Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (July-September 1998) 266-79.

          Copyright © 1998 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.






                                                 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 kingdom of God

and the kingdom of Satan, whereas Mark was showing the unin-

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-

logical Seminary, Dallas, Texas.


*This is article three in the eight-part series "The Kingdom in the Parables of

Matthew 13."


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 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity,

1990), 263–66; and Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary

(Dallas, TX: Word, 382).

3   David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible (London: Marshall,

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

the kingdom of God was suffering attack during Jesus' min-

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 (Richmond,

VA: Knox, 1969), 67; and Herman Hendrickx, The Parables of Jesus (San Francisco:

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).

6   George R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids:

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

as Isaac..

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-

bles [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], 187-88).

268                 BIBLIOTHECA  SACRA  /  July–September 1998




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 St. Augustine) goes well beyond anything de-

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




            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

(Richmond, VA: Knox, 1975), 304; and Archibald M. Hunter, Interpreting the Para-

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 Commentary (Nashville: Broad-

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 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 in the Middle East. It is botanically

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 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-

ligious establishment.

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 (New York: Cambridge University Press,

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

1-13, 384).

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 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 Israel) than Beasley-Murray is willing to concede.

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.



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 Palestine, where wood was scarce, certain

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 [Darmstadt: Wis-

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



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 Judah under the threat of God's

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 gath-

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.

39   Robert Stein, An Introduction to the Parables (Philadelphia: Westminster,

1981), 145.

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-

dom [New York: Harper & Row, 1964], 230).

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.



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 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

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).

44   Ibid.

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 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



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

Son of Man. The good and the bad will coexist until the judgment

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 kingdom of God (7:1-5).



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




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 unbelieving in Israel were charged with be-

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 kingdom of God, which will

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 Carson counters with this assertion:

"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. (New York: Scribner & Sons,

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




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 Rome. Attempts to overthrow the power of


55   Blomberg, Matthew, 219.

56   Ibid.

57   Hendrickx, The Parables of Jesus, 60.

58   So Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 200.

                 The Parable of the Tares                   279


Rome would not be appropriate. Conversely, anticipating the fi-

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

            the Roman Empire. The Pharisees also may have criticized Jesus

            for his teaching that the kingdom of God had come in his ministry

            when there was no judgment of the wicked. Qumran in its own

            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

kingdom of God will fall prey to the powers of darkness. In 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

into the kingdom of God without any constraint to bring about a

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.



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