Last time we took a detailed look at Jesus’ parable of the Sower. We saw that some of the symbolism in the parable is easily discerned, while some is mysterious. Praise God that Matthew saw fit to write down Jesus’ explanation of the parable so that we can understand it, and more importantly the parable can have the intended effect upon our hearts.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 & 47-50 – Parables of the Coming Judgement
We continue now with our study of Matthew 13 looking at two of Jesus’ parables which deal with God’s coming final judgement on the world – The Parable of the Tares (weeds), and the Parable of the Net.
Since the early 3rd century AD, a heretical teaching has arisen both in the world at large and within the Christian Church. The idea of universalism denies the existence of what we call Hell – a state of eternal torment apart from God in which the souls of those who never professed faith in the Gospel of Jesus during their lives suffer forever after the final judgement of God. The attractive heresy of universalism that denies the ideas of Hell and divine judgement makes a distinction between the judgemental and ill-tempered so-called “Old Testatment” God, and the loving, caring, merciful “New Testament” Jesus. When we really stop to ponder it, we find that this universalist heresy is deeply blasphemous as well because it effectively renders moot Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to atone for the sins of all mankind.
Furthermore, universalism ignores Jesus’ clear teachings on the subjects of Hell, judgement, and sin such as the two parables we are currently considering. The first of these – The Parable of the Tares (weeds) is well familiar to many both within and outside the Church.
24He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds [ζιζάνιον zizanion] among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And 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?’ 28He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let 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.”’”Matthew 13:24-30 [ESV]
Thankfully Matthew has included in his gospel Jesus’ explanation of the meaning of this parable just as he did with the Parable of the Sower.
36Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.Matthew 13:36-43 [ESV]
First of all, once again Jesus makes it crystal clear that He Himself is the Sower just as He did in His explanation of the Parable of the Sower we looked at in our previous lesson. This time though, He also explains that the field is the world. This will become important in interpreting one of the other parables in this chapter – the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. This Parable of the Tares is a little different from the Parable of the Sower though. Once again, Jesus speaks of His own sowing of good seed into the field, but this time He mentions that bad seed has also been sown into the world by our great enemy – Satan.
The ESV and some other English language translations call this the Parable of the Weeds. Many might be more familiar with the term “tares” found in the KJV, the NKJV. The Greek word ζιζάνιον zizanion found throughout this parable refers to a particular kind of darnel that resembles wheat except its grains are dark. In fact, some English language translations render the word as darnel. The ESV rendering of the word as weeds hides an important aspect of the parable’s symbolism. The plant ζιζάνιον zizanion is a type of rye grass that looks very much like wheat until it puts forth its seed grains which are dark in color and very distinct in appearance from wheat.
Recall Jesus’ teaching regarding false prophets.
15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Matthew 7:15-20 [ESV]
The false prophets sent forth into the world by our enemy are hidden by their disguise as harmless sheep until the fruits of their labors are revealed. Here in the Parable of the Tares, the ζιζάνιον zizanion plants sown into the field by the evil one appear similar to wheat until their dark seed comes forth revealing their undesirable nature. Thus the ζιζάνιον zizanion plants in the parable represent the false prophets sent forth into the world by the devil.
The apostle John gave us a warning about false prophets too, and with it he also taught us a means of discerning the devil’s false prophets before their fruits become apparent.
1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.1 John 4:1-3 [ESV]
25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds [ζιζάνιον zizanion] among the wheat and went away.Matthew 13:25 [ESV]
Notice in verse 25 that Jesus says the enemy came and wreaked his havoc on the field of the world while the king’s own men were asleep and not keeping watch over the field. We must be continually on our guard against the machinations of the evil one – especially those of us who have been called as shepherds of God’s flock. Our enemy seeks continually to kill, steal, and devour, especially among God’s own children.
The scatterer has come up against you.Nahum 2:1 [ESV]
Man the ramparts;
watch the road;
dress for battle;
collect all your strength.
17I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.Romans 16:17-18 [ESV]
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.1 Timothy 4:16 [ESV]
39… The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,Matthew 13:39b-41 [ESV]
Angels are intriguing creatures that we often misconstrue as childlike, and benign. Renaissance paintings are often generously populated with pudgy baby “cherubim” with sweet smiles, wooly hair, and woefully inadequate tiny wings which could never support their weight in flight. Valentine’s Day cards frequently depict a little “cherub” named Cupid bearing a little toy bow and arrow that could never inflict serious injury, but instead smites us with a sudden feeling of romantic love for another person. The Bible’s depiction of angels is entirely different.
NOTE – Before we go any further, let’s make it very clear that angels are not people who have died and gone to heaven as portrayed in popular culture. Angels are their own distinct class of created beings. Like people, angels are spiritual, eternal creatures. Unlike God, angels have not existed since before the beginning, but were created by Him sometime during His six-day work of creation. God employs His angels to perform specific tasks at specific times. In some of these cases, angels my take on the appearance of people to accomplish their assigned missions. We would do well therefore to remember that our great enemy Satan is an angel whose given name was Lucifer. But instead of taking on various physical appearances to accomplish God’s assigned tasks, he now does so in furtherance of his own nefarious purposes – at least for the time being while God allows it. Conversely, while we’re on the subject, Jesus is God. He has existed since before the beginning. He is not a created being, and is certainly not the “spirit brother of Lucifer” as taught by the Mormon church. In fact He is the creator of all things including Lucifer.
