Sowing and Reaping

“The harvest is the end of the world [Greek, age]; and the reapers are the angels.” —Matthew 13:39

THE Bible is more than a textbook of religious precepts designed to govern human behavior through endless generations, with no objective in sight other than helping men and women to live better lives here, that they might be prepared for happiness beyond the grave. In order to understand the Bible correctly, it is essential to recognize that there are time elements in the plan of God—ages and dispensations, which have a beginning and which come to an end. In these, there is a “sowing” and a “reaping” accomplished in them with respect to the work of God.

The Bible reveals an orderly progression in the divine plan, which is ultimately to reach a glorious consummation in the reconciliation to God, the Creator, of the sin-cursed and dying race and the restoration of the people to everlasting life and happiness. This, the Bible shows, is to be accomplished through Christ, who at his first advent died to redeem mankind from death, and during his second presence, through the agencies of his kingdom, will accomplish the foretold work of “restitution” spoken by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began.—Acts 3:19-21

Even before Christ’s first advent there had been various changes of dispensation in the outworking of the divine plan. One of these occurred at the time of the Flood, when “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” (II Pet. 3:6) During a period of more than six hundred years after the Flood, the “voice” of God was heard by only a few patriarchs, particularly Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God promised Abraham that through his “seed” all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18) This promise was inherited by Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. (Gen. 26:4; 28:14) When Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel) was nearing death, he voiced a prophecy concerning his son Judah, indicating that the seed of promise was to come through his family, or tribe.—Gen. 49:9,10

Following the deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, God, through Moses, gave them his Law, which was epitomized in the Ten Commandments. But this was merely a means to an end. The Lord knew that the Israelites, being members of the fallen and dying human race, could not keep his Law inviolate. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul explains that the Law was a “school-master” to teach the necessity for the redemptive work of Christ, that only through a Redeemer could mankind be rescued from sin and its penalty, death.—Gal. 3:24

During the Jewish Age God sent his prophets to Israel to admonish and warn the nation and to prophesy the coming of the Messiah, the promised Seed. Many of the prophecies associated the hope of the Messiah with the idea of a “kingdom,” a “government,” which would be established by him and through which the promised blessings of all the families of the earth would be accomplished. Thus the Prophet Isaiah foretold that “of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.”—Isa. 9:6,7

In “Due Time”

It was in God’s own “due time” that Christ came, first to die for the sins of the people, and later to establish the foretold kingdom through which the redeemed would be blessed. (Rom. 5:17-21) In announcing the first presence of Christ, John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Preaching in the wilderness of Judea, John said, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:1,2) What may be a better translation of this statement emphasizes that the “King” of the Lord’s promised kingdom had appeared. Thus, in these two announcements, one identifying Jesus as “the Lamb of God” and the other as the promised “King,” the two-fold work of Christ is revealed, that is, his sacrificial work to redeem the people and his kingdom work, by means of which all the families of the earth were to be blessed.

Throughout his ministry Jesus emphasized both of these aspects of the divine plan for the recovery of the human race from sin and death. He taught that he would give his flesh in sacrifice for the life of the world. (John 6:51) He also said much about the promised kingdom. Because his disciples “thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear,” Jesus related a parable concerning “a certain nobleman who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.” (Luke 19:11,12) Through this parable and other teachings of the Master, we learn that the due time for the establishment of the messianic kingdom is not until after his return, that is, during his second advent.

Nevertheless, through his parables and otherwise, Jesus associated the preparatory work of the intervening age, when his people would be waiting for his return, with the idea of the kingdom. Thus most of his parables are introduced with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto.” So it is in the parable of the wheat and the tares, from which our text is taken. This parable does not illustrate the kingdom established in power and great glory—except in a very brief statement at the close—but, rather, the effort of Satan to hinder the preparatory work of the kingdom and the manner in which he would counterfeit this work of the Lord.

The Parable

The parable tells of “a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat.” The servants of the “householder” who sowed the wheat suggested that they uproot the tares and remove them from the field. But the householder said, “Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.” Then he instructed his servants, saying: “Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”—Matt. 13:24-30

In verses 37 to 43 of the chapter, Jesus’ explanation of this parable is presented. “He that soweth the good seed,” he said, “is the Son of man.” From this it is clear that the sowing of the “good seed,” the “wheat,” represents the work of Jesus in selecting his apostles and, through them, the establishing of the Early Church. In a very special way Jesus himself was responsible for this work, both through personal instruction to his disciples and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The “field” in which the good seed was sown, Jesus explained, was the “world.” While the wheat sown by Jesus personally was not scattered throughout the whole world, he commissioned his followers to go “unto the uttermost part of the earth” and preach the Gospel, making disciples from among all nations. Jesus’ last instructions to them were, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8

