Category Archives: Parables Questions

Questions about Parables: What Is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares?

 

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, or Tares, is filled with spiritual significance and truth. But, in spite of the clear explanation of the parable that Jesus gave (Matthew 13:36–43), this parable is very often misinterpreted. Many commentaries and sermons have attempted to use this story as an illustration of the condition of the church, noting that there are both true believers (the wheat) and false professors (the weeds) in both the church at large and individual local churches. While this may be true, Jesus distinctly explains that the field is not the church; it is the world (v. 38).

Even if He hadn’t specifically told us the world is the setting of the story, it would still be obvious. The landowner tells the servants not to pull up the weeds in the field, but to leave them until the end of the age. If the field were the church, this command would directly contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, which tells us how to deal with unrepentant sinners in the church: they are to be put out of the fellowship and treated as unbelievers. Jesus never instructed us to let impenitent sinners remain in our midst until the end of the age. So, Jesus is teaching here about “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 24) in the world.

In the agricultural society of Christ’s time, many farmers depended on the quality of their crops. An enemy sowing weeds would have sabotaged a business. The tares in the parable were likely darnel because that weed, until mature, appears as wheat. Without modern weed killers, what would a wise farmer do in such a dilemma? Instead of tearing out the wheat with the tares, the landowner in this parable wisely waited until the harvest. After harvesting the whole field, the tares could be separated and burned. The wheat would be saved in the barn.

In the explanation of parable, Christ declares that He Himself is the sower. He spreads His redeemed seed, true believers, in the field of the world. Through His grace, these Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–24). Their presence on earth is the reason the “kingdom of heaven” is like the field of the world. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 3:2), He meant the spiritual realm which exists on earth side by side with the realm of the evil one (1 John 5:19). When the kingdom of heaven comes to its fruition, heaven will be a reality and there will be no “weeds” among the “wheat.” But for now, both good and bad seeds mature in the world.

The enemy in the parable is Satan. In opposition to Jesus Christ, the devil tries to destroy Christ’s work by placing false believers and teachers in the world who lead many astray. One has only to look at the latest televangelist scandal to know the world is filled with professing “Christians” whose ungodly actions bring reproach on the name of Christ. But we are not to pursue such people in an effort to destroy them. For one thing, we don’t know if immature and innocent believers might be injured by our efforts. Further, one has only to look at the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the reign of “Bloody Mary” in England to see the results of men taking upon themselves the responsibility of separating true believers from false, a task reserved for God alone. Instead of requiring these false believers to be rooted out of the world, and possibly hurting immature believers in the process, Christ allows them to remain until His return. At that time, angels will separate the true from false believers.

In addition, we are not to take it upon ourselves to uproot unbelievers because the difference between true and false believers isn’t always obvious. Tares, especially in the early stages of growth, resemble wheat. Likewise, a false believer may resemble a true believer. In Matthew 7:22, Jesus warned that many profess faith but do not know Him. Thus, each person should examine his own relationship with Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). First John is an excellent test of salvation.

Jesus Christ will one day establish true righteousness. After He raptures the true church out of this world, God will pour out His righteous wrath on the world. During that tribulation, He will draw others to saving faith in Jesus Christ. At the end of the tribulation, all unbelievers will be judged for their sin and unbelief; then, they will be removed from God’s presence. True followers of Christ will reign with Him. What a glorious hope for the “wheat”![1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares?

 

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, or Tares, is filled with spiritual significance and truth. But, in spite of the clear explanation of the parable that Jesus gave (Matthew 13:36–43), this parable is very often misinterpreted. Many commentaries and sermons have attempted to use this story as an illustration of the condition of the church, noting that there are both true believers (the wheat) and false professors (the weeds) in both the church at large and individual local churches. While this may be true, Jesus distinctly explains that the field is not the church; it is the world (v. 38).

Even if He hadn’t specifically told us the world is the setting of the story, it would still be obvious. The landowner tells the servants not to pull up the weeds in the field, but to leave them until the end of the age. If the field were the church, this command would directly contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, which tells us how to deal with unrepentant sinners in the church: they are to be put out of the fellowship and treated as unbelievers. Jesus never instructed us to let impenitent sinners remain in our midst until the end of the age. So, Jesus is teaching here about “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 24) in the world.

