Matthew 13 records seven parables Jesus told about the mystery of the kingdom of God. The first is the Parable of the Sower. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is the second kingdom parable. Both parables draw agricultural pictures of sowing and reaping. But there are critical differences between the two parables.
- The Parable of the Sower is about good seed in good and bad soil.
- The Parable of the Weeds is about good and bad seed in good soil.
A landowner sowed seed in his field. In the darkness of the night, his enemy planted weeds in the field. As seed became grain, weeds grew alongside it. After establishing the occasion, the parable focuses on the response to the double-growth. The servants ask permission to dig up and pull out the weeds. Refusing their request, the landowner instructs the servants to let the wheat and weeds grow together. The reapers will separate them at the harvest. The weeds will be burned; the wheat will be stored.
The farming imagery was familiar to crowds. But the parable was a riddle. The disciples were also confused. In Matthew 13:36, the disciples said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’” Jesus explained the parable to them in Matthew 13:37-43.
- Verses 37-39 record the parable’s interpretation: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”
- Verses 40-43 record the parable’s implications: “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has hears to hear, let him hear.”
Israel expected the Messiah to be a warrior-king who would overthrow Rome and make Israel great again. Jesus demonstrated sovereign authority. But Jesus did not accomplish Israel’s political agenda. The disciples were also troubled by Jesus’ messianic pacifism.
- Jesus ministered to personal needs.
- Jesus did not address societal problems.
If the kingdom has come, why does evil remain? What should we do about it? This parable is Jesus’ answer to the question of evil: Evil cannot stop the kingdom of heaven. This parable teaches three lessons about the problem of evil.
The Reality of Evil
In the Parable of the Sower, complications arise because of the condition of the soil. In this parable, complications arise because of external factors. An enemy sowed weeds in the field. The KJV calls them “tares.” According to Matthew 13:19, what is sown in the Parable of the Sower is “the word of the kingdom.” In this parable, Matthew 13:38 says, “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one.”
- The Parable of the Sower is about converted and unconverted people in the church.
- The Parable of the Weeds is about converted and unconverted people in the world.
This parable is about the church in the world, not the world in the church. It teaches a paradoxical truth: Jesus reigns, but evil remains.
Evil is inevitable. Verse 37 says, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” Jesus plants the seed. The sons of the kingdom are the seed. The field is the world. Yet the enemy sows weed among the wheat. The enemy is the devil. Evil is not random. It is the work of the evil one. As Jesus plants sons of the kingdom, the devil plants sons of the evil one.
Verse 25 says the enemy sows weeds in the field “while men were sleeping.” The sleeping men were not lazy, negligent, or irresponsible. They worked hard during the day. The weary men spent the night resting for the next day’s work. As they slept, the enemy sowed weeds in the field. Devoted Christians are weak people who need sleep. The enemy sows weeds in families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and government as you sleep.
- Nothing good comes without opposition.
- Weeds are a post-Eden fact of life.
- Where God works, Satan works.
Evil is subversive. Weeds grow inevitably and independently. But the enemy schemed to produce catastrophic effects on the harvest. He covered the field with tares. Sowing tares in an enemy’s field was a common threat that Roman law declared a punishable crime. It was ancient bioterrorism.
Scholars tell us the weeds Jesus refers to are darnel seeds. Considered bastard wheat, darnel grew as tall as wheat and resembled it in appearance. Poisonous to humans and animals, the bearded darnel would intertwine with wheat as it grew. This is the subversive scheme of the enemy. The devil plants weeds where the Lord plants seeds. Verse 41 describes the weeds as “all causes of sin and all law-breakers.”
- Jesus plants sons of the kingdom to advance God’s kingdom.
- Satan plants sons of the evil one to stop God’s kingdom agenda.
Evil is restricted. In the Parable of the Sower, birds, rocks, and thorns endanger the seed. In this parable, the seed is never in jeopardy. The weeds surrounded the growing grain. The weeds did not stop the growing grain. The enemy planted weeds. He could not destroy the wheat. Pervasive evil cannot overrule, overpower, or overthrow the purpose of God. Evil cannot stop the kingdom of heaven.
- Leading at halftime does not win the game.
- The team that leads at the end wins the game.
In the beginning, the enemy wins by sowing tares in the field. Yet the seed grows despite the weeds. In the end, the landowner’s harvest wins. The weeds are destroyed, the grain is harvested, and the enemy is thwarted. The devil is real, powerful, and defeated. God wins! God’s harvest is unstoppable. God’s kingdom will come. W.A. Jones wrote, “Good wheat can stand the test of tares.”
The Response to Evil
The parable records two responses to the weeds planted in the field. These responses illustrate the human and divine response to evil.
Man’s Response to Evil. Christians are the sons of the kingdom. We are also the servants. The servants serve the landowner’s work and oppose the enemy’s work. Here is a mark of discipleship. Matthew 12:30 says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” You cannot follow Jesus and remain neutral. You must choose sides. But you can be on the right side and have the wrong response.
Speculation. Verse 27 says, “And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seeds in your field? How then does it have weeds?’” The first question was rhetorical. They knew the master sowed good seed in his field. Yet they asked the obvious. The weeds made them question the master. Like these servants, we are prone to question the authority and goodness of God in the face of evil. Do not let what the enemy does cause you to question what you know about God.
