Jesus spoke many parables, and some, he repeated more than once. All, in turn, have shared in the overall fame, if you will, of the One who taught them. One particular parable that has garnered wide attention and interpretation is the parable He shared regarding the tares and the wheat.
In this blog, I intend to give a simple exegesis of the parable, and in so doing, explain how this parable is constantly misunderstood by many who speak of it, or teach about it.
For starters, let’s look at the entire parable, as seen in Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43,
- But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
- But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
- So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
- He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
- But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
- Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
- Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
- He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
- The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
- The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
- As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
- The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
- And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
- Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
From this parable, many teachers, preachers, pastors, and saints make the following assumptions:
- There are saved and unsaved in the Church (the “tares sit with the wheat” is a common expression)
- The Devil sends tares into the Church to cause disruption and disunity (from verses 25 and 28)
- It can be hard to tell the saved from the unsaved (real life tares look almost exactly like stalks of wheat; only as it approaches harvest do the differences truly begin to manifest. Similarly, many make a very good outward show of faith, but inwardly, it is feigned)
- In the Church, there really isn’t anything that can be done to maintain the saved while ousting the unsaved (per the instruction to let them grow together until harvest; we just have to let God sort it out)
- Coming to terms with the above four sentiments is the only way to truly have peace about all the problems that exist in the Church, and those who cause the problems
- But in the end, since the “Lord knows them that are His”, when the rapture hits, we’ll finally tell who truly was and wasn’t saved in the Church, as some will be taken, others will be “Left Behind”, as the popular book series attempts to reveal through a fiction
Dear Readers, I submit to you that all of the above is false, based wholly on a misunderstanding of the parable. But before I attempt to prove this assertion, please allow me a few more minutes of your time, to wax rhetorical, as it were, and ask and answer some thought-provoking questions:
How is it possible that anyone who has never been saved, or has backslid so far as to lose their salvation can, in anyway that makes sense, said to (still) be in the Church?
The Church is the Body of Christ. To insist that all over the world, there are people in the Church, or Body of Christ, who are unredeemed and/or in disobedience to the Gospel, is a grand mistake. One cannot simultaneously be lost in sin on their way to Hell, and be a citizen in the Kingdom of God on their way to Heaven.
Granted, in any meeting of the Church, at whatever level, local or otherwise, there may be people who attend the meeting who are not saved. They may even act as though they are, they may attempt to participate as though they were, but, if they are not, no matter what they say or do, they are not members of the Body of Christ. To say otherwise is to allow a soul to remain a transgressor of the Law of God (See 1 John 3:4), while making no attempt to evangelize him or her even though he or she is doomed.
Additionally, Christ is the Head of His Body. The Headship of Christ implies authority and ownership. How is it that a man or woman can both be in the Church under the authority of Christ, yea, even owned by Him, if he or she hasn’t obeyed the Gospel, or has apostatized and rejected the Gospel that had first saved him or her?
The Church is the Temple of God/Temple of the Holy Spirit. This ought to be self-explanatory, but just in case it isn’t obvious, let it be asked:
Does God dwell in the unsaved? Do the unsaved make up His Temple? A temple is a place of worship and adoration, of the deity believed to dwell within its precincts. Does the unsaved man or woman worship and adore God as the resident Deity enthroned in their soul as the Temple?
No, my brethren. I think not. The Church is not made up of saved and unsaved, but only of the saved.
Does the Devil have such power to so rigorously afflict the Church that he can place unsaved people into it so as to, presumably, infiltrate the Body of Christ in order to destroy it from within?
Contemplate these verses of Holy Scripture:
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil…
1 John 3:8,
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
It looks to me like the Devil has been thoroughly trounced by Christ Jesus, and that Satan has no real power at all to do much against the Church of the Living God.
Again, as said above, it is fully possible for someone who is not saved, to be motivated by an evil spirit to attend a meeting or try to “join a church”, and so, cause havoc and hurt. But also again, let it be said that these are not people who make up the Body of Christ. They are “spots on our feasts of charity” (See Jude 1:12), to be sure, and they may even be antichrist (See 1 John 2:18-19), but never Christians, no matter what they profess. Therefore, there are no Satan-implanted “tares” in the Church, only (potentially demonized) sinners trying to attach themselves to the Church for whatever ungodly reason(s).
If it’s so hard to tell who is saved from who isn’t saved, because real life stalks of Lolium temulentum and real life stalks of Triticum aestivum look so much alike, how can anyone in the church ever successfully discern who is their real life brother or sister in the Lord, and who is not?
