Matthew 13 contains Christ's explanation of His use of parables as a way of teaching. In analyzing these parables, we discover the King's personal view of His Kingdom through the past, present, and future of the history of His church. They seem not to reveal as much about the church's eternal characteristics as about its day-to-day efforts resulting from Christ's work in coming into the world. They act as a prophetic summary of the historical development of God's church. The recurring phrase "kingdom of heaven" denotes Christ's work through His church to make known "the word of the kingdom" (verse 19), that is, to announce the good news of the coming Kingdom of God.
The chapter contains eight parables. Jesus gave the first four to the mixed multitude, while He told the last four to the twelve disciples in private. After the first series of four parables, Matthew writes, "All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them" (verse 34). These four parables describe the outward characteristics of the church, the working of the mystery of sin against the church, and the extent to which the Evil One is allowed to go in his opposition. The remaining four parables illustrate the inner characteristics of His church. After the eighth parable, Matthew makes another concluding statement, ". . . when Jesus had finished these parables, . . . He departed from there" (verse 53).
The parables can also be grouped into related pairs that illustrate the church's different characteristics:
First Pair: The Sower (verse 3) represents the relationship of the church to the different groups of people with which it comes into contact while doing its work. The Tares (verse 24) represents the relationship of the church to the wicked one and his agents.
Second Pair: The Mustard Seed (verse 31) represents the dynamic growth of the church from small beginnings even while adversaries confront it. The Leaven (verse 33) represents the progress of the church against and despite the contagious outspread of sin.
Third Pair: The Treasure (verse 44) represents the preciousness of Christians to Christ, who can see their hidden value and sacrifices all to possess them. The Pearl (verse 45) represents the preciousness of the church to Christ, who sacrifices everything to acquire it.
Fourth Pair: The Dragnet (verse 47) teaches that the good and evil who intermingle on earth will be completely separated in the judgment. The Householder (verse 52) represents the work of the true minister and teacher who feeds the household of faith from a rich storehouse of essential spiritual treasures.
Taken together, the stories describe the characteristics and dynamism of the church, its formidable obstacles, and its ultimate victory. They show Christ working through His messengers to preach the gospel of the Kingdom between the time of His first and second comings.
The first parable, The Sower, and the eighth, The Householder, are key, the first introducing and anticipating all of the parables, and the last concluding and reflecting back on the whole, stating the church's purpose and duty under the authority of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus finished the first seven parables, He asked His disciples, "Have you understood all these things?" That they understood made it possible for Jesus to conclude with a final parable that reveals the responsibility of the disciples as "scribes" in the church, "instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven" (verse 52). The apostles, and the church Jesus would build, would bring forth a treasure of knowledge and understanding, "things new and old."
Jesus teaches us by the simplicity and shortness of His parables that directness and brevity are effective teaching tools. His method stands in sharp contrast to the involved and lengthy style of some Bible commentators. Jesus gave clear and precise illustrations to which His audience could relate. Farmers listened to pictures of agricultural life. Wives could grasp His word pictures from home life. Merchants could relate to illustrations from the business world that translated into spiritual principles. Jesus also spoke of common civic duties and social events. Portrayals of nature scenes provided Him with analogies with which to express spiritual truth. Jesus used pictures that fit the occasion in a way that preserved their naturalness.
Only Christ's disciples can really understand the true spiritual principles involved in the parables, "because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (verse 11). They were inspired by His Father in heaven, "[for] all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15), therefore "blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears, for they hear" (Matthew 13:16).
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part One): Introduction
God has seeded His church with vessels for honor—the wheat—while Satan has sprinkled in his own vessels for dishonor—the tares (see II Timothy 2:20-21). Jesus does not use the imagery of wheat and tares haphazardly to relate this important lesson. Instead, the physical properties of these two different plants reveal a depth to the parable's symbolism that emphasizes how different in quality the wheat is from the tare, and how hard it is to tell them apart.
Wheat, which Christ uses to symbolize His true children, has always been a vital, life-giving substance, possessing both nutrition and healing properties. During most of human history, it has most commonly been used for bread, and it has long been called "the staff of life." Herbert W. Armstrong even proclaimed, "The grain of wheat God causes to grow out of the ground is a perfect food." The matchless quality of wheat serves as a symbol revealing how highly God regards His children.
