“Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—MATT. 28:20.
1. (a) Summarize the illustration of the wheat and the weeds. (b) How did Jesus explain its meaning?
ONE of Jesus’ Kingdom illustrations describes a farmer who sows fine seed of wheat and an enemy who sows weeds among the fine seed. The weeds overgrow the wheat, but the farmer orders his slaves to “let both grow together until the harvest.” During harvest season, the weeds are destroyed and the wheat is gathered. Jesus himself explained the illustration. (Read Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43.) What does this parable reveal? (See the chart “The Wheat and the Weeds.”)
2. (a) What is illustrated by the events taking place in the farmer’s field? (b) What part of the parable will we consider?
2 The events taking place in that farmer’s field illustrate how and when Jesus would gather out of mankind the entire wheat class—anointed Christians who will rule with him in his Kingdom. The sowing began at Pentecost 33 C.E. The gathering will be complete when the anointed who are alive at the end of this system of things receive their final sealing and then are taken to heaven. (Matt. 24:31; Rev. 7:1-4) Just as a lookout point on a mountain provides a person with a sweeping view of his surroundings, so this parable gives us a panoramic view of developments that would occur during a period of some 2,000 years. From our vantage point, what developments related to the Kingdom do we discern? The parable describes a time of sowing, growth, and harvesting. This article will focus mainly on the harvesttime.a
UNDER JESUS’ WATCHFUL CARE
3. (a) What condition developed after the first century? (b) According to Matthew 13:28, what question was raised, and by whom? (See also endnote.)
3 At the dawn of the second century C.E., “the weeds appeared” when imitation Christians became visible in the world field. (Matt. 13:26) By the fourth century, weedlike Christians had greatly outnumbered anointed Christians. Recall that in the parable, the slaves asked their master for permission to uproot the weeds.b (Matt. 13:28) How did the master respond?
4. (a) What is revealed by the answer of the Master, Jesus? (b) When did wheatlike Christians become discernible?
4 Speaking about the wheat and the weeds, Jesus said: “Let both grow together until the harvest.” This command reveals that from the first century until today, there have always been some anointed wheatlike Christians on earth. That conclusion is confirmed by what Jesus later told his disciples: “I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 28:20) So anointed Christians would be protected by Jesus all the days leading up to the time of the end. However, since they were overgrown by weedlike Christians, we do not know for certain who belonged to the wheat class during that long period of time. However, some decades before the start of the harvest season, the wheat class became discernible. How did that come about?
A MESSENGER ‘CLEARS UP A WAY’
5. How was Malachi’s prophecy fulfilled in the first century?
5 Centuries before Jesus gave the illustration of the wheat and the weeds, Jehovah inspired his prophet Malachi to foretell events that are reflected in Jesus’ illustration. (Read Malachi 3:1-4.) John the Baptizer was the ‘messenger who cleared up the way.’ (Matt. 11:10, 11) When he came in 29 C.E., a time of judgment for the nation of Israel had drawn close. Jesus was the second messenger. He cleansed the temple in Jerusalem twice—first at the start of his ministry and second toward the end. (Matt. 21:12, 13; John 2:14-17) Hence, Jesus’ cleansing work involved a period of time.
6. (a) What is the larger fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy? (b) During what time period did Jesus inspect the spiritual temple? (See also endnote.)
6 What is the larger fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy? During the decades leading up to 1914, C. T. Russell and his close associates did a work like that of John the Baptizer. That vital work involved restoring Bible truths. The Bible Students taught the true meaning of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, exposed the hellfire lie, and proclaimed the coming end of the Gentile Times. Still, there were numerous religious groups who claimed to be Christ’s followers. So a crucial question needed to be answered: Who among those groups were the wheat? To settle that question, Jesus began to inspect the spiritual temple in 1914. That inspection and cleansing work involved a period of time—from 1914 to the early part of 1919.c
YEARS OF INSPECTION AND CLEANSING
7. When Jesus began his inspection in 1914, what did he find?
7 When Jesus began his inspection, what did he find? A small group of zealous Bible Students who for well over 30 years had given their strength and fortunes to pursue a vigorous preaching campaign.d What a joy it must have been for Jesus and the angels to find that those relatively few but sturdy wheat stalks had not been choked by Satan’s weeds! Still, there arose a need to “cleanse the sons of Levi,” the anointed ones. (Mal. 3:2, 3; 1 Pet. 4:17) Why so?