But I’ll step down from that soap box now. Let’s continue with the discussion of angels in the context of Matthew 13.
Most frequently, when we find mention of angels in God’s Word, we find them speaking as God’s agents. For example in Daniel, we find the angel Gabriel was sent to provide Daniel explanations of visions he had seen. In Luke, we find Gabriel was sent to announce the coming of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah, to announce the coming of Jesus to His mother Mary, and to reassure Mary’s fiancé Joseph when he learned Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. God frequently uses angels throughout His Word as messengers in this way.
But angels are also warriors, and are quite powerful. In 2 Kings 19:35, we read that the angel of the LORD struck down 185,000 soldiers in the camp of the Assyrian army surrounding Jerusalem in a single night. In Genesis 3 we read that God placed cherubim with flaming swords at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to guard it and prevent fallen mankind from coming in and eating from the tree of life which would have condemned us to live forever in our sinful, fallen state apart from God. In Daniel 10, Gabriel remarks that he and Michael were contending with the Prince of Persia – that is with Satan.
As Jesus says here in His explanation of the Parable of the Tares, He will use His angels to execute His final judgement upon mankind. The apostle John saw a vision of this terrible reaping that we read about in Revelation 14.
14Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles].Revelation 14:14-20 [ESV]
Before we move on, we need to take a look at what Jesus taught at the end of the Parable of the Tares.
43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.Matthew 13:43 [ESV]
This is a marvelous promise from our LORD and Savior, but exactly who is Jesus calling “the righteous” in this verse? The word “righteous” is found nearly 300 times in God’s Word, the word “righteousness” nearly another 300 times. Of the nearly 300 occurrences of “righteous” over half are associated with the phrase “the righteous” – 57 of those in the book of Proverbs alone. So obviously, righteousness is of vital importance to God. No doubt those who first heard Jesus teach this parable from the boat believed they could strive for and attain the righteousness He spoke of and thus would shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
The problem is that God’s own righteousness – His holiness – is absolutely perfect, and that is the standard He requires of those who would dwell with Him in His kingdom. He created us in perfect righteousness, but when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command in the Garden of Eden, the perfect righteousness that God requires became unattainable for us in and of ourselves no matter how hard we might strive for it. David and Isaiah affirm this fact.
2The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,Psalm 14:2-3 [ESV]
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
3They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
5You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness,Isaiah 64:5-6 [NKJV]
Who remembers You in Your ways.
You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—
In these ways we continue;
And we need to be saved.
6But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
No doubt many in the crowd that day would have been familiar with these passages. Some of them might have despaired of salvation out of sin as indeed we ourselves might. If true righteousness is unattainable for us, who then can be saved and thus shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father? Those listening from the shore that day could have taken encouragement from the story of Abraham – the founder of their nation.
Abraham was a good guy. He strove mightily to be obedient to God, even to the extent of being willing to sacrifice his own son Isaac at God’s command (Genesis 22). Yet Abraham’s righteousness was far from perfect. Out of fear for his own life, on two occasions, Abraham made his wife Sarah lie to strangers about their marriage, and instead tell them she was Abraham’s sister. In both of these instances, Abraham allowed Sarah to be taken into the harems of the local rulers rather than risk his life defending her as his wife. (Genesis 12 & 20)
Yet despite Abraham’s own weaknesses, God’s Word tells us that when God promised to provide an heir for childless Abraham in his old age, Abraham believed the promise, and thus Abraham was credited by God with righteousness not his own merely through faith in the promise of God.
5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.Genesis 15:5-6 [ESV]
At the time Jesus taught this parable, the true nature of His mission in coming to earth in the flesh of a man was not yet revealed. We who have been privileged with access to the full Truth of His Gospel know that He came as God the Son of Man to live the perfectly righteous life that we cannot, and to give His own life on the cross so that through His atoning sacrifice in our rightful place, we may exchange our imperfect righteousness for His perfect righteousness.
10I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;Isaiah 61:10-11 [ESV]
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.
The second parable of the coming judgement in Matthew 13 – The Parable of the Net – is very similar to the Parable of the Tares, and we won’t go into great detail about it.
47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Matthew 13:47-50 [ESV]
The lesson of the two parables – the coming final judgement of God separating His own children from the children of the evil one – is the same. Only the symbolism is different. In the Parable of the Net, the sea rather than the field represents the world, the casting of the net replaces the reaping of the field, and the different types of fishes gathered take the place of the wheat and the tares.
These two parables clearly teach about the coming final judgement of the LORD upon all mankind. Yet as with all His parables, some who listened to the parables being taught might not have understood the symbolism of the parables. Clearly Jesus’ own disciples didn’t fully understand, or they wouldn’t have asked Him for clarification of the Parable of the Tares later on in private.
Later in His ministry, Jesus taught plainly about this coming judgement, not in the symbolic terms of a parable but with plain speech. Two days later He would be delivered up to be crucified and fulfill the mission for which He came to earth – to restore sinful mankind into perfect righteousness and fellowship with Him in His kingdom.
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’Matthew 25:31-46 [ESV]
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Thus the blasphemy of the universalist idea is made manifest. If there is no judgement to come in which those who have been justified by faith are to be separated from the unbelievers who pridefully try to attain their own righteousness or despair that they could never be saved, then the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was unnecessary.
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.1 Corinthians 1:18 [ESV]
Next time, God willing, we will continue our study of Matthew 13 with an examination of some of Jesus’ most enigmatic and difficult to decipher parables.