Matthew’s gospel has the divine purpose of transition from the Jewish to the Christian dispensation. The seven parables in Matthew thirteen play a significant role in this dispensational purpose. However, of all the parables used by Jesus in His teaching ministry, I do not believe there is one more important to properly understand than the parable of the wheat and tares found in Matthew thirteen. This parable gives us certain characteristics of the present time and age we live in, as well as understandings of Christianity, Christendom, and the progress of the Christian dispensation.
Matt. 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. 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.”
The parable itself was told to the multitudes that had gathered to hear Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 13:2). Of course, the Lord’s disciples were also present. The question His disciples ask Him after the telling of the first parable is notable (Matt 13:10). His answer speaks of the sovereign choice by God of the disciples over the multitude of the Jews (Matt. 13:11). His disciples were placed in a favored position by God, even over that of the Old Testament prophets and saints (Matt. 13:16–17). But in the multitudes is the condemning prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled (Matt. 13:13–15, Isa. 6:9–10). Before quoting the interpretation of the parable, it is important to point out that this explanation was given to the disciples in private, after Jesus sends the multitudes away (Matt. 13:36). This sequence of events is directly related to what Jesus said to His disciples earlier (Matt. 13:11) – “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”
Matt. 13:37-43 (NKJV)
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. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 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. 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!”
The important spiritual understandings of the details of the parable and explanation given by Jesus follow.
- The Son of Man is Jesus and He plants the wheat (Matt. 13:37). Jesus represents God and therefore is doing God’s work. This work cannot fail. It is eternal and good. Its totality is seen in the planting of the wheat, the wheat coming up and being preserved its entire time in the field, and the wheat in the harvest time being taken out of the field and placed into the barn. This is all God’s work and He does so sovereignly – nothing can stop God from bringing the wheat to its final destiny and purpose. Nothing can really harm the wheat. And the wheat can never become something else, because it comes from the good seed planted by God and under His securing care (Matt. 13:24, John 10:27–29). The wheat individually are true Christians, who are in Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:1, 9, 15, 16, 2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 3:26; 4:6; Eph. 1:3–7, 13). The wheat is the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10), and He preserves them as such for the entire dispensation.
- The enemy plants the tares (weeds). This enemy of the Son of Man is the wicked one, the devil and Satan (Matt. 13:25, 28, 38). The tares represent the work of the devil and are the sons of the wicked one. In the overall composition of the crop in the field they are mixed together with the wheat. The work of Satan, because it is mixed together with God’s work, has spoiled and ruined the crop in the field. The tares grow up together with the wheat, and there is no separation one from another all the time the crop is growing in the field (Matt. 13:28–29). The crop stays in this spoiled condition for the entire time of the dispensation. Only in the time of harvest at the end will there be a separation, and this by divine means (Matt. 13:39, 41). The tares never turn into wheat, nor can they, because they came from the seed planted by the enemy. The tares are those who have a false profession of Christ, and are not sealed by the Spirit of God, yet they are an integral part of the spoiled crop.
- The field is the world. The field is not the crop in the field. The world is made up of all those who do not profess Jesus Christ – all unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. The field really in not the subject of the parable, except that the Son of Man also owns the field. God will certainly judge the world someday, and this will be by and through Jesus, the Son of Man (John 5:27, Acts 17:31). But the parable isn’t really about God judging the world. It is about the form the kingdom of God takes during the Christian dispensation. It is only about things associated with the Christian dispensation, and this doesn’t include the world. The parable is about wheat and tares mixed together as a spoiled crop growing up in the field for the time of the dispensation. At the end of the age during the time of harvest there will be another divine work in separating the crop, removing the wheat, and bundling together the tares (in view of their judgment). I do not believe the parable directly involves anything about God judging the world.
- What is the spoiled crop in the field? It isn’t Israel – they have been set aside by God, made desolate, hardened, burned and destroyed by God as His vineyard (Hosea 1:9, Matt. 23:38–39, Rom. 11:7, Isa. 5:1–7). The Jews failed to receive Jesus as their Messiah and crucified Him, putting Him to death. Because of this God used the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. This physical act demonstrated the end of the Jewish dispensation and the end of the practice of their religion (Heb. 8:13). Many Jews were slain by the Roman swords and God scattered the remainder into the Gentile nations (Luke 21:20–24). This doesn’t sound like a cohesive crop growing up in the field.
What then is the spoiled crop in the field? It is the entire corporate body of Christendom – all that has a profession of Jesus Christ, all which calls itself Christian. It has true profession and false profession. It has those who have been given the Spirit of God and those who do not have Him. It is good and bad mixed together (Matt. 13:47; 22:9–10); it is wise and foolish virgins looking alike and sleeping together (Matt. 25:1–2); it is faithful and wise servants mixed with evil servants (Matt. 24:45–51; 25:14–30); and it is a spoiled crop of wheat and tares mixed together in a field (Matt. 13:26).
