Matthew 13:24-43 Part 1

Let’s begin this morning by saying that all that has been said in the previous six sermons concerning the parables is of great importance and it must be retained.  You need to be reaching out with hunger toward these things, for they contain the riches of the Kingdom.  Here are the mysteries of the eternal decree of God – the foundations of God’s New Covenant with the world, in Christ!

Matthew states right at the beginning of the chapter that Jesus spoke in parables for a while.  “Many things,” he says in verse one.  And, indeed, there are lots of things, aren’t there?  Six sermons worth in the first parable, and I’m not at all sure that we did it justice.

And now we come to more parables in these next twenty verses – parables which are almost like a feast for the hungry and thirsty.  And the language used here by Matthew indicates that.  I’ve used the more inclusive term here in verse twenty-four, “another parable He committed to them…” but it can be translated “another parable He set before them…” or, “another parable He placed before them.”  And I get the sense that the apostles were stunned and that they marveled over what they were receiving.  And that they had voracious appetites for more.  Their ears and eyes were open (by the grace of God), and they were perceiving with the heart the mysteries of the Kingdom; and it must have been like a multiple-course dinner for a starving man!

The mysteries of the Kingdom – in parables – were being committed to them, by the God-man!  They were hearing the Words of God.  And they were entering into the intent and decree of God – being allowed into His mind – being a part of the very divine Revelation itself, and the more they heard the more indescribable their experience must have been!  They were hearing things of such startling significance that their whole bodies must have been in constant shock – goose bumps, hair standing on end, heart racing, sleeplessness, anticipation, fear and awe and wonder!

It was a feast.  And it was coming fast and furious.  And it was “progressive.”  What was being “committed to them,” or “set before them” aren’t scattered thoughts or pieces of different discourses put together by the writer, but they are a systematic, progressive enlightenment of what was happening and what was going to happen!

These parables have order – they hang together – and they progress from separation to inclusion.  And what I mean by that is that they first involve the separation of Israel from the Covenant, and then they include the nations of the world in the New Covenant.

First, in the parable of the Sower, we saw the Kingdom introduced and interpreted.  It is the mysteries of the Kingdom, verse eleven; and then the Word of the Kingdom, verse nineteen.  And the separating out of those who haven’t been given eyes to see and ears to hear is the focus.  But from now on, the “Kingdom of the Heavens,” one side or view or it, is made the subject of each parable.

And as we look at the parables in these next twenty verses, we’ll see that the progression is, again, separation of the nation of Israel in the parable of the zizanium in the fields – and, then, the inclusion of all the nations – in the parables of the mustard grain and the leaven.  First we see radical discontinuity and “cutting off” and separation as the zizanium is weeded out and burned; and then we observe that there is continuity and inclusion and preservation in the growth of the mustard grain and the extension of the leaven.

Now, as I’ve said in the past, although universal and timeless in their scope and compass, and therefore have great meaning for us Christians in the twentieth century and beyond, the parables are historical!  They have a point in history which has to be accounted for if we are to remain true to Scripture!  Jesus delivered them, He committed them, He set them before – the apostles and the rest of the Church in a given point of time and in a specific set of circumstances.

And in each parable is an image of the Kingdom.  In these occurrences and observations among men and creation is an image of the Kingdom.  This first parable begins “The Kingdom of the Heavens is ‘likened to’….”  The second is “Like is the Kingdom of the Heavens to a mustard grain…” and the third is, “Like is the Kingdom of the Heavens to leaven hidden in flour….”  You’ll notice that in every case the Kingdom is first.  The Kingdom is the reality, and the event to which it is likened in creation and among men is the image.

There’s always some confusion in the attempt to interpret the parables, but if we’ll get this down, the confusion will lessen a great deal.  The Kingdom is first, and the Kingdom is the reality, and the Kingdom is historical and progresses in history.  And it is not, under any circumstances, to be forced into the image!  It’s the other way around.  The image, which is there – first – for the purpose of closing the eyes and ears of apostate Israel, is to portray or express the reality of the Kingdom, or some aspect of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom is primary.  Reality!

And none of the images, or likenesses, or resemblances, are merely accidental.  There are particular and peculiar purposes for each of the parables.  And to force the reality of the Kingdom in to the specifics of the figure will, in every case, do violence to the Word and mysteries of the Kingdom.  We can’t force the reality to fit the parabolic language.  We must allow the parabolic language to portray some aspect of the Kingdom.

And the perfect example of that is the common interpretation of the so-called parable of the wheat and the tares.  Why is it called the parable of the wheat and the tares?  In verse thirty-six, after Jesus retreats back to His house, His disciples approach Him privately and ask, “Declare to us the parable of the zizanium in the field.”  So why is it called the parable of the wheat and the tares, when the apostles don’t call it that?

And, by the way, zizanium, which is a transliteration of the Greek to English, is the name of a weed that looks just like wheat until its leaves and fruit begin to show, and which, when eaten, has a bitter taste and causes drug-like physical reactions.

