Another Tale of Two Cities, The Witnesses and the Wicked
“Jesus 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 his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 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!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 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.”’”
During my missives on the book of Revelation, I quoted this parable more than once. We must remember that parables are literary devices used to present truth. They are not to be taken literally nor are they necessarily nonfiction or absolute prescriptions of promise. For example, in the parable of the Sower, we see four representations of faith and yet only one “bears fruit.” However, these are not absolute, if they were, we would be all in trouble. For which one of us has not been choked with worry or with worldly wiles? Yet there is an absolute apparent in the parable; those that don’t bear fruit are either lacking ample soil or choked out. In the same way, this particular parable contains absolute truth woven into the fabric of its context.
I believe the best way to read a parable is to read it, then, read it again. After that, read it three or four more times, each time more slowly than the previous time. Then, apply the CAGED method, where: Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to Audience is Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and then, Divide Rightly the Word of Truth. My explanation of the CAGED method is a bit wordy but the method is simple, without it, we may keep the Scriptures CAGED. First and foremost we must consider the context. That is, one must read more than a couple of verses to see the surrounding Scripture. Also consider the culture, remember the time in which Jesus spoke. When Jesus says, “follow me,” he’s not talking to tweeters or garnering gains on the ‘Gram. He is speaking with an agrarian people who know about seeds, sheep, wheat and tares. A bit of a side note: I hate pictures of Jesus holding sheep with lush, green grass in the background. You know the ones, where the semitic, middle-eastern, yet pale-skinned, blue-eyed, scrawny “Jesus” holds a little lamb only a few shades whiter than him. The man was a carpenter that walked a thousand miles in the middle-eastern heat. The point is that we assign our culture and climate to not only Jesus himself, but his words. As Kanye said, I am not here to talk about his facial features but to convert atheists into believers. The best way to do that is to read his words, carefully considering the context. The context, that’s what we need more context. Or have you read ahead already?
Jesus, after telling a couple more parables, answers the disciples as to whom the cast of characters are, represented by men, wheat and tares, notice: “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, 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 lawlessness, 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.”
In this particular parable, as in the last, we are blessed both with the parable and the explanation. It’s not within the immediate context but it’s certainly close. One would not wonder what Jesus is speaking about if one was willing to continue reading the context. Nevertheless, even with the explanation, once in a while we wonder. Let’s focus first on the parable.
Most of us, even those like me without a green thumb, can recognize the difference between weeds and wheat. Yet even the most agriculturally minded of us may have difficulty distinguishing difference between weeds and wheat at their early stages of development. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers claim this to be part of the parable. They claim that in order for the weeds to be distinguished from the wheat, they must grow up together and then they can be harvested because as they mature, they become more and more distinct from each other. Theologically I believe that to be partially true and it is part of the context but not the primary focus; is that what the context dwells upon?
First and foremost remember, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man…” Then take this into account; “while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest.” Then, most importantly, remember the following: “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!’” Do you see what’s contained in the context that most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers ignore? It’s the trifecta of over-reaching. Jesus knows from eternity who are the wheat and who are the weeds. He actually gives us the reason for not removing the weeds–it may uproot the wheat. Furthermore, Jesus says that even the slaves recognize that the enemy has sown bad seed. It’s in the context. Unfortunately, and you can look this up, most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers mention how the immature weeds look a lot like the immature wheat, which is true but it is not in the context.
What is in the context is that both the weeds and wheat are determined to grow together in the world. And, the context claims, the weeds will be removed from the earth first. For the majority of my life I believed in a pre-tribulation rapture. It was the careful consideration of this passage and the explanation of the passage by Jesus that changed my mind. It also didn’t hurt that most commentators suggest that the weeds and wheat are indistinguishable. I thought to myself, “wait, that’s not in the context.” But what I found in the context and explanation was that the weeds, although allowed to grow together with the wheat, are eventually uprooted first. Notice; “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.'” I cover this in great detail in my missives on Revelation.
For now let’s keep it in Matthew and look at another example where Jesus is clearly showing that the weeds are harvested first. Full confession, I used to use this as proof of a pre-tribulation rapture…Then I considered the context more carefully.
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.”
“Left Behind,” is a book and a series of books and even major motion pictures–the cooperative of which made millions and is wildly popular. Yet here I am, going against the grain, once again, proclaiming that the entire series is a fanciful farce. Again, I used to defend it until I carefully considered the context. Notice two things; left behind and taken.
Who is left behind and who is taken?The ultimate premise of the Left Behind series is that the believers are raptured and the unbelievers are left behind. That is to say, The followers of Jesus are taken and those who don’t follow Jesus are left behind. Just as Noah was taken from the earth into the sky in the ark on the flooded waters, so too will the christian be taken from the earth in a rapture. Sounds good, correct? Problem: context; notice: “they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away.” The context is clear, it is the weeds that are taken away. Read Genesis 6-9, it is the great foreshadowing of Jesus and the wheat and tares. Although drastically changed, Noah and the earth and the seven other people remained, it was the wicked witch were swept away.