The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Jesus explains two of the seven parables that he tells on this occasion about the kingdom of heaven, or kingdom of God. We may wonder why Jesus calls it the kingdom of heaven or why Matthew translated the words of Jesus in this way into Greek. The best answer, I think, is that he was conscious that he was writing initially for Jews and they would know that the phrase kingdom of heaven meant the same thing as the kingdom of God. Another possible reason is that he wanted to stress the different nature of the kingdom of God, that although it was being built on earth it was very different from all other earthly kingdoms, and was in fact a heavenly kingdom.

We might be surprised at some of the details in the parable that have no relevance for the explanation. One of them is the statement that the weeds were sown when the workers were sleeping. We can imagine a preacher making a great deal of that detail. But Jesus doesn’t. Nor does he make any application concerning the conversation between the servants and the farmer. Again, we can imagine someone suggesting that this represents prayer, but Jesus doesn’t.

Who is sowing in the field?

The first detail to observe in this parable is the location where the sowing takes place. In the parable, it is said to be the owner’s field, and in the explanation of Jesus the field is said to be the world. Some commentators ignore this plain statement and say that the field is the church and then proceed to talk about church discipline, and in doing so misunderstand the parable. The field, says Jesus, is the world.

Obviously, Jesus is predicting that when the time of sowing commences the world will be his in a special way. We may assume from this that he merely means that the world is his because he created it. Yet a closer look at the parable’s explanation suggests otherwise.

In the explanation, Jesus says that he is the one who sows the seed. Yet he describes himself in a special way as the Son of Man. This title, as we know, comes from the Book of Daniel where the prophet was given a vision of one like a Son of Man coming to God and receiving from him a kingdom that includes the whole world, viewed both from a geographical perspective and from a time perspective. The vision was describing the ascension of Jesus from earth to the throne of God.

What the vision does not include is where the Son of Man came from. We know, however, where he had been. He had been to the cross where he paid the penalty for sin, he had been in the tomb for three days, and he had risen from the dead. So we can deduce that those unusual experiences had to occur before Jesus could sow the seed. We need to remember that the One who spreads the gospel is the One who died for sinners, who identified with them, who was raised for them, and who ascended to heaven to bring about his kingdom.

What is he sowing in the field? We may find the answer surprising, but he is sowing people. The good seed are the sons of the kingdom. King Jesus is setting up his kingdom in this world and he does so by bringing sinners into his kingdom. Of course, he uses the gospel to bring this about, but in this parable the good seed are saved sinners. They are planted by Jesus and expected to grow in a spiritual sense.

The parable indicates that Jesus plants his people strategically. After all, where did he find them? They did not come from another planet, instead they came from this world. Nor does Jesus plant them in another planet, instead he sets them up as an alternative kingdom in this world. He has a plan for them, which is to serve him as King.

The parable also indicates that Jesus plants his people in a hostile environment, even although the world belongs to him. Somebody else is active in the field (the world) and he is the devil. He too has a strategy, which is to plant weeds among the wheat. His plan here is not to plant them away from where the wheat is, but instead to plant them right where the wheat is. Jesus is saying that there will be false disciples among his professing people. I wonder what Judas thought when he heard that comment.

The servants in the parable ask the owner of the field if they should dig up the weeds and throw them out of the field. They had been sleeping when the enemy sowed the seed. I don’t think the point is that they should have been awake and somehow stopped the weeds from being sown. Rather, the point is that there are actions going on that they cannot see until the persons reveal that they are false disciples.

Surprisingly, the Owner of the field says to his servants that they should not throw out the weeds. The reason he gives is that the servants may indivertibly damage some of the true disciples. What does this point say to us? It could mean that some of the wheat looked like the weeds, or vice versa, and it would be hard to tell the difference. Or it could mean that some of the weeds may yet become wheat, so that is why they were left. After all, where do any of the wheat come from apart from being weeds at one time?

What we can see from the response of the Owner is that he is very patient, and that his patience will last until the Day of Judgement. It is good for us that the Lord is patient. He is more patient than his servants because they wanted to throw the weeds out right away. And he has a grasp of the big picture that they don’t have. It is not possible for them to know everything that is happening in the field. So they are called to trust in the patience of the Owner and to realise that he will take care of his people that he has planted.

