Wheat and Weeds: Present Torment of the Righteous and Future Torment of the Wicked (Matthew Sermon 61 of 151)
July 13, 2003 | Andrew Davis
Struggling with an Impure World
We'll be looking this morning in Matthew 13 at what's commonly known as the parable of the wheat and the tares, or what I could call the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Try boarding a plane these days. All your belongings checked, your shoes removed in the lines, and sometimes you’re patted down and all because a few unbelievers— the tares, the weeds around us — who changed everything for everybody on 9/11 and now cause torment for us in this present world. How can we can survive in this world when surrounded by wicked people who crash planes into buildings and change everything for everybody from then on? It's unbelievers in Hollywood, in New York that are thinking constantly of how to assault your mind with immoral images so that they can make a buck. It's unbelievers that necessitate the passing of overly restrictive laws that cut off blessings from people for the public good, such as these terrorism laws. It's unbelievers in foreign lands that arrest and persecute and torture and kill brothers and sisters in Christ. This is going on, perhaps even now while I speak. It's unbelievers that make this alluring enticing sin-filled world that Bunyan called Vanity Fair surround us as we make our journey to the Celestial City. Yet, for all of that, it's not the sin out there that troubles me as much as the sin inside me, and the fact that there's something in me that actually responds and is allured and enticed by these things that causes me far greater grief.
And so as we come to the parable of the wheat and the tares, the wheat and the weeds, we come with questions, "Lord why, why would You do this? Why would You allow the wheat and the weeds to grow up together?" What about the present torments of the righteous as they have to kind of get along in a world where sinners who reject God's laws flout them, mock them, and set the pace for everyone. This is an ancient question, it's an ancient problem, it's a problem that Abraham's nephew Lot struggled with as he lived in wicked Sodom, surrounded every day by immorality and filth. It speaks of the struggle that he had in 2 Peter 2:8. It speaks of Lot, and it says, "For that righteous man, living among them, day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds that he saw and heard."
We have the picture in Lot of the children of God in this present age, tormented by the wickedness around us and tormented because of the evil itself, that we have to see it. And as I mentioned before, tormented even greater, that there is evil inside us. Romans 7, "What a wretched man I am, who will rescue me from this body of death that we might be freed?" Yes, it's an ancient problem. Enoch, seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men, "See the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." Seventh from Adam, Enoch feeling this, the struggle the righteous have with the ungodly. And all of it comes from the fact that Adam's descendants are a mixed race.
Now, understand what I mean, I'm not talking about every tribe, and language, and people, and nation. I'm talking about two basic divisions. There's the children of God and the children of the devil. Right from the start it would be this way. In Genesis 3:15, it says, God speaking to Satan, "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and hers, and he will crush your head and you will strike his heel." So there's the seed of the serpent, and there's the seed of the woman who is Christ, and ultimately the children of God. There's a long line of struggle between the seed of the woman, the godly, the children of God and the children of the devil. Proverbs 29:27 says, "The righteous detest the dishonest and the wicked detest the upright." So there it is, two sides of the same coin. We just don't like each other, we don't get along, we see things radically differently, and it's very troubling to us.
1 John 3:12 says, "Do not be like Cain who belonged to the evil one." He was a child of the devil, that's what it says. He murdered his brother. Why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. And yet for all of this mixed situation, wheat and tares all mixed in together, we, God's people, are called to be perfectly pure and holy. We're called to stand firm and to be holy, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We're commanded not only to be holy, but we're commanded to thrive in this world, to grow rich in good works, to share the gospel with that mission field that appears very much like tares and nothing could ever change it. Yet the gospel has the power for the salvation of everyone who believes, and out of that field comes new people for Christ, the call to evangelize, because, the wheat looks an awful lot like weed, doesn't it? And the weeds look a awful lot like wheat and it's hard to tell the difference, so we're called to reach out with the gospel.
What is the context of this parable? Jesus is in Matthew 13, explaining Kingdom life; He's explaining what the kingdom of God is like. We've already seen one parable, the parable of the seed and the soils. This is a different parable, the parable of the wheat and the tares, and the basic concept here is that the kingdom of heaven grows and flourishes in a context of torment and suffering. Believers and unbelievers surrounded in a mixed condition in this world that is going to go on to the end of the world. And it must go on to the end of the world. It is part of God's wise plan. At the end, however, He will separate the righteous from the wicked, and the wicked will suffer forever in torment, weeping and gnashing their teeth. This is what Jesus says, "But the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” There will be, in the end, a perfect and final separation, but now in this world, the Kingdom of Heaven advances in a bitterly mixed situation.