In the agricultural society of Christ’s time, many farmers depended on the quality of their crops. An enemy sowing weeds would have sabotaged a business. The tares in the parable were likely darnel because that weed, until mature, appears as wheat. Without modern weed killers, what would a wise farmer do in such a dilemma? Instead of tearing out the wheat with the tares, the landowner in this parable wisely waited until the harvest. After harvesting the whole field, the tares could be separated and burned. The wheat would be saved in the barn.

In the explanation of parable, Christ declares that He Himself is the sower. He spreads His redeemed seed, true believers, in the field of the world. Through His grace, these Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–24). Their presence on earth is the reason the “kingdom of heaven” is like the field of the world. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 3:2), He meant the spiritual realm which exists on earth side by side with the realm of the evil one (1 John 5:19). When the kingdom of heaven comes to its fruition, heaven will be a reality and there will be no “weeds” among the “wheat.” But for now, both good and bad seeds mature in the world.

The enemy in the parable is Satan. In opposition to Jesus Christ, the devil tries to destroy Christ’s work by placing false believers and teachers in the world who lead many astray. One has only to look at the latest televangelist scandal to know the world is filled with professing “Christians” whose ungodly actions bring reproach on the name of Christ. But we are not to pursue such people in an effort to destroy them. For one thing, we don’t know if immature and innocent believers might be injured by our efforts. Further, one has only to look at the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the reign of “Bloody Mary” in England to see the results of men taking upon themselves the responsibility of separating true believers from false, a task reserved for God alone. Instead of requiring these false believers to be rooted out of the world, and possibly hurting immature believers in the process, Christ allows them to remain until His return. At that time, angels will separate the true from false believers.

In addition, we are not to take it upon ourselves to uproot unbelievers because the difference between true and false believers isn’t always obvious. Tares, especially in the early stages of growth, resemble wheat. Likewise, a false believer may resemble a true believer. In Matthew 7:22, Jesus warned that many profess faith but do not know Him. Thus, each person should examine his own relationship with Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). First John is an excellent test of salvation.

Jesus Christ will one day establish true righteousness. After He raptures the true church out of this world, God will pour out His righteous wrath on the world. During that tribulation, He will draw others to saving faith in Jesus Christ. At the end of the tribulation, all unbelievers will be judged for their sin and unbelief; then, they will be removed from God’s presence. True followers of Christ will reign with Him. What a glorious hope for the “wheat”![1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin?

 

The Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin are the first two in a series of three. The third is the “lost son” or the “prodigal son.” Just as in other cases, Jesus taught these parables in a set of three to emphasize His point. To properly understand the message of these parables, we must recognize exactly what a parable is, and why it is used.

What is a parable? At a basic level, a parable is a short story designed to convey a concept to be understood and/or a principle to be put into practice. This, however, tells us more about the intent of a parable than what it actually is. The word “parable” in Greek literally means, “to set beside,” as in the English word “comparison” or “similitude.” In the Jewish culture, things were explained not in terms of statistics or definitions as they are in English-speaking cultures. In the Jewish culture of biblical times, things were explained in word pictures.

Why did Jesus use parables? Word pictures do not draw attention to technicalities (like the Jewish law) but to attitudes, concepts, and characteristics. Jesus was speaking a language that all Jews could understand, but with an emphasis on attitudes rather than the outward appearances that the Pharisees focused on (John 7:24). Parables also have an emotional impact that makes them more meaningful and memorable to those who are soft of heart. At the same time, the parables of Jesus often times remained a mystery to those with a hardened heart because parables require the listeners to be self-critical and put themselves in the appropriate place in the story. The result was that the Pharisees would “be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving” (Isaiah 6:9; Psalm 78:2; Matthew 13:35).

By using parables, the teaching of Jesus remains timeless despite most changes in culture, time, and technology. For example, these two parables convey commonly understood concepts like grace, gentleness, concern, pride and others, all of which we can be understood by us, even though the story is over two thousand years old. In Jewish culture character traits are often described in relation to objects that are universally recognized like the regularity of the sun or the refreshing nature of rain (Hosea 6:3). This also explains why poetry is the most common mode of language used in the Bible. In the case of parables specifically, the elements mentioned in them are usually representations of something else, just as in an allegory. However, an overemphasis on a particular detail in a parable tends to lead to interpretive errors. Repetitions, patterns, or changes will often help us in identifying when we should focus on a particular detail.

