What the parable of the wheat and tares may be telling us about the end times.
(And what we can expect to experience as we wait for the return of Jesus: Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:36-43; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 14:14-20)
By Dick Lentz
(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)
Many Christians believe that though they can expect trials and troubles in this life that they will be spared from the ones reserved for the end-times, a period some call the great tribulation. Some believe that they will be taken from the world before the great tribulation by an event called the rapture and that what follows will be a period of intense trial and judgment for those left behind.
As I’ve noted in prior posts, I believe that Jesus will return only once and that when He does that it will result in immediate, permanent, and dire consequences for those unprepared for His return. I also noted in a post titled, “When Jesus returns, it won’t be Christians who are taken away,” the basis for my belief that those taken when Jesus returns will not be Christians but will be those who, according to Luke 17:27, are destroyed on that day.
Based on this and passages I discussed in prior posts, I believe that Christians will experience or witness most if not all of the events the Bible says will characterize the end-times including those described in the book of Revelation.
There is at least one end-time passage that seems to confirm my conclusion about this. It is the parable of the wheat and weeds found in Matthew 13:24-30. I have found this passage to be one of the most enlightening regarding when those who are followers of Jesus can expect to be separated from those who aren’t – when they can expect to be gathered to Jesus – and the implication this has for those waiting for His return.
The wheat and weeds will be in the field together until the harvest
Here is the parable:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)
Here is Jesus’ explanation of it:
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up 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 weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 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 the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:36-43)
Jesus compared the good seed in this parable – the wheat – to the “people of the kingdom” (vs. 38). I believe this is referring to those are faithful followers of Jesus and remain so until the end when the harvest takes place. I believe that the weeds – the “seeds of the evil one” (vs. 38) – are those who are not followers of Jesus or worse, are enemies of Jesus or those who follow Him. Note that though the servant wanted to pull the weeds prior to the harvest (vs. 28) that the field’s owner said that the separation of the weeds from the wheat would not take place until the whole field is harvested (vs. 29-30). It would be at that time and not before that the weeds would be collected and burned, and the wheat gathered and brought into the barn.
What identifies this as an end-time passage is Jesus’ statement, “The harvest is the end of the age” (vs. 39). Based on this, it seems to me that the event these verses are describing takes place when Jesus returns to judge the wicked and reward the righteous. It also seems to me that no separation of the wheat from the weeds will take place prior to this.
What this indicates to me is that followers of Jesus and those who are not will be in the world together until the very end. And just as wheat and weeds that share the same field will experience the same events that affect the entire field, so it will for those living together in this world. All will experience the same events that are common to all whether they are Christians or not.
One thing I find interesting about the parable of the wheat and weeds are the similarities between its description of the harvest and the description of the one found in this passage in Revelation:
14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. (Revelation 14:14-20).
As I noted in a prior post titled, “The three accounts of the return of Jesus in the Book of Revelation,” I believe that there are three different accounts of the return of Jesus in Revelation: the first in chapters 5-11, the second in chapters 12-14, and the third in chapters 15-19. Revelation 14:14-20 falls at the end of what I consider to be the second account of Jesus’ return in Revelation. Note the parallels between what is found in this passage in Revelation and the parable of the wheat and weeds:
- Both describe a harvest that takes place in the end times (Rev. 14:15; Matt. 13:30,39).
- Both note that angels are the harvesters (Rev. 14:17-19; Matt. 13:41).
- Both note that this harvest will be a time of judgment (Rev. 14:19; Matt. 13:41).
- Both use fire as a symbol of God’s judgment (Rev. 14:18; Matt. 13:42).
Based on this, I believe that these passages are referring to the same event.
Blazing fire and powerful angels
Another thing I find interesting about the parable of the wheat and weeds is where the image of the wicked being thrown “into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42) shows up elsewhere in Scripture. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is for example the fate of:
- bad fish that have been caught in a net along with good fish (Matthew 13:50).
- those who come to the king’s son’s wedding banquet without proper clothing (Matthew 22:13).
- the servant who is unprepared for the return of his master (Matthew 24:51).
- the servant who didn’t invest what his master gave him (Matthew 25:30).
The “blazing furnace” in Matthew 13:42 could be the “lake of fire” found in this passage in Revelation:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
This fiery furnace could also be what’s being described in this passage in Malachi:
1 Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 4:1-3)
And it could be what is being described in passage in 2 Thessalonians as well:
6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Based on the similarity between the images used in these passages and the ones found in the parable of the wheat and weeds, I believe they are referring to the same event.
I find two other things of interest regarding the passage in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. First, it mentions that “powerful angels” (vs. 7) will accompany Jesus when He comes to “punish those who do not obey God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vs. 8). Perhaps their role at this time is similar to the role they play in the harvest described in both Revelation 14:14-20 and parable of the wheat and weeds. But this passage also reveals that though God promises to pay back those who trouble us (vs. 6) and to give relief to those who are troubled (vs. 7), this will not happen until the day Jesus returns to punish “with everlasting destruction” those “who do not know God do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (vs. 8-9).
Relief is coming. But it is not coming until the very end.
What this means for us
When I consider the parable of the wheat and weeds and the other passages that seem to be referring to the same event, it leads me to one simple but sobering conclusion: Although Jesus promises to return and gather His followers to Him some day, it seems to me that this event will not occur until the final harvest takes place. And it will be at that time and not before that faithful followers of Jesus will be separated from those who aren’t and will be relieved of the trials and tribulations of this world. In the meantime, Christians and those who are not are going to be in the same field. And they will remain so until the very end, experiencing both the good and bad that is common to all.
But if there is no pre-harvest separation between Christians and those who aren’t – if no pre-harvest gathering is going to take place – what implication does this have for those living in this pre-harvest field? What does this mean for us?
First, I think that we need to focus more on how to endure trials rather than our desire to be rescued from them. Wars, plagues, famines, natural disasters, and financial upheavals affect everyone. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. These things happen whether you are a Christian or are not. What’s different is not what we experience. It’s our perspective. We know that all trials are temporary and that what happens in the long term will be much better as long as we endure and remain faithful to God until the end. This should result in hope – a confident assurance that some day things will be better. This should motivate us to persevere knowing that what lays ahead is worth waiting for.
Second, when we experience shared trials, our focus should be more on how to be salt and light to those struggling alongside us than on our desire to escape. If it’s true that we’re all in this together – that whatever happens to “them” also happens to “us” – then we ought to see shared trials as opportunities to bring the knowledge of Jesus to others through the way we respond to our own difficulties as well as to the ones others are experiencing.
Finally, no matter what happens, we need to heed the words of Jesus when He said this:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Perhaps the best way to live in the field while waiting for the harvest is to be found at all times doing those things that are commendable in the eyes of Jesus.
And that is as I see it today.