The Kingdom and the World in the Present Age: Wheat and Weeds Mixed Together
The parable is stated in verse 24-30. Look at it again. "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're pulling the weeds, you may root up 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, and then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn." Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand, so they come and say, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field." And to them the secrets of the kingdom are unlocked and clearly revealed by Jesus.
Now I would say to you that this parable is not intuitively obvious. Without Jesus' explanation, we would be very strongly tempted to go astray, to go wrong. We would misunderstand. Especially on the heels of the seed and the soils parable. In the parable of the seed and the soils, the seed is the Word of God, the fields are people's hearts, and the outcome has to do with what each individual person does with the message of the kingdom. But in this parable, it's very different. The seeds are people, either good seed, sons of the kingdom, or bad seed, sons of the devil, and the field is not individual people's hearts, but it's the whole wide world. If Jesus hadn't told us that, we would actually probably go astray, we would not understand this properly. Martin Luther puts it this way, "Who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable He calls people the seed and the world is the field, even though in the parable preceding this one He defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field the people or the hearts of the people? If Christ Himself had not here interpreted this parable, everyone would have imitated His explanation of the previous parable, and the Savior's object and understanding would have been lost." Luther's right, we need Christ to tell us what it means, and He does. He goes line by line and begins to explain the details.
The sower of the seed is the Son of Man. In verse 24 it says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field." You see that, so a man goes out and sows good seed in his field. Verse 37, Jesus says, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man," so the man of verse 24 is the Son of Man, it is Jesus Christ Himself. The Son of Man is Christ's preferred title for Himself, comes out of Daniel 7, "A vision of one like a Son of Man, who sits at the right hand of the Mighty One and comes on the clouds of heaven," this is Jesus Christ. He is authoritative, He has power and He has the authority to plant churches, He has the authority to bring people to Christ, to save their souls, and then assemble them in local churches.
The vision in Revelation chapter 1 is of Jesus Christ, the glorified Son of Man, walking through the seven lamp stands that represent seven actual churches, the number of seven being the number of perfectiofn. John "saw one like a Son of Man dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet with a golden sash around his chest, his head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire, his feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand, he held seven stars and out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." That's the glorified Jesus, the Son of Man, and in His right hand He holds the churches, He holds Christians, they are His. The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, and at the end of the world, the Son of Man will have authority to judge the world. He'll have the right to go through the whole world and separate them into good fish and bad fish, into wheat and tares, into sheep and goats. He has that right because He is the Son of Man [John Chapter 5]. He has the right to plant Christians and organize churches, and He has the right to judge the whole world because He is the Son of Man.
The next detail is I think a key interpretive principle to this whole parable. The field is is the world. Why is this important? Because many have gone astray on this point. They say the field is the church and they're wrestling with the question of unregenerate church membership, of mixed situations in a local church, but that's not what Jesus said. The field is the world, the field is not the church. Early church fathers went astray on this. Constantine in his settlement after he came to faith in Christ, if indeed he did come to personal faith in Christ, I hope he did, but if he did, after that, he just settled it, that basically everybody in the Roman domain would be Christians, on point of death. There would be a division in that regard, so it wasn't long after that that the division between the church and the world became blurred, and everything became mixed. There was a concept of Christendom.
Have you heard of that expression before? The kingdom of Christ. It was meant politically. Kings were political leaders and also leaders of the church, and the whole thing got all mixed up. Infant baptism was very much a part of that. We've got this whole mixed condition, and they relied on this text as support. Even Calvin made a mistake in this point and said that the field is the church. But the mixed nature of the world is here established, not the mixed nature of the church, the fact that the world would be made up of wheat and tares, not the church. However, I will say this, surrounded so closely by unbelievers all the time, it does actually effectively end to unregenerate church membership. Eventually it trickles in and affects the church because it's so hard for the church to resist the pull of the world, but that's not what the parable is about directly.
The next detail is who is it that plants the weeds? Where do they come from? Jesus said it's the “evil one”, the devil plants those seeds. You may say, "Who would ever do this? In the middle of the night, planting weeds in somebody's harvest? That's a lot of work and motivated out of hate." But the odd thing is that this was so common, or at least occurred enough that they had to make a law about it in ancient Rome. "Thou shalt not sow weeds in your enemy's field at night”; it's illegal. This was actually known, and you could imagine the havoc that it would cause, by sowing in those weeds in the middle of the field. The devil is constantly doing this. This isn't a one-time thing, but he's constantly sowing in the world, sowing people who do not believe in God, he's the constant enemy of the kingdom, and the greatest strategy is infiltration of the world in influencing the church.
