(From a message given October 10, 2021 at Beatty Baptist Church)

The Parable—Matthew 13:24-30

We’re looking at the parables of Jesus. Jesus told parables to both hide truth and reveal truth. They provided a way for seed to be sown without being rejected immediately. This is how Nathan’s rebuke to David worked. He first told a parable before confronting David with his sin. This prepared David’s heart, and he repented. David Guzik wrote:

“…the parables of Jesus were not illustrations making difficult things clear to all. They presented God’s message so the spiritually sensitive could understand, but the hardened would merely hear a story without heaping up additional condemnation for rejecting God’s Word.”

The first part of Matthew chapter 13 contains the parable of the sower. Now we’re going to look at the closely-related parable of the wheat and the tares that follows. Unlike the parable of the sower, this one is only found in Matthew’s gospel.

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: The kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced fruit, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares? He said to them, An enemy has done this. The servants said to him, Do you want us then to go and gather them up? But he said, No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.

At first glance, this parable looks similar to the previous one. There’s a man who sowed seed in a field, and there’s fruit. But there are some significant differences as well. As we did with the previous parable, let’s first identify the different elements.

  • We have a man who sowed good seed. This is the farmer. A farmer might sow a field himself, or if the field is large, he might have servants or hired workers do it for him. In this case it seems he did it himself.
  • It says he sowed good seed in his field—not that he would ever intentionally sow bad seed; this is just to provide a contrast with the bad seed that his enemy sowed. From verses 25 and 30, we see that the good seed sown was wheat.
  • This man had an enemy, and we’re not given an explanation of who this enemy was or what he had against the farmer. That’s not important as far as the parable is concerned. The important thing is that this enemy acts out of malice: he secretly sows tares in the field under the cover of night. He doesn’t want the workers to discover what he has done until it is too late.
  • A tare is a plant that is indistinguishable from wheat when it is young. It also produces grain, but this grain is bad for you. It can easily make you sick. It can even kill you. The enemy did not do this merely as a prank or practical joke. He wanted to do serious harm.
  • The fruit is the grain. You can tell the difference between wheat and tares when the grain starts to appear, before it reaches maturity, but by that time it’s too late. The roots have intertwined with each other, so pulling up the tares will also pull up the wheat.
  • The servants are the owner’s slaves. The Greek word is doulos which means slave or bond-servant. Slavery was very common in ancient times, and while some slaves were mistreated, others were not. The Law of Moses proscribed how the Jews were to were to deal with their slaves: they were not to be mistreated. So these slaves were treated more like servants.
  • As in the parable of the sower, there is a harvest. Everything the farmer does with the field is for the purpose of gaining a harvest. This harvest happens, not when the grain first appears, but after it matures.
  • Lastly, there are the reapers, who bring in the harvest.

The most important question in this parable is not what could have been done to prevent the enemy from sowing the tares, or how to seek justice or get revenge, or which servant is at fault for letting the enemy do what he did. The most important question is what should be done to save the crop.

The servants think the tares should be pulled up right away. This seems like the best course of action. If you have a garden, you know the earlier you pull up the weeds, the better your garden grows.

But the farmer knows pulling up the tares will disturb the wheat, and he will lose some of the crop. That’s the nature of tares: By the time you can tell the difference between wheat and tares, the roots have grown together. It’s like the tares hold the wheat hostage so they can survive. They’re a kind of parasite that requires human assistance to survive.

It then becomes a question of how much value the farmer places on the crop. Does he want to risk losing some of the wheat by pulling up the tares so the harvest will be easier, or does he want to save the whole thing by letting the tares grow with the wheat, even though that will involve more work later?

This farmer wants to save the whole crop, and he can only do so by by letting both wheat and tares grow together until harvest. Yes, this will make the harvest more difficult and complicated, and it will involve more risk, but he wants every wheat plant to produce grain, and this is the only way it can be done.

By harvest time, the wheat will have matured. But so will the tares. If something is not done about them, and done quickly, their seeds can multiply and reinfect the field worse next season or infect a neighbor’s field. So the plan for harvesting the wheat also includes a plan for dealing with the tares.

