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. Most see it as helping men and women to live better lives here that they might be prepared for happiness beyond the grave. 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 come to an end. In these, there is a ‘sowing’ and a ‘reaping’ with respect to the work of God accomplished in them.

The Bible reveals an orderly progression in the Divine plan. Ultimately it is to reach a glorious consummation in the reconciliation of the sin-cursed and dying race to God, the Creator, 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. During his Second Presence, through the agencies of his kingdom, he 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 only by a few patriarchs, particularly Noah, Shem, 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 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 “schoolmaster” 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 blessing 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


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. 5:6,17-21) 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 God’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 twofold 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 his return at 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.” (Matt. 13:24) 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 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

Jesus explained “He that soweth the good seed, is the Son of man.” (vss. 37-43) 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 said, was the “world.” While the wheat sown personally by Jesus was not scattered throughout the whole world, he commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel, making disciples from among all nations (Matt. 28:19,20) and his 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 he 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; for 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. 8:17) 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 Saviour Jesus Christ.”—II Pet. 1:10,11

The apostles and others in the Early Church understood that the kingdom would not be set up in the earth until the return of Christ. 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) It is recorded, “Thou hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:10, New American Standard) These are the same ones who, in the twentieth 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 which 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. They looked forward to his return, when they would be with him and “see him as he is.”—I John 3:1-3

As the parable indicates, however, 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.” (Matt. 13:38,39) 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.

After the apostles died, however, 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.

This has been the state of Christianity as seen by the world throughout most of the Gospel Age. The tares have always been preponderantly in the majority. The imposing systems of religion established by them 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 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 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, hope, aims, endeavors, are not in keeping with the hope of the kingdom set forth in the Word of God. They 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, fulfil 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. They have at times been almost lost among the tares, but they have been there. Church history reveals this, showing that there have always been those who looked for the return of their Lord and the establishment of his kingdom. These have been small in number, a “little flock” (Luke 12:32) indeed—frequently but one here and 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.


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” into bundles and “burned,” and the wheat gathered into the Lord’s garner, or “barn.”—Matt. 13:30,40

In Jesus’ explanation of the parable he said that the tares would be burned in a “furnace of fire.” (vs. 42) Since at the end of the age there are countless tares, and they are scattered throughout 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. This results also in the destruction of the tares, not necessarily as individuals, but as tares, in the sense that they no longer will be looked upon as being part of the Lord’s kingdom arrangements. They were 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.


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 the “Sun of righteousness shall 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. 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.’


Jesus explained that the ‘reapers’ whom he would send forth into the harvest would be the ‘angels.’ The Greek word here used is one which 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 a considerable variety of messengers are used in this figurative harvest.

The angels, or messengers, which 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 which 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, they are the messengers whom the Lord uses.

The Lord’s people 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. 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 labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:37,38) The disciples to whom these words were addressed were among the wheat which 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.

The same conditions prevail 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.


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 14:6-8,14,15 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. He is 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 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. 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 time is now fast approaching for the establishment of the glorious kingdom of Christ. Soon the wheat gathered into the barn will, with her Lord, shine forth as the sun for the blessing of all the families of the earth.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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