THE KINGDOM OF GOD WILL EXPERIENCE SIGNIFICANT GENUINE AND COUNTERFEIT GROWTH UNTIL CHRIST RETURNS AT THE END OF THE AGE TO EXERCISE JUDGMENT
Charles Swindoll: The problem of the ever-present wicked among the righteous is such a nagging issue that it dominates the landscape of these lessons. This is an obstacle that can’t be overcome except by divine power.
Daniel Doriani: The parables of Matthew 13 both give hope and explain disappointment. They say the kingdom is here, in part, without its full might or glory. This creates dissonance for believers. If we know Jesus is Savior and Lord, why doesn’t everyone believe in him? If the kingdom is here, why is there so much evil in the world? Why does Christ’s cause struggle as much as it does? Why do churches, missions, and schools flounder? Jesus urges patience; we must “expect continued hostility” from those who reject him. But can we tolerate the dissonance—the kingdom is already here, but not yet in its fullness?
Stanley Saunders: The ambiguity and multivalence of these three parables admit diverse readings. Are they about the surprising nature and power of God’s reign, or about invasion and contamination? Is the contamination a good or a bad thing? Does the growth each story depicts represent promise or threat? . . .
Together the three parables in this portion of the discourse raise more questions than they answer. Each carries associations that may be taken either negatively or positively by Jesus’ audience. Do they announce judgment (13:30, 32) or divine presence (13:32, 33)—or both? Does the empire of heaven set the world right, or is it, for some at least, invasive and corrupting? Any decision to limit the meaning of these parables to but one of these valences robs them of their power to evoke and compel choice. The decisions the audience makes about the meaning of these parables serve in turn to locate the listener in reference to the empire of heaven. . .
All three of these parables point toward the mixed results that Jesus’ sowing of the kingdom has produced. Each invites the audience to consider where they stand and how they read the signs as the harvest approaches. Each leaves the audience to grapple with ambivalent signs. And while Jesus’ discourse has created a sharp sense of division between the disciples and the crowd, the multivalent metaphors at work in these parables also serve to inhibit the development of a clear sense of “insiders” (people who get the right meaning) and “outsiders.” No one, not even the disciples, has a clear inside track that leads to the right interpretation. It is not right interpretation that distinguishes disciples, but enduring obedience, that is, steady, active, resilient witness in a world that does not clearly perceive the signs of God’s power, that misidentifies the signs, and that refuses to admit or conform to the rule of God evident in Christ.
Grant Osborne: Many listening to Jesus’ teaching would be wondering why God allows evil to flourish right alongside the good; when will he finally end the presence of evil in this world? Christ is saying that this is not the time for the final victory over evil, but this is the time for sowing the kingdom seed. As the kingdom message is sown in the hearts of humankind, Satan will cause many to reject and oppose it; yet the kingdom will flourish in the hearts of others, and God will exercise judgment at the end of the age.
John MacArthur: Every phase of human history, then, marks some facet of the rulership of Jesus Christ, the rulership of God in the world. There is no period of time when the kingdom of God is not in effect on the earth. God mediates His rule on the earth through men. . .
And the Bible delineates very clearly all of these elements of God’s rule in the earth. And there’s one more that we left out in our little recounting there, and that is the period of time from the rejection of Christ to the return of Christ, the age in which we live. That, too, is ruled by Jesus Christ. This, too, is a form of His kingdom.
The Bible designates it in the New Testament as the mystery form, that which was not seen in the Old Testament. That which was not revealed in the Old Testament. That period of time not really delineated, but now, through the New Testament teaching of our Lord and, particularly, the expanded teaching of the apostle Paul, clearly defined for us. We are living in that era.
Jesus in Matthew 13 tells us what it will be like. He defines for us in seven parables, the character, the extent, the value, and the consummation of this period known as the mystery form of the kingdom. God is mediating His rule on the earth through His church, through believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Now, the disciples didn’t see this period of time as the prophets of old didn’t see it either.
