The Wheat and the Tares

Another parable set [Jesus] before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man that sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
And the servants of the householder came and said unto him, “Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? Whence then hath it tares?
And he said unto them, “An enemy hath done this.”
And the servants say unto him, “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
But he saith, “Nay; lest haply while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:24-30).

Then [Jesus] left the multitudes, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, “Explain unto us the parable of the tares of the field.”
And he answered and said, “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil: and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are angels. As therefore the tares are gathered up and burned with fire; so shall it be in the end of the world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:36-43).

One of the great questions regarding the faith is why it is that there are so many different groups claiming to represent Jesus and His truth, and so many others who have entirely different beliefs. At times we might direct this question toward God– why, if He is trying to reconcile the world to Him, does He allow so many different views about so many different subjects? If the Bible can be understood be people, why are there so many understandings of it allowed? Why doesn’t He just set everything straight?

Part of the answer– or at least part of a means by which we can try to understand it– involves free will. God does not compel or coerce; even if He does great things and makes powerful displays, people still must turn to Him and be willing to submit their wills to His (cf. Matthew 26:39, Acts 9:18, 1 Timothy 2:4). Therefore, we should not expect God to force people to change their views, or compel them in any way.

The rest of the answer is addressed in the second parable presented in Matthew 13– the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, as it is often called. Matthew presents for us both the parable itself (Matthew 13:24-30) and Jesus’ later explanation of it to His disciples (Matthew 13:36-43).

The story is understandable enough. A man (the Son of Man, Jesus) has a field (the world) and plants good wheat seeds in it (the “sons of the Kingdom,” true believers). During the night, an enemy (Satan/the Devil) came and sowed tares, or weeds (the “sons of the evil one,” those who are not of the truth) in that same field. It was not clear until the plants grew that some were wheat and others were weeds. The man’s servants ask him whether they should go out and remove the weeds, but the man is concerned that wheat would be inadvertently taken up with the weeds. He thinks it better for them all to remain until the harvest (the end of time), and then the reapers (the angels) will separate out the weeds for burning (hell) and the wheat for bringing into the barn (the resurrection of life/shining in the Kingdom of the Father).

Jesus presents this parable to encourage the disciples. He does not want them to be deceived: there will be “weeds” out there, people “planted” by the Evil One to do his will and to resist God’s truth. They will be in the midst of Christians until the end of time. But the day of Judgment will come and the weeds will meet a terrible end then. The wheat will be vindicated and glorified.

Many arguments surround this passage, particularly regarding Jesus’ referent for the “Kingdom.” Does “Kingdom” refer only to the church, i.e. the people who at least nominally understand that Jesus is Lord, or does “Kingdom” refer to the entire world? According to Matthew 28:18, Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, and so the entire world is under His authority and could therefore be seen as His Kingdom. Nevertheless, most of the time Jesus speaks about the Kingdom, He is speaking about those who recognize His Lordship.

If we stop and think about it, however, the message is true for either referent. Within the world there are plenty of opponents of the truth planted there by the Evil One who seek to undermine the Gospel of Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2:12, 4:3-5). Unfortunately, there are also plenty of people who are part of churches who advance false teachings and promote a false gospel, leading people astray (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 6:3-10, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Jude 1:3-19). The dangers are present everywhere.

So why? Why does God allow the “weeds” to continue? Jesus gives the answer– lest the wheat get removed as well. Notice that it takes time to see whether what was planted would become a “wheat” or a “weed”. This message is the same as Peter’s in 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Whereas plants themselves cannot change their nature, human beings can. The possibility exists for a “weed” to become “wheat”; in fact, every “wheat” must be renewed and reformed from its previous state as a “weed” (cf. Ephesians 2:1-18, Titus 3:3-8). Sadly, some “wheat” return to being “weeds” (2 Peter 2:20-22). Nevertheless, God is waiting and reserving judgment until the final day so that the righteous do not get pulled up with the wicked, and to give the wicked plenty of chances to repent and reform their ways.

We must remember that it is the work of Satan, not the work of God, that has caused confusion, divisions, conflict, and misunderstandings of the truth. The fragmentation among “Christian” groups is the work of the Devil; the Devil is also behind the reason for so many others rejecting the Gospel entirely. God made a good world (cf. Genesis 1:31), and the pure Gospel seed remains very good (Matthew 13:24, 38, Romans 1:16). When good and honest hearts hear the pure Gospel, they can be saved and live to glorify God. Sadly, far too many are not hearing the pure Gospel, but instead are settling for the various seeds and ideas of men.

We know that the day of Judgment is coming, and on that day every plant not planted by God will be uprooted and burned (Matthew 13:30, 40-42, 15:13). The plants whom God planted will bask in the Light of the Son in the resurrection of eternal light (cf. Matthew 13:43, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Let us not wait until the final day to see what kind of plant we will be. Let us make sure that we are planted by God and rooted in Christ so as to live eternally!

Ethan R. Longhenry