness? In fact, without the support from non-Christians worldwide, many relief organizations would be shut down. Let’s not forget that the non-Christian also has a con­science, as Paul says in Romans 2:14–15. In Romans 7, Paul depicts the non-Christian as one who seeks to do what is good according to his mind, though he lives under the bondage to sin, and cannot overcome the power of sin. That is pre­cisely the nature of the people represented by the lost treasure. It is true that some non-Christians continually think of evil, yet it is undeni­able that there are others who have a conscience. God seeks every sort of lost people. In Psalm 119:176, the psalmist pleads, “Seek me, for I am lost.”

We see this also in Ezekiel 34:11,12,16 where God speaks repeat­edly of searching for His lost sheep: “I myself will search for my lost sheep,” and in verse 22, “I will save my flock.” The aim of seeking the lost is to save them, as in the three parables of Luke chapter 15. In every age and genera­tion, including ours, God seeks His lost people.

In every generation, God looks for people who are willing to serve Him, to function as light in the world, to bring others to salvation, as stated beautifully in Ezekiel 22:30 where God says, “I searched for a man among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.”

God could not find even one such person from that gene­ration, so eventually Israel was destroyed. Today He is looking for people who will stand in the breach to save the world, to save the church. We are saved in order that we may save others, not just save our own skin.

1 Samuel 13:14 is a beautiful statement about God, “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart” — a man who will do all His will, and that person was David. Will God find such a person today?

Jesus says that “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). The next sentence says, “for the Father seeks such people to worship Him.” God is looking for people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. He finds treasure in such people, those who worship Him in spirit and truth, and who turn away from their sins to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus — made pure and set free from the bondage of sin, so as to worship Him in spirit and truth. God is look­ing for such people today!

Jesus says, “The angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Each sinner is precious to God! Why all this talk about garbage, rotten apples, and scrap metal, dignified by theological terms such as total depravity and the like? Each sinner is so precious to God that when one turns to Him, the angels of heaven rejoice! We don’t see that, do we? It’s because we have been indoctrin­ated to believe that a sinner has no value in God’s eyes. Why then do the angels rejoice? Because the sinner has great value to God! How precious is this parable!

“Hide” occurs twice in the parable

The word “hide” occurs twice in the parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again ….” (Matthew 13:44, NIV)

Do not hide but confess your sins

When you do a careful study of the word “hide” in the Bible, you will find that it often has to do with sin or the conse­quences of sin. Right from the start of the Bible, what did Adam do when he sinned? He tried to hide himself from God (Gen. 3:10).

Have you noticed that every time you sin, you hide from God? It’s not God who is hiding from you. When Adam sinned, it was not God who avoided the garden, but Adam who hid himself from God.

It’s not God who hides His salvation from us. But because we hide ourselves from God, He is concealed from us, and His truth no longer strikes us. We hide from His light, so how can we see the light?

Often in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, we read that when we sin, God hides Himself, hides His salvation, and hides His truth from us. It is our sin that hides God’s truth from us, not that He wants it that way. God hides His truth only from those who have hardened their hearts, whose eyes are closed and cannot see the truth. The truth is concealed from them, not because God wants to hide it, but because they have hardened their hearts against His truth. Then God spells out the final consequences of their rebellion: “Though you hide your­self from Me, My judgment will catch up with you” (cf. Amos 9:3).

When God seeks you out, and you don’t run away from Him, you are on the path to salvation. Look at the words in Psalm 32:5 (NJB): “I said, ‘I shall confess my offence to Yahweh.’ And you, for your part, took away my guilt, forgave my sin.” Isn’t that wonderful? Unlike Adam who hid himself, the psalmist doesn’t hide himself from God. When we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. He is far from us only when we are far from Him (Psalm 13:1, 5; 27:9, 13–14).

When God calls to us, don’t hide but confess our sins to Him, not making excuses as Adam did, saying, “It was because of this person or that person” — but say, as the psalm­ist said, “I am a sinner, but I won’t hide my sins from you. I beg your forgive­ness.” (cf. Psalm 32:5) Then God will forgive you your sins.

The first step of salvation is to stop hiding. When the lost treasure comes out of hiding, it is going to be saved. Of course, in the nature of this parable, you cannot describe it in those exact words, since the treasure cannot come out of the earth by itself. But in spiritual reality, when we stop hiding and confess our sins, God’s salvation will come to us.

