As we saw last week, Jesus used parables to teach the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven so that the Jews that rejected him wouldn’t be able to understand him. The disciples could understand him because they believed him. The parables he used were about commonplace things that illustrated the more complex spiritual truths that he was teaching.
In this parable of the sower, Jesus drew on their experience with sowing seed. They would be able to understand that seed sown on hard ground wouldn’t sprout, on the one extreme, while seed in good ground would sprout and produce bountifully, on the other extreme. So it is with God’s word.
Jesus referred to four different kinds of soil in this parable: the wayside, stony ground, thorny ground, and good ground. In each, the seed responded differently, and in each, the picture illustrates something about the different responses to the preaching of the word of God.
The Wayside [v.4] – eaten by the fowls – pictures the devil stealing the word out of the hearer’s heart before he can get saved [v.19; Mk 4:15; Lk 8:12]. These folks are lost, of course, and picture the Pharisees, for example [Jn 8:47].
The Stony Ground [v.5-6] – sprung up but withered in the sun because it had no root – pictures some that hear the word gladly but when they realize that following Jesus can offend them and lead to persecution, they bail out [v.20-21; Mk 4:16-17; Lk 8:13]. These folks are lost and picture the disciples that followed Jesus from the feeding of the five thousand [Jn 6:1-14] through his preaching on the bread of life, and then they quit [Jn 6:60-66].
The Thorny Ground [v.7] – choked by the thorns – pictures those who start out like they are going to make it but end up lost because they trust their riches (Matt 19:16-23) and their heart is in the earth with their treasure (Matt 6:21) [v. 22; Mk 4:18-19; Lk 8:14]. A good example of this group is the rich young ruler of Matt 19, referred to in the verses above. See note below for how this portion of the parable is applied in the kingdom of God (in Luke’s gospel).
The Good Ground [v.8] – good ground produces, some more than others – pictures folks with good and honest hearts who not only hear the word but also understand it and the word produces fruit in their lives; they are saved [v.23; Mk 4:20; Lk 8:15]. Good examples of this group are the disciples. Peter, James and John were more productive than say Bartholomew or Thaddaeus.
Note: In the kingdom of heaven, the first three groups are lost. Only those represented by the good ground are saved. However, in the kingdom of God, mentioned in Lk 8, the first two groups are lost (the second has no root [Jesus], Is 11:10; Rev 5:5; Rev 22:16) and the last two are saved. The thorny ground pictures a fellow like Demas, who was a fellow laborer with Paul [Phile 24; Col 4:14], but who was choked out by his love of the world. Thus, while he produced some fruit, he couldn’t bring it to perfection like Paul did, and he became unfruitful.