What is the Meaning of the Parable of the Weeds? First century Jews lived in an agrarian culture, so it’s no wonder that a lot of Jesus’s teaching used the example of crops and farmers. In the Today we come to a second parable in which our Lord tells us more about the experience of a true Christian in this world.
What is the Meaning of the Parable of the Weeds?
First century Jews lived in an agrarian culture, so it’s no wonder that a lot of Jesus’s teaching used the example of crops and farmers. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talks about how people respond to the gospel. In the Parable of the Tenants, He used the story of a vineyard to address the ways Israel had consistently worked against God.
In Matthew 13, Jesus tells another farm-related story:
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”
“An enemy did this,” he replied.
The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:24-30).
The specifics of this story would have made a lot more sense to Jesus’s original audience. When one farmer wanted to sabotage another, it wasn’t unheard of for them to sow bearded darnel into their wheat.
Bearded darnel is a noxious weed that mimics many of the characteristics of wheat-for a while. Before they mature, the two plants are almost identical, but as they grow, the differences become apparent in the fruit. Unfortunately, darnel is poisonous and in big enough doses will kill a person. So it’s not something a farmer wants mixed up in their harvest.
The concerned servants want to remove the darnel, but the farmer is afraid they’ll mistakenly throw out perfectly good wheat. He instructs them to leave the separation to the harvesters whose job it is to remove the darnel.
Interpreting the parable
After Jesus and the disciples leave the crowds, they ask Him to interpret the parable for them:
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 13:37-43).
When Jesus first introduces the parable, He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like….”
To really grasp this parable, it’s helpful to understand that Jesus is describing the kingdom of God. Jesus is sowing gospel seeds throughout the world and raising up Christians. But at the same time, the enemy is in the world spreading counterfeit seed. In its immature state, it isn’t always simple to discern the differences between those that belong to the kingdom and those who do not.
The servants want to help the farmer by uprooting the imposters, but they lack the sensitivity of the angelic harvesters. It’s not the job of the servants to make judgments about what is and isn’t actual wheat. Their job is to serve the farmer as He spreads the legitimate seed.
It seems that the main point of the parable is that unlike the disciples’ expectation, the kingdom of God wouldn’t be a restored Israel. It would be a borderless kingdom where the citizens might not immediately appear much different than those in the kingdom of man. Any attempt to separate the two could do damage to God’s kingdom.
The servants should assist Jesus in planting seeds and ensuring that they grow to maturity. At the end of the age, it’s the job of the harvester to judge who is or isn’t a member of God’s kingdom.
If you’re interested in learning more about Jesus’s teaching, check out All the Parables of Jesus for a bird’s-eye view of His story-like lessons.
7 Elements of Jesus’s Parable of the Weeds
Last post we discussed what happens when you sow the seed of God’s Word. Today we come to a second parable in which our Lord tells us more about the experience of a true Christian in this world.
In the first parable, our Lord spoke about four different kinds of soil. Now it is as if the camera zooms in on the good soil. The other three – the path, the rocky ground, and the thorns drop out of sight. So now we are looking at the good soil. Picture a beautiful field with furrows plowed in straight lines, rich dark soil, and lots of good seed in the ground.
Now what happens with the good soil? The good soil will produce and abundant crop. But that is only half of the story. There is more to be said, and so we have this second parable in which our Lord focuses in on the experience of a true believer in this world.
Seven Elements of Our Lord’s Story
1. The Owner
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field… The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” (Matthew 13:24, 37)
The one who sows the good seed owns the field. It is “his” field. Then, we are told that “the field is the world” (13:38). So this sower of good seed is the owner of the whole world.
Notice that Jesus says the one who sows the good seed, (the owner of the world) is ‘the Son of Man’ (13:37). Jesus used this name “Son of Man” 84 times in the Gospels and he always used it to refer to himself. 
So Christ says, “The whole world is mine!”
2. The Enemy
But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away… The enemy… is the devil. (Matthew 13:25, 39)
The owner (Christ) has an enemy, and you cannot understand the world as it is without taking into account the enemy and his work. Christ tells us that his enemy is the devil (13:39). If you do not believe in the devil, remember that Jesus Christ did.
The power of this enemy is so great and the work of this enemy is so vast that it took God an incarnation, a cross, and a resurrection to bring his kingdom to a defeat.
3. The Seed
The good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one. (Matthew 13:38)
In the Parable of the Sower we looked at last week, the seed was the Word of God that is sown in the ground. But here the picture changes. In this second parable, the seed is people who are growing where they are planted in the world.
Just as there are two sowers, there are two kinds of seed. The different seeds are different kinds of people. The good seed is the “sons of the kingdom.” That is, people who live under the rule of God in their lives. The weeds are the “sons of the evil one.” That is, people who, like the evil one, place themselves on the throne of their own lives.
