The Parables of Jesus - Lesson 10

By John Harrison

Parable of the Weeds and Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43)

Objectives: By the end of this lesson the learner will be able to:

  1. Explain important background information that will improve the readers' understanding of the parable.
  2. Pinpoint important and often overlooked aspects of Jesus' interpretation of the parable of the weeds and wheat.
  3. Identify the major lessons conveyed allegorically by the main characters.
  4. Assess applications of the major lessons to contemporary situations. O/H 1

Teaching Aids and Materials:

  1. Easy to understand Bibles for every student (CEV, RSV, NAV, NIV, NRSV, etc.)
  2. A chalkboard, marker board, or overhead projector.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 8-10 minutes)

  1. Begin class by welcoming members and any visitors; make all necessary class announcements; songs.
  2. Lead the class in a prayer that will include asking God to help them to resist the temptation to harm those who do evil.
  3. Q: Who would like to share three Biblical reasons why we should forgive those who are repentant of wronging us? (Allow 2-3 learners to respond.)
  4. Q: Do you know of any situations where Christians have tried to justify violently attacking others? (allow about 3 learners to respond)
  5. Share with the learners the lesson objectives. O/H 1
  6. Have someone read only Matthew 13:24-30. Matthew 13:37- 43, Jesus' interpretation, will be read later.

Learning Experiences: (about 20-25 minutes)

Part I: Background information for understanding the parable

This parable occurs only in the Gospel of Matthew. It is one of the few parables to which Jesus gives his own interpretation (other parables are the Sower, the Dragnet and Final Judgment). Explain to the learners that the Greek word that is used for "weeds" or "tares" (zizania) points to a plant that caused a great deal of difficulty for first century wheat farmers. It looks so similar to wheat that if it was harvested alongside the wheat and then processed into flour, the flour would be spoiled. Q: What are the slaves first perplexed about? A: They can't understand how if good seeds were planted weeds got in. Draw the learners' attention to the fact that how the weeds got in the field is an important truth that Jesus wants to convey. It doesn't necessarily take something as severe as an intentional sabotage for these types of weeds to end up in a wheat field. The seeds could have blown into the field or they could have accidentally gotten mixed into a bag of wheat seeds. Mentioning how the weeds got in the field, however, as we will see in Jesus' explanation, helps Jesus illustrate his answer to a very common question. Q: Who does the farmer want to separate the weeds from the wheat and why? A: The farmer will employ reapers to do it for two reasons. 1. They are knowledgeable enough to discern the subtle differences between the two. 2. The weeds' roots are probably intertwined with those of the wheat and if they were pulled out they would up root the wheat before it had time to develop its head. Q: Notice that the parable is directed towards a Jewish crowd with no explanation of the symbols. Without Jesus' interpretation, what lessons could have been interpreted from this parable? A: A lesson that is often suggested (despite Jesus' interpretation) is that false disciples can often not be distinguished and separated from genuine disciples but will be on the day of judgment (see the discussion below for why this interpretation is inappropriate). Explain to the learners that a Jewish audience would not have had difficulty understanding that the parable was talking about something that would happen when God's judgment would come. The reason is that the image of harvesting and burning with fire are typical Old Testament symbols of divine judgment and punishment (see Isa. 27:12; Jer. 29:22; Hos. 6:11; and Joel 3:13).

Part II: Important aspects in Jesus' interpretation

Now have someone read Matthew 13:36-43 Distribute to the learners handout 1 "Jesus' Interpretation of the Parable of the Weeds". Let them tell you what each symbol allegorically stands for and fill the answer in the empty box. O/H 2 After they have filled in the answers, ask if they have any questions about what each item represents. At this time someone may want to know what the phrase "Son of Man" meant. For a lengthy explanation of this phrase see appendix 1. It is also important to draw the learners' attention to the fact that the field stands for the "world" and not the church. This explains why Jesus is not talking about false and genuine Christians. If that were the case, the field would be the church. Q: Since the enemy is the devil, what question is Jesus answering? A: The common question is, "Why are there evil people in the world?" Jesus' answer is that they are evil because of Satan's activity in the world. Q: Is there any figure in the parable that Jesus does not interpret? A: The slaves are not interpreted. Some scholars think they are simply props for the sake of the story so that the master will reveal his plan. In other parables, servants seem to symbolize the twelve disciples or church's leadership. This view would suggest that Christian leaders cannot take violent actions against the wicked but must wait for God's justice.

