sat down: The custom among Jewish teachers.—Mt 5:1, 2.
on the beach: Along the shore of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum, there is a spot that forms a natural amphitheater. The good acoustic properties of this location would have allowed a large crowd to hear Jesus speak to them from a boat.
illustrations: Or “parables.” The Greek word pa·ra·bo·leʹ, which literally means “a placing beside (together),” may be in the form of a parable, a proverb, or an illustration. Jesus often explains a thing by ‘placing it beside,’ or comparing it with, another similar thing. (Mr 4:30) His illustrations were short and usually fictitious narratives from which a moral or spiritual truth could be drawn.
Look!: See study note on Mt 1:20.
rocky ground: Not referring to spots where rocks were scattered in the soil but to bedrock or a shelf of rock where there was little soil. The parallel account at Lu 8:6 says that some seed fell “on the rock.” Such terrain would prevent seeds from sinking their roots deep enough to find needed moisture.
among the thorns: Jesus is evidently referring, not to full-grown thornbushes, but to weeds that had not been cleaned out of the plowed soil. These would grow and choke out the newly planted seeds.
sacred secrets: The Greek word my·steʹri·on is rendered “sacred secret” 25 times in the New World Translation. Here used in the plural, this expression refers to aspects of God’s purpose that are withheld until God chooses to make them known. Then they are fully revealed but only to those to whom he chooses to give understanding. (Col 1:25, 26) Once revealed, the sacred secrets of God are given the widest possible proclamation. This is evident by the Bible’s use of such terms as “declaring,” “making known,” “preach,” “revealed,” and “revelation” in connection with the expression “the sacred secret.” (1Co 2:1; Eph 1:9; 3:3; Col 1:25, 26; 4:3) The primary “sacred secret of God” centers on the identification of Jesus Christ as the promised “offspring,” or Messiah. (Col 2:2; Ge 3:15) However, this sacred secret has many facets, including the role Jesus is assigned to play in God’s purpose. (Col 4:3) As Jesus showed on this occasion, “the sacred secrets” are connected with the Kingdom of the heavens, or “the Kingdom of God,” the heavenly government in which Jesus rules as King. (Mr 4:11; Lu 8:10; see study note on Mt 3:2.) The Christian Greek Scriptures use the term my·steʹri·on in a way different from that of the ancient mystery religions. Those religions, often based on fertility cults that flourished in the first century C.E., promised that devotees would receive immortality, direct revelation, and approach to the gods through mystic rites. The content of those secrets was obviously not based on truth. Those initiated into mystery religions vowed to keep the secrets to themselves and therefore shrouded in mystery, which was unlike the open proclamation of the sacred secrets of Christianity. When the Scriptures use this term in connection with false worship, it is rendered “mystery” in the New World Translation.—For the three occurrences where my·steʹri·on is rendered “mystery,” see study notes on 2Th 2:7; Re 17:5, 7.
truly: See study note on Mt 5:18.
system of things: The Greek word ai·onʹ, having the basic meaning “age,” can refer to a state of affairs or to features that distinguish a certain period of time, epoch, or age. Here the term is connected with the anxieties and problems that characterize life in the present system of things.—See Glossary.
oversowed: This hostile act was not unknown in the ancient Near East.
weeds: Generally believed to be bearded darnel (Lolium temulentum), a species of the grass family. This poisonous plant closely resembles wheat when the wheat is in its early stages of development, before it reaches maturity.
The slaves said: Although a few manuscripts read “They said,” the current reading has stronger manuscript support.
uproot the wheat with them: The roots of the weeds and wheat would have become intertwined. So even if the weeds were identified, uprooting them would result in loss of the wheat.
collect the weeds: When bearded darnel (see study note on Mt 13:25) reaches maturity, it can readily be distinguished from wheat.
mustard grain: Several kinds of mustard plants are found growing wild in Israel. Black mustard (Brassica nigra) is the variety commonly cultivated. The relatively small seed, 1-1.6 mm (0.039 to 0.063 in.) in diameter and weighing 1 mg (0.000035 oz) produces a treelike plant. Some varieties of the mustard plant attain a height of up to 4.5 m (15 ft).
