The Parables of Jesus - Part Five: The Tares

The parable of the tares is found only in Matthew 13:24-30 and Jesus explains this parable later in the chapter in verses 36-43.  It’s meaning can only be fully understood when examined in the context of the earlier parable of the sower.  As previously mentioned, most of the parables given in Matthew 13 illustrate the dangers of man-made, institutional religion.  And, if you’ve read the other papers on this website, you already know that I’ve gone to some lengths in explaining that institutional religion has always opposed truth and exists for the very purpose of destroying truth.

I’m not necessarily condemning everyone that participates in traditional religion, most are sincere and dedicated to what they do; but sincerity and truth are two different things.  Most religious people are sincerely deceived – a point clearly illustrated by this parable.  The Christianity of today is nothing more than a revised version of the Judaism Jesus encountered and opposed during His time in this world.  And if you paid attention to what Jesus said about the result of sewing unfinished cloth on an old, torn garment and of putting new, unfermented wine into dried out, unrenewed wineskins and are consistent with the application He makes (that the tear is made worse and both the wine and wineskins are lost), then you have to come to the conclusion that institutional, denominational Christianity is even more damning and destructive than the Judaism that spawned it.

Let’s look at the parable, make a few observations; then we’ll examine Jesus’ explanation and make the applications.  This is Matthew 13:24-30.

"Then Jesus presented yet another parable to them saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while he was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed darnel among the wheat, and went his way.  Now when the seed grew and began to form grain, the darnel was found.  And the man’s servants came to him and asked, Sir, didn’t you sow only good seed in your field?  How, then, does it have darnel growing in it? He replied to them, An enemy has done this.  So, his servants asked him, Do you want us to go and weed it out?  But he answered them, No, as I fear in rooting out the bad, you will damage the true along with it.  Let them grow together until the harvest, I will tell the reapers to gather the darnel first and bind it into bundles to be burned; then they can gather the wheat into my barn."

It would be helpful at this point to go back and read the paper "The Kingdom of Heaven" to refresh your memory regarding Jesus’ use of the term "kingdom of heaven" and how it differs from the "kingdom of God". This is the first parable recorded in which Jesus uses the introduction "the kingdom of heaven is like".  This parable begins His illustration of a worldwide, religious conglomeration that includes both true believers and false pretenders.  It is the description of a time in which false, religious activity blends together with true spirituality and the "few" who travel the narrow road that leads to life coexist in the same realm with the "many" who travel the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).  To the casual observer both may look the same.  However, the difference is real, as illustrated in this parable and others like it.  And, it is also clear; He will sort it all out in the end, separating the good from the bad, the true from the false, His sheep from the goats.

In the translation above, "darnel" ("tares" in the KJV) is zizanion, darnel or false grain.  Darnel is virtually undistinguishable from other common grains when it first sprouts.  It is only after the plant grows that the difference can be seen.  By then its roots have become entangled with the good grain and it is impossible to uproot it without damaging the good.  It was common practice for men to secretly sow darnel in the fields of their enemies.  At harvest time the two could be quickly identified when compared to the other grains being grown, because the darnel produced long, black grains.  However, great care had to be taken to insure that the darnel wasn’t mixed in with the good grain, as it is poisonous.  The other difficulty was that in the harvesting some of the darnel would fall unnoticed onto the ground and sprout the next year, starting the cycle all over again (which, by the way, is an illustration of religious deception and doctrinal error perpetuated generation after generation in the kingdom of heaven).

Now, let’s go ahead and look at Jesus’ explanation, then we can make the applications.  This is what He says in verses 36-43.

"Then He left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to Him and asked, Tell us the meaning of the darnel in the field. And Jesus answered, He Who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, the good seed means the children of the kingdom and the darnel the children of the evil one.  The enemy who sowed it is the devil.  The harvest is the completion of the age and the reapers are angels.  And just like the darnel is gathered and burned with fire, so it will be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all those by whom others have been drawn into error and all those who have rejected the truth.  And they will be cast into the furnace of fire and there will be loud cries and bitter remorse.  Then those who are in right standing with God will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  Listen, this is very important, so consider it carefully."