This is the first instance of “hide” in this parable, and we now look at the second instance.

Jesus hides the church

You might ask, “Why did Jesus hide the treasure — the church — after he had found it?” Why would he hide it again?

Firstly, Jesus hides his own in order to protect them from God’s wrath and judgment over sin. This conceal­ing, after the treasure has been found, is for our safety and protection. We find this theme constantly in the Gospels, for example Luke 13:34, “How often would I have gathered your children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Why does the hen gather its chicks? To hide them! Hide from what? From the eagle flying above, which seeks to devour the chicks. So when we are saved, Jesus hides us in himself. We are still in the world, yet we are also concealed for our protect­ion.

Secondly, the Lord hides us from evil men. “In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men” (Psalm 31:20). This comes out beautiful­ly in John 18:8. When some people came to arrest Jesus, he surrendered him­self to them, but protected his disciples by saying, “Take me and let them go” — just as a hen hides her chicks under her wings. Jesus is doing exactly what he sees his Father doing, for God constant­ly protects and shelters His own people in the world (Psalm 27:5).

Thirdly, Jesus hides us from the enemy. Colossians 3:3 says, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We are hidden in the world, yet at the same time are the body of Christ in this world — safe with Christ yet also in the world:

… Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:32–33, ESV).

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one (John 17:15, ESV).

In the Parable of the Lost Treasure, we are no longer “hidden” in the sense of the first hiding (“hidden in a field”), but “hidden” in the sense of the second hiding (“which a man found and hid again”). We are now hidden with Christ despite being in the world. The riches and the beauty of all this is coming forth.

Jesus goes away to sell all he has to buy the field

We notice the word “goes” in the statement, “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The Lord Jesus uses the word goes of himself, for he is going away, and departing from the field which is the world. This picture is constantly found in Scripture. This Greek word for “go” is also found in John 13:3, 33, 36, and many other verses. In each instance, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “I have to leave you behind in the world. Where I go, you cannot follow. You will have to stay in the world, but I am going to protect you in the world. Don’t be afraid! I won’t leave you as orphans in the world, yet I have to go away.” And that is exactly what he does. The “going away” means to die and depart to the Father.

When he goes away, what will he do? He will “buy the field.” The Greek word for “buy” is also used in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23. In both places it says, “You were bought with a price.” Jesus bought you! He redeemed you to himself. That is what he is saying in this parable. In 2 Peter 2:1 are the remarkable words, “even denying the master who bought them,” referring to false Christians who deny the Lord Jesus who bought them.

This brings us to an important point about the parable. Matthew 13:44 says that the man “buys that field” — that is, he buys the world. This is exactly what Jesus did. I would like you to remember this: In Scriptural teaching, Jesus died not only for Christians, not only for the church, but for the sins of the whole world! That is the Biblical teaching. You see that in 1 John 2:2 (NIV): “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Jesus bought the field, that is, the world. As a result, all the lost treasures in this world, all the lost sinners in this world, are his by right. He bought them all! That is why he rejoices when a lost sinner repents. Can you understand this? He died for the sins of every person walking out there on the streets. He died not only for the sins of those who became Christians, the “found” treasures, but also for the sins of the whole world, the lost treasures. That is very different from the doctrine of predes­tination which says that Jesus died only for the elect. I don’t know how they got this from the Bible, for the Bible clearly says that Jesus bought the whole world. He sold all that he had to buy the world. He laid down his life to redeem the world to himself.

The phrase “sells all that he has” means that he gave up everything for us. That is what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 8:9, that “though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He became poor because he had sold everything he had. He gave up everything “that he might redeem us” (Titus 2:14). “He died for us when we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8, 10). He died for us when we were still hostile to him and rejected him, in order to reconcile us to God (Colossians 1:21–22)

Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. He died for my sins before I ever believed in him, when I was still his enemy. That touches my heart. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Jesus’ teaching is so amazing because the whole gospel is summed up in a nutshell by this parable! How can you say it more clearly than that?

Although the whole field has been redeemed, it doesn’t mean that Jesus completely possesses the field at the present time. Although John says that Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, NIV), he also says that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). God created the world, and appointed Jesus to redeem it, so this world belongs to God. God also sent Jesus to set us free — by the authority in heaven and on earth given to him (Mt. 28:18) — for we cannot set ourselves free from Satan’s power over the world.