The “good seed,” Jesus explained, “are the children of the kingdom.” Jesus is the great King in the kingdom of promise, the kingdom through which all the families of the earth are to be blessed; and the Scriptures reveal that the work of the Lord throughout the present age has been the calling and preparation of a company of people who will share with him in the honor, glory, and work of the kingdom. To these Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”—Luke 12:32

The “children,” or “sons,” of the Heavenly Father are, through the Scriptures, begotten to the glorious hope of joint-heirship with Jesus in the kingdom. They are, as Paul wrote, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:16,17) Concerning the same class the Apostle Peter wrote, “If ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”—II Pet. 1:10,11

The apostles and others in the Early Church understood that the kingdom could not be set up in the earth until after Christ had returned; so they looked forward to that great event in the plan of God, confident that if they walked faithfully in his footsteps even unto death they would then be raised from the dead to live and reign with Christ. When approaching death by execution, Paul wrote, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”—II Tim. 4:7,8

Jesus promised that all “overcomers” of this age would be exalted to rulership with him. “To him that overcometh,” he said, “will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3:21) These shall be “kings and priests unto God,” and “shall reign on the earth,” we read. (Rev. 5:10) These are the same ones who, in the 20th chapter of Revelation, are said to come forth in the “first resurrection” to live and “reign with Christ a thousand years.”—vss. 4-6

Truly, then, these are “the children of the kingdom.” They have learned of the glorious kingdom that God has promised, the kingdom through which “restitution” blessings are to be made available to all the families of the earth. In the beginning of the age the apostles and other disciples of Christ were inspired by this glorious hope. Their hope of reigning with Christ in the kingdom enabled them to suffer patiently with and for him, as they looked forward to his return, when they would be with him in glory.

However, as the parable indicates, an “enemy” sowed “tares” among the “wheat”—that is, among “the children of the kingdom.” These tares, Jesus explained, “are the children of the wicked one,” and the “enemy” who sowed them is “the Devil.” This sowing of the tares, the parable indicates, was done “while men slept.” This obviously refers to a time after the apostles fell asleep in death. While they lived they were the guardians of the church, and it was not possible for the Devil to be very successful in his effort to sow tares among the wheat.

However, after the apostles died, the Devil did get in his work. This was accomplished in a very deceptive manner. Paul said to the elders at Ephesus, “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30) As time went on, and as the apostles foretold, these children of the wicked one, the tares, set up a counterfeit system of Christianity, described by Paul as “the mystery of iniquity.” (II Thess. 2:7) Church history reveals how accurately these predictions of Jesus and the apostles were fulfilled.

Such has been the state of Christianity as seen by the world throughout most of the age. The imposing systems of religion have been what the world has recognized as the church. Being a counterfeit of the true children of the kingdom, they have established a kingdom, even kingdoms, of their own. The aggregate of these has been called Christendom, that is, Christ’s kingdom. Having joined hands with civil governments in an effort to establish kingdom authority in the earth, these have lost sight of the return of Christ and the coming establishment of the real kingdom of promise.

The fact that the tares are referred to by Jesus as the children of the wicked one does not mean that they have been or are unregenerate, lawless people. It is simply that their outlook, their hope, their aims, their endeavors are not in keeping with the hope of the kingdom set forth in the Word of God but are those of the wicked one in his attempt to thwart the purpose of God and cause God’s people to lose sight of his promises to establish the messianic kingdom and, through its agencies, fulfill his promises to bless all the families of the earth.

Meanwhile, however, in every part of the age there have been a few of the wheat class, a few children of the kingdom. There have always been those who looked for the return of their Lord and the establishment of his kingdom. These have been few in number, a little flock indeed—frequently but one here and one there—but by the Lord’s grace they kept the kingdom hope alive, even while, as the parable shows, they grew together with the tares in the same field—the world.

Comes the Harvest

The parable reveals that the admixture of tares with the wheat was not to continue forever but only for the one age in the divine plan. At the end of the “world” (Greek, aion, meaning age) there was to be a “harvest”—a harvest in which the tares would be gathered together into bundles and burned, and the wheat gathered into the Lord’s “garner,” or “barn.”

