Before I dive into Jesus’ interpretation of the parable of the weeds, I want to introduce a concept that rumbles underneath the context. What I am referring to is a big word called eschatology, which means the study of the end times or last things. It is my contention that Jesus touches upon this subject with respect to his parable of the weeds and its counterpart called the parable of the dragnet. Both of these parables present the end times in very broad strokes, which is another way of saying that they depict the big picture view of eschatology. Later on in Matthew’s gospel, the writer presents Jesus’ most detailed account of the end times known as the Olivet Discourse. Here is the main point. Jesus uses the parables of the weeds and the dragnet to demonstrate his Messianic role in carrying out the last things. I will not cover the dragnet parable until later on in the series. The following is Matthew’s account of Christ’s interpretation of the parable of the weeds:
“Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons 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. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear'” (Matt. 13:36-43, ESV).
Right away, there is one obvious observation to make about the parable of the weeds. Jesus interprets it for the disciples in response to their question. There is something valuable about asking questions. The following modern-day expression describes the disciples: “The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.” I do not know for certain if a similar saying existed in First Century Israel. Regardless, the disciples overcame any misgivings about asking the Lord to explain the parable of the weeds. The principle is a basic one. If I do not understand a concept or a lesson, then I need to speak up. If I remain silent about it, this does not remove my responsibility for correctly understanding and applying the lesson. I think the disciples understood this principle or something like it.
Moving on to the passage…it is even clearer in Jesus’ interpretation of the parable of the weeds that the final judgment is in view. According to the Lord, the Son of Man orchestrates this glorious and dreadful day. The Jewish people in Jesus’ day had some idea about the Son of Man. In fact, the religious leaders knew that this title referred to the Messiah and his coming to set up his kingdom on the earth. This remained their expectation and even the disciples right up through Christ’s ascension (Luke 17:20-21 and Acts 1:6, ESV). Where did they get these ideas? When Jesus taught these parables, the Old Testament was the only bible in existence. There was no New Testament. Christ taught from the Old Testament scriptures and constantly demonstrated how they reflected his real identity (John 5:39, ESV).
What this means is that Jesus draws from the Old Testament as he interprets the parable of the weeds. The title of Son of Man occurs in two prophetic books of the Old Testament: Ezekiel and Daniel. The former book speaks to the sufferings of the Son of Man during his first coming. It is in Daniel chapter seven where the prophet depicts the Son of Man and his Messianic kingdom overthrowing the kingdoms of the world (Daniel 7:13-14, ESV). Jesus knows this section of Old Testament prophecy and references it precisely because of its content and theme. Both of these fit well with the parable of the weeds. Now, the apostle John expands upon Daniel’s vision in the book of Revelation, specifically in chapter nineteen. It is here that the apostle illustrates the Messiah’s second coming and his crushing defeat of the Beast, the False Prophet and their armies.
It is important to realize that the Messiah brings in the fullness of his kingdom at his second advent. This lies in the background of the parable of the weeds, which rests in part on Daniel’s Messianic prophecy found in the seventh chapter. The other important point to realize is that the present, spiritual kingdom inaugurates the Messiah’s reign and subsequent separation of the just and the unjust. Even if the distinction between the two is not always apparent, the coming of the Son of Man will show the greatness of the disparity between the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV). The former face a glorious future where they will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Daniel 12:3 and Matt. 13:43, ESV). The latter are on a collision course to spend eternity in the fiery furnace where there is wheeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42, ESV).
Jesus uses the image of the fiery furnace to stand in for the lake of fire. The latter comes from the book of Revelation, which depicts the final end of the wicked (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14-15, ESV). Both the fiery furnace and the lake of fire are metaphors for hell. It is an unpleasant subject to bring up. Some today attempt to redefine the nature of hell in order to lessen its sheer unpleasantness. I think that is immoral on the part of those teachers and ministers in the church. Hell should unsettle me. It should be unpleasant because that is what it is at the core. There is something downright dreadful about being cast off by God for eternity. This is what awaits anyone who rejects Christ and his word. Here is the hope: until the Son of Man returns a second time, today is the day of salvation.