In this article, I'll show why the Parable of the Weeds is extremely devastating to Jehovah's Witnesses and how just turning to Matthew 13 when talking with them can go a long way in planting seeds (pun intended) in their minds.
I. The Parable stated.
It's important to know the Parable (you've likely heard it before), which can be read in Matthew 13:24-30. Like other parables, Jesus goes onto explain the meaning to the Apostles:
36 Then after dismissing the crowds he went into the house. And his disciples came to him and said: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.” 37 In response he said: “The sower of the fine seed is the Son of man; 38 the field is the world; as for the fine seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; but the weeds are the sons of the wicked one, 39 and the enemy that sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels. 40 Therefore, just as the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be in the conclusion of the system of things. 41 The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, 42 and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where [their] weeping and the gnashing of [their] teeth will be. 43 At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let him that has ears listen. (Matthew 13:36-43)Summarized: Jesus establishes the "kingdom of heaven" (the Church) on earth through the preaching of the Gospel. In the course of doing this, Satan inspires sin and rebellion and even false believers to infect the Church. At the end of time, Jesus will judge mankind, particularly those claiming to be Christians, and thus separate the good men from the evil men. The lesson here is that there certainly will be sinful and rebellious men within the Church, so we should neither be shocked if people claiming to be Christians do scandalous behavior, nor should we worry that the Church will fall into apostasy.
II. The Jehovah's Witness interpretation of the Parable.
I will now quote some key passages from a March 2010 Watchtower article addressing this very parable.
4 “The sower of the fine seed is the Son of man.” (Matt. 13:37) Jesus, the “Son of man,” prepared the field for planting during the three and a half years of his earthly ministry. (Matt. 8:20; 25:31; 26:64) Then from Pentecost 33 C.E. onward, he started to sow the fine seed—“the sons of the kingdom.”
6 When did these weedlike Christians appear? “While men were sleeping,” says Jesus. (Matt. 13:25) When was this? ... After the apostles, who acted as “a restraint” against the apostasy, began falling asleep in death, many Christians fell asleep spiritually. (Read 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6-8.) That is when the great apostasy started.
9 In a similar way, down through the centuries, the various sects of Christendom have produced a bumper crop of weeds—first among the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and later among the numerous Protestant groups that sprang up. At the same time, a few seeds of the genuine wheat were sown in the world field.
11 Shortly after the beginning of the last days, or the “conclusion of a system of things,” the judgment started for those who claimed to be genuine Christians—whether they were actually “sons of the kingdom” or “sons of the wicked one.” “First” Babylon the Great fell, and “then” the sons of the Kingdom were gathered together at the start of the harvest. (Matt. 13:30) But how is the symbolic wheat now being brought into Jehovah’s storehouse? These harvested ones were either brought into the restored Christian congregation, where they have God’s favor and protection, or they received their heavenly reward.
12 How long does the judgment last? Jesus referred to the harvest as a “season,” so it continues over a period of time. (Rev. 14:15, 16) The judgment of the individual members of the anointed continues throughout the time of the end. It will last until they are finally sealed.—Rev. 7:1-4.
17 In modern times, this prophecy evidently started to be fulfilled in 1918 when Jehovah, along with “the messenger of the covenant,” Jesus Christ, inspected the spiritual temple.
18 Who are these ones who shine so brightly? Why, none other than anointed Christians, the genuine wheat that Jesus referred to in his illustration of the wheat and the weeds! The ‘collecting out’ of the weedlike imitation Christians has been clearly recognized by an ever-increasing great crowd of sheeplike ones. In attaching themselves to the remnant of spiritual Israel, these prospective subjects of the Kingdom likewise let their light shine in this bedarkened world.
