In the previous article of this series it was explained that Jesus gave his teachings in parables so that only those being called into God’s kingdom would have the keys to understand the meaning of the parables. Their true meaning would be veiled to those not being called at this time. ‘And the disciples came, and said unto him, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” He answered and said unto them, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.”’ (Matthew 13:10–13). After Jesus had spoken the Kingdom Parables and dismissed the crowds, his disciples asked him about the meaning of the parables. This article will explore the meaning of the two parables that Jesus explained and reveal the decoding keys that help to unlock the meaning of the other parables.
The Parable of the Soils
Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. (Mark 4:3–8)
The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. (Mark 4:14–20)
The explanation that Jesus gave to his disciples shows us that not all who receive the words of life act upon it and grow to maturity. Some people don’t understand the message and Satan is able to lure them back to his way. Some people have no foundation and fail at the first trial, or the cares of this life cause them to neglect their calling. Only a few become fruitful, with some being more fruitful than others.
The sower is he who preaches the word of God and as Matthew’s account adds, the seed is ‘the word of the kingdom’ (Matthew 13:19). The types of ground upon which the seeds fall is symbolic of the character of the people who hear the message. The gospel message that Jesus taught, along with his disciples after him, is the good news of the kingdom of God. It is the message of the saving work of Jesus Christ and his promised return to establish the kingdom of God over the face the of the whole earth. The sower in this parable is symbolic of Jesus and, by extension, his servants who spread the gospel message.
The wayside is not usually the intended target for seed, but will sometimes fall there as a result of seed being scattered over a field. It is a place that is not fertile ground, which symbolises a person who lacks understanding. Being on the wayside, the seed can be easily trampled and crushed, which is brought out in Luke’s account (Luke 8:5). The birds of the air are symbolic of Satan an his demons who snatch away whatever truth that person had heard.
The stony place is symbolic of a person who has no depth of foundation. They sprout up with initial joy, but when their faith is challenged, they fall away. The heat of the sun is symbolic of trials and tribulation (cf. 1 Peter 4:12). Luke’s account adds that they withered away because of lack of moisture (Luke 8:6).
The thorns are symbolic of things that get in the way of spiritual growth. Being overly concerned about things of this life can stifle a person’s relationship with God. Jesus taught that we should seek the kingdom of God first in our lives and that all other matters of our physical lives would be taken care of (Matthew 6:31-34). Neglecting our calling and being immersed in the cares or pleasures of this world, will prevent us from developing spiritually.
The good ground is symbolic of those who receive the word and have the right character to allow them to grow up spiritually and become fruitful. When God gives us the Holy Spirit, he expects a return on his investment. This is illustrated in the parable of the talents (Luke 19:12-27). What we do with that which God has given us determines how profitable a servant we are. While we all receive the same gift of eternal life, as illustrated in the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16), we do not all receive the same rewards.
Summary of the symbols:
- Sower = Preacher of the word (Jesus and his ministers)
- Seed = The word of God’s kingdom
- Wayside = Character lacking in understanding
- Fowls of the air = Satan and the demons
- Stoney place = Character lacking a proper foundation and nourishment
- Heat of the sun = Affliction and persecution
- Thorns = Cares of this world, deceitfulness of riches, and lusts of the flesh
- Good ground = Character with the right conditions for spiritual growth
- Fruit = The products or achievements of a person’s life
Parable of the Wheat and Tares
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which 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 blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? ”But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24–30)
Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, “Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field”. He answered and said unto them, “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36–43)
This is the second parable for which Jesus gave an explanation of its meaning to his disciples. It provides us with more keys to decode the symbols of the other parables. As with the previous parable, the sower is Jesus Christ, who refers to himself as the Son of Man. The field is symbolic of the world. The goods seeds sprout wheat, picturing God’s people and the bad seeds sprout tares, picturing the wicked. The servants of the field owner are God’s ministers, who slept while Satan placed wicked men amongst the community of the righteous. The ministers were caught off guard because they were not alert spiritually, which gave Satan time to infiltrate the church. This infiltration began to happen as early as the first century, even while the apostles were still alive. ‘For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way’ (2 Thessalonians 2:7). By the end of the third century the Christian church was almost unrecognisable in comparison with the church Jesus founded. Wicked men rose up to take prominent roles in the church and changed the true doctrines to those borrowed from paganism.
Wherever God’s people are it seems Satan is able to get in their midst. If all the wicked were to be purged from God’s kingdom now, there would be such disruption that some of God’s people could be destroyed as well. Because the tares look very similar to the wheat, God’s ministers would have difficulty discerning the righteous from the wicked. Sometimes those who appear righteous on the outside are actually those under Satan’s power. ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’ (Matthew 7:15). God has allowed the wicked to be in the midst of the righteous until the time of the end when he will send out his angels (pictured by the reapers) to divide the righteous from the wicked. ‘And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.’ (Matthew 24:31). ‘And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, “Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.’ (Revelation 14:15–16). The righteous will be with God but the wicked will perish in the second death (pictured by the furnace). This is also illustrated in the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) where there are some wicked that appear amongst the righteous as they are gathered into God’s kingdom, but at the end of the age the angels will remove the wicked and cast them into the furnace of fire. ‘But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.’ (Revelation 21:8).
Summary of the symbols:
- Sower/ Owner of the field = Jesus Christ (the Son of Man)
- Field = The world
- Good seed/ wheat = The righteous (sons of the kingdom)
- Bad seed/ tares = The wicked (sons of the wicked one – Satan)
- Enemy = Satan the devil
- Servants = God’s ministers
- Harvest = The end of the age
- Reapers = The angels of God
- Burning of the tares = The destruction of the wicked in the Lake of Fire
- Furnace of fire = The Lake of Fire (the second death)
- Gathering of wheat = The resurrection of the righteous to be in God’s presence
This article has explored the meaning of the two parables which Jesus spoke to the multitude and then explained privately to his disciples. Through those explanations it is possible to establish the meaning of the various symbols used. The next article will look at four of the other parables and apply the same symbolic definitions contained elsewhere in the Scriptures in order to establish their meaning. The results may be surprising to some and quite different from the traditional way you have heard them explained.