The farmer’s plan is to have the reapers separate the tares out first. They can do this easily because, by the time the plants have matured, there are a couple of obvious differences between the two kinds:

  1. The stalks bearing wheat are bent over because of the weight of the seed, while the tare stalks stand straight up.
  2. Tare seeds are also a different color than wheat. They are darker, almost black.

So it’s not difficult for the reapers to identify the tares, gather them together first and bind them into bundles to be burned. Then they gather the wheat and place it in the barn. 1

The Kingdom of Heaven

So what is this parable about? There’s a clue in how Jesus introduced it. He began the parable with the phrase “The kingdom of heaven is like…“, He did not begin the parable of the sower with “The kingdom of heaven is like,,,“, but all of the other parables in this chapter are introduced this way. So what’s the significance of the phrase?

Matthew is the only gospel writer that mentions “the kingdom of heaven.” The others use the phrase “the kingdom of God” which means the same thing. A kingdom is ruled by a king, so the kingdom of God is the domain where God rules. Of course, He rules everywhere. The world is His. The universe is His. But there are people who do not want to be under His rule. They do their own will, not God’s will. The kingdom of heaven should be full of willing subjects, but right now that’s not the case.

In Daniel 2:44, there is a prophecy of a coming kingdom that God will set up. It will break in pieces and consume all the earthly kingdoms, and it will stand forever.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus preached the same message, and He taught His disciples to do so as well. He even taught us to pray to our heavenly Father, “Your kingdom come,” meaning we should look forward to the time when God’s rule is universally accepted—when there would no longer be any rebels against God.

Jesus did not begin the parable of the sower with “The kingdom of heaven is like…” because that parable is not about the kingdom of God. In the parable of the sower, the different kinds of ground represent how people receive or reject the word of God. Some don’t want to have anything to do with God. But in this and the following parables, we’re focusing on where God has or should have willing subjects. It should be true of the world, but we know that is not the case at the present time. We would expect it to be true within the Church, but that is also not the case with all church-goers at the present time.

The Explanation—Matthew 13:36-43

Let’s get into the meaning of the parable. Skip down to verse 36:

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.

He answered and said to them: He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.

Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels 2, and they will gather out of His kingdom all the stumbling blocks, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Already, we see some differences between this parable and the previous one. In the parable of the sower, the seed was the same and the ground was different. In this parable the seed is different and the ground is the same. By this we can learn some principles to help us understand all the other parables:

  1. Just because an element in one parable has a particular meaning doesn’t mean it has the same meaning in another parable.
    • In the parable of the sower, the seed is the word of God. In this parable, the seeds are the sons of the kingdom.
    • In the parable of the sower, the field represents people’s hearts. In this parable, the field represents the world.
    • The meaning of the parable of the sower takes place over the lifetime of a human being, while the meaning of the story in this parable takes place over this age of the world.
  2. So you can’t use one parable to interpret another. An element may mean the same thing or it may not.
  3. Don’t take a parable too far. A parable is meant to teach one truth, not all truth. Jesus did not tell this parable to teach that some people are naturally born wicked and others are naturally righteous, although some might read it that way. In reality, everyone starts out wicked. Ephesians 2:3 says we all started out as children of wrath… we were all tares. The point of the parable is something else.

Jesus said the one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. Jesus was speaking of Himself here. (Ever notice how He usually speaks of Himself in the third person?) Son of Man… what does that mean? You could take it to mean Jesus was born as a man, that He was fully human. But that’s not all He was implying. Daniel 7:13-14 contains a prophecy of the Messiah who appears as a son of man:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

So when Jesus described Himself as the Son of Man (which was His most common way of refering to Himself), He was claiming to be the Messiah foretold in Daniel. This is especially significant when you consider the kingdom of heaven mentioned in Daniel is His kingdom. Whenever Jesus spoke of Himself as the Son of Man, it was in connection to His being the Messiah.

