There are imposters in the church today. They masquerade as children of God. They often look like Christians, talk like Christians, and even oftentimes act like Christians. But inside they are not regenerated. They bear no fruit. It is often very difficult to tell them apart from the real Christians. In fact, such people may live their entire lives within the church and never really show that they are weeds instead of wheat. They can be very deceptive. Indeed, they can even deceive themselves. There are weeds among the wheat.
Jesus gives us a second parable with a farming metaphor. The parable of the seeds on the different soils leads into the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Indeed, the third soil (that of the weeds choking out the good soil) provides the immediate context for this parable, by saying that there are weeds among the wheat.
Jesus starts out by saying that the kingdom of heaven is like a man sowing wheat, and the devil planting weeds among the wheat. So, we notice right away that the parable is about the kingdom of God. This is extremely important, since there are some difficulties of interpretation regarding verse 38, which says that the field is the world. We will say more about that in a minute.
Jesus goes on to talk about two plantings. Jesus is the one who plants the first planting. He plants good seed, the wheat. The landowner’s servants indeed ask the Planter whether or not He sowed good seed. Of course He did. However, during the night, while the servants were asleep, the devil came and planted weeds. Now, some interpreters say that the fact that some were sleeping is showing that the servants were being lazy and should have been awake. However, I think that the more natural explanation is simply that there are periods of rest. It is not a blame-worthy rest here. Every farmer has to sleep or at least rest.
So, while the farmers are asleep, the devil comes and sows weeds. Almost all interpreters agree that the weed that was sown is darnel, which, as it grows up, looks quite a bit like wheat. Indeed, all the time until the wheat heads out, it is difficult to tell the difference. The size of the blade is very similar. This results in the weeds growing up together with the wheat. Eventually, and this is very important, the root system of the darnel becomes entangled with the root system of the wheat. That is why it would not be wise to pull out the weeds, since some of the wheat might also be pulled out. So the weeds are left until the judgment harvest, when all the weeds will be gathered and burned, whereas the wheat will be gathered into the storehouse.
What is important in the telling of the parable is verse 28. We always want to know who is responsible, who we can blame. And, of course, Satan is involved deeply with what is wrong with the world. We cannot use that fact to excuse ourselves. However, here we learn one of the main things that Satan does to seek to undermine the kingdom of God. He confuses things by sowing a weed among the wheat that looks just like the wheat.
And that brings us to the grace of God. God could have uprooted the whole field in order to get rid of the weeds. However, God exercises grace in this respect even on the weeds. He doesn’t pull them out, because that might hurt the wheat. The most amazing thing is that Satan may plant weeds, but God has the ability to change a weed into a stalk of wheat. That kind of change is possible when you look at the Holy Spirit, and what the Holy Spirit can do. If you are feeling like a weed, then you can pray that God would change your nature into a stalk of wheat, productive in the kingdom of God.
Jesus does a lot of explaining in verses 36-43. We learn about almost every detail in the passage. The first detail requires some explanation. Jesus says that the field is the world. Now, when I grew up, I thought that this parable was about the fact that the church has believers and unbelievers in it. But then many people pointed me to this verse, saying that the field is not the church, but the world. In other words, Christians and non-Christians exist side by side together in the world. Now, of course, both of these things are true. It is true that the church is mixed, and it is true that believers live alongside unbelievers in the world. But the question is this: what does the passage say? There are a couple of indications that the passage is actually saying both. Firstly, we see that Jesus did say that the parable was about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is concerned about the church. That is where God rules most specifically. Of course, God rules over the whole world, but the term “kingdom of God” usually means the rule of Christ in the church. Secondly, the weeds are said to be sown among the wheat, not alongside the wheat. In other words, we don’t see a field of wheat, and then alongside but separate from that field, another field of weeds. What we see is the wheat and weeds all mixed up together. So here is what I have come to believe about this passage: the wheat and the weeds are mixed wherever they are, and that certainly includes the church. In fact, there aren’t very many believers outside the church. There are some, and we do not want to say that salvation is impossible outside the church. However, salvation is normally inside the church. When a person becomes a believer, then that believe is obligated to join with a local church. We need to be close to the other wheat.
