Re-Thinking ‘the Harvest’ (One of the Bible’s Most Misunderstood Metaphors)

Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother,
In the morning bright and fair?
Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother,
In the heat of the noon-day’s glare?

For the harvest time is coming on (coming on),
And the reapers’ work will soon be done (soon be done);
Will your sheaves be many? Will you garner any
For the gath’ring at the harvest home?

Ever sung that hymn before? Did you start singing it automatically while reading those words? Yeah, I did too.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with that song.


“But Tim, that’s one of my favorites!”

Yeah, I kinda like it too.

The problem is that the Scriptures that this song is based on are describing a harvest time that has come and gone.

In fact, the biblical metaphor of the harvest has been one of many Christians’ biggest misunderstandings.

Let me show you.

Welcome to the 27th post in my series of rethinking Christian eschatology. Because these posts build upon each other, if you’ve not already done so, I invite you to read the previous posts in this series before continuing here.

Let’s dive in…

The metaphor of “the harvest” as a time of judgment is used throughout the Scriptures (NIV: 29 passages in the Prophets; 15 in the Gospels).

The harvest” has its roots in the Prophets

In the Prophets, GOD frequently used this metaphor to refer to a coming judgment.

Sometimes it referred to a judgment on Gentile nations and sometimes on Israel and Judah.

We’ve previously studied one of these examples from Joel 3 (prophesied around 835 B.C.).

It’s important, so let’s quickly refresh…

The harvest in Joel 2-3

Recall that Peter quoted part of Joel 2:28-32 on Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension (see Acts 2:14-21):

28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
whom the Lord calls.
(Joel 2:28-32 NIV)

Peter said that what those first century Jews had just witnessed (i.e., the coming of the Holy Spirit) was the fulfillment of this prophecy from Joel.

Peter said that Joel’s prophecy referred to “the last days” (see Acts 2:17).

I’ve already shown from the Scriptures that the phrase “the last days” refers not to the entirety of the Christian age but to the final years of GOD’s original covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham.

Note the very next words from Joel’s prophecy:

1 “In those days and at that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
3 They cast lots for my people
and traded boys for prostitutes;
they sold girls for wine to drink.
(Joel 3:1-3 NIV)

Now skip down just a few verses and read this:

7 “See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done. 8 I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away.” The Lord has spoken.

9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
“I am strong!”
11 Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
and assemble there.
Bring down your warriors, Lord!

12 “Let the nations be roused;
let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
for there I will sit
to judge all the nations on every side.
13 Swing the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, trample the grapes,
for the winepress is full
and the vats overflow—
so great is their wickedness!”

14 Multitudes, multitudes
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and moon will be darkened,
and the stars no longer shine.
16 The Lord will roar from Zion
and thunder from Jerusalem;
the earth and the heavens will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
a stronghold for the people of Israel.
(Joel 3:7-16 NIV)

We have previously noted how similar Joel 3:15-16 sounds to Jesus’ statements regarding the signs that would accompany Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D.

Now note that Joel connects the timeframe of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (2:28; Acts 2:17) with the timeframe of the (second, spiritual) gathering (3:1-3), as well as the great judgment and harvest (3:12-13).

Joel said all of these things would occur “in those days and at that time” (see Joel 3:1).

Hosea 6-7

Here is one more example from the Prophets.

Hosea prophesied beginning around 780 B.C. Within Hosea’s collected writings, we find:

6:1 “Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.

Note: This seems to clearly be a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, which unlocked the ability for men to live in GOD’s presence. Prior to this, the veil of separation and Levitical priesthood kept GOD’s people at a distance from His direct presence. This is a powerful truth that Christians tend to under-appreciate being so far removed from the old covenant.

3 Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”

4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim?
What can I do with you, Judah?
Your love is like the morning mist,
like the early dew that disappears.
5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,
I killed you with the words of my mouth—
then my judgments go forth like the sun.
6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
7 As at Adam, they have broken the covenant;
they were unfaithful to me there.
8 Gilead is a city of evildoers,
stained with footprints of blood.
9 As marauders lie in ambush for a victim,
so do bands of priests;
they murder on the road to Shechem,
carrying out their wicked schemes.
10 I have seen a horrible thing in Israel:
There Ephraim is given to prostitution,
Israel is defiled.

