He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Matthew presents this record out of order. First Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables. Then in private Jesus explained the parables to His disciples. The parables, in this chapter, were part of one sermon. Matthew breaks them up for our benefit. He adds the explanation after them.
All the parables in this chapter are about the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus explains what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
In the first parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven to a man sowing good seed. His enemy sows bad seed in the same field. The Greek term refers to a specific seed. It was an especially undesirable weed. They “sowed darnel.” It looks like wheat. But it has poisonous seeds.
The man’s servants notice weeds mingled with the wheat. They asked the owner what they should do. The owner said do nothing for now. Why? Because they may confuse some wheat for weeds. The man said to let both grow until time for harvest. Then they would separate the darnel from the wheat.
The parable’s message is simple. As long the Church is in this world, bad men and hypocrites will mix in it. Until the time of the harvest i.e. the end of the age, weeds will mix with the wheat. Jesus wanted to encourage believers. The bad seed is in the church along with the good seed. The bad seed is difficult to discern at first. At first, all appears to be peace, love, and joy. But evil lies everywhere in the world and the church.
This is well known both inside and outside the church. Many claim the church is no better than the world. Look at the evidence. There is rape, adultery, divorce, child abuse, theft, embezzlement. All this is inside the church. All this is by so-called “godly” men and women.
Many give up on the church. They throw their hands up in despair. They withdraw from the Church. They are disillusioned. They cannot find purity within the church. But Christ tells us we are not to expect purity. There is darnel among the wheat. And we often cannot tell the difference.
Jesus is not saying to ignore open sin. When open sin occurs we should take action. Open sin is not darnel. Open sin is thistles and bramble. We are not to condone open sin. But we can confuse wheat as darnel. So we are to have mercy and grace as our Lord. Otherwise, we will uproot the wheat.
Jesus refers to the harvest at the end of the age. Some translations translate this as “world” (e.g. KJV, ASV, Geneva) But the Jesus used two different words. These two words have different meanings. The first in verse 38 κόσμος (kosmos) is means world. The second word in verses 39 and 40 αἰών (aiōn) means something different. The correct translation is age.
Here is Strong’s Greek dictionary definition. rαἰών (aiōn) properly an age; specifically (Jewish) a Messianic period (present or future).
It is my belief that the “end of the age” does not refer to the “end of the world.” Many respected and orthodox scholars agree with me. There are also many respected and orthodox scholars who disagree with me. Both cannot be right. Jesus either referred to the end of the world or He was not. I have a position. But I cannot be dogmatic. There is a chance I am wrong. It is like the line in the introduction to the old television show Monk. “I could be wrong now, but I don’t think so!”
The end of the age does not mean the end of the world. Many ages have come and gone. Yet the world remains.
We divide history into five major ages. There is Prehistory, Ancient History, the Middle Ages, the Modern Age, and the Contemporary Age. Of course, there are other ages. There was the stone age, the bronze age, the jet age, the space age, the modern age the post-modern age. The world did not end at the end of any of these ages. In biblical terms, there was the patriarchal age. The Adamic age, the Noahic age, the Davidic age, the Jewish age, the Messianic age, the church age. The question is, what age was Jesus referring to?
Russel in his book The Parousia makes this statement:
It was the belief of the Jews that the Messiah would introduce a new aeon: and this new aeon, or age, they called ‘the kingdom of heaven.’ The existing aeon: therefore, was the Jewish dispensation, which was now drawing to its close; and how it would terminate our Lord impressively shows in these parables.Russell, James; Clarke, David; Stevens, Ed.. The Parousia 3rd Edition: A General Inquiry Into the Doctrine of our Lord’s Second Coming (Kindle Locations 672-675). Bierton Particular Baptists. Kindle Edition.
This parable references back to the garden. In the garden of Eden Satan planted the bad seed. God created man as an intelligent creature. Men had the ability to choose good or evil. God did not implant evil in the human soul.
There will be a day of judgment. At that time God will separate the tares from the wheat.
Elsewhere Jesus said the harvest is ready. “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” (John 4:35-36) Again in Matthew “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 4:37-38)
In the next two parables, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to two small items. They grow and spread.
Jesus compares the kingdom of Heaven to a grain of mustard. It is a very small seed. But it grows to 10 feet tall. Jesus also compares the Kingdom of Heaven to leaven. Even a small amount of leaven spreads to all the flour.
Jesus’ statement about the mustard seed troubles some. The concern is we know of smaller seeds. The smallest seed is the orchid seed. So the conclusion is Jesus was not omniscient. He was unaware of seeds that are smaller.
This is a concern only if the reader is unskilled in biblical interpretation. There are three rules in interruption, They are context, context, and context. What is the literary context? This is a parable. We are not to understand parables in a wooden sense. What is the cultural context? The mustard seed was the smallest seed Jesus’ contemporaries dealt with. It was the smallest seed they would sow in their garden, which is his immediate context.
Leaven is often a symbol of evil. But here it is a symbol of the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven. It permeates the world. Jesus’ concern is well beyond Israel. It extends to the whole world.
Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables. Parables may reveal or conceal. In verses, 11-13 Jesus explains His not everyone was to understand. He explained the parables to his disciples when they were alone. Did the disciples need a special explanation because they were slow? No. It was because Jesus wanted them to understand and others to remain in suspense.