The parables of Matthew 13 all come with a formula, “The Kingdom of Heaven is likened to . . .” To understand them (which is not always an easy task) one should start by realising that they have nothing whatever to do with evangelism, “getting people saved”, and so on. They were intended to portray conditions of entry in the Kingdom of God. Having said that, let’s have an in-depth look at the parable of the Wheat and Tares.
Matthew 13:24-30, and 36-43. The part that concerns us is the Lord’s own explanation of the parable, in the later verses. “He who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world. The good seed are the sons of the kingdom, and the darnel are the sons of the evil (principle). The enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is the consummation of the age, and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the darnel is gathered and burned in the fire, thus it will be at the consummation of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all that which causes a stumbling block, and those who practise lawlessness, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.”
The Lord Jesus “sows” the sons of the kingdom on the earth. Likewise the Devil sows his evil sons on the earth. What does this mean? To assume that Jesus and the Devil make selections from amongst people already existing on the earth, according to their propensities, is to insert folly into a parable that has been explained very clearly. But there are expository books galore that show blinkered vision, whose authors can only ever see things in terms of traditional evangelical thinking, and this is not good enough.
The selection process has been made before these “sons” are “sown” on the “earth”. It indicates a heavenly setting that may take us by surprise. Just as there is constant warfare on the earth between powers of good and powers of evil, whether in families, local skirmishes, or even world-wars, so also in the heavenly dimension there is a continual battle raging between beings who, by virtue of freewill, belong to God or the Devil by personal choice. The warfare mentioned in Revelation 12 between Michael and his angels and the Devil and his angels is a clear reference to this polarisation. The truth of this used to be understood in a more widespread fashion in older times, but seems to have been lost in our own age.
Examples of this may be adduced from the book of Job, one of the most ancient of writings in the Bible. Eliphaz said in his first address, (4:17-18)“Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Behold, He puts no trust in His messengers, and His angels He charges with folly; how much less in them who dwell in houses of clay?” And again, in his second address, (15:15) “Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones (angels); indeed, the heavens are not clean in His sight.”
This parable gives us an amazing insight into the affairs of heaven and earth. From amongst those in the heavenly dimension, the Lord gathers His “sons of the kingdom”, those who have already shown loyalty to Him in the affairs of life on the higher plane. These come to the earth, being born in the normal fashion, and thereupon forget everything that went before. But the Lord’s promise to them is set within their spirits. They are “elect”, and in due course the Lord calls them. They hear His voice and answer. These are the ones of whom Jesus referred to when He said, “All whom the Father gives me shall come to me, and he who comes to me I will in no wise cast out. . . . . This is the Father’s will, that of all whom He gives me I should lose nothing. . . .No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me call him.” (John 6:37,39,44)
But the Devil is not content to have warfare and deception in the higher dimension. He is intent on trying to wreck everything the Lord does on the earth. It is not just the fallen Adamic nature of man that causes trouble on earth. Much is also the direct activity of Satan and his angels. Therefore “whilst men slept” he carries out his evil design. The Lord used these words to indicate that Satan’s work is usually performed at “night time”, when people are asleep. There is no condemnation laid upon anyone for this “sleep.” It is a perfectly normal part of our life cycle. Rather was it said to show the deceitfulness of the Devil, who always does things in an underhanded way.
The “tares”, otherwise called “darnel”, are almost exact replicas of the wheat. The Greek word is ZIZANIA. Its identification, according to best Bible dictionaries I possess, is in some plant which grows identically to the wheat, so that no one can tell the difference UNTIL the ears form. The wheat has golden grains, but the zizania has black seeds.
Wherever men have gathered together to worship the Lord, throughout the 6,000 years of human history, there has always been the “tare”, making life difficult, and defiling the fellowship of the elect. Paul’s final address to the Ephesian elders is very pointed in this respect. “I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock. And also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)
The Lord makes it clear that this “mixture”, though troublesome, must remain until the time of harvest. “The consummation of the age” is the winding up of this world’s affairs prior to the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth, when the “sons of the kingdom” will shine forth like the sun.
The gathering of the tares, and the furnace mentioned is part of the parable, and must be interpreted accordingly. The Lord says that those who are cast into this fire will demonstrate their displeasure by “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Such words show us that the furnace of fire is figurative, because if human beings were consigned to flames literally, they would be dead in next to no time, but these people are gnashing their teeth, an expression showing their anger at the treatment meted out to them. Hence, the beginning of their corrective schoolroom procedure has begun. No longer will they be able to deceive, or place stumbling-blocks in the way of people.
The parable therefore has much to say in respect to pre-existence, even if most fail to recognise this.