- In spite of the weeds in the field, God is in control.
- In spite of the weeds in the field, God is good all the time.
The second question was based on the first: “How then does it have weeds?” The situation did not make sense. Weeds grew in opposition to the will and work of the master. He did not work in cross-purpose against himself. They had not conspired against the master. How did this happen? “How?” means “Why?” When our focus shifts from the master to the enemy, questions lead to speculation.
- Is God good but not powerful?
- Is God powerful but not good?
- Is the good, powerful God unaware?
In verse 28, the master replies, “An enemy has done this.” This is an answer, not an explanation. Do not confuse the two. Doubt demands explanations. Trust accepts answers and leaves the unexplained with God.
Activism. When the master told the servants an enemy planted weeds in the field, they moved from speculation to activism. In verse 28, they ask, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?’” They first asked to know something. Now they ask to do something. To their credit, the servants did not pull the weeds unilaterally. They asked the master’s permission to dig up the tares. Their well-intentioned proposal was wrong. This is the most practical parable of Jesus. In the Good Samaritan, Jesus says, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” Here Jesus says, “Stand there and do nothing.”
It takes more faith to do nothing than to do something. We are activists by nature. Iniquity compels us to help God out. Instead of helping, we get in God’s way. As Jesus traveled to Jerusalem, he passed through a Samaritan village. The townspeople would not receive him. In Luke 9:54, James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them.” Jesus rebuked them. He rebukes every servant who tries to help him by pulling weeds from the field.
Our job is to reach sinners, not fix society. Digging up weeds hinders the harvest. The servants were more of a threat than the enemy. The enemy could not stop the harvest. Yet he planted weeds strategically, counting on someone to be a sucker enough to doing his dirty work. The kingdom is about the King, not our causes, agendas, or politics. Do not allow your attempts to fix society to hinder the mission of Jesus.
God’s Response to Evil. In verse 29, the master answers his servants’ request: “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” The master has more at stake than the servants. But he disagrees with their plan to gather up the weeds. The master is wiser than the servants.
- He knows the difference between reaction and response.
- He knows the difference between the good and the best.
- He knows the difference between immediate and ultimate.
The wise master refuses his foolish servants’ plan. He tells them why: “lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” The master and servants were concerned about what the enemy has done. Yet they saw the matter from different perspectives.
- The master was concerned about the wheat.
- The servants were concerned about the weeds.
In dealing with the weeds, they would damage the wheat. The church must not be preoccupied with activist solutions to the problem of evil. We must be wise, patient, and tolerant. Pulling weeds will not eradicate evil. It will hurt the harvest. Christ would rather permit the tares than endanger the wheat.
We are busy weeding the field politically, racially, economically, educationally, environmentally, sexually, and culturally. In the process, we have uprooted our gospel influence. We have a twofold problem: ignorance and inability. We cannot gather the weeds because we cannot tell the difference between weeds and wheat. Don’t be too quick to classify, condemn, or cancel people. One may look like a son of the kingdom and yet be a son of the evil one. One may look like a son of the evil one and yet be a son of the kingdom. What looks like tares may be weak wheat.
- When Moses killed the Egyptian soldier and hid him in the sand, he looked like tares. He was weak wheat.
- When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah, he looked like tares. He was weak wheat.
- When Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, he looked like tares. He was weak wheat.
Wheat and tares are not permanent positions. Sons of the kingdom were once sons of the evil one. We are not wheat because we are better than the tares. Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” Thank God he did not pull you out when you were a tare. The Lord knows what he is doing! Throughout church history, Christianity has been threatened in every fashion imaginable. Yet the gospel advances. Evil cannot stop the kingdom of heaven. Let the wheat and weeds grow together.
The Removal of Evil
This parable is a parable of the kingdom. Verse 24 says, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.” The parable is also a parable of judgment. Verse 30 says, “Let them grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” The master may seem indifferent. In reality, he operated on a different timetable than his servants. They wanted something to be done about the weeds now. He determined to let them grow together until the harvest.
- The harvest is not at the end of the service.
- The harvest is not at the end of the year.
- The harvest is not at the end of our lives.
It is at the end of the age. The sons of the kingdom will be separated from the sons of the evil in the end. The removal of evil will come at God’s time, not ours. God will sort things out finally, sovereignly, and eternally. Why does God delay? 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” At harvest time, the master will tell the reapers to put the weeds in the fire and the wheat in the barn. Verse 39 says, “The reapers are angels.”
- The master did let the servants pull the weeds initially.
- He did not allow them to pull the weeds ultimately.
Stay out of the master’s business! Don’t get in the way of his harvest work. Proclaim the kingdom and trust that God will judge evil in the end. Matthew 13:47-50 says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Let the wheat and tare grow together. Wait for the time of the harvest. Trust that God knows what he is doing in the meantime. It may be hard to trust when you see the field filled with weeds. Look beyond the field to a hill far away, where stands the old, rugged cross. Because Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, evil will lose, and Jesus will reign! Matthew 13:43 says, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father!”
- Watch until the harvest.
- Wait until the harvest.
- Work until the harvest.
- Witness until the harvest.
- Worship until the harvest.