“The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
Last week we heard the Parable of the Sower, from Matthew 13. Today it’s the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat, also from Matthew 13. In fact, Matthew 13 is a chapter full of parables, seven of them altogether. Some of these parables are shorter, some are longer. Some are explained by Jesus, some of them are left unexplained. Today’s parable is one of the longer ones, and Jesus does explain it. So now let’s consider this parable and what Jesus is saying to us in it, in “The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat.”
Jesus tells the story: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 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?’ 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?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 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.’”
Like the Parable of the Sower, this Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat also is agricultural in nature. It was an agrarian society, after all, and these stories used images familiar to the hearers. So this one uses the familiar imagery of a landowner sowing seed in his field. But an element of tension is introduced when a bad guy comes along at night and sows bad seed into that same field. Weeds are sown among the wheat. The weeds are such that at first, when they start growing, they don’t look a whole lot different from the growing wheat. But when the workers do notice that there are weeds mixed in with the wheat, they ask the master whether they should go right away and take out the weeds. The master says, “No, let it wait. We’ll do the separating at the time of the harvest. That’s when I’ll instruct the reapers to take the weeds to be burned and the wheat to the barn.” End of story.
So here we’ve got a story with at least seven elements in it: a sower, a field, good seed, weeds, an enemy, a harvest, and reapers. Now in some parables, not all the details need to be “decoded,” as it were. They’re just there to fill out the telling of the story. But in this case, we can decode all of the elements of the story mentioned, and we can do this with confidence, because Jesus himself provides the decoding. Jesus interprets the story for us, explaining what each of the images stands for. “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field,” the disciples ask. And Jesus does just that:
“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
Jesus decodes each of the seven images. The sower: the Son of Man, that is, Jesus himself. The field: the world. The good seed: the sons of the kingdom, that is, Christians, believers, the righteous. The weeds: the sons of the evil one, that is, unbelievers, the wicked. The enemy: the devil. The harvest: the close of the age, that is, the end of this age, when the separation of the righteous and the wicked will occur. The reapers: angels.
So the explanation of the story is pretty straightforward. In this world, Christ has his Christians, who listen to him and follow him and believe in him, and who are counted righteous for his sake in his kingdom of grace. These are the sons of the kingdom, which means they will receive the wonderful inheritance that is waiting for them in the kingdom of glory.
But in this world, mixed in among the Christians, there are also unbelievers, those who do not trust in Christ or follow him. These are sons of the evil one, for they remain enticed and captivated by the devil, the enemy of our souls. In this world, it’s not always immediately apparent which are the sons of the kingdom and which are the sons of the evil one. They can look somewhat alike. And they are all mixed up, the righteous and the wicked, the believers and the unbelievers, living in the same world, maybe even in the same community.
But there will be an “unmixing,” a final separation. At the close of this age, Christ will send his angels to do the separating. The sons of the evil one will share in the devil’s judgment: being cast into the fire of hell, a place of eternal torment. On the other hand, the sons of the kingdom, the righteous, will share in and shine in the glory won for them by Christ: eternal life in the kingdom of our heavenly Father.
That’s the explanation of the story, and it is very clear. Of course, it’s not very popular in our day to be this clear. For notice, there are only two types of people in this parable–only two types of people in this world: the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one, the righteous and the wicked, the Christians and the unbelievers. Contrary to popular opinion, there are not many roads to God. There is only one, and that is through Christ. This goes against the popular mindset of our culture, which takes a universalist view, thinking that whatever you want to believe or not believe, that’s fine, whatever works for you. So this Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat definitely–if you’ll pardon the pun–goes against the grain.
And that there will be a final judgment, with a real heaven and a real hell–this too goes against the grain. But Jesus does teach the reality of hell. He does this in a lot of places, actually. There will be a final judgment, a separation, with two very different outcomes: on the one hand, the kingdom of heaven for those who by faith in Christ are counted righteous; and, on the other hand, the damnation of hell for those who reject the only Savior there is and thus remain condemned in their sins. This biblical teaching is very unpopular in our culture. But Jesus teaches it, so we therefore preach it.
So we know what this parable is saying. Now we should ask: Why does Jesus tell us this parable? What are we supposed to get out of it? What is the intended effect? Several things. First, ask yourself: Where am I in this story? Am I one of the sons of the kingdom or one of the sons of the evil one? Am I among the righteous or with the wicked? In other words, am I listening to and following and trusting in Jesus, or am I going in some other direction? If you know you haven’t been following Jesus, the thing to do is to repent. If you know you do belong to Christ, then rejoice. This is a parable of both warning and salvation. It warns you of the coming judgment. And it offers you salvation, showing you where salvation is to be found, namely, in Christ. Flee the coming judgment by taking refuge in Christ Jesus, the Savior God has provided for you and for all men. There still is time; the final judgment is not yet. Now is the day of salvation. The door of grace is still open. Jesus is your Savior. He died for you. On the cross Jesus endured the judgment you deserve, dying for your sins, that you might receive his righteousness, his resurrection, and live forever in his kingdom.
Second, realize that everything is tied to Christ. The kingdom, our sonship in it, our righteousness, our eternal future–everything! Jesus comes and reveals the kingdom to us. He makes the kingdom known to us, as he does in this parable. Indeed, Jesus brings in the kingdom of heaven here on earth, and he brings us into it. Notice that Jesus is the Sower in this story. He is the one who plants us as good seed in his field. He gives us life and makes us what we are. We are sons of the kingdom because of the Son, the very Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the truly righteous one, righteous in himself. By faith in him we become the righteous. We stand justified, righteous before God, for Christ’s sake. So as sons of the kingdom, joint heirs with Christ, we will share in his inheritance, namely, the glory to be revealed when he comes again. Everything that is good in this parable–everything good we have now and everything we have to look forward to–all of it is tied to Christ, the Son of God, the bringer of the kingdom, and our Savior.
And so then, third, know that this world is not going to go on like this forever, this mixed-up world we live in here and now. There is something better in store for us. Right now we live in a mixed-up world. The devil has been at work. The world is full of weeds all around us. This causes us distress and discouragement. Sin and scandal, offenses and causes of stumbling, lawlessness and law-breakers–this is the world we live in. Life as a Christian is not easy. How long, O Lord, how long? Well, the answer comes in this parable: Not forever. A day is coming, dear Christians. The day we long for, the Savior we long for, that day is coming. Paul’s words in Romans fit right in here: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Yes, we wait for that day with eager longing.
The parable that Jesus tells us today, this Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat–this is a parable of hope, of encouragement! We have something to look forward to! When the final harvest comes, we, the sons of the kingdom, will be gathered in, and we will receive the inheritance that is ours in Christ, the glories of the age to come. And so we pray with expectation:
Even so, Lord, quickly come
To Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In Thy garner to abide:
Come, with all Thine angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.