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Wheat & Tares
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.

Just as He tells us that if we don’t understand the Sower parable we won’t understand any of them, so He implies that if we fail to understand the Wheat and Tareswe will end up being confused about the nature and practice of evil in this world – “the mystery of iniquity2 Thess. 2:7.

The story and its historicsignificance
“Another 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 kind”or “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 –
  • 1) KINGDOM COMMENCEMENTS – The Sower;
  • 2) KINGDOM CON-FUSION– Wheat & Tares;
  • and 3) KINGDOM CORRUPTIONS – Mustard & Leaven.

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’.

Ralph Earle in his Word Meanings in the New Testament indicates that the tare ‘refers to a bearded “darnel” (NEB) … that looks very much like wheat until it is ripe. But the use of it could cause dizziness or nausea’. Apparently, during the growth process, the darnel is almost totally indistinguishable from the wheat.

On the other hand The Companion Bible suggests that the Greek “zizania” translated “tares” is not the “darnel (the Lolium temulentum of naturalists) but “zewan” as known today in Palestine. While growing it looks like wheat, but when full grown the ears are long and the grains almost black. Each grain of “zewan” must be removed before grinding wheat, or the bread is bitter and poisonous. Wheat is golden; but tares show their true colour as they ripen.”*1

Either way the point is clear. The presence of the tare was not detected immediately and when it was, it created confusion in a number of ways and this fact alone reveals the method of our enemy, Satan. It is also a commentary on what has happened throughout Church history and is now happening increasingly as we approach the time of harvest and the re-turn of Christ. These are the reasons for the parable so let’s look at the interpretation that Christ gave before we consider more deeply the areas of confusion, which the parable implies.

The interpretation: key concepts
“Then 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:
  • • He Himself sows the good seed – v37; •
  • The seed-bed is the world – Greek “kosmos” – v38; •
  • The good seed (“wheat”) are the “sons” of the Kingdom – v38; •
  • The “tares” (bad seed) are the “sons” of the wicked one – v38; •
  • The devil sows the “tares” (sons of the wicked-one) – v39; •
  • The harvest is the end of the age – Greek “aion” – v39; •
  • The reapers are the “angels” (messengers) – Greek “aggelos” – v39.

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 “tares”cannot 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 – God’s 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 Worldliness
KOSMOS, 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 age
The 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 gospel”and 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 uprooting
One 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 shouldn’t 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 won’t 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 “messenger”or “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”. It’s 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 camp
The 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 28shall we go and gather them up?)

The answer to the first is it wasn’t 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 God’s 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 harvestverse 30.
Damaging, disturbing,destroying
In 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 it’s 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 events
The 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 conclusion
Philip 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 Philip’s 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 God’s 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’.
 ASSEMBLIES OF GOD: witherbound?

‘THE danger of the present hour is that we will forget how God brought us forth.’

These searching words formed part of the recent report of the Spiritual Life Committee at the 44th General Council of the USA Assemblies of God. Immediately after the report, which we propose to publish in a future Evangel, all business was suspended as the delegates sought the Lord in deep commitment and repentance, in what is described as a ‘... genuine move of the Spirit, not sustained by dominant chords of musical instruments or by human will.’

On the Sunday before I read the above statement, which was published in the Pentecostal Evangel (USA), 29th September 1991 I was ministering in a small country assembly in South Australia. The Senior Pastor was conducting the communion service and told of an interview he heard the previous week between a listener and well known talk-back host, Ray Fewings of Adelaide’s 5AA radio station. The topic was religion and the relative strength of various church groups. The interview concluded that the Roman Catholic Church worldwide remains the largest and most influential. Some comment was made about the current increase of the Pentecostal church in Australia, to which came a response to the effect that the lure of groups like the Pentecostal church tends to be more theatrical than spiritual.

Now, before you dismiss that as a negative and inaccurate criticism, just think for a moment about recent trends in the Pentecostal church, including our own branch of it, and remember that outsiders often have a different perception from our own and a continual self-examination is necessary.

In this issue, we are majoring on missions worldwide. Clearly the Pentecostal church has a mandate in missions. What is that mandate and what is our mission? The answer to those questions leads me to the title of this editorial, which is borrowed from a British general conference address given by the late John Wallace. The same speaker in a later chairman’s address spoke on Repentance Or Else!

I ask the question, ‘Have we reached the crossroads where we must choose between the highroad of God’s unchangeable Wordand ways and the low-road of our own machinery,methodology and human manipulation?’

There is nothing that can satisfy the sincere seeking soul like a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and that really constitutes our mission to the world.

The Pentecostal movement is unique in that regard. Our forebears, the pioneers of Pentecost, paid dearly to maintain a total reliance upon the Holy Spirit and resolutely turned from lesser ways to maintain and/or build a movement.

There are recognised and clear procedures for preparing the way of the Lord in a great outpouring of his Holy Spirit and one of those is a resolute turning from our humanly contrived methods and ways.

“If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves ... pray ... seek my face ... turn from their ... ways, then will I hear ... forgive ... and heal ...” —
2 Chronicles 7:14

Happy reading ... thinking and praying,
—Philip

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 it’s bitter.

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