Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (July-September 1998) 266-79.
Copyright © 1998 by
THE PARABLE OF THE TARES*
Mark L. Bailey
The parable of the tares of the field is the second parable Je-
sus "put" before the crowds (Matt. 13:24).1 Like the parable of the
sower, this one conveys through an analogy truths relative to the
kingdom of heaven. The parable of the tares appears only in
Matthew (13:24–30) and is one of three (along with the sower and
the dragnet) that Jesus interpreted (vv. 36-43). It continues the
agricultural metaphor of seed and harvest.
Like the parable of the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29),
this parable too presents the relative "inactivity" between the sow-
ing and the harvest. While Jesus may have used similar im-
ageries on different occasions and for separate purposes, the dif-
ferences between these two far outweigh the similarities.2 The
parable in Mark makes no mention of enemy activity. Matthew's
parable concerns what the servants (disciples) should not be do-
ing with regard to weeding, whereas Mark's parable, by focusing
on the miraculous growth of the seed, showed what was impossible
for the servants to do--produce growth. Matthew's parable ad-
dresses the simultaneous growth of good and bad seed. He was
interested in showing the conflict between the
terrupted progress and growth of the kingdom.3
The parable of the tares of the field is also the first parable in
a series that utilizes the likeness formula in reference to the
Mark L. Bailey is Academic Dean and Professor of Bible Exposition at Ilallas Theo-
*This is article three in the eight-part series "The Kingdom in the Parables of
1 Parati<qhmi means "to put or place something before someone." Matthew used it
here and in 13:31. The fact that this is "another" (a@llhn) parable (13:24) argues that
this second parable of the kingdom is of the same kind as the first, indicating that
the parable of the sower is also a kingdom parable.
2 Craig L. Blomberg,
Interpreting the Parables (
1990), 263–66; and Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary
3 David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible (
Morgan, and Scott, 1972), 230.
The Parable of the Tares 267
kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:24). In this formula of comparison
the verb "to be like" (o[moio<w) is used, while in the next five parable
introductions the adjective "like" (o!moioj) is used. The aorist
passive form of the verb (w[moiw<qh) indicates that Jesus viewed the
kingdom of heaven as having present reality.4 This parable de-
scribes a stage in God's kingdom program that has already be-
gun--the present form of God's rule, which is explained as "the
mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (v. 11).
THE SETTING OF THE PARABLE
The historical, geographical, and literary settings of this parable
are the same as that of the sower except that additional informa-
tion was given in that parable. The historical context shows that
istry.5 As Beasley-Murray says, "Not without reason Jesus could
characterize these events as a countermovement to the divine
sovereignty operative in his ministry."6 Geographically the
parable was spoken by the sea, and the interpretation was deliv-
ered in a house (13:36). In its literary setting, referring to the
character or conduct of people by the analogy of seeds and plants
has its precedent in the Old Testament (Isa. 55:10; Jer. 4:3-4;
Hos. 10:1). Rabbinic parables employing the contrast between
intertwined trees which were left to grow together7 and the separa-
tion of stubble, straw, and wheat8 demonstrate the common prac-
tice of using farming analogies. In the parable in Matthew 13 the
emphasis is on the dialogue between the master and the servants;
in Jesus' interpretation (vv. 36-43) the emphasis is on the
beginning and the end of the parable.
4 Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew 13: A Study in Redaction Criticism (
Knox, 1969), 67; and Herman Hendrickx, The Parables of Jesus (
Harper & Row, 1986), 54. The aorist of this verb is also used in Matthew 18:23 and
5 In Matthew 11:12; 12:28; and Mark 3:27 the attacks are from both human and
demonic forces. The parable of the tares and its interpretation likewise present the
attacks as involving both satanic and human agency (Matt. 13:38-41).
R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the
Eerdmans, 1986), 133.
