What end time event is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares depicting? If its the Return of Jesus it certainly seems to negate the Rapture (as we know it). The other possibility is that it pictures the Sheep and Goat Judgment. With so much at stake, we have to have a very good understanding of what Jesus was teaching in this Parable. We need an answer to the question: “Wheat and the Tares when does it happen?”
The Two Possible Solutions
This controversy was mentioned in a recent comment on another article which prompted this follow-up. Let’s take a look at the two possible understandings of this Parable. The first is that it represents events that occur at the Physical Second Coming of Jesus on the last day of the 70th Week of Daniel. If this is true it seems to negate a traditional Rapture of the Church as the unrighteous are “taken” first. In this view, all the scriptures listed are seen to occur on this last day.
The Second View includes a Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church at the end of the sixth year of the 70th Week. In this view, the events portrayed by these scriptures are seen to occur at different times; and the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is seen to take place after the Physical Return of Jesus at the Sheep and Goat Judgment. This understanding permits a more traditional understanding of “taken” and “left” in Luke 17 and Matt. 24; the more sensible understanding that the righteous are taken to “safety” and the unrighteous “left” to judgment.
We will return to these graphics at the end of the article to see which one makes the most sense Biblically. First, we’ll take a detailed look at the Parable itself.
Parable of the Wheat and the Tares
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares is familiar to many, but let’s examine it verse by verse:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. (Matt. 13: 24-26)
This parable immediately follows Jesus’s Parable of the Sower in Matt. 13:1-23 so much of the symbolism is the same and it’s explained by Jesus himself:
He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. (Matt. 13: 37-38)
In Greek the word translated “tares” is ZIZANIUM which is a specific “spurious wheat.” A plant that looks like wheat but is worthless. So Jesus is telling us that in the world there will righteous and those that look just like the righteous, but are evil. Now most commentators throughout history have assumed that the Wheat is the Church of Jesus Christ. I think we need to carefully reserve that judgment. Jesus tells us they are “sons of the Kingdom.” Let us leave it at Jesus’s word for now. We will return to explain this more fully at the end of the article.
So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matt. 13: 27-30)
Jesus explains the symbols in this part of the parable as well.
The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. (Matt. 13: 39)
Jesus continues to explain the parable for us:
Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Matt. 13:40-43)
This mirrors John the Baptist’s teaching almost exactly:
His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matt. 3:12)
There can be little debate as to the meaning of the Parable. Jesus has not left that for us; he has clearly defined it. Let’s review the pertinent facts:
- This takes place at the time of the harvest; the end of the age
- The angels first gather the unrighteous
- They are gathered out of Jesus’s Kingdom (Jesus is reigning)
- They are burned with fire
- The righteous are then gathered into Jesus’s “barn.”
Wheat and the Tares When Does it Happen?
Now we have assembled the facts lets begin to dig into scripture to solve this mystery. First let’s look at the words used in the Parable. Perhaps if we let “scripture interpret scripture” we will solve this mystery.
The words that jumped out at me in the Parable were the words “gather together” in Matt. 13:30. These are famous “rapture” words. They are found in these other famous Rapture and Deliverance verses.
For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Matt. 24:28)
And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt. 24:31)
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him. (2 Thess. 2:1)
What more evidence does one need I originally thought. This word is a tell-tale marker for the Rapture and the final gathering of the righteous; and there it is in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. But then the mystery deepened. The Greek word used in the four famous Rapture verses above is EPISUNAGO. The word used in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares is SULLEGO. They are two similar, but different Greek words. The prefix “EPI” in the first word intensifies the word and denotes a very specific purpose in the gathering (the purpose is deliverance of the saints). The second word denotes a simple assembling. I then looked at all the uses of SULLEGO in the New Testament. It is always translated as a simple gathering. Other than the KJV or NKJV, all other major translations also only translate this word as “gather.” Only in the KJV and NKJV and only in this one instance is it translated “gather together;” in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.
Can we safely say the translator of the KJV and NKJV that I used for this study had a bias? Maybe. It appears he/she believed this parable was about the Return of Jesus and the Rapture and inserted “gather together” into the English translation even though it isn’t justified. Just a short while ago, a reader chastised me for criticizing traditional Bible translations and interpretations rather than trusting all of them implicitly. This is why I don’t! Translators can have a bias, even the NKJV and the KJV. We need to be very careful about English translations alone.
Now that we have seen the Rapture/Return of Jesus verses use the stronger EPISUNAGO, I thought what about our other possible candidate event, The Sheep and Goat Judgment. Does it include a word for “gather?” It does!
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. (Matt. 25: 31-32)
This is the simple usage of “gather” without the EPI prefix. The grammar that I thought would originally favor a Rapture/Return of Jesus application actually favors the Sheep and Goat Judgment.
Time of the Harvest
We know the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares takes place at the time of the harvest. Most people believe the Harvest occurs at the return of Jesus and I agree. The article HOW MANY RESURRECTIONS ARE THERE? discusses this in great depth. Thus upon superficial reading, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares seem to imply an application on the Return of Jesus. However there is a difference between the “return of Jesus” (the Rapture) and the physical Second Coming. This is where so many are mistaken. Revelation shows the Harvest at the end of the age to be more complex than a one day event:
When I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped. (Rev. 14:14-16)
The son of man coming on the clouds can be none other than Jesus; and the reference to the harvest and harvest symbolism is unmistakable. But then there is a second step to the harvest:
And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles. (Rev. 14:17-20)
For those who believe the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares pictures the physical Second Coming and make a big deal about the Tares (the unrighteous) being harvested first, this passage creates an enormous problem. The order of harvesting is exactly opposite that of the Parable. The righteous are harvested first by Jesus coming on the clouds and only then are the unrighteous harvested. Obviously then these passages must picture two separate events! If the order of events is opposite, the two events cannot be the same.
