|By Philip L Powell|
Second in a series on the Matthew 13 kingdom parables
AS we saw in the first study of this series the parables of THE SOWER and WHEAT and TARES are the only ones that our Lord directly interprets.
The story and its historicsignificanceAnother parable he put forth to them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went on his way. But when the wheat sprouted, and formed ears, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the householder came and said to him, Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How does it have tares? He said to them, an enemy has done this. The servants said to him, Shall we go and gather them up? But he said, No, lest while you gather up the tares, you uproot the wheat also. 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. Matt 13:24-30
The word translated another is the Greek allos which signifies another of the same kindor another of more than two as distinct from heteros implying another of a different kind or the other of two. In the Matthew 13 setting the first four parables are connected by allos being similar in that they all relate to the world of agriculture and are joined by a progressive idea that we outlined in our first article viz
The story of the wheat and tares was very well known to the society of Jesus day. For example, it was a crime under Roman legislation to sow tares in a field for purposes of revenge. The Jews generally referred to tares as degenerate wheat, while their Rabbis called them bastard wheat.
The interpretation: key conceptsThen Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came to him, saying, Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said to them, He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom; but the tares are the sons of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so it will be in the end of this age. The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those who practise lawlessness; And shall throw them into a furnace of fire: there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who has ears to hear, let him hear. Matt 13:36-43
Interposed between the story and its interpretation are the mustard seed and leaven parables (Matthew 13:31-33) after which Jesus took his disciples away from the crowd into a private house, where they asked Him, Explain to us the par-able of the tares of the field verse 36. Clearly, it was this second parable that aroused the interest of the disciples most. The burning issue for them was to understand the parable of the Wheat and Tares. Jesus obliged by giving a detailed interpretation (verses 37 to 43).
The juxtaposition of the mustard and leaven parables, though not directly referred to in the interpretation, suggests that they are somehow related to, and possibly an extension of, the Wheat and Tares. This is just one reason not the only one why we think that the third and fourth parables in this series are not dealing with the growth but rather with the corrupting of the Kingdom more of that in the next study.
Here is how Christ interprets the par-able of the Wheat and Tares:
In addition to the above Christ gives us the sequence of events in the build up to and the time of harvest, but before giving attention to this we need to make some observations in respect of the above.
In the church but not of it Christ and the devil sow their seed the sons who will mature and reflect their parentage in the same seed-bed the world i.e. kosmos. This fact underscores one of the primary confusions relating to this parable. Good Bible teachers, in their honest attempts to maintain the church as inviolate, have frequently pointed out that tares grow in the world not in the church. This is true in a sense but as a bland statement it leads to con-fusion. It avoids the fact that Christ also plants His seed in the world (kosmos). Obviously the whole point of the parable is that the wheat and tares grow very closely together and are indistinguishable the one from the other until each approaches maturity. While it is true that tarescannot be a part of the true Church spiritually, it is also true that tares are part of the company of people that constitute the church that we see and this is where the confusion arises. It is not just a matter of seeing the true church (the Bride of Christ Gods Remnant People) as distinct from the structured church or Christendom. The warning and caution of this parable is that Satan can sow tares in any situation alongside the genuine wheat.
World or WorldlinessKOSMOS, the Greek word that is translated to world (v. 38) has a number of different contextual connotations. For ex-ample in 1 John 2:16 the qualifying clauses clarify kosmos to signify that which is alienated from God, and thus hostile to the cause of Christ: For all that is in the world (kosmos), the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world (kosmos).
But kosmos can also mean harmonious arrangement in the way that we use the word world to signify part or the en-tire universe i.e. our English cosmos. The lack of any qualification of the word in Matthew 13:38 plus the fact that both Christ and Satan sow their seeds in the same kosmos indicate that we should not view the world in this context as separate from the Church. In other words our Lord is not emphasising the geographic location of the two separated domains but rather the fact that the two very different seeds or plants the wheat and the tares, are planted in the same place. The field is the world; the good seed are the sons of the kingdom; but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. Matthew 13:38
Death and the end of the ageThe word that is translated to world in verses 39 & 40 (KJV) is the Greek aion from which the English aeon is derived. It can mean an unbroken age i.e. a period of time. The better translation would be the harvest is the end of the age (v 39) and so shall it be in the end of this age (v 40). Obviously in the context it refers to the future time of judgment of which the Bible speaks in a number of passages and in which connection the warnings of Matthew chapter seven come forcefully to mind as a parallel truth
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? And in your name have cast out demons? And in your name done many wonders? And then will I declare to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that practise lawlessness. Matthew 7:22-23
Is it too much to contemplate that a person may be a plant of Satan a tare and not know it? Clearly performance is no guarantee of security in Christ. The test is character.
