Which is Which?

Posted: June 3, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, “Which is Which?”

As a kid, I remember being astonished one day to find the largest gold nugget I had ever seen.  It was huge & I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Neither could my father, who quickly informed me that it was pyrite – fool’s gold, and virtually worthless.  To the uninformed eye, it was yellowish & shiny & I thought I had it made, but in reality it was a common iron sulfide…certainly not valuable in any way.

It can be easy to get fooled when things look similar.  We see people at a glance & think we recognize a friend, but it turns out to be a complete stranger (which can be rather embarrassing, depending on how you greeted him/her!).  Identical twins can be even tougher – but even they can usually be distinguished at a glance by their parents, because their parents know what to look for.

Likewise in the parable of the wheat & the tares (or the wheat & the weeds, per some translations).  Here are two plants that look virtually identical to one another, and yet they are vastly different.  They can easily become confused with each other at first, but the One who knows what to look for has no problem at all distinguishing between them.  Ultimately, the seeds here represent people – some of which belong to God, and some of which belong to the Devil.  How can we tell the difference?  Which one is which?  God knows…and one day, it will be made plain to all.

Matthew 13:24–30 (NKJV)
24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.

  1. Remember what a parable is: an earthly illustration with a heavenly purpose.  It’s just a story intended to teach.  It’s not an allegory, so we’re not looking for parallels & explanations to every single aspect of the story – rather, we’re looking for the main idea of what Jesus is intending to teach.
  2. This parable is the first that starts off with the description of “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Jesus has already taught much about the kingdom of heaven in His ministry, but this seems to be the 1st out of 12 parables that Matthew records, with Jesus teaching of the kingdom of heaven.
    1. This is some of the very teaching that the parables were meant to provide.  Jesus specifically told the disciples that one of the reasons He taught in parables was because the disciples had been given the grace of knowing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Ch 13:11).
  3. Two sowers / two types of seed.  In the parable of the sower/the soils, there was only one sower & one type of seed – this is a marked change (thus our first indication that Jesus is referring to something different here).
    1. 1st sower: the owner of the field.  He had every right to sow seed within the field, and every right to choose what kind of seed he would sow.  He chose to only sow one type of seed: wheat.  Wheat was a common crop in Israel & indeed a staple crop all over the world. There wasn’t anything necessarily unusual about the wheat (along the lines of the parable of the soils in which the seed yielded a hundredfold crop); the point is simply that the owner of the field chose to sow wheat – a useful & abundant & normal crop.
    2. 2nd sower: An enemy.  Specifically, this is “his enemy” – the enemy of the owner.  This enemy came at an opportune time to sow “tares among the wheat.”  What are tares?  We know they are weeds (as other translations make plain), but there’s a deeper issue Jesus is getting at here.  Most scholars believe this is a reference to darnel, which is a plant that looks very much like wheat until it reaches maturity.  The way the leaves fall & the type of the head makes it distinguishable from wheat when it is full grown – otherwise, it’s very difficult to tell them apart. Whereas wheat is good for food, darnel is not.  It’s poisonous, causing intoxicating effects in those that eat it & can potentially cause death.  To sow darnel in a person’s field was considered a crime in the Roman empire because of the ruin it would bring to the farmer.  Obviously the enemy did not have the right to sow the field, and what he sowed was not only confusing, but downright dangerous.

26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ …

  1. The men/servants/reapers seemed to be surprised to see the work of the enemy – they had been caught unaware.  The point being that the tares were not planted by the owner, but yet appeared side-by-side with the wheat.  The inclusion of the tares was not obvious until time had passed.
  2. It wasn’t obvious to the workers, but it certainly was to the owner.  The owner was very much aware of the enemy & recognized his work immediately (if not having known about it all along).

The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.

  1. There was an option to gather the tares as soon as they were made known.
  2. The owner saw a problem with that option: the wheat would be in greater danger from the uprooting than from the presence of the tares.  The owner desired to protect the wheat.

30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”

  1. The owner had a different plan.  Both wheat & tares would grow – both would be harvested.  After the harvest, there was a vastly different outcome as wheat & tare would be separated from each other with the tares being burned & the wheat being saved.
  2. Question: is this the most effective way of dealing with the problem?  Maybe, maybe not.  Keep in mind that Jesus is not teaching about agriculture; He’s making a point about the kingdom of heaven.  Be careful not to look at the parable for more than what Jesus is actually teaching.  The focus here isn’t natural, but spiritual – that’s the interpretation we need to be looking for.

