"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path". Ps 119:105
PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM
The Wheat and Tares
During his public ministry, Jesus frequently travelled through the countryside of his native land. He became acquainted with those natural sequences of `seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter,' [Genesis 8.22] which had been part of God's promise to Noah centuries previously. With his spiritually enhanced intellect he perceived in these natural phenomena the basis for many powerful spiritual lessons for his followers in every age. Following on from the parable of the sower and his seed, the next parable or story, was told to the `great multitudes' who were gathered there. Jesus related how the kingdom of heaven was like to a man sowing good seed in his field, but while men slept his enemy came and sowed tares or weeds among the wheat and went his way. Subsequently it became clear that whilst the wheat was growing to bring forth fruit, so also were the tares appearing. The householder's servants inquired of the useless growth and should they go and eliminate the tares? `No' came the reply, `lest while you gather up the tares, you root up also the wheat with them.' Both were to remain and grow until the harvest, then first the tares were to be gathered, bundled and burnt, and afterwards the wheat was to be gathered into his barn. [Paraphrase Matthew 13.24-30]
THE DISCIPLES' QUESTION
Later on in the house the disciples asked Jesus for an explanation of the parable and this is contained in Matthew chapter 13. With his guidance we too can learn much in terms of spiritual values and teaching when we reflect upon the Master's words. The parables set out in unmistakable terms, the respective identity, experiences and destinies of two classes of individuals during the period prior to the establishment of the kingdom of God.
`THE WHEAT' CLASS
Jesus himself was the sower of the good seed. This seed represented the glorious knowledge concerning the Gospel (Good News) of the Kingdom of which he was preaching, and which truth was being implanted into the hearts and minds of `the children of the kingdom.' [verse 38] Safely lodged there, that seed of knowledge and joyous anticipation (of the Kingdom) could grow and prosper, and finally bring forth the desired fruit. The seed was being sown bountifully by the testimony of Jesus and later the process was to be continued by the apostles who went out into all the world (`The field') and proclaimed the same Gospel message of the coming Kingdom. Indeed, there were to be signs following [Mark 16.17] in support of their preaching. The growing period for `the children of the kingdom' was elsewhere described by the Apostle Peter when he wrote `As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby' [1 Peter 2.2] or again `grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' [2 Peter 3.18] The children of the Kingdom were to be in the world but not of it. Their manner of life and growth, was to be based on `...whatsoever things are true...honest...just...pure...lovely...of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.' [Philippians 4.8,9]
What desirable characteristics these are, for they can bring forth `...fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.' [Romans 6.22,23] What a destiny indeed!
`THE TARES' CLASS
This plant, this weed, is of a very different natural species. As Jesus said of that class represented by the tares, they `are the children of the wicked (one).' [Matthew 13.38] That seed is sown by the devil [verse 39] which refers to all those evil propensities which are so latent in the human heart.1 These can lead on to so many of the grosser sins such as blasphemy, lust, greed, envy and many other forms of wickedness as defined in the Scriptures. Whilst figuratively speaking, this class as seeds have shared in the good things that God has provided such as rain, sunshine, food and many other blessings, yet in the majority of cases they are `...lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, un-thankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, (without self-control) fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.' [2 Timothy 3.2-4]
But, as the parable indicated, this evil class of mankind was to `grow' alongside and often in the midst of the righteous `children of the kingdom.' Indeed, as opportunity has permitted over the succeeding centuries, some of these evil ones have risen to great political, religious and military power and persecuted and even hated `the children of the kingdom.'
ENMITY BETWEEN THE TWO CLASSES
Through the ages subsequent to the utterance of the parable the righteous class have so often come into moral and spiritual conflict with the evil class. The growth and wicked influence of the latter has greatly affected the righteous ones. The persecution, the cruel taunts etc., have played their part in sometimes eroding or destroying their faith, their steadfastness and their obedience to the Gospel call. In the intervening years of man's dominion even the very source of nutriment for their faith, the Bible, has been criticised, challenged and even copies of this precious Book have been destroyed by the `wicked (one).' [Matthew 13.38]
The `children of the kingdom' have therefore been subjected to this enmity, this hindrance to growth, this diminution of faith, this barrage of scepticism and this attack on their spiritual values. This situation is designed by God to test their spiritual stamina, their resistance to evil and their recognition that as the Apostle Paul put it `in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing' [Romans 7.18] yet in God they could place their trust.
For them, spiritual life, survival and obedience to Divine commands and precepts has resulted in frequent encounters with wickedness. Yet curiously this is designed to improve and strengthen their growth, their resistance to evil and the bringing forth of `the fruit of righteousness,' [James 3.18] so desired by the sower of the seed.