Why Jesus taught these parables Let us look at the particular details of these parables. The situation in which Jesus is speaking can be seen in v. 1–2. “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’ ” (NIV). Notice that the Pharisees did not complain that Jesus is teaching sinners. Since the Pharisees thought themselves to be righteous teachers of the law and all others to be wicked, they could not condemn His preaching to “sinners,” but they thought it was inconsistent with the dignity of someone so knowledgeable in the Scriptures to “eat with them.” The presupposition behind the statement of the Pharisees, “this man welcomes sinners,” is what Jesus addresses in all three parables.

To understand the significance of the opening statement in chapter 15, we must consider that the Jewish culture is a shame/honor-driven society that used shame/honor in a way that developed a sort of caste system. Virtually everything that is done in Jewish culture brings either shame or honor. The primary motivation for what and how things are done is based on seeking honor for oneself and avoiding shame. This was the central and all-consuming preoccupation of all Jewish interaction.

In the first parable, Jesus invites His listeners to place themselves into the story with, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep.” In doing this Jesus is appealing to their intuitive reasoning and life experiences. As the story completes, the Pharisees in their pride refuse to see themselves as shameful “sinners,” but eagerly take the honoring label of being “righteous.” However, by the implication of their own pride, they place themselves in the position of being the less significant group of ninety-nine: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” There may be a bit of sarcasm in the reference to the Pharisees “who do not need to repent” (see Romans 3:23).

In the “lost coin” parable, the ten silver coins refers to a piece of jewelry with ten silver coins on it worn by brides. This was the equivalent of a wedding ring in modern times.

Upon careful examination of the parables, we can see that Jesus was turning His listeners’ understanding of things upside down. The Pharisees saw themselves as being the beloved of God and the “sinners” as refuse. Jesus uses the Pharisees’ prejudices against them, while encouraging the sinners with one clear message. That message is this: God has a tender, personal concern (“and when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders,” v. 5). God has a joyous love for individuals who are lost (in sin) and are found (repent). Jesus makes it clear that the Pharisees, who thought they were close to God, were actually distant and those sinners and tax collectors were the ones God was seeking after. We see this same message in 18:9–14. There, Jesus is teaching on attitudes of prayer, but the problem he is addressing is the same as in chapter 15. In 18:14 Jesus provides the conclusion for us: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Patterns of progression in the parables By identifying things in common in the parables, we can gain context to help us understand the significance of otherwise subtle elements in the story. As the old saying goes, “Proper context covers a multitude of interpretive errors.” 1) The progression of value: in the first parable a sheep is lost, then a silver coin in the next, followed by a son in the third. As mentioned before, part of the power of these parables to reach the audience comes from the shame/honor aspect of their culture. To lose a sheep as a shepherd would be a very shameful thing, a coin from a piece of bridal jewelry lost in her own house would be more shameful, followed by the lost son, which was the worst of all in Jewish culture. 2) The personal progression from seeking after only 1 of 100 sheep, then 1 of 10 coins, then 1 of 2 sons. This shows the scope of God’s personal concern for individuals and would have been of great comfort to the “sinners” Jesus was teaching. 3) A change in tense in each parable regarding the rejoicing at that which was found, from future tense, to present, and then to past tense: “will be more joy” to “there is joy” and finally “had to be.” This may have communicated the certainty of God’s acceptance of those who repent. 4) The progression of earthly references to what the thing was lost in (a subtle reference to sin). The sheep was lost in open fields, the coin was lost in the dirt that was swept up, and son was in the mud of a pigsty before coming to his senses. 5) The relational power of each parable: Poor men and young boys would have related best to the shepherd and the lost sheep. Women would have related best to the lost bridal coin. The last parable dealt with everyone present by dealing with the relationship of a father and son.

Patterns of Consistency in the parables 1) The main character possesses something valuable and does not want to lose it. 2) The main character rejoices in the finding of the lost thing, but does not rejoice alone. 3) The main character (God) expresses care in either the looking or the handling of that which was lost. 4) Each thing that was lost has a personal value, not just a monetary value: shepherds care for their sheep, women cherish their bridal jewelry, and a father loves his son.