11 “Also for you, Judah,
a harvest is appointed.

“Whenever I would restore the fortunes of my people,
7:1 whenever I would heal Israel,
the sins of Ephraim are exposed
and the crimes of Samaria revealed.
They practice deceit,
thieves break into houses,
bandits rob in the streets;
2 but they do not realize
that I remember all their evil deeds.
Their sins engulf them;
they are always before me.
(Hos. 6:1-7:2 NIV)

The northern tribes of Israel (aka Ephraim) would soon be annihilated, taken off to Assyrian captivity.

But GOD said a future harvest was appointed for Judah.

Jesus on “the harvest

With this background, consider afresh Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares/weeds from Matt. 13 regarding the harvest:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
(Matt. 13:1-43 NIV)

Observations from the Parable of the Wheat and Tares

In my previous understanding (i.e., my previous perspective of Scripture—the theme of this series, recall), this parable never completely made sense.

Here’s how I previously understood this parable of Jesus:

  • The kingdom of heaven wasn’t yet in existence when Jesus spoke these words. The kingdom came when the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension.
  • Somehow, there would be evil people in the kingdom—fake Christians, I supposed.
  • Jesus would cast those people out and into hell when He returned at some future point we are still awaiting.

First, the idea that there could be evil members of GOD’s spiritual kingdom is inconsistent with other Scripture. For example, see Eph. 5:25-28; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 John 2:3-6; Heb. 4:6-13.

Second, the idea that GOD’s kingdom did not yet exist is inconsistent with other Scriptures. GOD did have a kingdom then: Israel.

3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
(Ex. 19:3-6 NIV)

Consider also Jesus’ words:

7 As [John the Baptist’s] disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.
(Matt. 11:7-15 NIV)

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
(Matt. 21:31b-32, 43-44 NIV)

Do you see the distinction?

During the first century, GOD’s kingdom was transitioning from a physical one which had been subject to violence from wicked members into a spiritual kingdom that would only contain the holy.

The great purge of evil citizens would occur at the harvest.

From Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds, we learn that:

  1. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven was as He described it at that moment (i.e., the mix of good wheat and evil weeds).
  2. At the harvest, there would be a separation of the wheat and the weeds, the weeds being gathered up and thrown into the fire.
  3. The gatherers would be the angels.
  4. The harvest would occur at the end of the age.

Connecting “the harvest” with what we’ve already studied

Now let’s unlock our understanding of the power of Jesus’ and the Prophets’ prophecies regarding the harvest by connecting them with things we’ve previously studied.

Observation #1: This coming “harvest” was the message of John the Baptist.

In the post on the mission of John the Baptist, we studied what John said to the Jewish religious leaders when they came out to see what all the fuss was about:

7 But when [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
(Matt. 3:7-12 NIV)

Note the urgency in John’s comments.

  • The wrath was about to come.
  • The ax was already at the root.
  • The winnowing fork was already in Jesus’ hand.
  • The baptisms of the Holy Spirit (for the righteous) and fire (for the wicked) would occur during their lifetime.

John was describing the same harvest that Jesus and the Prophets discussed.

Observation #2: The angels gathering was discussed by Jesus in connection with His second coming.

Jesus said the angels would gather the elect (i.e., the righteous).

30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
(Matt. 24:30-31 NIV)

But later in the same conversation, Jesus said the wicked would be gathered at this time too.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
(Matt. 25:31-33 NIV)

Observation #3: “The end of the age” referred to the end of the old covenant in the first century, not to the end of life on earth.

Paul said the end of the age had come upon those living in the first century (see 1 Cor. 10:11). Heb. 9:26 says that Jesus’ death occurred at the end of the ages.

Think about what we have studied regarding “the last days,” “the end” and “the last day.”

Each of these phrases referred to the time of the end of the old covenant and its being replaced by a new covenant in a new age.

And in this parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus affirmed that the harvest would occur at that same time (the end of the age).