Now if anyone has not the Spirit (disposition) of Christ, he is not of Him. Romans 8:9
While the parable speaks of future judgment relating to the end of the age we must not conclude that the story applies only to the end times. Christ commenced planting His good seed in the first generation of Christianity and has continued through-out time. The devil likewise has been busy in every generation. Paul warned the Ephesian Christians:
After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among you men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw disciples away after them. Acts 20:29-30
Among the early Church leaders there were those who preached another gospeland a different Jesus(2 Cor 11:4 & Gal 1:6). Against such Paul issues a double curse:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so now I say again, If any man preach any other gospel to you than that you have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8-9
No pussyfooting around by Paul. He named and pronounced false teachers to be accursed of God.
The point of the parable of the tares is that those who are planted by Satan and not by Jesus manifest their true nature as they reach maturity i.e. the time of harvest for them and they are gathered for eventual judgment before the general harvest of the wheat occurs. It is noteworthy that false teachers frequently show their true colours when they are older often just before their deaths, though the progression of their falsity is usually observable. The point that I am making and one that should not be overlooked is that the truth of the parable applies to all time and not just to the end times.
Identification not uprootingOne of the key-teachings of this parable is that it is dangerous and wrong to harvest or attempt to harvest the tares too soon. While that is a very important truth it can blind us to another equally important truth, which we have discussed in part above, viz that before the general great harvest of the wheat, the tares are identifiable and will be removed.
Some time ago a former friend of my boyhood days in New Zealand accused me of being an iconoclast by my exposing the evil of men in the Pentecostal camp, who were viewed as idols or great leaders. Another former associate who became quite prominent in AoG circles in New Zealand challenged my action on the pretext of this parable about the tares. To the one I pointed out that we shouldnt have idols. Idolatry of any kind is wrong. To the other I explained what I saw as a difference between exposing the tares and uprooting them. I sent him copies of my studies on the Parables, which I had published in the Australian Evangelwhen I was the editor (1989-1991). I received no acknowledgement or response from him.
What we are discussing here is vital. The exposure of the tares is essential in the process of the harvest. If they are not identified they wont be gathered and if the tares are not gathered the wheat will not be harvested. Of course we have other biblical bases of appeal for our conduct in this regard. Paul commands us to expose (not cover-up) the works of darkness and he himself was most forthright in naming false teachers and exposing evil conduct as were all the New Testament and Old Testament writers and leaders. This is in line with the nature of God, Who is light, and the message of the gospel, which is to bring things out into the light. As we have said on a number of occasions men try to cover evil things up, whereas God covers evil by first exposing it and then through the process of confession and repentance dealing with it forever.
Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5:11
The use of the word aggelos translated angels(literally a messengeror bringer of tidings)in Matthew 13:41 adds to the confusion which my two former NZ friends raised with me. Are these angels in the normally accepted sense? I think the answer depends on how you view the removal or uprooting process. Angels feature in the great end time events as the book of the Revelation and other parts of scripture make plain. It is not unreason-able therefore to conclude that God will commission literal angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those who practise lawlessness; and to cast them into the furnace of fire.
However throughout Church history there is clear evidence that God has commissioned human messengers (aggelos) to identify and sometimes even to feature to some extent in the removal of the sons of the evil one. Its NOT the identifying but only the premature uprooting of the tares that the parable warns against. The reason obviously has to do with the root structure of the wheat, which should not be disturbed during the growth and ripening periods.
Confusion in the campThe first point of confusion is what we might call Confusion in the Field.
