“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. “But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. “But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. “The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ “But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. ‘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.” Matthew 13:24-30
“And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:37-43
If we read these two passages of Scripture, the first thing we need an answer to is how it became possible for wheat and tares to be side by side drawing on the same nutrient? We also need to know what that nutrient is. As believers, we tend to look for the spiritual sense of things, and so we may miss the fact that everything we have in life begins in the physical realm as far as our own experience is concerned. We need the wisdom of God to know that this physical realm of the earth, is both our womb (Psalm 139:15), and our sustenance. We cannot set aside physical reality in favour of spiritual reality. The wisdom of God includes an understanding of both physical life and spiritual life. They are distinct and unified. Because of sin and death, they are to be separated eternally when this heavens and this earth pass away. Even as they are presently separated through the Cross, for the one who would walk in the Spirit.
The physical cosmos is subject to futility because of sin and death, even as our own bodies are presently set at variance with spiritual ambitions. As it is written, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please..” Gal 5:17
An understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven, that does not include a knowledge of physical and spiritual realities, is flawed.
The Kingdom of Heaven has existed since the foundation of the world and was kept hidden (Matthew 13:35). It cannot be an exaggeration, therefore, to say that Mathew chapter thirteen contains an understanding which is of the greatest importance to all men. Even though we speak of the Kingdom of Heaven, we still do not fully comprehend its meaning. However, we cannot say that we have not been given everything necessary to both understand the kingdom, as well as find an entrance thereinto. That many men do not find an entrance into the kingdom, presently, and in the future, is clear. One would have to ask how it is that the Kingdom of Heaven is lost to some men, and found by others? We also need to know why it is that some men become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, yet may still not find an easy entrance into the kingdom when Christ returns to reign for a thousand years over the nations. This is especially true because the Lord has told us that the Father has gladly chosen to give us the kingdom. Luke 12:32
The moment the Pharisees blasphemed the Holy Spirit, saying “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” (Mark 3:22), Jesus stopped speaking plainly and began to speak in parables.
The first parable was the sower in Mark 4:3-12.
“The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. “Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. “And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. “Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” Mark 4:3-12
By way of explaining the meaning of the parable of the sower, the Lord begins by telling the disciples that the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven had been granted to them (v11). We also read “but those who are outside get everything in parables.” It is very clear from these words that Jesus regarded the disciples to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven at the time these words were spoken. In what sense could the disciples have been part of the Kingdom of Heaven? “Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:8-9). The disciples were also taught that those who rejected them, were rejecting the Kingdom of Heaven.
The ‘coming near’ was the disciples themselves desiring to enter into other men’s houses in the name of Christ. (Luke 10:5). How much more true is it that in receiving Christ Himself, the disciples had been given the kingdom? Where the King is, there is the kingdom, is simply a matter of common sense (Matthew 12:28 Luke 17:12).
That Jesus had the power of the kingdom, is hardly contestable. The disciples came back from their labours excited, precisely because of this power of the kingdom, being invested in the name of Jesus.
The evidence was that they were even able to cast out demons (Luke 10:17). Jesus said, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). It is also evident that despite all of the things that the disciples understood, concerning the Kingdom of Heaven (Mathew 13:51), they were still expecting Jesus to establish the kingdom of God in the visibility of all men (Luke 19:11). Even after the resurrection of the Lord from the dead, the disciples were expecting the Lord to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). The disciples must have remembered every word of explanation Jesus gave them concerning the parables and their meaning. In their thinking, there could have been no contradiction in understanding the words of the Lord, and at the same time believing that Jesus would establish the kingdom on the earth, beginning in Israel.
In thinking about the disciples at this time, I am struck by the position they found themselves in and how similar a situation we are in today. There are of course profound differences. The greatest of which is where Christ Himself can be found. Today, Christ is in heaven seated at the right hand of the Father, whereas at the time of the disciples, Christ was with them in Judea. We could say, today Christ is also in us by the Holy Spirit. Whereas Christ was not in the disciples, but spoke to them, face to face, even up to the last moment when He ascended back into heaven. The point of singularity is an expectation that Christ would establish His kingdom on the earth at any time (Luke 19:11). For us today this means the Lord’s return. For the disciples after the Lord ascended out of their sight into heaven, this meant going up to Jerusalem, to wait, as they were commanded by the Lord.
