The Storehouse of the Scriptures: How the Kingdom Opens Up the Meaning of the Bible

“Have you understood all these things?”

“Yes,” they told Him.

“Therefore,” He said to them, “every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old.” When Jesus had finished these parables, He left there. (Matthew 13:51-53)

Over the last three chapters of Matthew, we’ve seen a progression in Jesus’s relationship with the people who followed him. After John the Baptist sent emissaries to Jesus to express doubt about his messiahship, Jesus lamented that the towns who had seen his miracles did not repent and embrace the presence of God in their midst. Nevertheless, he continued to invite them — “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

In chapter 12, conflicts with the Pharisees began to escalate, growing more heated until the Pharisees actually accused Jesus of using the devil’s power to work miracles. When Jesus answered this charge in strong terms, we’re told that the Pharisees and scribes — that is, students of the Scripture — demanded a sign from him.

He told them he would give them no sign but that of Jonah, and then turned and began to identify particular individuals among the crowds as his “mother, and sisters, and brothers” — those who did the will of God, his disciples.

Immediately after this, Jesus began preaching in parables for the first time. His reason was that God was not giving the mysteries of the kingdom to everyone, but only to those who listened with ears of faith.

The strongest effect of all this was to create a divide between Jesus’s friends — his family, to use his own words — and the crowds, who were uncommitted, fickle, sometimes disingenuous, and of course, swayed heavily by the Pharisees.

This was the background when Jesus finished giving his first seven parables and then asked his disciples whether they understood everything he had just said. They answered that they did. “Therefore,” he said, “every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old.”

Dark Sayings of Old

Earlier, Matthew told us that Jesus’s use of parables fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, specifically Psalm 78:2:

I will open My mouth in parables;
I will declare things kept secret
from the foundation of the world.

In the familiar words of the NKJV, Psalm 78 begins, “I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old.” The HCSB renders this, “I will speak mysteries from the past.” Curiously, though, the psalm goes on to say that although these things are “mysteries,” that is, secrets yet to be revealed, they are also well known to the people:

—things we have heard and known
and that our fathers have passed down to us.
We must not hide them from their children,
but must tell a future generation
the praises of the Lord,
His might, and the wonderful works
He has performed. (Psalm 78:3-4)

The psalm goes on to recount stories from Israel’s history, especially the Exodus — stories of God’s miraculous might and faithfulness to his people. Once again, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary is helpful in understanding what’s being said here:

In what sense can Jesus’ ministry in parables be said to be a fulfillment of Asaph’s psalm? Note especially that Ps 78 repeats Israel’s well-known history, none of which is “mysterious” or “hidden” … The point of Ps 78 is that though the history of the Jews is well known, the psalmist selects certain historical events and brings them together in such a way as to bring out things that have been riddles and enigmas “from of old.” The pattern of history is not self-evident; but the psalmist shows what it is really all about.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament)

The “dark sayings” of Psalm 78 specifically pertained to old things, the stories of God’s covenant faithfulness, his power in rescuing his people, his redemption. But they also highlight a second theme: the ongoing rebellion of Israel, who refused to trust God or walk faithfully with him.

Despite God’s continual intervention on their behalf, they are a people who forget God. Over and over, their unfaithfulness brings judgment and wrath on them, and the cycle starts over again.

The psalm is 72 verses long, and these themes are its whole focus. At times, its language rises to haunting lament:

The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows,
Turned back in the day of battle.
They did not keep the covenant of God;
They refused to walk in His law,
And forgot His works
And His wonders that He had shown them. (Psalm 78:9-11, NKJV)

Psalm 78 and Matthew’s Storehouse

Looking at the context of this passage, it’s not hard to see why Matthew tied Jesus’s parables in with Psalm 78. Once again, God had been moving in power, bringing deliverance and healing to his people through the ministry of Jesus. And once again, his people — for the most part — were rejecting him. The war against hell had been joined, but the people of God turned back from the battle.

When I read these passages all together, I also see a clear link between Psalm 78 and Jesus’s words about the Scriptures and the kingdom.

Asaph, the psalmist, declares his intention to retell these “mysteries from the past” so that future generations will remember and worship the Lord. Jesus, in his words to his disciples, praises those students of the Scripture who bring out of the storehouse “what is old.”

The memory of God’s faithfulness in the past was and is a great treasure — something to be revered and rehearsed. At times, Jesus’s message is presented as though it was a total overturning of everything that came before it — as though it was essentially discontinuous with the past. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus loved the Hebrew Scriptures. He knew them intimately and quoted them often. And in this interaction with his disciples, perhaps contrasting them to the scribes who had been attacking him (and them), he gives a nod to one of their primary roles as his disciples — they are “students of the Scripture.”

At the same time, just as Asaph examined historical events to draw out theological points that were not necessarily obvious — that could, in other words, be said to be “new” — so Jesus told his disciples that being instructed in the kingdom would also enable them to bring things from the Scripture that were new. The Scripture would remain the powerful storehouse it had always been, but Jesus’s parables, his teachings, and even his life would open that storehouse up to a far greater and fuller degree.

For the disciples, who must have felt the sting of rejection from the religious leaders of their community and who might have been tempted, at times, to worry that they were going down a path of heresy and deception — wouldn’t you doubt sometimes, if you were following Jesus in the face of so much opposition? — it was a comforting reminder that their faith was truly rooted in the faith of their fathers.

For us, it’s also a reminder that just as we can’t understand the New Testament without the Old, so we can’t accurately read the Old Testament without the New. Jesus uttered — and lived — “things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” His teachings shed light on long-kept mysteries and told us what the kingdom would be about.

Perhaps strangely, even thousands of years after Jesus, we still tend to miss much of what he was saying. We still tend to make God and his gospel in our own image; we still look for political messiahs. We still gravitate toward unfaithfulness. Given truth, we prefer lies. Armed, and carrying bows, we turn back in the day of battle.

And so, as the disciples did, and as Asaph urged his contemporaries to do, we must apply ourselves to understanding the mysteries of the kingdom — both old and new. And then, like Asaph, “We must not hide them from [our] children / but must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord / His might, and the wonderful works He has performed.”

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This is Part 228 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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