- The crop is spoiled because it is a mixture of God’s work and the devil’s work. It exists like this the entire time of the age or dispensation. This condition or state came about almost from the very beginning (Matt. 13:26) and it was a consequence of men failing in their responsibility – men were sleeping (Matt. 13:25). It was not because God had done anything wrong. Men were given responsibility to watch and care for God’s work. However, the Lord’s servants failed, and this allowed the enemy to come in and do his corrupting work. The spoiled condition remains as it is in the age until the harvest time at its end. The men given responsibility for the crop were forbidden to do any separation, lest they pull up the wheat with the tares (Matt. 13:26–29) – they were told to “Let both grow together until the harvest…” (Matt. 13:30)
This is the present condition of Christendom in which all true believers exist, whether we want to admit it or not. Christendom is a spoiled crop growing up in the world. This is the simple testimony of God concerning it, and His testimony is always true. Whether innocently or willfully, the majority of true Christians are blind to this ruined condition, and our leaders will not admit to it. The result is that we go on participating in the midst of what God has judged as organized corruption, remaining involved in what God views as a form of godliness without any real power, instead of turning away from the evil (2 Tim. 2:19–21; 3:1–5; 4:3–4). In the history of Christendom men have taken authority into their own hands and pulled up the wheat – the faithful of different times receiving severe persecution, even unto death. Evil servants have committed ecclesiastical abuse (beating fellow servants) and bringing in worldliness (eating and drinking with the drunkards, Matt. 24:48–49). Christendom’s record is filled with its tares lusting after civil power, committing fornication with the kings and governments of the earth (Rev. 17:1–6). Its history is one of schisms and divisions created by men, which has not only fractured and divided Christendom, but has scattered the true church.
- The harvest at the end of the age is a period of time instead of one singular day. Although the wheat being gathered and removed from the field is the rapture of the true church (John 11:25–26; 14:1–3, 1 Thess. 4:13–18), and does happen in a moment of time (1 Cor. 15:51–53), yet the bundling of the tares together and leaving them in the field (world) to be burned doesn’t necessarily happen instantaneously (Matt. 13:30, 40). The harvest is the separation and judgment of Christendom at the end of the Christian dispensation.
The wheat are individual believers who are sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). They are those who are sealed by the Holy Spirit, who cry out in their hearts, “Abba, Father!” (Eph. 1:13, Rom. 8:15–16, Gal. 4:6) The destiny of the wheat is the barn. The wheat does not remain in the field, does not remain in the world. The barn is the Father’s house (John 14:1–3) and is located in heaven. The sons of God are the sons of the Father in heaven (Matt. 5:45). They have this established relationship with God, that of Father with sons. All the wheat have been given the same relationship which Jesus has with God (John 20:17). All the wheat individually are true Christians, and are members of the body of Christ, the church (1 Cor. 12:12–14, Eph. 1:22–23). Only the wheat in the spoiled crop of Christendom forms the church, the body of Christ. As a corporate body, Christendom is not the same as the church. Christendom includes wheat and tares, while the church only consists of the wheat. The church is built by Christ alone (Matt. 16:18). He planted the wheat on God’s behalf (Matt. 13:37).
The destiny of the tares is judgement. Towards the end of this age the tares of Christendom will providentially be bundled together and left in the world. This seems to take place before the wheat is removed from the field – “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them…” (Matt. 13:30) The parable only goes so far as to say the intention is that they will be burned. But the explanation goes farther.232 It has the tares being cast into a furnace of fire; there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:40–42).
232 [This is a pattern or technique seen with many prophetic visions and parables for which God provides the meaning and interpretation – extra details are provided in the interpretation which go beyond the actual content of the vision or parable itself. This can be seen in the interpretation given by the angels of the visions contained in Daniel seven and Revelation seventeen. It is also true of the interpretation Jesus gives here of the wheat and tares parable]
- The work done at the end of the age in the time of harvest is all divine work accomplished by angels under the direction of the Son of Man. Again, this is the sovereign work of God, whether it is the gathering of the wheat to remove the church from this world, or the bundling and judging of the tares in the world. The harvest is not under the responsibility of men, and not done by the hands of men.
- The explanation also reveals more details in that it distinguishes two kingdoms that will exist simultaneously after the end of the age and harvest. There will be the Son of Man’s kingdom on the earth (Matt. 13:41) and the Father’s kingdom in the heavens (Matt. 13:43). Two kingdoms yet future; however, presently we are in the kingdom of heaven, the parable making this abundantly clear. This kingdom of heaven ceased to be “at hand” (Matt. 3:10; 4:17; 10:7) and came into existence when the Son of Man was rejected by this world and went back to heaven. At the present time this kingdom is very real and develops on the earth as a spoiled crop growing up in the field – Christendom in the world and on the earth. But the calling and destiny of the wheat is to the heavens. The church is a heavenly body which is in union with its Head in heaven, Jesus Christ, the glorified Son of Man (Eph. 1:22-23). The church is this Man’s body.