the tiniest of all the seeds: The mustard seed was used in ancient Jewish writings as a figure of speech for the very smallest measure of size. Although there are smaller seeds known today, it was evidently the tiniest of seeds gathered and sown by Galilean farmers in Jesus’ day.
leaven: That is, a small piece of fermented dough held over from a previous kneading and mixed into a new batch of dough to make it rise. Jesus here refers to the normal process of baking bread. Although the Bible often uses leaven to represent sin and corruption (see study note on Mt 16:6), it does not always have a negative connotation (Le 7:11-15). Here the fermenting process evidently pictures the spread of something good.
to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: This is a quote from Ps 78:2, where the psalmist (here referred to as “the prophet”) used illustrative language to recount much of the history of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. Similarly, Jesus freely used figurative language in the many illustrations he used to teach his disciples and the crowds that followed him.—See study note on Mt 1:22.
since the founding: Or possibly, “since the founding of the world.” This longer reading is found in some ancient manuscripts that add the Greek word for “world.” (Compare study note on Mt 25:34.) Other ancient manuscripts have the shorter wording used here in the main text.
Son of man: See study note on Mt 8:20.
world: Refers to the world of mankind.
lawlessness: See study note on Mt 24:12.
gnashing of their teeth: See study note on Mt 8:12.
everything: Although one early manuscript omits the Greek word panʹta (all; everything) here, the current reading has stronger support in both early and later manuscripts.
pearl: In Bible times, fine pearls were harvested from the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. This doubtless explains why Jesus spoke of the merchant who had to travel and expend effort to seek such a pearl.
unsuitable: May refer to fish without fins and scales, which were unclean according to the Mosaic Law and could not be eaten, or may possibly refer to any other inedible fish that were caught.—Le 11:9-12; De 14:9, 10.
public instructor: Or “learned person.” The Greek word gram·ma·teusʹ is rendered “scribe” when referring to a group of Jewish teachers who were versed in the Law, but here the expression is used with regard to Jesus’ disciples who were trained to teach others.
his home territory: Lit., “his father’s place,” that is, his hometown, Nazareth, the area from which his immediate family came.
carpenter’s son: The Greek word teʹkton, rendered “carpenter,” is a general term that can refer to any artisan or builder. When it refers to a woodworker, it can mean one who works in the building trade, in the construction of furniture, or in the making of other types of wooden objects. Justin Martyr, of the second century C.E., wrote that Jesus worked “as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes.” Early Bible translations in ancient languages also support the idea of a woodworker. Jesus was known both as “the carpenter’s son” and as “the carpenter.” (Mr 6:3) Evidently, Jesus learned carpentry from his adoptive father, Joseph. Such an apprenticeship would typically have begun when a boy was about 12 to 15 years of age and would stretch over many years.
brothers: The Greek word a·del·phosʹ can refer to a spiritual relationship in the Bible, but here it is used of Jesus’ half brothers, the younger sons of Joseph and Mary. Some who believe that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus claim that here a·del·phosʹ refers to cousins. However, the Christian Greek Scriptures use a distinct term for “cousin” (Greek, a·ne·psi·osʹ at Col 4:10) and a different term for “the son of Paul’s sister” (Ac 23:16). Also, Lu 21:16 uses the plural forms of the Greek words a·del·phosʹ and syg·ge·nesʹ (rendered “brothers and relatives”). These examples show that the terms denoting familial relationships are not used loosely or indiscriminately in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Judas: This half brother of Jesus is evidently the Jude (Greek, I·ouʹdas) who wrote the Bible book by that name.—Jude 1.
they began to stumble because of him: Or “they took offense at him.” In this context, the Greek word skan·da·liʹzo refers to stumbling in a figurative sense, meaning “to take offense.” It could also be rendered “they refused to believe in him.” In other contexts, the Greek word includes the idea of falling into sin or causing someone to fall into sin.—See study note on Mt 5:29.
he did not perform many powerful works there: Jesus did not perform many miracles in Nazareth, not because of a lack of power, but because the circumstances did not warrant it. The people of Nazareth lacked faith. (See study note on Mr 6:5.) Divine power was not to be wasted on unreceptive skeptics.—Compare Mt 10:14; Lu 16:29-31.