Notice the destructiveness of the enemy’s work. He sows destructive seed in Christ’s field. He has no positive objective in mind. The motivating force of all his work is simply to destroy the harvest.
Do you ever scratch your head and say, “Why have so many terrible things happened in the history of the church of Jesus Christ?” Here is at least part of the answer.
4. The Field
“The field is the world.” (Matthew 13:38)
These words are crucial to understanding what this parable is about. Many writers treat this as a parable about the church, i.e. to show there can never be a pure church. That is certainly true this side of heaven. While there are some applications of this parable for the church, this parable is not about the church.
Jesus says quite clearly, “The field is the world!” And John Macarthur says very helpfully, “This is a picture of the church in the world, not of the world in the church.” [ 2 ]
5. The Question
“Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” (Matthew 13:27)
If God is so good, if Christ is so mighty, then why is there so much evil in the world?
This is a profound question, and it arises in every generation: Where does this evil come from? If Jesus triumphed over evil on the cross, then why is it flourishing today?
People in Jesus’s day assumed that when the kingdom came, the Messiah would blow the whistle and it would be game over for evil. But Jesus came without judgment.
Isaiah says the coming Messiah will “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance” (Isaiah 61:2). Early on in Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:19), He got up and read this, but stopped halfway through the verse! What about the day of vengeance?
Grace comes with Jesus now; judgment comes with Jesus later. What’s going to happen between now and then?
6. The Growth
“Let both grow together until the harvest.” (Matthew 13:30)
Evil will grow alongside the good until the return of Christ. That is the teaching of Jesus, and we need this wisdom if we are to sustain a lifetime of ministry, because we need to understand the nature of the world in which we are living.
Is this world getting better or is it getting worse? Both! This world is getting better and it is getting worse at the same time!
The good seed is growing and producing an abundant harvest. And the weeds are growing too. With every week that passes they are larger and more deeply rooted than before.
7. The Harvest
“At harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:30)
We are living in the day of God’s grace. The Day of Judgment has not yet come, and until that day, this is what the kingdom will look like: Good wheat in a field laced with weeds.
It has become popular, especially among younger Christians, to talk about “bringing in the kingdom,” or to set things right in the world. It’s important to remember that ‘bringing in the kingdom’ means pulling up the weeds and breaking up the great power structures of evil in this world.
That work of judgment belongs to Christ. He has not given it to us to do.
He calls us to live and grow in this world until he comes and brings about a righteous judgment in which all will be brought to account before him. That day will come, and when it does, the weeds will be gathered and bound together in bundles.
Three Applications from our Lord’s Story
1. Stay Engaged
“Let both grow together.” (Matthew 13:30)
Where has God rooted you down? Where have you been sown? Stay engaged!
Don’t be on an agenda of withdrawal from the world. There are no ideal spots in this world. Wherever Christ sows his people Satan sows his weeds. So bloom where you are planted.
Augustine said: “Those who are weeds today may be wheat tomorrow.” [ 3 ]
2. Practice Tolerance
“Let both grow together.” (Matthew 13:30)
The word tolerance had been hijacked in our culture. It used to mean showing patience and forbearance towards people with whom you radically disagree. Now it is used to mean affirming what others affirm. But there is no need for tolerance between people who affirm the same convictions. If you agree what is there to tolerate?
Tolerance is a wonderful Christian virtue that is needed where there are deep-seated disagreements. It means showing patience and forbearance towards people you find really difficult, and with whom you radically disagree.
It does not mean passivity. It does not mean that you give up concern for another person’s spiritual condition. Jesus makes it clear that in this world, the wheat needs to grow alongside the weeds until the Son of Man comes.
Always remember, the mission of the church is sowing seeds not pulling weeds. We have a big enough challenge on our hands trying to deal with sin in our own hearts, our own families, and our own churches. It is not in our power or in our calling to root it out in the world. That is the work of Christ and he will do it when he comes.
3. Anticipate the Harvest
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:43)
God will harvest the wheat. He will bring His people home, and the righteous will shine like the sun. With whom will you be bundled on that day?
May you be found in the bundle of life with the people of God who submit their lives to King Jesus and stand before the Father in the grace that they find in Him.
This article was adapted from Pastor Colin’s Sermon, “Limitations,” from his series Ministry Matters.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 546, Zondervan, 1994.
 John Macarthur, Commentary on Matthew 8-15, p. 377, Moody, 1987.
 Cited in J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, p. 147, Crossway, 1993.
Founder & Teaching Pastor
Colin Smith is the Senior Pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. He has authored a number of books, including Heaven, How I Got Here and Heaven, So Near – So Far. Colin is the Founder and Teaching Pastor for Open the Bible. Follow him on Twitter.