Tares (Parable of the Wheat and Tares – Matthew 13)

Value of this parable:

1. Gives clear definitions of the parabolic terms.

2. Clearly indicates the outcomes for both the wicked and the righteous, and that the tares are never put into heaven.  They are thrown into a furnace of fire where there is wailing and gritting of teeth.  The picture is not of annihilation or universalism.  It is instead a picture of everlasting conscious punishment outside of heaven for their rejection of Christ and persecution of His followers. 

3. Helps nail down the sequencing of the end-time events, once we understand the agricultural analogy that Jesus is using here.

How does Jesus define the various terms used in this parable?

“Sower” = the Son of Man (Jesus) cf. Book of Enoch’s central character (Son of Man)

“field” = the world (not just the land of Palestine)

“seed” = the sons of the Kingdom (Jewish Christians)

“tares” = the sons of the Evil One (Satan, the Devil)

“the enemy” = Satan, the Devil

“harvest” = the End of the Age

“reapers” = angels

Concepts taught in this parable:

1. Coexistence of good and evil in the existing 1st century kingdom until the end of the age (AD 66-70 Parousia).

2. Permanent separation of good and evil at the end of the age.

3. The blessing on the righteous at the end of the age was to be gathered into the Kingdom of heaven, while the curse on the wicked was to be gathered out of the Kingdom and thrown into the furnace of fire (Gehenna) where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In one of his other parables (Matt. 21:43 – the Vinegrowers), Jesus said that the kingdom would be taken away from the unfaithful vinegrowers and given to another people who will produce the fruit.  (Read) Daniel 7:13-14, 21-22, 27 talks about the Kingdom being given to the saints at the time of the end.  The Jews of that generation were given every possible opportunity for a whole generation to hear the gospel and repent.  Paul and all the apostles went to the Jews first to share the gospel and save as many of them as possible, before the Kingdom would be snatched away from them and given to the New True Israel composed of both believing Jews and Gentiles.

4. This describes what the Kingdom would be like during the transition period and at the end of the age.

5. This is the Kingdom on earth during the transition period, before it was consummated in Heaven and the saints transferred to it in heaven where there would be no more tares.

6. The field is the world (Gr. kosmos), which is an orderly arrangement of society (Kosmos = orderly system.  Word used for gov’t, philosophy, even theological system.  i.e. Old Covenant Israel).

7. Jesus refers to Himself here as “the Son of Man” which was an apocalyptic title applied to the Messiah by the Book of Enoch.  The rabbis of Jesus’ day debated who this “Son of Man” would be.  Jesus identifies Himself as that apocalyptic figure who would appear on earth from heaven to vindicate His saints and judge the wicked. (See the Book of Enoch)

8. The enemy and his helpers (his seed – “brood of vipers” and “sons of your father the devil”) were mimicking and counterfeiting the work of the Son of Man for the purpose of destroying the Kingdom – hindering the arrival of it, mitigating the strength of it, limiting the effectiveness and beneficial outcome of it.  Mess it up, spoil it, ruin it.  If Satan can’t own it and control it, he will mess it up for everyone else.  He doesn’t want anyone else to have what he has, or to have it as good as he has it (jealousy and envy).

9. Notice that the Son of Man (Jesus) sends forth His angels to gather in the harvest, including both the good grain and the evil tares.  This exact phrase, “send forth His angels,” is found word for word in both the Greek and English, in both Matt 13:41 and Matt 24:31.  In both texts it is pretty clear that Jesus is talking about literal angels, and not just human messengers.  This is significant.  It means that the gathering occurred in the unseen realm through the agency of the angels. 

Matt. 3:12 “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

  • The Holy Spirit inspired John to speak to them about a winnowing fork (some translations say fan, but it means the same instrument).  His audience is well aware of the customs and procedures done for wheat harvesting and would fully understand the significance of what God was wanting them to know.  It is us, here today, with our modern unfamiliar world/culture views who are the ones who need to understand the power of what they are being told – explain “winnowing fork.”
    • A winnowing fork is used at the “end” of the harvest once all of the wheat/tares are gathered. John is giving them clear visual imagery about the whole passage he had just spoken:
      • It was all stated as present tense/time, and imminent to them.
      • The Kingdom had drawn near (vs. 2)
      • The ax is at their root (vs. 10).
      • Christ’s winnowing fork for the end of the harvest was already in His hand.

Now our understanding of the text can be developed further:

• Critics of the rapture view have failed to understand this parable.

• There is more involved in harvesting grain than just bundling the sheaves (i.e., getting them out of Judea into refuge cities).  Those bundles of sheaves had to be taken to the threshing floor so that the grain could be beaten out of the heads, and separated from the straw and chaff.  Then the winnowing fork removed the straw and the chaff, which would be burned along with the tares later.  Once the grain was threshed, then it could be gathered into the barn.  And once all the grain was safely stored in the barn, then the fires could burn up the tares and chaff.

• The wheat was safely stored in the barn about the same time the tares were being bundled and piled up in their fortress cities (AD 66), before their fortresses began to be destroyed and burned (AD 67-70).  This assumes that there was a two-stage process in the gathering, for both the tares and the good grain: (1) The angelic reapers separated the stalks of wheat from the stalks of tares, binding both into bundles, the grain bundles were taken by cart to the threshing floor, while the tare bundles were put into piles for later burning, (2) then the grain was threshed and stored in the barn (cf. Job 39:12 – gathered from the threshing floor), and afterwards the chaff and tares were burned.