So, when the Messiah arrived, they thought immediately He would establish His kingdom. And when He established His kingdom, immediately all the rebels and unbelievers would be destroyed and holiness would fill the earth and righteousness would fill the earth, and the kingdom would be as it was predicted to be by the prophets of old. And so they were always concerned about the kingdom and its character and its power and its consummation. . .
They saw a kingdom of righteousness, a kingdom of holy glory where unbelievers were devastatingly judged, punished, put out, destroyed. They saw what Barclay calls, “a new and stainless humanity being brought to existence in the kingdom. And the enemies being destroyed.” So, having heard the first parable, they probably would have thought to themselves, “Well, there’s going to be then three kinds of rejecters and one kind of true and genuine fruit-bearing soil. What’s going to happen to the rejecters?
Jeffrey Crabtree: The kingdom has arrived. It will not totally crush the enemy at this time. Considerable time will pass before the enemy will be finally judged in that final judgment (Wilkins 482). In the meantime, the righteous and unrighteous will exist alongside each other in this world. Because of that, to some extent, the professed, visible church will also contain both.
I. (:24-30) PARABLE OF THE TARES AMONG THE WHEAT – FALSE BELIEVERS WITH THE TRUE
“He presented another parable to them, saying,”
Charles Swindoll: As far as we know, Jesus was still sitting in the boat in the “Bay of Parables” when He presented the story commonly called the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. He seemed to pick up on the same image as in the previous story, the Parable of the Sower, the Soil, and the Seed (13:3-23). We might even consider this a kind of sequel to that parable. This time, instead of focusing on the different kinds of soil upon which seeds can fall, Jesus’ attention shifted to the plants that grow up in the field.
Daniel Doriani: The parable of the wheat and the weeds leads us again to consider disappointment, the evils of this world. For a moment, the parable sounds like bad news because it asks us to wait, to tolerate evil. Later, we learn that the bad news will not last. Still, it helps us to know that we must anticipate seasons of trouble before we see a happy resolution. . .
The parable of the wheat and the weeds adds a new thought. While the righteous and the wicked grow together, they can be indistinguishable for a time. It may be impossible to tell believers from unbelievers, but God knows his people. Eventually, he will separate the righteous and the wicked. He will judge and remove the wicked, but will reward the righteous and bring them into his presence.
A. (:24b-26) Counterfeit Growth Hidden Until the Harvest
- (:24b) Purposeful Sowing of Good Seed
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man
who sowed good seed in his field.”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Good seed was seed that was pure. It had only the seed of the desired crop in it. The farmer was careful to protect his field from unwanted growth. Corrupted crops were harder to harvest, so if the value of the crop was to be protected the seed had to be kept pure. The first parable was about different soil types but assumed good seed. This parable is about different seeds but assumes a single type of soil. The seed in the first parable represents the word of God. The seed in this parable represents people.
- (:25) Secretive Sowing of Tares
“But while men were sleeping,
his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away.”
Michael Wilkins: Satan operates in this world both as a swooping bird (13:19) and as the enemy farmer attempting to disrupt the growth of good wheat (disciples) by sowing among it zizanion (Lolium temulentum), a kind of weed referred to also as “darnel” or “tares.” It is a weedy rye grass with poisonous seeds, which in early stages of growth looks like wheat, but can be distinguished easily in its mature state at the time of harvesting.
D. A. Carson: “Sleeping” does not imply that the servants were neglectful but that the enemy was stealthy and malicious.
Van Parunak: Wheat is a nourishing food, but tares carry a symbiotic fungus infection that causes a drunken nausea and even death. In fact, the Latin name temulentum comes from the word temulentus meaning “drunk.” Wheat contaminated with tares would be worthless. The enemy in this story is conducting a particularly vicious form of industrial sabotage, particularly in a subsistence economy, where most people depend on their annual harvest to feed their families for the coming year. And his attack is cruel. If he had done what Samson did in Judges 15:4-5, sending three hundred foxes with torches tied to their tails running through the fields, at least the farmer would know that he has been attacked, but here there is no warning until the plant begins to produce seeds.