Matthew 13:36–43 (NKJV)
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”

  1. The multitude had heard Jesus teach the parable, but they did not hear the explanation of it.  That was reserved for the disciples, when they specifically came to Jesus and asked Him about it.
    1. Again – not everyone is gifted with the knowledge of understanding the mysteries of the kingdom.  Jesus taught that plainly as He explained why He taught in parables.  We see the same principle in place every day as non-Christians struggle to understand anything about the Christian faith at all.  It’s all foolishness to them – just as the Bible tells us that it will be. (1 Cor 1:18)  It makes sense, when we stop to think about it.  The man/woman who is in Christ has been born of the Spirit – we’ve gone through a fundamental change and thus of course we can now understand spiritual things when it was never possible before.  Non-believers don’t have that same kind of transformation…thus spiritual truths simply don’t make sense.
  2. Don’t you love the fact that not even Jesus’ disciples got it the first time?  They had to ask Jesus for the explanation. … Simply because we have the Holy Spirit as our teacher does not mean that all theological truths all of a sudden become crystal-clear & we’ll never have any questions again.  Of course there are some things in which we’ll have questions & be confused.  The difference between the Christian & the non-Christian is that only the Christian has even the possibility of gaining understanding.

37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.

  1. As Jesus starts the explanation by identifying the elements of the parable, the first thing we might notice is the difference between this & the parable of the soils.  There’s certainly some similarity in that there is a sower & seed, but that’s where the similarity ends.  We want to be careful to keep the interpretation appropriate to each parable, or we could very easily end up with the wrong interpretation to either (or both).
  2. The owner = Jesus.  He’s the one that sows the good seed in the field which He owns.  He sows nothing but good seed. “Son of Man” is a common description Jesus used to refer to Himself throughout His earthly ministry.  Although it was most commonly used in the OT to refer to Ezekiel (in his prophetic ministry), the reference to Jesus would have been easily recognized as the reference to the Messiah from Daniel (7:13).  This is the One who approached God as the Ancient of Days as Daniel received a vision of the end days.  Culturally, it would have been a plain claim to the office of Messiah.  The Messiah had the authority to sow the good seed, and He did exactly that.
  3. The field = the world.  There’s no real limit as to what the “world” might include – the Greek word is κόσμος (where we get our word from describing the astronomical reaches of space)…it describes the totality of everything that exists.  (Which tells us that Jesus owns it all.  If this is His field, and if Jesus is the owner of the universe, it must mean that Jesus can be no less than God Himself.)  Note that Jesus does not explain the field as being the kingdom, or as being the Church.  The field is the world, which ought to expand our typical explanation of the parable from talking about apostasy within the Church to talking about the ultimate separation of people at the Judgment.
  4. The seed = people.  In the parable of the soils, the seed was plainly described as the word of the kingdom (the word of God); here, the seed is totally different.  Instead of the seed of the word being implanted in different soils to grow & bear fruit, now the seed are the people themselves.  Yet there are two different kinds: (1) The wheat/good seed = the sons of the kingdom (born-again believers in Jesus Christ), and (2) the tares = the sons of the wicked one, the devil.  One is born of God, the other is born of Satan, and although they look much alike in many superficial respects, they are totally and completely different.
    1. How is someone a son of the kingdom?  They were planted by Jesus.  Jesus knows exactly who belong to Him because He was the one who planted them in the first place.  Our salvation – our identity as a citizen of the kingdom of God – is due 100% to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He revealed Himself to us as Lord, and all we did was respond to His gracious invitation of forgiveness & love.  We didn’t do a thing to make ourselves a son/daughter of the kingdom; we were graciously given that by the Lord Jesus.
    2. How is someone a son of the wicked one?  They were planted by the devil.  That’s not to say that the devil created them, or that he somehow superintended their birth (that would be to stretch the parable beyond the intended meaning), but they were planted by the devil because they belong to the devil.  This isn’t the only time Jesus uses the imagery – to the Jews who rejected the evidence of His claim as Messiah, Jesus pointed out that they were of their father, the devil. (Jn 8:44)  John wrote much the same thing, when he wrote that “he who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning…” (1 John 3:8)
    3. The million dollar question: if someone is a son of the wicked one today, will they always be a son of the devil?  Humanly speaking, it would be impossible for a son of the devil to change to a son of the kingdom.  After all, no child can change their mother or father (even though they might wish to do so!).  To be sure, a child can try to change their legacy from their parents – the legal rights of a parent can even be abolished – but there’s no way to change your biology of whom you were born.  The only solution (which is impossible, humanly speaking) would be to be re-born.  To be re-made into something & someone brand-new…to no longer be the creation you now are, but to become an entirely new creation.  The good news?  This is exactly what the Bible describes as happening to every single person who turns from his/her sin to put their faith in Christ!
    4. Hear this clearly: ALL of us started out as children of the devil!  ALL of us were wicked & did the things of the wicked one.  Again, he did not create us, but we certainly followed in his footsteps when we continued in the corruption handed down all the way from Adam.  All of us need a new birth, a new creation, a new start…and all of us can receive it.  If you’ve never turned to Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, today you can – and you can learn what it means to be made a son/daughter of the kingdom of heaven!
  5. The enemy = the devil.  This much has been made pretty clear thus far, though it’s interesting to get the confirmation that Satan is not merely our enemy, but he is the enemy of God Himself (and thus the enemy of Jesus Christ).  We tend to label him as our enemy (which is accurate), but he’s only our enemy because he is first and foremost the enemy of God Almighty.  God is not threatened by this enemy, but the enemy certainly works against the plans of God. 
  6. The reapers = the angels.  It would seem that any of the workers in the parable represents angels, but specifically the reapers are.  The book of Revelation speaks of the 2nd coming of Christ and the judgment as being a harvest of souls – apparently the angels are used by the Lord Jesus in this process.
  7. The harvest = the end of the age.  This is important, in that Jesus has taught of a harvest before.  (Matt 9:37-38)  The harvest is plentiful, thus we pray to God for workers to be sent into the harvest.  Note that Jesus is referring to two different harvests here.  One is a harvest of souls, people ready to hear the gospel and respond to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, recognizing Jesus as the King of kings, and giving themselves over to Him to be citizens of His heavenly kingdom.  The other is a harvest in which every person partakes: the end of the age.  The first is a picture of the gospel going into the world; the second is a picture of the final judgment.  In that final judgment, ALL people will be “harvested” and brought before the Lord.  Be they sons of the kingdom or sons of the wicked one, everyone is going to see Jesus one day…yet only the first group will be glad and rejoice.
    1. This tells us that the entire parable has an eschatological focus (a focus on the end-times & the judgment).  There may be all sorts of application we can draw out of this parable regarding the state of the Church, but ultimately the parable talks not only about the Church, but the state of the world, and what the world will face at the judgment of God.

