45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
This is another parable that begins with “…the kingdom of heaven is like…”
Setting – The parable is told by Jesus in about 30 to 33 A.D. in Galilee. The people of Galilee are very familiar with merchants traveling through their country on the trade route from Egypt to Asia. In the parable, the scope of the merchant’s search is not necessarily limited to the Jewish land.
Context – This parable was given to his close disciples just after Jesus had spoken his “Sermon on the Seashore” from a boat on the sea of Galilee Matt 13:1-35. He had dismissed the crowd and had gone into a house Matt 13:36. In Matthew’s account it is sandwiched between his explanation of the parable of The Tares and the parable of The Net. We expect that some parables that Jesus told may have been told in other locations to different crowds, yet not recorded again.
Audience Relevance – Why Jesus gave this parable to his disciples and not to the crowd we don’t know. But he certainly expected them to learn from it and tell it to others. Matthew later includes it in his gospel for all generations to have.
Seeking – In the parable a merchant is actively seeking beautiful pearls. The merchant is not aware of this specific pearl’s location (or maybe even its’ existence). However, in his search he examines many pearls until he finds one of immense value.
Kingdom – In this parable the pearl is said to be like the kingdom, which also equates to salvation.
23 Buy the truth, and do not sell it, Also wisdom and instruction and understanding.
17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
6 Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
10 Receive my instruction, and not silver, And knowledge rather than choice gold;
11 For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.
18 Riches and honor are with me, Enduring riches and righteousness.
19 My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold, And my revenue than choice silver.
20 I traverse the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice,
18 No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, For the price of wisdom is above rubies.
13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding;
14 For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. Proverbs 31:10
10 Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.
36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
8 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
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The two last references to pearls in the Bible are these two verses:
16 and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls!
17 For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’ Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance
18 and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like this great city?’
21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
The first reference is about the former beauty and riches of Jerusalem (the old “Heaven and Earth“) that was about to be destroyed. The second is a description of the “…new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,…”
Revelation 21:1-3 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
The value of being able to enter this “new Jerusalem,” otherwise called “a new heaven and a new earth,” is beyond anything of value here on the physical earth. In this parable Jesus compares this “Pearl of Great Price” with the then coming kingdom of God.
The Homiletic Review, Volume 52 — The pearl itself is a beautiful, single entity, formed through suffering in the heart of the oyster (in the same way that believers endure lack of wealth or comfort)…. Unlike precious stones which must be cut and polished to reveal their clarity and beauty, the pearl is perfect as it comes from the oyster.
From Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia — This interpretation of the parable is the inspiration for a number of hymns, including the Swedish hymn Den Kostliga Pärlan (O That Pearl of Great Price!), which begins:
O that pearl of great price! have you found it?
Is the Savior supreme in your love?
O consider it well, ere you answer,
As you hope for a welcome above.
Have you given up all for this treasure?
Have you counted past gains as but loss?
Has your trust in yourself and your merits
Come to naught before Christ and His cross?
Have you come to the living Redeemer,
Him that bore all your sins on the tree?
Has He graciously pardoned and cleansed you
In the blood shed for you and for me?
At His feet as one dead, have you fallen,
And been quickened anew by His voice,
Till, entranced by His riches of goodness,
In His presence you live and rejoice?
Has the Savior, the righteous, the holy,
Cast the beams of His all searching light
Into all of your heart’s deep recesses,
And transformed into day their dark night?
O then answer these questions so pressing,
Before God, ere time’s favor shall cease,
Is the pearl of great price yours forever?
Have you Jesus, and in Him your peace?
Brent E. Hughes