PARABLES OF THE SECRET
Matthew's central discourse section (13:1-52) contains seven
or eight parables depicting the present character of the kingdom until the end; his final discourse section contains a roughly
equal number of end-time kingdom parables (24:32-25:46). As in Mark, Jesus' parables of the kingdom's present state explain
why his kingdom comes first in a hidden way and why Israel's
leaders reject him (compare F. Bruce 1972a:69; Ladd 1963). These parables dramatically reinforce that Jesus' first coming
was coercive neither militarily nor intellectually (11:25-27); he came as the meek burden bearer (11:28-30), and only the
meek could recognize and follow him (11:25, 28).
That the parables address his people's acceptance or rejection
of the kingdom message follows from the context: Jesus speaks parables that same day that he has confronted Pharisaic
opposition (12:24-45) and offered a culturally offensive statement about his family (12:46-50). The parables section closes
immediately with an account of Jesus' rejection by his hometown (13:53-58), so that rejection by his own frames his kingdom
parables (compare 10:21, 34-37). This likewise implies that true disciples-those who follow the kingdom message-must be prepared
to pay the ultimate price for doing so (13:20-22, 44-46).
Because modern readers often misunderstand parables, it is
important to provide some brief comments about their character. Most of Jesus' parables were stories designed to illustrate
a particular point or points, something like sermon illustrations today (except sometimes without the accompanying sermon
that would clarify the illustration!). We should not read too much into parables; often some details of the parables merely
are necessary to make a good story. Nevertheless, parables provide one creative way to explain Jesus' central point or points.
In view of the heavy crowds, Jesus entered into a boat and
pushed out slightly from the shore, a technique that had enabled him to speak to large crowds at other times (Lk 5:3). Many
natural acoustic settings existed in Galilee, including a cove near Capernaum,
that would enable thousands to hear the voice of someone properly positioned (Crisler 1976:134-37).
The Sower and the Soils
Jesus tells the "parable of the sower" (v. 18) in verses
3-9; in verses 18-23 he provides the interpretation, in which only one who "hears the word and understands it"! perseveres
to eternal life (v. 23). In the intervening section (vv. 10-17) Jesus emphasizes that only his inner circle will understand,
because the parables make sense only in the context of Jesus' ministry. Thus prospective disciples have a measure of choice:
only those who press into his inner circle, those who persevere to mature discipleship, will prove to be good soil.
Various Soils Respond to the Seed
Jesus draws from commonplace agricultural conventions to
illustrate his kingdom principles, as one might expect from a teacher sensitive to rural Galilean hearers. Whereas the later
rabbinic parables often focus on such settings as royal courts (compare 22:2; see comment on Mt 18:23), Jesus most often told
stories about agriculture and the daily life of his common hearers (as in 20:1).
Other ancient writers employed the seed image; perhaps most
significantly, 4 Ezra declares that just as not all the seeds a farmer sows survive or put down roots, so not all people will
persevere to eternal life (4 Ezra 8:41). But whereas the harvest would be completed in the end time (Mt 13:39; 3:12; 21:34;
compare 9:37-38), Jesus portrays the present as a time of sowing to prepare for that harvest.
The sower must sow widely to ensure a good harvest. It made more sense, in a field like the one in Jesus' parable, to plow up the
ground before sowing; this was a frequent practice in ancient Israel
(Is 28:24-25; Jer 4:3; compare Hos 10:11-12; K. White 1964). Later literature, however, repeatedly speaks of plowing after
sowing (although some plowed both before and after sowing); farmers who knew their fields apparently felt comfortable sowing
first, then plowing the seed into the ground (Jub. 11:11; Jeremias 1972:11 and 1966b; see especially P. Payne 1978:128-29,
contending that both practices occurred). Because we cannot know the conditions of given hearers' hearts before we preach,
Jesus uses the second analogy of sowing before plowing; we must sow as widely as possible and let God bring forth the appropriate
fruit (compare the agricultural counsel in Eccl 11:6).
Not all ground will yield good fruit. The path probably represents one of the footpaths running through or around the field (A.
Bruce 1979:195). Some of the grain accidentally fell on or beside it, exposing the seed there to hungry birds (compare Jub.
11:11). The sower's field in this parable also includes some land where the soil is shallow over rock. Palestine includes much land like this; though seed springs up quickly on such soil, which
holds its warmth, the seed readily dies because it cannot put down roots (Argyle 1963:101).
