Sam Waldron who teaches at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary has been writing on the topic of postmillennialism. In his “DatPostmil? #4: Does the Growth of the Kingdom Require Postmillennialism?” he discusses some of the parables of Jesus. While he agrees with the growth imagery of the parables, he dismisses “postmillennial implications of these passages,” in particular “the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds” (Tares) found in Matthew 13:24–43. Waldron states his argument as follows:
Jesus’s key statement is found in Matthew 13:30: “Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” This is the answer of the Lord of the Harvest to a question of His servants. To their query whether they should hoe up the weeds that the enemy had sown, He replies that both wheat and weeds should be allowed to grow together until the harvest.
The error of the postmillennial use of all the growth and progress passages is here exposed. They assume that the growth of the wheat (the sons of the kingdom) during the gospel age means the withering of the weeds (the sons of the evil one). This assumption seems obvious to them, of course, but it is contrary to the teaching and assumption of Jesus. Jesus thinks that both good and evil will keep growing and grow together till the end of the age.
Interpreting this parable requires we understand the meaning of “the end of the age” and to what era Jesus is applying it: “the gospel age” between the First and Second Comings or the transition period between “the first obsolete covenant” that was “growing old and ready [lit., near] to disappear” and the “new covenant” (Heb. 8:13)?
The KJV translates the Greek phrase συντέλεια αἰῶνός as “end of the world” instead of the more accurate “end of the age” since the Greek word αἰών (age) is used and not κόσμος (world). The New Kings James translation has corrected the mistranslation as have most modern translations.
The destruction of the temple, and with it the priesthood and sacrificial system, inaugurated a new era in which “the blood of Christ” cleanses our “conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). Therefore, the expression “end of the age” refers “to the end of the ‘Jewish age,’ i.e., the time of transference from a national to an international people of God.”
A similar phrase is used by the author of Hebrews: “But now once at the consummation of the ages [συντελείᾳ τῶν αἰώνων] He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26). If the writer to the Hebrews meant the end of the world, he would have used kosmos (κόσμου) as he does in the same verse. Jesus was manifested, not at the beginning, but “at the consummation of the ages,” a time that was passing away.
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The period between AD 30 and 70 is, as the apostle Peter describes it, “these last times” (1 Peter 1:20). As time drew near for Jerusalem’s destruction, Peter could say that “the end of all things was at hand” (4:7). Milton Terry offers the following as a summary of the meaning of the “end of the age” that helps us pinpoint the time frame: “It is the solemn termination and crisis of the dispensation which had run its course when the temple fell, and there was not left one stone upon another which was not thrown down. That catastrophe, which in Heb. xii, 26, is conceived as a shaking of the earth and the heaven, is the end contemplated in this discourse; not ‘the end of the world,’ but the termination and consummation of the pre‑Messianic age.”
Notice that the disciples did not ask about the dissolution of the physical heaven and earth or the judgment of the “world” (kosmos) preceding a second coming that would be physical. After hearing Jesus pronounce judgment on the temple and city of Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37–39), His disciples asked about the end of the “age” (aion). When did the “end” occur? The only proximate eschatological event that fits the “end of the age” framework is the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The disciples knew that the destruction of the temple and city meant the end of a temporary older covenantal order and the inauguration of a new order with Jesus as the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45; see Rom. 5:14). As Jews who were familiar with Old Testament imagery, the disciples recognized the meaning of this restructuring language without fully understanding its implications. Jesus nowhere corrects or modifies the multi-faceted question of the disciples or intimates that He means two comings separated by thousands of years. See my book Wars and Rumors of Wars and Last Days Madness for a verse-by-verse study of Matthew 24 and related passages.
The wheat at the weeds looked similar during this transition era since the first believers were Jews. The earliest theological battle was between unbelieving and believing Jews. The Roman government did not distinguish between Jewish disputes. The Jews wanted to make a distinction between them and Jesus when Pilate had a sign made that stated that Jesus was “the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” and the Jews protested (John 19:19–22). The Roman official Gallio refused to get involved in a dispute among the Jews:
While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews coordinated an attack on Paul and brought him before the judgment seat. “This man is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law,” they said. But just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio told the Jews, “If this matter involved a wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to hear your complaint. But since it is a dispute about words and names and your own law, settle it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of such things.” And he drove them away from the judgment seat. At this, the crowd seized Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the judgment seat. But none of this was of concern to Gallio (Acts 19:12–17).