Incidentally, this first illustration of the shepherd caring the sheep on his shoulders was the original figure used to identify Christians before people began identifying Christianity with crosses. In these parables Jesus paints with words a beautiful picture of God’s grace in His desire to see the lost return to Him. Men seek honor and avoid shame; God seeks to glorify Himself through us His sheep, His sons and daughters. Despite having ninety-nine other sheep, despite the sinful rebellion of His lost sheep, God joyfully receives it back, just as He does when we repent and return to Him.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price?

 

Jesus had just finished explaining to the disciples the meaning of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, and these two short parables are a continuance of His discussion of the “kingdom of heaven.” He expressed truths about the kingdom in three pairs of parables in Matthew 13: the seed and the sower (vv. 3–23) and the weeds in the field (vv. 24–30); the mustard seed (vv. 31–32) and the leaven (v. 33); and the hidden treasure (v. 44) and the pearl of great price (vv. 45–46).

The similarities of these two short parables make it clear they teach the same lesson—the kingdom of heaven is of inestimable value. Both parables involve a man who sold all he had to possess the kingdom. The treasure and the pearl represent Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers. And while we cannot pay for salvation by selling all our worldly goods, once we have found the prize, we are willing to give up everything to possess it. But what is attained in exchange is so much more valuable that it is comparable to trading an ounce of trash for a ton of diamonds (Philippians 3:7–9).

In both parables, the treasures are hidden, indicating that spiritual truth is missed by many and cannot be found by intelligence or power or worldly wisdom. Matthew 13:11–17 and 1 Corinthians 2:7–8, 14 make it clear that the mysteries of the kingdom are hidden from some who are unable to hear, see, and comprehend these truths. The disobedient reap the natural consequences of their unbelief—spiritual blindness. Those whose eyes are opened by the Spirit do discern spiritual truth, and they, like the men in the parable, understand its great value.

Notice that the merchant stopped seeking pearls when he found the pearl of great price. Eternal life, the incorruptible inheritance, and the love of God through Christ constitute the pearl which, once found, makes further searching unnecessary. Christ fulfills our greatest needs, satisfies our longings, makes us whole and clean before God, calms and quiets our hearts, and gives us hope for the future. The “great price,” of course, is that which was paid by Christ for our redemption. He emptied Himself of His glory, came to earth in the form of a lowly man and shed His precious blood on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parables of Fasting at the Wedding Feast, the Old Cloth, and the Wineskins?

 

These parables, found in Mark 2:18–22, begin with a statement that the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were fasting. The twice-weekly fast was a tradition adopted by the legalistic Pharisees at the time, even though the Mosaic Law prescribed only one fast on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31). Some people came to Jesus and asked Him why His disciples did not fast like the Pharisees and those of John’s disciples who had remained loyal to the Pharisaic traditions. Jesus’ response is given in three short parables.

The first one is a parable of a bridegroom with his groomsmen at a wedding feast. Jesus’ point is that fasting during the wedding feast is pointless. In this story Jesus is the Bridegroom, and while He is present in this world, it is a time of celebration because He is the fulfillment of their Messianic prophecies. Jesus Himself said that He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). To continue fasting with Jesus present is akin to fasting and being mournful during a wedding celebration in which the groom is present.

The other two parables, which are similar, make the same point. The first one says you don’t put a new patch on an old garment, and the second says you don’t put new wine into an old wineskin. In the first parable, if you put a new patch on an old garment, when the new patch shrinks due to washing, it will tear away from the older garment, making the tear worse. Similarly, new wine needs a new wineskin because as the new wine expands during the fermentation process, it stretches the wineskin. An old wineskin will burst under the pressure of new wine.

These two parables illustrate the fact that you can’t mix old religious rituals with new faith in Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were not fasting along with the Pharisees and John’s disciples because they were now under the new covenant of grace and faith in Christ. As mentioned earlier, Jesus fulfilled the law; therefore, there is no longer any need to continue with the old rituals. Jesus cannot be added to a works-based religion. In the case of the Pharisees, they were consumed with their own self-righteousness, and faith in Jesus cannot be combined with self-righteous rituals.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.