The Parable of the Wheat and Tares

Following is chapter 4 of The Kingdom According to Jesus. You may order the entire study from a number of the nation’s leading booksellers.

Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43 (HCSB)

24 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left.
26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared.
27 The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this!’ he told them. “ ‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up?’ the slaves asked him.
29 “‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn. ’”

Jesus Interprets the Wheat and the Weeds

36 Then He dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached Him and said, “Explain the parable of the weeds in the field to us.”
37 He replied: “The One who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
38 the field is the world; and the good seed—these are the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and
39 the enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 Therefore just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.
41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness.
42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!”

The context

Jesus continues teaching the crowds from His boat at the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. He has just explained the parable of the sower to His disciples, as well as why He is teaching the mysteries of the kingdom in parables (see chapters 2 and 3). Now, without further delay, Matthew records that Jesus “presented another parable to them” (v. 24). As with the parable of the sower, Jesus later explains the parable of the wheat and tares to His disciples.

Keep in mind what Jesus has said in Matt. 12:28. It is crucial in setting the stage for Jesus’ parables in chapter 13: “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” Jesus declares that the long-awaited kingdom of heaven has come – but not in the way the Jewish leaders were expecting. Rather than as a political and military machine, the kingdom has come quietly and with great spiritual power, invading Satan’s kingdom and binding him (the “strong man” of Matt. 12:29) so that He may plunder the evil one’s kingdom.

The scribes and Pharisees will have none of this teaching and reject the King and His Kingdom. So in chapter 13, as Jesus leaves Peter’s house and sits beside the sea, multitudes gather around Him, having witnessed His miracles and having heard His declaration that the kingdom of heaven has come. Jesus gets into a boat – perhaps Peter’s boat or a boat made available for Jesus’ use whenever He needed it – and begins a series of eight parables on the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the wheat and tares is the second of these parables.

Central theme

The central theme of this parable is that God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom will exist side-by-side during this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Contrary to the Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be a conquering political king, Jesus comes the first time as the Suffering Servant to invade Satan’s kingdom and rescue His own out of it (Col. 1:13). This is the “mystery” of the kingdom. The day will come when Jesus “abolishes all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24), but that day is future. For now, believers and unbelievers will live together – in many cases indistinguishable from one another – until the resurrection and judgment.

Central characters

The “good seed” are believers and the “weeds” or “tares” are unbelievers – more specifically, unbelievers who are “holding to the form of religion but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Manners and Customs of Bible Lands gives us a clearer image of these false professors of the faith by describing the nature of tares:

In the Holy Land, tares are something called ‘wild wheat,’ because they resemble wheat, only the grains are black. Thomson has this to say about the tares:

“The Arabic name for tares is zawan, and they abound all over the East, and are a great nuisance to the farmer. The grain is small, and is arranged along the upper part of the stalk, which stands perfectly erect. Its taste is bitter, and when eaten separately, or when diffused in ordinary bread, it causes dizziness, and often acts as an emetic. In short, it is a strong soporific poison, and must be carefully winnowed, and picked out of the wheat, grain by grain, before grinding, or the flour is not healthy. Of course the farmers are very anxious to exterminate it, but that is nearly impossible.”

Interestingly, Satan’s deception is so great that even the tares suppose themselves to be children of the kingdom (Matt. 7:21-23).


Jesus describes Himself (the Son of Man) as the sower. Apart from Him, there is no everlasting life. And like the sower in His preceding parable (Matt. 13:1-9), Jesus determined that the gospel of the kingdom would be spread broadly, taking root across all racial and ethnic lines (Rev. 5:9-10). That’s why the “good seed,” or believers, would not just be restricted to the nation of Israel.

“The field” is the world, the mass of humanity stretched across the globe. God has placed believers everywhere.

“The enemy” is Satan, who craftily plants his counterfeit Christians wherever believers spring up. He does so “while people are sleeping,” a warning to the church to be ever vigilant against false teachers who, Paul says, are “savage wolves” bent on destroying the flock (Acts 20:29-31).

“The harvest” is the end of the age – this present evil age (Gal. 1:4) – at which time God will separate true believers from false ones.

“The harvesters” are God’s angels, who assist Him in resurrection and judgment (Matt. 24:30-31).

Spiritual application

The day is coming, says Jesus, when there will be a harvest and a gathering – resurrection and judgment in which He will separate believers from nonbelievers (John 5:28-29). Just as the tares are gathered and burned, those who have rejected Christ will receive the same judgment pronounced on Satan: everlasting separation from God in hell (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10-15).

Believers, however, will receive glorified bodies similar to Christ’s resurrected body, be rewarded for their faithfulness and spend eternity with Him (John 14:1-3; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 21:1-8).

While eagerly anticipating that day, believers should be diligent to “confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10) and to be on guard against false professors of the faith who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15).

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