The fruitful soil yields enough to make up for the useless
and Sicily averaged fivefold or sixfold return on grain sown; irrigated fields in Egypt averaged around a sevenfold yield for wheat (N. Lewis
1983:121-22). The average Palestinian harvest may have yielded seven and a half to ten times the seed sown. Thus harvests
yielding thirty to a hundred times the seed invested are extraordinarily abundant (Gen 26:12; Jub. 24:15; Sib. Or.
3.264-65), and one rarely exceeded one hundredfold (P. Payne 1980:183-84). The fruit from the good soil more than makes up
for any seed wasted on the bad soil.
Secrets for Disciples Only
Jesus reveals special truth to his disciples through parables.
Jewish teachers used parables as sermon illustrations to explain a point they were teaching (for examples, see Johnston 1977:507). To offer an illustration without stating the point, however, was like
presenting a riddle instead (compare Test. Ab. 12-13A). By articulating his principles only in parables, Jesus offers
riddles whose answer can be fathomed only by those who understand them in the context of his own ministry (for example, events
like the Pharisees' rejection-12:24-45) or who patiently press into his inner circle to wait for the interpretation (13:12;
compare Irenaeus Adversus haereses 2.27.3).
Jesus spoke in parables because the kingdom involved end-time
"mysteries" (NIV secrets, v. 11) now being revealed to those with ears to hear. The disciples were more special than
the prophets of old only because they lived in a time when they could receive a greater revelation than the prophets, as Jesus'
blessing on them makes clear. The disciples' eyes and ears were blessed (v. 16) because of the greater one among them (v.
17). The rest of the hearers, unable to fathom his message, fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah about penal blindness: because
of Israel's sin, they would be unable
to truly see, hear and understand God's message (vv. 13-15; 15:14; Is 6:9-10; compare Is 29:9-10; Evans 1981).
Yet those who did turn to the truth would be "healed" (Mt 13:15); Jesus' physical healings were concrete signs of the spiritual
healing of which Isaiah spoke (Mt 8:17; compare Is 6:10; 53:5; Hos 11:3; 14:4).
The disciples alone had pressed close enough to Jesus to
understand the rest of what he was giving them. To those who had some revelation, more revelation would be given (Mt 13:11-12).
In other words, the disciples alone proved to be good soil (v. 23).
Only Disciples Who Understand Persevere
The only conversions that count in the kingdom are those
confirmed by a life of discipleship. Jesus sowed the Word widely, but not all his hearers persevered in discipleship. What
was true of the crowds that followed Jesus is also true of the crowds who claim to be his disciples today. Many who have raised
their hands in evangelistic crusades or even attended church regularly will be surprised on the day of judgment that Jesus
never knew them (7:21-22). Whether the message went in one ear and out the other (13:19), whether someone began the Christian
life eagerly and then abandoned it because it entailed too much hardship or persecution (vv. 20-21), whether one accepted
the gospel but then backslid into complacency, seduced by other interests (v. 22), such people prove useless to the kingdom.
Yet others will more than make up for the seed invested in them, becoming true disciples of the kingdom and spreading the
true message of the kingdom to others (v. 23).
In One Ear and out the Other (13:19)
Jewish teachers exhorted students to listen intently and
memorize their teachings (for example, Mek. Pisha 1.135-36; Sipre Deut. 306.19.1-3). Yet many who listened to
Jesus would forget the message of his kingdom. Such neglect, Jesus says, is the devil's work. Sometimes in counseling I encounter
people who have heard the gospel every week in church yet insist that they do not know how to be saved. Simply hearing the
gospel does not guarantee understanding or embracing it.
Shallow Commitment (13:20-21)
Matthew warns us that even disciples who spent years with
Jesus proved susceptible to such hardship, although their roots were secure enough to return (26:56, 75). I soberly recall
that many friends who became followers of Jesus at the same time I did, including some of my witnessing partners, later abandoned
the faith. God is less interested in how quickly we run at the beginning of the race than in whether we truly finish it (compare
Jn 8:30-47). Some will fall no matter how plainly we preach the truth, but we definitely set people up for failure when we
fail to instruct new believers that suffering comes with following Christ (Acts 14:22; 1 Thess 3:3-4).
