Foundational Framework Part 54

Foundational Truths: The Bible is God’s self-revelation.
God is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator; all that He creates is good.
Man is a responsible agent, held to a moral standard.
Sin originates within a person, separating us from God.
God declares one righteous by faith alone, apart from works.
The glory of God is the centerpiece and goal of all existence.
God’s glory is maximally realized in the promised, coming Kingdom.

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Interpreting God’s Word is serious business and the area of parables finds the most difficult waters to navigate in Scripture, even more so than prophecy. McClain writes, “these parables of the Kingdom, even for the saved, must be divinely interpreted in order to serve any beneficial purpose. In no area of the Word of God is there greater need for caution on the part of interpreters than in the parables, and especially in those concerned with the ‘mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.’ Even the most spiritual and well-taught among students of the Word may go astray here; and many an error has found its basis in some parabolic detail, e.g., the gradual and ultimate triumph of the Church in converting the world through the ‘leavening process’ of the Gospel.”[1] It is not enough for an interpretation to be academic; it must also be prayerfully discerned, allowing as much as possible for the context to lead the interpreter to the proper interpretation.

It is clear from the Parable of the Sower and Jesus’ interpretation of it that the “word of the kingdom” is matter of understanding. This is seen in Matthew 13:19 where we are told that those who receive it do not understand it (seeing that it is a message that is snatched away by Satan), in Matthew 13:20 where it is immediately received with joy but then rejected with the onset of affliction and persecution (13:21), in Matthew 13:22 with the reception of the word being choked out by the riches and worries of the world, and in Matthew 13:23 where the word is received with understanding and a great crop is produced.

The word for “understanding” in 13:23 is important. This word is syniēmi which means “to have an intelligent grasp of something that challenges one’s thinking or practice.”[2] This is a comprehension that effects the continuance of one’s life. It is a truth that, when the implications are considered, forever altar the direction that one was going. The word of the kingdom is the teaching of the coming, literal reign of Jesus Christ on Earth, sitting upon the throne of David, in which all of existence will be subservient to Him for a period of 1,000 years (a time that is specified as such 6 times in Rev 20:2-7).

When one understands the implications surrounding the coming kingdom of Christ Jesus our Lord, their life is changed, priorities are shifted, choices are more carefully made, and thoughts are taken captive unto the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5). Holiness should ensue when considering that the things of this Earth will all burn away and all that is left is our opportunity to stand before a holy God (2 Pet 3:10-15a). I ask with Peter, “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (2 Pet 3:11b)? Understanding the “word of the kingdom” brings about fruit-bearing. Jesus’ coming kingdom should be the reason why we live the way we do now.

Before moving forward, it is also important to review Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:11 where He tells His disciples that to them it has been “granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” This is an extremely important point: the mysteries are revealed to the disciples, not the rest of Israel. This means that everything that we read in this section that finds Jesus speaking to His disciples is something about the kingdom that was previously not known, yet they are privileged to receive this revelation because of their previous response to Jesus’ call. The word “mysteries,” being sometimes understood as “secrets” (ESV, HCSB), speaks to something that was previously unrevealed, with the time in question being that of the Old Testament. This is an understanding that is consistent throughout the New Testament, with Romans 16:25-26, Ephesians 3:4-6, and Colossians 1:26 referring to the Gospel bringing about the Church Age which consists of Jews and Gentiles in one new man, and 2 Thessalonians 2:7 which speaks of the manifestation of Satan’s evil plan moving toward the Tribulation period. Each of these passages speaks to a mysterion that was unknown in previous ages but has now been revealed in the New Testament. With Jesus’ comment in Matthew 13:35, utilizing a reference to Psalm 78:2, we should understand Jesus’ use of this word as being the same.

Since the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” have been granted to the disciples and not to the nation of Israel (who rejected their promised Messiah) we can clearly understand that the explanations that Jesus gives for the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:18-23) and for the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matt 13:36b-43) can be understood as His unfolding of these mysteries to His disciples for their greater understanding. Glass explains writing, “While the Parable of the Seed and the Sower points to the opposition which will mark the advent of the messianic kingdom, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares describes this new ‘mystery’ of the kingdom, namely that throughout Messiah’s reign, there will be a parallel development of both good and evil.”[3] This is precisely what we see in the second parable.   