- (:26) Harvest of Both Wheat and Tares Exposes the Counterfeit
“But when the wheat sprang up and bore grain,
then the tares became evident also.”
D. A. Carson: An astonishing number of scholars treat this parable as if there were behind it a Matthean church riddled with problem people, perhaps even apostates. So Jesus’ answer in Matthew becomes, in effect, advice not to try to have a pure church, because the Lord will make the right distinctions at the end (cf. G. Barth, “Auseinandersetzungen um die Kirchenzucht im Umkreis des Matthäusevangelium,” ZNW 69 : 158–77). But this is a major error in category. Nowhere in Matthew does “kingdom” (or “reign”—see comments at 3:2) become “church” (see comments at vv.37–39; 16:18). The parable does not address the church situation at all but explains how the kingdom can be present in the world while not yet wiping out all opposition. That must await the harvest. The parable deals with eschatological expectation, not ecclesiological deterioration.
B. (:27-28a) Counterfeit Growth the Work of Satan
- (:27) Good Seed Attributed to God
“And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him,
‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’”
Leon Morris: Their then really means “therefore”: in view of the fact that you had only good seed sown, what is the origin of the weeds?
- (:28a) Counterfeit Seed Attributed to Satan
“And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’”
C. (:28b-30) Counterfeit Growth Not Uprooted Until the Final Judgment
- (:28b-29) Prohibition of Premature Uprooting of Tares
a. (:28b) Question
“And the slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’”
John MacArthur: Because later on when the servants say, “Can we pull out the darnels?” and the Lord says, “Don’t pull them out, let them grow together,” if that’s the church then we have no right to church discipline, we have to right to expose a heretic, we have no right to deal with the sin. And that’s not what the epistles tell us. If you make this field the church, you’ve really got problems. Leave it the way Jesus interpreted it. It’s the world.
Jeffrey Crabtree: The parable is not about how the church is to fight evil. Instead, it teaches us that the church exists alongside evil and God perfectly judges all people in the last day.
b. (:29) Response and Reason
“But he said, ‘No; lest while you are gathering up the tares,
you may root up the wheat with them.’”
Richard Gardner: For a detailed explanation, we must wait till verses 36-43. What the parable itself clearly tells us, however, is that the kingdom must contend with evil all around it, and that God permits evil and good to coexist until the end.
- (:30) Plan for Eventual Judgment of Counterfeit Tares
a. Tares and Wheat Grow Together in This Age
“Allow both to grow together until the harvest;”
b. Tares and Wheat Designated for Contrasting Destinies at Harvest Time
“and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Charles Swindoll: In this parable we see three periods of time.
- During the time of planting, the farmer plants good seed, but his enemy deviously infiltrates the field and plants dangerous, poisonous, look-alike seed.
- During the time of waiting, the farmer advises the workers to allow the bad grain to grow side by side with the good grain, patiently waiting and refraining from taking action. Throughout this in-between time, the workers are responsible for tending and protecting the wheat field.
- Then, at the time of harvesting, the farmer’s harvesters – not the workers who tended the wheat – will carry out the task of separating the harmful and deceptive weeds form the healthy wheat.
II. (:31-32) PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED – IMPRESSIVE POSITIVE GROWTH FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS – INCORPORATING THE GENTILES
“He presented another parable to them, saying,”
John MacArthur: And what He is saying is it’s not your job to be the executioners. That’s for the angels in the judgment. Your job is to keep on being the wheat in the midst of the world so that you’ll influence the tares or the darnels that are all around you. You’re not to be the executioners, you’re not to pull off the judgment, you’re not to pull them out of the ground because you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re liable to kill some Christians in the process and let some non-Christians go because you can’t see the heart. So your job is not judgment. Your job is evangelism. They’ll grow together until the end.
