“He proposed to them another parable. ‘The Kingdom of heaven can be compared to a farmer who sowed good seed in his field. But while his workers were sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and departed. When the blades sprouted and formed the kernel, the weeds appeared as well. The workers came and said to their master, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed? So where did these weeds come from?’ The master replied, ‘This is the work of an enemy.’ The workers asked, ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’ But he said, ‘No; for if you pull up the weeds, you will uproot the wheat. Let both grow alongside each other until the harvest. At that time I will tell the reapers to collect and bind the weeds together to be burned and then gather the wheat into my granary.’” (Matthew 13: 24-30, paraphrased)
The same audience heard both this parable and the previous one known as The Sower (Mt. 13:18-23). They are taught by Jesus in chronological sequence. Both stories involve a sower, a field, seedlings, harvest, and the malicious work of Satan. Jesus interprets only these two parables, but His explanations provide sufficient doctrinal guidelines to properly interpret all parables. His teachings in this chapter illustrate how the Kingdom of God is revealed and preserved in the world. God’s children are warned not to expect a perfect environment in which to mature.
The parable shows the slow but progressive growth of the Kingdom and the certainty of its consummation. According to Jesus, the Kingdom is similar to a situation on a farm. The parable pictures the world as a vast field where evil grows alongside the good. In every era of human history this same condition has existed. The Son of God sows only good seed and expects a good harvest.
In the parable of The Sower, the devil is seen as a ravenous bird that devours the good seed. But here he is depicted as a vengeful, cruel, secretive, sadistic enemy who attempts to ruin the harvest by sowing bad seed. The enemy could not stop the sower from sowing, so he attempts to ruin his harvest. He knows the soil, the power of his evil seeds, and the germination process. Because he does not belong in the field, he waits until the servants are asleep lest he be caught in the act. He simply scatters his seeds and sneaks away.
But the sleeping servants do not suggest a lack of vigilance on their part, for workers must have their sleep. The point here is the stealth and cowardly nature of Satan. He watches for opportunities to sow. He and his followers love darkness because their deeds are evil (Jn. 3:19).
The obnoxious weed referred to is zizanion, a soporific poisonous rye grass. As a seedling, it is virtually indistinguishable from young wheat. Zizanion is good for nothing and has a bitter taste. Wheat is nutritional but zizanion is poisonous. When infected with mold it becomes a hallucinogen known to produce dizziness, nausea, and even death. An animal who has eaten zizanion will stagger around in a stupor. While this weed does not injure the wheat, it can impede its progress. Zizanion is an accurate characterization of a sinful man’s influence in the world.
As a seedling, this weed very closely resembles wheat. But when it fully matures anyone can tell the difference. A plant is known by the fruit it produces (Lk. 6:44). A weed has a very different nature than wheat. Wheat is a fragile plant whose survival and maturation is directly related to careful cultivation. It is the initial similitude of the two species of plants that makes the enemy’s actions so diabolical. The closer to harvest time the greater the contrast between wheat and weeds.
Because they are anxious to protect their master’s crop, the servants ask for an explanation. “Did you not sow good seed? Then where did the tares come from?” Their first question is actually an affirmation, for they know the master planted good seed. Their question concerns the source of the weeds. The origin and existence of evil in our world is a foundational theological question. The problem of global evil cannot be discussed intelligently without factoring in the diabolical work of satanic forces. Why God allows demonic seeds to be sown is a great enigma.
All good seed belongs to Christ. He has planted the seeds of His Gospel message in the daytime. The enemy comes in the darkness to plant that which is false. Through this parabolic teaching, Jesus informs His followers they will struggle against many forms of demonic deception. However, the wheat sown by the Lord is the object of His affectionate care.
The master’s answer is definite and proves the weeds did not appear by accident. But he faults neither himself nor his servants. It is sufficient for them to know an enemy is responsible. The workers are anxious to know how to deal with the problem and ask if they should weed the field. But the wise sower calls for patience and restraint.