The last part of Jesus’ explanation has to do with the final judgment. All the weeds will be burned, and all the wheat will be gathered. This judgment is real, and it could happen tomorrow. Look at the contrast in the final destination and state. Those who perish are those who cause sin and are guilty of lawlessness. They will be thrown into the blazing furnace, almost certainly a reference to the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, only a whole lot more so, and with a different person deciding who goes into it! God instead of Nebuchadnezzar decides who is thrown into the furnace. And He will be perfectly just. No one will go into that furnace who does not deserve to go into the furnace. Of course, everyone deserves to go into that furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is only because of God’s grace that there will be people who are righteous and will shine like the sun. We just heard about this, also from the book of Daniel. Daniel 12:3 says “Those who are wise will shine like the bright expanse of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” It is important to recognize here that both destinations are eternal. There is no temporary place of punishment, or temporary place of reward. And there is no going from one to the other after this life. This life is all there is for determination of who will shine, and who will burn. Therefore it is senseless to put off closing with Christ. How do we know when our lives will end, or when Christ will come back. No one should wager their eternal soul that they will be alive tomorrow. The price is too great if they are wrong about their guess. Much better to close with Christ today, right now, if you have not done so. Then there will be no fear of death, no fear of judgment. For God’s grace completely saves you from the wrath of God. This passage does not have to be scary to read. For those with any assurance of salvation at all, this passage is full of comfort, since we will be vindicated, and the wicked will receive their comeuppance. God will still leave some remnants of sin in our lives in order that we can know how much we must continually rely on his grace for holiness.
So what benefit do we have in knowing that the church is mixed? Well, we learn to be patient with one another. God does not rip out even the weeds, in general, but lets them grow in all their fruitlessness in the church. Now, this does not mean that we should ignore church discipline. Matthew 18 tells us that there are ways we can tell if a particular plant is a weed or a stalk of wheat. The distinguishing mark is repentance and a continual turning away from sin. If those things are not present, despite the fact of people going to them and calling on them to repent, then that person is to be put out of the church. However, just because a person sins, even gross sin, does not mean that they are weeds. After all, David the king of Israel, plainly a man after God’s own heart, murdered and committed adultery, and yet was a forgiven sinner. He repented of his sin and turned away from it. The Holy Spirit always brings the wheat to that place of repentance. So, therefore, we should be patient with our fellow believers. Oftentimes, we are quick to judge. We let one particular act of a person determine our opinion of them. That is wrong. We should assume the best of those in the church around us, while not being blind to the necessity of repentance and forgiveness. I think that our churches could do a better job of overlooking offenses committed against us. There are many small things that we blow up out of all proportion when we should in fact overlook and forget them. Furthermore, we make small sins into large sins. This usually stems from a proud heart that wants to assert its own rights. We think that if we are wronged, then we deserve a red carpet forgiveness. The person who wronged us should come to me on bended knee, and plead and beg and humiliate themselves in order to make things right with my royal highness. So, instead, we should be patient and longsuffering.
Secondly, we should not be either surprised or discouraged when we see the church do dumb things, or sinful things. The church has blemishes right now. Think of the Crusades. Yes, the Muslims attacked first, but people claiming the name of Christ did many horrible things. And that is not the only example. I think that many people think of the church as being a place where perfect people meet, rather than as being the hospital that it is.
Thirdly, and lastly, we should know that there is always a church of God. There are always those 7000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal, and that we have communion with them in Christ, and will have eternal communion with them in the new heavens and the new earth, when the righteous will shine like the sun. They are those who are declared righteous in justification, and made righteous in sanctification. However terrible the church seems at times, she is still the bride of Christ. And Christ will one day take away all blemishes, and we will see her true beauty revealed. So, we should value and cherish the church. As the Reformers and the early church fathers said, you cannot have God as your father without having the church as your mother. So, we should be patient with each other, and we should not be surprised or discouraged at the blemishes of the church, and we should know that there is always a church of God. This is the message of the parable of the wheat and the weeds.