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Typically, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13 is often understood as describing the full course of redemptive history leading to the end of our world. It seems, however, that everything in Matthew’s Gospel — from fleeing the wrath that was “about [μελλούσης] to come” (Matt. 3:7; also 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:14–16) to the judgment on that generation (Matt. 23:36; 24:34) — refered specifically to the Jews of Jesus’ day. Of course, this does not mean that the principles associated with the fulfillment of these time indicators do not have application for us today since all Scripture is for “training in righteous that the man of God may be equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). We are called on to learn from Israel’s history, both OT and NT.

Matthew 13:40

Let’s take a close look at Matthew 13:40:

And the enemy who sowed them [the tares] is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore, just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age (13:40).

It’s important to note that some Greek manuscripts read “this age” and not simply “age.” For example:

  • “Therefore, as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (NKJV), that is, the age to whom Jesus was speaking.
  • “As therefore the … weeds are gathered up and burned with fire; so will it be at the end of this age” (World English Bible), that is, their age.
  • “As, then, the [result of the growth of the tares] is gathered up, and is burned with fire, so shall it be in the full end of this age” (Young’s Literal Translation)
  • “[S]o shall it be in the end of this world [αἰῶνος] (Pulpit Commentary)

This translation matches what we find in Matthew 12:32: “either in this age [the age in which Jesus was addressing His audience], or the age about [μέλλοντι] to come,” that is the New Covenant Age in which we are living.

Beginner's Guide to Interpreting Bible Prophecy

Beginner's Guide to Interpreting Bible Prophecy

With so much prophetic material in the Bible — somewhere around 25% of the total makeup of Scripture — it seems difficult to argue that an expert is needed to understand such a large portion of God’s Word and so many ‘experts’ could be wrong generation after generation. This course has been designed to help Christians of all ages and levels of experience to study Bible prophecy with confidence.

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When the wheat and tares are not fully grown, they look similar. When the plants mature, it’s easy to distinguish them. The Romans had a difficult time distinguishing believing Jews from unbelieving Jews. This was not a concept that they understood or cared to understand. At this point in biblical history, the Roman government considered the conflict between these warring factions to be a squabble within Judaism. For example:

But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews rose up together against Paul {who was a Jew] and brought him before the judgment seat, saying, “This man is inciting the people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of some crime or vicious, unscrupulous act, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; but if there are questions about teaching and persons and your own law, see to it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.” And he drove them away from the judgment seat. But they all took hold of Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and began beating him in front of the judgment seat. And yet Gallio was not concerned about any of these things (Acts 18:12–17)

If there was no talk of revolution and the peace was kept, the Roman government didn’t care about a person’s religion. This is why the Judean opponents of Paul and his fellow travelers were often portrayed as political insurrectionists who “all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7). While Rome didn’t care about religion, it did care about political control.

What is “world” a reference to in Matthew 13:38 where it says, “and the field is the world.” The “world” is most likely a reference to their world, not the whole wide world. It should be noted that Jews were scattered throughout the then-known world. Remnants of the twelve tribes was scattered abroad (James 1:1). Also see 1 Peter 1:1. The word “world” in Greek, Hebrew, and English is often understood in similar ways: the cosmos, planet earth, a person’s world, all people on earth, an ethnic group (the world of the Jews), “the ancient world” (2 Peter 2:5; 3:6), and the ethical sphere: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues to live forever” (1 John 2:15–17). As you can tell, “world” is used in different ways in these three verses. I have a chapter on this topic in my book Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths.

Jesus states the following in John 15:18–19: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” During Jesus’ ministry, the Roman world didn’t hate Jesus. The Jewish religious leaders did (John 8:59; Matt. 21:45–46; 27:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66–71). The Romans were not trying to kill Jesus. The Jewish religious leaders were (Matt. 26:3–5). Who persecuted Jesus’ disciples in the book of Acts? Mostly the religious leaders (e.g., Acts 4–5). The Jews either did it directly or made false political charges like what the Jewish religious leaders did to Jesus to get Rome to execute Him.

Who are the “they” in John 15:24–25? “But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause’” (15:25) “Their law” refers to the Jews’ law found in the Old Testament since Jesus quotes Psalms 35:19 and 69:4. This is not a description of the Gentile world. The “world” in this case was the world of the Jews at that time. Jesus continually calls the Jews of His day to account — “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:23). A similar accounting would take place among the nations: “because He has set a day on which He is about [μέλλει] to judge the world [οἰκουμένην] in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all people by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Matthew 23 is directed at that generation: “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation” (23:35–36). For a study of this section of Scripture, see my book Wars and Rumors of Wars. Stephen makes a similar charge (Acts 7:51–53) against that generation (2:40).

Later in Matthew, we read: “For the Son of Man is about [μέλλει] to come in the glory of His Father with His angels and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Truly I say to you [those in Jesus’ audience], there are some standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:27–28). The “end of the age” had to be far enough in the future where nearly all of Jesus’ disciples had died but not so far in the future that all His disciples had died. The event that fits the time parameters is the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the end of the age leading up to it beginning with the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7) and James the brother of John at the hand of Herod Agrippa I, an action that “pleased the Jews” (12:1–4).

Jesus expands on this theme in Matthew 21 in the parable of the Landowner (21:33–46). “And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them” (21:45). Jesus then expands His teaching on this coming judgment by telling the parable about how the king’s son was mistreated by the invited guests, the Jews of His day: Jesus “came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:10). As a result of their indifference, “the king was enraged and sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire” (Matt. 22:7), which brought an end to the old covenant age.

Matthew 13:49–50 states, “So it will be at the end of the age [αἰῶνος]; the angels shall come forth [see Matthew 16:27–28] and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This happened during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Believing Jews had fled the city. The only ones left were the “tares.” Does this mean that God no longer judges? Of course not. But the judgment themes in the gospels deal almost exclusively with that generation.

“Teaching them to observe all that I command you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus told His disciples that He will always be with them even to the end of the (old covenant) age when they will go through a period of tribulation that Jesus described in Matthew 24:21 and John described in Revelation: “I, John, your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). Even though a great tribulation was occurring in his day, John could point to “the kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus” that would outlive that passing away “age.”

The end of the old covenant age was not a barrier for the greater age to come. The Apostle Paul was a victim of the tribulation period (2 Cor. 11:22–27) that later brought him to Rome to face Caesar because of false charges made to Roman civil officials by his Jewish countrymen. Jesus promised to be with His disciples “all the days,” even during the Great Tribulation that was taking place. Consider the following that Paul wrote to Timothy:

Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil people and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:10–13).

“All the days” means “forever” and is not the same as the “end of the age.” “The end of the age” — their age — had an endpoint, “all the days” does not.

In my opinion, Jesus is addressing two time periods: the end of the Mosaic age which was coming to an end (“the end of the age”), and His presence with His people thereafter forever.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Wars and Rumors of Wars

A first-century interpretation of the Olivet Discourse was once common in commentaries and narrative-style books that describe the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. There is also a history of skeptics who turn to Bible prophecy and claim Jesus was wrong about the timing of His coming at ‘the end of the age’ and the signs associated with it. A mountain of scholarship shows that the prophecy given by Jesus was fulfilled in exacting detail when He said it would: before the generation of those to whom He was speaking passed away.

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