Jesus Verse by Verse

an expanded commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus Verse by Verse...

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This parable describes how the true believers, living in the Jewish world of the first century, had to contend with the "tares" of false brethren who were sown by the "enemy" of Christ (the good sower, Matt. 13:24-28).   "The enemy that sowed them is the devil" (Matt. 13:39) must be seen in the context of many other passages which speak of the Jewish system as the devil or satan.
The devil's clandestine sowing of tares among the good seed of the ecclesia must primarily refer to the "false (Judaist) brethren unawares brought in", which the New Testament frequently warns against (Gal. 2:4).   By "the end of the (Jewish) world", in A.D. 70, this problem appears to have been ended (Matt. 13:39).   The burning of the tares along with the "world" connects with other prophecies concerning the end of the Jewish age in figurative fire (e.g. 2 Peter 3).   Seeing that false doctrine and teachers continued to spread within the ecclesia after A.D. 70, this parable must be understood as having a highly specific application to the concentrated Jewish campaign of infiltrating the ecclesias.
Latter-day application
However, there is much language in this parable which shouts for reference to the events of the second coming and judgment:-
-  "The harvest" (Matt. 13:39) - a figure used concerning the Lord's return in Isa. 18:4,5;  Joel 3:13; Mark 4:29; Rev. 14:15.
-  "The end of the world" (Matt. 13:39).
-  The Angels gathering the responsible (Matt. 13:39,40) - an idea repeated in Matt. 25:31-33 concerning the second coming.
-  "A furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:42) - 'Gehenna'.
-  "Wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:42) - used elsewhere concerning the rejected at the judgment seat (Matt. 8:12;  22:13; 24:51;  25:30).
-  "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father" (Matt. 13:43) is hard to apply to A.D. 70; it more sensibly fits the second coming.
Whilst there have always been weak elements within the true ecclesia, one of the parable's main purposes is to highlight the problem of the 'devil' consciously infiltrating the ecclesia. The parable appears to teach that there was nothing that the "wheat" could do about the Judaist infiltration of the ecclesias, until that problem was taken out of the way in A.D. 70.   This does not mean that the commands to separate from false teachers can be quietly forgotten - after A.D. 70 the main threat to the ecclesias was (and is) the influence of Greek and Roman philosophy, expressed albeit indirectly.   From those who openly teach this, there was and is a clear command to separate.   Why our Lord counselled against positive action to expel the Judaizers before A.D. 70 was for several reasons:-
-  He knew that this particular problem would be solved in A.D. 70 anyway.
-  Seeing that many of the early Christians were Jews, pushing out the Judaizers would have meant certain damage to the "wheat", seeing that they were too immature to judge between true Christianity based on "the hope of Israel" and the specious doctrines of the Judaizers.
-  The Law did not come to a complete end until A.D. 70.   Expelling those who advocated a return to the Law before A.D. 70 was therefore difficult.
-  By the deliberate hypocrisy of the Judaizers it was impossible for human judgment to accurately discern who should be 'gathered up'.
We have shown that this parable, along with most other prophecies of A.D. 70, must have a latter-day application too.   Since the first century there has never been such a systematic infiltration of the true ecclesias as that practiced then by the Judaizers.   The extent of their campaign is chronicled elsewhere.   Since that time, the loss of true doctrine has been due to persecution, materialism, individual false teachers, over-familiarity over an extended period etc., but never due to a large scale, organized infiltration of the ecclesias with men who consciously pretended to hold true doctrine, whilst subtly spreading their false ideas at the same time.   If this parable has a latter-day application - and our earlier analysis of the language used makes this hard to deny - then we have to expect a similar organized infiltration in the last days.   Whilst it would appear that we have not yet reached this crisis, the stage is well set for it.   Judas, with his apparent spirituality, is the prototype false teacher, and exemplifies the attitude (1 John 2:19 cp. John 13:30;  2 Thess. 2:3);  as does the description of wolves "in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15).   Any foolhardy attempt to "gather them up" (Matt. 13:28) must result in some "wheat" being pulled up too; i.e. those who cannot perceive the 'tares' for what they are, whilst holding true doctrine themselves, will be damaged.   Our only hope is the second coming.
The Devil
The system which sowed the tares is called "the enemy... the devil" (Matt. 13:39), primarily referring to the Jewish system.   The Jews are consistently portrayed as "enemies":  Matt. 22:44;  Ps. 42:9;  43:2;  69:4;  Luke 19:14 cp. 27;  10:19.   The latter-day beast is "the devil" (Rev. 12:9;  20:2), and we have suggested that this refers to the confederacy of largely Arab nations which will oppress Israel in the last days.
Time and again the Arab powers are called the "enemies" of God's true people:  Jud. 2:14; Ez. 36:2;  Lev. 26:25; Deut. 28:57;  Ex. 15:6,9;  Ps. 78:42 (= Egypt).   Ps. 110:1,2, primarily based on Abraham's victory over his Arab enemies, connects these peoples with the enemies of Christ who will become his footstool at the second coming (this is not to deny this Psalm's many other applications).   Most especially is Babylon called "the enemy": Ps. 78:61; Jer. 6:25;  15:11;  18:17; 31:16 and an impressive 11 times in Lamentations.   We have shown 'Babylon' to have a latter-day application to the Arab enemies of Israel.
Church in Crisis
"The devil" in the sense of sin's political manifestation has previously referred to the Jewish and Roman systems.   Both of these were connected with the 'devil' of false teachers within the ecclesia.  There is ample extra-Biblical proof that false Roman and Jewish philosophy was the ammunition of the early false teachers within the ecclesias.  
The man of sin who will be in the temple (ecclesia?) of the last days is a Judas-like character (2 Thess. 2:3 cp. Jn. 17:12)- hidden away in the ecclesia, appearing to be righteous. The latter-day beast/devil will also be associated in some way with the infiltration of the ecclesias which the parable of wheat and tares prophesies.   How exactly this will occur can only be speculation - the Arabs may hold the world to ransom with the threat of cutting oil supplies, and insist that Jewish-based religions be eliminated.   False teaching might then arise concerning the Jewish basis of our faith.   The present de-emphasis of the promises in our preaching and the lack of appreciation of them by many of our younger members will ease the way for this.   It is significant that one of the pictures of the beast is of it having horns like a lamb but speaking like a dragon (Rev. 13:11).   This is alluding to Matt. 7:15 describing false teachers as wolves which appear like sheep - showing the association between the beast's political manifestation and false teachers within the ecclesia. 
This organized infiltration of the ecclesias will probably occur in earnest during the tribulation period of natural Israel.   As the presence of the first century tares provoked confusion, turmoil and a landslide of true spirituality in the early church, so this prophesied programme of infiltration helps explain the frequent indications that the latter-day ecclesias will be in a desperately disjointed state at the time of the second coming.   The sowing of the tares was "while men slept" (Matt. 13:25), perhaps connecting with the slumbering virgins / ecclesial shepherds of Matt. 25:5, also the sleepy latter-day saints of 1 Thess. 5:6 and the disciples who failed to watch as they should have done (Mk. 13:36; 14:37). These four connections surely suggest that the havoc caused by the tares will be proportionate to the lack of spiritual watchfulness among the individual ecclesias and believers.   Again, the command to "Watch" in the last days is shown to have reference not only to observing the political 'signs of the times', but watching for the spiritual safety of the ecclesia.