Another difference between the disciples and ourselves is that while they were directly taught by Christ, we have been taught those things which have come down to us over nearly two thousand years. In this great length of time, the subject and meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven has been a strong theme.
This has been especially true over the past few hundred years or so. Moreover, it has been a singular issue over the past seventy years or so. Regardless of what we have been taught, or by whom, we have the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit, to show us what the meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven is – even all of its mysteries. Clearly, nothing can be of more importance than the Lord returning, at which time the world itself will become the Kingdom of Heaven (Revelation 11:15).
The Kingdom of Heaven is the same in meaning as the King. Christ Jesus is coming again in the glory of the Father, as King of kings to establish His kingdom on the earth. At this time the world itself becomes the Kingdom of Heaven because the King of heaven once again enters into a physical relationship with the kingdom of the earth (Revelation 11:15-18). Presently the world is under the power of the evil one until he is cast down from heaven (Revelation 12:9-11). In like manner when the Millennial Kingdom is concluded, the evil one will again be permitted to exert his poisonous influence in the latter days of the kingdom itself (Revelation 20:7-10). It must be clear therefore that when we speak of the Kingdom of Heaven, we are talking about that place where Christ the King, exerts His influence and has dominion, by His presence – both in what He permits, and what He does not permit. If we can accept this simple premise, then it may be possible to make more sense of the parable of the tares.
Before we press on any further, therefore, we have to ask ourselves a question. Is the church of the world? Alternatively, else is the church in the world? We could also ask this same question another way. Is the body of Christ of the world? Alternatively, else, is the body of Christ of the kingdom? We know that Jesus returned to heaven. The King who rode into Jerusalem was crucified, and after He was raised from the dead, He ascended back into heaven. On the other hand, the disciples were sent into the world as sheep amongst wolves. If the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to a field, and the field speaks of the world, where does the King of heaven, and the power of the kingdom reside, after His return to heaven?
The disciples remained in Jerusalem. They were commanded to wait in Jerusalem, and so they waited in obedience of the King. What were they waiting for? They were told to wait for power from on high (Luke 24:49). Once this power from on high was given, even the sending of the Holy Spirit, what was the first consequence? Three thousand were saved (Acts 2:41). What were the three thousand saved from? They were saved from the sin of unbelief, in having rejected Christ previously (Acts 2:23). At the instant these three thousand souls believed, they became citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Physically they remained in the world, yet they became citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.
We know the boundary of the Kingdom of Heaven, and we see the evidence is from the time of Christ in Israel to His ascension into heaven. Its boundary or dominion is the whole of the earth as well as heaven itself. We also know that all things are being made subject to Christ (Hebrews 2:1-8). When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).
The fulness of the Kingdom of Heaven is from the Lord’s ministry on earth, in the first presentation of the Kingdom of Heaven in power in Israel, to the removal of stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness from the Millennial Kingdom, where the “righteous will shine forth as the sun.” This is the present measure that is set before us. This is the measure we are concerned with.
The most singular reality which came into view from the day of Pentecost was the visible beginnings of the church on earth. First in Jerusalem, and then unto the ends of the earth. When we speak of the Kingdom of Heaven, we first need to comprehend that it does not yet appear visibly, save for in the demonstration of its power. Today, even as in the day of Christ, the kingdom is the dominion (power), and the presence of the King.
The only one who has true power and authority is the King. All others who become sons of the kingdom possess only one reality. This is Christ in us, both to will and to work according to His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
Though we have the keys of the kingdom with power, to preach Christ and to make disciples of all men, we do not yet comprehend the kingdom, because we do not yet fully comprehend the King. When His appearing reveals the King, then we will know Him, and we shall be as He is, because we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. “But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. “But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. “The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ “And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ “But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. ‘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.” Mathew 13:24-30.
“And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:37-43.
