KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada
Editor’s note: In Matthew 13, Jesus used a series of
parables to define the kingdom of God, explain the rules for entering this
kingdom, and paint a picture of life inside and outside the kingdom. In this
second installment of a series on these parables, we continue to look at the
first two parables.
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER
After being questioned by
the scribes and Pharisees, the Lord Jesus left the house and boarded a boat.
From there, He preached to the multitude gathered on the shore, and He spoke
the first parable:
sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the
birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not
have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of
earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root
they withered away. And some fell among
thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good
ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who
has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mt 13:3–9)
The Lord Jesus later gave a
direct and complete exposition of this parable: the seed refers to the word of
the kingdom of heaven (Mt 13:19), the types of ground are the hearts of men (Mt
13:19) and the birds represent the wicked one (Mt 13:19), which is Satan (Mk
4:15), the devil (Lk 8:12).
This parable considers the
different ways of responding to God’s word.
By the Wayside
wayside refers to those who hear the word of the kingdom of heaven, but do not
understand. The word, sown in their hearts, is swiftly snatched away by the
wicked one. Such people listen casually and have no place in their hearts for
the truth. This lack of interest is compounded by the devil’s quest to keep
humankind from believing in the word and receiving the grace of salvation. The
minute a person encounters the gracious word of God, the devil immediately
seeks to snatch it from his heart. Both preachers and truth-seekers must thus
be alert, ever conscious that the devil strives to hinder evangelism. As a
church, we must pray for the power of the Holy Spirit, resist the devil by
submitting ourselves entirely to God, persevere and ultimately triumph.
tactic of the devil is to use man’s tendency to lose interest quickly. Coming
to Athens, Greece, for the first time, Paul’s spirit was provoked on seeing how
the city was given over to idols. He started to reason with the people about
the word of the kingdom of heaven. Some Athenians wondered what “this babbler”
wanted to say. Others, calling him a
“proclaimer of foreign gods,” took Paul to the Areopagus (hill of Ares, or
Mars), the location of a court where religious matters, among other things,
were discussed. Curious, these philosophers asked, “May we know what this new
doctrine is of which you speak?” (Acts 17:19).
Bible highlights that these people spent their time just discussing novel ideas
(Acts 17:16–21). When man treats the gospel of heaven merely as an interesting
topic of conversation, it is like the seed sown by the wayside where there is
not much soil. Even the best seed will not take root and will be eaten by
birds. Although Paul spoke a thought-provoking sermon, introducing them to the
God he knew, some Athenians mocked him. Others demurred and wanted him to
elaborate. Seeing the futility of further discussion, Paul departed (Acts
today, those whose hearts are like the wayside—who respond to the word of God
only superficially—will quickly have this word snatched away by the devil.
On Stony Ground
the hearts of some are likened to stony places where there is little earth.
Seeds that fall on such ground germinate easily, but cannot become rooted
because the soil is too thin. Such people are easily moved when they hear the
teachings of heaven. They receive the word very quickly, but lose it just as
quickly. This is because their hearts do not allow the word of God to take
root. Their faith is superficial, so when adversities or persecutions arise,
Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand, the crowd wanted to
make Him king. The Lord escaped, but the people eventually found Him again in
Capernaum the day after. The Lord Jesus said to them:
assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but
because you ate of the loaves and were filled.
Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures
to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father
has set His seal on Him.” (Jn 6:26–27)
the process of seeking the Lord, those who do not focus on His word—desiring
only material benefits, or the witnessing of miracles—will be unable to
withstand tests that may arise. The multitude followed the Lord Jesus, but when
He told them the truth about the bread of life and spoke a sermon on salvation,
they responded with, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” From then
on, many departed (Jn 6:60–66).
word of God tests the hearts of man to ascertain if these are stony ground
without much soil.
third category comprises people whose hearts are like the ground beneath thorn
bushes. Like these bushes, their lives are tangled and disorderly. Unable to
differentiate between importance and urgency, they cannot recognize the most
precious thing in life. After hearing the word, such a person will depart
and—choked by the cares, riches and enjoyment of this world—become unfruitful.
