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It is almost impossible to keep our own ideas about God from coloring our understanding of God. Our expectations about who God is and what he is doing in the world greatly influence how we respond to him.
Even when people personally encountered Jesus, their expectations and cherished beliefs were difficult to overcome. One of the reasons why Jesus told parables was to disarm his listeners, so they would be better able to hear him and respond.
First Century Expectations
What did Jesus’ contemporaries expect to happen when the Messiah ushered in the kingdom of God? There were three common beliefs about what would happen.
(1) When the Messiah comes, the Romans and all other Gentile oppressors will go.
(2) The Messiah will drive out sinners and gather a holy people who will be intolerant of unrighteous people.
(3) People like John the Baptist believed that at his coming the Messiah would exercise judgment on evil.
Because Jesus did not fulfill the expectations of the people, they didn’t know how to react to what he did and said.
Some were confused like John the Baptist. While he was in prison, he sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11.3).
Others, like the religious authorities, openly opposed Jesus. He was by no means the kind of Messiah that they expected.
Even Jesus’ close followers needed continual direction by Jesus. Jesus had to correct and rebuke the disciples on a regular basis, in part because of ingrained beliefs and attitudes.
Change Your Mind
Jesus used parables to “sneak up” on his listeners. They got caught up in his stories and before they knew it, their expectations and preconceived notions were challenged.
When Jesus told the parable of the Weeds and the Wheat, he challenged the existing cherished beliefs in Israel and re-directed the energy of his followers.
He was the Messiah and had inaugurated the kingdom of God. Yet, the expected results were so small that people wondered if he were truly the Messiah. In addition, many religious authorities strongly opposed him.
The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat
Jesus answered the questions and objections about his ministry with this parable. It is found in Matthew 13. We will consider the parable in sections with short explanations.
— Verses 24-26 – “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.”
Jesus answered the expectation that God’s kingdom would drive out evil. Evil and good exist side-by-side in the parable.
— Verse 27 – “And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?'”
In the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13.1-23) the problem is with the response to the ministry and message of Jesus. In the parable of the Weeds and Wheat the servants have done what was required of them.
— Verse 28 – “He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
“The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?'”
Human lack of response to the good news is the point of the parable of the Sower. A new dimension of opposition is added with this parable. An enemy has been active causing trouble.
— Verses 29-30 – “But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
The kind of weeds that were sown among the wheat had a very close resemblance to the wheat. The weeds were poisonous and would ruin the wheat, if not removed.
The removal of the weeds was such a difficult process that Roman law prohibited sowing this kind of weed in another person’s field.
There are only a few parables that receive an interpretation. Both the parable of the Sower and this one receive an interpretation from Jesus. Jesus addressed cherished beliefs and expectations about the Messiah and God’s kingdom with these words.
As before, I will divide Jesus’ words into sections and make comments along the way.
— Verse 36 – Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”
The parables are not always easy to understand. Even people who spent time with Jesus on a daily basis needed explanation.
A good practice for us is to ask Jesus to help us understand the Bible when we read it.
— Verses 37-39 – He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”
This is an answer to the question that Jesus’ followers and critics alike asked: “Since the Messiah has come and the kingdom of God is here, why don’t we see more evidence?”
Instead of pushing out Rome, Gentiles, and unrighteous people, God allows both to exist in the same world.
Jesus made it clear that there is an evil one, who is called the devil. Jesus recognized the presence of the devil and we must be aware of his presence and influence, too.
— Verses 40-42 – “Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Judgment is a reality. Jesus often spoke of judgment and we should assume that God is both just and will judge wrongdoing.
If the cross of Christ is a solution to the sin problem of humans, then our problem is real and must be taken seriously.
— Verse 43 – “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
The righteous are people who follow Jesus’ instruction and example. They seek to live a Jesus-kind-of-life. Instead of judgment, they will experience the joy of God’s eternal kingdom.
Jesus underscored the importance of this parable with the words, “Let anyone with ears listen!” Listening in the Bible always included obeying.
This study is far more than a history lesson that deals with first century issues. It has an important message for today.
(1) Encouragement – Like the parable of the Growing Seed, this parable reminds us that God is active in history and achieving his plans and purposes for humans.
(2) Expectations – It is important that we hold our expectations “lightly” in our hands.
In so far as possible, we need to subject our cherished beliefs to the scrutiny of the life and teaching of Jesus. This requires a humble and prayerful study of the Bible. We seek his message and attempt to refrain from confusing his message with our ideas.
(3) Identity – We find our identity in Jesus, his life and his message. We align our lives with him and refuse the seduction of evil. As we do this, we are confident of being among the “righteous” who enjoy the kingdom of the Father.
About This Blog
Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, “Stories With Intent.” His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.