19 Today, “the sons of the kingdom” eagerly await their glorious, heavenly reward. (Rom. 8:18, 19; 1 Cor. 15:53; Phil. 1:21-24) Until that time, though, they must remain faithful, continuing to shine brightly, standing out as different from “the sons of the wicked one.” (Matt. 13:38; Rev. 2:10)
20 But what is the relationship between these sons of the Kingdom and the ever-expanding great crowd of those who hope to live forever on earth as subjects of the Kingdom? The next article will answer this question.The official JW interpretation of this parable is shocking to our ears: At Pentecost, Jesus began 'sowing seeds', meaning selecting Christians whom Jesus will 'anoint' as "sons of the kingdom". These "sons of the kingdom," which the article clarified are not Christians in general but rather a subset of Christians, are a special 'select few' who are anointed by God (144,000 individuals, to be exact). Again, this "sowing" does not refer to preaching the Gospel, but rather creating a special group of 144,000 Christians who will be superior to the 'great crowd' of regular Christians. This 'anointing' ("sowing seeds") will continue until the "harvest," which is the 'beginning of the end'.
[Footnotes] For a detailed discussion of these illustrations, see The Watchtower, July 15, 2008, pages 12-21. In this parable, the sowing does not represent the work of preaching and disciple making, which would bring in new ones who would become anointed Christians. Regarding the fine seed that is sown in the field, Jesus said: “These are [not “will become”] the sons of the kingdom.” The sowing refers to the anointing of these sons of the Kingdom in the world field.
Shortly after Pentecost, the Devil began spreading false Christians to infect and interfere with the 'true Christians', and a "great apostasy" (their words) took hold immediately when the last Apostle died. So by the end of the 1st Century AD, the Church (or "congregation" as they prefer to call it) was virtually overrun by fake Christians.
However, in 1914 (why 1914?) the JWs believe Christ returned invisibly, and by 1918 the "sowing" stopped and the "harvest" began that continues to this day, until any day now when it will "conclude". The "harvest" consists of true ("anointed") Christians being either taken to heaven or put in a "restored congregation" (i.e. the modern day group called the Watchtower). As for regular Christians (i.e. non-anointed), they stand amazed as they witness this "harvest" right before their eyes today.
III. Problems with the JW interpretation.
As the title of this article indicates, the JW interpretation reveals they are the ones who are the true "Weeds" prefigured by this parable. It is clear the JW interpretation overturns the entire thrust of the Parable. Here are three principal errors with the JW interpretation:
(1) The Parable entails the Church getting over-run by Weeds and going apostate during almost its entire course. The JWs claim the "kingdom of heaven" as manifested in the world, started by Jesus at Pentecost suddenly fell into a "great apostasy" by 100AD. During the next 1800 years, few 'true believers' existed, if any, and there is no historical testimony of them. The JW view makes a total mockery of Jesus wanting to establish the "kingdom of heaven". The other parables in Matthew 13 make it clear the "kingdom of heaven" is supposed to be something that grows huge and transforms the world (Matthew 13:31-33).
(2) The Parable speaks of only two classes, good and evil. There is no indication there is a third, "great crowd" class of "sheeplike" (but not Sheep themselves) believing folks. The absurdity here is that the only good and evil people Jesus has in mind excludes the mass majority (i.e. great crowd) of Christian believers. The meaning of the parable shifts from Christians remaining steadfast in light of sin in the Church and changes the parable to signify an apostate church contrasted to a select few Jesus decides to anoint. The ordinary Christian goes from the main subject to a parentheses that must "attach themselves" with the anointed folks.
(3) The Parable makes the "harvest" the end of the world, not the beginning of a 'third phase'. Due to the JW emphasis on the "end times," since this is when the JWs were instituted, this is an important aspect for them. But clearly the harvest is not the main part of the Parable, only the conclusion, and a sudden one at that. The JW interpretation has the cut Wheat being transferred to the Storage Room signify being brought into a "restored Christian congregation," meaning a Restored Church. But this means this Restored Church is different from the "kingdom of heaven" Jesus has been speaking of this whole time! To add insult to injury, the JW position states that these "sons of the kingdom," already harvested, must "remain faithful" during the harvest! They've basically taken the true meaning of the parable and shifted it to the harvest period. It is the harvest period when we see people being judged and taken to Heaven or Hell, not earth still living on as normal and not being able to fully distinguish who is really anointed or not.