The parable of the good seed, which is called the parable of the tares by the disciples (v36), contains various parts, and corresponding to these parts are various meanings. We do not have to speculate to understand this fact, we simply need to read the parable, as well as its explanation. If we resist giving the parable a meaning of our own, and accept that this parable is the only occasion where the term ‘tares’ appears, we realise that the context of its meaning cannot be other than the Kingdom of Heaven, because this is what is stated plainly.
If we do not firstly establish the ground upon which the parable is set, it will not be possible to make reasonable and enlightened distinctions later on.
The first thing we read in this parable is that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. It is also the same field in which are sown the tares. One chief characteristic of the Kingdom of Heaven is that it is likened unto a field. We know from the explanation which the Lord subsequently gave to the disciples, that this field is the world.
The sower of the good seed is Jesus Himself (the Son of Man (v37). The field is the world (v38), and the good seed are sons of the kingdom (v38) The tares are sons of the evil one (v38), and the enemy of the Son of Man is the devil (v39). The harvest referred to, is at the end of the age (v40). The place where this harvest takes place, is the kingdom on earth (v41), where the righteous will shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father (v43). Only then do we read “He who has ears, let him hear.” In short, the only possibility of understanding even this explanation, is as a son of the kingdom, having ears to hear. No amount of explanation rationally will make its meaning apprehensible.
To see beyond this statement of the Lord Jesus requires the reader to know the limit or boundary which is set by it. If we call the church, the kingdom, we would have changed the meaning of the church. Likewise, if we call the kingdom, the church, we would have neglected that the parable teaches that the kingdom is likened unto a field and that the field is the world. If this seems difficult to understand, then it may be because we have not comprehended the limitation of the church today or the extent and influence of the kingdom.
The church is not yet revealed. Christ is still building it by His power working through the members of His body. Moreover, it is only when two or three members of His body come together in His name, that Christ is in the midst. This is the true church, and this presentation of the members of His body becomes the only visible evidence of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and the church itself. The sphere and scope of the kingdom include the whole world. One day the world itself will become the Kingdom of Heaven because Christ Himself will return in power.
In speaking of wheat and tares we need to adjust our understanding to accept, that while the good seed represent sons of the kingdom, in the church, (which is in the world), so the tares, being sons of the evil one, speaks of the world which is also included in the dominion and influence of the kingdom. It is only when the wheat (sons of the kingdom) bear fruit, that a distinction can be made between the wheat and the tares? In all other respects, the wheat and the tares appear the same. The Greek says, zizanion (ζιζάνιον) for tares and refers to the Bearded Darnell of the Poaceae family of grasses. It is poisonous when it becomes infected by fungi of the genus, neotyphodium. The tare, therefore, may be harmless, or it may be poisonous depending on whether it is infected during its life cycle, causing it to produce mycotoxins. The tares of the kingdom can be harmless or harmful.
In reading the parables, as presented by the Lord in Mathew chapter thirteen, beginning with the parable of the sower through to the parable of the net (13:1-52), we see that just before this passage, Jesus makes a public separation, concerning His mother, brothers and sisters. The fullness of this separation is according to a prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-12. The means by which this separation is achieved is by speaking parables (Matthew 13:13 & 13:35). The Lord made a distinction between Himself and His family to demonstrate the meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven and to show that though its dominion had not changed, those who would be considered sons of the kingdom would be those who believe in Christ Himself (Matthew 12:46-50). From this moment the nearness and dominion of the kingdom are hidden, except to the disciples. All of the parables therefore, which are included from the parable of the sower to the parable of the net, speak about this separation.
This hiding of the kingdom has a consequence not only for Israel, but it has a consequence for the kingdom itself. This consequence points to the very meaning of the parables, which in reality explain this historical effect as well as its outworking into the future. What is this effect? It is the instant understanding of the broader dominion of the Kingdom of Heaven, “peace to [those] who were far away, and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17). Centrally, it speaks of the uncovering of the Cross of Christ, without which there can be no forgiveness for sin and therefore no direct relationship with the Father in heaven.