The Good Ground
there are some hearts that are good and fertile ground. Seeds that fall on this
type of ground will be deeply rooted and grow up strong, producing a crop of a
hundred, sixty and thirty times what was sown. These are those who, after
hearing the word with a good and noble heart, keep it and patiently bear fruit
abundantly (Lk 8:15). They are able to keep the word within their hearts, and
practice the word by allowing it to shape their thoughts, speech and conduct.
These are people elected by God.
Lord Jesus said all whom the Father gives Him will come to Him, and will by no
means be cast out (Jn 6:37). They come to the Lord Jesus because it has been
granted to them by the Father (Jn 6:65). They were drawn by the Father and will
be raised up on the last day (Jn 6:44), for they are the saved true church, as
recorded in the Bible.
THE PARABLE OF THE TARES
The Lord Jesus put forth
another parable to them:
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.” ’ ” (Mt 13:
The Parable Explained
the parable of the tares, the Lord Jesus spoke two more parables. He subsequently
sent the multitude away and entered the house, where His disciples asked Him to
explain the parable of the tares.
He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of
Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but
the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the
devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.
Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at
the end of this age. 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. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the
kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mt 13:37–43)
the earlier parable of the sower, the seeds refer to the word of the kingdom of
heaven (Mt 13:19). In the parable of the tares, the good seed sowed by the Son
of Man, the Lord Jesus, refers to man—the sons of the kingdom who have received
the word of heaven (Mt 13:38). They are the heirs of God (Rom 8:17), those who,
by God’s grace and mercy, shall receive eternal life in the future (Tit 3:5–7).
tares sown by the devil refer to those who have fallen into the hands of the
wicked one because of their selfish desires—the sons of the wicked one (Mt
13:38). They are full of deceit and fraud. As the enemies of righteousness,
they constantly strive to pervert the straight ways of the Lord (Acts 13:10).
sowing the good seed refers to His gathering of the sons of the kingdom to
establish His church on earth. But the devil came to sow tares—sons of the
wicked one—in the Lord’s church “while men slept.” God neither slumbers nor
sleeps (Ps 121:3–4). This reference to men sleeping is rendered in the English
Standard Version as: “while his men were sleeping.” These men were the Lord’s servants, who
inevitably experienced exhaustion and carelessness in their work.
Sons of the Wicked One
His explanation of the parable of the tares, the Lord Jesus said, “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” (Mt 13:41). Those who
practice wickedness were originally part of God’s kingdom. In today’s context,
the tares are people who were initially within the church. However, their
desires lead them to be deceived and exploited by Satan to carry out his works
(2 Thess 2:3–12), which is to cause others to fall.
one occasion when the Lord Jesus was in the temple, He told the Jews:
“You are of
your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a
murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is
no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he
is a liar and the father of it.” (Jn 8:43–44)
those who do not uphold the truth, but lies according to their desires, are the
sons of the wicked one.
John clearly distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil:
“Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not
love his brother” (1 Jn 3:10b). The devil sinned from the beginning; he not
only disobeyed God, but also tempted Eve and Adam to eat the fruit of the tree
of knowledge of good and evil. Using jealousy, discontent and hatred within
Cain’s heart, the devil tempted him to kill Abel. The Bible is unequivocal in
its conclusion that Cain was the son of the wicked one (1 Jn 3:12).
who harbor hatred in their hearts and are full of jealousy and discontent
towards their brethren are prime candidates for Satan’s deception and
exploitation. They become his tools to bring harm to the brethren and cause
damage to the church.
Many will Fall Away
His crucifixion, the Lord Jesus had an important dialogue with His disciples on
Mount Olivet. They asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things [the destruction
of the temple] be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of
the age?” Jesus answered, “Take heed that no one deceives you.” He added,
“[M]any will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.
Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Mt 24:3–11).
Lord Jesus said that many would fall away. This is a stern warning to us. These
people were originally in the Lord, but would subsequently depart from the
truth and the church. Before the Lord’s second coming, many will fall away,
will betray and hate one another. Such is the turmoil that will be caused by
the tares amidst the wheat; the sons of the wicked one will stir up strife and
hatred within the church.
ought to constantly examine themselves to see whether their current state of
faith makes them wheat or tare. Before the day of harvest (i.e., the last day)
man ought to rely on the Holy Spirit to be continuously purified and renewed
through the word of God, to become holy in the truth, so as to become the sons
of the kingdom.
