Wineskins Archive

December 9, 2013

Left Behind? Yes! (May 2012)

Filed under: — @ 8:13 pm and

By Edward Fudge

While reading from Matthew in the Greek New Testament recently with a friend, we both were struck by something Jesus says–not once but repeatedly–about the final judgment yet to come. He tells a parable about a wheat farmer, in whose fields an enemy secretly sows a weed that closely resembles the growing wheat plant in appearance. To prevent waste due to confusion, the farmer tells his workers to let the two grow together until maturity. Then they will “gather the weeds first” to be burned, and harvest the wheat that is left. So it will be at the end, Jesus explains. The angels will “gather out of his kingdom” those who cause sin and who do evil (Matt. 13:28-30, 40-42). Then, in another parable with a different scene, Jesus repeats the image. Just as a Galilean net fisherman drags in all sorts of fish, then separates bad from good, so the angels will come and “separate the evil from the righteous” (Matt. 13:47-50).

What caught our attention in reading these parables is that in both stories the angels gather the bad product first, out from the good product. Gather the weeds first, out of the fields of wheat. Separate the evil from the righteous. Gather the wicked out of the kingdom. In each instance mentioned in Matthew 13, the evil ones are taken away and the righteous are left behind. This detail would likely go unnoticed, if a pastor named Tim LaHaye and a writer named Jerry Jenkins had not produced a series of fictional novels which they titled Left Behind, and in which that is definitely the undesirable option. The whole plot driving the series owes more to imagination than to Scripture in my opinion (though some people who surpass me in knowledge and piety alike insist otherwise). But that is not my concern today, which is rather simply to observe how fixed our minds can become by repeated exposure to a particular notion or image until we are incapable of thinking anything else, even if it happens to appear in Scripture itself.

Jesus’ purpose in tellling these two parables is the point we really need to grasp–whatever our expectation about the final events in earthly history. Like the seine-net in the parable, the kingdom of God is now a mixed bag that includes “evil men,” “false believers,” and “feigned confessors,” as J. Jeremias aptly puts it (The Parables of Jesus, 226). That is something the Essenes could not tolerate — so they moved away from it all and established a “pure community” at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Such ambiguity was also unacceptable to the Pharisees. Although they lived among the “sinners,” they made it ostentatiously clear that they were separate from the hoi polloi — the rest of humankind. Their piety was external and always visible if nothing else. Jesus urged his disciples not to be enticed by rumors that the kingdom of God was already dawning out there in the wilderness (Essenes), or that the path to its entrance led through the Pharisees.

If we read Matthew 13 again in its entirety, we will hear three prevailing themes. This is the time for sowing and for growing, not for judging or sorting out the people. (That will keep us busy.) Judgment time is coming, but God will handle that without our help or advice. (That should keep us humble.) Listen to Jesus with our hearts, knowing that parables will convey his message if we do that, and that they will certainly block it if we do not. Amen.

Copyright 2012 by Edward Fudge. You are urged to reproduce, reprint or forward this gracEmail, but only in its entirety, without change and without financial profit.

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