In the early development there is no distinguishable difference between the good seed and the bad, even though the one has been planted by God, and the other by Satan. It is only as each develops towards harvest that the difference becomes clear (But when the wheat sprouted, and formed ears).What a powerful illustration of Jesus other comment in Matt. 7:20 -Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Modern day illustrations abound, even within the church. So-called men of God who occupy pulpits in the established Churches, while denying essential Christian teachings, such as the resurrection and the virgin birth, are obvious and clear examples. Others, who are not so clear, because they appear to be orthodox in most doctrinal areas, reveal that they are plants of the devil by their very lifestyles. Fruit in Scripture always has to do with character and obedience rather than with perceived achievements:
Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows those who are his: and, let every one who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 2 Timothy 2:19
Confusion in the Field leads to Confusion among the Servants, which is twofold. Firstly a sort of Who done it? type mystery see verse 27 how does it have tares?). The second is posed by the question What should we do about it? (Verse 28 shall we go and gather them up?)
The answer to the first is it wasnt God An enemy has done thisverse 28. Sometimes we stumble over the idea that not everything that happens in the kingdom is instigated by God.
The answer to the second question is we should do nothing. Here we see the incredible intrigue of Satan. His purpose is not to advance the tare but to destroy the wheat.
The confusion of the servants leads them to compulsive action, and this is where many of Gods people, including ministers make the awful mistake of trying to remove the tares. In so doing, they damage and sometimes destroy the wheat. Jesus said, Let both grow together until the harvest verse 30.
Damaging, disturbing,destroyingIn getting to the tare, the servants would trample on, and so destroy, some wheat. Then, in bending down to take hold of the weed, they would inevitably damage more. Further, in uprooting the product of the bad seed they would disturb the root system of the closely surrounding good seed, far better to wait until harvest.
In Jesus day men harvested the wheat, but just beforehand women and children would go into the field and gather up the tares, which after being removed were burned. As the harvest process became more sophisticated, the actual separation took place after the grain had been gathered, by sifting, thus allowing the smaller tare seeds to fall through while the larger good grain remained in the sieve.
The final confusion may be called the Confusion of Harvest.Even tares produce fruit, but its vastly different from the true wheat. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia tells us that the bearded darnel seeds, ... are particularly noxious if infected with the mould ergot, producing vomiting, malaise, and even death. It may contain a serious poison if eaten by most animals or man and its only use is as chicken feed. The Companion Bible like-wise tells us that the fruit of tareswill make the bread bitter and poisonous.
The sequence of eventsThe parable suggests that previous to any great ingathering or Harvest of the Wheat, there is the exposure and removal of the tares. Church history supports this view. Also as we approach the Return of Christ there are indications that a similar thing has been and is happening.
Judgement has begun at the House of the Lord, as a sovereign act. The great Lord of the Harvest is raising up His servants who are exposing the tares. A great purging is taking place around the world as things that offend are sovereignly re-moved from the Kingdom. It appears to be Clean-Up Time in the Church. These things should encourage us.
In conclusionPhilip started this article towards the end of a recent overseas trip. On his arrival back in Brisbane he felt inclined to re-read some of the Evangel articles, which were published while he was General Secretary of AoG in Australia (1989 to 1992). The following was his penultimate editorial (November 1991)2. After publishing this Powell, as editor, was moved sideways by his colleagues. His final editorial (December 1991) was amended by the then General Superintendent, Andrew Evans and published without Philips approval or agreement. Powell felt that such action was dishonest, as it did not reflect what he had written notwithstanding the fact that it carried his signature. He had no say in the matter and was prevented from informing the Evangel readership of the facts.
In the light of the most recent disclosures about the immorality that has assailed the Pentecostal movement downunder you may consider the following is a fitting conclusion to the message of the Wheat and the Tares:
Sometimes we kid ourselves that we are protecting Gods glory, when in fact we are only safeguarding our own interests and reputation. The final lesson of the parable is that God will protect His own honour. Christ will present His people, those who are committed to Him and His Kingdom for His glory, in true light.
When the tares have been gathered, and they and their noxious effect forever destroyed ;Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father.
About the Author...
*1 The Companion Bible Commentary on Matthew 13 The Bullenger Publications Trust - 1974
NEXT: Kingdom corruptions big is not always beautiful sometimes its bitter.
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