The Parable of the Wheat & the Tares
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. 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.’ 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. 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.”(Matt. 13:24-30, also see verses 36-43)
Matthew 13 is called by some as the Sermon on the Sea. In this chapter Jesus explains the nature of the kingdom of God by use of several parables. The Parable of the Wheat and Tares is only found here. This parable appears to pick up where the Parable of the Sower has left off. However, it must be noted that in the Parable of the Sower, there was one sower, one kind of seed, and four results. In contrast, there are two sowers, two kinds of seed and two harvests in the Parable of the Tares and Wheat.
The explanation to this parable is given by Jesus in response to the disciples’ inquiry (13:36). It is one of the few in which we have Jesus’ own explanation..
Field = the World (13:38)
The field is the world, the human race or society. The place where the Gospel is preached to men. In that world of humanity the Lord Jesus has scattered His own
Good Seed = Children of the Kingdom (13:38)
Notice that Jesus uses the same metaphor: seed to represent two different things in two different parables. The disciples are those who compose the “good soil”, in which the seed has been sown in the Parable Of The Sower. In contrast, in the Parable Of The Wheat And Tares, the disciples are the “good seed” themselves. Thus, when one receives the “seed” of the kingdom (the Word of God), they become “good seed” (a son of the kingdom). As in the Great Commission Jesus’ disciples should observe all that He commands (Mt 28:19-20).
Tares = Children of the Wicked One (13:38)
The servants of the owner were dismayed to find that weeds, that is, darnel or “false wheat” growing among the wheat. Darnel is “a troublesome weed in the grain fields, resembling wheat” (Arndt and Gingrich 340). Thayer says it resembles “wheat except that its grains are black” (272). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives a more detailed description:
Tare (Greek: Zizania) is equivalent to Arab zuwan, the name given to several varieties of darnel of which Lolium temulentum, the ‘bearded darner’ is the one most resembling wheat, and has been supposed to be degenerated wheat. On the near approach of harvest it is carefully weeded out from the wheat by the women and children. Zuwan is commonly used as chicken’s food; it is not poisonous to humans beings unless infected with the mold ergot (ISBE,Vol. V, p. 2910).
The enemy has done this in an effort to confuse the reapers and destroy by imitation.
This parable explains that there are children of the kingdom in contrast with the children of the wicked one. These children produced by the false seeds of the Devil are false disciples or brethren though not limited to them. “He who commits sin is of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). They would compose any soul who is not a child of God. Perhaps unfaithful Christians who have gone back out into the world. The tares have the ability to mimic the appearance of wheat, the good seed. However, when the head of grain is formed the tares have black kernels whereas the good wheat has golden heads. As Jesus said, “by their fruits ye shall know them.
Sower of the Good Seed = Christ (13:37)
In this parable the sower is clearly identified as the Son of Man, that is, Jesus Christ. It is His seed (faithful Christians) versus the Devil’s seed (his children). He owns the field, the good seed, and controls the servants and the harvesters and the time of harvest.
Sower of the Tares = the Devil (13:39)
The enemy of the Son of Man is Satan. Notice he is a coward and does his diabolical work at night when the servants are asleep. In Ireland, an outgoing tenant, in spite, sowed wild oats in the fields which he was leaving, and it was next to impossible to exterminate them. Rome had a law forbidding such activity. This adversary is seeking to destroy faithful Christians (1 Pet. 5:8).
Reapers = Angels (13:39)
When Jesus comes again it will be harvest time. He will be accompanied by His angels “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1;8,9).
Harvest = End of the World (13:39)
The harvest is the end of the world (verse 39) or the Judgment Day. The word “harvest” is an Old Testament metaphor for judgment (Jer 51:53; Hos. 6:11). In Matthew 3:12, John the baptizer said that Christ will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat in His garner; He will burn up chaff with unquenchable fire. “God hath appointed a day in which He [Jesus Christ, drv] will judge the world” (Ac. 17:31).
Points of the Parable
Problem of Evil in the World
According to the parable, God has evil and good existing among each other. The point of the parable is that the Lord permits the evil and the righteous to exist on earth side by side, not separating the two groups until the end of the world. According to the denominations’ premilliennial concept of the Kingdom, the wicked are destroyed or removed before the kingdom is established. How can there be evil in a world ruled by a good God? Why does God allow both good and evil to exist together? This has been a common complaint by atheists and the faithful alike through the millennia. Even the faithful prophets of God have wondered why the wicked prosper (Ps. 73; Jer 12:1).
Jesus has made it clear that “the rain falls upon the just and the unjust” and on the good seed and the bad seed (Matthew 5:45). We live in an imperfect world where evil is present as an unavoidable part of life. The world is not like a perfect wheat crop. No nation or state, no city or village, is wholly Christian. No congregation is wholly filled with the faithful. Christians are to live in the world but not be of the world.
Not Opposed to Church Discipline
This parable has been used as a proof text by some brethren to argue that Christ is opposed to church discipline. This interpretation of the parable would contradict such plain passages as 1 Cor. 5 and 2 Th 3:6 ff which clearly teach church discipline. Jesus taught there would be times for church discipline (Mt 18:15-17). The parable does not mean that it is wrong for us to expose error and rebuke brethren who teach and practice it (2 Tim. 4:2; Jd. 3; Eph. 5:11; Tit. 1:10-13). In this parable “the field is the world” not the church. Jesus is not talking of good and bad in the church but of good and bad in the world.
God’s Longsuffering for us
Why does Christ not call for reapers and rid the world of the wicked and allow the good seed His faithful disciples a better chance to grow and be productive? This is done out of consideration for the “good seed” (cf. Mt 13:29) so they are not rooted up before proper harvest time. The Lord knows what He is doing. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is patient wanting the bad to become good, unwilling to uproot the good with the bad.
Before harvest time is an age of grace when tares can become wheat, or sinners can be fashioned into saints.
Christ Is Judge
Only Divine Wisdom enables God to judge the eternal fate of mankind. Christians are to judge between those who are sinners and saints; lost and redeemed, but the final judgment of each man’s soul is left to God. Socrates once observed: “He who takes only a few things into account finds it easy to pronounce judgment.” Only God knows all. While men are limited in their insight God is able to see the heart of a man and not just his outward appearance. The field is the world, and it belongs to God. It is up to God to determine what to do with the field. Darnel was difficult to identify until harvest time and by then it was practically impossible to remove since their roots were so entwined with the real wheat roots. Judgment day will come with some surprises for the self-righteous children of the Devil (Matt. 7:22-23).
Punishment and Reward
This punishment of the wicked and reward of the righteous is a recurring theme in several of the parables (Mt 13:49-50; 18:34-35; 25:41, 45-46). Punishment and reward on the Day of Judgment will be meted out based on the principle of reaping according to what is sown. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). This is not to say that all of the children of God, the good seed will be saved. All those who offend God and practice lawlessness (13:41) will be rooted out and bound in bundles to be burned.
How will one manage in the harvest? Two possibilities exist for the saints: those who are faithful will be gathered into the barn (heaven) and those who have become children of the Devil will be burned in hell. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:43).
– Daniel R. Vess