40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.

  1. Emphasizing the fact that the focus of the parable is on the final judgment.  “The end of the age” is a reference to the general age following Jesus’ 1st coming.  We know from the rest of the Scripture, that there is much that is packed into this period, including the dispensation of the Church, the rapture, all of the events of the Great Tribulation, etc., but all of this is summarized as being “the end of the age.”  When all of these other things have taken place, and we’re truly at the end of that age, that is when this harvest will take place.
  2. Before we look at the harvest, it’s interesting that there’s a whole section of the parable left unaddressed here in this explanation from Jesus.  Prior to sending out the reapers to gather the tares separately from the wheat, the owner explained he did not want the tares gathered too early, in that it would endanger the good crop.  Instead, both wheat & tare were to grow side-by-side until the time was right.  The owner had a specific interest in protecting the wheat, so the tares were allowed to remain.  Question: how would allowing the wheat and tares grow together provide any protection for the wheat?  From an agriculture perspective, it’s fairly obvious – it’d be too easy to uproot the wheat before the grain had fully grown to maturity.  Yet what about with people?  How would identifying & removing the “tares/sons of the wicked one” end up harming the “wheat/sons of the kingdom”?  There are a couple of answers here:
    1. If we look at this parable from the perspective of the Church (which many do), shouldn’t we try to find out which people are true born-again Christians, and which are not?  In regards to false teachers, yes – in regards to everyday people, perhaps not as much.  Some Christians spend a lot of time as “fruit inspectors” with other people claiming Christ as their Savior, yet it rarely helps the person being inspected, and almost always harms & stunts the growth of the inspector.  Instead of looking at their own walk with Jesus, they get consumed with someone else.  Be careful.  God already knows who are His – He doesn’t need us to define it for Him.  For as many non-Christians that get rooted out, there are just as many true-Christians that are unfairly condemned.  We certainly don’t close our eyes to sin in the church, but we need to be very careful not to condemn.
    2. There’s another possible thought here, which seems more in line with the world-wide expanse of the field within the parable.  The whole danger for taking up the tares too soon was the potential of uprooting the wheat.  To look at the field as the world through Church history, we can only imagine what would happen if the angels had started taking out the sons of the devil as they revealed themselves, without waiting until the end of the age.  How many Christians have come from families in which many non-believers were our ancestors?  If they had been removed, we wouldn’t exist!  For God to allow tares to grow with the wheat throughout history is potentially an act of mercy to the Church.  Some people wouldn’t even be in the Church, if other tares had not been allowed to exist.  How many people would get condemned as a tare before they even had the chance to convert and be born-again?  I’m glad that the sons of the wicked one were not taken out in 1985…I would have been without hope!  Instead, God in His ever-wise patience is waiting until just the right time to bring the judgment, and all the wheat that is supposed to be the wheat are going to be saved.  There’s not one person who is supposed to be belong to God who is going to be lost.  God knows who are His, and He will protect His own.
    3. That all said, remember that even though Jesus gives the explanation for the parable, He does not actually explain this part of the conversation.  Whatever interpretation we hold to, we ought to hold to loosely.

