Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 8 (KJV)
Weeds Among the Wheat
Devotional Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:1–10
Background Scripture: Matthew 13:24–43
Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43
24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.—Matthew 13:30
The Righteous Reign of God
Unit 2: Jesus Envisions the Kingdom
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Summarize the parable of the weeds.
2. Compare and contrast the parable of the weeds with the parable of the sower (last week’s lesson).
3. Explain one personal challenge of being a stalk of wheat living among weeds.
How to Say It
Lolium temulentum Low-lie-um tem-you-len-tum.
Thessalonians Thess-uh-lo-nee-unz (th as in thin).
A. How Long?
It seems that daily I am reminded of the wickedness in the world. I’m sure you are reminded of the same when you turn on the television or check your social media feed. I hear stories of terrorists who use violence to bring horror and suffering to others, human traffickers who prey on the most vulnerable members of society, powerful people who dishonestly accumulate massive wealth, and companies who ravage God’s creation in order to increase production.
Does the Bible have a word of warning for the wickedness in the world? Or, instead, can we only resort to the lament, like that of the prophet Habakkuk, “How long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2).
B. Lesson Context
The phrase “kingdom of heaven” occurs 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew. This is equivalent to the phrase “kingdom of God” as used dozens of times in the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John but rarely in Matthew (see Matthew 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43). The kingdom of Heaven/kingdom of God is not defined by territory or government apparatus. It does not levy taxes or conscript people for military service. This kingdom is where God reigns as king; it is the dominion of His authority. There is no limit to this potential, for, as the psalmist taught, “The Lord … is a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2; compare 83:18; 97:9). The psalmist affirms the nature of God with the repeated acknowledgment that “the Lord reigneth” (Psalms 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1).
Both John the Baptist and Jesus called people to repentance and preparation for the coming of this kingdom; they warned that it was “at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). Later, Jesus stated that His ministry of casting out demons signaled that the kingdom had come into the midst of humanity (12:28; see lesson 6). The arrival of the kingdom was something for which Jesus and His disciples had prayed (6:10).
Jesus’ disciples often heard Him speak about the kingdom of Heaven/kingdom of God, and they were astonished and confused by His descriptions of its nature (example: Matthew 19:23–25). Much of their reaction can be traced to the fact that Jesus’ kingdom parables were metaphorical (figurative) in nature regarding aspects of the kingdom (see the Lesson Context, lesson 7). Characteristically, these kingdom parables begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like …”; the majority of those are found in Matthew 13. Today’s lesson text of the parable of the weeds among the wheat is the first time Jesus uses this introductory phrase in the Gospel of Matthew.
I. Weeds with the Wheat
A. Two Sowers (vv. 24–25)
24. Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field.
This parable involves sowing seed, as did the first parable in this chapter of Matthew 13 (see lesson 7). The practice of sowing seed in a preindustrial era involved spreading it by hand. Wheat and barley were the staple grains planted in this way.
25. But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
An enemy of the farmer now appears in the story. The tares that the enemy sowed translates a Greek word that refers to a weed known as darnel (technical name: Lolium temulentum). It looks very much like wheat until it matures. These are not weeds that merely threaten the growth of the crop; rather, these are weeds easily confused with the crop itself. Ingesting darnel can cause nausea, leading some to call it “poison wheat.”
Wheat was a vitally important field crop in the ancient world, being the primary ingredient of bread—the dietary staple (see Deuteronomy 32:13–14; Psalm 147:12–14). Further, it was also used in trade (Ezekiel 27:17) or for payment (Luke 16:1–7; Revelation 6:6). Wheat’s importance is signaled by images of heads of wheat on ancient coins. The Bible refers to wheat dozens of times, the earliest being in the time of the patriarch Jacob (Genesis 30:14), many centuries before Jesus. Representations of ancient wheat fields in Egypt depict a taller plant than we experience today, reaching shoulder height at maturity. Galilean farmers grew wheat not only to meet their own households’ needs but also as a cash crop to sell. That seems to be the case here, for the farming operation is more than a single family; the men who slept worked for the landowner.