But, again, why – when the apostles call this the parable of the zizanium in the field, why do most people call this the parable of the wheat and the tares?  It’s because they don’t begin with the Kingdom and its historical progression.  The common interpretation results from beginning with the “likeness,” or the “figure,” and then forcing the Kingdom to fit it, or forcing it upon the Kingdom.

And the common interpretation, removed from the context of the Kingdom and its progress, is that the “good seed” and the “evil seed” will grow together until the end of the world.  And both will thrive in about equal parts until Jesus returns to separate them on Judgment day!  That’s the nature of the Kingdom they say; both wheat and tares grow together in the world, without any discontinuity, and there’s a plurality of good and evil until final Judgment!

And I might say right here before we go any further with this, that this “common interpretation” of the parable is mangled and mutilated – the second time – by many who say that Jesus will return a thousand years before Judgment day to rapture the Church out of the world, leaving only non-believers on the earth!  But how does that square with the fundamentalist and pessimistic view of this parable which says that the “good seed” and the “evil seed” grow together until the day of Judgment?  How does Jesus rapture the “good seed” out and still have the “good seed” and the “evil seed” growing when He returns to judge the world?

I just thought I’d throw that in – it’s one of the many inconsistencies with the plain facts of Scripture that we can see every day in the Church in its weakened state.

But, before we get into some specifics, what is the general right interpretation of this parable – rightly called the parable of the zizanium in the field?  What do we mean when we say that the Kingdom is first, and that we must interpret the figure by the reality?  And what do we mean when we say that the Kingdom is progressive in history and that it has a peculiar context which, in no way, can be ignored?

First, we know that the Garden of Eden was called “paradise.”  But that we sinned against God and the creation was all cursed with thorns and rocks.  And God washed it (baptized it) with a massive and tumultuous cleansing.  And the Biblical term that is commonly associated with the flood is that God “destroyed the earth.”  And then, when He constituted Israel as a separate and holy nation, peculiar and holy unto Him, He called it “heaven and earth.”

And He told them that if they didn’t obey Him there would be another destruction of heaven and earth as inundative and destructive as the former one!  And as Israel went deeper and deeper into its lawlessness and its idolatry and its co-mingling with the world order around them, God prophesied hundreds of times that the destruction of heaven and earth was coming!  And as Jesus speaks the words of this parable before us, that “day of the Lord” – that God prophesied – was imminent!  The second “radical discontinuity” – destruction of the earth – was just before taking place!

And, at the same time that “cutting off” and inundation by fire was prophesied, so, too, was prophesied the establishment of the “New Heavens and the New Earth” – a Kingdom which was eternal and suffered no more discontinuity!

The context of the parable, then, is that second destruction of “heaven and earth,” and the separation and discontinuity which was about to occur – the second inundation!  And that’s the context in which the parable must be interpreted!

And, then, the next parables – those of the mustard grain and the leaven – must be seen in the light of the first, because they are enveloped between the parable and its interpretation by Jesus.  And they intend for the historical progression of the Kingdom to be shown:  First the separation; and, then, the establishment and growth – extension – of the New Heavens and the New Earth in Christ Jesus.

Now.  We can go to the text at this point and begin to deal with it in its own light, rather than imposing upon it some imaginative concoction about a future Kingdom or a rapture or good and evil equally primary until Judgment day.  As I said, this is a struggle which goes on all the time, and it’s particularly bad right now since the Church is in a weakened state.  But when one uses the created order as the norm, and then tries to force the Kingdom into that norm, that’s idolatry.  Any ideas which have to do with using the created order to define or differentiate or prove the existence of God and His Kingdom is called evidentialism.  And that’s idolatry.  We must begin with God and His Word.  That’s absolute Truth.  Men cannot force the truth into his own imaginative concepts of nature and creation.  We can’t begin with what we see – and work backward to the Kingdom!

Now let’s make some initial comments about the parable and its explanation.  As with the parable of the Sower, this parable also, as you can see, has an explanation by Jesus.  Verses twenty-four through thirty contain the parable as spoken to the crowds, and verses thirty-seven through forty-three is the explanation to the apostles in private.  So keep your eyes focused on both of these passages as we go.

Jesus says in verse twenty-four that


 “The Kingdom of the Heavens is likened to a man sowing good seed in his field.” 


And Jesus says in the explanation in verses thirty-seven and thirty-eight that the Sower, in this parable, is the Son of Man; and that the field is the cosmos; and that the good seed are the sons of the Kingdom!

Again, where have we seen the “Son of Man” nomenclature?  The only prophetic portion of Scripture using that Name is Daniel chapter seven where Daniel sees the vision of the four beasts (who ruled over, and judged, the Church in Israel), and Israel itself, destroyed.  And the Son of Man did that and ascended (came in the clouds) to the throne where He was given dominion and power and a Kingdom – a greater Kingdom than the other four.  So the use here of the “Son of Man” title is a direct reference to Daniel seven!

