In the Book of Matthew, Jesus teaches a parable of ‘The Wheat and the Tares’, and likens the parable to the kingdom of heaven at the end of the age. Although this parable is often understood as Jesus referring to the church as the wheat and the world as the tares, Jesus is in fact warning the Church that false teachings will be rife throughout His body prior to His second coming; and there will be many deceived in the church and cast into outer darkness.
Let us take a look at the parable in Matthew 13:24-30:
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field;
but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.
But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.
So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’
He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’
But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.
Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ “Matthew 13:24-30
In verse 25 Jesus says, “while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares…”. This word for slept, in Greek, means: to yield to sloth and sin, to be indifferent to one’s salvation, and it is also a euphemism for being (spiritually) dead. (1) The church being spiritually dead is not a foreign concept in the Bible. Among other parables, Jesus warned us in Matthew 25:18 that the church would be asleep at the end of the age and would need to be spiritually awakened; but only some of the church (the wise) would awake in time for the coming of the Lord.
For more confirmation that Jesus is speaking to the church, in the parable of the wheat and the tares, let’s look closer at the word “seed” found in verse 24. In Luke 8:11, Jesus, expounding on another parable (The Seed and the Sower), tells us that the seed is the word of God. The word for “seed” in Greek means sperm (2). In sperm is the male DNA, so Jesus is likening the Word to the DNA of God. The world hasn’t received the Word or DNA of God, so the seed being sown into the field is clearly speaking of the church. In 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul speaks to the church in Corinth, and teaches them that the church is the field of God: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” Furthermore, a few passages later, we read where Jesus explains the parable of the wheat and the tares to His disciples. In Matthew 23:41-42, He says:
“The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”Matthew 23:41-42
This is another confirmation that the wheat and tares are in the church. The world has never received the law of God, so it cannot be referring to those in the world.
We can see how the good seed, in the parable, is the Word of God, so what are the tares? In Greek, tares are defined as “false grain” (3) and “having at first the same sort of stalk and the same greenness, but not bringing forth any worthwhile fruit” (4). The tare seeds are actually poisonous to humans – producing sleepiness, nausea, convulsions and even death. (5) At first, tares are impossible to distinguish from wheat until the ear is developed; that is when the thin fruitless ear of the darnel (tare) is detected. (6) So, we see that at first, when tares are planted and even during the growth process, they appear the same as wheat. It’s only when the tares have almost come to maturity that the difference is made known, because the tare head produces no ‘fruit’ of the grain. What a scary thought, that Jesus compares this to the state of the church at the end of the age; there will be many professing themselves to be Christians, but they will be without fruit.
Why is this so? Jesus shows us in the parable: because the Word they are receiving isn’t actually the good seed. Yes, they are receiving a word that sounds like Jesus and looks like Jesus, but it’s a false teaching and unable to produce the fruit of the spirit, or the nature of Christ.
Ignatius, disciple of John the Apostle, wrote the following:
Nevertheless, I have heard of some who have passed in among you, holding the wicked doctrine of the strange and evil spirit; to whom ye did not allow entrance to sow their tares, but stopped your ears that ye might not receive that error which was proclaimed by them, as being persuaded that that spirit which deceives the people does not speak the things of Christ, but his own, for he is a lying spirit. But the Holy Spirit does not speak His own things, but those of Christ, and that not from himself, but from the Lord; even as the Lord also announced to us the things that He received from the Father. . . But the spirit of deceit preaches himself, and speaks his own things, for he seeks to please himself. He glorifies himself, for he is full of arrogance. He is lying, fraudulent, soothing, flattering, treacherous, rhapsodical, trifling, inharmonious, verbose, sordid, and timorous. . . Blessed, then, are ye who are God-bearers, spirit-bearers, temple-bearers, bearers of holiness, adorned in all respects with the commandments of Jesus Christ, being “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people,” (1Pe 2:9) on whose account I rejoice exceedingly, and have had the privilege, by this Epistle, of conversing with “the saints which are at Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 1:1) (7)Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, Ch IX
Ignatius is showing us here that the tares are a false teaching. The more obvious false teachers are the ones not exhorting the church to holiness and righteousness but really feeding the flesh i.e., the money preachers / prosperity preachers. However, the less obvious, and the far more scary, are the teachers teaching scripture who appear to be good, but the teaching they are giving is their own opinion and their own interpretation of the Word of God. What do I mean by their own opinion? The early church followed the Apostolic tradition, which no one in the church deviated from. They understood and taught the scriptures in exactly the same manner throughout the church all across the East. If they were teaching the word incorrectly, they were called heretics and weren’t allowed in the church. Ignatius says the spirit of deceit (the enemy that sows tares) speaks his own things, his own opinions, and they are those sowing tares into the church.
It is actually not difficult to begin to examine whether we are receiving the true Word of God. If we honestly take a good hard look at our life, how much have we truly changed since coming into the church? Do we still struggle with anger, frustration, lust, depression, selfishness, etc? If we still struggle with these in our lives, which most of us do, we need to look at the Word we are receiving. As we learned, the good seed planted in the field brings forth good fruit and the Bible says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”, John 8:32. The Bible clearly tells us that the Word is meant to transform us into the nature of Christ, and if we aren’t being transformed as a Christian and bearing the fruit of Jesus, Jesus is telling us that we become one of the tares.
Origen, a prolific second century early church father, goes a step further in explaining the tares in the soul of those in the church:
Just as Christ is said to be the husband of the soul, to whom the soul is married when it comes to faith, so also, contrary to this, he who also is called “an enemy” when “he oversows tares among the wheat” is called the husband to whom the soul is married when it turns away to faithlessness. It is not sufficient, therefore, for the soul to be pure in body; it is necessary also that this most wicked man “has not known it.” For it can happen that someone may possess virginity in body, and knowing that most wicked man, the devil, and receiving darts of concupiscence (lust, strong sexual desire) from him in the heart destroy the purity of the soul. (8)Origen, Genesis Homily, Ch X
Origen explains that it is not good enough for us to just be chaste in our actions, but in our mind also. He is speaking here of a true inner transformation. We can try ourselves to abstain from doing things we shouldn’t and acting out sin, but it’s only through the true seed of God that the real transformation comes in the mind and in the soul; where we won’t want to commit those sins any longer due to the transformation within.
There is no denying that the tares are in amongst the members of the church at the end of the age, but we can also see how the tares can be in our soul. The first step on the path to becoming a wheat is examining our life and how much we have truly changed. The true test of change is whether those things we once struggled with are still a battle in our mind. The other test is whether the Word we are receiving lines up to the teachings of the Early Church.
1. Thayer’s Dictionary: “slept” (G2518)
2. Strong’s Dictionary: “sperma” (G4690)
3. Thayer’s Dictionary: “tares” (G2215)
4. Complete Word Study Dictionary “tares” (G2215)
5. Vine’s Dictionary: “tares”
6. Fausset’s Dictionary: “tares”
7. Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, Ch IX
8. Origen, Genesis Homily, Ch X
All scriptures from NKJV unless otherwise stated.