Matthew 13:24-30. In this section, Jesus gives the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (darnel). However, the opening statement is something different from what was seen with the soils (Matt 13:3b-9). With this second parable, Jesus begins by stating “The kingdom of heaven may be compared…” (Matt 13:24). This opening is consistent with what is said in the third (Matt 13:31), fourth (Matt 13:33), fifth (Matt 13:44), sixth (Matt 13:45), and seventh parables (Matt 13:47) though the wording may not be exactly the same.

As a side note, it must be observed that the first through fourth parables are spoken to the crowds (Matt 13:1-2). At the completion of the fourth parable Jesus re-enters the house taking His disciples with Him and leaving the crowds outside (Matt 13:36a). The fifth, sixth, and seventh parables are spoken to the disciples only and this is when the explanations for the reason for teaching in parables (Matt 13:10-17) the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:18-23) and the interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt 13:36b-43) plus the remainder of the parables are then dispensed (Matt 13:45-52). From there He leaves (Matt 13:53). It is important to consider that this change of audience will carry with it a change in emphasis.

The elements of this second parable have similarities to the first, with a sower sowing good seed in a field (Matt 13:24). The sower’s men were sleeping, which gave an opportunity for the sower’s enemy to enter into the field and begin sowing tares, which are better understood as “darnel,” being a type of weed that resembles wheat in its early stages. The Greek grammarian A.T. Robertson writes, “This bearded darnel… is common in Palestine and resembles wheat except that the grains are black. In its earlier stages it is indistinguishable from the wheat stalks so that it has to remain till near the harvest.”[4] In their beginning stages, there is no difference in appearance between the wheat and the darnel, thus any signs of deception are concealed for the moment. Judging from Robertson’s comment, the true nature of what was sown cannot be discerned until the time of harvest. This point is important, as we will later see.  

Attention also needs to be drawn to the comment made in this parable that the enemy “went away,” even though its full significance will not be understood until Jesus’ interpretation is given. This phrase is a compound word in the Greek being aperchomai with apo meaning “separation”[5] and erchomai meaning “to come from one place to another, (metaphorically) to come into being,” and “to go.”[6] Together, this word means, “to go away (from a place), to depart.”[7] Understanding that the enemy who sowed the darnel “went away” or was “separated” is important.

When the wheat had come to full term, the darnel was finally exposed for what it really was (Matt 13:26). Upon notifying the landowner, the question is posed as to whether or not the landowner would wish for his slaves to remove the darnel. Seeing that the two were so similar, the landowner discourages this act, because the wheat may be uprooted with the darnel. Instead, he reserves the time of separation for the “harvest” (Matt 13:30). At that time, a different line of servants will handle the sorting process, which are called “reapers” (Matt 13:30b), to which they will first gather the darnel, binding them together and casting them into the fire, while the wheat will be gathered into the landowner’s barn (Matt 13:30c). Though the darnel is harvested first, it is important to see that both the wheat and the darnel are harvested at the same time. There are not two separate “harvest times” listed, but only one- “harvest.”

At this point, we will move ahead to the interpretation supplied by our Lord so that we can understand this parable. Understanding Jesus’ interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares will aid in understanding the third and fourth parables which do not have an interpretation provided for them.

Matthew 13:36-43. As seen before in Matthew 13:10-23 with the privatized explanation given to the disciples, the transition that is recorded with Jesus leaving the crowds and re-entering the house should be understood as the time in which these privatized explanations occurred. Jesus’ entrance into the house is just as symbolic as His leaving the house and sitting by the sea as seen in Matthew 13:1.

This re-entry into the house with His disciples emphasizes the house of Israel, and more notably a remnant that would be physically ushered into the coming Millennial Reign of the Messiah after the 7-year Tribulation period (Dan 9:24-27). This is seen elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel in 24:13 which speaks to the physical salvation of those who endure the time of the Tribulation. Any notion that this verse should be understood as “all who profess Christ persevere but that those who do persevere demonstrate that they were truly elect”[8] misses the context of this passage by a longshot. This does not speak to one’s regenerate standing, but to their physical state.