7 Genesis Rabbah 61:6 uses this imagery in commenting on the dilemma of Abra-
ham having to pronounce blessing on the children of Ishmael and Keturah as well
8 Genesis Rabbah 83:5 contains a fable about stubble, straw, and wheat personi-
fied as arguing. The struggle was not resolved until the stubble was burned, the
straw scattered, and the wheat gathered into a stack over which there was great re-
joicing (Harvey K. McArthur and Robert M. Johnston, They Also Taught in Para-
268 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1998
THE NEED OR PROBLEM PROMPTING THE PARABLE
Some say Jesus' purpose in telling this parable was to denounce
the exclusiveness of various Jewish sects.9 The problem with this
is that there is no specific mention of such sects in Matthew 13.
Blomberg rightly criticizes those who see this parable pictur-
ing the mixture of evil and good within the church, "To conclude
that a ‘mixed church’ was inevitable, however, and to use this
parable as a justification for doing nothing to attempt to purify the
church (as with
manded by the imagery of the narrative."10
Since the parable is interpreted only for the disciples, it seems
that the primary application was for them. Jesus may have told
the parable to help curb their hostile feelings in view of opposition
to Jesus by the religious establishment.11 The disciples and others
may have been wondering, "If the kingdom has arrived, why has
it not triumphed more overtly and visibly? If Jesus is its herald,
why is response to Him not uniformly positive?"12 As Wenham
states, "Matthew's parable spells out what sort of action they were
looking for, namely, the weeding out of evil and evildoers."13 Je-
sus' disciples needed to be made aware of the presence of opposi-
tion to Him.14 They wondered, why has "such a large segment of
the chosen nation . . not responded to the Word in obedience and
faith?"15 As Bonnard said, "If Jesus is the Coming Messiah, how
can his coming coincide with such an onslaught of evil?"16 Or, "If
Jesus is the Son of God, why is there such resistance to him?"17
THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE AND DETAILS
This parable has six major sections: the introduction (v. 24a), the
sowing (v. 24b), the countersowing (v. 25), the result (v. 26), a first
9 Eduard Schweizer, The Good News according to Matthew, trans. David Green
VA: Knox, 1975), 304; and Archibald M. Hunter, Interpreting the
bles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 46.
10 Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 200.
11 Similar attitudes were demonstrated in other settings. For example the disci-
ples wanted to call down fire from heaven on the rejecting Samaritans (Luke 9:54).
12 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, New American
man, 1992), 218-49.
13 David Wenham, The Parables of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1989),
14 Hendrickx, The Parables of Jesus, 60.
15 Kingsbury, Matthew 13, 72.
16 Pierre Bonnard, L'evangile selon saint Matthieu (Neuchatel: Delachaux et
Niestle, 1963), 199.
17 Frederick Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1990), 498.
The Parable of the Tares 269
exchange between the servants and the owner (vv. 27-28a), and a
second exchange (vv. 28b-30). The first half of the parable is nar-
rative (vv. 24-26) and the second is dialogue (vv. 27-30). The
first exchange in the dialogue shows that only the tactics of the en-
emy can explain the presence of the weeds. The second exchange
shows that the ultimate solution to the problem will not come until
the harvest. The narrative moves the reader through the chronol-
ogy of the harvest by focusing on the roles played by various sow-
ers, servants, and harvesters.
Blomberg divides the parable into three stages by which he be-
lieves he offers a solution to the debate over the emphasis in the
parable. "Dividing the message into ‘thirds’ ends the needless
debate over whether the emphasis of the parable lies in the period
of the simultaneous growth of the wheat and the weeds or in the fi-
nal harvest, and it refutes the notion that the interpretation of the
parable must be inauthentic because its emphasis does not match
that of the parable. Beginning, middle and end—the obstacles to
God’s kingdom, the inauguration of that kingdom and its final
summation are all in view. A climactic stress may fall on the
last of these but not to the exclusion of the other two."18
Gundry points up the contrasts in the narrative between the
man and the enemy, the sowing and the countersowing, the good
seeds and the bad seeds, the coming and going of the enemy, the
coming and going of the servants, the plan of the servants and
that of the master, and the gathering in barns and the bundling
for fire.19 Jesus' interpretation of the parable countered the false
impressions that both the crowds and the disciples must have had
concerning their role in solving the conflict created by opposition
to the kingdom. His interpretation of this parable of the tares of
the field20 included His explanation of seven details in the para-
ble (vv. 37-39) and a discussion of the judgment at the end of the
age (vv. 40-43).