Part Ill: Lessons from the main characters

Q: Who are the main characters?

A: The main characters are the farmer, the servants, the weeds and the wheat. While Jesus gives an allegorical interpretation for the enemy and the harvesters, they are not the key characters. Q: What main lessons do the king and the unforgiving servant convey allegorically? A: There are three lessons: 1. Citizens of the kingdom (or more precisely Christian leaders) must not harm those they think are wicked because they might unintentionally in the process harm those who are actually righteous. 2. On the day of judgment, God and his angels will separate the foreigners to the kingdom from the righteous. They will then be cast into their eternal punishment. [Note to the Teacher: Although the fire destroys the weeds, this doesn't mean that Jesus is teaching that the wicked will be annihilated in hell. It is a misguided practice to expect minor details to teach allegorically important insights that cannot be substantiated in any clear teaching of Jesus.] 3. God will preserve the righteous and they will share in his divine glory. In the midst of living with evil people who destroy the righteous, Christians who hope in God's justice will be rewarded. O/H 3

Part lV: Contemporary applications of the main lessons

Ask the learners to give some examples of organizations that claim that God condones their violent actions against those they perceive are opposing God's will. (Allow 3-4 learners to respond)

Application: (about 5-10 minutes)

  1. Ask the learners to fill out handout 2 "Christians and the Use of Violence". They are to write down "Yes" or "No" beside the situation where a Christian might justify using violence. After the learners have had time to put down their answers, ask some to share with the class what they put down and why. What you are looking for is to see if learners recognize what kind of violence Jesus' parable is prohibiting. Jesus does not seem to be condemning lawful acts of self-defense or governmental duties. He is condemning the initiation of acts of violence as a means of ridding the world of evil people. Those situations Jesus' parable condemns would be situations 2 and 4.

Assignment: (about 2 minutes)

  1. As a class, chose a place in the world where you know Christians are being persecuted. Ask the class to pray everyday this week for those Christians that God may give them protection and wisdom to be light in a dark place.

Lesson Wrap-up

Review the lesson objectives.

Let them know the title of next weeks lesson: The Mustard Seed and Leaven.

Appendix 1

The use of the phrase "Son of Man"

in the 1st Century

The following background information is an excerpt from a Web article by Dr. Brad Scott ( It will provide you, the teacher, with some information that may be helpful when discussing this issue with the learners.