The Apostles were told many times that Christ was to die in Jerusalem, yet they could not fathom its meaning. Several disciples even took swords along to the last Passover meal (Luke 22:38). When Peter drew his sword and struck one of those who arrested Jesus (John 18:10), I see a man who is still trying to turn the Lord away from the Cross. It is the peace of God, through the Cross that serves as a basis for the kingdom itself. The Kingdom of Heaven would have to remain hidden until the Father had a just basis to forgive men. Only then could the Kingdom of Heaven come in power.
The kingdom was presented to Israel, by John the Baptist, Christ, and the disciples. In the end, it will be presented to the whole world by the appearing of the King of kings in the glory and power of the Father. It is not difficult to see therefore that the dominion of the kingdom is greater than Israel and the Church, because it encompasses the whole world. In such a circumstance it is also not difficult to comprehend why it is that Satan, as the ruler of this world, can raise up false converts at this present time. Many of these are religious tares. If we conclude that this is the entire explanation as to why so many who take the name of Christ do not appear to have the ability to walk faithfully, this would be a singular mistake, in my understanding. It would be wrong to believe that the tares in any given day will not themselves come into a knowledge of the truth, and so become true sons of the Kingdom of Heaven. Recognising that there are unbelievers within the dominion and influence of the Kingdom of Heaven ought not to amount to a claim that there are unbelievers in the church. To realise that this must be true it is only necessary to understand that the church is not a denomination or a particular tradition, but can only be those who have the life of Christ in them. On the other hand, the physical cosmos of the world is included in the boundary and the dominion of the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is profoundly wrong to say that there are tares in amongst the wheat, and to intend that this is understood as meaning unbelievers in the church. True believers cannot mix with unbelievers; only unbelievers can mix with believers. It is the Lord Himself who sows the good seed first, only then can the enemy sow the tares. This mixing is not in the church, it is in the world, which itself is within the dominion of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Denominations and church buildings are not the body of Christ. They are the outward evidence of the church and the very proof of the Kingdom of Heaven. In that dominion of the Kingdom of Heaven, are found unbelievers; both tares, as well as apostate brethren who have become to us as an unbeliever. Tares and false brethren are not the same in meaning. Nor is the presence of tares amongst the wheat the same as saying that there are unbelievers in the church unless we first comprehend that we do not yet know what the church is. It has not been revealed, and will not be known until the day of the Lord. It is far better to recognise that where two or three are gathered together in the Lord’s name, He is in the midst. Of what shall we be afraid when we comprehend that tares come into our meetings? Of what shall we be afraid if an apostate brother comes among us? Of what shall we be afraid if we understand that it is inevitable that these things happen? All men are in the dominion and meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven. Even Satan is bound by its influence when he labours in men who dwell on the earth. As the prince of the power of the air, he is free from this effect, yet the day is coming when he will be cast down, and after that, he himself is subject to the realities of men with no more power over the air itself. Are not the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet, men?
One of the most pernicious undertakings which we have witnessed over the past thirty years or so has been an increasing presentation of Christ to the unsaved in terms which amount to a false gospel. This gospel focuses on individuals’ sufferings in life and presents Christ as a remedy for the pain this suffering has caused. The true Gospel, however, focuses on the sufferings of Christ to redeem wicked and sinful men from the consequence of their sin, and not from the pain of having been sinned against. It is no wonder that in casting such a net of influence countless men and women have embraced the name of Jesus, and yet do not produce any true fruit of repentance. Nor is there any evidence that the meaning, power and consequence of sin is comprehended by these same men and women.
The fact that they come into the buildings which bear the name church does not in any way mean that they have come into the true Church. The meaning of the true church is predicated on a life relationship with Christ; not whether you go to church or desire to be seen and understood as a Christian. An Egyptian can be in Goshen, but an Egyptian cannot become a Jew simply by living in Goshen. Clearly, living in Goshen, proved to be an advantage to those Egyptians who chose to live amongst the Jews who put their trust in God on the night of the Passover. If there is any hope at all on this day, then it is in this possibility – that those who are not born again, who dwell in the dominion of the Kingdom of Heaven, by aligning themselves to the Church, will put their trust in Christ, to an effect of being born again.
