by Norm Olson

Q: I would appreciate your explanation of the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30). It appears that the Lord directed the reapers to gather the tares, or weeds, before they gathered the wheat. This seems to reverse the order we believe-believers are raptured before the unregenerate are gathered.

A: Christ came as the Jews’ Messiah (Matthew 2:2). Christ was not taken by surprise when they rejected Him as their king and when His physical kingdom was therefore postponed.

Between this rejection and Christ’s second coming, when He will set up His millennial reign, there exists a “mystery form” of Christ’s kingdom, as His kingdom didn’t dissolve just because His people rejected Him. The mystery form of the kingdom has a different character connected with mankind’s responsibility, with the Word spread abroad, and with the hearts of people left to follow the truth or leave it. In other words, it is a spiritual type of “reign” during His physical absence from the earth.

We use “mystery” in reference to truth that is not revealed in the Old Testament but is revealed in the New. As the Jews increased in their rejection of the Messiah despite Christ’s miracles and teachings (as recorded in early chapters of Matthew), Christ increasingly and deliberately withheld truth from them, and He employed parables to teach mostly the disciples (Mark 4:10-12).

In the passage you ask about, there are seven such parables, known as mysteries of the kingdom (the present time). The New Testament also tells us about other mysteries during this “mystery form” period, such as the mystery of Israel’s blindness (Romans 11:25) and the mystery of iniquity in the world (2 Thessalonians 2:7). For more, look up Romans 16:25, 1 Corinthians 2:7 and 8, 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 3:3 and 9, Colossians 1:26 and 27, Colossians 2:2 and 3, 1 Timothy 3:9 and 16, and Revelation 1:20, 10:7, and 17:5.

The question invariably comes up, What about the church in the midst of this kingdom focus? To answer, there is certainly application for the church, inasmuch as it is in the world; however, we must see the passage in a broader context-Christendom would be a better way to see “church” in the overall scenario.

There is a difference between Christ’s church and the organized church. The true church of Jesus Christ is made up totally of true believers. The organized church is not, and wheat and tares do intermingle. One writer relates how, as a young minister, he tried to clean up his mainline denomination (get rid of the tares). He obviously failed, and from that point on, he concentrated on spreading the Word. Regardless of how much we strive for a totally saved membership-even in a local church that stresses regenerate membership-we realize that most organized churches will have a tare or two, or more, in its constituency.

Christ Himself explained the passage you ask about (see Matthew 13:36-43)! The disciples had this parable on their minds even after Christ had given two other parables in the meantime: the mustard seed and the leaven. Christ explained that the field in the parable of the wheat and tares was the world (see here the broader scope of the parable than just the local church). The sower was the Son of Man, Who sowed the good seed during His life on earth and through His people ever since. And Satan was the enemy who sowed the weeds. He is the master deceiver.

The common weed in the Holy Land, by the way, was known as “darnel.” It was a poisonous grass that looked just like wheat while growing but appeared different when mature and when the wheat was ready to harvest. Also, the tares would intertwine with the wheat, making work difficult. One can see why a farmer would need to wait until harvest to separate the two plants.

The good seeds represented God’s children of the kingdom, and the tares represented the children of the wicked one. The time of the harvest is the “end of this age.” At the second advent of Christ, the angels will cast the evildoers (tares) into the fiery furnace with its weeping and gnashing of teeth. They will not enter the Millennium.

Your specific question about the order of separation of wheat and tares is interesting because posttribulationists use this order as an argument for their position that Christ will rapture the church after the Tribulation. However, the passage is, as I mentioned, not dealing just with the Church Age (from the Day of Pentecost to the Rapture) but the entire period of the kingdom in its mystery form (between the first and second comings of Christ).

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send your Bible questions to nolson@garbc.org, or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.