41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

  1. Speaking of the final judgment.  Jesus sends out the angels, and they gather up the sons of the wicked one.  How are they identified?  By their actions.  They are those who “offend and…practice lawlessness.”  Those who make a habitual practice of evil and sin are the ones that will be gathered as being sons of the wicked one, rather than of God the Father.  Obviously every single human being on the planet starts out committing habitual sin; but that is something that fundamentally changes when someone becomes a Christian.  Paul writes to the Galatians that the works of the flesh are evident, and then describes a whole list of wickedness, concluding that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God; those that belong to Christ demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:19-23).  He writes to the Ephesians that it is the Gentiles who walk in futility & have given themselves over to lewdness; yet the Christians walk as a new man. (Eph 4:17-24)  John writes that anyone who loves the carnal sinful things of the world shows that the love of the Father is not in him, but that the person who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).  All throughout the NT, the person who is defined as belonging to God is described as doing the will of God, whereas those who are outside of the promises of salvation are described as acting in sin.
    1. That definition is true for those who are blatantly anti-Christian, and those who use the name of Jesus as a convenience, as an excuse for their sin.  Again, this parable is addressing all the world until the end of the age – but there are “tares” everywhere, some even in church buildings.  Jesus makes it clear that the same standard will be used to distinguish the tares from the wheat, no matter where they may be found.  Matthew 7:21–23, "(21) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’" []  God is not going to be mocked.  Someone can wave the flag of Christianity all day long & still not truly be saved.  Their lives are going to be evidence of their faith.  All the Christian trappings imaginable cannot duplicate the work of the cross in someone’s heart.  Without true conversion, someone simply does not belong to Christ.
    2. Question: does that mean that the Bible teaches that we have to do good works to earn our salvation?  Absolutely not!  The Bible teaches that we cannot be saved by our good works, but rather the only way we can be saved is by the grace of God.  Those who believe upon Jesus Christ as God crucified for sin & risen from the grave – those who have received Jesus as their Lord & King are the ones who are saved.  We are saved by HIS work; not ours.  Yet…when He saves us, our works change.  By no means does any Christian live a perfect life without sin, but the more we walk with Jesus, the more our lives ought to be conformed to His.  Our sin becomes less & less, and we absolutely do good works after we come to faith.  The good works we do are evidence of the great work that Jesus has done within us.  When those good works do not exist, that’s where there’s a problem.
  2. Just like the tares in the parable were burned, so will the sons of the wicked one be tormented.  Jesus uses the terribly descriptive language that He so often uses to describe the horrors of hell.  It’s a place of fire where there is “wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Hell is not a fun place – it’s not a party – it’s not a boogey-man myth to scare people into doing the right thing.  Hell is ferociously real, and utterly awful as a place of torment.  For as much as people love to hear Jesus teach about heaven and ignore what He says about hell, it’s worth noting that the Biblical teacher who teaches the most about hell is indeed Jesus.  He consistently describes it as a place that will be populated with those who persist in their rebellion against God…filled with those who do not belong to Christ as His own.
  3. Please note that there is no question about this fate.  It’s not something in which men and women will be able to negotiate their way out.  It’s simply a bygone conclusion that they will be gathered from the world & deposited into the “furnace of fire.”  Once the declaration is made at the judgment that someone is condemned to hell, they go there…no questions asked.  No one has to go to hell, but if you’re waiting until the day of judgment to deal with that question, you’re waiting too long.  The time to be made a child of the kingdom is NOW.