The World's Distractions (13:22)
Some embrace the gospel, but gradually other interests-wealth,
security, family and the like-choke it out of first place. Christ's apostles proclaimed that Jesus must hold first place in
our lives (see 1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17). The Bible often warns
against the dangers of wealth (as in Mt 6:24; Deut 6:10-12), and Matthew provides some examples of would-be disciples lured
away by desire for wealth (Mt 19:21-23; 26:14-16). Even in parts of the world that include many professing Christians, many
churches are full of barely committed people who never win a soul to Christ, rarely speak a word on his behalf and accept
Christianity as a nice addition to their lives-which are devoted to the same basic goals as their neighbors'. Jesus' kingdom
demands suggest that such people may not believe the reality of the gospel enough to stake their lives on it, hence may not
prove true disciples of Jesus Christ (compare 3:8-10; Marshall
1974:62-63). One reason we may have so many shallow Christians in some churches today is that many of us have preached a shallow
gospel rather than the demands of God's kingdom, and they are (to paraphrase a lament of D. L. Moody) our converts rather
than our Lord's.
Daring to Believe the Gospel (13:23)
Sometimes daring to believe in opposition to the values around
us means believing the gospel even in contrast to the practice of Christianity we see around us! These people dare to make
a difference in the world for the name of their Lord Jesus. Jesus already understood what many of us who work for him have
yet to learn: in the long run, drawing crowds is less significant for the kingdom than training those who will multiply the
work by training others in turn. Perhaps many of us prefer numbers in the short term over spiritual depth because we lack
the faith to believe that such depth is essential (compare v. 12); but fifty disciples with spiritual depth will produce greater
numbers in the end than a million raised hands without commitment ever could.
We should take careful note, however, of Matthew's description
of the fruitful person: the fruitful person is the one who understands the message (v. 23). Only those who press close
to Jesus, persevering until they understand the real point of his teaching, will prove to be long-term disciples (vv. 10-17;
compare Jn 8:31-32; Marshall 1974:62-63).
The Future Revelation of Kingdom
Just as Matthew presents the purpose for Jesus' opaque teachings
(vv. 10-17) in the midst of a parable explaining that not all will receive the gospel and persevere for him (vv. 3-9, 18-23),
he now presents the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast (vv. 31-33) in the midst of the parable of the weeds (vv. 24-30,
36-43), with more words about the nature of parables (vv. 34-35). The parable of the weeds (vv. 24-30, 36-40) emphasizes that
children of the kingdom must coexist with children of the evil one in this world until their vindication at the end. The parable
may also reinforce images of conversion, perseverance and apostasy in the parable of the sower (vv. 3-9, 18-23): especially
in places where disciples can blend into the world (v. 22), it is hard to know for sure who will persevere until the final
judgment. The glorious kingdom of the future is present in this age only in an obscure and hidden way, except to those with
eyes of faith (vv. 31-33).
The Enemy's Weeds
As in verses 3-9, Jesus tells an agricultural story that
is relatively realistic. Although the color is local, the central character of the story is not a peasant like many of Jesus'
hearers; he is a wealthy landowner (v. 27), whereas the farmer in the parable of the sower could easily have been a tenant
farmer, a peasant like many of Jesus' hearers. The main character's authority makes him a clearer analogy for God, as in other
Jewish parables (such as Sipra Behuq. pq. 3.263.1.8).
"Tares" (KJV) or weeds (NIV) here are darnel (Lolium
temulentum), a poisonous weed organically related to wheat and difficult to distinguish from wheat in the early stages
of its growth (Jeremias 1972:224). (Calling them "tares" may tempt a preacher given to puns to title a sermon on this passage
a "tare-ible parable.") Given the occasional feuding of rival farmers (Derrett 1973:43), it is not surprising that Roman law
would specifically forbid sowing such poisonous plants in another's field (Hepper et al. 1982:948) or that one who found an
abundance of such weeds would suspect an enemy's hand (v. 28).
Despite the workers' willingness to try (v. 28)-workers regularly
uprooted weeds before their roots were entangled with those of the wheat (Jeremias 1972:225; KGmmel 1957:134-35)-it would
be difficult for them to root out the many tares at this stage (Manson 1979:193; Meier 1980:147). The weeds had grown enough
that their roots were already intertwined with those of the wheat but not far enough that it would be easy to distinguish
them from the wheat; uprooting thus might endanger the wheat (v. 29).
After the wheat and darnel were grown, they were easily distinguished,
and reapers could gather the darnel, which did have one use: given the scarcity of fuel, it would be burned (v. 30; Jeremias
1972:225; A. Bruce 1979:200). Wheat was normally gathered and bound in sheaves, then transported, probably on donkeys, to
the village (or in this case the large estate's own) threshing floor (N. Lewis 1983:123), then stored.
