By Ryan Shaw
The sixth parable of the Kingdom in our series of eight in Matthew 13 is often called the “pearl of great price.” It carries much of the same imagery as the previous parable of the hidden treasure.
In some ways these two go together, though the central message is quite different.
There is a man, called a merchant, a treasure in the form of pearls being sought, and a purchase being made. It is commonly understood that the pearl is Christ and the merchant the sinner seeking salvation.
As we have seen, such an interpretation contradicts the figures already used and makes salvation out to be something it Biblically is not: something to be purchased by the sinner.
The pearl is the focus of the parable and is meant to be the emphasis. Why did Jesus use a pearl as His primary image?
We need to get back into the culture of the ancient world to understand this. Hebrew culture did not view a pearl as something representing great value.
To the Jews a pearl was not precious at all. The pearl is never mentioned in the Old Testament as connected with other precious stones.
As Jesus spoke to His disciples (all Jews), they undoubtedly would have been asking themselves, “Why is He using the pearl as a representation?”
The previous parable had focused on a treasure hidden in a field, which they understood, as do we. Yet now to discuss “pearls” and a merchant seeking “beautiful pearls” would have confused them.
They would have been aware, however, of the pearl’s importance to the Gentiles. It was indeed precious to them. The Pharaoh’s had used precious stones, including pearls, to decorate. We will see the significance of this in a moment.
A pearl is a product of a living organism (oyster). It is produced by a grain of sand harming the oyster. A pearl is a result of the oyster’s response to the injury done.
The Greek word for pearl actually means purity. As the pearl is the result of an injury done to the oyster, so a mighty victory has been wrought of God’s righteousness over everything that appears to injure His ways in this age.
The second image to consider is the merchant. He is seeking after good pearls. These are evidently not for His own adornment or to show His wealth. He is seeking pearls for others benefit, not His own.
Jesus is revealing a mystery (hidden truth) deeper than any of the previous parables He gave to the multitudes or His own disciples – the vast love and high esteem He possesses for His Church in this age.
Jesus had taught the chief characteristic of the Kingdom of God in this age (between His first and second coming) is that of a people being gathered out of the age and presented to God. His Church would be vastly made up of gentiles.
This people is symbolized as the finest, most beautiful, rarest and most costly jewel He will ever possess in all eternity. This “pearl” is His most cherished possession for all ages throughout eternity.
In spite of the failure revealed in previous parables of the visible “Kingdom of God” (from the natural perspective) in this age, there is a “pearl” that has been found and purchased which is the supreme treasure of His eternal House.
This is where some believers struggle. We doubt that Jesus is referring to us because we are aware of our many shortcomings. Though we only see brokenness within, God sees Jesus on the inside of us.
Jesus is absolutely willing to pay any price because He finds great value in us. Not because we are worthy or deserving, but because of His supreme love and mercy.
He sees the Church as being worth a “great price” – His all. Human beings who respond to the love of Jesus are an eternal delight to God. Many of us hold a wrong understanding that God tolerates us because He has to.
The great merchant, Jesus Himself, sought this pearl. He willingly came from heaven to purchase this pearl because no price was too great.
What He knew this pearl would become and the place it would hold in His eternal economy throughout the ages, motivated Him with burning love in His heart. He chose to leave all His glory behind, come to earth, and “buy” this pearl, taking it back with Him to the place He left in the first place.
The world has no understanding of this precious pearl. To them it is worthless, but to the merchant with a true eye for beauty and victory out of defeat, it is of great value.
Even the Church itself has little understanding of what she is as the eternal bride of Christ. We don’t see the big picture. We are at present being formed (built into God’s eternal Church) and are not as we will one day be.
God sees and relates to the Church as she is in reality from all eternity. He sees both what she is at present while keeping in view what He has created the Church to become for eternity. She holds eternal significance so that the angels look upon the body of Christ with awe and amazement.
Everything God declares is “precious” originates in Jesus. Though rejected by much of humanity in this age, He is precious to God.
We are righteous through Him, we have our character changed and become holy like Jesus in action, motive, desires and more. This is the Church – made precious through the preciousness of Jesus.
Because the Church is attached to the head (the most precious and original “pearl”) she is now equally as precious. And this preciousness is eternal.