Jesus said the field is the world. This is not the same word ‘world’ used elsewhere in the parables of this chapter. It is cosmos in the Greek, meaning something arranged in order, such as the world God created. God created the world to follow a particular order… to obey His will, to follow natural and spiritual laws. The other places where ‘world’ is mentioned in chapter 13’s parables is the Greek word aion, which means the current age or current corrupted worldly system. For this reason, some Bible translations will use the word ‘age’ instead of ‘world.’

The good seeds are those Jesus placed in the kingdom of heaven. These are the people Jesus has saved. If you are saved, He has planted you as good seed in His field, in His kingdom. Here they are called ‘sons of the kingdom,’ which you can also understand as sons of the King, because God is called their Father in verse 43.

In contrast with the good seeds are the tares, which were sown by the enemy. Jesus identifies the enemy as the devil, and the seeds he sowed are called ‘sons of the wicked one.’ They are his sons because (knowingly or unknowingly) they follow him. They have inherited his character. In this parable, they are also called ‘stumbling blocks‘ and ‘those who practice lawlessness‘, meaning they do not obey the laws of the kingdom of God, and they cause others to do the same.

So we have the sons of the kingdom, and the sons of the wicked one. And according to the parable, they look alike at first. In the Church, we have those who are truly saved and those who only look saved. They look like believers. They talk like believers. They may even believe they are saved. But, as Jesus said elsewhere, you can tell them apart by their fruit.

The Church has always had false believers, false teachers, even false apostles. Jesus told us it would be so. In Matthew 7:15-20, He said:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them. 3

Wheat and tares may look alike in the beginning, but eventually the nature of the plant reveals itself in the fruit. A wheat plant produces wheat, and a tare plant produces tares. A wheat plant cannot produce tares, and a tare cannot produce wheat. The nature of the plant determines what it will produce. 4

The New Testament writers affirmed what Jesus said about false believers in the church:

  • Peter said there would be false teachers among us in 2 Peter 2:1 who would “deny the Master that bought them.”
  • John wrote in Revelation 2:2, the Ephesian church tested those who called themselves apostles and found they were false apostles.
  • Paul said he was in danger from false brothers in 2 Corinthians 11:26.
  • Luke wrote in Acts 15 that there were false brothers who taught the church in Antioch that they had to be circumcised to be saved. Even among the apostles, the believing Pharisees said the gentiles had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. Paul referred to them as “false brothers” in Galatians 2:4. He said, “This was because of the false brothers secretly brought in, who stole in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.

In a church of any appreciable size, there will be false brothers mixed in with the true. There will be sons of the kingdom and sons of the wicked one. Spiritually speaking, a son is someone who follows in his father’s ways.

  • In Matthew 5:9, the peacemakers are called sons of God.
  • In Romans 5:9, those who are led by the Holy Spirit are called sons of God.
  • In Philippians 2:14-15, those who do things without murmurings and disputes are called sons of God.
  • In 1 John 3:9-10, those who do righteousness and love their brothers are sons of God.


  • In Acts 13:8-10, Elymas the sorcerer who perverted the ways of the Lord was called the son of the devil.
  • In John 8:41-44, Jesus called those who don’t love Him sons of the devil.
  • In 1 John 3:8, those who practice sin as a way of life, who do not want to live righteously, are of the devil.

In the parable, the servants asked if they should remove the tares. The farmer said No, let them both grow together. This principle applies to the meaning and application of the parable.

We are not to try to remove false believers from among ourselves. We’re not to go on a witch hunt and cast them out. That would do much more harm than good.

The New Testament contains no instructions to the church to purge itself of false believers. In the accounts where false believers were found (such as in Acts 15), there is no mention that they were ever forcibly removed from the church.

It’s not our responsibility to weed out the tares. They look so much alike, we might mistake a believer for a non-believer, or vice versa. Even if we know for sure who is a tare and who is not, our task is not to weed the field. That would disturb other believers and interfere with both their and our fruit production. Our job is just to continue producing fruit for the master. That fruit production continues until the harvest, when our fruit has fully matured, and then the reapers will do the job of separating the wheat from the tares.

