The first two parables in Matthew 13 are (in some respects) similar to each other. They both refer to the sowing of seed. They are both interpreted by the Lord, unlike the other parables which follow. Yet in other respects they differ. Failing to understand these distinctions will lead to misinterpretations.
In the last article we noted that the parable of the sower had a general application, including the age in which we live. This parable of the wheat and tares has a specific application, not to the present age but to the period following the rapture of the church. The propagation of the gospel of the kingdom during the tribulation period is in view.
Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, vv. 24-30; 36-43
Only good seed was sown in the first parable. The conditions and responses made the difference. Here, however, an enemy scatters weeds through the field, spoiling the sowing of the good seed. His purpose was to ruin the harvest.
Details, vv. 24-30:The farmer sowed wheat seed in his field. While he and his men slept the enemy came and sowed tares among the good seed. (There is no suggestion here of indolence, as some assert; the enemy worked in a clandestine way to undo the good work which had been done.)
It is likely that the tares were bearded darnel, the appearance of which in early stages is very like wheat. When the difference became clear it would be impossible to take out the weeds without uprooting the wheat. Both had to be left until harvest time. The landowner decided that they would wait until the wheat was ripe before pulling up the tares and burning them. Then it would be possible to bring in the wheat harvest.
Interpretation, vv. 3&-A3: As with the parable of the sower, the disciples heard the interpretation in private, for reasons already discussed (see first article).
The Lord Jesus Christ began by calling Himself the Son of Man. This was a favourite title of His, recorded some eighty times in scripture. It referred not only to His humanity and death, but to His resurrection, second coming and future reign, cf. Matt. 8. 20; 12. 40; 20. 18; 26. 2; Luke 12. 40; 21. 36 etc. As Son of Man He both sowed the seed of the Word and directed the harvesting, vv. 37, 41.
The field was the world, not the hearts of men and women as in the first parable. The good seed represented children of the kingdom. The tares were children of the wicked one, sown by the devil himself. The reapers were angels.
Explanation: There are various reasons why this parable cannot directly relate to the present age. The essential difference is that it does not focus on the Word itself but on the children of the kingdom, v. 38, a title used by Matthew when referring to Israel, cf. Matt. 8. 11-12.
It is clear therefore that the reference here is to Israel when it has again become the focus of the world scene. This will be when the church has been caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
The idea of wheat and tares growing together does not apply to our time. Neither does the idea of harvesting the wheat being delayed until judgment takes place. In fact judgment will only begin after the church has been raptured.
Notice that angels are involved in judgment. They gather out the wicked before the righteous can shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father. But at the end of the age of grace in which we live, the church, not the wicked, will be taken out of the world, both those who have fallen asleep through Jesus, together with other believers who are alive at His return to the air. This will not be done by angels, but personally by ‘the Lord Himself, 1 Thess. 4. 13-18. Thereafter and not until then will the world pass into great tribulation, such as has never before been known, Matt. 24. 21.
It is at the end of the period, the one covered by this parable, thai the angels will gather out the wicked and present them for judgment, leaving the righteous to enter the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth. This is referred to in Matthew 24. 40-41 (not the rapture of saints as some mistakenly hold). It follows that the reference to angels gathering out ‘all things that offend (stumbling blocks), and them which do iniquity (commit lawlessness)’, is inappropriate to the present dispensation.
Those taken out of the world will be judged before the millenial kingdom is established on earth, Matt. 25. 31-46. But the church, already declared righteous in Christ, will never, as here, be put on trial to decide who will enter the Lord’s presence and who will be excluded. This is supported by the phrase ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ which is quite frequently used by Matthew, and once by Luke, and which always refers to pre-millennial judgment, cf. Matt. 8. 12; 13. 42, 50; 22. 13; 24. 51; 25. 30; Luke. 13. 28.
Despite the need for care in interpreting this parable of the wheat and the tares, and placing it after the rapture of the church, there is'much here to inspire and instruct the believer today. For example, while it is true that verse 43, alluding to Daniel 12. 3 (LXX), refers to Israel, is not that future scene of ‘the righteous (shining) forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ a heart-warming one, with more than a passing shade of relevance to our hope in Christ, who have a place in heaven reserved for us, 1 Pet. 1. 4?
We should also know that Satan has been sowing tares all throughout the course of time between our Lord’s two advents. Christendom is a pitiful evidence of this, with living faith in Christ being replaced by rite and ritual, heresy and half-truth, denomination and cult.
We can learn much from this parable, and need to be warned of the devil’s intrigues. Yet we must always remember that the essential message of it relates to the kingdom age.