The Wheat and the Tares, Part 2 (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
In this current stage of the kingdom of heaven, the wheat and the tares—the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of Satan—exist side-by-side in the world. But when the time of the harvest comes—when Christ returns with His angels—then the coming stage of the kingdom will be established and will endure throughout the ages. This parable tells us that in that coming, final stage of the kingdom:
1) All Stumbling Blocks Will be Cast Out (verses 40-42)
Before the kingdom of heaven can come in its fullness in the new heavens and new earth, all stumbling blocks must be removed. Anything and everything, anyone and everyone, that stands in opposition to the will of God must be cast out. Only then can “[His] kingdom come” in its fullness and “[His] will be done on earth as it is in heaven” without hindrance (Matt 6:9-10).
The place to which these stumbling blocks, including all who commit lawlessness, are cast out is described by Jesus as “a furnace of fire.” Fire is one of the primary ways in which the writers of the New Testament refer to hell, since it gives us some sort of grasp of the degree of suffering and torment that will take place there. As Calvin put it, “[T]hese forms of speech denote, in a manner suited to our feeble capacities, a dreadful torment, which no man can now comprehend, and no language can express.” Fire, burning heat, is something that all of us understand to be one of the most painful, intolerable elements on earth. It’s clear from other passages of Scripture that this fire is an everlasting fire and that the torment of those who are cast into it is forever and ever (Matt 3:12; 25:41; Rev 14:11). Those who are in hell do not even have the comfort that comes from knowing it will one day come to an end. After thousands of years of torment, there still remains an eternity of suffering in the wrathful presence of God, who is Himself a consuming fire (Heb 12:29).
Those who are cast into this furnace will forever weep and gnash their teeth (v. 42). There is weeping because of the total despair and hopelessness of their condition. There is gnashing of teeth because of the extreme pain and agony. There is also gnashing of teeth because of anger, which is often the meaning of “gnashing of teeth” in the Scriptures (Acts 7:54, Ps 37:12). Those who are in hell do not repent of their sins, but instead continue to gnash their teeth in fury and hatred toward God the more His wrath is poured out (Rev. 16:9-11, 21).
2) The Righteous Will Shine Like the Sun (verse 43)
The righteous are those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21). No one will inherit the kingdom of heaven because of their own inherent righteousness, since all are by nature those who “commit lawlessness” (v. 41). Those who are made righteous in Christ will “shine like the Sun in the kingdom of their Father.” In the new heavens and the new earth, we will dwell forever in the presence of the glory of God (John 17:24, Rev. 21:3), and just as Moses’ face was shining after He was with the Lord, so also we will shine with the glory of the One we are beholding. The coming stage of the kingdom is a place where, once all stumbling blocks are removed, those who have been made righteous in Christ by faith will forever display the glory of their Redeemer as they look upon Him, to the glory of God the Father!
The Bible speaks about hell in the most severe terms. If we base our understanding of this furnace of fire solely on the teaching of the Bible—which we must do—then we will come away with a terrifying understanding of what awaits those who are without Christ. The severity of hell tells us a great deal about the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin—God is so holy and so infinite in nature, that sin against Him is of such a horrible nature that it deserves an eternal punishment.
But hell also tells us a great deal about the accomplishment of Christ on the cross. In the Scriptures, the flames of hell are described as “unquenchable” (Matt 3:12). And for us, the fire of God’s wrath really is unquenchable—we would spend an eternity paying the debt of our sin and yet never come to the end of it. But on the cross, Christ quenched these unquenchable flames forever for all those who would trust in Him. He put the flames of God’s wrath out for those who are in Christ, by extinguishing them in Himself. The torments of hell are beyond our comprehension, and that is the very hell that Christ faced for us when He took our place beneath the wrath of the Father. How great is the deliverance we’ve been given in Christ! In Him we have been plucked out of the burning flames of God’s wrath and forever brought into His love and mercy!