8. What developments took place after 1914?
8 In late 1914, some Bible Students were disheartened because they had not gone to heaven. During 1915 and 1916, opposition from outside the organization slowed down the preaching work. Worse, after Brother Russell’s death in October 1916, opposition arose from inside the organization. Four of the seven directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society rebelled against the decision to have Brother Rutherford take the lead. They tried to cause division among the brothers, but in August 1917, they left Bethel—a cleansing indeed! Also, some Bible Students gave in to the fear of man. Still, as a whole they willingly responded to Jesus’ cleansing work and made the needed changes. Hence, Jesus judged them to be true Christian wheat, but he rejected all imitation Christians, including all of those found within the churches of Christendom. (Mal. 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:19) What happened next? To find out, let us return to our consideration of the parable of the wheat and the weeds.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE HARVEST SEASON BEGINS?
9, 10. (a) What will we now consider about the harvest season? (b) What took place first during the harvest season?
9 “The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things,” said Jesus. (Matt. 13:39) That harvest season began in 1914. We will consider five developments that Jesus foretold for that time.
10 First, collecting the weeds. Jesus says: “In the harvest season I will tell the reapers, First collect the weeds and bind them in bundles.” After 1914, the angels began to “collect” weedlike Christians by separating them from the anointed “sons of the kingdom.”—Matt. 13:30, 38, 41.
11. Till this day, what has set true Christians apart from imitation Christians?
11 As the collecting work progressed, the distinction between the two groups became ever clearer. (Rev. 18:1, 4) By 1919, it became evident that Babylon the Great had fallen. What especially set true Christians apart from imitation ones? The preaching work. Those taking the lead among the Bible Students began to stress the importance of sharing personally in the Kingdom preaching work. For instance, To Whom the Work Is Entrusted, a pamphlet published in 1919, urged all anointed Christians to preach from house to house. It stated: “The work appears stupendous, but it is the Lord’s, and in his strength we will perform it. You have the privilege of sharing in it.” What was the response? From that time onward, reported The Watch Tower in 1922, the Bible Students stepped up their preaching activities. Before long, preaching from house to house became a hallmark of those faithful Christians—as it is till this day.
12. Since when has the wheat class been gathered?
12 Second, gathering the wheat. Jesus commands his angels: “Go to gathering the wheat into my storehouse.” (Matt. 13:30) Since 1919, anointed ones have been gathered into the restored Christian congregation. For those anointed Christians who will be alive at the end of this system of things, the final gathering will take place when they receive their heavenly reward.—Dan. 7:18, 22, 27.
13. What does Revelation 18:7 reveal about the present attitude of the harlot, or Babylon the Great, including Christendom?
13 Third, weeping and gnashing. After the angels bundle the weeds, what happens? Speaking about the condition of the weed class, Jesus states: “There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.” (Matt. 13:42) Is that happening right now? No. Today, Christendom, as part of the harlot, still says about herself: “I sit a queen, and I am no widow, and I shall never see mourning.” (Rev. 18:7) Indeed, Christendom feels very much in charge, even presuming to ‘sit as a queen’ atop the class of political leaders. Presently, those represented by the weeds are boasting, not weeping. But that is about to change.
14 During the great tribulation, after all organized false religion has been destroyed, former adherents will run for cover but will find no secure place to hide. (Luke 23:30; Rev. 6:15-17) Then, realizing that there is no escape from destruction, they will weep in desperation and ‘gnash their teeth’ in anger. As Jesus foretells in his prophecy about the great tribulation, at that dark moment, they “will beat themselves in lamentation.”e—Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7.