THE SOWING SCENE OF THE PARABLE (13:24—25)
The opening scene has two sowers, two seeds, and two sowings.
"He presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of
heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his
field. But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed
tares also among the wheat, and went away’" (Matt. 13:24-25).
Two kinds of sowing are described in this opening scene of
18 Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 198-99.
19 Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 262.
20 This title is specified in 13:36.
270 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1998
the parable. An owner of the field sowed good seed in a field he
owned. He is referred to as a man (a@nqrwpoj) and later in verse 27
as a householder (oi]kodespo<toj21), whom his servants addressed
as "Sir" (ku<rie). Presumably the sowing of wheat seed, as custom-
arily carried out, took place in the course of a normal workday.
An enemy of the owner22 came during the night and sowed the
same field with weed seed and then left.
The sowing by an enemy is specifically identified as an un-
wanted sowing.23 Darnel (ziza<nia) is a weed (Lolium temulen-
tum) that grows exclusively
related to wheat, but a poisonous fungus grows within its grain.
Wheat and darnel are all but indistinguishable until the wheat is
ready for harvest.24 The two grow with an intertwined root system
so that to uproot the weeds would destroy some of the wheat.25 The
enemy clearly intended to ruin the crop of the owner of the house.
THE SOWING SCENE IN THE INTERPRETATION (13:36a-39)
The record of Jesus' interpretation includes the request of the dis-
ciples (v. 36); the explanation,26 with seven identifications in
parallel form (vv. 37-39); the main analogy of the parable with
reference to the end of the age (v. 40); judgment on the wicked (vv.
41-42) and the destiny of the righteous (v. 43a); and a final exhor-
tation (v. 43b). Though not every element of the parable is inter-
preted, an unusual amount of detail is given.
"Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house. And
His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of
the tares of the field.' And He answered and said, ‘The one who
sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world;
and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and
the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed
them is the devil'" (vv. 36-39a).
As the Son of Man, Jesus identified Himself as the one who
21 Of the twelve occurrences of this noun in the New Testament, seven are in
Matthew. The emphasis in the parable reinforces the authority theme in Matthew,
especially in light of the "household" He will establish in contrast to that of the re-
22 The phrase "his enemy" (au]tou? o[ e]xqro>j) is emphatic.
23 The verb e]pispei<rw, "to sow over or upon," is used only here in the New Testa-
24 Michael Zohary, Plants of the Bible (
1982), 161; and Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, trans. S. H. Hooke, 2d ed.
(New York: Scribner & Sons, 1954), 224.
25 "The roots of the darnel are stronger and deeper than those of wheat, so that the
removal of one would often result in the uprooting of the other" (Hagner, Matthew
26 The verb diasa<fhson ("to explain") is used only here and in 18:31.
The Parable of the Tares 271
sows27 and who will judge (vv. 37, 41; cf. 9:2-6; 10:23). He called
the kingdom "His kingdom" (13:41). The field is the world, and
the harvest (the judgment) will take place at the end of the age.
The good seed (kalo<n spe<rma) is identified as the "sons of the
kingdom,"28 whereas the first parable refers to "the word of the
kingdom" (vv. 19, 38). "The sons of the kingdom" (oi[ ui[oi> th?j
basilei<aj) in this context are those who are associated with Jesus
and who, as His righteous ones, will participate in the future
kingdom of the Father (v. 38). Conversely "the sons of the evil
one" (oi[ ui[oi> tou? ponhrou?) are those associated with Satan, the
evil one (cf. John 8:44; 1 John 3:10). Jesus had referred to the "evil
one" earlier in Matthew (5:37; 6:13) and particularly in the para-
ble of the sower (13:19). The enemy is the devil (o[ dia<boloj, v. 39).
