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The problem of good and evil inhabiting the same place is a perennial problem. It has been a problem within the church from the very beginning, and Jesus taught in such a way as to prepare us for it. Another parable, that of the dragnet (Matt. 13:47-48), makes the same basic point. Cast a net, and you bring in bicycle tires and beer bottles along with the fish. Why should we be surprised? Unfortunately, one of the evils we must deal with is the fact that we tend to reject His preparatory help.
“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way . . .” (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43).
Summary of the Text
Jesus told His disciples another parable. The kingdom of heaven was like a man sowing good seed in his field (v. 24). But during the night, an enemy of his came and sowed tares (likely darnel) and left (v. 25). When the wheat began to grow, it became apparent that the darnel was growing also (v. 26). The servants saw the problem and came and asked about it (v. 27). He saw right away that it was the work of an enemy (v. 28), and the servants asked if they should go deal with it right away (v. 28). He said no, because of the damage that might be done to the wheat (v. 29). Wait until the harvest, and instructions will be given to the reapers to gather the darnel into bundles first for burning, and then to gather the wheat into the barn (v. 30). After hearing a few other parables, the disciples ask the Lord privately to explain this one (v. 36). He, the Lord, the Son of Man, is the sower of good seed (v. 37). The field is the world (v. 38) and the kingdom (v. 41). The good seed are children of the kingdom, and the darnel seed are the children of the wicked one (v. 38). The enemy is the devil (the father of that seed), the harvest is the end of the age (aeon), and the reapers are angels (v. 39). The burning of the darnel occurs at the end of the age/world (v. 40). The Son of Man will send out angels, who will remove all scandals (v. 41), and all those who work iniquity (v. 41). Those people will be cast into a furnace of fire, where there will be great lamentation (v. 42). Then the righteous will shine out like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (v. 43). If you have ears, listen up (v. 43).
The first thing to address is what is meant by age or world here. In v. 38, the word is kosmos, and in v. 39 the word is aeon, which can mean age as well as world. Is this talking about the end of the Judaic aeon (70 A.D), or the end of the world? Given what Jesus describes as happening here (angels as reapers, everlasting judgment), I think we would have to say the primary focus is on the end of the world—although that means it would apply fully to the unbelievers of the first century. The basic set-up is that Jesus sows a field full of wheat, and the devil comes along after that and sows the bad seed. So this is not Jesus coming to sow good seed in a field already gone bad, which is what it would have to be if we limited it to the first century.
Notice that we have a description of the boundaries of Christ’s kingdom (it is the world). The world is His field, and the devil is an intruder.
A Key Principle
It is far better to let the guilty go free than to condemn or hurt the innocent. But the farmer in this parable does not spare the darnel for the sake of the darnel, but rather spares the darnel for the sake of the wheat. Now some have taken this parable as excluding church discipline, which is nonsensical, but it is relevant to the question of church discipline. It is clear that church discipline is called for in certain manifest situations (1 C or. 5:4-5), but it is equally clear (here) that not every clear situation of an utterly false profession calls for church discipline.
Different Kinds of Children
In the parable of the sower, the different kinds of people are different soils, and the seed is constant. The seed is the gospel. In this one, the different kinds of people are described as being different kinds of seed. Here the seed is different.
There are two mistakes to make. One is the follow the farmer’s instructions and leave the darnel alone, but to do so in the pernicious misunderstanding that it must all be wheat. The other is to understand (with Him) that darnel and wheat are on opposite sides of the antithesis—as unlike as God and the devil, children of righteousness and children of wickedness, and on that basis to proceed with an ecclesiastical version of ethnic cleansing. And at the end of a long series of purges, there is only “thee and me,” and I “have my doubts about thee.”
Taking a Hard Line
Notice that in the argument between the farmer and the laborers, the laborers were the hard liners. They were more interested in nailing the guilty than in sparing the innocent. It is an understandable mistake, and we are not led to believe that these laborers were wicked. But they did need to be taught and restrained by their master. Never forget that the devil is the accuser—he loves to point the finger.
The devil loves to plant the work in such a way as to get the saints to do all his heavy lifting for him. He plants the seed and slips away. We do the rest. The best response to many evils is therefore to do nothing. Leave them be. Let it go. Let it ride. The word in v. 30 is frequently translated in the New Testament as forgive. Let it be. Drop it. In one sense, if they are firmly planted in the kingdom, and are plainly going to Hell . . . Jesus says to let them. In another sense, if you are called to chase it, then chase it with gospel. Speaking of that . . .
At the Same Time . . .
The Son of Man sows the good seed. The good seed are described as children of the kingdom (v. 38), as righteous (v. 43), as having God as “their Father” (v. 43). On the opposite side, the darnel are children of the wicked one (v. 38), as having been placed in the kingdom of God by the devil (v. 39), as creators of scandal (v. 41), as workers of iniquity (v. 41), and as destined for destruction (v. 42). With these two fundamental realities, there is only one appropriate response—the death and resurrection of Jesus.