15. What will happen to the weeds, and when will that event occur?
15 Fourth, pitched into the furnace. What will happen to the bundles of weeds? The angels “will pitch them into the fiery furnace.” (Matt. 13:42) That means complete destruction. Hence, those former adherents of false religious organizations will be destroyed during the final part of the great tribulation, Armageddon.—Mal. 4:1.
16, 17. (a) What is the final event that Jesus mentions in his illustration? (b) Why do we conclude that the fulfillment of that event still lies ahead?
16 Fifth, shining brightly. Jesus ends his prophecy by saying: “At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. 13:43) When and where will that be? The fulfillment of these words still lies ahead. Jesus foretold, not an activity currently taking place on earth, but a future event occurring in heaven.f Consider two reasons for this conclusion.
17 First, the “when” question. Jesus said: “At that time the righteous ones will shine.” The phrase “at that time” evidently refers to the event that Jesus had just mentioned, namely, the ‘pitching of the weeds into the fiery furnace.’ That occurs during the final part of the great tribulation. Thus, the ‘shining brightly’ of the anointed must occur at that future time as well. Second, the “where” question. Jesus said that the righteous ones will ‘shine in the kingdom.’ What does that mean? All faithful anointed ones who are still on earth after the initial part of the great tribulation has passed will already have received their final sealing. Then, as indicated in Jesus’ prophecy about the great tribulation, they will be gathered to heaven. (Matt. 24:31) There they will shine “in the kingdom of their Father,” and shortly after the battle of Armageddon, they will share as Jesus’ joyous bride in “the marriage of the Lamb.”—Rev. 19:6-9.
HOW WE BENEFIT
18, 19. In what ways does an understanding of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds benefit us personally?
18 How do we personally benefit from the panoramic view that this parable provides? Consider three ways. First, it deepens our insight. The parable reveals an important reason why Jehovah permits wickedness. He “tolerated . . . vessels of wrath” to prepare the “vessels of mercy”—the wheat class.g (Rom. 9:22-24) Second, it strengthens our confidence. As the end draws near, our enemies will intensify their fight against us, “but they will not prevail.” (Read Jeremiah 1:19.) Just as Jehovah through the ages protected the wheat class, so our heavenly Father by means of Jesus and the angels will be with us “all the days” to come.—Matt. 28:20.
19 Third, the parable enables us to identify the wheat class. Why is that of vital importance? Knowing who the wheatlike Christians are is essential to finding the answer to a question raised by Jesus in his extensive prophecy about the last days. He asked: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave?” (Matt. 24:45) The following two articles will provide a satisfying answer to that question.
a Paragraph 2: To refresh your memory on the meaning of the other parts of the parable, we encourage you to read the article “The Righteous Ones Will Shine as Brightly as the Sun” in The Watchtower of March 15, 2010.
b Paragraph 3: Since Jesus’ apostles had died and the remaining anointed ones on earth were pictured, not by slaves, but by wheat, these slaves well picture the angels. Later in the illustration, those reaping the weeds are identified as angels.—Matt. 13:39.
c Paragraph 6: This is an adjustment in understanding. Previously, we thought that Jesus’ inspection took place in 1918.
d Paragraph 7: From 1910 to 1914, the Bible Students distributed nearly 4,000,000 books and over 200,000,000 tracts and pamphlets.
e Paragraph 14: This is an adjustment to our understanding of Matthew 13:42. Previously, our publications stated that imitation Christians have been ‘weeping and gnashing their teeth’ for decades, bewailing that “the sons of the kingdom” expose them for what they are—“sons of the wicked one.” (Matt. 13:38) It should be noted, however, that the idea of the gnashing of teeth is connected to destruction.—Ps. 112:10.
f Paragraph 16: Daniel 12:3 states that “the ones having insight [anointed Christians] will shine like the brightness of the expanse.” While still on earth, they do this by sharing in the preaching work. However, Matthew 13:43 points to the time when they will shine brightly in the heavenly Kingdom. Previously, we thought that both scriptures referred to the same activity—the preaching work.