Thursday, June 12, 2014

The main point of Jesus' parable of the tares in Matthew 13

Matthew 13:36 "Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”

A few days ago I had posted the parable of the tares in Matthew 13:24-30 along with Jesus' explanation of the parable in Matthew 13:36-43 at

The aim in that post was to simply present the parable and Jesus' explanation of it. Today's post aims to understand the main point of Jesus' parable of the tares.

The parable of the tares is concerned with the activity of two sowers
In referring back to Jesus' presentation of the parable of the tares (or weeds, as it has been also termed) in Matthew 13:24-30, the middle of the parable brings out what appears to be it's focal point in Matthew 13:26-28 "But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’

When Jesus finished telling this parable and the disciples came to him later on in private, what is the first thing they ask in Matthew 13:26 "Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” The fact the disciples are calling this parable by a specific name indicates they feel the seemingly unresolved tension presented by Jesus in the parable, namely, the presence of a second enemy sower doing his dirty work in the Sower's field. 

How the parable of the tares relates to the parable of the sower

There is no doubt that Jesus' parable of the tares has a relationship to the other parables in Matthew 13. Noting how the parables of the Sower and the Tares function together can aid greatly in understanding the latter's main point. Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost notes: "Once again Christ built on the familiar figure of a sower sowing good seed in a field. Since this parable was built on the previous parables, the interpretation of the sower, the seed, and the field are the same here as Christ previously explained."1 

In the parable of the Sower and the Seed in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, Jesus' focus there has to do with the typical responses we can expect to see to the Kingdom's message, the Gospel. Its as if Jesus in that parable is giving the listener a view of the field from ground level. In this parable of the tares (or weeds) in Matthew 13:24-30, 30-36, Jesus is giving us a birds-eye view of the same field. The time frame is also broadened in that with the parable of the sower, the process and details of each type of soil in between sowing and harvest is the focus.  In the parable of the tares, the broader picture of just the sowing the wheat and the tares is the focal point. In short, it appears that in the parable of the sower we are getting the view of God's redemptive work in this world from a human perspective, whereas in the parable of the tares we are seeing the same work from a Sovereign point of view that includes the counter sowing techniques of the enemy of our souls.

The Sovereign sower and Satan the evil sower
As we look specifically at Jesus' interpretation of His own parable in Matthew 13:36-43, we see descriptions of these two sowers of unequal power and totally different character.

He states in Matthew 13:37-38a "And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world." Now the question is: "Who owns the field, the world?" By right the Sower owns the field. Jesus states as much in his telling of this parable in Matthew 13:24b “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field." Jesus of course is the Sower. Clearly Jesus elsewhere is described as having all authority in heaven and on earth, having the capability of controlling outcomes and directing the course of history and human affairs, just like the Heavenly Father. (Matthew 28:18; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16-18; Revelation 1:5-7).

So then who is the second evil sower in the parable - termed "the enemy" in Matthew 13:28? Jesus explains in Matthew 13:38b-39 "and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels." The devil of course is described as "Satan" or "The Adversary" who opposes Christ and His people in Revelation 12. The Devil blinds unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4) and has been given allowance by God to exercise temporary jurisdiction in this world as the "prince of the power of the air". (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 2:14) Satan's task aims to destroy and make useless the Son's field and to ruin the entire harvest by way of over sowing with "weed" or what Jesus describes as "sons of the evil one" in 13:38. 

Life-Application: Jesus' ultimately controls outcomes
As we draw today's post to a conclusion, the one question not answered in this parable is: "why didn't the first sower go after the second evil sower"?  With no doubt the problem of evil is present in this parable. Jesus' main point is to assert the fact that in the end, His will concerning the wheat, the sons of the Kingdom, will prevail despite the efforts of the evil enemy sower.

1. J. Dwight Pentecost. The Parables of Jesus. Kregel. Page 50.