• The flight out of Jerusalem occurred before the armies surrounded it, not afterwards.  They got out of the field before the field was burned.  They got out of the field at the very time the tares were being bundled up and thrown into piles (fortress cities) to be burned later.  If the flight of the Christians had not occurred until after the tares had been gathered up and tied in bundles in their besieged cities, it would have been too late.  The Christians would have perished in the Jewish rebellion.  So the removal of the sheaves of grain from the field (i.e., the flight out of Jerusalem to Pella and other Diaspora cities) must have occurred before the war began.

• In Matt. 24:15-22 Jesus tells them to flee before the cities were surrounded and BEFORE the wrath began to be poured out.  Eusebius says that they did leave before the war, and Josephus shows that many fled before the war began.  This means that the angelic gathering of the elect happened after they had already fled out of Judea.  In Matt. 24:29-31, Jesus says that the angels would be sent forth AFTER the great tribulation (Neronic persecution) to gather the elect.  We see the same angelic gathering mentioned here in this parable, and in the same sequence and timing – an angelic gathering at the same time the tares were being gathered, but BEFORE the wrath was poured out (before the tares were burned).  Therefore, the angelic gathering happened after they had already fled out of Judea.  As we can see from Job 39:12, the good grain is gathered from the threshing floor, after the heads of wheat have been thrashed and separated from the chaff.  The Neronic persecution would certainly have separated the good wheat from the weeds (or tares).  That thrashing purified the grain even further, so that there were no impurities and chaff mixed in with it.   Just the pure grain was gathered into the barn.

• The angelic “gathering of the elect” in Matthew 24, as well as this gathering of the good grain here in Matthew 13, is NOT the escape from Judea, but is instead another “greater angelic gathering” after they had already fled from Judea.

• This raises the question, “What was this angelic gathering of the elect after the tribulation and their escape from Judea?”  To me, the only easy answer to this would be a rapture. Otherwise, we would have to play games with the text here.  We would have to explain-away the angelic role in this gathering as being apocalyptic language.

• From looking at both these texts (Matt. 13 and Matt. 24) we are able to nail down the timing and sequencing, and show that the angelic “gathering” of the elect did not begin until after the Neronic persecution (AD 64-66), after the binding of the tares had begun (AD 66), and before the burning of any of the tares (AD 66-70).

• The great tribulation was the Neronic persecution upon the Church (AD 64-66).  The bundling of the tares was when the Romans forced the Jews to flee into their fortress cities, and especially with the biggest pile which had flooded into Jerusalem that would be burned later at the end of the war.

• Then when the Jews bodies were killed and burned, their souls were gathered by the angels before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire.  Josephus tells us that over a million Jews perished in the conflict.  Jews from all over the Roman world had gathered back to Palestine to participate in the revolt.  They were bundled up in Palestine, and eventually burned.  Their disembodied souls were gathered into the unseen realm by the angelic reapers, and judged, and sent to the eternal conscious punishment of Gehenna/Lake of Fire, while the righteous were gathered into the heavenly presence of Christ and the Father.

Historical Sequence of Events:

1. Satan out like a roaring lion – the tribulation on the church began in AD 62 (the start of the 70th week of Daniel 9) and reached a peak with the great Neronic tribulation between AD 64-66 (AD 62-66).

2. Jews arrested James and some of his companions (including John?) (AD 62).

3. John writes Revelation during tribulation before Jewish revolt (Rev. 1:9) (AD 62-64).

4. Nero persecutes Christians in Rome (AD 64-65).

5. Paul, Peter, and John died in the Neronic persecution (AD 64-65).

6. Eusebius says that Christians fled the city before the war, probably as soon as news of the Neronic persecution reached Judea, and definitely when they saw the Zealot armies encircling Jerusalem and Judea. (AD 64-66).

7. Zealots fanned the flames toward war (AD 65-66).

8. The angelic armies in the sky appeared (reported by Josephus 36 days after Passover AD 66).

9. War is declared and Zealot armies took control of Jerusalem (AD 66).

10. Feast of Passover and Pentecost occurred at the same time the war was beginning – many Old Covenant Jewish pilgrims who had come from throughout the Roman Empire stayed to help fight the war (AD 66).

11. The angelic gathering of the elect evidently began at the same time the Jews were being gathered into their fortress cities to prepare for the war (AD 66).

12. Jewish communities all over the Roman empire were evicted and plundered (AD 66).  They fled back to Judea where they could participate in the revolt.  They were gathered into the fortress cities there, which were destroyed and burned later.

13. Roman General Cestius Gallus brought his army to Jerusalem, but withdrew unexpectedly, and suffered a humiliating defeat in his withdrawal (AD 66).

14. Nero commissioned Vespasian to go crush the revolt (AD 66-67).

15. War begins in earnest under Vespasian’s command (AD 67).

16. Nero was killed. (AD 68) Galba took the throne, then was killed, then Otho, then Vitellius. The war was put on hold while the affairs of Rome were being stabilized.

17. Vespasian is declared emperor and heads for Rome (July 1, AD 69).  Titus his son is put in charge of the rest of the war (the siege of Jerusalem and the reduction of the rest of the Zealot fortresses) (late AD 69).

18. Titus assembles his legions at Jerusalem and begins the siege (Spring, AD 70).

19. The Temple is burned and Jerusalem falls into the hands of Titus (August, AD 70).

20. Herodium, Machaerus, and Masada are then sieged and captured by AD 73.

[Also see: Great White Throne JudgmentalsoSheep From the Goates]

[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 15 Lesson 3 Matthew 13 Parable of the Tares”]

[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 5 Rev. Chapters 14 thru 16”]

[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 7 Rev. Chapters 19 and 20 (sub study on The Wedding)”]