In order to offer an accurate analysis of the fate of the “tares,” we need to look at the entire parable in Matthew 13, in its context. Beginning with verse 24, Jesus states:
“Another parable He put forth to them, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who 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 grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” The servants said to him, “Do you want us then to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”’”
After sending the multitudes away and going into the house, He explained the meaning of the parable to His disciples. We read, beginning with verse 37:
“He answered and said to them: ‘He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’”
We need to notice that the parable deals with the time of Christ’s return. We are told that the angels will gather the tares out of His kingdom (that is, the tares will not enter the Kingdom of God at that time), and they will cast them into the furnace of fire. The tares are described as those people who offend and who practice lawlessness. Sin is defined as lawlessness, or transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). The angels will then gather the wheat into the barns; that is, the righteous will become glorified beings in the Kingdom of God the Father, shining forth as the sun (compare Daniel 12:3). They were righteous because they allowed Christ to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law in them (Romans 8:4), and when, even after conversion, they sinned and committed unrighteousness, but then repented and claimed, in faith, Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins, they were being made righteous on an ongoing basis (1 John 1:7-10).
We also need to notice that the tares were sown by Satan, not by God. Satan brought tares into the Church, but Christ said that everyone who has not been sown by God will be uprooted (Matthew 15:13). The tares never received the Holy Spirit. They looked very similar to the wheat. Even though the angels (i.e., the servants, compare verses 27-30 with verses 41-42) could detect the difference, it is sometimes difficult for the human mind to recognize tares among the saints. Christ tells the angels not to remove the tares prematurely, as He does not want to jeopardize the salvation of the saints. This could happen, perhaps, if an unconverted Church member (who is not causing division) is being removed from Church attendance or participation in social Church functions, and the converted member might be negatively affected and become offended by such action.
The People’s New Testament states:
“The roots of the wheat and tares were often so intertwined that one could not be pulled up without the other.”
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible offers this further comment:
“They [the tares] so much resembled the true wheat that even then it would be difficult to separate them. By gathering them, they would tread down the wheat, loosen and disturb the earth, and greatly injure the crop. In the harvest it could be done without injury.”
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible adds:
“… not that men of openly scandalous lives are to be tolerated in churches; they are to be withdrawn from, and put away; nor men of known, avowed, heretical principles; such, after the first and second admonition, are to be rejected: yet there may be such in churches, not altogether agreeable in principle and practice, whose character and situation may be such, that there is no removing them without offending some truly gracious, useful persons, in whose affections they stand, who may be tempted, by such a step, to leave their communion; and so cannot be done without a considerable prejudice to the church.”
We also note that the tares will be cast into the fiery furnace at the beginning of the Millennium. This is the same lake of fire into which the beast (a military leader) and the false prophet (a religious leader) will be thrown at the time of Christ’s return (Revelation 19:19-20). This does not necessarily mean that any of them (the beast, the false prophet, the tares) had committed the unpardonable sin, as the lake of fire, leading to the second and final death in the Third Resurrection (Revelation 20:14-15), is quite different from the one in existence at the beginning of the Millennium.
We note a similar passage of the events at the time of Christ’s return, in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 (American King James Bible):
“We are bound to thank God always for you, brothers, as it is meet, because that your faith grows exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other abounds; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”
It appears that the tares will be raised either in the Second Resurrection (the Great White Throne Judgment period), to be given an opportunity to repent and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, or, if they have committed the unpardonable sin, they will be raised in the Third Resurrection, to be cast into the final lake of fire to be burnt up and extinguished for all eternity.
Although the tares did not have God’s Spirit, there is still an accountability for the knowledge and understanding one has been given and the way one handles that knowledge in regard to what God expects of him. This determination will be done by God who knows the heart and intents of man. Normally, a person must have received the Holy Spirit before he can commit the unpardonable sin, by rebelling against God and losing again the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:4-8). However, it is possible to commit the unpardonable sin, even if one has never accepted the gift of the Holy Spirit into his life (Matthew 12:31-32). When God offers repentance to someone, but that person refuses to accept that gift and rebelliously and presumptuously rejects God and His way of life, God will not force repentance and eternal life upon such a person.
We can therefore reach the following conclusions:
Within the fellowship of the spiritual body of Christ–the Church of God–there are certain individuals who may appear to be true Christians, but they are not. However, unless they cause division and affect negatively true believers by their sinful lifestyle, God does not order His Church to remove such persons, prior to Christ’s return, lest His true followers become negatively affected and offended by such Church action.
At the time of the return of Christ, the “tares” will be removed and burned up, while the true saints will inherit the Kingdom of God and eternal life. The unconverted tares will either be raised in the Great White Throne Judgment period (if they did not commit the unpardonable sin prior to Christ’s return) or in the Third Resurrection to be cast into the final lake of fire (if they had committed the unpardonable sin).
True Christians are not to judge others and attempt to discern as to who is a tare and who is a true Christian (unless this becomes rather obvious, compare 2 Timothy 2:19-21; 1 John 5:16-17; 2 John 9-11). They are to concentrate and focus on their own salvation, not becoming negatively affected by the sins of others, while being aware that God’s Word warns all of us of the fact that there will be tares amongst the saints.
Lead Writers: Norbert Link and Rene Messier