This is Part 2 in a series about reclaiming the true meaning of Jesus’ teachings (Part 1 here). Today I’ll cover The Parable of the Weeds, also known as The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30 and Matthew 13:36-43).
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’
This is another rare occasion when Jesus explained His parable, and here’s what He said:
The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
The Son of Man is a Messianic title that Jesus often used to refer to Himself (Matthew 9:6, Matthew 12:40, and Luke 22:69). Therefore, the man sowing seeds is Jesus, and the field represents the entire world. Notice that it says it is his field, which means that the man sowing seeds owns it. Certainly Jesus owns the whole world (Colossians 1:15-16).
The good seed represents the elect, the believers whom God has chosen to inherit the Kingdom. The weeds are the unbelievers, and they were planted by the enemy, who is Satan. That’s why the Bible calls them children of the devil (1 John 3:10).
The word for weeds in this parable is sometimes translated as tares. It refers to a plant known as darnel wheat (aka spurious wheat, false wheat, or bastard wheat), which appears almost identical to wheat until the heads form. Note that Jesus warns His servants not to uproot the weeds because they might accidentally uproot the wheat as well. Instead He allows both to grow together until the harvest.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels, who will gather up unbelievers and cast them into Hell. Note that the servants are not part of the same group as the harvesters. Although unbelievers won’t be thrown into Hell until the Great White Throne Judgement at the end of the Millennial Kingdom, I believe that the end of the age in this parable refers to the Second Coming of Christ:
- Jesus says that Satan is the enemy sowing weeds, but Satan won’t be sowing weeds during the Millennial Kingdom since he’ll be imprisoned in the Abyss (Revelation 20:1-3).
- The apostle John writes that the angels will harvest the earth at the end of the 7-year Tribulation (Revelation 14:15-16).
- The Judgement of the Sheep and the Goats will occur after the Second Coming and before the Millennial Kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46). The unbelievers will be imprisoned in Hades until the Great White Throne Judgement, but the description of Hades includes the mention of flames (Luke 16:23-24).
Where People Go Wrong
This parable is one that rarely gets misinterpreted these days because televangelists typically avoid it completely (the topic of Hell tends to make people uncomfortable and less likely to write a check). However, I did find an interesting Mormon commentary here:
“On 6 December 1832, while Joseph Smith was working on the revision of the New Testament, he received an explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares, ‘a more complete interpretation than [Jesus] gave to his apostles as recorded by Matthew.'”
“Behold, verily I say, the field was the world, and the apostles were the sowers of the seed” (Doctrine and Covenants 86:2)
“President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: ‘In Matthew’s account the Lord declares that he is the sower of the good seed, and in the Doctrine and Covenants it is stated that the apostles were the sowers of the seed. There is no contradiction here. Christ is the author of our salvation and he it was who instructed the apostles, and under him they were sent to preach the Gospel unto all the world, or to sow the seed, and as the seed is his and it is sown under his command, he states but the fact in this revelation and also in the parable.’ (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:353.)”
I think it’s really sad that someone who claims to be a living prophet would try to explain away such an obvious error rather than admitting that the founder of their church was mistaken. It’s pretty clear when Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like A man who sowed good seed in HIS field” that He’s not referring to the apostles.
A more common way that this parable gets misinterpreted is when a church tries to rip out the weeds by force. For example, when the Roman Catholic Church became the official state religion of the Holy Roman Empire, they treated heresy like treason. During the Inquisitions, they used torture to extract confessions from supposed heretics, and people were executed rather than excommunicated. According to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, in the Catholic Church’s misguided attempts to remove the tares (supposed heretics), they uprooted much wheat (born-again Christians) instead, just as Jesus predicted.
Exercising church discipline is one thing, but Jesus clearly explained that angels are the harvesters responsible for throwing nonbelievers into the flames. A church should never wield political power in an attempt to mete out corporal or capital punishment on heretics.