More Parables

24Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27"The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28"‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

"The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29"‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’"

31He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

33He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

34Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

"I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world."

36Then He left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to Him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."

37He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."

Matthew continues here in chapter 13 relating some of the parables that Jesus spoke. As we have stated, all of the parables in this chapter speak in some way about the division of people in this world into those who belong to the kingdom of God, and those who do not. The different parables deal with various aspects and consequences of the fact that the people of the world are divided into these two groups.

In this section, there are three parables that are closely related. I believe that the fact that they are closely related is reflected by the structure of this section. First, we have Jesus telling the parable of the wheat and the tares (or weeds, as the NIV translates). Then, two more parables are told: the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the leaven (or yeast, as the NIV translates). Next, the interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the tares is given. So, the telling of the second and third parables in this section is bracketed by the telling of the first parable and its interpretation. This implies, I believe, that the interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the tares guides us in the interpretation of the other two parables.

The parable of the wheat and the tares is told by Jesus in verses 24 through 30. The interpretation is then given later in verses 37 through 43. We will look at both the telling of the parable and its interpretation together. Jesus tells the parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’" (vss. 24-30).

Later, "His disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field’" (vs. 36). We are blessed that Jesus answered the disciples with a definitive interpretation of this parable, so that there is no room for error in our understanding of this particular parable. First, Jesus gives a very specific key to the symbols used in the parable: "He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels’" (vs. 37-39). We are told in the telling of the parable that the sower "sowed good seed in his field" (vs. 24). The world is Jesus’ field. He, as Creator, sowed good seed, and continues to sow good seed, raising up "sons of the kingdom." Jesus’ parable departs a bit from real-life, in that the owner of the field normally would not sow the seed, but his servants would. But in the parable, the owner does sow the seed, as if to say it is through Jesus’ work, not His servants, that sons of the kingdom are raised up.

"But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away" (vs. 25). That the enemy sowed while "everyone was sleeping" does not mean to imply that the devil was given an opportunity because of the servant’s negligence (in fact, according to Jesus’ interpretation, the servants do not represent anything specific in the parable). Rather, it implies that the enemy selects the most opportune time to sow his seed.

Interestingly, and realistically, it became evident to the servants that the enemy had sowed seed some time after the enemy did it. The servants were taken by surprise primarily because, at first, the weeds looked just like the wheat. The presence of the weeds mixed in with the wheat came as a surprise to the servants, but it did not take the owner by surprise. He knew right away that "an enemy did this" (vs. 28). The servants only noticed the weeds "when the wheat sprouted." In the same way, the ungodliness of most people is not immediately evident. "When such men first profess the true Religion, they so cunningly hide their principles in obscure terms, and veil their wickedness with shows of holiness, that it cannot presently appear, who are good, and who evil: but afterwards, when good men are nearer their maturity, and the wicked to their height of maliciousness, an evident difference appears" [Westminster Divines]. There are many false professors of Christianity, and these people are the most dangerous to the cause of Christ. Those who openly reject Christ are less a danger than false professors, because the world thinks that the false professors are true believers. So, when the false professors do ungodly acts, the cause of Christ is blamed for their actions.

The fact that the ungodly and godly live together in this world is a source of frustration to many godly people. To try to get around this, there have been many attempts throughout history when godly people have tried to separate themselves from the rest of the world. But these attempts have only had limited, and temporary, success. For godliness is not hereditary. When the next generation comes along, even though they may come from godly parents, there is no guarantee that they will be as godly as their parents were. "Nowhere on earth can we maintain a settlement of saints alone" [Spurgeon, 178]. We must face the fact that, in this age, the children of God must share this world with the children of the enemy. In all places, in all levels of society, even within church fellowships, the godly intermingle with the ungodly. The best way to remedy this somewhat is to always do your part in bringing the ungodly to a knowledge of our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through a godly example, and through a faithful witness.

As pointed out in the parable, there will come a time when the godly and the ungodly will be separated. It will come at "the end of this age": "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out His, and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear" (vss. 40-43). This parable was important in educating the disciples about God’s ultimate plan. Most of the Jews at the time believed that the Messiah would come and immediately execute His judgment on the ungodly. "The Jews, including our Lord’s disciples, would naturally think, with their rooted notions of Messiah’s reign, that He would promptly destroy all those who did not submit to His authority, as was common with Oriental conquerors, as David himself was known to have done. Their views and feelings are illustrated by the wish of James and John to call down fire from heaven and consume the Samaritan village, for refusing to receive Jesus (see Luke 9:54)" [Broadus, 299]. This parable definitively teaches that the ultimate execution of God’s judgment would take place at "the end of this age", at some time future to the Jews of that time, and still future to us.

It is important to note the reason given for the owner not destroying the weeds immediately: "The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them’" (vs. 29). The weeds are not destroyed, for the owner does not want to harm the wheat in the process of destroying the weeds. This tells us that, at the end of the age, the godly will not suffer God’s wrath along with the ungodly. As Paul tells us: "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess. 5:9).

(This study will continue in the next issue.)

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