Like James and John who impetuously want to judge the Samaritans, the servants have neither the wisdom nor the foresight to understand the far-reaching effects of their suggestion (Lk. 9:54-56). Humans are prone to err in judgment by being too severe. Many Believers are anxious to root out everyone they assume to be a “weed.” This verse serves as a warning against premature judgment. The Lord knows the truth will manifest itself at harvest time.
The parable verifies all evil in our world is masterminded by Satan. He is known as “the god of this world” and our “adversary” (II Cor. 4:4 & I Pet. 5:8). His methods are malicious and subtle (Gen. 3:1). His goal is to create deception through imitation. There is no reasonable explanation for the devil’s deeply-rooted hatred of God. Satan is spiteful and antagonistic because of the short time allotted him to do his work (Rev. 12:12).
Although the servants see a simple solution, the problem is far too complex to be entrusted to them. The difference between these two plants is not immediately obvious. But as the plants grow the distinction between the two becomes increasingly apparent. The master knows the two root systems are already intertwined and cannot be separated without endangering the wheat. Any attempt to segregate the roots of the seedlings will be disastrous. Because disentangling good from evil cannot be done impulsively, the weeds are allowed to grow.
Despite the weeds, the sower intends to have a good harvest. A healthy wheat crop is the result of careful cultivation. He allows all the plants to mature for he knows they will gradually become identifiable. At harvest time weeds and wheat will be permanently segregated. His servants must be patient until the day when all true wheat will be garnered. The maturation of the wheat also determines when the weeds will be bundled and burned. They are irritating but will not be around forever. Every plant has a destination: the storehouse or the furnace.
As the nature of the two plants is different, so is the nature of regenerate and unregenerate men. Both must grow alongside each other until the sons of God are manifest (Rom. 8:19). Bundling the weeds portrays a preplanned, organized method. The long era before the harvest implies God is gracious. He has predetermined the day in which all evil will be judged (Acts 17:31). Good and evil will grow together in the field for a limited time only. Although both must co-exist for awhile, the Master knows how to separate one from the other.
Believers cannot grow to maturity in a greenhouse. God plants us in His field to become deeply rooted and productive, but we are powerless to do anything about the weeds surrounding us. We can rest assured the wheat will be gathered and stored in a place of absolute security. There are no weeds in the Father’s barn and no wheat in the furnace.
“Then Jesus dismissed the crowds and went indoors. His disciples came to him with a request: ‘Explain fully to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ He replied, ‘He that sowed good seed is the Son of Man. The field represents the world and the good seed are the children of God’s Kingdom. The weeds are followers of the wicked one and the enemy that sowed them is the devil. Harvest time is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels. As weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will dispatch His angels to uproot all evildoers who lead others to sin. They will throw them into a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and bitter remorse. Then will the righteous radiate like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Everyone that has ears should use them and listen.’” (Matthew 13:36-43, paraphrased)
Jesus now sends the crowds away and goes indoors. His disciples come to ask Him to clarify what they call The Parable of the Weeds. The disciples give a name to this parable, for they understand weeds are the main subject. They acknowledge their ignorance and ask Him for an exposition. Christ’s followers are distinguished, not by their theological expertise, but by their persistence in asking the Lord to reveal deeper truths (Jn. 14:26 & Jas. 1:5).
Although the disciples are perplexed regarding the meaning of this parable, Jesus’ response is simple and clear: “The sower of good seed is the Son of Man (v. 37). The field is the world. The good seed are God’s children. The weeds are Satan’s children (v. 38). The enemy is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world. The reapers are the angels (v. 39).”
Both weeds and wheat represent human beings. Wheat is a useful and valuable grain; the other is useless and worthless. The good seeds are traced to Christ as the Sower and the weeds are traced to Satan (Mk. 4:14). The phrase “the sons of” is used to identify those who share the characteristics of either Satan or God. The field represents our world in which all ethnic groups are growing. Through His children, God sows the Gospel seed internationally (Luke 24:47).
