What is the meaning of the parable of the sower?
The Parable of the Sower was the fifth parable that Christ taught. The parable is about salvation and not sanctification. It is an illustration of the principle of the wide and narrow roads Christ gave in Matthew 7:13-14.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14 (NASB)
The parable of the sower illustrates four different responses people have to the gospel of Jesus Christ. What follows is a summary explanation of the parable that reveals the parable is about salvation and not sanctification or some other concept.
Soil Beside The Road
In the parable of the sower Jesus uses three symbols: a sower, seed and soils. In the parable seed is thrown on the ground by a sower. The sower symbolizes anyone who scatters seed on the ground. The seed symbolizes the Word of God as stated in Luke 8:11. That is, the sower is anyone who teaches, preaches or shares the gospel with others. The four soils symbolize four types of people as is illustrated in Matthew 13:18-23; Mark 4:13-20 and Luke 8:11-15. Therefore, the throwing of the seed on four types of soils is symbolic of the Word of God being shared with four types of people. Maybe an individual hears the gospel from a friend, from a radio station or from a website. The parable teaches there are four different types of responses from those who hear.
Jesus described the first soil which is soil beside the road. All three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) refer to the first soil as soil that is beside the road.
Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. Matthew 13:18-19 (NASB)
These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. Mark 4:15 (NASB)
Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Luke 8:11-12 (NASB)
In each gospel we are told that the evil one, Satan or the devil snatches the Word of God away. Matthew and Luke say the devil snatches it from the heart of these individuals. That is, they heard the Word of God but they never respond to it. They are indifferent. Luke 8:12 states, “So that they will not believe and be saved.” This reveals the parable is about salvation and not about sanctification or some other concept. Jesus said, “. . . they will not believe and be saved.”
The Rocky Soil
The second soil is rocky places. The soil contains rocks. This soil symbolizes the person who avoids affliction or persecution. They cannot withstand difficult times. They would rather stop being a religious person than continue to claim to be a Christian. Consequently, when this person is ridiculed, mocked, or experiences difficulties or persecution because he or she claims to be a Christian, they stop claiming to be a Christian. They probably stopped being concerned about sin and reading the Bible long before they stopped attending church. Matthew 13:20-21 says this about the person.
The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. Matthew 13:20-21 (NASB)
Now we learn that this soil represents a man who hears the Word of God and initially responds with joy or excitement. He is excited about God and the wonderful news that he can go to heaven. It is wonderful news, but this man is not truly a Christian. Why? Notice that Matthew says this man was “temporary” and so eventually he “falls away.” The Greek word for “temporary” is proskairos. The word means “only for a while” or “lasting only for a short time.” That is, this person was never a real Christian because he is temporary. 1 John 2:19 states those who leave the faith were never real Christians. Then Mark and Luke add more information.
In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. Mark 4:16-17 (NASB)
The gospel of Luke states that they “believe for a while.” These individuals were never real Christians. Jesus will make this point with the last soil. Notice that Luke 8:13 says, “These have no firm root.” They believe for a while and then fall away.
Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. Luke 8:13 (NASB)
This further illustrates that Jesus is describing people who were never Christians. Earlier in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus said that on judgment day many people will complain because they cannot enter heaven. These religious individuals will say they cast out demons, performed miracles and, perhaps did other things such as serve as leaders in a church. But they were not real Christians. Here are Jesus’ words.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)
But notice that Jesus said that “I never knew you” and then He commanded, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” What is the message? They were never Christians! They thought they were. They thought they were active in the church performing ministry for Christ. But Jesus said, “I never knew you!” These are sad words. They were never Christians! These were not individuals who lost their salvation. They were never saved! The rocky soil symbolizes individuals who became excited over the gospel but they never became Christians. The same is true for the next soil.
The Thorny Soil
The third soil is the thorny soil. This soil symbolizes the person who worries much, seeks wealth and pleasure in this life. Initially, they hear the gospel and respond in some way. There is some type of spiritual response but this person never produces fruit.
And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. Matthew 13:22 (NASB)
And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. Mark 4:18-19 (NASB)
The gospel of Luke sharpens the statement by saying this person produces “no fruit to maturity.” But the NASB’s translation is faulty. The literal Greek is “brings no.” The NASB added the words “fruit to maturity.” They do no exist in the Greek text. The Greek simply reveals there is “no.” There is no fruit.
The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. Luke 8:14 (NASB)
That is, this soil does not grow spiritually. They are not putting to death sin (Romans 8:13-15; 1 John 2:12-14). These individuals were not Christians. They never grew spiritually. They attended church, but there was no spiritual growth.
The Good Soil
The fourth and final soil is the good soil. This soil symbolizes true Christians because they produce spiritual fruit. Matthew 13:23 states for the first time that this soil “hears the word and understands it.” This person hears the gospel and actually understands that Jesus is God, died for our sins and was resurrected. This person believes in Christ. True faith includes repentance of sins and submission to Christ. After becoming a Christian the fruit of the Spirit grows in his life (Galatians 5:22-23).
And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. Matthew 13:23 (NASB)
Mark 4:20 says this soil “accepts it.” This soil accepts the gospel.
And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. Mark 4:20 (NASB)
Luke 8:15 adds that this soil “holds it fast” and bears “fruit with perseverance.” This is another characteristic of true Christians. The true Christian never leaves Christ.
But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. Luke 8:15 (NASB)
When the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke state that this soil produces fruit, it is important to notice that this occurs after the person becomes a Christian. This is another sign or evidence that the person is a Christian. Since God has promised in Philippians 1:6 that He will finish the work He starts in us, we should understand that true Christians will never leave the faith. Also in John 6:39, 40, 44, 47, 54, Jesus repeatedly promised that a person who becomes a Christian will be raised up on the last day. He will never lose them. The good soil has the characteristics of a true Christian.
In summary, the parable of the sower is about salvation. It reveals the signs or evidence that an individual is a true Christian. One can say that it is about sanctification, but only in the last soil and only in the sense that true Christians grow spiritually and produce fruit. Sanctification of the believer is not the primary message of the parable. Jesus has illustrated the message of the principle of the wide and narrow roads. Few are saved and the sign they are saved is that they remain in the faith and their lives reflect the evidence of salvation in the fruit they produce.
Notice that the important evidences of a true Christian are that they believe the gospel about salvation and have a “honest and good heart.” We are also told the real Christian holds on and continuously produces fruit. But the soil beside the road, the rocky soil and thorny soil all represent non-Christians. The soil beside the road never becomes excited by the Word of God. The other two soils are both temporary and do not produce any fruit.
This parable is a warning to those who think they are Christians. Are you producing fruit? Is the fruit of the Spirit growing in our life? Are you learning the Word of God? Are you sinning less and less? The apostle Paul rebuked the Christians in Corinth because they were committing so much sin and their own sin did not concern them. At the end of his second letter to these Christians he commanded them to test themselves.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB)
Are you a Christian? If you are not sure, then test yourself with scripture that describes the characteristics of a true Christian. See “Looking For Evidence You Are a Christian?” If you are not a Christian, then discover how to go to heaven at “Searching For God.”
Suggested Links:Searching for God — How To Go To Heaven
Looking For Evidence You Are a Christian?
Parable of The Sower and The Seed
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