“Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—MATTHEW 28:20.
1. (a) Summarize the illustration of the wheat and the weeds. (b) How did Jesus explain the meaning of the illustration?
ONE of Jesus’ illustrations about the Kingdom describes a farmer who sows wheat and an enemy who sows weeds in the same field. The weeds begin to overgrow the wheat, but the farmer tells his slaves to “let both grow together until the harvest.” During the time of the harvest, the weeds are destroyed and the wheat is gathered. Jesus explained what the illustration meant. (Read Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43.) What can this illustration teach us? (See the chart “The Wheat and the Weeds.”)
2. (a) What events does the illustration of the wheat and the weeds describe? (b) What part of the illustration will this article discuss?
2 The events in this illustration show how and when Jesus would gather out of mankind the entire group of anointed Christians who will rule with him in his Kingdom. As a group, they are the wheat class, that is, they are the ones represented by the wheat. Jesus began to sow this seed at Pentecost of the year 33. The gathering of the wheat class will be complete when the anointed who are alive on earth at the end of this system of things receive their final sealing and then are raised to heaven. (Matthew 24:31; Revelation 7:1-4) When a person is at a lookout point on a mountain, he can see a full view of what is around him. In a similar way, the illustration of the wheat and the weeds helps us to get a better understanding of events that would happen during a period of about 2,000 years. The events are a time of sowing seed, growth of the seed, and harvesting the wheat. This article will mainly discuss the time of the harvest.*—See endnote.
UNDER JESUS’ WATCHFUL CARE
3. (a) What happened after the first century? (b) As recorded at Matthew 13:28, what question was asked, and by whom? (See also endnote.)
3 About the year 100, “the weeds appeared.” These were false Christians. (Matthew 13:26) About the year 300, there were more “weeds” than there were anointed Christians. In the illustration, the slaves asked the master if they could pull the weeds out of the field.* (See endnote.) (Matthew 13:28) What did the master say?
4. (a) What did Jesus’ answer reveal? (b) When did it become possible to identify “the wheat”?
4 The Master, Jesus, said about the wheat and the weeds: “Let both grow together until the harvest.” This command tells us that from the first century until today, there have always been people who were “the wheat,” that is, anointed Christians. Jesus also said to his disciples: “I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:20) So Jesus would protect the anointed Christians all the days up to the time of the end. But since the weeds, or false Christians, had overgrown the wheat, we do not know for certain who were part of the wheat class during all those years. However, about 40 years before the harvest, it again became possible to identify “the wheat.” How did that happen?
A MESSENGER ‘CLEARS UP A WAY’
5. How was Malachi’s prophecy fulfilled in the first century?
5 Long before Jesus gave the illustration of the wheat and the weeds, Jehovah inspired Malachi to foretell some of the same events. (Read Malachi 3:1-4.) John the Baptizer was the ‘messenger who cleared up the way.’ (Matthew 11:10, 11) The nation of Israel would be judged soon after John’s arrival in the year 29. Jesus was the second messenger mentioned in Malachi’s prophecy. He cleansed the temple in Jerusalem twice. The first time was at the start of his ministry, and the second was at the end of his ministry. (Matthew 21:12, 13; John 2:14-17) So the cleansing of that temple happened over 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? For many years before 1914, C. T. Russell and the brothers working with him did a work like that of John the Baptizer. They studied the Bible to discover what it really teaches. For example, they taught the true meaning of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, showed that hellfire did not exist, and declared when the Gentile Times would end. There were many other religious groups who claimed to be Christ’s followers. But who among these groups were the wheat? To answer that question, Jesus began to inspect the spiritual temple in 1914. Jesus’ work to inspect and cleanse that temple lasted from 1914 to the early part of 1919.*—See endnote.
INSPECTING AND CLEANSING THE ANOINTED
7. What did Jesus find when he began his inspection in 1914?
7 When Jesus began his inspection, what did he find? A small group of zealous Bible Students who had been using their strength and their money to spread the good news for more than 30 years.* (See endnote.) Jesus and the angels must have been very happy to see that the few who were part of the wheat class had remained strong and had not been choked by the weeds. But the “sons of Levi,” that is, the anointed, needed to be cleansed. (Malachi 3:2, 3; 1 Peter 4:17) Why?
8. What happened after 1914?
8 Near the end of 1914, some Bible Students were discouraged because they had not gone to heaven. During 1915 and 1916, opposition from people outside the organization slowed down the preaching work. And after Brother Russell’s death in October 1916, people inside the organization started to oppose those taking the lead. Four of the seven directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society rebelled when Brother Rutherford was chosen to take the lead. They tried to cause division, but in August 1917, they left Bethel. This is one way that the organization was cleansed. Also, because of fear of man, some Bible Students stopped serving God. But many of the Bible Students were willing to make changes to become clean from God’s point of view. So Jesus judged them as true Christian wheat. He rejected all false Christians in the congregation and those in the churches of Christendom. (Malachi 3:5; 2 Timothy 2:19) What happened next? To find out, we will again discuss the illustration of the wheat and the weeds.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE HARVEST SEASON BEGINS?
9, 10. (a) What will we now discuss? (b) What happened first during the time of the harvest?
9 Jesus said: “The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things.” (Matthew 13:39) That time of the harvest began in 1914. We will now discuss five events that Jesus said would happen during the time of the harvest.
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” the weeds, or false Christians, by separating them from the anointed “sons of the kingdom.”—Matthew 13:30, 38, 41.
