What is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares? Why did Jesus often speak using parables instead of teaching more clearly? Parables of Jesus: Commentary by E-minister Warren Camp about the Weeds Parable: A story about the work of the enemy, Satan: Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43
What is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares?
The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, or Tares, is filled with spiritual significance and truth. But, in spite of the clear explanation of the parable that Jesus gave (Matthew 13:36-43), this parable is very often misinterpreted. Many commentaries and sermons have attempted to use this story as an illustration of the condition of the church, noting that there are both true believers (the wheat) and false professors (the weeds) in both the church at large and individual local churches. While this may be true, Jesus distinctly explains that the field is not the church; it is the world (v. 38).
Even if He hadn’t specifically told us the world is the setting of the story, it would still be obvious. The landowner tells the servants not to pull up the weeds in the field, but to leave them until the end of the age. If the field were the church, this command would directly contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, which tells us how to deal with unrepentant sinners in the church: they are to be put out of the fellowship and treated as unbelievers. Jesus never instructed us to let impenitent sinners remain in our midst until the end of the age. So, Jesus is teaching here about “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 24) in the world.
In the agricultural society of Christ’s time, many farmers depended on the quality of their crops. An enemy sowing weeds would have sabotaged a business. The tares in the parable were likely darnel because that weed, until mature, appears as wheat. Without modern weed killers, what would a wise farmer do in such a dilemma? Instead of tearing out the wheat with the tares, the landowner in this parable wisely waited until the harvest. After harvesting the whole field, the tares could be separated and burned. The wheat would be saved in the barn.
In the explanation of parable, Christ declares that He Himself is the sower. He spreads His redeemed seed, true believers, in the field of the world. Through His grace, these Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). Their presence on earth is the reason the “kingdom of heaven” is like the field of the world. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17), He meant the spiritual realm which exists on earth side by side with the realm of the evil one (1 John 5:19). When the kingdom of heaven comes to its fruition, heaven will be a reality and there will be no “weeds” among the “wheat.” But for now, both good and bad seeds mature in the world.
The enemy in the parable is Satan. In opposition to Jesus Christ, the devil tries to destroy Christ’s work by placing false believers and teachers in the world who lead many astray. One has only to look at the latest televangelist scandal to know the world is filled with professing “Christians” whose ungodly actions bring reproach on the name of Christ. But we are not to pursue such people in an effort to destroy them. For one thing, we don’t know if immature and innocent believers might be injured by our efforts. Further, one has only to look at the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the reign of “Bloody Mary” in England to see the results of men taking upon themselves the responsibility of separating true believers from false, a task reserved for God alone. Instead of requiring these false believers to be rooted out of the world, and possibly hurting immature believers in the process, Christ allows them to remain until His return. At that time, angels will separate the true from false believers.
In addition, we are not to take it upon ourselves to uproot unbelievers because the difference between true and false believers isn’t always obvious. Tares, especially in the early stages of growth, resemble wheat. Likewise, a false believer may resemble a true believer. In Matthew 7:22, Jesus warned that many profess faith but do not know Him. Thus, each person should examine his own relationship with Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). First John is an excellent test of salvation.
Jesus Christ will one day establish true righteousness. After He raptures the true church out of this world, God will pour out His righteous wrath on the world. During that tribulation, He will draw others to saving faith in Jesus Christ. At the end of the tribulation, all unbelievers will be judged for their sin and unbelief; then, they will be removed from God’s presence. True followers of Christ will reign with Him. What a glorious hope for the “wheat”!
Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds
Today’s parable follows the Parable of the Sower, the Seed, and the Soil (Matthew13:1–23), which we covered in this summary. That parable presents how, when God (the “sower”) presents and sows his Word (the “seed”) on a variety of types of people (the “soil”), we can expect to see different results; some people will cultivate much from the growth of God’s Word in their lives, while many will be unable to see the seed take root.
Today’s parable is similar to the previous one, but only to the extent that seed had been sown. Every other element holds a different meaning and takes us to a sobering conclusion about God’s field and those who live in it. Specifically, this follow-up weeds parable (also known as the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, and the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat) — highlights the work of the enemy in people’s lives (“grain fields”). It’s filled with spiritual significance and truth. The first passage of this two-part parable introduces us to what Jesus has said to a crowd of followers, while the second passage provides Jesus’ clear explanation of it.
The Weeds Parable
A Story about the Work of the Enemy — Satan
Because Jesus lived in an agrarian society, it shouldn’t surprise us that his many parables use metaphors related to farming. When he told these stories to people, his audience would have resonated with words about fields, seeds, and crops. He effectively used tangible ideas to describe and illustrate the mysterious and subversive nature of the worldly kingdom. It’s in our kingdom, here in this world, that the enemy — Satan — strives to bring evil into everyone’s lives.
Jesus tells a very interesting and rather mysterious story about a wheat farmer who has an enemy — one who stealthily sows weeds in the dead of night. That alone is intriguing, but things get even more interesting when the story concludes with a rather surprising twist in terms of how the farmer reacts to the agricultural mischief of this mysterious enemy.
The story raises many questions: What does it mean? What do the weeds stand for? Who’s the enemy? And why not judge good from bad by weeding the wheat field the same way many of us weed our flower and vegetable gardens?
This parable’s point: God’s judgment. He’s to be the judge who’ll determine good from bad, true from false. It’s the Lord God, not us, who’ll make the final determination and final separation.