There is nothing negligent implied about the men being asleep. Jesus’ point is that the second sower comes at night so that he can work in darkness and secret as criminals tend to do (compare 1 Thessalonians 5:2). The introduction of this enemy’s “bad seed” would have been undetectable at this point in the planting and harvest cycle.
B. Two Crops (vv. 26–27)
26–27. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
At first, the two kinds of plants seem identical. But their differences become more apparent with time. Eventually the servants of the householder discern that their field is infested with weeds (tares). Unlike in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23; see lesson 7), all the soil in this parable is fertile; it has readily received both good seed and bad. Not until the fruit (the grain head) appears do the servants recognize the weeds among the wheat. Some weeds might be expected, of course, so the servants’ alarm indicates the presence of a large number of unwanted plants. As Jesus tells the story, the servants do not inform the householder about the weeds in so many words. Rather, they ask how the situation has arisen.
C. Two Harvests (vv. 28–30) 28.
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
The householder knows what has happened. The servants’ response is in line with conventional wisdom: there’s no room for nonchalance where weeds are concerned. Every hour they live means that they are drawing water and nutrients away from the good plants, in addition to blocking sunlight. Surely the master will agree that the weeds must be dealt with immediately!
29–30a. But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. The wise householder rejects the servants’ suggestion. He knows that the roots of the plants are now entangled. Therefore pulling out the tares risks inadvertently pulling out a substantial number of wheat stalks at the same time—weeding is bound to cause collateral damage. It is best to wait.
30b. And in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
The householder does have a plan, though. The reapers, who will conduct the harvest, are to follow the distinctive instructions we see here. The instructions are stated not only in terms of the final dispositions of the tares and the wheat, but also of a certain sequence as evidenced by the word first.
Some students connect this verse with Jesus’ other teachings on the return of the Son of Man (compare Matthew 13:37, below), the second coming of Christ to earth. Reading this parable in light of those teachings implies that the one who is “taken” in Matthew 24:40–41 and Luke 17:34–35 is a member of the weeds and the one who is “left” in those passages is part of the wheat. Many in Jesus’ audience undoubtedly found this to be surprising. They expected that when God’s king brings God’s kingdom into the world, both evil and evildoers would be judged and eliminated immediately. But Jesus sketches a very different picture: the breaking in of God’s kingdom and the final judgment on evil are separated by a period of time. During that interval, the people of the kingdom live alongside evildoers. A separation will indeed come, but only at the harvest.
What Do You Think?
How does this parable change your thinking and presuppositions regarding the nature of God’s kingdom?
How does this parable illustrate that God’s kingdom has already arrived, but that it has not yet fully come?
II. Wicked with the Righteous
A. Private Audience (v. 36)
36. Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
Having already been given a private interpretation of the meaning of the sower parable (Matthew 13:18–23), the disciples realized that there was a deeper meaning to the parable of the tares of the field. With Jesus having sent the multitude away, they are back in the house, perhaps in Capernaum (see 13:1–2, lesson 7).
B. Cast of Characters (vv. 37–39)
37. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.
Jesus’ interpretation reveals that the parable is an intended allegory, a story in which each character or action may have a second identification that is divorced from the setting that appears at first glance. An allegory uses a carefully constructed story as a way to present another matter, and that other matter is the primary focus of the teaching (compare Galatians 4:24). The point of this parable is not about farming. It is about preaching the gospel and its reception.
Jesus began His explanation by saying that the sower is the Son of man—a self-identification that occurs dozens of times in the four Gospels. But in contrast to the parable of the sower, the good seed is not exactly the Word of God. (See the next verse.)
38. The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one.
The field upon which both good and bad seed falls is not a local plot of land, but rather is global in scope (compare John 3:16). This has inspired and motivated countless evangelists and missionaries in the history of the church. The idea that the field is the world means there are no limits on the need for evangelistic endeavors. Even the most closed countries, those with laws that make Christian evangelism illegal, are still the “field” where the word must be preached.