In Jesus’ explanation of the parable, he said that the tares would be burned in a “furnace of fire.” Since at the end of the age there are many millions of tares and they are scattered through many parts of the earth, it is evident that it is not a literal furnace in which they are burned. The Prophet Malachi gives us the proper thought, saying that “the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up.”—Mal. 4:1

It is a “day” in the outworking of the divine plan that “burns as an oven.” This day is elsewhere described in the prophecies as the day of God’s vengeance. (Isa. 34:8) In language less figurative, the Bible describes this day as one in which there was to be “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation,” a time when there would be “distress of nations, with perplexity,” “a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness.”—Dan. 12:1; Luke 21:25,26; Joel 2:2

In this symbolic furnace of fire, which engulfs the whole world of mankind, all false systems of religion are destroyed, including nominal churchianity. This results also in the destruction of the tares—not necessarily as individuals, but as tares, in the sense that they will no longer be looked upon as being of the Lord’s kingdom arrangements but as having been adherents of a counterfeit kingdom, which, in the great Armageddon struggle at the end of the age, is destroyed, together with all the selfish and sinful institutions of the earth.

“As the Sun”

In the end of the age the wheat is also gathered, not to be burned in the great time of trouble, but to “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. 13:43) The Prophet Malachi, after telling us that “the day cometh that shall burn as an oven”—that oven in which the tares are destroyed—says that then also “shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings.”—Mal. 4:2

The glorious hope of all the children of the kingdom of this age is to be associated with Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, in the kingdom work of blessing all the families of the earth with life and happiness. So the parable, revealing the work of the present age completed, shows the wheat class as a part of the great Sun of Righteousness, which then arises with healing in his wings.

The Reapers

Jesus explained that the reapers whom he would send forth into the harvest would be the “angels.” The Greek word here used is one that means a “messenger.” It could be a heavenly or an earthly messenger. It is sometimes used in the New Testament regarding inanimate objects. Since the angels of the parable gather the tares into bundles and burn them and also gather the wheat into the Lord’s barn—implying the exaltation of the children of the kingdom to live and reign with Christ—it is evident that various kinds of messengers are used in this figurative harvest.

The angels, or messengers, that gather the tares into bundles and cast them, figuratively speaking, into the “furnace” of the great “time of trouble,” which destroys all the selfish institutions of this “present evil world,” are all the various forces that directly and indirectly contribute to bring about this dramatic change in world affairs. To the extent that the truth of God’s Word, as proclaimed by his consecrated people, enters into the gathering of the tares, these are the messengers whom the Lord uses.

The Lord’s people themselves, however, are more vitally concerned with the harvesting of the wheat, for they take part in this work in a very real way. The work of the Jewish Age, which began with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, ended with a harvest. The Law was designed by the Lord as a “schoolmaster” to prepare the nation of Israel for the Messiah, and when he came there was a harvest call of truth designed to reach all the Israelites who were in heart condition to receive him. The true wheat then, even as now, was very much in the minority.

In keeping with the harvest illustration, Jesus said to his disciples: “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:37,38) The disciples themselves, to whom these words were addressed, were among the wheat that was then gathered by the proclamation of the kingdom message. When reached by the message, they in turn became messengers of the Lord in the harvesting of additional wheat.

So it is at the end of the present age. While the final exaltation of the wheat into the heavenly garner, or barn, is accomplished by divine power exercised through channels beyond our comprehension, their preparation for this ultimate position in the kingdom is brought about by the harvest message of truth. And it is our privilege as messengers of the Lord to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom for this purpose.

Now in the Harvest

There are many prophecies of the Bible which reveal that we are now living in the end of the age. Since Jesus said that the harvest work of gathering the wheat would take place in the end of the age, there should be evidence that such a work has been and is being done; and there is unmistakable evidence that this is so. In Revelation 14:6,14,15, we have a description of the harvest work at the end of the age, in which Jesus is shown to be present as the Chief Reaper, being figuratively represented as sitting upon a cloud with a “sharp sickle”—a reaping instrument—in his hand.

In this harvest scene an “angel,” or messenger, is shown “having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” (vs. 6) The “everlasting Gospel,” the “Gospel of the kingdom,” was, as we have seen, lost sight of by the church soon after the death of the apostles. The word “Gospel” means good news, and during the Dark Ages the God-dishonoring theory of eternal torture was substituted for the good news of the kingdom, and the claim was made that the church-state systems of Europe were the kingdom of Christ.

In order, therefore, that the everlasting Gospel might again be proclaimed, it had first to be restored to the true people of God; and this was done in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that when he returned he would gird himself and serve the household of faith with “meat in due season.” (Luke 12:37,42) This meat in due season is the truth “due” to be understood and proclaimed in the harvest time at the end of the age—the everlasting Gospel of the kingdom, foretelling the coming establishment of that glorious kingdom, when the “wheat,” together with Christ, will “shine forth as the sun” for the blessing of “all the families of the earth.”