The Hidden Kingdom of the Present
Jesus insists that the glorious anticipated kingdom of God is also present in a hidden
way in his ministry and that of his followers. These parables most clearly declare that God's kingdom has arrived in some
sense in Jesus' ministry, in a hidden and anticipatory way. Far from baptizing the wicked in fire and overthrowing the nations
at his first coming, Jesus came as a meek servant (12:18-20), wandering around Galilee with
a group of obscure disciples and healing some sick people.
In a world characterized by political turmoil and filled
with wandering teachers and magicians, Jesus' initial arrival as a politically inconspicuous servant had rendered his mission
as opaque as his parables, except to people of faith. We Christians sound foolish to those outside Jesus' circle when we speak
of a final judgment and living for a future kingdom; what does that have to do with the troubles of daily life in the present?
But those who have pressed into Jesus' circle today, like those who did so two thousand years ago, know who Jesus really is.
Despite the magnitude of the task before us, we dare not despise the "smallness" of our own works, for God's entire program
long ago came hidden in a small package.
The Kingdom Is like a Mustard Seed (13:31-32)
Despite some dispute today over which plant Jesus intended,
the mustard seed had become proverbial for small size (17:20; m. Niddah 5:2; Toharot 8:8). Although not literally
the smallest of seeds, and yielding a shrub rather than a tree in the technical botanical sense in English, the mustard
plant hyperbolically conveyed Jesus' point (the inconspicuous becomes mighty) better than any other. (It commonly reaches
eight to ten feet around the Lake of Galilee.)
The Power of a Little Bit of Leaven (13:33)
Jewish writers used yeast in a variety of symbolic
ways, but Jesus stresses here the factor all had in common: its ultimately pervasive character. One leavens unleavened meal
until the finished product is thoroughly leavened. The amount of flour involved here represents roughly fifty pounds, providing
enough bread for over one hundred people. A housewife would not normally fix so much meal and could not knead more than this;
the unnatural magnitude of the illustration probably suggests that the kingdom far exceeds daily examples to which it may
be compared (so Jeremias 1972:147). That she "hid" (NIV mixed obscures this point) the yeast in the dough also exceeds
the comparison and reinforces the image of the hiddenness of the kingdom in this age.
Jesus Tells Parables to Reveal God's Long-Hidden Mysteries
Although the parables were riddles to outsiders, they conveyed
God's hidden revelation to his followers (compare 13:10-17; 1 Cor 2:7-10; Col
2:2-3). As in the central section of the parable of the sower (Mt 13:10-17), Jesus justifies this principle from Scripture.
The Coming Separation
Jesus explains that God tolerates the wicked in the present
for the sake of his elect, but will publicly distinguish between the two in the day when the secrets of the kingdom are revealed.
That will be the end of present ambiguities! The landowner avoids uprooting the young darnel, which still looks like the wheat,
because he values the wheat; in the same way, God endures the wicked in the present to provide all those who will receive
him time to become his followers (Rom 9:22-24; 2 Pet 3:9, 15).
Jesus observed these principles when he embraced sinners
at table fellowship and denounced the Pharisees; but the principle offers abundant applications for Jesus' followers as well.
Jesus' primary point is the coexistence of kingdom poeple with the world's people in this age. Though the context also suggests
some application to the church (Mt 13:19-23, 47-50), the point here is not that we should abandon efforts to keep the church
pure (18:7-14, 21-35). The point is that the kingdom remains obscure in the present world and only the final day will bring
God's true children into their vindicated glory and banish the wicked from among them (Ladd 1974b:97).
Those Who Know the Kingdom's Value
The kingdom might be hidden to the world (vv. 24-43, 47-50)
like a hidden treasure or a special pearl that only a merchant searching for it would find (vv. 44-46; compare 6:20), but
a few people would recognize its value and live accordingly. Such people would relinquish everything they had to obtain it
(13:44-46; compare 6:19-24; 19:21).