Jesus had previously said the kingdom was under violent attack
(11:12), and on many occasions He had already confronted
demonic opposition. By the "Spirit of God" He cast out demons
(12:28), thus showing that His strength is superior to that of the
"strong man" who had control of his house (cf. Mark 3:27).
THE GROWTH SCENE OF THE PARABLE (13:26-29)
The growth scene consists of the discovery of the two crops fol-
lowed by two rounds of questions and answers between the ser-
vants and the owner. "But when the wheat sprang up and bore
grain, then the tares became evident also. And the slaves of the
landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed
in your field? How then does it have tares?' And he said to them,
‘An enemy has done this!' And the slaves said to him, ‘Do you
want us, then, to go and gather them up?' But he said, ‘No; lest
while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat
with them' " (vv. 26-29).
Sometime in the growth phase both wheat and weeds appeared
in the same field. This was when the blades of grain (xo<rtoj)
grew and produced their fruit (karpo>n e]poi<hsen). This is the first
time the "weeds" (ziza<nia) appeared.29 In the first conversation
27 The use of the present participle may reflect the fact that the planting by Jesus
is continuing throughout the present age until the harvest. Beasley-Murray says
the sowing reflects an initiation of the saving sovereignty of God in the words and
deeds of Jesus (Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 133). While no doubt there is a sote-
riological import to the message of the kingdom, there is more (in relation to the
earthly kingdom promised to
28 In Matthew 8:12 "the sons of the kingdom" refer to the Jews who were expected
to participate in the kingdom but who are shown there to be excluded. Here in 13:38
the phrase appears in a positive context to describe a new set of "sons of the king-
dom"—those who have rightly responded to the message and become a part of the
family who will inherit the kingdom because they have done the will of God (12:50).
29 Adolf Julicher maintains that the weeds manifest themselves before the wheat
272 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1998
round, two questions relate to the appearance of the weeds. The
first question is designed to confirm the quality of the seed sown
by the owner; the second question asks the reason for the appear-
ance of the weeds. The first establishes the fact of the problem and
its source, while the second deals with whose responsibility it is to
solve the problem. The servants' first question is introduced by
ou]xi, indicating they expected a positive answer to their question
about the quality of the seed sown by him.
Separating the good and the bad is to be left to the householder
and his servants and is to be delayed until the harvest. Kiste-
maker insightfully comments on the wisdom of this delayed sep-
aration. "While these two are growing and maturing, the farmer
is unable to take steps to remedy the situation. This inability does
not stem from ignorance. On the contrary, the farmer, fully in
control of the situation waits it out. He knows what to do. He
knows where the weeds came from and how they were sown in his
field—by night, while everyone was sleeping."30
In the second round in the dialogue the servants asked
whether they should uproot the weeds. The master's answer, an
emphatic negative, points up the danger of uprooting before the
harvest. The verb for "root up" (e]krizw<shte) is used elsewhere in
contexts that speak of a person's destruction by the judgment of
God (15:13; Jude 12). The servants were to allow both wheat and
weeds to grow until the harvest.
THE HARVEST SCENE OF THE PARABLE (13:30)
In the parable the householder told his servants, "Allow both to
grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I
will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in
bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’" (v.
30). At harvest time the owner would supervise the reapers, who
would bind the weeds for burning and gather the wheat into his
barn. Mounce comments on the cultural background of the im-
agery. "Quite often after the grain had been cut with a sickle and
the grain removed, the remaining weeds and shorter stalks
would be burned off. In
weeds would be cut and bundled together to be used as fuel. Grain
was normally stored underground in large pottery jars or put in
pits lined with brick."31
because of a shorter maturation period (Die Gleirhnisreden [
senschaftliche, 1963], 2:548).
30 Simon J. Kistemaker, The Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 40.
31 Robert Mounce, Matthew (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 131; and Daniel
Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1991), 205.
The Parable of the Tares 273
THE HARVEST SCENE IN THE INTERPRETATION (13:39b-43)
In these verses Jesus' interpretation shifted to the scene of final
judgment, the central point of the analogy. "And the enemy who
sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and
the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up
and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of
Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His
kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawless-
ness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous
will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who
has ears, let him hear" (vv. 39b-43). At the end of the age (sun-
telei<% tou? ai]w?noj)32 angels will be instruments of judgment33
sent by Jesus, who alone is qualified to serve as the Judge.34 The
harvest is a metaphor in the Old Testament for final judgment
(Jer. 51:33; Hos. 6:11; Joel 3:13). The kingdom is called "His
kingdom,"35 since He is planting the seed of the kingdom, and
since the harvest will be accomplished under His direction.
The judgment will separate the wicked from the righteous.
The tares are those who will be judged and gathered (sulle<getai,
Matt. 13:40) out of the kingdom of the Son of Man. Based on this
verb in the Septuagint in Zephaniah 1:3, Hill says the verb means
to gather together for judgment.36 This is strengthened by the
Hebrew of Zephaniah 1:3, where the obscure phraseology, "the
stumbling blocks [tOlwek;ma] along with the wicked" (NKJV), is used
as a reference to those in
judgment. This Old Testament imagery may have been the basis
for Jesus' metaphor in Matthew.
That evil is associated with this phase of the kingdom is no
more a problem than the presence of rebellion at the end of the
millennium (Rev. 20:8-10).37 The present phase of the kingdom
of heaven will one day conclude with judgment by the Son of Man,
a judgment that will determine who will enter the next phase of
32 Matthew used this phrase five times (13:39-40, 49; 24:3; 28:20); the only other
New Testament occurrence is in Hebrews 9:26, where "age" occurs in the plural.
33 Also in Matthew 16:27; 24:31; and 25:31 the a@ggeloi are agents of eschatological
judgment. In 13:41; 16:27; and 24:31 they are called "His angels" to highlight Jesus'
claim to authority as the eschatological Judge.
34 A similar imagery and vocabulary of judgment is used in Matthew 24:30-31.
35 Other references to "His kingdom" are in Matthew 16:28; 20:21; Luke 22:29-30;
John 18:36; and Colossians 1:13.
36 Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, 235-37.
37 For discussion on this shift from the world to the kingdom at this stage in the
parable, see M. de Goedt, "L'explication de la parabole de l'ivraie (Matt 13:36-43),"
Revue biblique 66 (January 1959): 32—54.
274 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July–September 1998
the kingdom, referred to as the kingdom of the Father. The spe-
cific objects of this judgment of evil are "all stumbling blocks"
(pa<nta ta> ska<ndala) and "those who commit lawlessness" (tou>j
poiou?ntaj th>n a]nomi<an, v. 41). In Matthew "lawlessness" is an
appropriate word to describe Jews who had disobeyed the Mosaic
Covenant (7:23; 23:28; 24:12; cf. 1 John 3:4).38 By their sin they
had violated the Law.
What did Jesus mean when He said the
wicked will be
ered out of His kingdom (sulle<cousin e]k th?j basilei<aj au]tou?)?
Some say the kingdom means the church and that evil will be re-
moved from the church. However, it is preferable to say that the
world will become the kingdom of the Son of Man when it is freed
from the power of the the evil one (Dan. 7:14; Rev. 11:15).39 The
phrase, sulle<cousin e]k th?j basilei<aj au]tou?, would then mean
that the unrighteous will not be permitted to enter the kingdom.40
Two observations support, this conclusion. First, the field is never
called the church, and nowhere in Matthew are the kingdom and
the church identified.41 Second, the world is that sphere in which
the Son of Man will establish His kingdom through the planting
of its message and its messengers.
When the wicked are judged, there will be weeping
(klauqmo>j) and gnashing of teeth (bpugmo>j tw?n o]do<ntwn)42 in the
fiery furnace (Matt. 13:42). This imagery of the furnace of fire is
drawn from Daniel 3:6, 11, 15, 20 and Malachi 4:1-2. This same
statement is made later in Matthew 13:50.
Of the destiny of the righteous Jesus said, "The righteous will
shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (v. 43). As
Morris observes, "Here the righteous are those accepted as righ-
teous on the last great day; the term points to their acceptability,
38 "Lawlessness" (a]nomi<an) occurs in the Gospels only in Matthew.
Stein, An Introduction to the Parables (
40 This correlates well with Matthew 8:12, where Jesus said the unrighteous will
be "cast out" of the kingdom by not being allowed to be present in the kingdom at the
table with believing Jews and Gentiles (George Eldon Ladd, Jesus and the King-
41 Stein observes, "It appears therefore far from certain that Matthew made or
could have made such a one-to-one correspondence between the kingdom of heaven
and the church .... Rather we should see in this expression the consummation of
the kingdom of heaven which will take place at the coming of the Son of man" (An
Introduction to the Parables, 146).
42 This expression is found six times in Matthew (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30)
and once in Luke (13:28) in reference to the terrible state of suffering by being sep-
arated from the righteous and the kingdom of the Father. For further discussion of
these metaphors see Schweizer, The Good News according to Matthew, 215--16.
The Parable of the Tares 275
not to their meritorious achievement."43 In Matthew the behavior
of the righteous demonstrates their righteousness. The phrase,
"shine as the sun," is unique to the New Testament and speaks of
"the radiance of the life to which they have come."44 This may re-
flect Daniel 12:3 and Malachi 4:2, which refer to the righteous as
shining and as being identified with the coming "sun of righ-
teousness."45 The latter obviously speaks of the coming Messiah;
Jesus was echoing the message of the prophets and applying it to
Himself. The destiny of the righteous is said to be "the kingdom
of their Father" (Matt. 13:43).
This is the only place in Matthew where the kingdom is
linked to God the Father. In 12:50, however, a person's
relationship with Christ is linked to a relationship with the
Father. The kingdom that belongs to Jesus as the Son of Man also
belongs to the Father. As Hagner writes, "The Kingdom of the Son
and the Kingdom of the Father refer to the same reality and. are
essentially interchangeable."46 In light of 1 Corinthians 15:24,
which refers to Jesus' future deliverance of the kingdom to God
the Father and the corresponding subordination of the Son to the
Father for all eternity, the eternal guarantee of the righteous may
be more in view in this portion of the parable. Matthew was stress-
ing that what Jesus is doing is the will and work of God and that
the kingdom of heaven is His by virtue of His relationship to His
Father and His role as the Son of Man.
The final exhortation, He who has ears, let him hear" (Matt.
13:43), parallels the end of the parable of the sower (v. 9; cf. 11:15).
This is further evidence of the connection between the first two
parables as parables of the kingdom.
THE CENTRAL TRUTH IN RELATIONSHIP TO THE KINGDOM
In interpreting this parable Jesus made no mention of the sleep-
ing, the questioning servants, the growth of both the wheat and the
43 Leon Monris, The Gospel
according to Matthew (
1992), 358 (italics his). Morris here may be inserting more of a Pauline positional
emphasis than is present in Matthew, because Matthew described righteousness as
manifested in character and obedience (7:21; 12:50).
45 Daniel 12:3 states, "Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the
heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and
ever" (N1V). According to Harrington, "There may be a connection between the ‘wise’
of Daniel and the Matthean disciple who ‘hears the word and understands’" (The
Gospel of Matthew, 206).
46 Hagner, Matthew 1-13, 394.
276 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1998
weeds, the gathering of the wheat into the barn, and the bundling
of the weeds for fire. Two questions raised by the parable involve
the origin of the conflict between the wicked and the righteous,
and the rightful responsibility to solve it: Where did the conflict
originate, and whose responsibility is it to deal with it?
Kistemaker says the conflict is between God and Satan.47 How-
ever, the parable focuses more on the judgment to be supervised
and executed through angelic agency by Jesus, the Son of Man.
This will be the final answer to the problem of satanic opposition
to His kingdom purposes.
THE ORIGIN OF THE OPPOSITION
The sons of the evil one are the followers of Satan, who opposes
God's work. Bruner writes, "No reading of the Gospels can escape
the impression that the earliest disciples of Jesus believed, and be-
lieved that Jesus believed, in the existence of an Evil One, who
sought to thwart the purposes of God."48
THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR JUDGMENT
Some maintain that Jesus told this parable to counter the expecta-
tion that the disciples were the ones to decide on who should be
considered members of the kingdom community.49 Others have
challenged this view, because the conversation between the ser-
vants and their master, they suggest, is not referred to in the in-
terpretation section of the parable. This matter, however, is in-
deed addressed in the interpretation. Since Jesus has the preroga-
tive to judge who will enter His kingdom, the disciples are not to
prejudge the people of this world. They are to "allow both grow to-
gether until the harvest" (13:30). Judging is the prerogative of the
takes place at the end of this age. "Only God Himself may distin-
guish the good from the evil: it is God's business alone to decide
who belongs to the kingdom."50 The disciples were taught that it
was not their right or responsibility to judge those they believed
were not acceptable for the
THE REALITY OF JUDGMENT
One of the central truths in this parable is the reality of the judg-
ment that will separate the wicked from the righteous. As Julicher
states, "The promise of fire shows that Jesus is not indifferent to
47 Kistemaker, The Parables of Jesus, 38.
48 Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, 498.
49 Hendrickx, The Parables of Jesus, 63.
50 Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, 235.
The Parable of the Tares 277
evil, and wickedness will meet its righteous end in punitive
THE KINGDOM IMPLICATIONS
Several significant truths in relation to God's kingdom program
are revealed in this parable. First, the world is the stage of the
continuing opposition of Satan against the plan of God. Unique to
this parable is the fact that this conflict is personal—between Je-
sus and Satan. The
ing under the influence of Satan and in danger of final judg-
ment. Second, since judgment will be carried out by the Son of
Man, believers are not responsible for separating the righteous
from the wicked before that event at the end of the age.
Third, the wicked will be judged by the wrath of God, and
those who are righteous will enter the
come in visible reality at the end of the age. It is possible that Je-
sus deliberately chose to echo the words of John the Baptist in this
parable concerning the seriousness of divine judgment. Both
John and Jesus predicted that He will be the Agent of that fiery
judgment (3:12; 13:41).
Fourth, the present age is distinguished from the events that
will culminate at the end of this age. The present age of God's
kingdom program is one of sowing and growth. The end of the
age will be marked by the decisive judgment of the wicked and
their separation from the righteous. The present age is not to be
characterized by any kind of "holy war" instigated by those who
would consider themselves servants of the Lord.
Many have wrongly applied this parable to the church.52 Dodd
states, "The lesson taught is that there are good and bad members
of the Church (the Kingdom of the Son of Man), and that it is not
the Lord's will that any attempt should be made to expel the bad be-
fore the final judgment."53
"The parable does not address the church situation at all but ex-
plains how the kingdom can be present in the world while not yet
wiping out all opposition. That must await the harvest. The para-
ble deals with eschatological expectation, not ecclesiological dete-
riorat:ion."54 Blomberg puts it this way: "From the actions of the
51 Julicher, Die Gleichnisreden, 2:549.
52 John P. Maier, Matthew (Wilmington, DE: Glazier, 1980), 148.
53 C. H.
Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, rev. ed. (
1961), 147. Even Dodd considers this conclusion suspicious, for he writes, "We
should do well to forget this interpretation as completely as possible" (ibid., 148).