In contrast, Christ uses the tare to symbolize counterfeits within His church. Tares are weeds diametrically opposite to wheat in all their properties other than appearance. Even the botanical name of the weed, darnel, conveys its detrimental quality. Darnel comes from the French language, meaning "drunkenness," having earned this name as a result of its intoxicating effect when consumed.
When darnel is ground into flour, baked in bread, and consumed while hot, the eater may experience symptoms similar to drunkenness, including trembling, followed by an inability to walk, hindered speech, and vomiting. In addition, darnel is commonly infected by the ergot fungus, which can cause hallucinations when consumed in small doses, but in large doses can do heavy damage to the central nervous system. The Greeks and Romans supposed the darnel and the fungus to cause blindness. The Romans even crafted an insult from darnel, lolio victitare, "to live on darnel," a phrase applied to a dim-sighted or shortsighted person.
The high value and health properties of wheat are opposite to the common and harmful properties of darnel, yet in Christ's parable the owner of the field allows both to grow together. One reason is because wheat and darnel are exact in their appearances during growth. Both plants are lush green and can be distinguished only when they mature and produce fruit: Wheat berries are large and golden, while darnel berries are small and gray. Thus, if the farmer attempted to uproot the tares before maturity, he would wreak havoc on his wheat. Today, modern harvesting equipment easily sifts between the two because of their different sizes.
Spiritual wheat and tares grow alike within God's church, identical in appearance, and to attempt to uproot the tares would result in uprooting some of the wheat as well. Just as the qualitative difference between the mature fruit of wheat and darnel is different, only by the fruit may the brethren be known (Matthew 7:15-20). Even after maturity, God Himself—and no one else—will have the tares removed and will destroy them in the furnace (Matthew 13:30).
Ted E. Bowling
Taking Care With the Tares
This parable exposes the problem of evil intermingled with good within congregations, just as the same mix confronts nations, communities, and homes. No matter how society tries to legislate or separate out lawbreakers from the rest of society, the seeds of sin and crime find a place to grow. God's church is similarly affected by Satan's constant attacks. The genuine and the counterfeit wheat are always together in the church.
The servants' perplexity about the sowing of the tares shows that the presence of sin is often a mystery to people (II Thessalonians 2:7-10). God cannot be blamed for them because He does not sow evil—Satan does (James 1:13). By this parable, Jesus prophesies that the church of God on earth would be imperfect. The spiritual church has members with the Holy Spirit who are dedicated and loyal, yet have personal defects. It also has within it unconverted people who may recognize the truth but are there only to enjoy association with God's people. Jesus' intent is to enlighten and warn the saints of this fact, not to expose the tares at this time (Acts 20:29-32). God will root out the bad seed when the good seed has matured.
"The good seed," "the wheat," and "the sons of the kingdom" refer to baptized members of God's church in whom the Holy Spirit dwells—the saints, the elect, the righteous (Matthew 13:43). In the previous parable, the seed represents "the word of the kingdom" (verse 19), but here, the good seed is the product of that word received, understood, and obeyed. The Son of Man, as the Sower or Owner, sows only good seed, those who are righteous due to walking worthy of God—living His way of life, and becoming the "children of the kingdom" (I John 2:6; II John 6; I Thessalonians 2:10-15).
It is God's will that Jesus Christ the Redeemer sow His redeemed ones in this world of sin and misery for the purpose of training and testing them to become true witnesses for Him in preparation for the Kingdom. Therefore, He has placed Christians where He wants them. Jesus tells Peter in Luke 22:31 that he was wheat, and as such, he was to be sifted by Satan. All of God's saints should heed this warning to watch and pray that the field of our heart not be sown with tares by the enemy. God has bought us with a price and given us His Spirit, making us new creations in Him and heirs of His Family and eternal life. He expects us to bear fruit in our corner of the field of this world in which He has sowed us.
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Three): The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares
This parable is another illustration showing why the true church is scattered in many organizations. The Kingdom of Heaven resembles the situation on a man's farm. The farmer sows good seed, but while the plants are developing, weeds sprout up. The true and the false are mingled together in the same field. It is interesting that the bad seed is sown while everybody is asleep. Consider this in relation to Matthew 25:1-13, the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Laodiceanism put us asleep, and the bad seed was sown among us then.
Notice, too, that God clearly shows that the sowing of bad seed was a deliberate act. An enemy did this! To understand this correctly, we have to recognize that God permitted it and it will continue! Both will remain until God separates us at the resurrection.