11. What work has especially made true Christians different from false Christians?
11 As the collecting work progressed, it became easier to see the difference between the wheat and the weeds. (Revelation 18:1, 4) By 1919, it was clear that Babylon the Great had fallen. What especially made true Christians different from false Christians? The preaching work. Those who took the lead among the Bible Students began to make clear that all in the congregation must preach about the Kingdom. For example, a booklet called To Whom the Work Is Entrusted was published in 1919. It urged all anointed Christians to preach from house to house. It explained that even though it seemed impossible to do all that work, the Lord would give his people the strength to do it. Then the booklet said: “You have the privilege of sharing in it.” What did the Bible Students do? The Watch Tower in 1922 said that they put more effort than ever into their preaching. It soon became the work that those faithful Christians came to be known for, and it still is.
12. Since when has the wheat been gathered?
12 Second, gathering the wheat. Jesus commands his angels to start gathering the wheat into his storehouse. (Matthew 13:30) Since 1919, anointed ones have been gathered into the cleansed Christian congregation. What about those anointed Christians who are alive at the end of this system of things? Their final gathering will happen when they go to heaven.—Daniel 7:18, 22, 27.
13. What do we learn from Revelation 18:7 about the attitude of the harlot, who is Babylon the Great, and includes Christendom?
13 Third, weeping and gnashing. After the angels bundle the weeds, what happens? Speaking about the condition of “the weeds,” Jesus says: “There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.” (Matthew 13:42) Is that happening right now? No. Christendom is part of the harlot described in Revelation chapter 18. Even today, Christendom says about herself: “I sit a queen, and I am no widow, and I shall never see mourning.” (Revelation 18:7) She still feels she is in control and even tries to be “a queen” with power over political leaders. So false Christians represented by the weeds are still boasting today. They have not started to weep. But that will soon change.
14 After false religion is destroyed, the ones who used to follow those religions will run for cover. But they will not be able to find a safe place to hide. (Luke 23:30; Revelation 6:15-17) When they realize that they cannot escape, they will weep over their situation and will gnash, or grind, their teeth because they are so angry. As Jesus’ prophecy about the great tribulation shows, they will at that time “beat themselves in lamentation.”* (See endnote.)—Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7.
15. What will happen to the weeds? When will this happen?
15 Fourth, pitched into the furnace. What will happen to the bundles of weeds? The angels “will pitch them into the fiery furnace.” (Matthew 13:42) This means that they will be completely destroyed. So the ones who belonged to those organizations teaching false religion will be destroyed during the final part of the great tribulation, Armageddon.—Malachi 4:1.
16, 17. (a) What is the last event that Jesus foretells in his illustration? (b) How do we know that this event will happen in the future?
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.” (Matthew 13:43) When and where will they shine brightly? This part of the prophecy will be fulfilled in the future. And it will be fulfilled in heaven, not on earth.* (See endnote.) We will now discuss two reasons for understanding the prophecy this way.
17 First, when will this happen? Jesus said: “At that time the righteous ones will shine.” Evidently, the expression “at that time” is connected to the event Jesus had just described, that is, the time when the weeds are ‘pitched into the fiery furnace.’ That happens during the final part of the great tribulation. So the anointed must “shine as brightly as the sun” at that future time as well. Second, where will this happen? 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 first part of the great tribulation has passed will already have received their final sealing. Then they will be gathered to heaven, as Jesus foretold. (Matthew 24:31) There they will shine “in the kingdom of their Father.” They will be part of Jesus’ joyous bride in “the marriage of the Lamb.” This happens soon after the battle of Armageddon.—Revelation 19:6-9.
HOW WE BENEFIT
18, 19. In what ways do we benefit from understanding Jesus’ illustration of the wheat and the weeds?
18 How do we benefit from what we have learned about this illustration? There are three ways. First, the illustration helps us to understand why Jehovah has not yet destroyed wicked people. He has tolerated them long enough to prepare the “vessels of mercy,” that is, the faithful ones represented by the wheat.* (See endnote.) (Romans 9:22-24) Second, it gives us more confidence. As the end gets closer, our enemies will fight harder against us. “But they will not prevail.” (Read Jeremiah 1:19.) Jehovah has protected the wheat class for many years. Our heavenly Father, along with Jesus and the angels, will be with us “all the days” until the end.—Matthew 28:20.
19 Third, the illustration helps us to know who are represented by the wheat. Why is that so important? Because we need to know who the wheat are if we want to find the answer to another question Jesus asked in his prophecy about the last days. He asked: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave?” (Matthew 24:45) The following two articles will give us a clear answer to that question.
Paragraph 2: The other parts of the illustration are discussed in the article “The Righteous Ones Will Shine as Brightly as the Sun” in The Watchtower of March 15, 2010. We encourage you to read it to remind you of the details.
Paragraph 3: Jesus’ apostles had died and the anointed ones who were alive on earth were described as wheat in the illustration. They were not described as slaves. So the slaves in this illustration mean angels. Later in the illustration, the ones reaping are identified as angels.—Matthew 13:39.
Paragraph 6: This is a new explanation. In the past, we thought that Jesus inspected the temple in 1918.
Paragraph 7: From 1910 to 1914, the Bible Students gave people almost 4,000,000 books and more than 200,000,000 tracts and pamphlets.
Paragraph 14: This is a new explanation of Matthew 13:42. In the past, our publications said that false Christians have been ‘weeping and gnashing their teeth’ for many years because “the sons of the kingdom” were showing that the weeds were “sons of the wicked one.” (Matthew 13:38) However, the Bible uses the idea of grinding one’s teeth when it discusses those who will be destroyed.—Psalm 112:10.
Paragraph 16: Daniel 12:3 says that “the ones having insight,” that is, anointed Christians, “will shine like the brightness of the expanse.” While they are still on earth, they shine brightly by preaching. But Matthew 13:43 is talking about something different. It discusses the time when they shine brightly in God’s Kingdom in heaven. In the past, we thought that both scriptures were talking about the preaching work.
Paragraph 18: See the book Draw Close to Jehovah, pages 288-289.