Jesus said the harvest is at the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. We see the angels performing this function in Revelation 14:15-16. The word for ‘age’ means the current corrupted worldly system. Remember that prophecy in Daniel that spoke of the kingdom God would set up? He said it would destroy the worldly kingdoms and it would last forever. Daniel was writing of the “harvest”.

In verses 41 to 43 of Matthew 13, Jesus describes what will happen at the harvest. All of the tares will be gathered out of His kingdom and cast into the furnace of fire. These tares include those who practice lawlessness, in other words, those who have not submitted to the laws of the kingdom of heaven. They haven’t desired to do so, and they’ve hindered others from doing so.

Just as the tares were gathered into bundles to be burned so as to prevent the field from being reinfected with them later, the wicked will also be burned—cast into hell—to prevent them from spreading their lawlessness into heaven. This is a theme very common in Jesus’ teachings. In fact, Jesus taught more about hell than He did about heaven. It’s a warning that we don’t take seriously enough.

I like how Jesus changed the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” into “the kingdom of their Father.” This neatly brings together the other phrases we have read: “kingdom of heaven“, “the kingdom of God“, and our being called “sons of the kingdom.” As Jesus taught elsewhere, we are sons of our heavenly Father.

In the end, the righteous will shine forth as the sun. We have no idea what God has in store for us in heaven. Paul said we have an eternal weight of glory awaiting us that far exceeds the minor sufferings we endure here on earth. I can’t comprehend that, but I trust Jesus that it will be so.


How can we apply what Jesus taught here?

  • We could see this as an answer to the question of why God allows the wicked to continue in the world (or why He allows non-believers in the church).
  • We could see this as how we are to deal with non-believers: we’re told not to cast them out.

I think one reason we are not to remove the non-believer from the church is because they will hear the gospel message. That gospel might take root, and change them from a tare into a wheat. Jesus changed water into wine. If He can change the nature of water, He can change the nature of a man. And He does so. We were all tares at one time. Ephesians 2:3 says we were all once children of wrath. But God did the impossible. He changed us.

I expect if plants could think, many tares would think they are wheat because they’re growing in a wheat field along with other wheat plants, and the farmer hasn’t uprooted them. The same is true of many people who go to church regularly. But going to church does not make you a Christian any more than being in a wheat field makes you a wheat plant.

Are you a wheat or a tare? Are you a son of the King or a son of the enemy? This is a very important question that we all need to ask ourselves. Paul told us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to test ourselves whether we are in the faith. Is Jesus Christ in you? If you don’t know, you’re probably not. But you can be. John 1:12-13 says:

But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Believe in the name of Jesus, trust in Him to forgive your sins and give you new life, and He will do so, and make you a child of God.

Here’s another application of this parable that we can benefit by…

In the parable itself, the farmer told his servants what to do to ensure his entire crop would be saved and bear the most fruit. His goal was preserving every wheat plant and maximizing their potential.

Like the farmer in the parable, Jesus’ purpose is to save every believer, and have every believer produce as much fruit as possible.

Remember the parable of the lost sheep 5? The shepherd left the ninty-nine to seek the one he lost. When he found it, he rejoiced over that one.

Jesus is concerned about all of us. There is no child of God He doesn’t care about. And He reassured us that He will allow none of us to be lost. He said in John 6:39:

This is the will of my Father who sent me, that of all he has given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise him up at the last day.

He also said in John 10:27-30:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

It is the most comforting thought to know I am secure in Jesus’ hands!

If you are not a believer, trust in Jesus, and know the security of being in His hands. He will never leave you nor forsake you.


  1. Both the field and the barn are owned by the farmer and are generally on the same property.
  2. Notice Jesus said the angels are His: a claim to deity.
  3. The lack of good fruit of the tares is also paralleled in Matthew 25:41-46.
  4. The world often confuses tares with wheat, which is why they blame Christians for the acts of false Christians.
  5. Luke 15:3-7