This parable is fulfilled in the visible church. If we compare this to Revelation 2 and 3, we can conclude that in some of the churches, the tares dominate. This does not mean that true Christians are not there. For instance, in Thyatira, tares are running things! The same is true of the Pergamos church, where Satan's seat is. How about Sardis? They have a name that they are alive, but they are dead! Jesus says that only a few among them are still awake, who have not left the faith.
We can also conclude that all of the churches of God have tares in them. It is entirely logical to think that every one of those churches have a variety of true Christians in various stages of development. They contain a mixture of seed, good and bad, in various stages of growth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 8): Ephesians 4 (E)
Matthew 13 contains eight parables of “the kingdom,” and commentators generally interpret them all with the church in view. However, Christ spoke the first four to the multitudes (Matthew 13:2, 34, 36), and the setting suggests that His public teaching better suited the degenerate state of the physical nation than the growth of the yet-to-be-established church. Luke 13:10-20 contains two of the four—the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven—and in that account, Jesus plainly gave them in response to the nation's existing, degenerate belief system.
Whereas Jesus spoke the first four parables to the folk of Judea and Galilee—explaining two of them to the disciples—He told the last four parables solely to the disciples (Matthew 13:36). This suggests Jesus was turning His focus to a different aspect of the reign of God: the spiritual nation that would bear the fruits of the Kingdom—that is, the church.
However, despite the change in audience, the last four parables still connect to the first four, providing positive instruction to the disciples and now the church. We see the close connection in the parables' deliberate structure, which few take into consideration.
As with the rest of God's creation, His Word displays an order and beauty in its organization. The parables in Matthew 13 are arranged in a chiasm (also known as an introversion or epanados), a structure wherein similar ideas are repeated but in reverse sequence. In plain terms, the first and last parables form a pair because they teach about a common theme. Similarly, the second and seventh, the third and sixth, and the fourth and fifth parables form pairs because their respective lessons closely relate. In general, the first parable of each pair, spoken to the multitudes, presents a problem to which the second, spoken to the disciples, provides the spiritual solution.
The term chiasm comes from the Greek letter chi, which we know as the letter X. The pivotal point of the X, and the crux of the chiasm, lies at the intersection. Applying this to the parables of Matthew 13, the decisive truth of Christ's teaching is found in the middle of the chiasm, the Parable of the Leaven (fourth parable) and the Parable of the Hidden Treasure (fifth parable). The previous parables lead up to this pair, and the remaining parables build upon their pivotal understanding.
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Three)
"End of the age" (verse 39) refers to the time of Christ's second coming and the resurrection of the dead when God will reap the firstfruits of His harvest! The fifty days between the wavesheaf offering and Pentecost symbolize the time from the founding of the church to the end of the age when the small harvest of the firstfruits occurs.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Holy Days: Pentecost
As Jesus says, the field is the world, in which He has established His church. The church is not of the world (John 17:14), but within it, just as a farmer may designate a specific plot of his land, separated from the rest, for a particular, unique crop.
However, Satan the Devil has also been at work, sowing his own seeds within the field. Using fragments of God's truth, Satan has founded false religions and counterfeit Christianities that preach distortions of truth. Like the tare that grows masquerading as the wheat, members of these false churches may appear good, pious, and very generous. Worldly Christians may possess a seemingly good heart and act with fine intentions, but when the top layer of goodness is peeled back exposing their core, they reveal deceived hearts lacking understanding or true love.
Further, the world's churches are in constant rebellion against God, refusing to keep His commandments and rejecting the absolute authority of His words. The world's ministers even pervert the Word of God with infusions from such pagan religions as Buddhism, Hinduism, or other mystic or New Age faiths. Through syncretism and false doctrine, these churches accomplish the will of their evil father: deceit and destruction (see John 8:44).
Satan's malignant influence is not felt only within the world. He has planted his own seeds, sowing false brethren and even ministers within the very church of God. However, as Christ reveals in this parable, God permits this intrusion of well-camouflaged counterfeits. Tares in God's church will appear religious and devout, with no obvious warning-flag identifying them to unsuspecting church members.
Ted E. Bowling
Taking Care With the Tares
Jesus defines His symbols to His disciples (Matthew 13:38). The field, He says, is “the world.” While there can still be an application of this parable to the church, Jesus' immediate audience was “great multitudes” (Matthew 13:2, 34, 36), and the scope was “the world,” rather than the limited assembly of called-out ones.