54 Donald A. Carson, "Matthew," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 8:317.
278 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July—September 1998
farmer and the fate of the wheat and the weeds, one learns that
God will permit the righteous and the wicked to coexist in this age
but that He will eventually separate the wicked, judge them, and
destroy them, while gathering the righteous together to be re-
warded by enjoying His presence together."55
THE INTENDED APPEAL TO THE AUDIENCE
That the parable has a two-pronged thrust can be argued from the
fact that it was delivered within the hearing of the multitude as
well as the disciples. And the fact that the interpretation was
given only to the disciples denotes a special application was in-
tended for them. The parable was meant to explain as well as
challenge. Jesus' interpretation explains the enigmatic presence
of what is false but which looks much like what is real. The para-
ble also points up that Jesus will separate the two later. His pur-
pose in the present age is not judgmental but is the widespread
"planting" of the people of the kingdom in the world. This plant-
ing is being done in the face of satanic opposition. The evil one is
Satan, the enemy of the Son of Man, and of His purposes in estab-
lishing the present phase of the kingdom.
The righteous are challenged to remember that judgment
will be executed by Jesus. This should prompt the believing com-
munity to do the will of God without worrying.56 The unbelieving
also are challenged to realize that the Son of Man will judge those
who refuse to become "sons of the kingdom." They need to realize
that this eternity-determining judgment will be irreversibly fi-
Hendrickx says the parable applies to the first community
level (the audience of Jesus) and the second community level (the
early church). Those in the first community needed to under-
stand that they were part of the new believing community and to
understand the reason for the present opposition. Those in the sec-
ond community needed to realize that absolute purification of the
world in this age is im.possible.57 No doubt a major appeal from
the parable is for patience as Jesus' followers can expect continu-
ing hostility from those who reject His message.58
The parable was also relevant to the multitude who heard it
and resented the rule of
55 Blomberg, Matthew, 219.
57 Hendrickx, The Parables of Jesus, 60.
58 So Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 200.
The Parable of the Tares 279
nal judgment should cause them to question whether they were
ready for that judgment. In addition, the fact that Jesus is the Son
of Man would mean they were responsible to Him.
The need for such teaching in the Sitz im Leben of Jesus was
clearly manifest for several reasons. For one, the zealots and oth-
ers were impatient and desired the separation of the wheat from
the tares immediately and this meant for them the destruction of
teaching that the
was no judgment of the wicked.
wary sought such a separation by isolating itself from the unrigh-
teous and seeking to establish in the wilderness a community pre-
pared for the coming of the Messiah by eliminating from its pres-
ence any "weeds." Even the disciples may have had similar needs,
as John's and James' desire to bring clown fire from heaven to con-
sume the Samaritan "weeds" indicates (see Luke 9:51-56). Judg-
ment, Jesus taught, was coming. There would be a final separa-
tion, but their task did not involve this separation.59
The parable was also intended to encourage the "sons of the
kingdom"; that one day the Son of Man will be victorious over the
evil one and all his ploys. Jesus' followers need not fear that the
meantime they are to evangelize others. "The confidence in the
certainty of the coming separation keeps one from worrying about
the fate of the seed. It sets one free for the ingathering of people
‘pure’ community of righteous people. The parable speaks of un-
conditional invitation, not of the formation of a holy remnant."60
Therefore this certainty of the future separation of the righteous
and the wicked at Jesus' second coming warns unbelievers about
false profession and encourages believers to be faithful disciples
of the Lord.61
59 Stein, An Introduction to the Parables, 144.
60 Hendrickx, The Parables of Jesus, 59.
61 Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, 262.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Please report any errors to Ted