Having made this point, Jesus returns to his earlier theme
(13:36-43) about only the final time distinguishing the righteous from the wicked (vv. 47-50), reminding his
hearers that a single sacrifice for the kingdom may be insufficient: "It's not over till it's over." Jesus then returns to
his theme of the kingdom's value: teachers of the kingdom are like well-to-do householders with new treasure, the kingdom
(vv. 51-52). Just as each of the previous parable sections (vv. 3-23; vv. 24-43) contained a central section essential to
its interpretation (vv. 10-17; vv. 31-35), so verses 47-50 provide a warning that many will profess to be true disciples but
that only the end will reveal whose commitment has been adequate (vv. 44-46, 50-52). This warning may reiterate a recurrent
theme of the chapter: the uncertainty of the identity of those who will persevere to salvation (vv. 19-23, 37-43).
The Kingdom Costs True Disciples
True, the kingdom is available to us only by grace through
faith; but genuine faith means genuinely embracing and yielding to God's reign, not simply acknowledging it and then passing
it by as if it did not exist. The kingdom is a treasure, and those who really believe it will sacrifice everything else in
their lives for its agendas (compare Ladd 1974b:99; Fenton 1977:227; Gundry 1982:276). Professed Christians who desire worldly
wealth and status but are far less consumed with the furtherance of God's kingdom must reconsider the true state of their
souls. When we preach that people who simply pray a prayer will automatically be saved from hell regardless of whether they
truly commit their lives to Christ in trust that he is saving them from sin (from selfishness, from going their way instead
of his), we preach a message other than the one our Lord has taught us.
Treasure Hidden in a Field (13:44)
People in Palestine
often hid treasures, and a treasure might remain concealed if the hider died before he could retrieve it. Probably the central
character of this parable is a peasant working a wealthy landowner's field who when plowing turns up a strongbox or jar containing
coins. Once he buys the field, the field's contents legally belongs to him (compare m. Baba Batra 4:8-9), freeing him
to later "rediscover" the treasure. Whereas most discovered-treasure stories emphasized the finder's extravagant lifestyle
afterward or some compromise between the field's seller and buyer (Gen. Rab. 33:1; Jeremias 1972:200), Jesus lays the
entire emphasis on the price the man is ready to pay to invest in this treasure far greater than any he already owns. Although
this treasure, like the kingdom, is hidden to most of the world, not only does the man recognize that its value outweighs
all he has, but (unlike most of us today) he acts accordingly.
A Prosperous Merchant Seeks Pearls (13:44-45)
In contrast to the tenant worker, the central figure of this
story is a merchant, a man with capital, hence of greater means. Ancient reports tell of pearls worth tens of
millions of dollars in modern currency (Jeremias 1972:199). This merchant, uniquely sensitive to the value of the pearl, wisely
invests all he has to purchase it. Other Jewish accounts of finding expensive pearls typically emphasized the finder's piety;
thus a Jewish tailor pays an outrageous price for a fish because he needs it to keep the sabbath, yet finds in it a pearl
that supplies his needs the rest of his life (Pes. Rab. 23:6). Jesus, however, emphasizes only the value of the pearl
and the joy of finding it (Jeremias 1972:199).
The Coming Separation
Jesus closed the last parable section (vv. 24-43) with the
coming separation, a theme that recurs here. Only the final judgment will reveal who was truly committed to the kingdom and
how wise the committed were to invest their lives in it. Fruits often reveal true and false disciples in the present (7:15-23),
but some who seem to be genuine today may not persevere to the end, and some who will become believers may not have yet heard
the gospel (13:23).
Of at least twenty-four species of fish counted in the Lake of Galilee, many
were unclean or inedible, and the net would not discriminate in its catch. Until the final day, Jesus will continue eating
with sinners to seek and save the lost (vv. 28-29, 48-50). The kingdom had not consumed the wicked with fire (3:10-12) or
come "with signs to be observed" (compare Lk 17:20); it had invaded the world in a hidden way and would remain hidden until
the end. But while the parable probably applies primarily to the world, those who apply the parable to the church are not
wholly amiss: the same line between righteous and wicked will ultimately divide Jesus' professing disciples (13:20-23).
Revealing the Kingdom's Treasures
True teachers of the kingdom display the kingdom's treasure
for all to see. Matthew concludes this central discourse of his Gospel with a final, eighth parable. If Jesus' disciples have
truly understood his teaching (v. 51), they are prepared to teach others the value of the kingdom (v. 52). Jesus expects his
disciples to build both on the biblical teachings that had come before him and on his gospel of the kingdom; the heavy New
Testament dependence on both shows that they did so. Because these disciples understand (v. 51), they prove that they are
the good soil, those who pressed in close enough to Jesus to know him (v. 23; compare 13:11-12, 16).
