The parable of the Wheat and Tares is the second of the kingdom parables told by Jesus in Matthew 13. While the Lord graciously revealed the meaning, there are many vital lessons to be learned from its interpretation. For example, the story is typical of a new class of parables. As we know, the Savior used parabolic language from the beginning. Thus His “Father’s business” (Lk. 2:49 KJV) had nothing to do with carpentry. But the use of the narrative parables arose after the Jews accused the Lord of casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of the devils” (Mt. 12:24). Thereafter, the Lord began to use illustrative stories to teach the truths of the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the Sower was the beginning of those which have subsequently become world-famous. For instance, even unbelievers admit that the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:30-37) says all we need to know about loving our neighbor.
The narrative parables emerged as late as the autumn of the second year of the Lord’s three-year ministry. This change of idiom reveals His patience with those who remained impenitent in the face of His mighty works. Now the Lord began to speak in mysteries. The common people were bewildered, and naturally so, when even the apostles had to ask for an explanation! Yet the parables are among the richest seams of divine revelation.
The parables are perfectly logical and natural in construction, proving that God has hidden teaching about eternal truths both in His creation and in mundane human events. I am also convinced that the parables are not fictional but earthly histories with heavenly meanings. For example, they contain no miracles, but the miracle is that every prophetic word contained in them has been fulfilled or is in process of fulfillment.
If the parables are mere fables, who is going to care about being cast by angels into a furnace of fire (Lk. 16:19-31)? But what of Psalm 78, which the Lord fulfilled by commencing His parable ministry? Is this Psalm any less than a factual account of God’s faithful dealings with His unfaithful people?
The Kingdom Of Heaven
The Wheat and Tares is an analogy of events consistent with the constitution of the “kingdom of heaven.” This term is exclusive to Matthew while the other evangelists favor “the kingdom of God.” While these concepts are interconnected, they express a critical distinction. The kingdom of God is the visible testimony under the control of God, and subject to national government within the bounds of Christian conscience. The kingdom of heaven is that area where the kingdom of God interfaces with the world.
As such, the kingdom of heaven is not heaven itself any more than the kingdom of God is God Himself. But how better defined than by the Lord Himself? “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). Though not of the world (Jn. 18:36), it is in the world.
Because the kingdom of heaven impacts with the world, Christians are not hermits walled up in cloistered cells. Indeed the monastic spirit of retreat leads only to strife, bitterness and division. Disciples must maintain contact with the world without partaking of its sins. Thus even the apostles, who gave themselves “continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4) did not hide themselves away from others. For instance, Peter preached in a Roman centurion’s house, and Paul sang hymns in a Philippian jail.
The Field And The Garden
Matthew used the word “field” (Mt. 13:24) while Luke used “garden” (Lk. 13:19). There is also a distinction in the parables between sowing and planting. Thus a field is sown (Mt. 13:24) but a vineyard or garden is planted (Mt. 21:33). The classic Old Testament precedent is Genesis 2:8, which says, “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”
These nuances are not without significance, when we recall that the serpent was a “beast of the field” (Gen. 3:1). The tempter trespassed when he crept into the garden to destroy our first parents. And so Jude later speaks of those who have “crept in unawares” and how they are “ungodly men” who encourage lascivious practices (Jude 1:4).
Though we must interface with the world, bringing the world and its ways into the local church of God is opening the door to the prince of this world. Also, because the field (the world) is larger than the garden (visible Church) Christians must be content meanwhile to survive as a worldwide minority. This situation is tolerable while God’s will is being done, but woe to the testimony when the tares outnumber the wheat!
Basically, sowing suggests preaching while planting suggests the establishing and upbuilding of the local assembly. In our kingdom of heaven dealings, we shall encounter things both “good” and “bad” (Mt. 13:48). Otherwise we must “go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10). This being impractical, we must do business with the world, whereas at the Lord’s table, the saints are instructed to “put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5.13).
Nature Of The Tares
The tares have been identified as darnel. This weed’s seeds are poisonous to humans and cattle. Its roots also intertwine with those of the wholesome crop. This is why the Lord of the harvest forbade premature weeding, to keep the wheat from being uprooted before achieving full growth. How apt that the darnel was sown by the enemy and represents his children. There is nothing good about hypocrites despite their attempts to mimic the children of God. However, their convincing performances may cause unwitting saints to transgress the law of the unequal yoke (2 Cor. 6:14).
In the early stages, darnel is indistinguishable from wheat. Fake converts may exhibit traits of “saintliness” at first, but in due time the old man will assert himself with worldliness and heresies. Moral converts will use the Scriptures to justify those errors which previously they abandoned. Only God knows those who are His and it takes time for mere mortals to recognize “false brethren” (2 Cor. 11:26). By then, these may have led away disciples after them or assumed influential office. Tares may be so convincing that they even deceive themselves (2 Tim. 3:13).
Total Depravity Of The Tares
Regrettably, the damage done to the saints is the real issue. And so Judas infected the other apostles with “righteous” indignation when Mary of Bethany “wasted” the precious ointment on her Lord. The lesson is that all heresies originate from reprobates, (though not all heretics are children of Satan). However, false teachings can become a more exciting life to those who have lost their spirituality.
The intertwining which follows infiltration also demonstrates how false brethren penetrate the local church. No doubt the bookkeeping ability of Judas made him a prime candidate for keeping the money bag, but his negative spirituality reduced him to the status of a thief (Jn. 12: 5-6). Also, he knew how to justify his covetousness with words. He confounded everyone except the Lord who knew a snake when He saw one (Jn. 6:64).
The fact remains that darnel is poisonous and kills those who consume it. Its sower is the enemy out to destroy the crop and seize possession of the field. Thus men of the Judas class were in control of apostate Christendom. Having infiltrated the testimony by stealth, these hypocrites eventually achieved the coveted positions of power. Their rampant antinomianism (belief that faith frees the Christian from the moral law) later revealed their true nature as slowly, but surely, they replaced the wheat with poisonous darnel.
“While Men Slept”
At first reading, we might accuse the servants of being unwatchful. However, the Lord of the harvest reproached no one but the enemy when His servants reported the polluting of the crop. The servants themselves ascribed no blame to their Lord, but merely asked, “Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares?” (Mt. 13:27). These faithful angels (Mt. 13:39) had been with their Lord long enough to know He could never sin. They knew that He who sows pure seed is pure, just as His Father only plants that which is good, because “every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Mt. 15:13).
Though it all happened “while men slept” (Mt. 13:25), Satan never sleeps. Regretfully, this parable teaches that infiltration is inevitable in the visible Church. Thus, the Church that began at Pentecost was later penetrated by “grievous wolves … not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). But this does not justify shepherd idleness. Therefore, Peter instructs those responsible for the sheep to be “sober” and “vigilant” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Having done his work, the enemy “went his way” (Mt. 13:25). While wheat requires cultivation, weeds care for themselves. Thus the enemy leaves his children in a field of activity where the old nature thrives. But those planted in God’s house need watering and nourishing.
The “end of the world” (Mt. 13:39) refers to the conclusion of Daniel’s 70th prophetical week of years (Dan. 9:24). This period will occur some time between the Lord’s coming “in the air” (1 Th. 4:17) and His return to earth, “His feet … upon the Mount of Olives” (Zech. 14:4). This should not be confused with the “end of the world” at the end of Matthew’s gospel, which is better rendered “consummation of the age” (Mt. 28:20, amp). The concluding verses of Matthew incapsulate the Church age terminating at the coming of the Lord in the air. Thereafter, Israel will awaken from her long slumber and God will send out His l44,000 witnesses among the nations with the gospel of the kingdom.
Also during this “time of the end” (Dan. 8:17) there will be the Great Tribulation. This will terminate with the coming of the Son of Man to set up His kingdom. At this point, the reapers (angels) will harvest for judgment the tares, hypocrites who have been betraying the disciples to Antichrist. There shall indeed be “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:42). In glorious parallel will be the in-gathering and public revealing of those who follow the Lamb, for “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt. 13:43).
The in-gathering of the wheat must not he confounded with the translation of the Church. In Matthew 13 the first in-gathering is that of the tares, whereas at the Rapture “the dead in Christ shall rise first” ( 1 Th. 4:16). Thereafter, the dead raised and the living changed “shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:17).
In any event, those treated like the offscouring of the earth will be publicly vindicated by the Lord at His coming. Those counted worthy to reign with Christ will be translated and transfigured to glory to shine like the sun in His kingdom. And though we would judge nothing before the time, we know that those of His saints who have been faithful will receive crowns and places of prominence in His kingdom.
by Tom Summerhill
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.