The next detail is that the wheat's fruitfulness exposes the true nature of the weeds. It's only when the wheat sprouts and forms heads that the weeds become obvious. Up to that point, they've looked very much alike. It's when the wheat starts to behave like wheat that the difference becomes obvious. That's important, isn't it? It's like when the wheat sprouts and forms heads. What I'm saying is directly when you Christians behave like Christians and grow to full maturity as Christians, then the difference between us and the world will become stark and obvious. But not until.
The next point is vital. It is the master's intentional strategy to let both grow together until the harvest time. It's not an accident, he's not overtaken by this, he's not shocked or stunned. It is his intentional strategy that it be this way, that they both grow together until the harvest. Look at verse 27 and following. It's a perplexed question by the servants. They come and they're troubled. "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 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' And he answered, 'No. Let both grow together until the harvest.’” It's the intentional strategy of the master, that this should be the case, that the mixed condition will continue to the end.
I think it's interesting that the servants are never identified in the parable, Jesus never tells us who the servants are. Are they other angels? Possibly. Are they Christians perhaps in prayer begging God to weed it out now? Perhaps. But the answer is no, there's going to be a mixed condition right to the end. The church has tried to weed out the world. After Constantine, the Emperor Theodosius the Great defined Catholic Christian to be somebody who is not an Arian Christian; what we would know as Jehovah's Witnesses, who believe that Jesus is a created being, God's greatest created being. Theodosius said that's heresy. Theodosius said, "We order that adherence of this faith be called Catholic Christians. We therefore brand all the senseless followers of other religions with the infamous name of heretics and forbid their meetings and assembling as churches. Besides the condemnation of divine justice, they must expect the heavy penalties, which our authority guided by heavenly wisdom, shall think proper to inflict." That included burning heretics at the stake. From Theodosius the Great on, the Roman Catholic Church executed heretics. They killed them, trying to weed the fields. It wasn't until after the Reformation, an Anabaptist like Balthasar Hubmaier came along and said “No”. In "Heretics and Those Who Burn Them", he said, "Let truth triumph, let God sort it out at the end, preach the gospel." We Baptists believe in that, what we call the separation of church and state. We don't use the arm of the state to weed the world, we let it grow until the end and let God do it, but we do preach the gospel.
But it wasn't just those guys, the Roman Catholics. It was also James and John, the sons of thunder, you remember they came to a Samaritan village, and the village wouldn't accept Christ, wouldn't allow Christ to go in because He was heading to Jerusalem. James and John said, "Should we call down thunder and lightning from heaven? Wipe them out. They're Samaritans after all. Wipe 'em out. I think it was big of you, Lord, to even try to go visit a Samaritan city, but now that they will not accept You, wipe them out.” Jesus rebuked them, "You don't know what spirit you have, for the Son of Man came to seek and to save, not to destroy." And they went on.
Therefore, it is God's settled purpose and His intention that the church should thrive and grow in this mixed condition. It is as the church suffers this torment, suffers temptation, suffers persecution, suffers the hard times, that we can be more than conquerors through Him who loved us. It's not going to be smooth sailing. Did you think it would be? Are you praying, "Lord, take all the evil out." He's not going to do it; instead the church must thrive and grow. What is the master's motive? He tells us in Verse 29-30, saying, "No because while you're pulling up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest." Reason number one: Wheat and weeds are difficult to tell apart in the early stages.
Saul of Tarsus hated Christians, persecuted them viciously to their death, arrested men, women, and children and threw them in prison. If you had caught him at an early part of his career, would you have thought him wheat or tare? Wheat or weed? Which? Definitely weed. No question about it. George Mueller was a juvenile delinquent. He robbed his father's government salary and used it for his own pleasures. If you had really known what was going on in George Mueller's life, would you have thought him wheat or weed? You would have thought him weed and you would have rooted him up. John Newton was a slave trader, a profligate immoral man. Would you have thought him wheat or weed? You would have thought him weed and you would have rooted him up. If you choose to root someone out, you may root up the next great Saul of Tarsus. God may want a man to die. He may pour him out even to death so that another man gets saved, just like he did for Stephen, pouring him out to death so that Saul of Tarsus could be saved. He's willing and able and delights to allow this mixed situation to go on for His glory. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself a single seed, but if it dies, it bears many seeds.” For this reason, he doesn't want the wheat and he doesn't want the weeds rooted up because you might root up both; you can't tell the difference.
