The Wheat and the Weeds

Like so many of Jesus’ parables, the story of the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13:24-30) begins with “The kingdom of heaven is like…”  What is coming next is a word picture describing some aspect of the kingdom of God.  In this parable, the farmer planted good seed, the wheat, in his field.  At night, his enemy came and sowed weeds.  At first no one realized the sabotage.  But as the wheat and the weeds began to grow together, it was obvious something was wrong.  The confused workers quizzed the farmer, “Did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?” (Mt 13:27).  The farmer recognizes this as the work of an enemy.  The workers respond with a willingness to immediately yank out the weeds.  But the farmer replies, “No, lest while you are gathering up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’ “ (Mt 13:29-30).

At the disciples’ request, Jesus gives the interpretation of the parable in Matthew 13:37-43.  “And He answered and said, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the weeds are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.  Therefore just as the weeds are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.  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, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let him hear.’ “

Jesus’ explanation of this parable fits the kingdom picture we have been examining over the last few posts.  First notice the similarity between John the Baptist’s description of Jesus’ coming and the harvest mentioned in the parable.  The phrase, “Gather the wheat into His barn” appears in both passages. (Mt 3:12 and 13:30).  However the expected timing is different.  John expected the gathering to take place when Jesus first arrived on the scene.  Jesus is clearly teaching in this story that the gathering is at some future end of the age.  The interesting point is that the judgment envisioned by John is going to happen.  There is no doubt it will come true.  And while we find it hard to come to terms with Jesus’ fiery description and the awful reality of the final judgment, it is clear that Jesus believed and taught that the devil and his workers will face a final judgment of destruction.  This description fits the two-stage coming of Christ shown in the “New Testament view” chart below.  (See “The Secret Kingdom” post for comparison with the Old Testament view.)In the meantime, in the present age, Jesus makes clear that good and evil will grow together.  That God’s kingdom and the kingdom of evil will grow alongside each other.  And that Satan is the power behind the growing kingdom of evil.  God does have an arch-enemy.  We struggle with that because that somehow implies to us an equal as an enemy.  But that is not the case.  God is clearly the superior being and will one day judge and destroy His enemy as we saw above.  But, for now and for reasons I can’t explain and as taught in this parable and throughout the New Testament, God has given some level of reign over this world to Satan.  “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19) is just one of many references to Satan’s current rule in this world.

Satan is the author of the evil we see and experience in this world.  And I think we unnecessarily damage God’s reputation when we take God’s sovereignty to the point of making Him the author of evil but somehow using it for good, etc.  There is no need for these theological gymnastics.  I believe God weeps over the evil in the world, not because He can’t do anything about it, but because for this age He has ceded some level of rule to the evil one.

We, on the other hand, would like to see the Old Testament method put to use today.  The Old Testament model was God’s blessing and punishment were generally immediate, physical, and temporal.  That is what the workers had in mind in the parable.  “Should we use the Old Testament method and yank out these weeds on sight?  God replied, “Allow both to grow until the judgment at the end of the age.”  The banishment of evil and evildoers is coming, but not yet.  We would like to see evil destroyed in the here and now.

So when you see evil flourish, when you see the wicked prosper, do not despair.  God’s kingdom is growing and at work and will ultimately triumph.  This parable is meant to be an encouragement when we are discouraged by the power of evil in the world, including its presence in our own experience and our community of believers.  God has ordained that the two kingdoms not only co-exist but grow alongside each other in the present age.  This does not imply we take a nihilistic view of evil as if there is nothing we can do about it.  On the contrary, Jesus taught in many places the necessity of resisting evil and working alongside Him in “destroying the works of the devil.” (I Jn 3:8).  In fact, this may be one piece of the puzzle as to why evil exists in the world.  Could it be an opportunity for the church to serve the world and give witness to our alignment with Christ through fighting the works of the devil; disease, corruption, greed, etc.?  Something to think about.