Now, what do you think the next question is that they’re going to ask? They’re going to think…I know it’s what I thought. “Well, now this is the kingdom? And we’ve got all these people who reject? And they’re all over the place because the parable of the tares said that the tares were sown throughout the field. And evil is so powerful and evil is so strong and evil is so dominating in its influence, if these two things are going along together, isn’t that going to choke out the life of the kingdom? Isn’t that going to strangle the power of Christ in the world?”
A. (:31b) Introduction of the Parable
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field;”
Van Parunak: -For the third time, we are invited to consider a man sowing seed in his field. But each time the seed is different.
- In the parable of the sower, the seed is the word of the kingdom (v. 19), and the different soils represent different kinds of people.
- In the parable of the tares, the seed consists of people, “the children of the kingdom” or “the children of the wicked one” (v. 38).
- In this parable, the seed stands for the kingdom of God, which we must always keep in mind is a process, not a place: it is the rule of God over his creation.
B. (:32) Relevant Characteristics of the Mustard Seed
- Germinates as a Small and Insignificant Seed
“and this is smaller than all other seeds;”
D. A. Carson: No pious Jew doubted that the kingdom would come and that it would be vast and glorious. What Jesus is teaching goes beyond that. He is saying there is a basic connection between the small beginnings taking place under his ministry and the kingdom in its future glory. Though the initial appearance of the kingdom may seem inconsequential, the tiny seed leads to the mature plant.
John Phillips: Imagine the astonishment of the disciples when they heard that! The Lord was about to describe the kingdom of God. They had visions of a global empire. They doubtless pictured an ivory palace, a majestic throne, a glittering court, ambassadors from earth’s remotest bounds waiting in long lines for an audience, and an invincible army at the command of a powerful, magnificent king. They waited eagerly for the Lord’s description of such a kingdom, one in which they would be high ministers of state. Then came the shock. “The kingdom of God,” He said, “is like a grain of mustard seed.” They must have stared blankly at Him in astonishment. A grain of mustard seed? Why, that was nothing! You could hardly see it; it was so small and insignificant. Ah! But it had life! It would grow! The point of the parable lies in the contrast between the size of the seed when it is sown and the size of the plant when it is grown. In each case, the Lord used hyperbole for emphasis. The kingdom of God seems small and insignificant in men’s eyes. In the Lord’s day, such was the people’s contempt for it that they murdered its King. But when it is fully grown, when it reaches its full potential, they will be awed by it then!
- Grows Into Impressive Plant
“but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants,”
Leon Morris: That mustard is the smallest of all the seeds does not mean that nowhere is there any smaller seed. It is a way of saying that among all the seeds mustard is a very little seed indeed. It was popularly held to be the smallest of the seeds (Lightfoot cites evidence that the size of the mustard seed “passed into a common proverb,” 2, p. 215; indeed, Jesus himself used it that way when he spoke of faith like a grain of mustard seed, 17:20). We should understand Jesus as appealing to this well-known view rather than to his having surveyed all the seeds and come up with the conclusion that there is none smaller than this (in fact, some seeds are smaller). The point of the parable is that this very little seed grows into a sizeable plant, one larger than all the plants of the garden, and indeed in its mature state becomes a tree (it can grow to a height of 8 to 12 feet). Jesus passes over the various stages of its growth; for this parable they are irrelevant. He is concerned with the contrast between the tiny seed and the mature majestic plant. So that introduces the thought of result; the consequence of the great growth of the plant from the tiny seed is that birds come and roost in its branches (cf. Dan. 4:12, 20-21; Ezek. 31:6). The little detail about the birds roosting fills out the picture of the seed growing into a tree; in the end the mustard plant fulfils all the functions of a tree. This points up the strong contrast between the tiny seed and the tree that is the end result of the seed. The kingdom may be considered insignificant in its beginnings and was doubtless despised by many in Jesus’ day because of this. But in the end its growth would be extensive; it would be a very great kingdom indeed. There is also the thought of the continuity between the seed and the grown plant; it is from the mustard seed and that seed only that the mustard plant grew. So it is from Jesus and his little band that the mighty kingdom of heaven would emerge. And if we can reason from the connection with all the nations in the Ezekiel passage, there will be representatives of all peoples in the kingdom.