Second of all, it's not best for the wheat because the root systems are all kind of woven together. If you try to just pull up the tares, you're going to uproot more than just the tares. It's impossible to tell the difference and it's not good for the wheat. It's best for us to grow in a situation of conflict, and difficulty and trial. "Count it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of any kind, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything." So we must have the weeds around us, making life miserable for us, and stand firm by faith and grow. It's best for the wheat. He lets them both grow together.
But it won't go on that way forever. There'll come a separation, there'll come a time. Look at Verse 30, "Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, 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." The mixed status is not permanent. It's not going to go on forever. But there is a time set for the separation, and it's not now. Verse 39 tells us the time set, the harvest is when? The harvest is the end of the age. And the harvesters are angels, and at the end of the age, the full history of good and evil will be revealed. Do you remember the tree that Adam and Eve ate from in the garden? Remember what it was called? The Knowledge of Good and Evil. We've had quite a history with evil. We have books and books on the history of evil, we've seen it, and at the end of the age, the history book on evil will be closed. Praise God for that. At last the evil will be finished.
Future Separation: Judgment Day
It says very plainly that Judgment Day is coming and the weeds will be pulled up by the root. The Son of Man will sit over that process. He will be Lord of that harvest just as He's Lord of the harvest now, the harvest of evangelism, bringing people into the kingdom. He will be Lord over that harvest too, He will sit in judgment on all the Earth, and the wicked will be rooted out. He will give the command, He will send out His angels, and He will command them, "Weed out the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned." Look at Verse 40-43, "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 fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."
Do not misunderstand, Christ wants a perfectly pure kingdom, and He will have it. Don't misunderstand this mixed condition and think that God somehow tolerates evil and wickedness. His eyes are too pure to look on evil. He can't tolerate sin at all, but He has a strategy in what He's doing. In the end the kingdom will be pure. He will send out His angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom everyone who causes sin and all who do evil, all the things that cause sin, all your stumbling blocks. You know what your stumbling blocks are, what you trip over in your walk with God, it's going to be gone. All the temptations gone. All the evil people who hate Christ, gone, all of it removed forever. What a sweet condition, removed forever. Christ will sit as Lord of that harvest, and what some people think of as gentle Jesus, meek and mild, He will sit on a cloud, Revelation 14:14, and He will swing his harvest sickle over the earth, and it will be harvested, for He is Lord of the harvest, and every foul plant will be removed.
Matthew 15:13 says, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots." “By the roots” mean gone forever. Gone forever. He will weed His kingdom, and then He will gather the wheat into His barn. Matthew 24:31, it says, "He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." What a moment that will be, a ride with an angel as the angel comes and gathers you up. You are gathered together with all the true believers of all time into one place, brought into His barn so to speak, brought into the kingdom. He will send out his angels. In Matthew 3:12, John the Baptist said the same thing, "Christ's winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering the wheat into His barn but burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Now is the present time of torment for the righteous. It's hard for us now because of this. He knows it, He knows that it's hard. This is the present torment of the righteous, but then will be the future torment of the wicked and this is clearly taught in this passage. It maybe not be comfortable to talk about but Jesus did not shrink from discussing this. Look at Verse 42, "The angels, they, will throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." This is unquenchable fire, an eternity of torment. Non-Christians, some of them, assume that hell will be a fun place where they can hang out with their non-Christian friends and have a party away from the restrictions of God. I don't think it's possible to do those fun things while you're screaming in agony, while you're wailing and gnashing teeth, it's not possible. Why did Jesus talk about this? Because it's real, and it's coming. Jesus doesn't waste words. He said that we would be afraid of Him who has power over both body and soul in hell. He has that power, God does. He wants us to fear. Hell is eternal, it's clearly taught. Revelation 14:11 says, "The smoke of their torment rises forever and ever, there is no rest day or night for those in the lake of fire." None. Jesus said, "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin, such stumbling blocks must come.” That's our torment that we have all these temptations around us. "Such stumbling blocks must come, but woe to the man through whom they come. I tell you this, it would be better for that man to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be dropped into the depths of the sea then cause one of my little ones to stumble into sin." What do you mean better? Well, I would rather be dropped in the depths of a cool ocean than be thrown in the lake of fire. Jesus doesn't waste words. He said it'd be better for you to have that but you will not get that, but rather the lake of fire.
