Matthew 13 (Verses 24-58: “The Wheat and the Tares” and Other Parables)

The previous post featured notes and commentary on Matthew 13:1-23 (The Parable of the Sower and the Seed). This post covers the rest of Matthew 13 (verses 24-58), and this study also took place in June 2011.

Verses 24-30: The Parable of the Weeds

This parable is explained by Jesus in verses 36-43, so we will only give a brief overview here. Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a man who sowed good seed in his own field. He apparently assigned his servants to do this sowing, because while they were sleeping, an enemy came and intentionally sabotaged the harvest by sowing weeds among the wheat before going away. The damage was done, and when the grain appeared, so did the weeds. The servants offered to pluck up the weeds, but they were told not to do so lest they mistakenly pull up the wheat along with it. The weeds would be pulled first later on at harvest time by the reapers, and bound in bundles to be burned, but the wheat would be gathered into the man’s barn.

In farmer’s terms, there was a weed known as “bearded darnel” which resembled wheat when the plants were young. Only when they reached maturity would it be clear which was which.

Q: Do we view all of Jesus’ parables as general anecdotes about how we should live? Or do we view some of them as specific declarations to a 1st century audience of coming judgment and change?

Verses 31-33: The Mustard Seed and the Leaven

Verses 31-32: Jesus next compared the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed sowed in a man’s field. The mustard seed was the smallest seed known to the Jewish community, and elsewhere Jesus referred to this seed in His statement about mountain-moving faith (Matt. 17:20). What grows from this seed, however, is a tree that is larger than all garden plants and becomes a host to many birds and their nests. Christ’s kingdom would be small at the time of its beginning, but over time it would greatly expand as many came to faith from all nations. Another implication is that His kingdom would be far greater than any earthly kingdom.

Verse 33: The parable of the leaven spoke of how the kingdom of heaven was to come to fruition. Does this illustrate the time period between the announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus that the kingdom was at hand until it was to come in power – while some of Jesus’ disciples were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28)? In other words, was this leavening process to take one generation, the generation which saw the Old Covenant age pass in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple? Or might this parable speak of how the kingdom of heaven works itself out in the hearts of God’s people and/or how it was to pervade the whole world as the message of the gospel went forth to the nations?

Verses 34-35: Prophecy and Parables

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, He only spoke to the crowds by means of parables. Matthew said this fulfilled a prophecy by Asaph in Psalm 78:2.

“Asaph wrote that he would explain to his readers aspects of Israel’s history that had been previously unknown. He then proceeded to use Israel’s history to teach the Israelites how consistently rebellious they had been toward God and how just and merciful God had been with them. He taught these lessons by using ‘parables,’ by comparing various things. By comparing various incidents in Israel’s history He revealed things previously unclear. Stephen used the same technique in Acts 7” (Dr. Thomas Constable). 

Jesus was casting new light onto the teachings of the kingdom that had been given by the prophets.

Verses 36-43: The Parable of the Weeds Explained

Verse 36: This explanation of the parable of the weeds, and the parables that follow, are spoken only in the presence of Jesus’ disciples. They went back into the same house that they were in earlier (Matt. 12:46, 13:1). It was the disciples who asked to hear the explanation of the parable of the weeds.

Verse 37-39: Jesus identifies the cast of characters in this parable: [1] Jesus is the sower of the good seed [2] The good seed is those who belong to the kingdom [3] The field is the entire world [4] The weeds are those who do not belong to the kingdom [5] The sower of the weeds is the devil [6] The reapers are angels.

Verse 39: Jesus identifies the time of the harvest as “the close of the age.” It’s popularly taught today that this means the end of world history. However, whereas the phrase “time of the end” appears in Scripture numerous times, the phrase “end of time” does not. In Matthew 24:3, the disciples asked Jesus about “the end of the age,” and this was parallel to their question about the pending destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-4, Luke 21:5-7), which we know from history took place in 70 AD. Furthermore, the reply that Jesus gave them also tied the end of the age to their own generation (Matt. 24:34). In other words, they spoke of the end of the Old Covenant age. For further proof of this, see Hebrews 9:26 (Jesus appeared at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself), I Corinthians 2:6-8 (the rulers of Paul’s age had crucified the Lord, and they were doomed to pass away), and I Cor. 10:11 (the ends of the ages had come upon Paul’s first century readers). According to William Barclay’s “New Testament Words,” the word used for “age” here in verse 39 means “generation or epoch.”