Let’s look at the graphic I provided at the beginning of the article and find out where these passages occur:
I propose that the Harvest that pictures Jesus coming on the white cloud in Rev. 14:14-16 is the Rapture of the Church and occurs at the end of the sixth year of the 70th Week. This is followed immediately by the Wrath of God which is poured out on the earth. I propose the second half of the harvest (that of the unrighteous) pictured in Rev. 14:17-20 is this Wrath of God. A second set of scriptures will confirm this. The reference to the Wine Press of God in Rev. 14: 17-20 comes from Isaiah:
Who is this who comes from Edom, with garments of glowing colors from Bozrah; this One who is majestic in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength? “It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” (It is Jesus) Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? “I have trodden the wine trough alone, and from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath; their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, and I stained all My raiment. “For the day of vengeance was in My heart, and My year of redemption has come. . . And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
This is an incredible passage for many reasons. For purposes of this article it provides timing clues. First, of course is the direct reference to the wine press and pouring out of blood upon the ground (from Rev. 14). Second notice this clearly refers to God’s Wrath. Third, notice it clearly gives the time of this period as a DAY and a YEAR. So Jesus treads the wine press of his Wrath for one year, just as our graphic represents.
Those reading who are desperately trying to hang on to a Post-Tribulation Rapture or No-Rapture position might be arguing that this passage in Isaiah depicts the physical Second Coming. “See (they might say), Jesus is marching from Edom and Bozrah, he is upon the earth.” Yes, that is true. The first verse involves the events upon the physical return of Jesus, BUT, the treading of the wine press happens earlier. Jesus’s stained garment proves this. Let me show you how:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. (Rev. 19:11-13)
Nearly all commentators agree that this passage depicts Jesus just prior to his physical Second Coming. But notice something interesting that is missed by almost all: his garments are already dipped in blood! This is not something that happens upon the earth after his physical Second Coming, but something that happens before it during the one year, ten day Wrath of God. So in Isaiah 63:1 when Jesus is marching from Edom in garments dipped in blood, they didn’t get stained in Edom, they already were stained. This is an enormously important prophecy insight!
If you are interested in hundreds of more insights just like this one, be sure to pick up a copy of Revelation Deciphered when it is available in the fall or winter of 2016.
Wheat and Tares and Sheep and Goats
So I propose the Wheat and Tares judgment is the same as the Sheep and Goat Judgment. Let’s look at them both and see how the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares tracks with it.
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left… The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire” (Matt. 25:31-33,40-41)
The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matt. 13: 41-43)
A comparison chart follows:
|Wheat and Tares||Sheep and Goats|
|Son of Man and angels Matt. 13:37-39||Son of Man and angels Matt. 25:31|
|Works Judgment not based on faith Matt. 13:41||Works Judgment not based on faith Matt. 25:40|
|Righteous and Unrighteous are “gathered” Matt. 13:30||Righteous and Unrighteous are “gathered” Matt. 25:32|
|Wicked thrown into fire Matt. 13:42||Wicked thrown into fire Matt. 25:41|
Of greatest significance in this comparison is that the judgment that occurs is a WORKS judgment not one based on faith! We all know that only faith in our Messiah Jesus can save and that this judgment is applied to those that have DIED. Only those written in the Book of Life are saved. Here the Book of Life is NOT used. Thus this judgment is on LIVING survivors of the 70th Week. After the 70th Week of Daniel there will be a limited number of human survivors, Wheat or Sheep (like the Jewish Remnant) and Tares or Goats (unrighteous). Jesus will send his angels to gather them all and he will judge them based on WORKS; specifically how they treated the Jews and Christians during the 70th Week (the least of these my brothers). Those that treated them well are deemed worthy to enter the Millennial Kingdom and become “sons of the Kingdom (Matt. 13:38).” These “sons of the kingdom” are survivors of the 70th Week who are allowed to enter the Kingdom, they are not the Church of Jesus Christ, IMO. Eventually even some of these “sons of the Kingdom” are tempted by Satan when he is loosed after the 1000 years and rebel. There is still sin in the Millennial Kingdom. Only after the Kingdom is sin completely purged.
One Final Thought
For those who are still persisting in believing that the Wheat and Tares represents the physical Second Coming of Jesus, let’s look at one more inconsistency.
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Rev. 19:20-21)
Here we learn that upon the physical Second Coming of Jesus, the Beast and False Prophet are thrown into the fire but not the “rest.” They are killed with the sword that comes out of the mouth of the Messiah. However in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares AND the Sheep and Goat Judgment, the “rest” of the unrighteous are thrown into the fire. Rev. 19 makes the specific point that the unrighteous are killed differently upon the physical Second Coming.
“Taken and Left”
The theory that the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares occurs upon the return of Jesus has spawned additional thinking of what Jesus meant by “taken” and “left” in Luke 17 and Matt. 24. Now that we know that the Parable does not occur at the return of Jesus but at a later Sheep and Goat Judgment, we can see what in my opinion is the proper meaning of “taken.” That it means the righteous taken to safety. This is further proved by Luke 17:
Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. . . I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left. (Luke 17:27-30, 34-36)
The meaning here could not be more clear. Noah “entered the Ark” and was taken away to safety and Lot “went out” and was taken to safety. In both instances the unrighteous were “left behind” to suffer the Wrath of God. A mistaken timing of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares had confused this understanding among some in the Church, but now this newer understanding restores the meaning of “taken” and “left.”
I realize this has been another challenging and complex analysis of scripture, but I hope it clears up a massive misconception that has plagued the Church for generations.