It may well be impossible to know who is saved and who is not saved today in many places. There will be some who have received a promise of being saved, who were in fact saved, and there will be many who have not believed at all even though they may have responded to the Gospel itself. This means that while tares are living amongst the wheat, there are also those who may bear no fruit due to the influence of the tares, as well as a love of the world.
To the natural mind, this creates an indistinguishable harvest. In the end, the harvest can only be brought into the storehouse of the Lord by angels, and not men at all. The final meaning of this barren condition of many, who have believed and yet bear no fruit, will be apostasy in our day. Apostasy does not mean unbelievers claiming to be believers. Apostasy means believers themselves falling away from the apostles’ teachings. If just one believer falls away from the apostles’ teachings and preaches a sufficiency of Christ crucified to make it possible for the hearer to believe and be born again, then after a season there will be many men and women who are barely saved, out from which arise other apostate preachers and thereunto an ever greater apostasy. Being barely rescued, in this sense, means having eternal life, yet always walking in the natural mind and neglecting the Kingdom of Heaven. In such ground, it is only a matter of time when it is impossible to distinguish between the tares and the apostate believer. The end, are those who are walking in the light according to the apostles’ teachings becoming the least of the brethren, and all others will be over them. Such a day will herald the Man of Sin. Such a day is a day of the false prophet, and such a day is nearly upon us (Romans 13:12). There is a great need for wisdom to know how to labour, knowing that the Kingdom is both far off, and near at hand. We also need to know what apostasy really is, otherwise we will simply condemn others in our wrong understanding.
In the New Testament, there are a number of references to wolves. These are Matthew 7:16, 10:16, Luke 10:3, Acts 20:29 & John 10:12-13. Of these Matthew 7:15 has to do with false prophets and teachers who come in sheep’s clothing but are inwardly ravenous wolves, and Acts 20:29 expressly speaks about grievous wolves [entering] in among [the church], not sparing the flock.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15
“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Acts 20:29-30
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” 2 Peter 2:1-3
These three passages show two threads of understanding. One concerning false teachers and false prophets arising from within the flock; the other that of wolves coming from outside of the flock, but finding an entrance into the flock. This distinction also helps to make sense of the false prophet, the false teacher and the grievous wolf. Peter identifies two areas of influence; they are ‘among the people’ and ‘among you.’ The ‘people’ at the time of Peter are Israel (though today the people could be all people), and the second group are believers in the Lord Jesus. Similarly, the writer of Acts identifies grievous wolves ‘entering in among you’ as well as those ‘of your own selves.’ The Lord Jesus speaks of false prophets, who ‘come to you.’ Remembering that tares cannot be said to be the true church, though they dwell in the same ground as the true church, so we must now apply this same understanding to comprehend what the Scripture teaches about this difficult issue. In this instance, there are several distinctions that need to be made.
As far as the ground on which the church stands there are wheat and tares. The tare is always false, but the wheat may also become false as well. This is because when the wheat does not bear fruit it is shown to be carnal, and fit for destruction, even though the wheat speaks of true believers. Wheat and tares are included in the dominion of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is also possible that those true believers who are carnal; having a testimony of Christ, also have the potential to lead astray other believers. In such a circumstance the one who is yet carnal and a teacher, is by very nature false, because being carnal they speak and teach out of their fleshy minds, and not in the Spirit. I believe that a distinction needs to be made very clearly in all of this. The one who is born again, yet because of besetting sin, pride and overall fleshiness; who begins to teach, despite all of these things, is not a ravenous wolf. They may well be like a wolf, even as the tare is like a believer, yet they cannot be a ravenous wolf according to Matthew 7:15.
On the other hand, as the tares also abide in the same ground as the wheat, it is possible to comprehend that a false convert in the midst can become a ravenous wolf and thence go about from flock to flock. The central characteristic of the false prophet or teacher is that they teach false doctrines, and it is the outworking of these false doctrines that has the effect of ravaging the flock. Ravenous, therefore, denotes a mind to destroy. It speaks of becoming like a demon or having a demonic mind. It speaks of being earthbound, natural and demonic (James 3:13-18). It means destroying the flock or else scattering the flock.