It is important to understand that the remnant of Israel that enters into the Millennial Kingdom Age does so in their physical bodies. They do not enter into the Kingdom Age in a spiritual form. They should also not be perceived as believers in Jesus Christ, for if they had been so before the rapture, they would have been part of the Church, and when one is “in Christ,” there is no longer these types of distinctions (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:13-16). However, Romans chapter 11 is clear that there is a remnant of Israel that will be brought into the Millennial Kingdom. Paul does not give us any reason for understanding this as a spiritual matter, but as one that speaks to their physical bodies. This can be seen in Romans 11:26-27, to which explanations are added.

…and so all Israel will be saved (national rescue); just as it is written,
The Deliverer (Jesus) will come from Zion (Heaven),
He will remove ungodliness (destroy rebellion) from Jacob (Israel).
This is My covenant (contract) with them,
When I take away their sins” (Jeremiah 31:31-33, the New Covenant)

The first inclination that we get when we read this passage is that “saved” is speaking to the idea of “go to heaven when you die.” However, this is not the case. Seeing that Jesus had already died on the cross, all sin had been paid for by the blood of Christ (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; Heb 2:9; 1 Tim 2:4, 6). However, this forgiveness of sin had not been applied to Israel because they were persistent in their unbelief (Rom 9:31-32; 11:20, 23). The “salvation” in Romans 11:26-27 speaks more to national rescue and deliverance rather than faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, though it will include that once the remnant sees their Deliverer returning to rescue them.

Thus Israel’s future existence in the Coming Millennial Kingdom of the Messiah will be one with physical inhabitants, and even though Satan will be locked away (Matt 13:25b- “went away”) for 1,000 years (Rev 20:2-3), those who physically enter the Millennial Age will still have the sin nature residing in them and will be able to sin in the Kingdom. Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares brings this understanding to a climax, showing His disciples what will happen in Revelation 20:1-10 which occurs EXACTLY when Jesus says that it will: during “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 13:24).

Having explained the reason why the parables were being used (Matt 13:10-17) and revealing the interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (13:18-23), Jesus now receives a request to explain the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matt 13:36b). Jesus’ explanation is straight-forward, however, many have misunderstood what He is talking about despite His detailed account.

The sower of the seed in the “Son of Man” which is a Messianic title that finds its apex in meaning with Jesus’ question in Matthew 16:13-16. This title is seen of Christ most clearly in Daniel 7:13-14, this being the thesis statement of the Bible.[9] Jesus continues, stating that the field is the world, the good seed are the “sons of the kingdom,” while the tares/darnel are “the sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38). The enemy is the devil, while the reapers are the angels. Finally, the “harvest” is the “end of the age” (Matt 13:39).

One important point to note is that the Church is not a factor in this interpretation. Additionally, at no time do we find the Church Age mentioned here. Rather, we see that Israel is in focus. This is further proven by the use of the term “the sons of the kingdom” (See Jesus’ comments in Matt 8:1-13), which can be understood in contrast to the “sons of the evil one.” The word used for “sons” in both instances is huios which some believe carries the connotation that “mature sons” are in view here, rather than simply those who are in relation to one who serves as their father. This is plausible considering the identification of each one is found in their maturing, but both the wheat and the tares were undiscernible in their earlier stages.

After identifying the parties involved (Matt 13:37-39), Jesus begins elaborating on the events that would take place in the future. The darnel will be gathered up and burned “at the end of the age,” (13:40b). It must be remembered that in the original account of the parable, we find that the “harvest” (being the “end of the age”) is when both the wheat and the tares are gathered up by the reapers (“angels”- 13:30). Thus, the time of their gathering is the same time, but in that gathering the tares are taken first and burned while the wheat is gathering into the sower’s barn (Matt 13:30b).

While many believe that this speaks to the current “age” and lasts up until the Second Coming of Christ, this view finds friction in two points. First, there is nothing in this parable to point us to the present age, or the Church Age, as being when these events will take place. Second, the “harvest” of both sets of sons takes place as the same time. With the Church being raptured (1 Thess 4:13-5:11) and the Great White Throne Judgment of those who did not receive the free pardon of salvation found in Jesus Christ alone occurring 1,007 years later (7 years of Tribulation and 1,000 years of Christ’s Millennial Reign), we must conclude that the “age in mind is speaking of events that occur in the Millennial Age during the 1,000 year reign of Christ.

