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In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable of the wheat and tares. In this parable, He likens the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who had a field in which he sowed good seed. Enemies of his came and sowed tares among the wheat. After discovering this, the man’s servants asked what they should do. The man made them wait until the harvest before separating them so they wouldn’t accidently harm the wheat while dealing with the tares. Here is Jesus’ explanation of that parable:
And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.Matthew 13:37–43
So, the parable is about a time of judgement at the end of the age in which God separates the wheat from the tares. This is similar in theme and subject to passages like Matthew 25:31ff which speaks of Jesus separating the sheep from the goats. It also bears many similarities to John’s teaching. He also speaks of the wheat being gathered into the barn and the tares being cast into fire (Matthew 3:10-12; cf. Matthew 13:30). Both Jesus and John emphasized that this kingdom of which they speak was at hand. Since the coming of the kingdom is at a time of judgement, repentance was necessary (Matthew 3:2; cf. Malachi 4; Luke 21:29-36).
In Matthew 24, Jesus even spoke of these same things. He said that the angels would gather the elect at the end of the age within that generation (Matthew 24:31, 34). Both Matthew 24 and the parable in Matthew 13 have connections to the book of Daniel through similar themes, language, and even direct citations (Matthew 13:43, 24:15; Daniel 12:3, 11). All three chapters, Daniel 12, Matthew 13, and Matthew 24, concern the “time of the end” and the “end of the age.” Jesus claims all of this would happen within that generation (Matthew 24:34).
Was Jesus right? Did these things come to pass as He said they would?
I believe He was! Let’s check it out!
Separating the Wheat from the Tares
First, what separates the wheat from the tares?
Well, in Matthew 13, there is nothing specific mentioned. All we know is that the wheat are children of God, while the tares are the children of the Devil (Matthew 13:38). However, in Matthew 25, Jesus gives us more information.
The difference between the wheat/ sheep and tares/ goats is love. Love is not some warm, fuzzy feeling but love manifested in action.
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.Matthew 25:35–36
The righteous are confused. They had never even seen Jesus in this condition, so how could they have helped Him? Jesus explains.
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’Matthew 25:40
Likewise, Jesus addresses the goats, but they are excluded from the kingdom because they did not help Jesus. They are similarly confused, but Jesus gives them the same response.
Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’Matthew 25:44–45
The difference between the two groups (sheep/ wheat or goats/ tares) is love.
In Matthew 24, Jesus explained it this way:
At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.Matthew 24:10–13
Do you see what’s happening here? Jesus is describing the difference between the wheat and tares. The wheat endure under persecution and continue to love one another while the tares fold and their love grows cold.
Here’s where it gets cool.
Since Jesus said that these things would happen within that generation, shouldn’t we expect His followers to document what was happening? I mean if Paul, Peter, and John all wrote towards the end of that generation, they would mention something about this, right?
1 John and the Wheat and Tares
So far, we’ve seen that the difference between the wheat and tares would become more and more clear towards the end of the age, something Jesus said would happen within the generation of His first disciples (Matthew 16:27-28). He said on multiple occasions that the thing that distinguishes the two groups is love. For example, in John 15:10-12, Jesus says that loving one another is how one abides in Him and keeps His commandments.
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.John 15:10–12
John continues this discussion throughout his epistles. The largest of these three, 1 John, is an epistle directed towards a body of believers who were witnessing a mass exodus of fake Christians and false teachers. We’ll see, as we look through the epistle, how John and his audience were living in the time of separation of which Jesus spoke.
In 1 John 1, John begins by distinguishing between those who walk in darkness versus those who walk in light. He clarifies in chapter 2 that those who walk in light are those who keep the commandments while those who walk in darkness do not. One practices truth while the other practices a lie. In verses 9-11, he reveals what he has in mind.
The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.1 John 2:9–11
The difference between the one who walks in darkness and the one who walks in light is simple: who loves their neighbor?
Later in that same chapter, John claims, “It is the last hour!” (1 John 2:18). The last hour? What does he have in mind here? Remember, Jesus said the end of the age would come within that generation and one major sign of its arrival was these false teachers (antichrists). John is teaching that it was the last hour of the end of the age/ last days! And he is giving the criteria for determining who are the wheat versus who were the tares! Notice what he says in the next verse:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.1 John 2:19
The tares were making their exit while the children of the kingdom were being gathered into the barn!
In chapter 3, John again shows how to identify a child of the devil versus a child of God.
By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.1 John 3:10–15
The devil was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). His children, those who followed in his steps, are they very ones Jesus had in mind in Matthew 13, and they were becoming more and more obvious in John’s time! The harvest had begun! Hear what Peter said:
For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?1 Peter 4:17
He, too, was writing when “the end of all things” was at hand and the church was undergoing a fiery trial that would separate the sheep from the goats (1 Peter 1:6-7, 4:5, 7, 12-17, 5:1-3).
Jesus gave a parable about the kingdom of Heaven. The wheat and tares would be separated at the end of the age, something Jesus said would happen within that generation. John, among other New Testament writers, documented this separation as it was unfolding before their eyes. They were writing at the last hour of the last days and their record is preserved for us today.
The book of Hebrews was also written around this time, and one of its major themes is reminding the people of the great separation that took place in the first Exodus. Here are a few passages from Hebrews to help close out the article.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.Hebrews 10:23–25
The word translated “assembling together” is the word ἐπισυναγωγή (episynagōgē). It is the noun form of the word ἐπισυνάγω (episynagō). This word appears as a noun in one other place: 2 Thessalonians 2:1. It appears as a verb in eight passages: Matthew 23:37, 24:31, for example. This gathering is not the weekly assembly but the end times gathering of the elect.
The Hebrews writer is encouraging them to not forsake the gathering at the coming of the Lord!
He even tells the people it is time to be gathered to Christ and that they had arrived at the New Jerusalem!
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.Hebrews 12:22–24
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.Hebrews 13:12–14
Jesus prophesied these things would happen and the witnesses living towards the end of the age documented their fulfillment!