This teaching is wonderful! Jesus sold everything in order to buy us. You have been bought with a price. You don’t belong to yourself, so you don’t go and live as if you belong to yourself. Nothing you are, and nothing you have, belongs to you. This jacket I am wear­ing, this necktie, this watch, my home, every cent in my pocket — everything belongs to Christ! I was bought with a price, so everything I have, every moment I live, every breath I take, belongs to him. “You and I belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:23).

God sent Christ to redeem us, God’s treasure. Already in the Old Testament, Israel is God’s “treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5; Mal. 3:17). Christians are “God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9, NASB), a people belong­ing to God and precious to Him.

The three parables in Luke 15

In the following paragraphs, we mention a few common objections raised by com­mentators against the idea that the lost trea­sure repre­sents lost sinners. As it turns out, these objections are invalid for the present parable (the lost treasure) as well as the three parables in Luke 15, namely, the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son, all of which indisput­ably refer to a lost person.

Objection 1: The sinner has no value until he is saved

Some argue that a sinner has no intrinsic value prior to his coming to faith in God, which means that he cannot be the treasure. It is said further that a sinner acquires spiritual value only after he is saved.

This objection shows how deeply ingrained are our old prejudices. In fact, raising this objection against the three parables in Luke 15 would lead to absurdity, for that would mean that the lost sheep has no intrinsic value; that the coin has no value because it is no longer in the owner’s pocket; and that the lost son is less valuable to the father after run­ning away from home. It’s hard to get over our prejudices, isn’t it? Isn’t a son as dear to the father when he is away as when he is home? Surely the son is always precious to the father even if he is lost. Surely a silver coin is precious wheth­er it’s in your pocket or lying on the streets for someone to pick up. Surely a sheep is of value even if it strays from the fold.

Old prejudices die hard until we start to think in God’s way.

Objection 2: The man does not actively seek the lost treasure

Another objection is that man in the parable does not actively search for the lost treasure, so he cannot be the Lord Jesus. In the parable, this man merely stumbled upon the treasure with no indication that he was actively seeking it.

But that is an argument from silence, and it assumes that he didn’t seek the treasure. One could also say that in the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15, the father seems to be inactive. He doesn’t go out to search for the son, it’s the son who returns to the father.

In fact, no parable ever covers every teaching of the gospel, but only emphasizes one important central truth specific to the parable. The Parable of the Lost Son never indicates that the father was actively searching for his lost son, for that is not the central point of the parable; the central point is the repentance of the lost sinner. The Parable of the Lost Treasure likewise stresses one thing: finding the treasure is costly. God sent Jesus to sell all — pay with his life — in order to buy the field and lay a claim to the treasure.

Objection 3: Wouldn’t God know where the lost treasure is?

Another objection is that if it is Jesus who searches for the lost treasure, that would imply that God, the one whom Jesus represents, doesn’t know where the treasure is. This cannot be so because God is omniscient.

But this objection doesn’t work against the present parable, just as it doesn’t work against the three parables of Luke 15, where it would imply that because God seeks the lost sheep, He doesn’t know where it is. Or that God doesn’t know where the lost coin is, since He has to search for it.

The lost treasure is said to be “lost” only to stress its state of “lostness”. The word “lost” cannot be taken to mean that the one looking for the treasure doesn’t know where it is. That is not the point of the parable. We may be lost, and God seeks our response, but it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t know where we are. The objection is inapplica­ble because the main point is about finding the treasure. Similarly, the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son bring out the truth that God seeks the lost and wants them to repent; God’s omni­science is not the main topic.

From all these objections raised against the idea that the lost trea­sure represents lost sinners, we see that none of the object­ions is valid in the light of the parables of Luke chapter 15.

Colossians 2:3

One of the reasons I used to think that the hidden treasure is Christ and not the church was Colossians 2:3, “in whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The Greek word for “treasure” here is the same as in Matthew 13:44. Colossians 2:3 says that all the treasures of wisdom and know­ledge are hidden in Christ, which to some readers would imply that the treasure in the Parable of the Lost Treasure is Christ. This verse greatly influenced me to think of the treasure as Christ. But when I began to think more about it carefully and less superficially, I realized that this verse does not apply to the Parable of the Lost Treasure.

Colossians 2:3 is not speaking of a treasure but “all” treasures as being hidden in Christ. The only way to make Colossians 2:3 applica­ble to Matthew 13:44 is to say that Jesus is the field in which this treasure is hidden, and that we buy the field in order to obtain the treasure.

The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, nowhere in the Bible is the Lord Jesus ever depicted as a field or the world. And the second serious objection is that in this interpretat­ion, you buy the field not because you are interested in Jesus, but because you want the treasures of wisdom and under­stand­ing that are in him. In other words, we are using Jesus as a means of getting wisdom and understanding, rather than turning back to God who gave Jesus the wisdom and under­standing in the first place. That is a serious problem, and we cannot accept it as Scriptural teaching. When Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life, he is saying that he, the Christ appointed by God, is the only way to God; and there is no salvation apart from him. If we seek salvation, Jesus must be our Lord, and we must not make use of him to obtain something from him.

Applying Colossians 2:3 to the Parable of the Lost Treasure simply doesn’t hold exegetically. Later we will see that Colossians 2:3 applies more appropriately to the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, not this parable. Having con­sidered the matter carefully, I think you can see that the only exegetically correct exposition of Matthew 13:44 is that the hidden treasure represents the lost sinners whom Jesus finds.

One more observation: If this parable does not actually speak of Jesus selling every­thing — sacrific­ing everything — in order to save us, it would mean that this central teaching about Jesus would not occur anywhere in all his parables. It would be surprising indeed if Christ’s saving work is not found anywhere in all his parables. But once we see that this parable speaks of Jesus’ saving the lost, then this element of redemption does find an appearance in the parables.

Christians are God’s “hidden ones”

In the parable, the treasure was found and then hidden again in the field. The fact that Christ hides Christians is consistent with what is well established in Scripture, namely, that God hides His servants. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19, ESV).

It’s remarkable that in the Old Testament, for example Psalm 83:3, the saints of God are called the “hidden ones” — hidden by God. The Hebrew text for this is translated as “hidden ones” in KJV, but in other Bible versions as “protected ones” (RSV), “treasured ones” (ESV), and “sheltered ones” (NKJV).

We can go through the Bible all the way to Revelation 12:6, a verse that speaks of a woman, representing the church or the kingdom, who is hidden by God in the desert. God prepares a place for His people in the wilderness.

A new attitude towards the non-Christian

I leave you to ponder the meaning of the parable. But is it just a matter of opinion? Or is God’s Word clear and unambig­uous here? Once you understand the parable correctly, every part of the picture is meaning­ful! Every part of it vibrates with God’s life! But when you get it wrong, no part comes out meaning­fully, and you can make no sense of it. Such is the nature of Biblical teaching, the Word of God, that it’s not a matter of private interpretation. On the contrary, it is simply a mat­ter of getting to the truth; once we have the key to it, it opens the doors of all the rooms in the house. But if you don’t have the key, you will open nothing, for every door will be closed to you.

But the parable has been opened to us. To me, the most precious point is God’s love for us, that He sends Jesus to search for us. What is most revolutionary to my own mind is that it completely transforms my attitude toward the non-Christian. As I said, I confess my error. I could not love the non-Christian just as I don’t love rotten apples or scrap metal. But when I realize that these people are precious to God as treasure, albeit lost treasure, I will love them because God loves them.

I say again: a doctrine that regards the non-Christian as worth­less is fit for the fire! A doctrine that regards them as a condemned mass predestin­ed for destruction, is not a doctrine worthy of the gospel or the name of Christianity. It is revolting! It’s a perversion of the truth! I pray that you and I may learn to see the lost sinners in the world as God sees them, and not to let our doctrinal upbringing hinder our appreciation of the statement, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.”

I understand it now. God loves the world because lost sinners are precious to Him. I will go forth by God’s grace, no longer looking at these people arrogantly, saying “I am chosen, you are not.” Now it is simply, “I am a found treasure, and you are a lost treasure, at least for the moment. But you are as much treasure as I.” The non-Christian is as much treasure as the Christian. The only differ­ence is that one has been found by God’s grace, and the other has not yet been found, but will soon be, we pray.

We praise God for His wonderful Word that transforms our think­ing and conforms us to Christ’s image. It makes us think as He thinks, and see lost people as He sees them. May God help us to go forth, to thank Him for His wonderful love, and to continue growing in it.


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church