There are certain parameters, clearly located and explained in the pages of Holy Scripture on who is saved and who isn’t.
The first and foremost of these parameters is the Gospel, and obedience to It (See Romans 1:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Anyone who has not received and obeyed the Gospel isn’t saved, no matter how kind, gentle, or loving they may otherwise be.
Secondly, another parameter of who is and who isn’t saved is found in who manifests a distinct indication that Jesus Christ is Lord of their life, and that God is the sole object of their worship (See, e.g. Ephesians 4:4-6). People who are not saved don’t do this, even if they once upon did, when, once upon a time, they were saved, but have since given up their calling and election for the sake of the world and its god.
Another parameter to distinguish who is and who is not saved is in realizing that the saved have a sincere passion and desire for the Church and all things related (See, e.g. 1 Peter 1:22 and 1 John 3:14).
These three and many more like them all throughout the pages of the New Testament show this assumption to be false. The reason tares and wheat looks so much alike, as it pertains to the parable given to us by the Lord, is for altogether different reasons.
If there really isn’t anything a saint in the Church can do about there being tares in the Body of Christ, as per the parable in Matthew 13, what’s the point of all the New Testament verses regarding admonishment, correction, reproof, rebuke, and ex-communication?
It ought to be obvious that these things exist in the Body of Christ to help those who have come into the Kingdom of God to remain steadfastly citizens of that Kingdom, which is to say, these measures have been ordained of God for the purpose of keeping those whom He has saved, saved. Why, even the ex-communication of incestuous fornicator can lead that backslid sinner back to his salvation! This then being the case, there is much the saints of God can do about those in the Body who are becoming unruly or disenfranchised with living for God, before it’s too late, that is, before a saint becomes a sinning tare.
And as far as the never saved tare is concerned, their lack of salvation would become quite apparent the first time they were scolded for any wrong-doing. You see, the closer the time of harvest comes, tares stiffen and stand up straight, whereas stalks of wheat, heavy with fruit, genuflect, as it were, toward the ground, thus indicating that the former is full of pride, vanity, and ego, and the latter is naught but humble, submissive, and meek.
If coming to terms with the first four assumptions from our list above is the only way to achieve peace in the face of problematic dynamics in the Church, then what’s the difference between coming to terms and simply just giving up?
Let’s face it. If we have to wait until the Last Trump to see the tares removed from the Church, and since the tares are the product of the Devil operating in the Church, and there isn’t a thing we can do about it but leave it up to God, then every time there’s a problem with a member in the Church, these assumptions can only lead us to logically conclude that the problems that arise within the Church can’t be solved or resolved, which is to say, whenever a problem causing person causes a problem, we simply have to throw our hands up to heaven and hope it all works out, which is just another way of saying “I quit”.
Really, is that what God wants us to do when issues and problems arise in the Church? Let’s just wait until Christ returns and whoever was a tare can go to Hell, and all the rest of us will go to Heaven, as if to say anyone going to Hell is no biggie, doesn’t matter much at all, we’re just here to get our card punched, don’t mind me, I don’t want no trouble?
That is not the Church! If we cannot put aside our differences and work through every single one of our inter-relational problems among us as believers, then what hope has the world of ever seeing Jesus through our witness? All the world will see is a bunch of in-fighting Tiburon mobsters who turn on each other instead of turning the other cheek, the moment there’s blood in the water.
Rather, the world should be seeing this:
- If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
- That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
- And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
- And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
- Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.
- Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
- Neither give place to the devil.
- Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
- Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
- And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
- Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
- And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
A Church that can get past all its hang up and issues will surely evangelize the lost and be an epicenter through which God can move to establish His reign over the hearts and minds of everyone in the world.
To simply give up and wait for train to take you away from all those tares you allegedly couldn’t do anything about is an affront to, and denigration of, all that God called and elected you to be.
If it’s only at the end of the world that the Church is finally free of the tares that hampered and hindered Her so, how can the Church ever hope to be ready for Christ when He does arrive?
All the way down to the individual level, the Church is supposed to be holistically sanctified and preserved blameless at the appearing of Her Savior (See 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
When we are presented to Christ as His Bride, we are supposed to go before Him as a chaste virgin, espoused to no others (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Indeed, we are supposed to be a “glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”, so that we might be “holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).