Donald Hagner: The kingdom of God has humble beginnings; it is like a mustard seed, small and unimpressive. It can be overlooked or dismissed as a trifle. Its coming did not overwhelm the world, as had been expected. Yet it is destined to become an impressive entity in radical contrast to its beginnings.
John MacArthur: Now basically, let me just give you a little botany so we know where we’re going. This particular mustard seed causes to grow a bush, a shrub we would call it, like a garden plant. Normally it grows to about seven to eight feet in height. And that’s a good size garden plant. That’s a good size herb, and you’ll notice it’s put in the herb family, lachanon in the Greek, and we’ll discuss that in a moment.
But very frequently it will grow to 12 to 15 feet in height. And there are many testimonies that have been written by eyewitnesses in the east who have seen these fields, both now and in past generations, who have testified to the fact that they get to be 15 feet high. One writer talks about them being higher than a horse and rider. Another writer says that the horse and the rider can ride under the branches of the mustard bush. Now, that’s a big bush.
- Growth Will Accommodate Inclusion of the Gentiles in the Kingdom
“and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
Do birds represent:
- Just a general reference to the great size of the plant
- Evil forces; false professors of faith and false teachers under the cloak of Christianity
- Gentiles who are included in the kingdom [my preference]
Daniel Doriani: When the parable says birds “perch” or “make nests” (ESV) in the branches, we have an allusion to Ezekiel 17:23–24 (the image was widespread in the ancient Near East), where God promises to plant a tree in Israel that will provide safety for all who dwell there. Occasionally, “birds nesting” signifies Gentile nations finding safety (Ezek. 31:6; Dan. 4:12, 20–21). The image suggests that God will replant Israel, so that not only Israel, but even the Gentiles will find safety in God’s family.
John MacArthur: And what the parable is trying to tell us is that in spite of the opposition, in spite of the three bad soils, in suite of the presence of the darnels, we’re going to win. The kingdom is going to grow and grow and grow and grow and grow. That’s the promise of the Lord to encourage us.
S. Lewis Johnson: [Alternative View] Christianity has grown. It’s had an abnormal growth from that small beginning in the manger in Bethlehem, and the twelve apostles, and the few scattered Christian believers – it’s become a worldwide phenomenon. A great religion. But all of this shall ultimately reach its climax in the man of sin, the anti-Christ, who shall arise and proclaim the lie, shall set up the image to himself in the Temple, and call upon the whole of the earth to worship him. The birds of the air [referring to the work of Satan] shall come and nest in the branches of the mustard tree.
III. (:33) PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN – PERVASIVENESS OF NEGATIVE GROWTH OF FALSE DOCTRINE
“He spoke another parable to them,”
Is the Lord using two parables here as a couplet to emphasize the same theme = the powerful and pervasive spread of the kingdom? Or is the Lord using these 2 parables to contrast both the positive and negative types of growth we see in the kingdom in this present age?
A. Introduction of the Parable
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven,”
B. Permeating Influence of the Leaven
“which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened.”
Michael Wilkins: [Alternative View] Scripture uses leaven almost exclusively as a negative metaphor, probably because fermentation implied disintegration and corruption (Ex. 12:8, 15–20), as in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which reminded the Israelites of their hurried departure from Egypt (Ex. 12:31–39; Deut. 16:3). But Jesus seems to reverse the connotation here to symbolize the hidden permeation of the kingdom of heaven in this world. The mustard seed emphasizes growth, while the yeast suggests permeation and transformation. In spite of its small, inauspicious beginnings, the kingdom of heaven will permeate the world.