The Son Of Man In Jewish Thought

First and foremost in consideration of the name “Son of man” in the teachings of Jesus, we must recognize the conscious effort of Jesus to refer to early Jewish interpretations of the term “Son of man” as a messianic title from Daniel 7:13. ? I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:13-14). The term “Son of man” in Daniel probably originally referred to the people of Israel as a collective group. But by the time of Jesus the people were looking for a person who would perform the task of the Son of man. It was natural to associate the term in Daniel with the Messiah. - The term “Son of man,” however, possessed a number of meanings in Hebrew and Aramaic. With the lofty associations for the name “Son of man” from Daniel 7:13 in clear view, it is possible to examine the significance of the designation in the words of Jesus. The Son of Man As A Human Being The words ben adam in Hebrew are literally translated by the phrase “son of man” in English. In Hebrew, however, the word for man, adam, is the same designation used for the name of the first created human being, Adam. Without going into all the theories in this brief study, it should be noted that some leading biblical scholars have proposed that the term “Son of man” in the Gospels is not a messianic title but rather a generic term for a human being, that is, a son or daughter of Adam, which would include every individual in the human race. While it is true that in Hebrew the words ben adam simply refer to a person, often the context of Jesus’ sayings proves that Jesus goes beyond this common understanding. He alludes to Daniel 7:13 as well as to the messianic implications associated with the designation. On the other hand, some sayings of Jesus probably intend the common generic meaning. The context of the saying and the background of each Gospel text should be carefully studied. When Jesus gives a solemn warning against saying any word in opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit, he also mentions the Son of man. I believe that in this context Jesus refers to every person rather than to Himself specifically or to the future task of the Son of man in the higher redemptive purpose. The Hebrew imagery of the saying is particularly striking in Matthew’s version: And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in the age or in the age to come (Matthew 123:32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10). One will receive forgiveness for speaking against a human being. One must beware, however, of what is said concerning the Holy Spirit. No one who utters a word against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in the present time or in the age to come. The entire passage is imbued with the rich idiom of the Hebrew language and the beauty of strong parallelism. The son of man here is the antithesis of the holy Spirit. It refers to a human being and not to Jesus. Here the designation “son of man” is used not as a messianic title but in its generic sense. ? While Jesus does make use of the generic meaning of the term “son of man,” the context of the Gospels should be studied in order to determine if a deeper significance is given to the name.

The Son Of Man As A Supernatural Being

In Jewish apocalyptic thought, the Son of man was sometimes conceived in elevated language that gave Him semi divine or supernatural qualities. Even in the words of Daniel, the mysterious figure who comes with the clouds of heaven is referred to as one like a Son of man. The word “like” is quite startling. He appears to be a Son of man, that is, a human being, but in actuality He is more than a human being. Certainly the designation “Son of man” increases in its significance when it becomes identified with the sublime figure who brings redemption through superhuman power. He is like a man, but He is so very much more than a man. ? When Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of man, the people listening to him already knew something about this mysterious figure from Jewish apocalyptic teachings. Jesus employed the most powerful designation for the future deliverer which could have been used by any teacher. When the church fathers thought that the expression “Son of man” referred to the humanity of Jesus, they missed the deeper significance of the designation in ancient Jewish apocalyptic writings. The term was an elevated way of referring to the messianic task. Jesus used this expression when He spoke about the final judgment. When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matt 25:31-36) In these teachings of Jesus, the Son of man appears with the clouds. Of course, the mention of the clouds would remind the people of the words from Daniel and other traditions of apocalyptic writers. Here the Son of man becomes the king. At least in Matt 25:31 He is called the Son of man, but in verse 34 He is referred to as king. Of great interest is the emphasis on present actions in the sayings of Jesus. He does not define the present in terms of the future but rather the future in terms of the present. In other words, He emphasizes the urgent need of feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the one without, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoner. What one accomplishes now will set the course of the future. His high ethical morality determines His teachings concerning the final judgment. The reference to the Son of man is clearly related to the final judgment. He is not human being in the generic sense. On the contrary, He Himself is the king who separates the sheep from the goats.

Overhead 1

Lesson Objectives

  1. Explain important background information that will improve the readers' understanding of this parable.
  2. Pinpoint important often overlooked aspects of Jesus' interpretation of the parable of the weeds and wheat.
  3. Identify the major lessons conveyed allegorically by the main characters.
  4. Assess applications of the major lessons to contemporary situations.

Overhead 2

"Jesus' Interpretation of the Parable of the Weeds"

Matthew 13:36-43 The Symbolic Figure Jesus' Interpretation The Farmer Son of Man The Field The World The Good Seed Children of the Kingdom The Weeds Children of the Devil The Enemy The Devil The Harvest Judgment Day The Reapers The Angels

Overhead 3

Lessons from the main characters

  1. Citizens of the kingdom (or more precisely Christian leaders) must not harm those they think are wicked because they might unintentionally harm those who are actually righteous.
  2. On the day of judgment, God and his angels will separate the foreigners to the kingdom from the righteous and then cast them into an eternal punishment.
  3. God will preserve the righteous and they will share in his divine glory.

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