Exposition of Matthew 13:18-23, Parable of the Four Soils – Part 3

Why do people have different responses to Jesus and his message? This question is as relevant today as it was when Jesus brought his light to Galilee.

Matthew 13:18-23

18 Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.


In his explanation of the parable, Jesus reveals why his message has received a mixed response. The fault lies not in the message but in the hearts of the listeners. Even the good soil manifests different levels of fruitfulness. The complex parable gives the disciples a framework for understanding what is going on.

The path

Buried in NIVs imperative listen (verse 18) is the Greek personal pronoun for you that leads off the sentence to give it emphasis. The blessedness of the disciples mentioned in verses 1617 is expressed by the fact that they, and not others, are now to receive a plain explanation of the parable.

The first case is the seed sown along the path (verse 19), and Jesus makes clear that the hard path is a metaphor for a heart that hears the word about Gods rule but does not understand. Their failure to hear gives the evil one opportunity to snatch the word from their heart. Thus do many of Jesus contemporaries make the same error as their ancestors and reach the same result. Osborne correctly calls this response studied rejection.[1] NO CROP.

The rocky ground

Though Galilee was very fertile, certain areas had a thin layer of topsoil over a layer of rock. In the story world, some seed falls on this soil (verse 20), and it would seem that a celebration is in order. Not so fast!

Jesus describes the initial reception of the word as receiving it at once with joy. Jesus suggests that initial response, even feeling joy, is not the relevant measure of spiritual success. Indeed, Jesus says this person has no root in himself (NET, ESV), a condition that France interprets as a lack of inner conviction.[2] Osborne explains that the root of a tree or plant is a common ancient metaphor for commitment.[3] The lack of a root makes their response both temporary and reliant on favorable external conditions. When persecution or trouble comes, they stumble away as quickly as they showed initial joy. NO CROP.

Among thorns

Remember that the soil represents the openness or receptivity of the hearers heart to the word (seed) of God being sown. Some hearts already have plants that are thriving when the seed falls among them; those pre-existing plants are thorn bushes. The thorn bushes represent worldly cares and the deceitfulness of wealth. The worldly cares should be familiar to all of us, but expectations from family and society stand high on the list. The deceitfulness of wealth, and the inability of anyone to serve both worldly wealth and God at the same time show how the thorns choke the word. NO CROP.

The good soil

Jesus says the good soil represents those who hear the word and understand it. For us to understand what Jesus means, we must critique how modern people think. Hear in our culture means something like sitting and listening to a sermon, and then going home unchanged. Understand in our culture means grasping something conceptually. Today someone may say that Beijing is the capital of China. I am informed of concepts, but my behavior is unchanged. If I use the information to fly to Beijing as a man who belongs to Jesus, then I am hearing and understanding in the sense Jesus means.

How would a Christian who knows you well, describe your relationship to Jesus? Would it be more about being satisfied with knowing sound doctrine, or would they comment about how your faith translates in love and care shown to others?

If no crop results from Jesus word that has fallen into the soil of my heart, then no hearing and understanding have taken place. But as my behavior and actions put Jesus words into practice, then we have: A CROP! And that crop shows a level of production proportional to my demonstrated devotion to Jesus.

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)513.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)520.

[3] Osborne, Matthew, 514.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.