John MacArthur: [Alternative View] All I’m saying is that the way leaven is used in the Bible is very broad. And it is a very excellent analogy of permeating influence. And so, we see that our Lord uses it, I believe, in that very same manner here. Sure it’s used in the New Testament to speak of evil and its permeating influence but are we saying that God can’t use it, also, to speak of the influence of good? Especially when He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven,” and especially when it’s in a couplet of parables which obviously are geared to show how the kingdom’s power is extended as over against the influence of evil given in the first two parables.
Albert Mohler: The metaphor of yeast usually has a negative meaning in Scripture, but Jesus uses it to symbolize the positive, hidden permeation of the kingdom of heaven in this world. Though the kingdom is active, it is not yet fully observable to the world because it begins with an inner transformation of the heart.
S. Lewis Johnson: The difficulties with taking this as an optimistic picture are these. In the first place, the meal suggests the wheat. We all agree on that. The three measures of meal suggest wheat, and the wheat suggests the true seed are the doctrines of the Lord Jesus and his work of redemption.
But the leaven. If you look in the Old Testament and look up all the references to leaven, and then look up in the New Testament all the references to leaven, you discover that instead of being something that is positive, it almost always has a negative meaning. For example, in the meal offering, designed to represent the Lord Jesus in his person and in his work, it is specifically stated that if a child of the Nation Israel offers a meal offering, there should be no leaven in it, because leaven suggests sin, and there is no sin in the Lord Jesus.
When the Passover is observed, it is an especially important regulation that the leaven should be removed from the home in which the Passover lamb was to be eaten. And for seven days, they were to eat unleavened bread as they observe the feast.
Then if you come into the New Testament, and if you turn here in the gospel of Matthew to the 16th chapter – why don’t you turn over there and read verse 6 through verse 12 – you will see that the New Testament conforms to this teaching. Then Jesus said unto them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread,” verse 8 which when Jesus perceived, “O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves because ye have brought no bread? Do you not yet understand, neither remember, the five loaves of the 5,000, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the 4,000 and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye not understand that I spoke not you concerning bread, but that you should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Then understood they that he bade them not to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Leaven is the New Testament is used of the evil of hypocrisy. It is used of the evil of impurity. It is used of the evil of rationalism, characteristic of the Sadducees. It is used of the evil of formalism in religion, characteristic of the Pharisees. And it is used of the evil of materialism and naturalism characteristic of the Herodians. And Mark tells us that the doctrine of the Herodians could be characterized as leaven as well.
So leaven, then, in the Old and New Testaments suggests that which is evil. Furthermore, the other parables, as we have been seeing, suggests that alongside the sowing of the good seed there is the sowing of the tares. And finally, history itself has told us that we’re not getting better and better and better. That apostasy is rather the condition than the opposite.
So what, then does this parable teach us, then, why this parable teaches us that in the proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus and the truth concerning him, we shall expect – incidentally, the woman – I don’t want to be dogmatic about what is meant by the woman. But we do know that in the Bible, in Revelation chapter 17, the figure of the woman suggests ecclesiastical impurity and ecclesiastical action. And it’s just possible that the woman – evidently perhaps related symbolically to Eve in the Garden of Eden – it is perhaps possible that the woman here is designed to represent ecclesiastical introduction of the leaven into the truth concerning the Lord Jesus.
And if that’s what is meant, of course, that we know is what has happened, that the introduction of false doctrine into the proclamation of the message of the Christian church has been done by the leaders in the Christian church. The men who stand in the pulpit and teach us, they are the ones who mislead us.
So then, we are to understand by this that throughout this age, it is to be characterized by the tendency on the part of the leadership – perhaps the leadership of the Christian church; the fact is still true – characterized by the introduction, secretly into the truth concerning Christ that which is erroneous. Until finally we shall have the whole leavened, this age shall end in general apostasy [both moral and doctrinal].