One of You is the Devil
Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of
you is a devil?” (Jn 6:70)
Jesus was referring to Judas Iscariot, but how could Judas be a devil? In the
beginning, he was an ordinary person, no different from the rest. He was
bestowed great grace when the Lord selected him as one of the twelve apostles,
Jesus’ loyal servants. However, his dishonesty, greed for wealth and hypocrisy
led him to frequently give way to the devil (Jn 12:5–6; Eph 4:27). Eventually,
his heart was overtaken by the devil (Jn 13:2, 27), and he betrayed the Lord
for thirty pieces of silver.
Lord knew that Satan had entered Judas’ heart. He could have cast out the devil
from Judas, but He did not. This is because it was Judas himself who had
invited the devil into his heart. There are some who are possessed by the devil
before they know the Lord. For these pitiful people, who are under the power of
the prince of the air, the Lord is merciful and willing to cast out the demonic
spirit within them. However, it is very different for those who already know
the Lord and have tasted His salvation grace, yet still invite the devil into
their hearts. Jesus only said to Judas, “What you do, do quickly” (Jn 13:27).
is a clear warning to believers to be constantly watchful, lest their selfish
desires lead them to give place to the devil (Eph 4:27). Judas did not plan to
betray Jesus when he was chosen to be an apostle. But in the process of serving
the Lord, Judas allowed his selfish motives and greed to grow. These desires
conceived sin and, just like a foetus in the womb, when sin was full-grown, it
brought forth death (Jas 1:14–15).
Challenges of the Church
does not act immediately to weed out evildoers and rectify issues that cause
members to fall. Instead, He waits until harvest time—at the end of the
age—before He removes these tares from His kingdom. He does this in order to
edify the righteous (Ps 11:2–7). Both are allowed to grow together in case the
wheat is uprooted in the process of removing the tares. He allows the wicked to
remain in order to refine the beautiful faith and spirituality of the sons of
the kingdom, enabling them to “shine forth as the sun” (Mt 13:43).
tests the righteous (Ps 11:5), so that their righteousness and justice will
shine forth (Ps 37:6). If they are able to rely silently on God, wait patiently
for Him, and not fret because of evildoers, they shall inherit eternal joy in the
kingdom of God (Mt 13:43).
parable of the tares is not a warning for the wicked; rather, it concerns the
matters and people in God’s kingdom. The tares sown among the wheat by the
enemy represent the evildoers, and the things that cause believers to stumble,
within the church. The parable commences with the Lord Jesus entering the world
to preach the gospel of heaven, and ends with the end time. It describes the
war that the church will need to fight on earth.
The Lord Jesus sowed good
seeds and gathered the sons of the kingdom from various parts of the world in
His name (Isa 43:5–7). He gave His life to establish His church on earth. From
a spiritual perspective, these sons of the kingdom are created by God for His
own glory, although they may have been gathered in different circumstances (Isa
43:5–7, ESV). Those appointed to eternal life shall receive the gospel and come
to the saved true church (Acts 13:47).
However, the devil sowed
tares within the church in order to lure the sons of the kingdom away. Those
who do not stand firm will fall into his snares. When they do so, they become
sons of the wicked one. These sons of the wicked one will then go on to
actively preach a false gospel and cause so much confusion regarding the truth
that those who are not worthy of eternal life will be offended (Mt 24:10–11; 1
In fact, the sons of the
wicked one did not make their first appearance when the Holy Spirit departed
from the apostolic church, but before then. In the apostolic era, the apostles
were persecuted by false apostles and false brethren (2 Cor 11:13–15, 26; Gal
2:4; 2 Pet 2:1–3; 1 Jn 2:18–19). The apostolic church suffered from the
infiltration of heresies (2 Thess 2:3–12; 1 Tim 3; 4:1). Similarly, in this
period of the true church established by the latter rain of the Holy Spirit,
disturbances by the sons of the wicked one are inevitable, and will continue
until they are sieved out at harvest time.
There is no need to be
afraid. True believers should have complete faith in the omniscience and
omnipotence of the Lord, and completely trust Him. Have no doubt that He will
manifest His righteousness and eradicate the wicked (Ps 11:5–7). When we cling
to His promises, we shall not lose heart when faced with the corruption of the
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm. (Ps 37:7–9)