Summary: While Joseph Smith was making an inspired translation of the Bible, he came across the parable of the wheat and the tares as recorded in the 13th chapter of Matthew. However, the Bible doesn’t give us the interpretation of this parable which caused Joseph to wonder what it meant. Therefore, he went to the Lord in prayer for this understanding, and the Lord gave him the answer, which is recorded in section 86 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This article takes an in-depth examination of this parable and how it applies to us today.
In section 85 we read: “It is the duty of the Lord’s clerk, whom he has appointed, to keep a history, and a general church record of all things that transpire in Zion, and of all those who consecrate properties, and receive inheritance legally from the bishop; And also their manner of life, their faith, and works; and also of the apostates who apostatize after receiving their inheritances. It is contrary to the will and commandment of God that those who receive not their inheritance by consecration, agreeable to [God’s] law, which he has given, that he may tithe his people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning, should have their names enrolled with the people of God” (verses 1-3).
W.W. Phelps had been given the assignment by the Lord to keep “a general church record of all things that transpired in Zion.” In other words, Bro. Phelps was to keep a history of all that went on in the church. This was to include “all those who consecrate [their] properties and receive [an] inheritance legal from the bishop,” At this time, the Lord required the saints to live the law of consecration wherein they would turn over all they possessed to the bishop and he would deed back to them what they needed. In this way, the transaction was made legal and binding on both parties. Whatever wasn’t needed was to be put into the bishop’s storehouse and used for the poor.
However, not everyone was willing to do this, and some who originally consecrated all they had to the church, later changed their mind and wanted all their possessions back. In some cases, this is because people wanted to leave the church due to apostacy. In this section, the Lord tells Bro. Phelps to make a record of even what these people did. As such, his record would tell the story of how all the saints lived their lives, what kind of faith they had, and what kind of works they did, both the good and the bad.
The Lord then went on to explain that a book of remembrance was to be kept which would show who would receive or not receive their eternal inheritance based on how they kept the law of consecration according to God’s law, and the reason why God gave this law was “to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning.” He then added that those who “have their names enrolled with the people of God” or written in the book of remembrance, would be saved when this day came. This record is basically the membership rolls of the church.
However, he went on to say, “And all they who are not found written in the book of remembrance shall find none inheritance in that day, but they shall be cut asunder, and their portion shall be appointed them among unbelievers, where are wailing and gnashing of teeth” (verse 9). What is he talking about here? The answer is found in D&C 86 where the Lord talks about the parable of the wheat and the tares as found in the 13th chapter of Matthew.
In this parable, the Lord tells the story of a man who sent his servants into the field to sow seeds of wheat, but during the night an enemy came and sowed seeds of tares, which we can think of as being like weeds. When the servants discovered this, they asked the master of the fields if they should pull out all the tares, but the master said no, because in pulling up the tares they would also destroy the growing wheat. Instead, the master said that the servants should wait until the wheat was fully ripe, and it was then that the servants should harvest the wheat, put it into barns, and then gather the tares, bundle them together and burn them.
It was while Joseph Smith was making an inspired translation of the Bible that he wondered what the interpretation of this parable was, and the Lord gave him the answer, which is recorded in section 86.
The seed is the gospel, and his servants were the apostles who were charge to take Christ’s message of salvation to every nation (Matthew 28:19,20). But then God’s enemy, Satan, came and sowed seeds of false doctrine that then sprung up and took root in Christ’s church. Jesus explained it this way: “And after they (the apostles) have fallen asleep (died), the great persecutor of the church, the apostate, the whore, even Babylon, that maketh all nations to drink of her cup, in whose hearts the enemy, even Satan, sitteth to reign—behold he soweth the tares; wherefore, the tares choke the wheat and drive the church into the wilderness” (verse 3)
The hosts of heaven asked God if they should go down and get rid of the “tares” that Satan had sown, “But the Lord saith unto them, pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender (for verily your faith is weak), lest you destroy the wheat also. Therefore, let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully ripe; then ye shall first gather out the wheat from among the tares, and after the gathering of the wheat, behold and lo, the tares are bound in bundles, and the field remaineth to be burned” (verses 6,7).
President Nelson has said that the most important work we can do is the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil. Another word to describe this gathering is missionary work and part of our responsibility is to “seek out the righteous, where’er they may be— In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea— And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free” (LDS hymn, Ye Elders of Israel). But as we seek out the righteous, how do we know who they are? In times past this was not easy to determine because there are a lot of good people in the world who don’t want to accept the gospel when it’s presented to them, or who join Christ’s church but then afterwards leave..
But as the world begins to ripen in iniquity, the difference between the good and the wicked is becoming less blurred and easier to tell them apart. However, the question has often been asked, Why does the Lord allow such wickedness to flourish, grow, and spread? In the parable of the wheat and tares, the Lord answers this question when he said that he didn’t want to pluck up the tares until he could first strengthen the faith of his people. But when their faith is sufficiently strong, the tares will also become sufficient strong in their wickedness. When that time comes it will be very obvious who are the righteous (the wheat) and who are the wicked (the tares).
With any crop, you don’t harvest the fruit until it has become ripe, and when you pick fruit that isn’t good, instead of keeping it, you throw it way. In D&C 86 the Lord tells us that when the time is right, he will begin harvesting or gathering his people together, and as he does, he will separate them out from among the wicked. Jesus explained that when he comes again, he will gather “all nations and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32).
However, the apostle Peter has said that when this time comes for separating the just from the unjust, it “must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). In other words, the Lord is first going to purge his church of those who are not valiant and faithful to him (the bad fruit), and then he will take those who have been diligent in keeping his commandments and separate them from out of the world, which the Lord refers to as Babylon.