Jesus defines the tares as “the sons of the wicked one.” While it is common to interpret this parable and its players strictly in terms of the church, consider that both God and Satan have had “sons” from the very beginning, long before the founding of the church. Abel lived by faith, but Cain, the first murderer, bore the spiritual image of his father, Satan (see John 8:44). Seth likewise was of the “good seed,” as were Enoch, Noah, and others. God planted in the world all these righteous men, who had to contend with the sons of the Adversary.
The parables in Matthew 13 come after a verbal altercation with the Pharisees in which Jesus calls them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34), indicating they were offspring of the serpent—sons of Satan—because they bore his spiritual image. John the Baptist also dubs the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers,” implying they will be burned like the tares (Matthew 3:7-12). In John 8:44, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they were of their father the Devil, just another way of saying “sons of the wicked one.” He uses parallel imagery in Matthew 15:13, again regarding the Pharisees: “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
Jesus says that “while men slept,” the “enemy came and sowed tares” (Matthew 13:25). The Bible often uses sleep as a symbol of obliviousness, non-awareness, or inattention. As such, it is frequently a negative symbol, often coinciding with lethargy, apathy, and letting down in one's duties (see Proverbs 6:4-10; 24:30-34).
Within Israel, God appointed watchmen who were not merely to keep an eye out for approaching armies but were also to monitor the nation's moral condition (see Isaiah 56:10-11). Those who should have sounded the alarm about the problems creeping into the nation before the captivity were—as we would say—asleep at the switch! Focused on their own concerns, they allowed ungodly elements to take root, leading to the nation's spiritual downfall.
Jesus ends the parable's explanation with, “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:43). Similarly, Daniel 12:3 says the “wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” This glorification is also linked with the “harvest” in John 5:28-30. This end-time harvest is not limited to righteous individuals who lived from AD 31 onward—that is, the church—but includes all who have lived and died by faith, beginning with righteous Abel. As Hebrews 11:40 explains, all the true sons of the Kingdom, planted throughout history, will be made perfect at the same time.
Certainly, this parable can apply within the assembly of believers, for the New Testament is replete with warnings about false teachers and false brethren. Yet the principle is not limited to the church. The Pharisees were “sons of the wicked one”—and thus tares—even before Christ founded His church. The parable warns that not everyone who appears to be under the dominion of God is actually of God. The Pharisees and other leaders defied God's sovereign authority, but He commands His servants to leave Satan's offspring in place until the conclusion of His purpose.
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Two)
An overview of Matthew 13 is essential, because we need to understand the whole context to see what Jesus was trying to get across to us. A particular Bible translation may divide the chapter into only seven parables, but there are eight parables in Matthew 13. Usually the eighth is combined with the seventh parable. In a way, the eighth follows the seventh, but it is a parable in its own right. It should stand alone.
These eight parables can be divided into three sections. The first consists of the first four parables: the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and the Parable of the Leaven. The second section consists of the next three parables: the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, and the Parable of the Dragnet. The third section is the last parable, the Parable of the Householder, who takes out of his treasury both old and new.
The titles of these three sections give an idea of what Jesus emphasizes in Matthew 13. We can title the first section "Satan's Plan to Destroy the Church." The second section can be titled "God's Work on Behalf of the Church," what God does to make sure that Satan does not destroy the church. The third section can be titled "The Ministry's Duty to the Church."
Notice the comment Matthew makes following the first section. In Matthew 13:34 is an explanation why the first four parables can be titled "Satan's Plan to Destroy the Church":
All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world."
What was kept secret from the foundation of the world? Satan's plan to destroy God's plan of salvation, which He is fulfilling through the church.
Matthew 13:34 applies specifically to what Jesus had just said, but it also applies generally to all the parables. Through them, Jesus opens up matters that have been concealed from the foundation of the world. In Psalm 78:2, it does not say, "I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Instead, it says: "I will utter dark sayings of old," providing another clue that what Matthew 13:34 refers to in respect to the first four parables is dark. Jesus is speaking of dark mysteries, dark things happening. These can only be Satanic things, bad, negative things inspired by the Devil.
What Jesus spoke before verse 34 is primarily negative, not positive, and these negative things have been hidden from man since the foundation of the world. What happened at the foundation of the world? Adam and Eve sinned. That was the first step in Satan's plan—"Get them while they're young"—and he has been doing the same thing ever since. Jesus touches on this in the first parable.