The ravenous wolf in Matthew 7:15 is firstly a false prophet, and this is the principle identifying characteristic of such a person. It is essential to get a proper sense of what this means. The Greek says, ψευδοπροφήτης (pseudoprophetes) and means fake prophet. The second characteristic is that of being ravenous. The Greek says, αρπαγες (harpage), ravenous, and means to destroy, rob and steal. It is characteristic of a lack of self-control inwardly, though outwardly due to an intentional deception, it is a presentation of righteousness.
The term wolf, in Matthew, is the Greek word lukos (λύκος), and it occurs in Matthew. 10:16; Luke 10:3; John 10:12 as well as Matthew. 7:15. It may denote a person or persons whose character and conduct is as a believer, yet whose fruit is as an unbeliever. The qualifying meaning, generally, is derived from the adjective, ravenous or grievous, whereas the wolf, is figurative of a person’s conduct, having no proper self-control. This could be sexual lust, monetary greed or many other lusts of the flesh. Taken together, ravenous wolf’ means a person without self-control in the hidden recesses of their hearts, being greedy, lustful and covetous, given to jealousy, rage, anger, malice, accusations; as well as a demonic inclination to control others. In Hebrew, the same word wolf also carries the meaning to be like a brother as well as to be like a sorcerer. It is characteristic of a person seeking the agreement of others in order to control them. The chief outworking of this need to control others would be expressed through false teaching or false prophecy. The ravenous wolf of Matthew 7:15 is very different from the wolf that Paul speaks of in Acts 20:29 where the wolf is called a grievous wolf. The Greek says, βαρύς (barus) grievous, which means to press a severe burden on a person. It is reflective of someone finding an entry into the fellowship of believers with the intention of pressing the flock to keep the Law of Moses as a means of attaining to eternal life. It is to be of the same mind as the Pharisees in the Lord’s day, whom Jesus rebuked because they burdened the people of Israel with every jot and tittle of the Law, but did nothing to help to carry the burden.
In the true church, this would amount to the same in meaning as those referred to in Galatians 6:13. The term grievous wolf carries many of the same implications as the ravenous wolf carries, as far as the noun wolf is concerned, but the adjective, grievous, alludes to an attitude of religious deception expressed legalistically, and pressed onto others, thereby making their lives a burden and misery. The wolf-like characteristics are the same, and so the grievous wolf is driven by an inward knowledge of being a hypocrite, and therefore false (1 Timothy 4:2), in the same way, that the ravenous wolf is false pseudoprophetes (ψευδοπροφήτης).
The difference between these two types of wolf becomes evident when the ravenous wolf will flatter and refuse to condemn sin, whereas the grievous wolf focuses on nothing but sin, in light of the Law, and will only praise the truly self-righteous. The character, and therefore the spirit and motive of these two kinds of wolf, are very different. One could say, however, that these two kinds of wolf at work in the church, produces a common outcome. The result, on the one hand, is a bringing the gospel of grace into disrepute, and on the other hand, this activity makes for the eventual apostasy of the church itself. The ravenous wolf corresponds to those the Lord Jesus spoke about to the disciples “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:16). Whereas the grievous wolf corresponds to those of whom Paul warns will come into the church after he has departed (Acts 20:29-30).
Carnal believers on the one hand and tares on the other represent two types of person. Who respectively, being either fleshy or else deceived altogether, (yet both believing they are truly following Christ), may also desire to teach. Such as these openly depart from the truth, being led on by fleshy impulses or because the truth is not in them. Though they know the doctrines of God, they do not walk in the Spirit, or else do not have life, and therefore they are inclined to both believe and in some instances, to teach false doctrines. They may draw away to themselves other carnal believers as well as tares, both being incapable of discerning truth.
The carnal believer who becomes a teacher may well be wolf-like in their carousing attitudes and may influence true believers with their false teachings. Yet they are much more likely to draw tares along with them and so together these tares may form a distinct group, in as much as they are unbelievers led on by a carnal believer. Regardless as to what they erroneously believe or teach, they are in any event going to come under judgement. Yet the tares, without true hope (if they remain tares) may one day perish. If one of these tares were to become dominant and exhibit counterfeit manifestations of the Holy Spirit, to that extent, they might actively lead even the righteous sheep astray. In this instance, they are more fully ravenous wolves. This is because a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, being ordinarily the very evidence of the Kingdom of Heaven, will be believed by some of the sheep and result in many problems. The least of these problems will be believing a lying sign or wonder; it will be more believing the false teachings which are presented by that means. Apart from any personal cost, the significant consequences are increased numbers of false conversions, and where there are true conversions, greater numbers of fleshy believers. Taken together the effect is growing apostasy of the true church.