IV. (:34-35) PURPOSE OF PARABLES – FULFILLING OT PROPHECY
A. (:34) Transition in Mode of Teaching
“All these things Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables,
and He did not speak to them without a parable,”
R. T. France: The second statement on teaching in parables is much shorter than vv. 10–17, and is presented entirely as an editorial comment, not as the words of Jesus. It is essentially a formula-quotation preceded only by a brief descriptive sentence to justify it. Here, unlike in 13:14 where Jesus was the speaker, the normal quotation formula returns, and we are invited to reflect on how Jesus’ teaching method as it is set out in this chapter conforms to a pattern of revelation already established in Scripture. These two verses repeat some of the key themes of the chapter so far, that parables serve to reveal hidden truths, but that to the crowds (unlike the disciples) only the parables are given, not the explanations which enable those secrets to be grasped.
Grant Osborne: On the basis of 13:10–17 this means that Jesus considered the crowds to be outsiders (cf. 13:11–12). This is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry as he turns from the crowds and in the rest of ch. 13 addresses only the disciples. Jesus is rejecting those who are not willing to open their ears to “hear” (cf. 11:15, 13:9) and is implicitly applying 13:10–17, where the parables are meant to confirm the rejection of those who are not open to Jesus’ kingdom message. In other words, Jesus considers the crowds to be outsiders (cf. 13:11–12).
B. (:35) Testimony of the OT Anticipating Jesus Speaking in Parables
“so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying,
‘I will open My mouth in parables;
I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.’”
Jeffrey Crabtree: In addition to parables concealing truth from non-responsive hearts (people who rejected Jesus’ gospel, vv. 10-17), parables also required hearers to focus their attention in order to understand. Accurate discernment belonged only to those who were willing to devote the mental energy to understand them (v. 9; Mk. 4:24-25). Mark 4:33-34 adds that once they were in private, Jesus explained each of His parables to His disciples. This prevented misunderstanding and doctrinal disagreements as the disciples passed Jesus’ teachings on to others.
Stu Weber: Matthew portrayed Jesus as the Messiah who, for the first time, opened the doors of understanding to eternal realities long kept secret. But he provided understanding only for those who had ears to hear. This is only one of many changes the king implemented in his inauguration of his kingdom on earth (9:14-17). . .
The major point here is Jesus’ explanation of the change, not only in his teaching style to the crowds, but the change in the direction the kingdom is taking in light of Israel’s unbelief and Messiah’s rejection of the nation. The nation would be set on the shelf while he worked through a new vessel.
V. (:36-43) PARABLE OF THE WEEDS EXPLAINED
(:36-37a) Interpretation Setting
“Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house.
And His disciples came to Him, saying,
‘Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.’
37 And He answered and said,”
A. (:37b-39) Identification of the Major Symbols
- (:37b) The Sower
“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man,”
- (:38a) The Field
“and the field is the world;”
R. T. France: But it is unlikely that the theme of a mixed church, however important to Matthew elsewhere, was in fact the main point of this parable, at least as Matthew understood it. The field is identified in v. 38 not as the church but as “the world,” which suggests that the parable has a wider perspective than simply the professing disciple community. Within “the world” believers and unbelievers continue to exist side by side even after the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven and Jesus’ assault on the kingdom of Satan, and some disciples may have found this apparently unchanged situation perplexing. Where was the new world order they had been promised? What sort of “kingdom” was this that allowed opposition to continue unchecked? Why did God not straightaway destroy the “sons of darkness” and so make his world a place fit for the “sons of light” (to use the language of Qumran)? The parable answers that question by a call to patience, directing attention away from the current situation to the coming judgment, when it will be made plain who are the true people of God and who are the “children of the Evil One.” God is not in a hurry, and they must be prepared to wait for his time.
