Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 28 (Of Wheat and Tares)

I just finished the series (for the second time!), only to realize that I’d not covered the parable of the wheat and the tares (or weeds). And this is a popular argument for erasing the line between those with and without faith.

Hear the words of Jesus:

(Mat 13:24-30 ESV) 24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,  25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’  28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  30 Let both 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.'”

(Mat 13:36-43 ESV)  36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”  37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,  39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.  40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,  42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

The most important question in interpreting the parable, to me, is “What is the field?” We normally interpret the field to be the church, but Jesus quite plainly says that it’s the world (Greek: “kosmos”). Therefore, Jesus is not speaking of the church being filled with the lost. He’s speaking of the world.

Well, this is so painfully obvious — that there are lost people still on earth — that we wonder why Jesus would bother to speak on the subject. Why would Matthew include a lengthy parable and commentary by Jesus himself on such a trivial point?

Well, it’s because in the Jewish First Century world, before the dawn of the Kingdom, this was in fact a very controversial position for Jesus to take.

The Sadducees denied the resurrection and denied that there’d be a Messiah. The hope of resurrection was so closely tied to the coming Kingdom that the Sadducees likely saw the prospect for resurrection as a threat — that is, an idea that could incite rebellion against Rome. And the Sadducees lived very well under Roman rule. They were in power.

The Zealots were revolutionaries, wanting to overthrow Rome and establish the Kingdom by their own hands. They had no interest in letting the God-less Romans remain in this world. They didn’t want Rome to repent. They wanted Rome defeated and dead.

The Essenes (who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls) taught that there’d be two Messiahs — a king from the tribe of Judah and a priest from the tribe of Levi. The kingly Messiah would overthrow the Romans and vanquish all Gentiles and unfaithful Jews, leading to a purified world in which only the faithful Jews would live without molestation.

The Pharisees also taught about the Kingdom and the Messiah. But they concluded that there’d be an in-between time during which God’s Kingdom would exist alongside the unredeemed in the world, an age during which God would complete his work.

The Parable of the Tares, therefore, answers the question in favor of the Pharisees. Yes, the Kingdom would come, and come soon, but the purification of the world, including the destruction of those without faith, would come later. Thus, Jesus rejects the calls for violent overthrow by the Zealots and Essenes. His Kingdom would not spread that way!

Stanley Hauerwas gives a similar interpretation in his commentary on Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 131-132.

The parable has often been used to justify, in this time between the times, a compromised church. …

Augustine quite rightly sees that the parable of the wheat and the tares is not Jesus’ justification for the mixed character of the church, but that the parable is given to encourage Christians to endure in a world that will not acknowledge the kingdom that has come in Christ. …

Just as Jesus was patient with Judas, so we must be patient with those who think we must force the realization of the kingdom. Jesus’s parables tell us what the kingdom is like, which means that the kingdom has come. It is not, therefore, necessary for disciples of Jesus to use violence to rid the church or the world of the enemies of the gospel. Rather, the church can wait, patiently confident that, as Augustine says, the church exists among the nations.

(Lenski is in accord.) We Christians — sons of God — are not charged to purge the world of those in rebellion against God. That’s not our job. Our job is to call the lost to repentance.

(2Pe 3:9 ESV) 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

In short, the Parable of the Tares is a call to perseverance in a world filled with evil, and even to evangelism, but not to some pretense that we can’t tell the lost from the saved well enough to preach the gospel to those who need it. Nor does it mean that church discipline is improper (which would be contrary to Matthew 18).

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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