One of the stories we have looked at already is the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. A very short story-—all of one sentence long—it told the tale of a man who accidentally found treasure when digging in a field. Recognizing its immense value, he sold everything he had to possess it.
In this Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, which immediately follows the other one, a man finds treasure of another kind: a pearl. However, he doesn’t discover it by accident as the other man did; he goes in search of it. The end result is the same. Recognizing the value of what he finds, he sells everything he has to possess it.
If you read the first story, you would already have received a lot of insights about the great treasure that is found, but the delight in studying the parables of Jesus is that there is always so much more to learn. So let’s go pearl hunting.
Of Merchants and Fine Pearls
There are people who trawl garage sales and second-hand stores looking for hidden gems that would make them millionaires. It doesn’t happen very often, but every now and then they hit pay dirt. Andy Field, a British businessman, was on vacation in Las Vegas when he purchased five sketches at a yard sale for $5. The seller mentioned that his mother had helped to care for Andy Warhol when he was a child, but Field thought little of it until he decided to re-frame some of the pieces. It turned out that one of the sketches was a sketch done by the famous artist when he was ten. The sketch is currently valued at $2 million.
The merchant in our story does not appear to be a treasure trawler, but he most certainly was in search of good pearls, either being in the business of selling pearls himself, or securing them for someone else who was.
Pearls were much sought after in those days (much like diamonds are today), and pearl diving was good business. It was dangerous business too, because divers would tie rocks to their bodies and, without any breathing or safety apparatus, would jump out of a boat and hunt for oysters at the bottom of the sea bed. Many didn’t surface alive.
For the businessman, pearls were a good investment because they appreciated in value with time, and a really fine pearl was definitely something worth seeking. In this story, the businessman appears to have found the mother of all pearls, and instantly realizes that he would never find anything better even if he hunted for pearls for the rest of his life. It was very expensive, but he had to possess it, no matter what. So he takes stock, decides to sell everything he has is advice contrary to what any investment consultant would give, and put it all into one single item—a pearl of great price.
The Kingdom of Heaven
As in the previous parable, and several other parables he told, Jesus prefaces it with the words: The kingdom of heaven is like .... This is a story—very short—about the kingdom of heaven, but despite its brevity, we can ascertain many truths. Because it is so closely related to the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, we will look at both together.
The Kingdom is Priceless
The most obvious understanding one obtains from both stories is that the kingdom of heaven is priceless. Peter speaks about an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1:4). That is worth a lot!
Describing the new heaven in the book of Revelation, John writes that it is a place where God dwells in the midst of his people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away (Revelation 21:4). That is worth a lot too!
And when one realizes the worth, one also realizes what the farmer and the merchant both realized: that everything else they owned was not worth anything in comparison. The apostle Paul realized this on the road to Damascus. He, who was so confident in the flesh—circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless (Philippians 3:5-6)—totally changed his mind after he found the treasure that was heaven. This is what he says: Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish (Philippians 3:7-8).
Rubbish is what he calls everything else, and rubbish is truly what it is. Nothing in this world lasts. And yet, we expend so much time, effort and energy striving for these things that don’t last, while we more or less ignore the things that are of real importance.
The Kingdom is Hidden
It might seem a little strange to many, but the kingdom of heaven is not easily visible. In the first parable, the treasure was buried; in the second it had to be sought.
The parables themselves seemed to have been told with the purpose of concealing, rather than revealing. When the apostles asked Jesus why he spoke to the people in parables he said: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). [Refer to issue #6 for a detailed explanation of why this is so.]
Part of the reason why we don’t see it clearly is because the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Scripture makes several references to how we cannot see spiritual realities with natural eyes, which is why much of the world today does not recognize the reality of God. The emphasis is totally on the self with the philosophy of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8).
So how does one discover it then? Accidentally, like Paul did on the road to Damascus. On his way, following his own drummer, Paul had an encounter with God that changed his life forever (see Acts 9). Or by purposefully seeking the truth as in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch whose thirst for answers led him to be baptized (see Acts 8).
There are numerous other instances in Scripture of people who have had encounters of both types (or sometimes a combination of both), but the bottom line is that those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The Kingdom is found in different ways
This might seem like an obvious insight offering little of value, but it might be helpful to evangelists who try to bring people to a knowledge of Christ. The one-size-fits-all model will not work because people are different and they find the kingdom in different ways. In our two stories, although one man actively sought the pearl, the other literally stumbled upon the treasure as he went through his daily routine. Here are a few famous examples from Scripture about how people encountered Jesus.
A Samaritan woman met Jesus by the well and had a conversation with him about “living water” that ended with a total transformation in her life (see John 4:1-42). Like the man in the field, the woman went to the well to draw water. She left the well having discovered treasure.
Another woman of note who had an even more powerful encounter with Jesus was a woman about to be stoned for adultery (see John 8:1-11). She had expected to die, but as it happened she gained eternal life.
The Ethiopian eunuch was returning to his country from Jerusalem where he had come to worship. He was reading the book of Isaiah, hungry to know the truth, but he couldn’t understand what the prophet was saying about the “lamb being led to the slaughter”. God sent the apostle Philip to explain things to him. Moments later the eunuch insisted he be baptized (see Acts 8:26-40).
Cornelius, a Roman centurion whom Scripture describes as “a devout man who feared God and prayed constantly” (see Acts 10:2) was also a seeker after truth. God sent him to meet Peter who led him to Jesus and he and his family were saved.
These were powerful experiences that individuals had, but there are occasions when huge groups of people were also touched by the truth. Witness what happened after Peter’s very first sermon: Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added (Acts 2:41).
The Kingdom of Heaven Brings Joy
Often overlooked in a study of these two parables is the joy the farmer and the merchant experienced when they found treasure. Although clearly stated in the first parable, it is obvious that the merchant also was filled with joy when he found the pearl. We all experience great joy when we find something of great value. Imagine how happy Andy Field must have felt when he discovered the paintings he had paid $5 for were worth over $2 million. But also imagine finding a treasure so valuable that even $2 million becomes insignificant. That’s the joy in finding Jesus and every new believer finds himself filled with this joy.
But it has to be a joy that lasts beyond the period of discovery. Paul urges the Christian: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice (Philippians 4:4). Paul wrote these words when he was in prison, indicating that joy is not something that comes from situations or surroundings but from being rooted in him who is the source of all joy. That is what Jesus teaches us as well. After speaking about how he is the vine and we are the branches, and how we should remain in him in order to bear much fruit, he said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). One of the fruit of the Spirit is joy.
The Kingdom of Heaven Comes at a High Cost
In both parables the men purchased the prize they had found. This isn’t to say that we can buy our way into heaven. We can’t. Paul writes: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast: (Ephesians 2:8-9).
However, saving faith doesn’t come from a mere physical action like walking up to an altar or raising one’s hand; it means being born again. A man named Nicodemus had the same question some of us might have: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:4‑6).
Jesus is not talking about a physical rebirth. He is talking about a spiritual rebirth, where we die to the world (flesh/sin), and become citizens of heaven (spirit/holiness). To possess heaven, the value of which we have already seen, it costs us the “world”. That’s the price we have to pay. For those who truly understand the value of heaven, it is not a high price to pay at all.