THE REJECTED PROPHET
The theme of this section is not hard to discern: even more
than in previous sections, it alternates between opposition and miracles, thus showing the spiritual blindness of those who
oppose Jesus. Because Jesus is a rejected prophet (13:53-58), John's martyrdom (14:1-12) foreshadows his own. His miracles
reveal his identity to disciples (14:33) and even to Gentiles (15:22), but the elite among his own people trifle over irrelevant
matters (15:2) and prove unable to recognize his signs (16:1-4). Yet even the disciples fail to understand fully (14:31; 15:15-16,
33; 16:8-12; 17:20), although Jesus' revelation begins to make his identity clearer to them (16:13-17:13).
In contrast to the continuity of material in this section,
its only clear structure is on the level of individual paragraphs, but here it will be divided into three rough segments that
may help reveal both the development of the opposition to Jesus and his self-revelation to his followers. In 13:53-14:36 Jesus
confronts opposition but performs dramatic miracles. In 15:1-39 he confronts more direct opposition from people of influence
but again performs dramatic miracles, even for a Canaanite. In 16:1-17:27 Jesus faces opposition from a united political front
(16:1) but grapples especially with revealing himself to his disciples.
The Threatened Prophet
Like Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah, Jesus was rejected among
his own people (13:53-58); the prophet John's execution thus prefigures his own (14:1-12). But like Moses and Elisha of old,
Jesus feeds the multitude (14:13-21) and ultimately reveals himself in an act that characterizes no mere prophet, but God
alone (14:22-33); the multitudes continue to seek him for healing (14:34-36).
A Prophet Visits Home
Himself greater than a prophet (5:12; 11:11-14), Jesus would
face rejection greater than the prophets had (23:29-36). Like Jeremiah (Jer 1:1; 11:21-23), Jesus faced the rejection of those
closest to him through the ties that usually mattered most in his society-geography and blood (Mt 13:53-58; compare 10:21,
These accounts of breaking traditional ties frame the kingdom
parables (12:46-13:58), forcefully illustrating the message of those parables: the kingdom comes in an obscure way like a
mustard seed, and only those with the eyes of faith will recognize it. How could anyone believe that God had stepped into
history in the person of a boy who had grown up in their own community? Today we may often have the opposite problem: the
familiarity of church tradition too easily obscures the reality that the God we confess as having stepped into history came
in the flesh as a little boy in a particular time and place. We may also risk missing the character of Jesus of Nazareth.
Knowing much about Jesus without obeying him leads to
taking him for granted. One might cite here the saying that familiarity
breeds contempt. The people among whom Jesus had grown up were unprepared to embrace his wisdom and . . . miraculous powers.
Those who know most about Jesus without obeying him risk taking him for granted (v. 54; see also Jn 6:42; 7:15). In a town
of probably five hundred or fewer inhabitants (Stanton 1993:112), everyone would have thought they knew Jesus already (compare
Lk 13:26-28); indeed, Nazareth was a small town from which
even Nazarenes would not expect a great prophet (2:23; compare Jn 1:46). They never expected the kingdom to come in a hidden
way or to come as close to them as it did (13:31-33); hence those closest to the kingdom did not recognize it, and it passed
them by (compare 2:1-12).
Prophets-both Jesus and his true followers-will be rejected. This principle so permeated the early Christian understanding of Jesus' rejection
by the leaders of his people that it figures prominently in the Gospels (13:57; Mk 6:4; compare Lk 4:24; Jn 4:44). "If the
world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (Jn 15:18). Jesus' contemporaries already knew and emphasized that prophets
were rejected (as in Mt 23:37; Acts 7:52, 58; CD 7.17-18; 1 Enoch 95:7), but never thought to apply concretely
in this case what they professed abstractly.
God allows our unbelief to limit his activity. Mark says that Jesus "could not" do a miracle in Nazareth because of the people's unbelief (Mk 6:5), probably meaning that Jesus refused to
act as a mere magician but demanded faith (Goppelt 1981:148). Matthew clarifies the wording: Jesus did not (would not)
act because of their unbelief (13:58). Those who are hostile to God's purposes cannot complain because they do not receive
the attestations of his power that appear regularly among those who believe him. We should keep in mind, however, that the
issue here is the hostility of antibelief, not a young Christian's struggles with doubt (compare Moule 1965:47); sometimes
God does sovereignly act on behalf of his own to develop faith, not just to reward it (compare 17:2-7; 28:5-10, 17; Ex 3:2;