Notice that the angels are sent forth to gather and all “stumbling blocks” (Greek- scandelon- “any person or thing by which one is [‘entrapped’] drawn into error or sin”[10]) and “those who commit lawlessness” are gathered “out of His kingdom” (Matt 13:41). This means that the Kingdom of Christ would have to be in effect in order for these hinderances to be gathered out of it. Since the Kingdom is not a present reality in any form, neither in the remainder of Jesus’ earthly ministry, nor in the Church Age, nor in the Tribulation Period that proceeds after the Rapture of the Church, we can only conclude that the Kingdom will be in effect when Christ returns to establish it.

The emphasis of Matthew 13:42 is on those who were the “lawless” and the “stumbling blocks” who were gathered out of the Kingdom. They are thrown into a furnace of fire, which corresponds perfectly with the original parable in Matthew 13:30b. We are told that there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It is important to state that this is an oriental expression for great anguish and sorrow and should be understood as an emotional response to this situation, but it should not be equivocated with the location in view. Or to say it another way, one can weep and gnash their teeth, much like Esau did when he learned that there was no blessing left for him because Jacob had stolen it (Gen 27:34, 38), however, just because Esau was experiencing such emotions does not mean that we should conclude that the Lake of Fire was the reason for his anguish. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is an emotion, not a location.

In the final verse under consideration, Jesus speaks of the “righteous” shining forth like the sun, which is quoted from Daniel 12:3. What is important to notice is that the place where this occurs is “in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:43). This is not the same language as “the kingdom of heaven” that has been consistently used throughout Matthew’s Gospel. Therefore, it should not be deemed the same.

If the event of gathering both sets of sons takes place at the end of the Millennial Reign of Christ, meaning that they occur at the same time, then we can conclude that the next phase is known as the Eternal State where the New Heavens and the New Earth will be. This is a time when Jesus Christ will share the reign of all things with His Father for all of eternity future. This is seen clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:24 where we are told “then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.” The time of the Millennial Kingdom will be a time of bringing all of Jesus’ enemies into submission and when that task is completed, the Son will hand the Kingdom over to His Father in a perfect form.

Of this moment, Constable writes, “The unbelievers who are born in Jesus’ messianic (millennial) kingdom, which will begin when He returns to earth at His second coming, will continue to live in that earthly kingdom. However at the end of the kingdom, at the end of the 1,000 year reign, Jesus will separate the unbelievers from the believers (cf. Zeph. 1:3). The unbelievers will then perish eternally (Rev. 20:15; cf. Matt. 3:11; 5:22; 8:12; 13:50; Jer. 29:22; Dan. 3:6).”[11]

The Kingdom of Christ is the future reign of the Messiah over the Earth. Though it had been thought that this reign would be a perfect one, this does not mean that there will not be the possibility of sin that crops up during the time of Messiah’s reign. Jesus’ teaching on the Wheat and the Tares is not just parabolic, it is prophetic (!), telling us of the activities of those Jews who endure the Tribulation and are present in their physical bodies in the Promised Kingdom of their Messiah. During that 1,000 year reign, they have the option to either believe upon and serve the King of kings, or to reject Him and entertain the sinful pleasures of their hearts. These choices will not be made manifest until the culmination of that age when the “gathering” takes place and the angels will harvest each group out of the Kingdom, ushering the righteous into the Eternal State (Rev 21:1-7) while the wicked will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15; 21:8).

[1] Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1959), p. 324.

[2] BDAG, p. 972.

[3] Ronald N. Glass, “The Parables of the Kingdom: A Paradigm for Consistent Dispensational Hermeneutics,” Michigan Theological Journal, vol. 5 (1994), p. 116.

[4] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), Mt 13:25.

[5] Thayer, p. 57-58.

[6] Ibid., p. 250-252.

[7] Ibid., p. 56.

[8] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), p. 356.

[9] Jeremy Vance, personal conversation.

[10] Thayer, p. 577.

[11] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Mt 13:40.