To understand why Jesus refers to the world as Babylon, we have to understand something about Babylon itself. Around 600 B.C. the Babylonian empire was the superpower of the world, but this was actually the second time they had risen to such power. The first time was back in 1894 B.C. and that empire lasted for nearly 300 years. Back then, as in 600 B.C., it was the center of civilization. It controlled trade and brought prosperity to the region and during its second reign, the city of Babylon itself was so magnificent in splendor that people from all over the world came to see it.
However, it was also the pagan center of the world, where they built gigantic temples to their false gods. When King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and carried thousands of Jewish captives back to the city of Babylon, even though they lived like slaves, because of the splendor and riches of that city, many of them choose to stay there rather than return back to Jerusalem after King Cyrus gave them permission to do so. Thus, the name Babylon represents the glory, wealth, power, decadence, and false religions of the world. This is why we sing “Oh Babylon, oh Babylon we bid thee farewell. We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell” (LDS hymn, Ye Elders of Israel).
But what about our responsibility to gather Israel? The Lord answered that question when he said, “Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, [be] a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, [be] a savior unto my people Israel” (verse 11). God doesn’t want to destroy people unless he has to. He’d much rather they repent and be saved than to remain in their sins and be damned, and so, even as he begins separating the righteous from the wicked, he calls on his people to act as saviors in crying repentance and doing what they can to brings souls to Christ.
However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that. In the Book of Mormon we read of a man named Ammon who preached among the Lamanites with great success, and after he returned from his missionary labors he exclaimed, “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 2:1). The reason why he felt this way is because he couldn’t bear the thought of anyone enduring endless suffering because of their sins, and so his great desire was to be able to save everyone!
Yet, he also realized that this was not a righteous desire, but why? Doesn’t even God want to save all of mankind? In fact, God loves the world so much that he sent his only begotten Son to die to save people from the wages of sin. Then what was so wrong with Ammon’s desire to have the power shake the earth in order to get people to turn from their sins?
Ammon went on to explain, “I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction” (Alma 29:4).
We sing, “Know this that every man is free, to choose his life and what it’ll be. For this eternal truth is giv’n, that God will force no man to heaven” (LDS hymn, Know This that Every Man is Free). The firm, unalterable decree from God is that men are freely given the right to choose between spiritual death or eternal life according to the desires of their heart. Of course, they can’t make that decision until they are presented with a knowledge of the two choices. After all, you can’t choose something you know nothing about.
However, Ammon’s desire was to preach the gospel with such great power that it would have left people with only one choice because the choice would be so obvious that no one would ever choose to do otherwise. But that is not God’s plan. People must choose life or death accord to the desires of their heart, and not because of great signs and wonders. As the scriptures tell us, “Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will (i.e., wants to) may [choose to] walk therein and be saved” (Alma 41:8).
But that choice has to be feely made, not coerced. Therefore, as we go forth to spread the gospel, we do so as a light unto the Gentiles, to show them a better way to live and then let them choose for themselves which path they want to follow. This is our part in the gathering of Israel.
But when God starts to separate the wheat from the tares, how will the righteous (the wheat) be gathered? The Lord has instructed us, “Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly” (D&C 87:8). It appears that to prepare ourselves before the Lord comes, we’re to gather ourselves in holy places, but where is that? Certainly our temples are holy places, but does that mean we’re supposed to stand in the temple and not move? Our chapels are holy places. Should we go stand there and not move? We’re told that our homes should be holy places. Does that mean we’re supposed to stay locked in our house and not go anywhere?
The Lord has told us: “And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life. For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:43, 44), and he has also said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). To stand in holy places and be not moved means to be diligent in giving heed to the words of God and in doing as he commands. President Nelson has been consistently pleading with us to increase our capacity to receive personal revelation, and when we do receive it, that too is the word of God to us.
At the dedication of the Salt Lake temple in 1894, President Wilford Woodruff said: “God has held the angels of destruction for many years, lest they should reap down the wheat with the tares. But I want to tell you that those angels have left the portals of heaven and they stand over this people and this nation now, and are hovering over the earth, waiting to bring judgment and this very day they shall be poured out. Calamities and troubles are increasing in the earth, and there’s a meaning to these things. Remember this, and reflect upon these matters, if you do your duty, and I do mine, we’ll have protection and shall pass through the afflictions in peace and safety.”
The prophet Jacob taught this same message to his people when he said, “And how blessed are they who have labored diligently in his vineyard; and how cursed are they who shall be cast out into their own place. And the world shall be burned with fire” (Jacob 6:3). It is after the righteous have been gathered out of Babylon that the Lord will come in great power and burn the earth, thereby cleansing it from sin by destroying all those who are wicked. Just like the flood in the days of Noah was symbolic of the earth being baptized, this burning is symbolic of the earth being cleansed of its sins by receiving the Holy Ghost in preparation for it becoming sanctified and celestialized (see D&C 88:18-20, 25,26).
Whether we’re in the temple, or in church, or in our homes, or driving in our car or standing in line at the grocery store, when we stand firm and unmovable in the faith and in doing what God asks of us, then we’re standing in a holy place because there is no holier place to be than standing with God As the Lord has told us in our day that we ae to “prepare the saints for the hour of judgment which is to come; That their souls may escape the wrath of God, the desolation of abomination which awaits the wicked, both in this world and in the world to come” (D&C 88:84,85).
When we do that, then we have separated ourselves from Babylon, and have come unto Christ or, in other words, we have gathered ourselves to him. And when we do that, then we are prepared “against the day of vengeance and burning,” and our names remain in the book of the Lord, and we are numbered among his people, and are entitled to the eternal inheritance that is promised to the believers in Christ.
This is the interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the tares.
Related articles can be found at Parting Thoughts and Understanding the Scriptures