We live in tumultuous times. I never expected that in my lifetime I would see video of the Capitol being overrun by a mob. Furthermore, if anyone had suggested to me that, regardless of which party won the election, our nation would be in for four years of peace, harmony, and joy, I would have suggested that they were naive. The parable that Jesus told, recorded in Matthew 13:24–43, gives you hope as you face the future.
Wait for the harvest. The kingdom is like a man who sowed good seed. This parable is one of a series that focuses on the kingdom of heaven. These parables serve both to reveal truth about the kingdom, and to conceal it from the rebellious. This particular parable is unique to Matthew’s Gospel. This parable continues the farming theme of the parable of the sower, verses 1–23, but the focus here is not on the different kinds of soil, or even on the abundant harvest. Rather, the element of conflict is introduced, as an enemy sows weeds in the field. Anyone who gardens understands how readily weeds grow. The crux of the problem is how to deal with the simultaneous presence of good seed and bad in the field. Jesus explains the parable. He is the sower, and later the reaper. The good seed represents those who belong to his kingdom, the weeds, those who belong to the evil one. The harvest is the end of the age.
The harvest, for which you wait, brings about the separation of evil from the good. The problem with which this parable wrestles is the problem of the continuation of evil after the arrival of the kingdom in the person of the messianic King. Jesus had proclaimed the presence of the kingdom—for he was present as the King. John the Baptist had wrestled with the difficulty of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah–and the fact that he had not brought about judgment on his enemies, Matthew 11:1–6. The disciples of Jesus may have had similar questions. You wrestle with the apparent incompatibility of the presence of evil in the lives of those who are part of God’s kingdom. It is in the context of dealing with the weeds that the crucial question of timing comes up. Are the servants to pull up the weeds right away? No, they are ordered to wait until the harvest, when during that process the weeds will be collected and burned while the grain is carried into the barn. “This parable again sheds light on the relationship between the presence and the future of the kingdom. . . . Since the kingdom comes like the seed, and since the Son of Man is first the sower (vs. 37) before being the reaper (vs. 41) the last judgment is postponed. The delay is implied in this difference. Whoever sows cannot immediately reap.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 137) Because the Son of Man is both the sower and the reaper, there must be a delay, an interval of time, between the arrival of the kingdom and its consummation. The kingdom is both a present reality and a future event. Remember that the judgment of the harvest is coming! Beware of the blazing fire into which the angels will throw the weeds. That judgment brings deep grief and hopeless frustration, verse 42.
Live as sons of the kingdom. You belong to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus explains that the good seed stands for “the sons of the kingdom.” You probably get the sense even without this, but Jesus is using a Hebrew idiom. “The son of a ______” is someone characterized by that. An archer is “a son of a bow.” You are characterized by the kingdom of heaven. You are the result of the planting activity of no one less than the Son of Man. You are the crop that he intends to harvest. You belong to him. You are the sons and daughters of God. Your lives are characterized by his kingdom. Yet you live in a field that contains weeds. You grieve at the sin and suffering around you. Political and social chaos may make you fearful. Perhaps you sometimes wonder who really is in control of the field. Has the field been taken over by the plottings of the evil one? His kingdom is growing, increasing in size like the small mustard seed, incluencing those around, like yeast in a large batch of flour (45+ lbs.). Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are the sons of the kingdom. You are the harvest that will be brought into the barns. You are the church, for which the Lord gave his life. He will not abandon you, though life may be difficult and challenging. “The visible church is constituted by the enthronement of Christ as the King of glory. Out of the fullness of his royal authority he gave immediately before ascending the great commission to preach the gospel and disciple the nations and instituted the sacrament of baptism. We must say, therefore, that the kingdom forces which are at work, the kingdom-life which exists in the invisible sphere, find expression in the kingdom-organism of the visible church. That Christ is King in this church and all authority exercised within any church-body derives from him is an important principle of church government, which those who endeavor to distinguish between the kingdom of God the visible church do not always sufficiently keep in mind.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom of God and the Church, p. 87)
You will shine like the sun! Jesus shifts away from the farming imagery. In the harvest, you, the righteous sons of the kingdom, will shine like the sun. Jesus uses the imagery of Daniel 12, where that prophet focuses briefly on the resurrection. Even from his limited, Old Testament perspective, Daniel could look ahead to the resurrection and the glory of the new heavens and earth. Here in this world you are strangers and pilgrims. You don’t fully belong. You are part of the glorious coming kingdom, the stone, not cut by human hands, that destroys the statue representing the kingdoms of this world. You may face powerful pressures, as did Daniel’s friends, but you have the glorious hope of the resurrection. “It is spiritual qualities such as purity of heart, meekness, mercy, humility, and so on that mark its [the kingdom’s] citizens (Matt. 5:3ff.; 18:4; 20:26–27). Also, it does not just make its appearance in the future but is already present now (Matt. 8:11; 21:43; Luke 17:21); it grows and expands like the seed and the leaven (Matt. 13:24ff.). Those who here receive it in faith like a child will in the future enter into it (Mark 10:15).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 497) The kingdom here, particularly the kingdom in its glory after the harvest at the end of the age, is identified as the kingdom of the Father. Paul using somewhat different language, speaks of Christ handing over the kingdom to God the Father, 1 Corinthians 15:24. The shinning like the sun indicates the presence of divine glory, the kind of brilliant light which emanated from the cloud, light so brilliant that its residual glow required Moses to cover his face with a veil as he spoke to the people, the glory which filled the tabernacle at its dedication, the light which transfigured the Christ on the mountain. That glorious light will characterize you in the great harvest day. The light is a reflection of the glory of God himself. That day is still future. God’s people in this world are not literally luminous. But that day is coming. The knowledge of that future glory helps keep you faithful in serving your Lord day by day. Because you will shine like the sun, don’t become discouraged as you seek to faithfully serve your Savior this week.
A field liberally sprinkled with weeds can be discouraging. But remember that the Son of Man is preparing to send his angels into the harvest field. And you, his covenant people, will shine like the sun in that glorious day!