The most fearful deceiver is always perceived to be the one who is of one’s own house. This is because the believer is much more vulnerable to one known to be a true brother, than one of whom there are doubts. You may recognise a deluded tare simply because of what he himself believes as touching upon issues of life. Your true brother however when he rises up and begins to teach falsely is much harder to reject, unless like the tare he teaches against the centrality of Christ as touching on an issue of eternal life.
The one who is your true brother in Christ, by reason of possessing the same life of Christ, is much easier to deal with, however. This is because he can be handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Even if he is judged unto death, he belongs to God and Christ. His death will be to his advantage in the end.
The tare, on the other hand, cannot be given over to the destruction of the flesh because if he dies, he will perish. The Lord is ever long-suffering, so in dealing with the ravenous wolf, it is necessary to contend for sound doctrine and expose him for what he is, according to the truth and not by a judgement which separates unto death.
The grievous wolf, on the other hand, may also come from the tares as well as true believers, unlike the ravenous wolf who cannot be a true believer. A true believer may be like a grievous wolf in his inclination to teach both wheat and tares to live according to the Law, and while this has certain consequences for true believers it does not amount to being ravenous and destructive. There is a case to say that there are also grievous wolves who are not born again. In such a circumstance it is likely that such as these will be cult leaders and have little to do with the actual church at all. Yet in a time of growing apostasy even such as these are finding not only an entrance into the flocks but a place to dwell also. Perhaps by the end of this age, the distinction will be impossible to express clearly, either in their personal conduct or visible fruit.
I notice that Paul, around 63 AD urged Timothy to remain in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3), this is at least five years after Paul warned the Ephesians saying “after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). This warning was in 57AD. I also see that in 1 Timothy chapter four Paul also tells Timothy that “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron………..In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (1 Tim 4:1-6). We can see that all of these warnings and instructions to Timothy, including 1 Timothy 3:1-13 (qualification of Elders), 1 Timothy 1:19; Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 5:17-21 (Purpose of Elders) and 1 Timothy 4:13, 14 (The need for accuracy) all paid off for the church at Ephesus, because in Revelation we read that the church at Ephesus in 96AD was still managing to specifically resist false prophets and false teachers (Revelation 2:1-7). What this tells me is that although Paul committed the Ephesian elders to ‘God and to the word of His grace” it was the word of His grace being taught and preached through Timothy. In fact when we read in Paul’s letter to Timothy in 63AD what the substance of his warnings to the Ephesian elders in 57AD was – and being; “As I exhorted thee to tarry at Ephesus, when I was going into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge certain men not to teach a different doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3-6)……we see what kind of men would arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. The wolves, on the other hand, were from outside the flock and may be the false apostles spoken of in Revelation, which the Ephesians were commended for having resisted, by the Lord Jesus Himself.
In finality, in speaking about the wolf and the tares we are in all speaking about men. In speaking about the ravenous wolf we are speaking about unbelievers finding an entrance into the flock, appearing as though they are believers, yet are not. If such as these remained silent they would be no more than insignificant tares. Yet their coming is always with a determination to profit from the people of God. Having been received by others, or else having been rejected by others, they go about with a mind to devour. If they are led on by such means and are permitted to teach, which is their ambition, they become false prophets and teachers and may do considerable harm to the flock by that means. In speaking about grievous wolves, we are speaking principally about those who are lording it over the flock with burdens amounting to a keeping of the Law of Moses in order to gain eternal life. Whereas eternal life is the free gift of God and cannot be merited. In speaking about grievous wolves coming into the flock, we are speaking about men who are cruel and judgmental exacting a cost for every flattery and a price for every release from their awful burdens.