The Eternal State: A Pure & Glorious Kingdom
Eternal torment of the wicked is taught here, but so also is the future glory of the righteous. This is one of my favorite verses in all the Bible. "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." This verse convinces me that we will someday be glorious, shining brightly. It's the best verse of all. There's translation issues in some of the other verses, not on this one. When it says, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us," some people translate it to us, so that we'll see God's glory out there. This verse makes it plain, we will be glorious. We will shine like the sun, we will be radiant. And as I've mentioned before, CS Lewis put it this way. He said, "If you could see a brother or sister in Christ today, in their glorified state, you would be as tempted to worship them as John was to worship the angel who brought him the Book of Revelation." You'd be on your face. Of course, the sister or brother would say, "Get up! I'm a fellow servant with you, don't worship me." But there's glory waiting for you if you're a child of God, and it's eternal glory too. Just as that was eternal torment, this is eternal glory. No possibility of a future fall from hell. All the temptations are gone. You're internally transformed. And the things you used to hate, you love forever and ever, and the things you used to love, you hate forever and ever. There'll be no change. You'll shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. This also speaks of the resurrection body, “The physical body is sown [1 Corinthians 15] in dishonor, it is raised in glory.” We will shine like the sun. CS Lewis did say, "I'm troubled by the thought of being a kind of an eternal light bulb,” but that's typical Lewis, I'm not troubled by it.
What happened to Moses when he saw God, just a glimpse of God, what happened to his face? He was shining radiantly. People were scared, so he put a veil over it. And that was just a brief moment seeing, in the Hebrew, the hindquarters of God. We will see Him face-to-face and we will be transformed by that vision. We will shine like the sun forever and ever, a pure and glorious kingdom. The field is the world, and it's mixed. Then, the world will be the kingdom. Look at Verse 41, "The Son of Man will send out His angels and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all those who do evil." So at that point, the field becomes the Kingdom. It's His kingdom, "It's mine now." He comes and claims it and He does a thorough weeding job. It's going to be pure kingdom at that point. You know the Hallelujah chorus, "The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever." That's Revelation 11:15. They'll become one in the same, the field, the world will become the kingdom,and the thing you've been praying for over and over will at last come true. “His kingdom will have come and His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[Lord’s Prayer] The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
What application can we make for this? First, pray for protection in this sin-cursed world from unbelievers. Pray that God would deliver our persecuted brothers and sisters from evil persecution. Pray, for protection in this world, protection from persecution, but also protection from pollution, from sin. “Religion that our God and Father accepts as pure and faultless is this," said James, "to look after orphans and widows in their distress, yes, but to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Be pure. 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers," don't, don't... Yes, we have to live with them, but don't yolk yourself together. Don't marry an unbeliever, don't go into business arrangements with unbelievers. And may I say directly, don't do church with unbelievers in a committed covenant sense. Unbelievers should not be covenant members of local churches, that is the Baptist ideal. Unregenerate church membership devastates local churches, and so the church must be pure, and the way we Baptists do that is by baptizing only believers at the front and then doing church discipline along the way when unbelievers start acting like unbelievers. So we don't... We're not unequally yoked, we don't do unregenerate church membership. Pray for protection.
Also, can I urge you to trust in God's sovereign grace? It could be a little scary. You say, I've got years to go, probably, decades in this sin-cursed world. How am I going to make it? God knows how to get you through. He's got his hand on you ,and He's going to bring you through this world. You will safely make it through to the other side. "Now to Him who is able to present you before His throne, blameless with great joy, be glory forever and ever." He can do it, He can get you through. He's been doing it with Christians for centuries, He can get you through. Trust Him to get you through this Vanity Fair [ Pilgrim’s Progress]. Stay active in evangelism, be here next week, make time to come and witness with us, reach out with the gospel.
Can I speak to you if you've come here and you're not sure whether you're a Christian or not? Can I speak from my heart? Don't leave this building today without being sure that you're a Christian, without knowing for certain that you have eternal life. The issues are too great. Heaven, where you can shine like the sun forever and ever. Hell, where you would be tormented forever and ever. It's literally that stark a choice. Don't leave this building without being sure that you're born again.