- (:38b) The Seed
a. Good Seed
“and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom;”
b. Bad Seed
“and the tares are the sons of the evil one;”
Leon Morris: It is interesting that the good seed is not the words that tell of the kingdom, but the sons of the kingdom, the people who receive and respond to the word. They are characterized by their relationship to the kingdom; they belong to the kingdom. The weeds also belong — to the evil one! Jesus makes a sharp distinction: in the end people belong either to the kingdom or to Satan.
- (:39a) Enemy Sower
“and the enemy who sowed them is the devil,”
- (:39b) Harvest
“and the harvest is the end of the age;”
- (:39c) Reapers
“and the reapers are angels.”
B. (:40-42) Imagery of the Reaping Process
- (:40) Summary Imagery
“Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire,
so shall it be at the end of the age.”
Donald Hagner: The parable is not merely about judgment but about the delay of judgment. . . The central point of the parable is now explained. The gathering of the weeds and their burning refer to the eschatological judgment (see the same image in 3:10) that will take place ἐν τῇ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος, “at the end of the age” (cf. vv 39 and 49). The present era of fulfillment announced by Jesus, despite its eschatological character, does not bring with it the final judgment of the end time. That time of future eschatological judgment is described in the verses that follow. Jeremias (Parables) refers to vv 40–43 as a “little apocalypse.”
John Schultz: The Lord concludes the explanation of this parable with a brief but very vivid picture of the eternal destiny of the lost and of the redeemed.
- (:41-42) More Specific Imagery
“The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Leon Morris: The reaping process will include gathering the things that cause sin as well as the people who do lawless things. In the final state of affairs those traps will be taken away completely.
Craig Blomberg: From the actions of the farmer and the fate of the wheat and weeds, one learns that God will permit the righteous and wicked to coexist in this age but that he will eventually separate the wicked, judge them, and destroy them, while gathering the righteous together to be rewarded by enjoying his presence forever.
Van Parunak: This image, which is repeated in v. 50 at the end of this group of parables, inevitably calls to mind Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace in Daniel 3. There, one like a son of God (in the LXX, an angel of God) delivered the three lads, but here the angels themselves are casting the wicked into the furnace, and there is no recourse.
The image of the final punishment as burning fire draws on OT prophecies:
Isa 66:24 for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
It is common in our Lord’s teaching:
Mat 25:41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
It continues throughout the NT to the final description in the Revelation:
Rev 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
It is fashionable in modern churches to downplay or even deny the teaching of a fiery hell, but the consistent testimony of Scripture uses this image to warn of the consequences of persisting in our sin and not receiving the Father’s gracious offer of forgiveness in the Lord Jesus.
C. (:43a) Vindication of the Righteous
“Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
Charles Swindoll: God is just. He knows that evil is on the rise, that charlatans are working behind the scenes to damage our churches, and that Satan has his minions making their debilitating marks on the body of Christ. Evil workers tend to gain a following, and the number of weeds thus multiplies. This is inevitable during the present evil age. However, this age isn’t the last. The King is coming, and with Him the judgment. He will sort out the wheat from the weeds – perfectly, precisely, and swiftly. We need to trust Him to provide for and protect his people until the day of Christ’s appearing.
Leon Morris: Here the righteous are those accepted as righteous on the last great day; the term points to their acceptability, not to their meritorious achievement. Shine represents a verb found here only in the New Testament; the comparison to the sun brings out the radiance of the life to which they have come (cf. Dan. 12:3).
(:43b) Exhortation to Responsiveness
“He who has ears, let him hear.”
Van Parunak: The Lord repeats the exhortation from v. 9. There (as usually) it concludes a parable, challenging the hearer to figure out the meaning. Here it follows the interpretation of a parable, but the Lord apparently realizes the offensiveness of what he is teaching, and reminds his disciples not to allow the natural attachment to this world to draw them away from it.