In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches a parable of The Wheat and the Tares, likening it to the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of the age. Although this parable is often interpreted to mean Jesus is referring to the Church as the wheat, versus the World as the tares, He is in fact warning the Church. The parable is a warning that false teachings will be rife throughout the Church, prior to Jesus’ second coming, and that there will be many deceived who are in the church and will be cast into outer darkness.
Let us take a look at the parable – Matthew writes:
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 metaphor 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. (See Matthew 25:1-13)
For more confirmation that Jesus is speaking to the church, let us look closer at the word “seed” found in verse 24. In Luke 8:11, Jesus expounding on another parable (The Seed & the Sower) tells us that the seed is the word of God. The word for “seed” in Greek means semen (sperm) (2). The sperm, or DNA of God creates His children, or sons of God. The world has not received the Word, or DNA of God, so the seed being sown into the field is clearly speaking of the Church. Also, Paul, when speaking to the Church in Corinth, teaches 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.” (1 Corithians 3:9) 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.” The World never received the law of God, so it cannot be referring to those in the World. This is another confirmation that the wheat and tares are those within the Church.
From what we have expounded on, 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) This supports what we said above about the church being asleep, or spiritually dead. At first, tares are impossible to distinguish from wheat, until the ear is developed, 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 is 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; that 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 is not actually the good seed. Yes, they are receiving a Word that sounds like Jesus and looks like Jesus, but it is actually a false teaching 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 explains that the tares are symbolic of false teaching. The more obvious false teachers are the ones not exhorting the Church to holiness and righteousness, and really feeding the flesh (i.e., the money preachers / prosperity preachers). But the less obvious, and the far more detrimental are those teaching Scripture- they appear to be good, but the teaching is of their own opinion and interpretation of the Word of God. What do I mean by their own opinion? The Early Church followed Apostolic Tradition that no-one in the Church deviated from. The Early Church was in unity and 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 out as heretics and were not allowed to teach 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 teachers sowing tares into the church.
It is not difficult 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 or professing Christianity? Do we still struggle with anger, frustration, lust, depression, selfishness, loneliness, offence 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. Because as we learned, the good seed planted in the field brings forth good fruit and John 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 are not 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 explains that it is not good enough for us to just be pure in our actions, but we must also be pure in our mind. He is speaking of a true inner man transformation. We can try to abstain from doing things we know not to do and act out sin, but it is only through the true seed of God that brings the real transformation in the mind and in the soul, where we will not want to commit those sins any longer due to the transformation within (Romans 12:2). This is the nature of Christ being formed in us (John 3:30; Colossians 1:27).
From what we have read in scripture and the Early Church, there is no denying that there will be many tares amongst the Church at the end of the age. Jesus warned the church 2000 years ago and God allows us to see this in His mercy, because He doesn’t want any to perish as scripture says in 2 Peter 3:9. We cannot just gloss over this warning by Jesus and think it does not apply to us. This would be an eternal mistake. One of the first steps to examining if we are one of the wheat, or tares, is whether the Word we are receiving lines up to the teachings of the Early Church, and is not just an opinion or interpretation of our own, nor any other pastor or teacher (2 Peter 1:20-21). We can also see on a deeper level, how the tares are the impurities in our soul and a good measure of this within us is examining our life and how much we have truly changed; not just an outward change, but whether those things we once struggled with are still a battle in our mind. The true seed, Word of God is able to heal every tare within our soul, if we are willing to surrender.
1. Thayer’s Greek Dictionary: “slept” (G2518)
2. Thayer’s Greek Dictionary: “seed” (G4690)
3. Thayer’s Greek 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 X
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010.