The Apostle Paul found:
As Jesus also found in his experiences, the suffering and the cross must come before the crown. He too `was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.' [Hebrews 4.15] He triumphed over all the sinful weaknesses to which mortal nature is so prone and so we read: `God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' [Philippians 2.9-11]
The faithful children of the kingdom have recognised the outworking of the principles of endurance, faithfulness and submission in their lives, and have accepted the words of Paul when he wrote: `Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness (N.I.V. `harvest of righteousness') unto them which are exercised thereby.' [Hebrews 12.11]
`WHILE MEN SLEPT'
This phrase introduces a new element into the teaching of the parable, for it was during this situation that the seeds of the tares or weeds had been planted. Surely this idea is designed to indicate that there have been and still are those men, or ministers who could have been and indeed should have been the guardians of the principles of truth expressed in the Gospel message. Since the days of Jesus, these groups have instead been spiritually either `asleep' or `unaware' of the growth of error, false doctrine or practice in the field of Christianity. Could these `men who slept' be identified with the various leaders, ministers and other religious authorities that have allowed, if not directly promulgated, much teaching and practice in the Christian world which is so contrary to the clear teaching and doctrine of the Holy Scriptures? Thanks be to God who has preserved a small minority to proclaim `The Truth' of the Gospel of salvation and of the Kingdom so soon to be established on the earth.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE WITH THE TARES?
In the parable, the householder's servants had asked him if they should gather up the tares. [verse 28] This they were not to do, for both wheat and tares were to grow until the harvest. The roots of both were in the field (the world) and were unavoidably and inextricably intertwined. To remove the tares might hinder or destroy the tender wheat growth. The offer of the servants spoke of their anxiety for the tender wheat plants, surrounded as they were by the strongly growing tares. But the time of segregation was not yet; the presence of the wicked ones (the tares class) at this point in the development of the wheat class, was necessary in order to test the ability of the latter class to survive. Prospective saints have to resist the overtures and advances of present sinners.
THE TIME OF HARVEST
By this time, as Jesus told the parable, the minds of the many listeners would be able to visualise fields of wheat stretching far away into the distance, a beautiful golden hue and with all the prospect of a bountiful harvest. Despite the curse imposed from the beginning, and the ever present `Thorns and thistles', [Genesis 3.18] the divinely promised harvest had arrived. The householder studied the bountiful scene and considered the `time' was ripe for the harvest. Perhaps, if he was a spiritually minded man, he might recall the words of Jeremiah: `we have treasures in the field, of wheat, and of barley, and of oil, and of honey.' [Jeremiah 41.8] Then again, as he looked across the golden field, he may well have reflected on the damaging work of his enemies in the words of Job who had declared `Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle (original Hebrew means noisome weeds) instead of barley.' [Job 31.40] But the time had come, the matter could be delayed no longer and the harvest was ready. The great witness to the existence and controlling power of God was evidenced as the Apostle Paul was later to declare: `Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.' [Acts 14.17]
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TARES
Confident of the ability of his reapers to discern the difference, the word came forth `Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them.' [Matthew 13.30] To whom was the instruction issued? To the disciples afterwards, Jesus indicated the identity of the divinely appointed reapers, `The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire...' [Matthew 13.41,42] The parabolic teaching was reaching its climax. Jesus now took to himself a new role, he is both sower and reaper, and his angelic messengers were now to go forth at the time of harvest and remove and destroy all the human elements that make up the tares class of every age.
This divinely appointed work of cleansing and destruction is one of the necessary stages in the great harvest of the earth and in the preparation of its people for the Kingdom which is to be established.
THE ROLE OF THE ANGELS
Concerning the part to be executed by the angels in the great work ahead, we recall the Psalmist's words: `Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.' [Psalm 103.20,21] Their punitive role is further described `Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:' [Psalm 104.4]
The goodness of God in His daily provision for mankind will change where necessary, to His severity upon all that `offend' – the original Greek is `skandalon' or `a stumbling block'. The figure has changed but the implication is obvious and far-reaching. Elsewhere, Jesus said: `whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.' [Matthew 18.6] It will be with unerring divinely controlled precision that the members of the tares class will be rooted out and destroyed when Christ comes to establish his Kingdom. Their figurative end is fittingly described as a `furnace of fire' and `wailing and gnashing of teeth.' [Matthew 13.42] For them, the pastoral scene so beautifully depicted in the parable turns to fiery indignation and destruction at the hands of the angelic agents.
This aspect of their work completed, then the role of these mighty beings dramatically changes.
THE WHEAT GATHERED IN
It was the Psalmist who declared with the utmost confidence in God's purpose: `Our God shall come...a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.' [Psalm 50.3-5]
Yes, their individual sacrifice of praise, worship, obedience and faithfulness every day of their life of opportunity, will commend the saints elect to Jesus and his Father. For the righteous of every age, by their gaining of the great reward that has been offered, there will stretch forward the endless ages of immortal existence. Jesus promised: `Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.' [Matthew 13.43]
The prophetic pictures of the blessed state of those who will be chosen to be with Jesus in his Kingdom are numerous indeed, and are the subject of frequent articles in this magazine. For their faithfulness amidst error, their steadfastness in times of trial and temptation, their uprightness in times of doubt and dispute, `the children of the kingdom' will receive their great reward. If they have died, the fundamental Bible doctrine of the resurrection from the dead will be theirs to experience. For those who are living at the time when the great harvest is gathered, there will be the joy and satisfaction of seeing Jesus, the one they have loved, served and obeyed all their lives. Together, the great illustrious immortalised throng of the redeemed from amongst men and women will live to serve the great Creator and His Son Jesus throughout the ages of eternity.
Such is the wondrous destiny that awaits the `children of the kingdom'. [Matthew 13.38]
Will it be yours as well?