CHAPTER 21: WHEAT AND TARES
This parable describes
how the true believers, living in the Jewish world of the first century,
had to contend with the " tares" of false brethren who were
sown by the " enemy" of Christ (the good sower, Matt. 13:24-28).
" The enemy that sowed them is the devil" (Matt. 13:39) must
be seen in the context of many other passages which speak of the Jewish
system as the devil or satan (1).
The devil's clandestine
sowing of tares among the good seed of the ecclesia must primarily refer
to the " false (Judaist) brethren unawares brought in" , which
the New Testament frequently warns against (Gal. 2:4). By
" the end of the (Jewish) world" , in A.D. 70, this problem
appears to have been ended (Matt. 13:39). The burning of the
tares along with the " world" connects with other prophecies
concerning the end of the Jewish age in figurative fire (e.g. 2 Peter
3). Seeing that false doctrine and teachers continued to spread
within the ecclesia after A.D. 70, this parable must be understood as
having a highly specific application to the concentrated Jewish campaign
of infiltrating the ecclesias.
However, there is much
language in this parable which shouts for reference to the events of the
second coming and judgment:-
- " The harvest"
(Matt. 13:39) - a figure used concerning the Lord's return in Isa. 18:4,5;
Joel 3:13; Mark 4:29; Rev. 14:15.
- " The end
of the world" (Matt. 13:39).
- The Angels gathering
the responsible (Matt. 13:39,40) - an idea repeated in Matt. 25:31-33
concerning the second coming.
- " A furnace
of fire" (Matt. 13:42) - 'Gehenna'.
- " Wailing
and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:42) - used elsewhere concerning
the rejected at the judgment seat (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51;
- " Then
shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father"
(Matt. 13:43) is hard to apply to A.D. 70; it more sensibly fits the second
Whilst there have always
been weak elements within the true ecclesia, one of the parable's main
purposes is to highlight the problem of the 'devil' consciously infiltrating
the ecclesia. It is the view of the present writer that this
parable is often misapplied to teach that there is no need to disfellowship
members of the community which are blatantly in error. Yet
this flatly contradicts many commands to the contrary in Paul's later
The parable appears
to teach that there was nothing that the " wheat" could do about
the Judaist infiltration of the ecclesias, until that problem was taken
out of the way in A.D. 70. This does not mean that the commands
to separate from false teachers can be quietly forgotten - after A.D.
70 the main threat to the ecclesias was (and is) the influence of Greek
and Roman philosophy, expressed albeit indirectly. From those
who openly teach this, there was and is a clear command to separate.
Why our Lord counselled against positive action to expel the Judaizers
before A.D. 70 was for several reasons:-
- He knew that
this particular problem would be solved in A.D. 70 anyway.
- Seeing that
many of the early Christians were Jews, pushing out the Judaizers would
have meant certain damage to the " wheat" , seeing that they
were too immature to judge between true Christianity based on " the
hope of st1:country-region>Israel"
and the specious doctrines of the Judaizers.
- The Law did
not come to a complete end until A.D. 70. Expelling those
who advocated a return to the Law before A.D. 70 was therefore difficult.
- By the deliberate
hypocrisy of the Judaizers it was impossible for human judgment
to accurately discern who should be 'gathered up'.
We have shown that this
parable, along with most other prophecies of A.D. 70, must have a latter-day
application too. Since the first century there has never been
such a systematic infiltration of the true ecclesias as that practiced
then by the Judaizers. The extent of their campaign is chronicled
elsewhere (2). Since that time, the loss of true doctrine
has been due to persecution, materialism, individual false teachers,
over-familiarity over an extended period etc., but never due to a large
scale, organized infiltration of the ecclesias with men who consciously
pretended to hold true doctrine, whilst subtly spreading their false ideas
at the same time.
If this parable has
a latter-day application - and our earlier analysis of the language used
makes this hard to deny - then we have to expect a similar organized infiltration
in the last days. Whilst it would appear that we have not
yet reached this crisis, the stage is well set for it. Previous
heresies that arose were publicly stated, and therefore relatively easy
to deal with. Yet now the complaint is often made that there
appear to be people within the community who, when cornered, claim to
agree with our basic doctrines, yet vigorously spread fundamentally false
teaching when the spotlight is taken off them.