When the fight among Jews spilled over into the civil sphere, it was only then that Rome took action. The Wheat (Christian Jews) grew up among the Tares (anti-Christian Jews). The two groups grew up until their seeds had become fully ripe. It was at that point the harvest took place at the end of that age. Those Jews who embraced Jesus as the promised Messiah escaped the judgment while those who worked against the gospel message were caught up in the fiery conflagration (Matt. 24:16–21; Luke 21:20–24), figurately and literally, a point made earlier in Matthew’s gospel: “Now the king was angry, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire” (Matt. 22:7). The following is from the Josephus’ Wars of the Jews:
But when [Roman soldier] went in numbers into the lanes of the city, with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook, without mercy, and set fire to the houses wither the Jews were fled and burnt every soul in them…. [They] made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood. And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night, and as all was burning…. (Book 6, Chap. 8, Sec. 403–407).
Not only was the city set ablaze, but Josephus describes the destruction of the Temple as well:
While the holy house (The Temple) was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age … but children and old men … and priests, were all slain in the same manner….The flame was also carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those who were slain … one would have thought the whole city would have been on fire. Nor can one imagine anything greater and more terrible than this noise (Wars, Book 6, Chap. 5, Sec. 1).
The harvest Jesus described occurred within a generation. The wheat and tares were growing up together, and as they matured they were known by the harvesters in the judgment that took place as Jesus had predicted. John the baptizer began the warning: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come [μελλούσης: about to come]?’” (Matt. 3:7)
The “sons of disobedience” were alive and active in the first century. They were “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:2–3; Col. 3:6–7), Jews who were attacking the Bride of Christ as we see repeatedly manifested in the book of Acts beginning soon after Pentecost (Acts 4). At one time, Paul was one of them (Acts 7:54–8:1–3; 22:19–20; 26:1–12).
Paul notes that God’s wrath was on the horizon from which God’s people would be delivered (1 Thess. 1:10). The wheat and the weeds were active in Paul’s day and would be judged under God’s wrath before the end of the age:
For you, brothers_,_ became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they _did_ from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all people, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always reach the limit of their sins. **But wrath has come upon them fully** [lit. to the end] (2:14–16).
Compare this with what Jesus said in Matthew 23:31–36 and Acts 7:51–53. The weeds made up John’s antichrists (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1–2; 2 John 7) and the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). Some of them had become part of the Christian assembly:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be evident that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).
Paul had warned the Ephesian elders that after his departure “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).
[T]he when of their entrance is not specified precisely, but the words were amply fulfilled in the presence of the emissaries of the Judaisers, creeping in from the Jewish communities into the Churches of Asia, as they had slunk into the Churches of Galatia, cf. Hort, Judaistic Christianity, pp. 130–146, on the teaching of the Judaisers and its evil influence in the Pastoral Epistles. (Expositor’s Greek Testament, in loc. cit.)
The rulers of “this age,” Paul writes, were “passing away” (1 Cor. 2:6) because that age was passing away. “[N]one of the rulers of this age has understood [God’s wisdom]; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). Who was guilty of this inconceivable crime? Peter tells us:
Men of Israel, listen to this message: Jesus of Nazareth was a man certified by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. He was delivered up by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, and you, by the hands of the lawless, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross (Acts 2:22–23).
The reapers are angels who could make the distinction between the wheat and the weeds. The weeds called down God’s wrath upon themselves:
Now when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; you yourselves shall see.” And all the people replied, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified (Matt. 27:24–26; also Acts 18:6; 20:26).
When was the timing for this judgment harvesting?
For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom (Matt. 16:27–28).
For a discussion of the timing of Matthew 16:26–27 see here and here. In the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, Jesus was describing the events that would unfold and identify the believing remnant: “there has also come to be at the present time”— not a distant future time—“a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (Rom. 11:5).
This book shows that some of the earliest writers, most likely writing before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, were referring to the judgment coming of Jesus, an event that the gospel writers tell us was to take place before that first-century generation passed away (Matt. 24:34). Adding to the confirmation of this view are the writings of the church’s first historian, Eusebius Pampilus of Caesarea, whose Ecclesiastical History is a window on the first few centuries of the church.
R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 337.
Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House,  1988), 225.
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