So the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, the Ancient of Days, sowed heaven and earth with good seed – the sons of the Kingdom.  But the evil one, Satan, “oversowed” it with his own sons!  And at the time of the incarnation there were approximately “seven thousand men” in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal, who were the remnant of the covenant seed who were God’s garden – Israel.  (Those whom God had kept for Himself.)  And the Son of Man was the King of the fifth Kingdom – the everlasting one – Who brought the destruction of the disobedient nation, and laid the garden of God (Heaven and Earth) to waste.  And it became a wilderness filled with wild animals and birds of prey.  So, whenever we see Christ described as the Son of Man, we know that that is the designation used to fulfill the prophecy of Daniel – the separation of the old to destruction, and the inclusion of the world in the original New Covenant.

His “field” was the cosmos, according to verse thirty-eight.  When Israel was constituted a nation, God separated it out unto Himself a holy nation which was to be a light to the world – good seed in a fallen world – and it was to be a sign to the world of the glory and greatness of God – Sowed in a fallen cosmos – a wasteland.

But Satan came and oversowed the field with evil seed – sons of the devil.  And they tempted Israel as Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden; and they sinned.  Exactly what God told them not to do!  Verse twenty-five says, “While the men slept, the adversary, the devil, came and sowed the zizanium – a look-alike plant.  While Israel was to be watching for itself as watchmen on the tower, it did not cry out as to the danger.  But it allowed the evil to be sowed in its borders.  And that evil sprouted along with the sons of the Kingdom.  Many – evil seed and noxious weed.  And some – sons of the Kingdom, the elect of God kept to Himself.

And when the evil seeds are spotted, the Houselord is asked about culling them out.  But the Sower says, “No, for fear that the destruction of the evil seed will result in the destruction of the sons of the Kingdom at the same time.”

And He said, “Let them grow together until the harvest….”  And then the harvesters will gather the noxious weed, tie them up in bundles and burn them.  Verse thirty.

Now, in verses thirty-nine and forty, Jesus explains that the harvesters are the angels and the harvest is the end of the age!  And even though the KJV renders it “the end of this world,” that’s a translation based on interpretation rather than on the meaning of the Greek Word.  The word is “aion” or aeon, and it has to do with time.  Cosmos is to be interpreted spatially, but not aion.  “The end of this age!”

But the lead passage in all of Scripture with regard to the end of the age of the old covenant and the old nation of God and the old city of Jerusalem is Isaiah chapters twenty-four through twenty-seven.  It’s too long to read to you in this setting, but you’ll want to study it yourself.  But there’s no doubt at all that the radical termination of that people with whom the Lord covenanted at the beginning is coming to a close even as Isaiah speaks.  It is the end of the age, which is coming.

But there is a passage that I do want to read to you from the Revelation of St. John having to do with the harvest.  As Jesus says here, the harvest is at the end of this Old Covenant period, when the evil seed will be separated out and burned, and the good seed (the sons of the Kingdom) will be gathered into the storehouse.  And even though the kind of fruit is different from the parable, John’s vision has all the same language and imagery as does the parable.  Listen from Revelation chapter fifteen as the angels come to harvest:


“And I looked,” John says, “and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him that sat on the cloud, ‘thrust in thy sickle, and reap; for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’  And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.  (The gathering of God’s elect from Israel.  Jesus and His disciples hunted for them and found them.)  And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.  And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘thrust in thy sharp sickle; and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.’  And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of two hundred miles.”


So Jesus here dwells on the fate of the zizanium – the sons of the devil.  Before, it wasn’t time for the gathering.  Now it is!  And it is gathering and destruction.  In verse forty-one it is the final cleansing of those who are pretenders to the Kingdom, but who are cast off.  Heaven and earth are being shaken here, and it is about to come crashing down.  And everything that might henceforth tend to destroy the elect of God is gathered up and destroyed.  The zizanium!

The furnace of fire or the lake of fire is the coming annihilation of the Jews and the old age.  It is the day of doom – the Day of Judgment.  And the terrors Israel endured are described here in verse forty-two, which we’ll get to next Lord’s Day.  Also next time – the resplendent glory of the sons of the Kingdom in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

And as we meet in the year 2002 in the New Covenant Church which resulted from all these things, it is praise and thanksgiving which must flow from our hearts and our mouths in public and private worship.  For it is the Son of Man Who has destroyed heaven and earth for our sakes – that we might be made adopted sons along with the apostles and the remnant elect from Israel who were preserved.

And not only are we to publicly and privately give praise and fervent thanksgiving for these things, but this is the Gospel, the Good News of God!  This is the Gospel that we must preach – and witness – and teach – and proclaim – and exhort – and counsel!

Over the centuries the Gospel of God, presented here by His Own Son, has become watered down.  There is less and less of this Gospel believed and preached!

But here it is in all of its power and glory – the mysteries of the Kingdom of the Heavens, now revealed unto us.  And nobody ever talks about them!  Here is the very center of God’s Good News and nobody pays any attention to it!

But we must!  And we must believe it – and live it – and live in it.  And we must speak it.  For herein is the power of God into salvation for those who are lost.  Families and tribes and tongues and kings and nations are waiting for it.  They need it – for they will not turn until they hear it!

We cannot be shy and reticent and patient with it – wondering if it be the right time to say a little bit….  But we must be bold and aggressive with it.  They must have it now!  It is life to them or they will die.  And it is you who have heard it who must give it to them.