Observation #4: At the harvest, the kingdom of heaven would be cleansed of evil people.

Jesus said that, at the harvest, all the evil people would be kicked out of GOD’s kingdom and only the righteous would remain inside it (see Matt. 13:41). This was true because the kingdom of heaven, up to that point in time, had been the physical descendants of Abraham—the children of Israel.

But, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, a transition would soon begin where the physical would be superceded by the spiritual.

The true descendants of Abraham would be those who were children by faith—those whose life imitated the character of their spiritual forefather. As Paul said:

8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
(Rom. 9:8 NIV)

This makes total sense to be the elimination of the old covenant and GOD’s acceptance of its laws. Mere months before the Roman siege of Jerusalem began, the letter we know as Hebrews was written, which says:

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
(Heb. 8:13 NIV)

Up until the harvest—the time of Jesus’ second coming and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple—the Law of Moses was still in effect, along with its temple, its sacrifices, its priesthood and system of public worship.

After Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, however, GOD plainly signaled the cessation of His acceptance of the old things.

The Jews who refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah, many of whom persecuted and killed the apostles as their forefathers had the prophets, were judged by GOD, suffering persecution and death at the hands of the Romans (or their own countrymen inside of Jerusalem).

No longer could an evil physical descendant of Abraham claim membership in GOD’s kingdom, for the kingdom had transitioned to a purely spiritual one, with Jesus as the only door to entry.

Jesus had warned the Jews of this eventuality. On His way to Jerusalem headed to the cross, we read:

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
(Luke 13:22-30 NIV)

Note: Do you see how this passage only fits with the interpretation I am suggesting? Jesus ate and drank and taught in the streets with these people to whom He was speaking. These were the Jews, His physical countrymen.

Those who failed to heed the warnings during the first century prior to Jesus’ return would be cast out of the kingdom. The door would shut suddenly upon them when the final day of the physical kingdom of Israel had come. Those who had crossed over through Jesus, the door, would be invited to the feast of GOD. For those outside there was only suffering, physical death and then spiritual death.

Concluding Thoughts

When we began this journey many posts ago, I promised you a different perspective on the Scriptures. By now this new perspective should be forming pretty clearly for you.

  • The entire message of the Scriptures is about the process of GOD replacing the physical things with the spiritual.
  • Jesus is the cornerstone to GOD’s eternal plan, for without Him, this transformation would be impossible.
  • Man-made divisions of the Scriptures, such as chapter breaks and Old/New Testament dividers, though sometimes helpful, are also problematic because they affect how we think and study the Scriptures.
  • Jesus did not come to teach a bunch of new laws that were counter or “higher morality” than that of the Law of Moses. Rather, He came to fulfill what had already been written. Likewise, we will see that the apostles referred back to the teaches of the Lord in their writings, as they taught and expounded upon what had already been written.
  • The old physical things including the people (Israel), land (Canaan), city (Jerusalem), priesthood (Levites) and leader (Moses), were replaced by a spiritual people, land, city, priesthood and leader. This is the point of Paul’s Sarah/Hagar allegory in Gal. 4:21-31.

It’s natural to still have questions. I’d expect you to. We aren’t finished yet.

We are taking a chronological approach to this study, to see how GOD’s plan unfolded. We started with the big picture and then zoomed in to see how:

Having now completed our study into Jesus’ teachings regarding these things, we will now advance in time to the spread of Christianity.

We will examine whether the apostles’ and other New Testament Scripture writers’ teachings aligned with what I have presented so far, or whether they disagree, thereby invalidating my understanding.

So stay tuned. Fun times ahead!

Lastly, returning momentarily to the song from the opening of this post, I should note that although the harvest time of Matt. 13 has come and gone, sowing the seed of the kingdom is no less important today than in the first century when Jesus spoke these words. May GOD bless all who proclaim His truth today and in all future generations.

Continue to the next post where we study how Jesus’ church fits within GOD’s eternal plan and physical-to-spiritual transition. I’m excited about this message as I think it is beneficial and much-needed.

Got questions or comments? Leave them below. (I’m truly happy to help. But please, carefully read the entire series first.)


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