Summary: The wheat and the weeds, then, grow side by side – and will, until the harvest. Then, according to Jesus, there will be a separation.
This is a simple tale, isn’t it? Or, so it seems. But there’s actually more to Jesus’ story than meets the eye. If you and I were to look down the page just a few verses, what we would find is Jesus’ explanation of this parable and what it means. As he lays it out, he himself is the farmer who plants his field with good seeds, and the enemy – the saboteur, the one who comes in the night to sow seeds of destruction – is the devil. The good seeds that Jesus sows represent the children of the kingdom, and the weeds are the children of the devil. At the time of harvest, you have the reapers, who, in Jesus’ explanation, are the holy angels. And, of course, the harvest itself is the point toward which all the action moves. It represents what Jesus calls “the end of the age” and what the Bible often refers to as “the day of the Lord” or “the Last Judgment.”
The harvest, then, is a kind of dividing line. It separates “the present age,” the whole of history leading up to the Judgment, from “the age to come,” the future that God has planned for all the redeemed. It is that future that Isaiah describes when he tells us how “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together…, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isa. 11:6f.). John describes “the age to come” as the time in which God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes” and “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain,” he says, “will be no more, for the first things [will] have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
By “the first things,” of course, he means the present age. And what about it? In the book of Titus, Paul describes this “present age” as a time of “impiety” and “worldly passions.” It is a period characterized by a climate that is hostile to kingdom values. It is an era that makes it difficult at best to “live lives that,” in Paul’s words, “are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (Titus 2:12).
So what we have here is a view of history. Right? And the Bible’s view of history is one of two ages, “the present evil age,” as it is described in the book of Galatians (Gal. 1:4), and “the age to come,” as Jesus frequently calls it (Matt. 12:32; Mk. 10:30; Lk. 18:30). And what is more, during the present age, the time in which we are now living, those who belong to the kingdom and those who do not are mixed together, but in eternity, there will be a great separation. And the dividing line between the two eras is what Jesus calls here “the harvest,” or what the Bible calls elsewhere the Day of Judgment.
So, let’s look at this present age, and, as we do, let’s keep in mind the coming harvest. Did you notice in the parable how the farmhands offered to go and clear the field of weeds? “Do you want us to go and gather them?” they asked. It seems like the logical thing to do, doesn’t it? After all, weeds tend to use up the soil’s moisture and nutrients and, because they do, they threaten to damage the intended crop.
But look what the farmer says. He tells them, “No.” Why? “For in gathering the weeds,” he says, “you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest.” And that’s the way it is in this present life. The redeemed live side by side with the lost – in the workplace, on the field of play, in the home, and even in the church.
Does it surprise you that I would say, even in the church? That’s what Jesus implies here in his parable. He says that, “at the end of the age,” “the Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers” (Matt. 13:40, 41, emphasis added). Out of his kingdom! Some of the most disturbing words that Jesus ever spoke appear in his Sermon on the Mount, where he says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Our Reformed heritage distinguishes between what it calls the “visible” church and the “invisible” church. The visible church is made up of all who profess faith, along with their children. Many of these, but not all, make up the invisible church. They are the ones who, through no merit of their own but only by God’s mercy, are in the state of grace.
The wheat and the weeds, then, grow side by side – and will, until the harvest. Then, according to Jesus, there will be a separation. The weeds will be collected and thrown into the furnace, and the wheat will be gathered into the barn. And God’s children “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43).