The Parable of the Tares of the Field

The parable of the tares of the field (Mat 13:24-30, 36-43) is unique to Matthew. Moreover, it not only received a specific title, but it also is one of only three parables in Matthew 13 that Jesus explained (Mat 13:36-43). That does not mean one should not study and think through this parable. If the Coming One baptises with the Holy Spirit and is gathering wheat into his barn, how then does the field still have tares, why is the chaff not burned up with unquenchable fire (Mat 3:11-12; 11:3; 13:30)? What new and old things does the parable of the tares in the field teach? How does this unique parable contribute to a better understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Mat 13:11; cf. 13:1-52)?

Start at a Specific Point in Time

The parable of the tares of the field begins in an unusual way (Mat 13:24). It is likely that the parable begins at a specific point in time, indicating a marked historical development (cf. Carson 1995:317; Nolland 2005:544; Snodgrass 2008:212-213). If the kingdom of heaven has become like the situation of a man who sowed good seed, etc. at what point in time did this start to happen?

During Christ’s first advent, the gospel was preached only in Israel (Mat 10:5-6; 13:13-15; 15:24), but in this parable, the Son of Man sows good seed in ‘his field’, which is specifically identified as the world (Mat 13:38), indicating a universal mission. Commenting on the statement that ‘the field is the world’, Carson (1995:325; cf. also Hagner 2000:393) states the obvious: this presupposes a mission beyond Israel. The great commission, however, was only given after Christ’s resurrection (Mat 28:18-20). When Jesus utters this parable on a specific day as noted in Matthew 13:1, its content refers to the future. The fact that the disciples did not know of the great commission on the day Jesus tells this parable strongly suggests that Jesus is presenting a new prophecy given in the form of a parable juxtaposed with Old Testament prophecies regarding the kingdom of heaven. When Matthew writes the Gospel, the first part of the parable has already become history. However, the rest of this parable (see Mat 13:40-43) still awaits its prophetic fulfilment at the end of this age.

The Son of Man sows ‘good seed’ that is specifically identified as ‘sons of the kingdom’ (Mat 13:38). Is it possible to identify the first ‘sons of the kingdom’ sown into the world by the Son of Man, and can the time when they were sown be identified? This is indeed possible. The 11 disciples fit the description of the first ‘sons of the kingdom’: they are the ones who meet Jesus at the mountain in Galilee and whom he then specifically commands with all authority to commence the great commission (Mat 28:16-20). This great commission started on Pentecost (Acts 2).

The Problem of the Tares

The questions of the servants — ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ (Mat 13:27) — are peculiar, implying that the servants expected the field to contain no tares. If unbelievers have been roaming the world, even since the days of John the Baptist, what set of circumstances allow for this implicit expectation? In view of the new development — the kingdom of heaven has become like (Mat 13:24) — and the connection between the question in the parable (Mat 13:27) and the judgment scene (Mat 13:40-43), what occasion prompts this parable?

The clear teaching of the Old Testament is that the Messianic kingdom will not be established until after a Tribulation Period. What the parable of the tares in the field also teaches is that this prophesied judgement immediately preceding the establishment of the Messianic kingdom has been delayed (Mat 13:40-42; cf. 3:7-12; 13:49-50). It has been delayed during a period that includes the Church Age, but judgement will still commence during the Tribulation Period. Until that judgement, and since he is not yet bound, Satan has started a counterfeit sowing (Mat 13:25, 38b). This explains not only why there are still tares in the field, but also why Satan can still use his false apostles, false prophets, false teachers, etc., in the world.


Since judgement is the prerogative of the Son of Man, believers are not responsible for separating the righteous from the wicked before that event at the end of the age (Bailey 1998b:276). The establishment of the Messianic kingdom will be preceded by judgement so that the field will have no tares (Mat 3:12; 13:40-43), for when a divine kingdom is established, it cannot be divided, not initially nor ultimately, for a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mat 12:25-26). If any rebellion against the will of God should manifest itself after the establishment of such a divine kingdom, the timing of any judgement on such rebellion depends on whether God extends a period of grace that allows for repentance or not. If grace is extended, rebellion may, in the interim, exist in a divine kingdom, but neither initially nor ultimately. Since such judgement has clearly not yet occurred (cf. Mat 25:31-46), the Son of Man will in future thoroughly clean out his threshing floor at the end of this age, uproot the tares, and gather his wheat into the barn (Mat 3:12; 13:29-30, 40-43).

Things New and Old

What new and old things are taught in this parable? The Jews believed, based on unconditional Old Testament prophecies (Is 32:15-20; 44:3-5; Jer 31:33-34; Ezk 39:25-29; Joel 2:28-3:1; Zch 12:8-13:1), that when the Messianic kingdom is established on earth, the Coming One would pour the Holy Spirit over all of Israel. The Old Testament connects an outpouring of the Holy Spirit with the national salvation of Israel before the Messianic kingdom is established on earth. These Old Testament prophecies will still be fulfilled at the end of the Tribulation Period to the generation of Jews then living (cf. Mat 23:39), but the apostles and their fellow disciples must learn that during the Inter-Advent Period, the kingdom of heaven exists only in the sense that the sons and daughters of the kingdom of heaven are present. During this time, and as predicted by John the Baptist, Jesus will be doing something ‘new’, that is, baptising believers with the Holy Spirit. This is not the same ministry as something ‘old’ that has previously been prophesied, namely the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all Israel immediately before the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth. The Coming One can baptise with the Holy Spirit in terms of the Abrahamic/New Covenants without the Messianic kingdom being established yet in terms of the Davidic Covenant. Other unfulfilled Old Testament prophecies are also in view. The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mat 13:43), alluding not only to Daniel 12:3, but also to Malachi 4:2.

Application of this Parable

During the Church age, disciples should glorify God, build fellow-believers up through the Word and obey the great commission by making disciples of Jesus. Since Satan commenced a counterfeit sowing, Jesus’ disciples can expect persecution and tribulation. But at the end of this age, the judgment of the tares will find its prophetic, eschatological fulfilment. Then the righteous will shine in the kingdom.


The article above contains extracts from:

Scholtz, J.J., 2015, ‘Reading Matthew 13 as a prophetic discourse: The four parables presented in public’, In die Skriflig 49(1), Art. #1870, 7 pages.

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