We’ll not mess around here, but simply go to the heart of the matter.  Jesus starts the parable with "the kingdom of heaven is like".  In other words, an important characteristic of this present age, regardless of how you choose to define it (the church age, the times of the Gentiles, the age of grace, etc.) is illustrated by this parable.  This time began with John’s message calling for a personal, individual preparation for the entrance of the Lord and of His plan and purpose into the hearts of believers, a preparation only accomplished through true repentance (Matthew 3:2-3).  Jesus then took up where John left off and continued this same message (Matthew 4:17).  Then Paul (and others) after Jesus preached the same message (Acts 20:21).  This age ends when Jesus returns with His angels to separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) or, as in this parable, when He returns to separate the wheat from the darnel.

The point is that during this age there exists both true wheat and false darnel that look the same.  They will be separated in the end because they produce different fruit.  And remember from the last paper, "fruit" illustrates the inward development and outward manifestation of the character and nature of God in the life of the believer.  If we don’t become like Him, we can’t be with Him.  The result of this separation will be that some are destroyed, while others become God’s eternal possession.

In this parable Jesus explains that some are the children of the kingdom and some are the children of the evil one.  And how does this happen? Remember the parable of the sower?  In His explanation of that parable Jesus uses the verb harpazo (to snatch away or rob) to explain that the program of the devil is to go to those who have not carefully considered truth and immediately get them involved in religion.  Religion then systematically robs them of truth by replacing it with rituals, traditions, doctrines based on half-truths and false promises that appeal to the flesh.  Jesus had already used that word (harpazo) in Matthew 11:12 to explain this same evil plan when He said, "And since the time John the Baptist began preaching, the kingdom of heaven has endured violent assault and unscrupulous men (influenced by evil) have stolen it away."

There have always been those unprincipled types enticed by the devil and driven by their own lustful desires, more than willing to cooperate with this evil plan to corrupt the truth and steal the kingdom away from the careless and the unsuspecting.  They are the wolves in sheep’s clothing Jesus warns of in Matthew 7:15, a description used again when He sent out the twelve (Matthew 10:16), again when He sent out the seventy (Luke 10:3) and again by Paul in his farewell to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:28-30).  From its very beginning the devil has infiltrated the kingdom of heaven for the express purpose of stealing the reality of it away by deception – a far more effective plan than open opposition and persecution.  Paul spent over twenty years battling these "false brethren" who infiltrated the assemblies of true believers (Galatians 2:4).

The kingdom of heaven suffers its most disastrous effect not from without, but from within.  And the name of the disaster is RELIGION!  Here we go again.  The devil’s plan is religion.  The darnel sowed by the enemy is religion.  It is religion that produces the children of the evil one.  Religion, religion, religion!  I sound like a broken record.

And notice in Jesus’ explanation of this parable in verse 41 the statement, "The Son of Man will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all those by whom others have been drawn into error and all those who have rejected the truth."  Here He identifies two different manifestations of the "darnel".  The first are those who have cooperated with the devil’s evil plan and have been instrumental in actively leading others astray by promoting their religious systems and institutions.  The others are those who had full access to the Truth, but were too lazy or lacked the determination and courage required to consider and understand and follow it, so they fell victim to religious deception.

And remember what I said at the beginning of this paper about sincerity?  I do not doubt the sincerity of most people who participate in institutional, denominational religion (even though I do maintain that with some it appears their only motivation is an insincere desire for their own personal, worldly gain).  But again, sincerity and truth are two different things.  I really believe that Jesus is alluding to this sincerity in verse 42 when He describes (not only here, but in Matthew 8:1213:50 and Luke 13:28 as well) those who are denied entrance into His eternal presence and cast into eternal torment instead.  This is where we see the more familiar phrase "there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (or some variation of it, sometimes the translation reads "weeping" or "grinding"), an idiom for loud crying and bitter remorse.

The time will come when the sincerely religious will be confronted with the reality of their failure to submit to and follow the truth.  That reality will cause the reaction Jesus describes.  However, by this point in time it will be too late.  All the sincerity in the world will not change the result.  The door of opportunity will have been closed (Luke 13:23-30).  And this is precisely why Jesus ends the explanation of this parable in verse 43 with the statement "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."  This is another word picture used by Jesus several times to emphasize a point.  It was His way of saying, "listen to this, it’s really important that you understand it, so consider it carefully."  The Lord’s judgment will never be based on the amount of sincerity you possess; it will be based on your obedience to His Truth.