The reapers are angels, Jesus also says. The judgments we see in the book of Revelation all involve angels. In Revelation 14:14-20 we also see a two-part harvest. An angel announces that “the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” (verse 15). A different angel then shouts out a command to “gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe” (verse 18). This second reaping results in those who are gathered being cast into “the great winepress of the wrath of God” where much blood flowed “outside the city” (verses 19-20). In Matthew 16:27-28, we also see that Jesus is to come within the lifetime of some of His disciples in judgment and “with His holy angels.” Both passages appear to mirror what we see here in this parable. Joel McDurmon comments (SOURCE):

…The separation of wheat and tares, then, pertained to the destruction of Jerusalem and the separation of God’s true fruit-bearing people from the weeds, the unbelieving Jews of that time. Ironically, this interpretation gets to the heart of the picture in the parable.

A “tare” was not simply any old weed, but a particular weed called a “darnel” or zizania in Greek. It looked almost exactly like wheat in early stages of growth and required close examination to tell the difference. In later stages, the difference grows clear, but then it is too late to remove the darnel without damaging the wheat (as the parable says). Worse yet, the darnel kernels are poisonous, causing dizziness, sickness, and possibly even death when eaten. In short, they could look like the real thing, but they were poison; and after a while, their true colors showed. This was exactly the story with the rebellious Jews. They looked like God’s people, but they were really the children of the enemy—they even killed God’s prophets (Matt. 23:30–39). And the longer history went on, the more their true nature as the children of wrath was revealed.

Thus the parable describes the then-soon-coming end of that old age and the destruction of its children, and the beginning of the gathering in of the true children of God’s kingdom. It should not be understood as teaching anything beyond this

In what sense were the unbelieving Jews, the Judaizers especially, like poisonous weeds among the children of the kingdom? Paul offers a clue in what he says to the Thessalonians who were under persecution: “…For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!”  (I Thess. 2:14-16).

Verses 40-42: At the close of the age (70 AD), Jesus would send His angels to gather “out of His kingdom” the weeds, i.e. those who rejected His kingdom, and they would be thrown “into the fiery furnace” and burned with fire. Jerusalem and the temple were literally burned with fire by the Romans in 70 AD, just as Jesus (Matthew 22:7) and John (Revelation 17:16, 18:8-9, 18) said would happen. Jesus’ words here also appear to be related to what He said in the Parable of the Tenants, when He proclaimed that the kingdom of God would be taken away from the religious leadership of Israel and given to those who would bear its fruit (Matthew 21:43). The following are some thoughts shared by two friends of mine, Mark Church and Kurt Simmons (a published author), in a Facebook conversation, also in June 2011 (Source):

The imagery of being “cast into the lake of fire” is taken from the Old Testament prophets, and describes the defeat of nations and armies. When the angel of the Lord destroyed 185,000 Assyrians, the bodies were buried and burned in Tophet (Valley of Hinnom), which gave rise to the imagery of hell (Gehenna) as a place of fire and maggots (Isaiah 30:31-33). This defeat and cremation of an enemy army seems to be the source of latter imagery. Ezekiel describes the defeat of Egypt in similar language, saying its host would go down to the “pit” (sheol) in defeat (Ezekiel 31:14, 17)… Also in Isaiah 34:8-10 it uses similar language about the lake of fire (stream of fire) in juxtaposition to the destruction of Edom (kingdom just south of Israel). 

Isaiah 34:8-10 “For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause. Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.”

IT SAYS THERE THAT THE SMOKE WOULD RISE FOREVER AND EVER. Obviously after the destruction of Edom, we don’t still see the smoke rising from there to this day. It was a metaphorical expression about being completely wiped out. 

It was the same in the book of Revelation chapter 19 when describing the ultimate destruction of Babylon (which we know was JERUSALEM).

Revelation 19:3 “And again they shouted: ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.’”

Obviously, to this day we don’t still see Jerusalem smoke rising forever and ever. It was an expression of complete annihilation.

Verse 43: The righteous will shine like the sun. Compare with Daniel 12:3, which also has as its context the completion of the great tribulation and the end of the age (verses 1, 4, 7, 13).

Verse 44: The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

The true disciple loses his affection for the things of this world, as Jesus and His kingdom become the treasure of his heart.

Verses 45-46: The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value

Ditto! In the previous parable, though, the discovery was accidental.

Verses 47-50: The Parable of the Net

This parable is very similar to the parable of the weeds. All things are gathered first, and the sorting occurs later, where again the bad things gathered are thrown away.

Verses 51-52: New and Old Treasures

The disciples affirmed that they understood what Jesus shared with them, in fulfillment of verse 11 (“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom…”).

Verses 53-58: Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth, where the crowds gathered at the synagogue were astonished by His mighty works, and also likely by His teachings. They expressed doubt that, having come from a humble upbringing, He could then do all these things. They chose to be offended by Him, and so He withheld the greater part of His mighty works from them because of their unbelief. This likely indicates that their astonishment had been the result of hearing about His mighty works, and not so much the result of witnessing them firsthand.

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