So we’ve seen that the kingdom of heaven is like a seed sower in a wheat field. Before Jesus explains this, He tells two more parables – that of the mustard seed and that of the yeast. This should give us a clue that perhaps we should consider what we’ve learned about the kingdom of heaven in those parables to inform the content of Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Also of note is that Jesus does not explain every parable He tells – in fact, there’s only one other time He does so: that of the parable of the sower, which is how all this parable telling in Matthew 13 begins. Interestingly, though the other parable Jesus explains is called the parable of the wheat and the weeds, it, too, focuses on a seed sower. Something about sewing – planting, tending, waiting – is central to the kingdom of heaven.
First, the immediate context of the second explanation: Jesus has left the boat where He had been preaching this whole time and goes into a house. This seems to indicate that He was planning on being finished at this point but His disciples ask for an explanation, just as they had earlier in the chapter. Jesus gives a willing but sort of scary elucidation: basically, those who are planted by God will become righteous but those who are planted by the devil will be thrown into the lake of fire. This is a tricky passage to interpret – it’s where some get the idea of eternal, conscious torment called hell. While Jesus’ words do paint a picture of pain and terror, I don’t see anything in His explanation that would lead us to conclude that such weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42) is forever. While I believe Jesus intends to warn us of dire consequences of our actions with His words here (“let anyone with ears hear” – Matthew 13:43), we must remember two things: 1) we’ve been saying all along that God’s word does not return to God void because of *God’s* actions, not any striving on our part and 2) we must also be careful not to build an entire theology – especially one about the eschaton – on a single passage of Scripture. We must hold this passage in tension with other passages in Scripture, for example, verses like 1 Timothy 2:4: “God our Savior…desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Another common misconception can be cleared up here. This notion of The Rapture, that all God’s people will be gathered to God away from the earth at the end of the age is popular and can lead to a disregard both for our world and for our actions within it. But here, Jesus explains that it is the children of the evil one that will be gathered up out of the kingdom of heaven and be thrown into the furnace. The growth from the good seed will be left. This is good news! After all this growing up among thorns, enemies and adversity, the growth of the good seed will not go to waste. What we do here matters and will be preserved.
Finally, what we have learned about seeds from previous parables is helpful here. We’ve seen that one (among many) interpretation of these seeds is that they are the words of the kingdom. While not all seeds in Jesus’ explanation are the words of the kingdom of heaven (some are of the evil one), might we use this schema of interpretation to propose that the “seeds” here are the works of either light or darkness, that the good seed are “children” in the sense of fruit, or works of the kingdom of God and the bad seed/children are works of the evil one? Just as yeast works in bread dough to make it rise, so good things come from good seeds and bad things come from bad seeds. This is not to the exclusion of other (more literal) interpretations of course, but if we think of the “children” in Jesus’ explanation as “works” or “fruit,” then how glorious a day it will be when all the works wrought by the enemy of our souls are plucked out of the kingdom of God to be burned away forever, making way for the works/fruits – and children – of God to shine in the righteousness of all that God has done.