There’s one more issue to discuss from this parable, then I’ll close this out.  In the parable itself Jesus gives this account of the conversation between the owner of the field and his servants.  When the servants discover darnel in the field they ask the master if he wants them to uproot it and take it out.  The master’s reply is, "no, as I fear that in rooting out the bad, you will damage the true along with it. Let them grow together until the harvest…"

It can be a tricky business trying to determine the bad from the true.  And though Jesus tells us to beware of wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing and that we can recognize them by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20), none of us have the Lord’s ability to know the hearts of all men at any given time (I Chronicles 28:9Jeremiah 17:10John 2:24, 25Acts 15:8 and Revelation 2:23). We tend to be overly zealous, arrogant and can easily make mistakes.  If we take it upon ourselves to try to uproot the darnel, we take the risk of causing an immature believer to stumble – a serious offense Jesus warns against (Matthew 18:6).  The Lord’s instruction is to let them grow together, and then in the end He will sort it all out.  All responsibility for judgment has been given to the Son (John 5:22), and for that we can be eternally grateful.

I have one last, personal observation.  Over the past several years some of you may be surprised to know that there are those who actually disagree with this message.  Yes, as unbelievable as that sounds, it’s true.  Oh yes, it’s true.  Sometimes I get emails from people who want to argue and I sit and stare at my computer, incredulous that they could be so blinded by religion (then I quickly get over it when I remember how long I was blinded by it myself).  When I write back and ask them to explain what the Scriptures mean (the ones they’re in disagreement with), they either ignore my request or simply tell me that it’s not what they’ve been taught (in other words, it’s not what their religion says).

They like to point out that my "opinion" is definitely in the minority and that most "experts" they know would disagree with me.  To which I happily answer that I’m glad to be in the minority as that is the very thing Jesus illustrates with His statement regarding the "few" on the narrow road that leads to life, as opposed to the "many" on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13, 14).  And if there’s anything the Scriptures clearly teach it’s that the majority is always wrong, because the majority is always dominated by their flesh.  World philosophy says the majority is always right (a principle that finds its source in the devil).  Those who understand true spirituality know by experience that it’s only a small minority that understands what is right.

This is a principle everyone must learn sooner or later if they’re ever going to know truth and pursue God with any degree of success.  Reject the majority opinion.  Reject what religion teaches (I don’t care who they are or what they claim).  Real truth is only found through an independent, Holy Spirit-led, uncompromising, long and difficult quest, where the flesh is put down, fear and loneliness are conquered and insecurity drives you not into the things of the world, but deeper into a dependence on God alone.  And those who persist in it eventually find not the temporary emotional highs and disappointments of false, religious promises unfulfilled, but the limitless love of God and an undying expectation of future promises completed by the One Who cannot lie.

So, if you’re participating in institutional religion and are following the majority opinion, you’re probably headed in the wrong direction.  There really are children of the evil one and children of the kingdom coexisting together in this age.  The point Jesus makes here is that we should all recognize the fact that this is the reality of the time we live in and carefully consider it, because it’s very important.  Heaven or hell hangs in the balance.

The fact of the matter is the darnel of this age will not tolerate truth.  Paul nailed it in his second letter to Timothy.  This is II Timothy 4:3-4.

"The time will come when people will not endure sound instruction, but, with itching ears they will gather to themselves a considerable number of teachers, all specifically chosen because their teaching satisfies the flesh and perpetuates the errors commonly held.  And they will reject the truth to wander in the fabricated reason that comes from the minds of men."

And lest there be any doubt in your own mind, Jesus has just made it clear in both the parable of the sower and of the tares that this fabricated reason from the minds of men is the religion called Christianity and the sponsor and main influence behind this religion is the devil himself.  And He’s still not finished illustrating this point, as we’ll see in the next paper.

To be continued in Part 6 – The Mustard Seed, The Leaven, The Hidden Treasure and The Pearl of Great Price