Who will be the Judge?

The Sower of the good seed will be the Judge. At the end of the age, Jesus will have a harvest. What does he say will take place? There are four details that we should observe. First, there will be a demonstration of power. This demonstration of power will be seen in the authority of Jesus to command the angels to engage in the task of reaping. To put this into perspective, how many angels do we imagine the apostles could command to do anything? The answer is none. How many angels can Jesus command to do an action? All of them. Up in heaven, the angels are busy obeying Jesus but they are all waiting for this command to start reaping. And one day they will hear it.

Second, there will be a process of separation which will also be a process of purification. Jesus says that on that day Jesus will send his angels to get rid of all expressions of sin, including those who engage in breaking his law. Often Jesus speaks about the separation that will occur at the Day of Judgement. He speaks about sheep and goats, he speaks about two sleeping in a bed or two working together and suddenly they are separated permanently. Temporary separations in this life are unpleasant and sad, but what are they in comparison to eternal separation. Incredibly, there will be no trace of sin left in the kingdom of Jesus.

Third, what will happen to the ones who served the devil, whether they realised they were doing so or not. Jesus uses an awful picture to describe their fate – they are thrown into a fiery furnace. I suppose we could think of the fiery furnace into which Nebuchadnezzar through the three faithful servants of God, as recorded in the Book of Daniel. There was a rescuer for them who prevented the flames from harming them, and he looked like the Son of Man, said Nebuchadnezzar. But what will happen on the Day when there is no rescuer?

In the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, the three men and the Son of Man had interaction with one another and although the place was strange the contact was sweet. But in the fiery furnace of the Final Day, there will be nothing sweet. There will be verbal noises, but we are told that it will be endless weeping and gnashing of teeth. We are to remember who is giving this description. It is the One who never lies, who never exaggerates a situation. What a terrible place a lost eternity is! Despair, endless despair, says Jesus.

Fourth, what will happen to the good seed, the ones that Jesus planted in his kingdom? Jesus says that in contrast to the place where the lost will be, the place where his people will be is wonderful. Of course, he does not speak about the place where his people will be, instead he describes them. They will be righteous and they will shine like the sun. What does he mean? They will be actually righteous, totally holy in heart, with no sin. It is hard to imagine existing without sin, but then we knew some who were once were sinners but who now have no sin. I think that shining like the sun is a picture of glorification. The Saviour uses the brightest creaturely light to illustrate the common experience of God’s people in eternity.

The Father’s kingdom

Is there a difference between the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom over which the Son of Man rules? It looks from the parable that the kingdom of the Son of Man is in existence today, a kingdom described elsewhere as him ruling in the midst of his enemies, whereas the kingdom of the Father is a description of the eternal state in which no enemies are present. Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer told us to pray for the coming of the Father’s kingdom, which will occur when his will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, they could be describing different stages in the kingdom of God.

Some applications

Here are four brief applications of this parable. First, take the long view. In other words, we are to be patient. Jesus tells us not to focus on the evil of the present but to focus on what will happen on the Day of Judgement. What will happen on that future day should govern what we do in the present.

Second, we should accept that evil will be present throughout human history. There is not going to be a period before the Day of Judgement when evil will disappear. The reason why evil will show itself is because the devil will be in the planting business. Sometimes, his plants will be religious; at other times, his plants will be something else. But they will be there.

Third, we should recognise that God’s kingdom will not be beaten. The weeds cannot take the wheat out of the kingdom of Jesus, no matter what happens or whatever is tried. This should give us great hope for the church today and tomorrow. What is the world all about? Two types of plants – those planted by Jesus and those planted by the devil. Or moving away from the imagery of planting, what we have in the world at any given moment is Christians and non-Christians. There is not a third category. Stark, but true.

Fourth, we should rejoice that Jesus owns the world. It is his, every inch of it. None of the plants of the devil own any of it, whatever they may imagine they have. Each of them will give an account to Jesus – he will judge what people did in his domain. The church seems weak today where we are and we should ask the Saviour to plant more of his people. Because he is King, he can do so.

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