These twenty verses of Jesus’ parables are broken into two parts: In the first part (vv. 24–35), he tells three parables to a crowd of interested followers, including his many disciples: the Parable of the Weeds (vv. 24–30) and the brief Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast (vv. 31–35). The second part of today’s passage covers Jesus’ clear explanation to his disciples of the meaning of the Parable of the Weeds (vv. 36–43). You can find each part in the following two videos.
Jesus speaks three “kingdom of heaven” parables to the crowd (Matt. 13:24–35).
Part 1 — The Presentation (vv. 24–30) presents a simple picture: One field with two sowers. In the field, one person sows good seed while the other sows weeds or “tares.” A tare is a plant that commonly grows in grain fields. Although it looks similar to edible grain, it’s not suitable as food. Many theologians feel that the tare or weed referred to in this parable is darnel, a poisonous weed that resembles wheat. Darnel that grows next to wheat stalks cannot be easily distinguished from real wheat. It’s not until harvest time when the kernels are ripe that a farmer can discern which is wheat and which is weed.
In this parable, an enemy snuck into a farmer’s field and sowed weeds — tares — among the good wheat. The roots of wheat and darnel so intertwine that they can not be separated without pulling up both. Roman law prohibited sowing darnel among the wheat of an enemy, suggesting that the scenario presented here is realistic.
Let’s follow the text’s progression: “a man sowed good seed in his field” (v. 24); “while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away” (v. 25); “both grew together until the harvest” (v. 30a); “the weeds were collected and tied in bundles” (v. 30b); “the wheat was gathered and brought into my barn” (v. 30c); “weeds will be separated and thrown into blazing fire” (v. 42) while “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43).
Here’s a simple summation of Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat: Some people believed wholeheartedly in Jesus while some didn’t believe at all. It’s not easy to know who trusted and followed Jesus. But one day, Jesus will come back to this world when he’ll separate those who fully trust him from those who don’t. The words that Jesus had said about people who didn’t believe in him or trust him are severe: “They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
He then explains the meaning of the Parable of the Weeds to his disciples (Matt. 13:36–43).
Part 2 — The Explanation (vv. 36–43) reveals to its hearers and us that the kingdom of God is mysterious. His disciples approached him in private where Jesus explained the meanings of (a) the field of the world, (b) the good seed who are the sons of the kingdom, and (c) the weed-like people who’ll face God’s final judgment. He then clarified who the two sowers of his parable were and what would happen to each, as the Part-2 video clip clearly shows.
So, Who’s Who?
Jesus, the sower of seed, has a field, defined here as the entire world. He spreads his redeemed seed, i.e., true believers, onto the world’s field. Through his grace, these Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit. When the kingdom of heaven comes to its fruition, heaven will be a reality and there will be no “weeds” among the “wheat.” But today, both good and bad seeds mature in our world.
The enemy in the parable is Satan. In opposition to Jesus Christ, the devil tries to destroy Christ’s work by placing false believers and teachers in the world to lead many astray. But we’re not to pursue such people in an effort to destroy them. Instead of requiring these false believers to be rooted out of the world, possibly hurting immature believers in the process, Christ allows them to remain until his return when angels will separate true believers from false believers.
There is a divine meaning and purpose being worked out here. God is guiding history and mankind to an end that will fulfill his purpose. This parable is showing two different works being done in the world. And it provides understanding as to why there’s evil. God plants good seed that becomes his children of his kingdom; Satan, the wicked one, plants those who are his offspring.
Because the tares and wheat look alike, it’s virtually impossible to visibly determine which is wheat and which is weed. That’s why God tells his servants to let them both grow to harvest when the difference will become apparent. Are the “sons of the wicked one” who are among them truly evil people? No. The parable tells us that they look and act similar to “the sons of the kingdom,” yet cannot be told apart.
Satan is the god of this age. He actively attempts to keep everyone deceived. And he can infiltrate the closest quarters of God’s people. Jesus’ words to this effect should serve as a warning.
Judgment in a Matter of Time — God’s Time
We learn from this parable that patience is a virtue. If the servants of the field owner had rampaged through the fields, tearing up the tares among the good wheat, the harvest would have been significantly compromised. Good growth would have been prevented from coming to maturity and bearing fruit. So it is with working in God’s spiritual field and in his church. It’s very possible to harm, even destroy, the good, when employing efforts to weed out tares.
God says to let both types grow together until the harvest — the end of the age — when Jesus Christ returns. He’ll then make a distinction, a judgment, that only he can make. The modern world doesn’t like to hear the word “judgment,” which implies that there are moral and ethical standards and laws to be followed. But God says that there will come a time of judgment that will deal with lawlessness and unrighteousness. The key is that it’s God’s judgment, not man’s. That’s a wonderful and comforting truth because God judges in perfect righteousness and in his appropriate time.
A Hearty Way to Apply This Parable Today
At the heart of this story about the weeds and the wheat, Jesus is clearly telling us that there will be a final judgment and a final separation of good people from bad. His clear revelation about the final judgment is meant to motivate us to live godly lives that would please God, stimulating us to be the kind of people God wants us to be. While such “threat of hell” motivation certainly isn’t politically correct, it’s still real.
A second theme that we ought to hear in this parable of Jesus is that only God is to judge; we human beings are not to see ourselves as the judge. It’s God’s responsibility to make the final judgment calls.
Only God knows. He’s the only one who can see inside a person and realize what lies beneath the sheen and shine of one’s life. And besides, there will be a lot of surprises on judgment day.
In this parable, Christ concludes by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” It’ll be wise for us to hear his teaching, letting it move us in godly fear to live soundly and faithfully.