As the allegory proceeds, we learn that the good seed is not exactly the Word of God as “the seed” is in Matthew 13:23. Rather, the good seed are the children of the kingdom. These believers are sown throughout the world in order that a harvest might result. But the Word of God is definitely involved since it is through the proclamation of the Word that people become the children of the kingdom.
The contrast between the two categories of children mentioned here is examined further in 1 John 3:10. The methods and motives of the wicked one, whose identity is revealed next, are discussed in greater detail in John 8:44.
What Do You Think?
How will you support evangelists and missionaries in sowing the gospel message throughout the “field” of the world?
What specialized training do you need in order to support this work or take part in the work yourself?
I was just a rural farm boy from a small town when I enrolled as an undergraduate student at a major university. The multicultural environment of the university was exciting, but also intimidating. Students, faculty, and staff came from all walks of life and followed every philosophy and religious faith (and non-faith) imaginable.
To help pay my bills during that time, I took a job in the library, working for a supervisor who lived a worldly lifestyle and embraced a variety of New Age beliefs. At first I was too intimidated to discuss my faith with coworkers, except for an elderly lady named Marlene. My supervisor, Karley, once said to me in Marlene’s earshot, “There’s something different about you. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but you’re different.” Marlene quickly retorted, “He’s got purity, Karley, and you wouldn’t know anything about that!”
Being a stalk of “wheat” in what seems to be a field of “weeds” can be lonely and even intimidating, as we imagine how others might criticize us. However, we are called to be faithful witnesses to God’s kingdom, to whomever God puts in our path. We have been given the opportunity to work with fellow “stalks of wheat” to witness to “weeds” that they might become “wheat” (see 2 Peter 3:9). How can you better take advantage of those opportunities? —A. W.
39. The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
Three more identifications are now stated. The devil is the great adversary of God and humanity (2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:14; Ephesians 6:11; 1 Peter 5:8). The harvest as the end of the world is also described as such in Revelation 14:15; that passage, as here, affirms the reapers to be angels. The Greek word being translated world can refer to an age, or era, as it is translated in Ephesians 2:7 and Colossians 1:26. C. Final Sorting (vv. 40–43)
40. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. This verse summarizes what the next two state in more detail.
The verbal image of sheaves of weeds being burned corresponds to the judgment of “the children of the wicked one” (Matthew 13:38, above). The angels will deliver them to eternal punishment (Revelation 14:16–20). This final judgment is more than an event scheduled for the end of a period of time. It is the end of time!
41–42. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
In contrast to the concept of a rapture of believers before the end of the world, Jesus presents His angels’ first move as roaming the entire earth and removing all things that offend as well as them which do iniquity. The physical tools of sin (such things as pornography, weapons of cruelty, and artistic representations that defy and mock God) will be no more. Likewise, the evildoers will be gathered by the angels. And the Son of man (Jesus) will be in charge of this time of reaping and judgment (Revelation 14:14–20; etc.).
This answers the age-old question: Why do the righteous seem to suffer and the wicked prosper? (see Jeremiah 12:1; Ecclesiastes 7:15). The answer: the wicked will not prosper forever. The way of the wicked will come to a dramatic end at the final judgment. They will join the devil and his angels in the eternal fire prepared for them (Matthew 25:41), the second death of the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10–15).
No one would desire this eternity, for it will be a place of wailing in pain and despair. Jesus dramatized this as a time of gnashing of teeth, a tight grimace of the mouth as a way to endure agony (compare Matthew 8:12). But there will be no relief. Satan, his demonic angels, and his earthly followers will experience eternal banishment from the presence of God at the final judgment.
What Do You Think?
How would you respond to someone who said that this parable describes a capricious and spiteful God?
How can you dig deeper into the nature of God, nature of man, and the nature of sin—with Scriptures like Isaiah 55:6–7?