So, in the first half of this chapter, Jesus is saying, "Look, My disciples, this is the plan that you must fight against. If you understand what is in these parables, you will have a pretty good idea of what is happening spiritually."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed
When understood in the light of what Peter and Jude wrote about false prophets being marked out beforehand to be part of the church fellowship (II Peter 2:1-3; Jude 3-4), this can be easily seen as a prophecy. It occurred in the apostles' day, and it occurs in ours. We should not be surprised that both the converted and unconverted fellowship in the same congregations.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)
Christ's parable contains at least two warnings that are important to how we deal with possible tares within God's church. First, we need to be aware that tares—false members—are a reality. Counterfeit members do exist and are at work within God's church; Christ Himself says so. The fact that they are present requires that we be on our guard, not allowing ourselves to be led astray. For example, do we measure our actions by the actions of others? What if that person by whom we measure ourselves is a tare? Instead, Jesus Christ is the one and only perfect model, as shown by Scripture (Romans 8:29). Paul says that if we measure ourselves among ourselves, we are not wise (II Corinthians 10:12)
In addition to counterfeit brethren, tares could also be false ministers, even false apostles (see II Corinthians 11:13-15). False church leaders, teaching false doctrines that spread spiritual havoc, are a dire threat. Tares in the church spread destructive attitudes and ideas that can influence true brethren toward negativity, suspicion, cynicism, sarcasm, and doubt. Christ warns us of such deception in Matthew 24:24, "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." Knowing that tares are in the church, we must be vigilant, clinging to the truth lest we be deceived.
Second, Christ's parable warns us not only to take great care to avoid the false instruction and attitudes of the tares, but also to be mindful about how we treat young, immature "wheat" that we may mistake for tares. We must be slow to judge, remembering that church members are not all equally converted. Though they may be pure in heart, even the wheat may not always act properly. Likewise, some brethren may always act properly, may always seem to do the right thing, but their hearts remain unconverted or even corrupted.
God knows who belongs to Him and who does not (II Timothy 2:19), and He allows both to grow together. The interaction between wheat and tares, the true and the false, provides a constant test: How patient are we in our relationships with others? James sets the standard in James 5:9, exhorting, "Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!"
In order to endure to the end, we must develop the patient attitude described by James. We must grow to be thick-skinned, not easily offended in our dealings with young wheat or tares, never taking insults or affronts personally. When we deal with those coming to conversion, we all must be long-suffering, patient, having a great deal of love for one another. We must never contend with brethren, as the Scripture frequently admonishes (I Corinthians 3:3, Philippians 2:3).
Some may display their faults externally, while others hide their sins (I Timothy 5:24). It is easy to say about the former, "He is not living as he should," while missing a corrupt heart in the latter. However, God works with His children on an individual basis; He works with us one-on-one. Each of us has his unique trials and is experiencing tests unlike others, whether it be the loss of health, a job, a home, or a friend. Through His personal relationship with each of us, God is refining us into the mature wheat that He wants to reap at His harvest.
Ted E. Bowling
Taking Care With the Tares
Matthew 13:1-3 show the context and setting for Christ's teaching:
On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables. . . . (Emphasis ours throughout.)
While it is easy to read over these details, they are crucial for grasping Christ's meaning because they show that Jesus spoke the first four parables (the Sower, the Wheat and the Tares, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven) to “great multitudes.” Verses 34-36 confirm that He preached to the people at large at this point rather than strictly to His disciples:
All these things [the first four parables] Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
In the first four parables, Jesus is speaking primarily to the physical nation, the remnant citizenry of the earthly Kingdom of God. Even though they could not grasp the parables' full depth, He was still responding to the attitude and approach of the nation shown in the previous chapter, particularly of the leadership that continually rejected the dominion of heaven.
While Christ's teachings apply on multiple levels, it is paramount to grasp the primary meaning before looking for other applications. The complete fulfillment of the Kingdom was far beyond what the folk of Judea and Galilee could comprehend, yet He still spoke to them. The parables were not exclusively for His disciples, just as His prophecy, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you” (Matthew 21:43), was not spoken to His disciples. In short, the King had a message for the subjects of the physical Kingdom that He had established. He was giving them a testimony—a final chance—and when they rejected it, He focused on the budding spiritual nation that had Abraham's faith rather than merely his blood (Galatians 3:15-29).
David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 13:30: