KINGDOM: Victory over Enemies is Coming (Matthew 13:24-30, Matthew 13:36-43)
In this study we run into our second instance where Jesus tells a parable, then at the request of His disciples, provides the interpretation. This serves us in two different but related ways…
- We get a clear, incontrovertible interpretation of the parable from the one who told it.
- We learn principles from His interpretation about how to interpret parables for ourselves.
OK, let’s get into it.
He put another parable before them, saying, “The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.
Jesus says that the Kingdom of heaven may be COMPARED to something. It’s probably time in this little series that we talk about what a comparison IS and what a comparison ISN’T.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as…
comparison * noun - compari*son
1: the act or process of comparing: such as
a: the representing of one thing or person as similar to or like another
b: an examination of two or more items to establish similarities and dissimilarities
So when we compare things, we’re not saying the second thing is EXACTLY like the first thing to which we are comparing. We’re also not saying that every fact pertaining to the first thing is true of the second thing.
What we ARE saying is that SOME things about the first thing are true of or similar or dissimilar to the second thing, and that by observing those, we can understand the second thing better.
And how are we to WHICH of these things are the point of the comparison? The person making the comparison tells us.
And we should also note that comparisons are meant to convey obvious similarities and dissimilarities, the main things that are most easily seen. While there may be similarities between the two things that exist on a micro-level, if those things are not readily apparent, they are unlikely to be the main point – UNLESS the one telling the story points them out as part of the point he/she is making. So when it comes to biblical teaching (like Jesus’ parables), it’s better to keep our interpretation anchored in the obvious things related to the comparison being made and direct our attention to the details drawn out by the one who’s making the comparison.
So, with all that in mind, Jesus Himself tells us the point of this parable before He even begins.
“The Kingdom of heaven can be compared to…”
He wants us to better understand the nature of the Kingdom of heaven, and He’s using a parable to communicate those truths. So, THAT is what we should be on the lookout for, things in the parable that tell us what the Kingdom and life in the Kingdom are like.
So, let’s dig into the story as Jesus tells it…
A man planted seed in his field. Imagine it happening in Jesus’ day.
This man plans which crop he’s going to plant in his field. He clears the field of any refuse or left-over stalks from the last harvest. He tills the soil up, removing stones that winter’s cold have pushed to the surface, and possibly adding things to the soil so that it is as rich and fertile as can be.
Rows are formed using hoes and other tools, preparing the bed in which the seeds will be laid. The furrows stretch across the field, accentuated by the mounds of dirt on either side.
Next, he walks the field, row by row, sprinkling the seed into the rows, handful after handful. Then, he walks the rows again, gently covering the seeds with the dark soil heaped alongside the furrows.
Finally, the tools are put away and prayers are said. He asks for rain and sunlight, the necessary conditions to produce a healthy and bountiful crop. Satisfied and thankful, he retires to his home or a camp alongside the field, tired from the long process of planting the field.
Perhaps it was the very first night, maybe it was later, but somewhere along the line, as the Master’s men sleep, an enemy of the Master sends his men to subvert the Master’s hopes. These enemies walk the field just as the Master did, scattering weed seed across the field. If they had time, they may have even gently covered the seed with soil so that come morning, nobody would notice what they had done.
JESUS’ DEFINITION OF THE PARABLE’S MAIN POINTS
OK, here’s where we benefit from Jesus’ own commentary on His story. Check out Matthew 13:36-39.
Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the Kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are angels.
It’s helpful to me, to make a quick “glossary” of these parable terms that I can refer to as I read it:
- MASTER = JESUS
- FIELD = WORLD
- SEED/WHEAT = SONS (& DAUGHTERS) OF THE KINGDOM
- WEEDS = SONS OF THE EVIL ONE
- ENEMY = DEVIL (evil one)
- HARVEST = END OF THE AGE
- REAPERS = ANGELS
This is the point where we can see the importance of sticking to the main points of the story. Jesus Himself states the parable is to be compared to the “Kingdom of heaven,” which is a broad and expansive thing. So, we would not want to interpret the characters or items in the parable as narrow or culturally-specific things.
For example, if we decided, even with compelling reasons, (before reading Jesus’ identification in this section) that the enemy in the story is a modern-day politician, or despot, or celebrity, or business leader, we’d be on the wrong track and would not be able to understand the parable.
The labels Jesus provides in this section point out this principle. His story is about something broad (the Kingdom of heaven), so the characters and items in the story must also be broad.
OBSERVATIONS, BUT NOT THE MAIN THING
The first thing I notice about this first section of the parable is that the enemy was deliberate.
- He conceived of a way to spoil the Master’s efforts.
- He had to find and gather weed seed.
- He had to organize and instruct those who would help him carry out the deed.
- He had to pull it off, under cover of night, with nobody knowing it was him, or his men who did it.
While all this is true, it’s a bit off from Jesus’ primary purpose. He’s not first of all intending to communicate details about the Kingdom’s enemies – how they work, what sort of schemes they perpetrate, etc. – He’s instead, telling us about the Kingdom itself.
So, while there may be some helpful details here that give insight into POSSIBLE means and tactics of the enemy, we shouldn’t use this parable to write blog posts, create videos, or publish studies with titles like, “5 biblical steps to recognizing the enemy’s tactics from the parable of the weeds,” or some other such drivel.
That approach would ONLY be valid if Jesus, the one telling the story, focused our attention there. He doesn’t. So in storytelling vernacular, these are plot points that contribute to the storyline, but are NOT the point of the story itself.
FIRST SECTION: MAIN POINT
OK then, what DOES Jesus point out about the nature of the Kingdom in this part of the story?
- The Kingdom of Heaven grows.
- The Kingdom of heaven exists in the real world (not in some unrelated or far-off spiritual sphere).
- The Kingdom of heaven has enemies… the devil and “sons of the evil one.”
- These enemies seek to disrupt or spoil the work of the Kingdom.
- These enemies’ efforts often have an effect gradually, over time.
I honestly don’t think we need much more detail than that to get the gist of what Jesus intends to convey.
We, as Kingdom citizens, must realize that we are called into a growing realm, an ever-expanding and advancing work of God. That’s what the Kingdom is. We must also recognize that the Kindom has enemies and that their influence and tactics will be felt. We are in a battle, right now, during the span of our earthly lives. We shouldn’t assume that everyday life in the Kingdom is placid and peaceful.
Let’s continue the story…
THE DISCOVERY OF THE ENEMY’S WORK
And the servants of the Master of the house came and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’
Can you picture the confusion on the faces of the man’s servants as they step into the field one morning and realize that there are lots and LOTS of foreign plants in the field?
They begin to ask questions.
- Was the seed our Master purchased somehow mixed with weed seeds? That is highly unlikely…
- Did the wind blow the weed seeds into the field? No, it can’t be that… there are too many weeds for that to be the case!
- How did this happen?
When they ask the Master what’s going on, He has the wisdom and experience to understand what’s happened. ‘An enemy has done this.’
OUR KINGDOM LESSON
In Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, He doesn’t say much about the section we’ve just covered, except to identify that the good seed is the “sons of the Kingdom” (you and me, believers in Christ) and that the weeds are the “sons of the evil one” (non-Christians).
So, let’s unpack the implications of what He’s revealing to us…
1) Right now, during the time of our earthly existence, we live and work alongside “sons (and daughters) of the Kingdom.” We’re all growing, advancing, maturing as PART OF the overall growth of the Kingdom. Though Jesus doesn’t directly make this application, it only makes sense that we should be actively encouraging and supporting each other as parts of the whole.
2) We also live and work among “sons (and daughters) of the evil one.” This should not surprise us. We know that not everyone is a Christian, nor will everyone become Christians. Biblically speaking, there are only two ways to live — in joyful submission to the rule and reign of Jesus, or in willful rebellion against it.
3) The devil himself has been instrumental in placing and using people who are not aligned with Jesus, to compromise our health and disrupt or potentially overtake our growth as “good seed.” We should not be surprised about this. It’s the way things are in the development and growth of the Kingdom of heaven.
4) Our Master (Jesus) is not surprised, flustered, or otherwise inconvenienced by what the devil is doing or has done. He takes it in stride, confident that He can handle the issue in the right timing.
So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’
It’s interesting to note that in His definitions, Jesus doesn’t label the servants who planted the field. These seem to be the same individuals who ask the question about the appearance of the weeds and what is to be done about it. I initially assumed that the servants are US (Christians). But Jesus specifically says that we are the “good seed,” not the servants. Simply put, Jesus doesn’t identify the servants at all.
So, we are faced with one of the hardest disciplines to develop when it comes to biblical interpretation.
We have to forge ahead, seeking to understand what we DO have before us while leaving some of the terms and images undefined. It can feel a bit frustrating at times, but I’m helped by realizing that Jesus Himself didn’t seem to think it was all that important for me to know who the servants in the parable are. It seems that they are included in the telling of the story with no INTENDED comparison to real life.
Back to the story…
Agriculturally speaking, the servants’ question makes sense. “Do you want us to go out and pull the weeds?” If I were in their shoes, I’d probably assume a “Yes” answer was forthcoming.
But that’s not what happens. The Master tells them to leave the weeds (non-believers/opponents) to grow alongside the intended crop (us). They will be dealt with at the proper time.
COEXISTING WITH THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE EVIL ONE
Again, because Jesus doesn’t say anything about this part of the parable in His explanation, we have to leave the point right here.
We simply have to accept that we, the sons and daughters of the Kingdom, DO and MUST coexist with the sons and daughters of the evil one. Somehow, it’s for our good to do so.
And though the Bible says a lot of things, in many other passages, about how we are to conduct ourselves toward those outside the community of believers, we shouldn’t squeeze all of them into this parable or its application. Doing so wouldn’t necessarily be harmful, but it would likely distract us from some of the main points of the parable, points Jesus Himself wants us to see and understand.
Think of it this way, if Jesus had wanted us to have a detailed idea of what we’re to do, as sons and daughters of the Kingdom, as we live alongside the sons and daughters of the evil one, this would have been the ideal spot for Him to insert those instructions. But He doesn’t. He has a different purpose for telling this parable.
THE MASTER WILL DEAL WITH THE WEEDS, IN TIME
We humans can be a bit impatient with God’s plans at times, can’t we? I have often wondered throughout my Christian experience, “Lord, why are You taking so long to pull everything together and wrap up this mess?” I ask that when the suffering, strife, and effects of living in a fallen world seem overwhelming or vain.
It’s at these moments that I have to remind myself of a simple truth, clearly outlined in this parable; He is the Master, not me. He not only knows what He’s doing, He’s doing it in His perfect timing and in the perfect way, even though from my vantage point among the weeds, it seems far from perfect at times.
But when He DOES finally deal with the weeds, those who have rejected and opposed Him, it will be a decisive event. In the parable He calls it “harvest.” In keeping with the parable, that’s an agricultural image — and one we all understand. The crops (and in this case, weeds) will be removed from the field (this world) and each will be dealt with appropriately.
The “reapers” or the angels, will do the work here. In His explanation, Jesus says,
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Here we learn that the angels of God will be involved in executing His judgment at the “end of the age.”
We have yet to identify exactly WHEN this harvest is to happen, so let’s take a stab at it now.
WHICH “END OF THE AGE” ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
It’s normative in modern Christian practice for us to read statements like “the end of the age” and immediately assume that reference is being made to OUR future. After all, this IS a pretty extreme sounding statement and Jesus IS talking about sorting out or separating the “sons of the evil one” from the “sons of the Kingdom.” Contextually, we can also point to Matthew chapter 12 (the previous chapter) where Jesus explained earlier that same day, some of the things that would happen “at the judgement” (Matthew 12:41-42).
But is that the RIGHT way to understand it? Is that how JESUS intended for His words to be understood by His original audience?
Let me say right up front, I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t believe this passage is clear enough for me (or anyone) to be dogmatic. The reason for such uncertainty is this: The word Jesus uses for “age” is the Greek word “aion” – which does NOT infer anything about the chronology or timing of the period of time in question, it simply means “a period of time of significant character.” In some contexts, it can even mean “this present age.”
So those hearing Jesus tell this parable (the first century, original audience) would have assumed that He was referring to THEIR future, which COULD BE in our past OR in our future. He could have intended for them to understand the harvest He described as happening at the end of THEIR PRESENT AGE.
How could this have happened?
Some might suggest that it’s possible that the end Jesus described was the judgment of God that was implemented in 70 A.D., which was a judgment directed primarily at Israel, and secondarily at Rome. If this is the case, we’d have to do some creative interpretive backflips to define the “sons of the devil” and “sons of the Kingdom” as ONLY the believing and unbelieving people of that 1st century time frame, and nobody beyond that time. Sure, it’s possible that in the background of those events, angels were reaping, gathering, sorting, etc. the people of that age. But if we take that approach, then we have to redefine what Jesus means by “Kingdom of heaven” in the first place.
Because all along, Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom has emphasized that the Kingdom was inaugurated with His entrance into history and would grow, prosper, and influence humanity over a very long period of time. While 40-ish years is a long time to ponder for a seven year old, it doesn’t seem at all sufficient to consider as the lifespan of “the Kingdom of Heaven.” It would open all kinds of worm cans and difficult questions if we were to settle on that interpretation. Questions like…
- What “age” are we in now then, if it’s not the Kingdom of heaven?
- How can this be squared with the other Kingdom parables that imply long, long, long term growth?
- What is so special about that 40-ish year period that the people believing in Jesus then are the only ones considered “sons of the Kingdom?”
And on and on and on.
Clearly, I don’t think that’s a valid interpretation. While it’s true that there ARE particular “ages” spoken of in biblical and even New Testament teachings, it doesn’t seem textually possible that THIS one is speaking of such a limited span of time.
The only way this makes any sense to me at all, in light of Jesus’ other teachings about the Kingdom, is that the “end of the age” to which He refers here is the end of all human history, the final judgment.
THE FINAL OUTCOME
To support that conclusion even more, Jesus sums up His teaching with a statement of incredible victory, one that sounds eternal and heavenly in its scope and magnitude.
Then (after the harvest at the end of the age) the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Don’t miss that this is a contrasting statement to what happened to the “sons of the evil one.” They were thrown into a “fiery furnace” and experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which is itself, a final-sounding end. It seems to be Jesus’ description of the classic hellfire of damnation. Some take exception to this in light of the Bible’s descriptions of God as love (1 John 4:7-21). As an example, I’ve had some of my own family members say to me, “I can’t believe that a loving God would condemn a human soul to eternal agony in an eternal hell. How is that at all fitting for making one ignorant decision (refusing to trust Jesus)? The severity of the punishment far exceeds the severity of the crime.”
That sounds convincing at first glance, laden with emotion and sentimentality about the value of human life as it is. But it’s a very limited perspective.
The issue is NOT the value of human life (which IS valuable, made in the image of the Almighty as it is), the issue is the value of what said persons are rejecting; the eternally glorious and priceless Son of God. The punishment DOES indeed fit the crime, when the crime is the rejection of the infinite God Himself, the very essence and center of all that is. Our view of God is far too small if we dare compare His worth with that of any human being, or even the collective worth of humanity. Our worth is derivative (derived from something greater than us), our WORTH is derived in Him (we are made in HIS image). We reflect His eternal worth and to refuse Him is to refuse our very reason for existence. It’s the height of insolent pride.
Moving on to much happier things, there’s a tremendous promise here for the sons (and daughters) of the Kingdom. In spite of opposition and enemies that continue to exist and continue to beset them, the end result of their faith in the words of Jesus will be glorious. Jesus said so.
Something powerful stirs in me as I think of myself shining like the sun for no other reason than that I’ve accepted the grace of God, granted to me through Jesus. I want to BE (in my daily actions) one of those sons of the Kingdom, righteous because of the work of Jesus on my behalf and faithful because of His leading and presence. I want to live out His presence in me and His life through me, as He’s promised and given it.
And one day, I WILL experience the glories He’s promised, which is the final realization of all His generosity and goodness received thus far. It’s the consummation, the reception of all He’s promised. It’s glorification, the full impartation of all He has in store for me. No wonder I’m going to shine like the sun.
Would you join me in this prayer?
Jesus, enable me and my brothers and sisters who are reading this post to remain diligent, knowing that You, our King, have everything under contol and that our labors are not in vain.
Teach us to trust You with those outside the Kingdom as they oppose us. Keep us from getting rattled. Keeps us focused on You, not on them.
And transform their souls into Kingdom-citizens right alongside us, by Your grace.
Kingdom Insights (cumulative list)
The Kingdom of heaven/God was long anticipated by the Jewish people (and others)
Entrance into the Kingdom requires repentance
The entrance of the Kingdom brought the Messiah and judgment
The Kingdom began with the advent of Jesus and continues growing, even today
The Kingdom of heaven is characterized by humility and righteousness
Those who enter the kingdom must do so by the righteousness of Jesus
Kingdom citizens are to be praying for the Kingdom to come and grow
Trust enables us to focus on the Kingdom first
The Kingdom is populated by those who trust what the King says
Kingdom citizens should speak and act to spread the Kingdom and ask the Lord to send more workers into it.
The Kingdom of Heaven was present, being inaugurated in Jesus’ day.
The Kingdom of God always triumphs over the evil plans of the devil. Kingdom citizens should be bold and hopeful as a result.
Those who are able to see the Kingdom of God and understand Jesus’ centrality in it, are blessed by God.
POST 14: (this one)
The Kingdom and its citizens grow alongside the sons/daughters of the evil one. Jesus will sort it all out when He returns.