43a. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
The future for the wheat—the children of the kingdom—stands as completely different. They will not suffer eternal, punishing fire, but will have an inner glory, an eternal fire that allows them to shine forth as the sun (compare Daniel 12:3). They will be rewarded with a place in the final fellowship of the saved, the kingdom of their Father. This will be the eternal community in which there is no mixing of wheat and weeds, righteous and wicked. Only the righteous will find this resting place.
The Forgetful Gardener
Nebraska is an overlooked gem in the United States. The wind sweeps over the prairies and makes the grass ripple like waves. Enormous thunderstorms roll up in the spring, looking for all the world like dark tidal waves coming over the horizon. The coyotes yip and howl at night like rowdy teenagers. And in the late summer, wild sunflowers spring up along the highways and fencerows.
Being a transplant from the East Coast, I find the landscape fascinating. I once stopped by a highway and pulled up a small sunflower by the roots to transplant in my backyard—where it promptly died. I soon wrote it off as a failed experiment and forgot about it.
Fast-forward to a year later. Lo and behold, an unfamiliar plant started growing in my flower bed! I almost pulled it out, but something told me to wait and see what it was. I let it grow all summer. When it finally bloomed, the secret was revealed: yes, it was that sunflower (or seed from it) making a reappearance.
Perhaps you’ve had the same experience in your garden; but more importantly, perhaps you’ve had that experience in God’s harvest field as well. You may have planted a seed in someone’s life and didn’t think much about what you said or the kind deed you did. But those words and actions can make a bigger impression than we might imagine. Maybe in this life, maybe in the next, don’t be surprised if someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, thank you for the seed you planted in my life. Look at the beautiful harvest that came from it!” —A. W.
43b. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Jesus ends with a admonition that occurs dozens of times in Psalms, the Prophets, and the New Testament. Jesus is not referring to physical ears on the sides of one’s head, but to hearts attuned for hearing, believing, and obeying spiritual truth. The ones who hear in this manner will be like the wise man who chose a foundation of rock for his new house (Matthew 7:24–25).
What Do You Think?
How can believers prioritize the health of their “spiritual ears”?
How can believers transition from hearing Scripture to obeying Scripture (see James 1:19–27)?
A. The Wicked Among the Holy
The parable of the weeds among the wheat explains one of the greatest mysteries of the kingdom: why God allows the wicked to prosper alongside His holy people. The parable teaches us that God is aware of wickedness but He chooses to leave such wickedness unjudged for the time being. God is neither oblivious to wickedness nor does His allowing the wicked to continue indicate His tacit approval.
To followers of God who are mixed among those who reject God, the point of the parable of the weeds among the wheat must not be lost: the presence of the wicked among us is temporary. We, like the prophet Habakkuk, wonder at the silence of the Lord when “the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he” (Habakkuk 1:13).
Even so, Jesus taught in this parable that God is not oblivious to these injustices. But we should not be in more of a hurry for the wicked to be punished than He is (2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 6:10). We should remember that if God took immediate vengeance on a person with every sin committed, we, the children of the kingdom, would be punished on a daily basis. God’s timing is just that: a plan that He determines and controls in ways beyond our understanding. The “harvest” of the wicked and the righteous will come in God’s good time.
We must hope and pray for final, ultimate justice. We must be diligent that we and all whom we love are harvested as wheat, not weeds.
What Do You Think?
How would you retell this parable for a modern audience? What would you need to adjust for your specific audience?
What advantages are there in communicating eternal spiritual truths through stories and analogies?
Lord of the harvest, may we be workers in the field of Your world. May we be ones who are unwilling to give up on those who seem wicked. May we not despair when evil seems to win the day. We believe the promise that Your time of final judgment will allow the righteous to shine as the sun. We look forward to that day with faith and anticipation. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
You’re either wheat or weed. There is no in-between!
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2022-2023 (p. 1096). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.