My Dear Readers, if the Church is supposed to suffer all these satanic tares right up until Judgment Day, there’s no way She can go before the Lord in the manner described in the three verses directly above. All the problems that tares cause will work against Her, no matter how hard She tries to remain above it all. There will be sickly stalks of wheat all over the globe when Jesus comes, because the tares have been sapping their soil of the proper nutrients needed to help the wheat grow strong and true into maturity. The ministry will be burn out dealing with and tolerating all these fakers for so long, so much so, that no real ministry in the Church will ever be accomplished on any major scale.
Tares left to their own devices, to flourish and prosper in the increase while the wheat in the Church suffers them will make the Church a beaten up bride that won’t be able to stand before Christ when He arrives.
I hope I have, through the above rhetoric, shown ample proof that this parable has been woefully misunderstood, that tares and wheat do not “sit together” on the pews, as if a saint had to stay on constant watch for any sign that the person in front, behind, or beside them, of being a tare. Such nonsense only engenders suspicion, distrust, fear, and eventually paranoia, which leads to judgmentalism and condemnation.
These things being the case, please allow me to show you where the mistake in understanding this parable is, through a verse by verse exegesis of Matthew 13:36-43, so a more accurate rendering of its meaning can be made known.
37. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
Verse 37 gives us Christ’s own interpretation of the parable He put forth before His students a few moments earlier. Just as I intend to do, Jesus goes through the parable line by line, giving His class a point by point understanding of each symbolic element.
The first symbol is the sower of good seed. Jesus says it’s the Son of Man, which is to say, the sower of good seed is Jesus. This, right away, should cause us to realize something about the Church. If the only kind of seed Christ sows is “good seed”, and as the next verse shows, the “good seed” are the saints, then the only type of people in the Church are saintly and goodly seeds. To say otherwise is to say Jesus indirectly, through an act of permissive non-obstruction, causes the tares to take root in the Church. Such a thought is nothing more than a blasphemous accusation against the Head of the Church. We ought to know better!
38. The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
Ah, here it is! This is where so many stumble and misunderstand the parable. Look very closely at the first five words of this verse. Allow me to help:
The field is the WORLD.
The field into which Christ sows the children of His Kingdom, and into which Satan cast his tares, is not the Church! It’s the world! In the world, there are two kinds of people: saved and unsaved, children of God or children of the Devil. All across planet earth, two kingdoms are constantly at war with one another: the Kingdom of the Spirit of Christ, and the Kingdom of the Flesh, through which evil spirits may align themselves to have their way.
These Kingdoms each have their own invisible borders. They do not overlap per se, but they do seemingly diffuse into each other from time to time. What I mean is, as the saint lives in this world, he or she exists in a setting that is not his or her true home. While here, the mindful saint, longing to share the Gospel with the lost, righteously presumes to cross the invisible border and establish a beachhead into Satan’s territories. Once there, he or she brings the Gospel to whosoever has ears to hear, and in the process, offers an immigration policy par excellence to those willing to ex-patriot themselves from underneath the clutches of the Wicked One.
Conversely, as already explained, those emissaries of antichrist also make attempts at infiltrating the Church, to terrorize Her much as many modern day terrorists do through the deployment of sleeper cells.
Spiritual warfare then, occurs in both Kingdoms. But let it be said unequivocally, they are not in a truce, there is no armistice between them, and neither the Kingdom of God nor the Kingdom of Satan intend to give the other any quarter. Yes, everyday, citizens of each country are changing sides, some for eternity. But the world is not the Church, and the Church is not the World.
39. The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
Here Jesus makes it plain that the field into which both He and the Wicked One cast their seed, is going to come to an end. This ought to be clear for the student who takes the time to reason out what Jesus means by this.
Is the Church going to come to an end? I thought our salvation was eternal? I thought the Gospel that saved us is an “everlasting Gospel” (See Revelation 14:6)? So then, how can Jesus say the harvest is the end of the world unless the World, and not the Church, is really going to come to an end, in which case, it becomes even more obvious that tares aren’t planted into the Church, since both they, and the farmer—Satan—who cast them into the field of the world, along with the world, are all going to perish, even as the saintly wheat and the farmer—Jesus—who cast them into the field of the world, will be rescued at the time of harvest.
40. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
Again, the world and the tares in the world, are going to be made history, engulfed in flames of fire, of the judgment of the Son of God (See, e.g. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). The Church isn’t going to be saved by fire, but from fire!
41. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
This is where the stumble from verse 38 turns into a fall. A student of the Lord’s reads this verse and sees the phrase “his kingdom” and automatically assumes kingdom = church. This is a faulty concept, mostly due to the fact that so many have been incorrectly taught regarding the reign of Christ as King. So many have been led to believe that as of right now, or rather, as of Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus only reigns over Heaven and the Church. To them, all the other “kingdoms” that exist out there in the world are still autonomously their own, and that, only at some future point will all the kingdom of the world be made “the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ” (See Revelation 11:15).
The practical application and reality of this ideology means that people who believe this don’t see Jesus as sitting on the throne of the universe, that literally all things created and existing, are under Him (See 1 Corinthians 15:22-28). Sure, there are many corrupted, vain things, among them evil spirits and many millions of people, who refuse to be subjugated, even as the grace of God abounds over sin (See Romans 5:20 – 6:1) and the Lord patiently waits for all to come to repentance and the acknowledgement of the truth (See 2 Peter 3:8-10 and 1 Timothy 2:4).
But this doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t rule over them. Even evil spirits were subject to Him, right?!?
If you are having trouble with this idea, consider for a moment the following.
Jesus said that He was the light of the world (See John 8:12 and 9:5). You believe this, don’t you, Dear Reader? I am sure you do. Now, take that conviction and apply it to this, an alternate rendering:
I am the Illumination of the Cosmos.
For Jesus to be the Illumination of the Cosmos incontrovertibly demonstrates that He rules as King over not just Heaven and the Church, but the entirety of Creation (See, e.g. John 1:1-5). This being the case, the phrase “his kingdom” in Matthew 13:41 is talking about the cosmos. Whatever corrupt and vain thing that exists in this universe that won’t submit to Him as King is going to be forcefully removed and destroyed.
42. And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The wailing and gnashing of teeth, of course, will be completed by the tares, those children of the Wicked One, who lived in the field of the world alongside the wheat, but would not consent to Christian conversion. What a horrific fate to be had!
43. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Here, finally, at the end of the Lord’s explanation comes the truth. Once the Cosmos is purged and unfettered by all things that offend and do iniquity, the saints of the Church will be able to “shine forth…in the kingdom of their Father”. You see, just as much as Jesus is the Illumination of the Cosmos, so, too, are we. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus said “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid”.
There are no tares in the Church. Only saints of the Most High. Sure, many are weak, being new or under-fed by an often ineffectual ministry. Sure, many local assemblies are fraught with difficulties and problems ranging from unruliness and a love that is waning, or from bad teaching and a lack of attention toward fulfilling the perfect will of God. But remember, even the Corinthians were still a church, with all their carnal problems and immature proclivities toward unrighteousness.
Yes, the Church is often found smarting from some attach, whether externally or internally, but She is going to make it. Her lamps are always full of oil, no matter what comes against Her. She will have preserved Herself blameless for when Her Lord arrives. Any dead weight seemingly clinging to Her garments are but the children of the Wicked One looking for a some other way into the sheepfold (See John 10:1). But they are of the world, always were, always will be, except they repent.
Peace and God bless,
The Votive Soul
 See: Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, by Dr. Bruce Chilton, Doubleday, New York, NY, 2000.
 See, e.g. Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:12, 12:27, Ephesians 4:12, and Colossians 1:18.
 See, e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 5:23, and Colossians 1:18.
 See, e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 2 Corinthians 6:16, and Ephesians 2:19-22,
 For the sake of time and space, I have limited myself here. Another possible consideration is that the Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Someone who isn’t saved does not represent the truth of God as either pillar or ground. It’s plain fact.
 The reason the two seeds look so much alike, is, since they represent people, is because both saints and sinners are human, and both have fallen short of the glory of God, both have a law of sin in their members, and, among many other things, but have the capacity to repent and be saved.
 See, e.g. Matthew 18:15-35, Romans 15:14, Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:12 and 14, 2 Thessalonians 3:15, 2 Timothy 3:16, Ephesians 5:11, 1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:13, Titus 2:15, Romans 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 5, and 2 Thessalonians 3:14.
 Mark 1:27 clearly shows, along with many other Gospel verses, that even before Christ was crowned at the cross, He had been given all power and authority, even over, or rather, especially over, demonic spirits.
 There is amply justification for this translation. Any simple search through a Biblical lexicon will show that light, or phos in the Greek refers to something luminous, i.e. anything that shines and so, projects rays of light. Additionally, these same Biblical lexicons will show that the word for word is kosmos, from whence we arrive at “cosmos”, a synonym for “universe”.