The harvest period at the end of the Gospel Age comes to a close, and then the thousand-year age of the messianic kingdom begins. The everlasting Gospel, the good news that the Lord has provided restitution blessings for all mankind is therefore peculiarly “meat in due season” at this time; for the end of the age heralds the coming time when these blessings are due to reach the world of mankind. And it is this and other dispensational truths that separate the wheat from the tares and prepare them to “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Just such a harvest work has been, and still is, going on. While throughout the age there have been a few who have continued to cherish the hope of our Lord’s return and the establishment of his kingdom, they have been hardly noticeable. But beginning approximately in 1874, when the returned Lord began to serve the promised meat in due season to the “household of faith” and this harvest message began to be proclaimed on a worldwide basis, the wheat—as children of the kingdom—have unitedly joined in the proclamation of the Gospel of the kingdom.

While all other professing Christians have taught that only through human agencies would the kingdom promises of the Bible be fulfilled, the children of the kingdom have proclaimed that “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isa. 9:6,7) These children of the kingdom have also taught that those who suffer and die with Jesus will live and reign with him, that they will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. They have proclaimed that this promised Sun of Righteousness will heal the people and that all who have died will be awakened from death and be given an opportunity to share in the blessings of Christ’s kingdom.

This glorious Gospel of the kingdom has reached the whole professed world and continues to do so. The children of the kingdom continue to proclaim the presence of the King and the fact that the blessings of the kingdom are near—even at the door. Their message is not popular, even as Jesus’ message was not popular in his day. The children of the kingdom rejoice that through the agencies of the kingdom all mankind is to be given a full opportunity for life, and they are happy to continue announcing that the life-giving blessings of the kingdom will soon be available for all mankind.

Insofar as the dissemination of the truth of God’s Word accomplishes the work of the harvest, these children of the kingdom are the angels, the messengers, whom the Lord is sending forth for this purpose. Just as the Lord sent forth the disciples throughout Israel to gather the wheat of that nation at the end of the Jewish Age, his messengers are now bidden to go forth “unto the uttermost part of the earth” and proclaim “the everlasting Gospel.”

The wheat of the parable represents the children of the kingdom, not the word of truth, as in the parable of the sower. Nevertheless, these children of the kingdom are developed as wheat by the truth; and for the truth to reach them, it must be proclaimed. Thus the proclamation of the truth was necessary not only in the original sowing of the parable, but is also essential now, the truth being shown in Revelation 14:14 as a “sickle,” that is, the instrument of reaping.

As Revelation 14:14 reveals, our present Lord is the Chief Reaper in the present harvest work. He is directing all the messengers of the harvest, for both the gathering and burning of the tares as well as for the finding and preparation of the wheat to “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” These messengers he sends forth with the “everlasting Gospel”—the Gospel of the kingdom, the glorious harvest message of present truth, and they are thus given an opportunity of proving worthy of the honor of reigning with him by their zeal in proclaiming the kingdom message.

During the harvest at the end of the Jewish Age, Jesus was with his disciples in the flesh, and we may conclude that now his attitude toward his people and his will for them are still the same. Then, when he “saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”—Matt. 9:36-38

The Apostle John reports Jesus as saying to his disciples that the “fields” were “white” unto the harvest. To encourage them to faithfulness in the harvest work at that time, Jesus said: “He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.” (John 4:35,36) These words of admonition and promise are equally true of the messengers in the present harvest.

Those who are faithful in doing all they can to help proclaim the message experience great joy in the work. These wages of rejoicing are received daily, as each experience manifests the Lord’s approval upon the efforts being made—approval that is sensed in the heart, joys resulting from obedience to the directive of the Chief Reaper to help thrust in the sickle of truth to reap the remaining grains of wheat, that they might be prepared for the heavenly garner.

In addition to these daily wages of peace and joy, we have the promise that if faithful we will ultimately attain life eternal in the kingdom, to “shine forth as the sun” for the blessing of all mankind. In this, Jesus explained, they that sow and they that reap will rejoice together. This means the opportunity of being united soon with Jesus, with the apostles, with the faithful of the Early Church, and with all the children of the kingdom of every part of the age. It is a glorious prospect!

While many years of the Gospel Age harvest are already in the past, there is still reaping to be done. Through the proclamation of the truth, grains of wheat are still being found who, in turn, are letting their light shine, that still others might be blessed. Meanwhile the fires of the great time of trouble are burning as a “furnace,” and already in parts of Christendom the systems established by the tares are being destroyed. This “oven” will have accomplished the complete destruction of the tares ere the wheat “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father.”

However, the fact that the tares are already bundled for their burning indicates also that the wheat harvest is nearly over; so may all who are rejoicing in the hope of sharing in the rulership of the kingdom be more than ever zealous in proclaiming the everlasting Gospel, for “the time is short.” It is only “a little while”—now that He who was to come has come (Heb. 10:37)—when, if faithful, we will be “shining forth” with Him in the glorious kingdom work of blessing all the families of the earth.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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