The devil has deceitfully entered God’s field determined to hurt the Sower and His harvest. But we are assured justice will prevail. The weeds are so numerous they must first be collected and burned. We are told to be patient with evil, not be oblivious to it. All good and evil will eventually be manifested (I Jn. 3:10). As weeds are gathered and burned so it will be at the end of the world. Atheists, pedophiles, heretics, astrologers, Satanists, sorcerers, murderers, rapists, communists, idolaters, evolutionists, abortionists, and liars will find themselves bundled together and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8).
The apocalyptic and eschatological aspects of the parable can be seen in the ultimate severance of good from evil at the end of time. The parable does not explain why evil is permitted to exist, only how evil will ultimately be eliminated. God knows how to distinguish what is real and what is counterfeit (II Pet. 3:7-9 & Mt. 25:32-34). It is the desire of the sower to plant the Gospel deep in every human heart to ripen and yield fruit for His benefit.
The farmhands do not reap the harvest. It is a job reserved for angelic hands. The Sower is identified as the Lord of the angels who carry out His commands. The analogy of angels gathering either righteous or unrighteous people is a common one (Mt. 24:31 & Rev. 14:18-19). Christ will send forth His angels to administrate divine judgment (II Thess. 1:7-8). In Revelation, an angel announces this event as, ”the ripened harvest of the earth” (Rev. 14:15). Angels are the logical choice to gather the redeemed into God’s granary, for they rejoice when a sinner repents (Lk. 15:10).
In this verse Jesus promises evil will also be eradicated from the Kingdom of God. Christians understand that the long roots of satanic weeds have also crept into the Church. For two millennia Satan has continued to sow his heretical weeds. But all hypocrites will eventually be exposed. God’s true children will be permanently separated from all that is evil, wicked and offensive. The perpetrators of iniquity will never see heaven, where there are no abortion clinics, X-rated movies, or taverns. The weeds eliminated in that day include those who encourage others to sin and ignore God’s Word.
The concept of “casting” expresses God’s divine indignation and contempt of sin. Burning the weeds in a furnace is an unmistakable picture of judgment. Hells flames are fanned and kept alive by the burning of weeds. Fire denotes the horror of the torment, wailing signifies eternal anguish, and gnashing depicts utter despair. We are informed the wicked will be tormented in eternal fires and without rest day or night (Rev. 14:9-11). On that day a clear distinction will be made, for the mingling of good and evil is not permanent.
A completely different destiny awaits the wheat. Those blessed by the Father will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Mt. 25:34). We will be enthralled with the brilliance of His arrival. Although the wheat is now somewhat obscured by the weeds surrounding them, on that day the righteous will shine forth (eklampsousin) as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Eklampsousin means “to burst forth brilliantly, as the sun suddenly emerges from behind a cloud to dispel the darkness” (Dan. 12:3). Alone in the sky, nothing prevents its effulgence. The current mixture of good and evil in the world only temporarily obscures the glorious character of God’s children whose lives are hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3).
The righteousness of Christ within us will one day illuminate the spiritual darkness that surrounds us. His splendor and excellence will eclipse all else. The gloomy mist of everything offensive to Christ and His followers will be obliterated by the One whose glory illuminates the city of God (Rev. 21:23).
Jesus encourages every person who has ears to “hear” this parable by taking His words to heart. Satan’s plans will be foiled. He sowed hoping his imitation wheat would destroy the real wheat, but he cannot succeed. But God’s children who go forth weeping, bearing precious seed, will certainly come back rejoicing, bringing His sheaves with them (Psalm 126:6).
1. If God is omnipotent, why does He allow evil to exist in the world? What is God’s reasoning behind permitting “weeds” to grow alongside “wheat?”
2. Why was Satan allowed to enter Eden?
3. Why did God allow Satan to tempt Job?
4. Why was a traitor one of the twelve disciples?
5. Why did Paul wrestle constantly with false teachers?
6. What does Satan try to do? (I Peter 5:8)
7. From John 8:44 and Revelation 12:9, paraphrase the descriptions of Satan and list his characteristics.
8. What is good that is separated from bad in Matthew 13:47-48?
9. What is segregated in Matthew 25:32?
10. If you are truly rooted and grounded in Christ (Eph. 3:17), what are you producing for Him? List the God-given gifts you are maturing in your portion of the Master’s field.