Judas, with his apparent
spirituality, is the prototype false teacher, and exemplifies the attitude
(1 John 2:19 cp. John 13:30; 2 Thess. 2:3); as does the description
of wolves " in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). Any
foolhardy attempt to " gather them up" (Matt. 13:28) must result
in some " wheat" being pulled up too; i.e. those who cannot
perceive the 'tares' for what they are, whilst holding true doctrine themselves,
will be damaged. Our only hope is the second coming.
The system which sowed
the tares is called " the enemy...the devil" (Matt. 13:39),
primarily referring to the Jewish system. The Jews are consistently
portrayed as " enemies" : Matt. 22:44; Ps. 42:9;
43:2; 69:4; Luke 19:14 cp. 27; 10:19. The
latter-day beast is " the devil" (Rev. 12:9; 20:2), and
we have suggested that this refers to the confederacy of largely Arab
nations which will oppress Israel in the last days (see Appendix 2).
Time and again the Arab
powers are called the " enemies" of God's true people:
Jud. 2:14; Eze. 36:2; Lev. 26:25; Deut. 28:57; Ex. 15:6,9;
Ps. 78:42 (= Egypt). Ps. 110:1,2, primarily based on Abraham's
victory over his Arab enemies, connects these peoples with the enemies
of Christ who will become his footstool at the second coming (this is
not to deny the Psalm's many other applications). Most especially
is Babylon called " the enemy" : Ps. 78:61; Jer. 6:25;
15:11; 18:17; 31:16 and an impressive 11 times in Lamentations.
We have shown 'Babylon' to have a latter-day application to the Arab enemies
" The devil"
in the sense of sin's political manifestation has previously referred
to the Jewish and Roman systems. Both of these were connected
with the 'devil' of false teachers within the ecclesia. There is
ample extra-Biblical proof that false Roman and Jewish philosophy was
the ammunition of the early false teachers within the ecclesias.
The man of sin who will
be in the temple (ecclesia?) of the last days is a Judas-like character
(2 Thess. 2:3 cp. Jn. 17:12)- hidden away in the ecclesia, appearing to
be righteous. The latter-day beast/devil will also be associated in some
way with the infiltration of the ecclesias which the parable of wheat
and tares prophesies. How exactly this will occur can only
be speculation - the Arabs may hold the world to ransom with the threat
of cutting oil supplies, and insist that Jewish-based religions be eliminated.
False teaching might then arise concerning the Jewish basis of our faith.
The present de-emphasis of the promises in our preaching and the lack
of appreciation of them by many of our younger members will ease the way
for this. It is significant that one of the pictures of the
beast is of it having horns like a lamb but speaking like a dragon (Rev.
13:11). This is alluding to Matt. 7:15 describing false teachers
as wolves which appear like sheep - showing the association between the
beast's political manifestation and false teachers within the ecclesia.
This organized infiltration
of the ecclesias will probably occur in earnest during the tribulation
period of natural Israel.
As the presence of the first century tares provoked confusion, turmoil
and a landslide of true spirituality in the early church, so this prophesied
programme of infiltration helps explain the frequent indications that
the latter-day ecclesias will be in a desperately disjointed state at
the time of the second coming. The sowing of the tares was
" while men slept" (Matt. 13:25), perhaps connecting with the
slumbering virgins / ecclesial shepherds of Matt. 25:5, also the sleepy
latter-day saints of 1 Thess. 5:6 and the disciples who failed to watch
as they should have done (Mk. 13:36; 14:37).
These four connections
surely suggest that the havoc caused by the tares will be proportionate
to the lack of spiritual watchfulness among the individual ecclesias and
believers. Again, the command to " Watch" in the
last days is shown to have reference not only to observing the political
'signs of the times', but watching for the spiritual safety of the ecclesia.
(1) See 'The Jewish
Satan' in In Search of Satan .