The use of the kingdom of heaven phrase in Matthew’s gospel represents the state of things during the period when the Son is sitting on the Father’s throne. This thought is also characteristic of the time of the Christian dispensation. During this period the Son of God, although sitting on His Father’s throne in heaven, has a kingdom on the earth – a kingdom obscure and ambiguous, and only known in truth to those of faith in the Son of God (the true church – Matt. 16:16–17). Christians have been delivered from the power of darkness and translated, by God their Father, into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13). Christendom is the outward form the Son’s kingdom takes during the Christian dispensation and includes all who profess to have faith in Jesus, the Son of the living God – both true and false profession (wheat and tares). This is the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of the Son in the world (field) today.
The world is not changed or brought into order by the presence of the Son’s kingdom in it. The world continues to ripen in evil under the power of darkness. But what is a most remarkable feature, the first four parables of this chapter bearing this out, is the definitive presence of evil growing and ripening in the kingdom of the Son, the kingdom of heaven (in Christendom). And the parable tells us that this will not be solved during the time of the Christian dispensation. It is a significant recognition that the kingdom of heaven hasn’t the power to change this evil world, mostly because men, given responsibility to care for the work of God, have allowed evil and corruption to saturate the kingdom itself.233
233 [Here is a simple comparison which aids in forming the correct prophetic picture painted by Matthew thirteen. The kingdom of heaven exists in the midst of an evil world that Satan is god over, and he is at liberty to tempt, deceive, and corrupt as a serpent and devour as a roaring lion. This is not the kingdom of God in power and glory in the world as we will see when the Son of Man returns to this earth (Matt. 24:30, 25:31, Rev. 11:15). Then He will have a sharp sword going out of His mouth to destroy the evil of the world and bind Satan in a pit for a thousand years (Rev. 19:11–21, 20:1–3). In power and glory God puts all His enemies under the Son of Man’s feet. But the present dispensation, the kingdom of heaven, isn’t like this at all. Believers, the sons of the present kingdom, wrestle and struggle against principalities and evil powers. Paul said in the first century, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” (2 Thess. 2:7) He was not referring to the world, but to the nominal church in which he was an apostle. And this is certainly one of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:11). Then John describes the present kingdom in which all believers have part with him (Rev. 1:9) – “I, John, both your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ…” If the kingdom of heaven was a kingdom of God’s power and glory, believers would not be facing tribulation or have need of the patience of Christ]
At this present time true believers are definitely in the Son of God’s kingdom (Col. 1:13) and their being gathered together as the church takes place on the earth. However, at the same time, they are the heirs of the Father’s future kingdom in the heavens (Rom. 8:14–17, Matt. 13:43). True Christians are sons of God their Father. They have received the seal of the Spirit of adoption (sonship) by which they cry out from their hearts, “Abba, Father!” During the harvest of Christendom at the end of the dispensation, believers are removed from the world (Matt. 13:30) into the Father’s kingdom above. Only then, during the final dispensation, does the entire lower world become the kingdom of the Son of Man (Matt. 13:41) – the last rule of man on the earth.234
234 [The kingdom of heaven is the Son of God’s kingdom and is mysteriously present in the world today. But after this dispensation closes, neither of the two kingdoms which will simultaneously exist carry the label of the Son of God – instead, they are the Father’s kingdom in the heavens and the Son of Man’s kingdom on the earth. This is significant and, I believe, purposely done by the Spirit of God. It should be obvious the millennial kingdom of the Son of Man is in subjection to God Most High above and will be characterized by the perfect obedience of this Man in his rule and reign on the millennial earth. With these thoughts, it becomes understandable why Scripture considers the kingdom of heaven as the Son’s kingdom – not only does it exist associated with the profession of Jesus as the Son of God, but it exists during the interval between the rejection of the Son of Man upon earth and His reigning upon earth in the future millennium (in the time of the Christian dispensation). This may sound a bit technical, but we must remember that the Spirit of God in writing Scripture never is arbitrary or carefree in the use of any words and phrases]
Here then is another of the many mysteries of the kingdom of heaven given to believers to understand. In consequence of Jesus being rejected by the Jews as their Messiah and King, and the purpose of God contained therein (Acts 2:22–23), the Christian believer’s ultimate place and portion would not be in the Son of Man’s kingdom on the earth, but instead in the Father’s kingdom in the heavens.
“Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. 13:43)
God does not make mistakes, nor does He misspeak. The church’s eternal destiny is to be in the heavens with the Father. As is the character of all the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:11), so with this one. This is not Jewish thought. This is not found in Old Testament Jewish teachings. This is not hinted at by Old Testament prophecy. This is new revelation and a new order of things – a body being gathered on the earth by the Holy Spirit sent down; a heavenly body with a heavenly calling, destined to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Heb. 3:1, Eph. 2:6–7). No Israelite would have ever conceived of such a thing (John 3:10–12).
The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are all unseen to the naked eye. They are always matters of faith – the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen (Heb. 11:1, 2 Cor. 4:18). Judaism is a walk by sight, demanding to see signs, a worldly sensual religion (1 Cor. 1:22); it isn’t a religion designed to comprehend these mysteries (Matt. 13:11). The understanding of all the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are given to the true Christian to comprehend. He has the potential to see the unseen with the eye of faith, to walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Only through true faith, seeing and walking by such, can the believer be pleasing to God (2 Cor. 5:9, Heb. 11:6). This highlights some of the differences between the two religions, Judaism and Christianity. And in a similar way it marks out some of the dispensational differences that exist between the Jewish dispensation and the Christian dispensation. True Christianity encompasses and embraces the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven and teaches how one walks by faith in God. It teaches how the Christian is to walk as a pilgrim and stranger in the wilderness of this world (Heb. 11:13).
The parable indicates that there will be the providential power of God through the administration of the Son of Man by His angels which will bundle the tares together in the field to be burned. It is after this judgment is accomplished of the tares of Christendom, after they are burned in the world, that the righteous (the Christian believer) will shine forth as the sun. This shining forth in glory is not in the kingdom of the Son, not in the kingdom of the Son of Man, but in the kingdom of the Father. The short version is that we have the clearing of the world by this judicial process of the Son of Man sending out His angels. The righteous, those who had been righteous while the world was evil, shall be as the sun. Of course, Jesus is “the Sun of righteousness” and “when He shall appear we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is”; but this will be in the kingdom of the Father. What followed in the kingdom of the Son of Man on earth we aren’t told in the parable except that He gathered all that offended out of it. But really, the aim of the parable is the spoiled crop in the field until the end of the age. It is a similitude of the kingdom of heaven – the present form of the kingdom of God in this Christian age – and tells how this mixed and ambiguous system is brought to its close.
We must realize there exists a form of the kingdom of God today in the world. That form is depicted by every parable and teaching in Matthew’s gospel about the kingdom of heaven. And this doesn’t correspond to the Old Testament version of a Messianic kingdom promised to Israel. That opportunity passed for the Jews when they resoundingly rejected their Messiah as sent to them (John 1:11). The present form of the kingdom of God is whatever Christendom has become under the responsibility of men. Israel was made desolate by God (Matt. 23:37–39, Luke 21:20–24, Matt. 22:7; 24:2). God took the kingdom away from them (Matt. 21:33–44). Israel’s dispensation was ending at the time Jesus was speaking these parables.
There happens to be several theological points which result from this understanding. The crop in the world is Christendom. This is the present form of the kingdom of God in the world today. It is an error of spiritual ignorance to teach that the kingdom of God does not exist today. The kingdom of heaven was established when Jesus went away, back to heaven. This kingdom exists as it relates by profession of faith in a Lamb slain by the world, yet raised by God and exalted to the right hand of His power – rejected by this world, yet received in the heavens with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9). All power in heaven and earth has been given to Him in title after His resurrection (Matt. 28:18), but He sits at the right hand of God waiting until His enemies be made His footstool (Heb. 10:12–13). He has been given this power, but it isn’t the Father’s time yet for Jesus to rise up and use it.
This sitting and waiting in heaven by Jesus Christ is one important characteristic of the present Christian dispensation; it characterizes the present mysteries of the kingdom of heaven – the form the kingdom of God takes in the world today, and the matters of faith associated with such a mysterious and ambiguous kingdom where the King is missing. Jesus is hidden now at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1–3). He has sat down on His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21) and the Holy Spirit has been sent down to gather His body and bride, the church (John 7:39; 14:16–17, 1 Cor. 12:12–13). Only the true believer, using the eye of faith, can see Jesus sitting at God’s right hand (Col. 3:1–3), and that He is now crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9). The world does not operate by faith and does not see what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). Neither do the Jews (1 Cor. 1:22). Neither do the tares of Christendom. If Jesus is hidden, it is to those who are not of faith in this world. Genuine faith characterizes the true Christian – he has the God-given ability and spiritual temperament to see with the eye of faith, to walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), to understand what faith is and how it is defined (Heb. 11:1). The believer knows that without real faith he cannot please God at all (Heb. 11:6).