This parable follows the one concerning the sower and the seed where Jesus is using agricultural examples to teach about the kingdom. By its proximity to the first parable (Sower and Seed), the parable of the wheat and tares may have been the second parable that Jesus spoke during His ministry.
24 Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' 28 And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' 29 But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn."'
- Matthew 13:24-30
Vs. 24 - This parable is about the kingdom, not about the world. It takes place and describes events in the kingdom. It is important to remember this.
Vs. 25 - Tares or darnel are a weed-like grass that resemble wheat but have a firmer root system. The landowner sows good wheat and while the laborers are sleeping the darnel/tares are sown by his enemy.
Vs. 26 - The fact that tares had been sown only became evident when both began to grow.
Vs. 27 - The workers question the possibility of these being tares among the wheat. How could this be so? The owner gives them the reason why this is so.
Vs. 28-29 - The workers want to identify and remove the tares but the owner tells them to allow both to grow side by side to full maturity. In the case of the tares, their close and strong roots might damage the good plants if they were to be torn out. Also, they resemble the good crop and so good plants might be uprooted by error.
Vs. 30 - The owner instructs the workers to wait until harvest when it will be easier to separate the good from the bad and deal with each accordingly - one for keeping, the other for burning.
Explanation of the Parable
Like the parable of the sower and seed, there is a break in the story where Jesus, in this case, gives another parable and reasons why He spoke in parables.
36 Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field." 37 And He said, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."
- Matthew 13:36-43
Vs. 36 - Apparently after going out into the boat He taught several parables and then returned from the shore back to His family's home. This is when the disciples come asking for an explanation of the parable of the tares and wheat. Jesus had spoken another parable about the mustard seed and they did not ask about this one. Perhaps the parable that contained a judgement stirred them to ask for an explanation.
Vs. 37-39 - Jesus gives a quick rundown of the characters in the parable and who they represent in real life. Jesus Himself is the sower and refers to Himself as the Son of Man. This expression is first seen in Daniel 7:13 where Daniel is seeing a vision that represents the end of the world where God gives to this "Son of Man" all dominion and authority and establishes his kingdom forever.
In Daniel's vision, "Son of Man" refers to the Messiah to come. Jesus rarely used the term king or Messiah for Himself because these terms were heavy with meaning for the Jews. Instead He uses this Old Testament term for Himself because it did two important things:
- It was a Scriptural term referring to the Messiah, His work and His kingdom.
- It was not a term that the Jews normally used or invested any kind of meaning (good or bad) into.
So He uses Son of Man as an obscure way to refer to Himself as the Messiah and to put into context the things He will say about the kingdom and its future. He uses a term that means Messiah but has not yet been polluted by worldly ideas.
The field is the world itself. The seed of the kingdom is planted all over the world by Jesus. The good seed are the sons of the kingdom.
Before, the seed was God's word. In this parable the seed is what the seed eventually produces - Christians, those who make up the kingdom. The tares are the sons of the devil. These are the ones who have believed Satan (whether they know it or not) and follow him. If you don't follow Jesus, you follow Satan, whether you're aware of it or not. The tares are sown in the kingdom.
They are the hypocrites who talk like Christians but don't act like Christians. They are the spies who are with the people in the kingdom but only because it suits their purposes - money, prestige, comfort. They are the backsliders and sinners who have begun to be influenced more by Satan and the world than Christ and His word. They go through the motions of Christian living, but their hearts are not in it.
The influence that produces these evil and unbelieving ones is the devil. Just as the word has the power to create a Christian and transform him into Christ likeness - Satan and his deceptive ways have the power to transform people into evil and unbelieving individuals as well. The harvest is when Jesus returns and the end of the world as we know it takes place.
The reapers (workers who separate) are angels.
Paul said that the angels will have a voice at the end of the world and will accompany the Lord (I Thess. 4:16). Also says they will come in "flaming fire" at the end (II Thess. 1:7).
Vs. 40-43 - Jesus continues to make the parallel between this parable and the end of the world.
The separation of the tares and wheat is a mirror of what happens at judgement for those who are in the kingdom, not the judgement for the entire world. At the end there will be a judgement between believers and unbelievers. Jesus says that there will also be a separation between those who believed and those who said they believed but didn't belong.
Those who belong in the kingdom will simply remain there; those who aspire to be in the kingdom but who give offense (to the brethren, to the Lord, to the world) and those who practice sin (lawlessness) will be removed and be placed in hell.
After this separation the righteous will be:
- Glorified - new bodies to enable them to exist in the heavenly realm.
- Exalted - lifted up to be with God forever.
They will be of light: pure in intention, thought and conduct, just like the heavenly Father. Jesus warns, even His disciples, to pay attention and be careful to abide by the teaching of this parable.
This parable also gives us significant insight into the kingdom, especially at the end of time. Some of the things we learn:
1. The kingdom is universal. God's kingdom is all over the world. Wherever people respond to His gospel there will grow the good wheat of the kingdom. Also, there is good soil everywhere, our job is to go plant the seed.
2. There are pretenders in the kingdom. People leave the church because there are hypocrites and sinful people who show no repentance. There are secret sinners and spies who have no business being here but remain to carry their own agenda. This must not discourage us, this is not a sign of failure of the kingdom - it's really a sign that Satan is at work.
3. No one escapes judgement. Many think that their job is to find out who belongs in the kingdom and who doesn't. Actually, our job is to sow the seed of the kingdom and bear fruit in the kingdom, not seek out those we feel don't belong there. Jesus guarantees that at the end, all those who don't belong in the kingdom will be rooted out, judged and punished. Only those who belong will remain.