43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

  1. Who are the “righteous”?  Obviously it’s the good seed – the sons (and daughters) of the kingdom.  Here’s the contrast with the sons of the wicked one.  They were the ones that caused offense & practiced lawlessness; the sons of the kingdom act in the true righteousness of God.  Again, this is the evidence of the work that Jesus has done within us.  There’s no way that we could be born of the Spirit and clothed in the righteousness of Christ and NOT have our actions changed in some way.  Not that we’re ever perfect, but we certainly have been declared righteous by the only Judge that matters.  His work changes us, all to His glory.
  2. The righteous will “shine.”  How so?  We will be clothed with the glory of God – how could we not shine?!  Daniel 12:2–3, "(2) And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. (3) Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever." []  This is the work of Christ within us!  Just as Moses’ face shone after he spent time in the presence of God, so will we shine as we spend time (eternity!) in the presence of our God & King!
  3. Notice the righteous are harvested, but we go on to life in the kingdom of God the Father.  Talking about the resurrection & eternal life!  The sons of the wicked one have an eternal fate, and so do the sons/daughters of the kingdom.  We will certainly face death (it’s appointed to man once to die & then face the judgment), but after that brief experience we go on to the promises of the eternal kingdom of heaven.
  4. Do you have ears to hear?  Not all of Jesus’ disciples did.  We don’t know if He was just speaking to the 12 here, of if He was speaking to the greater group of disciples.  Yet even in the 12, there was one who certainly didn’t have ears to hear: Judas Iscariot.  He was the son of perdition & still acted as a son of the wicked one.
    1. Don’t be deceived!  You are either a child of God or a child of the devil…there is no in-between.  You CAN make the choice of to whom you will belong – of whom you will be born.  You can make that choice today.

So which is which?  The wheat and the tares looked similar to each other, but they later became evident.  Likewise those who belong to God & those who belong to the devil look similar at first, but the evidences will be made known.  Our similarities are obvious: we’re all human, we dress in similar ways, we live in similar houses, work at the same jobs, eat the same food, etc.  To walk into a shopping mall, it would be impossible to look at the crowd & declare which person is a Christian & which one is not.  External appearances simply do not identify someone as a Christian…which we sometimes forget.  “Look at the way that person is dressed; surely he/she can’t be a believer!”  Really?  There are Christians in every walk of life ranging from country clubs to biker gangs & everything else.  There are also non-Christians in every walk of life & every corner of the world.  Being raised in East Texas & having membership in a local church no more makes someone a born-again Christian than putting on a football helmet makes someone a player in the NFL.  You have to actually belong – you have to have actually gone through a change.

Do you belong to God?  Have you been planted by Jesus Christ as one of His own?  That’s the first and most important question you need to ask yourself today.  As you look at your life, do you see the work of God in you, which has overflowed into your actions?  Have you turned away from your previous sinful ways to ask Jesus to forgive you & save you, trusting in His sacrifice and resurrection?  Don’t put your trust in your external trappings; put your trust in the work of Christ!

As a believer, are you looking forward to the kingdom?  Certainly we are sons & daughters of the kingdom today.  We serve the King of kings, and He has done a wonderful work in our lives, as we’ve been transformed by His grace.  Today we work & do the things we do because we are citizens of a greater kingdom.  At the same time, we also look forward to that coming day when we will see the kingdom in its fullness.  We look forward to the day when we don’t only see Jesus with eyes of faith, but with our physical eyes & we can worship Him in all of His glory.  It can be so easy for us to get consumed with the things of our everyday & forget the hope that lies before us in eternity.  The kingdom of heaven awaits – may we look forward to that day with joy!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s