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Whenever something is popular, there will always be imitations. For example, Apple redefined the cell-phone market with their iPhone, and now there are many versions of them. Whether it is a style of clothing, a style of music or a new gadget, there will be imitations.
That is the idea Jesus conveyed in what is known as the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. In the last days, the world will be flooded with cheap spiritual imitations of the real thing. In fact there will be so many genuine imitations, if you will, that some people will have a difficult time knowing the true from the false. There will be people who are imitation Christians. There will be posers, those who are pretending to be something they are not.
In Jesus’ parable, a farmer planted a crop of wheat, but at night, his enemy came along and sowed weeds, or tares, among the wheat. When the crop started sprouting and producing, the weeds also became evident. His employees asked the farmer whether he wanted them to pull out the weeds, but he told them not to. He didn’t want the crop to be pulled out with the weeds. Instead, they would wait until the crop was harvested. Then they would separate the wheat from weeds.
In this parable, we see two sowings. First, we have a farmer who goes out and sows seed in his field, hoping for a good crop. It was a common occurrence. There was nothing really unusual about that. But then we see something that is quite unexpected, even dastardly. We have an enemy sowing seed right next to the good seed the farmer just sowed with the purpose of uprooting the good seed. Jesus uses the word tare, which also would be known as the darnel seed that initially looks like wheat. In fact, it is not until the darnel seed is fully grown that you realize it is not wheat at all. It was a common crime in those days. Someone would sow tares among his competitor’s wheat so that crop would be worth less, while theirs would be worth more. It was such a problem, there was a specific law against it. It was a scenario Jesus’ audience would have immediately understood.
The picture Jesus was giving of the last days is that there will be many who believe and many who will fake belief. They will sit side-by-side in the same churches. They will sing the same songs. They will read the same Bibles. They will say the same things to some degree. But in reality, these people are never really believers to begin with. They are not believers who went astray. They are people who never believed. They had been faking it from day one. And the Bible tells us that one of the signs of the end times will be those who hold to a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.
Prior to the return of Jesus Christ, both the best and the worst will be happening at the same time.
This reminds us that God has put his people in the culture to influence it, to make a difference. God is not calling Christians to isolate, but rather to infiltrate, to influence.
To change metaphors, Jesus taught that Christians are to be salt and light.
In Jesus’ day, salt was used to preserve meat. It was rubbed into meat to stop the spoiling process. So as salt in the culture, Christians help stop the spread of corruption. But another thing salt does is stimulate thirst. So Christians also should stimulate in others a thirst for God.
In addition to being salt, Jesus said Christians are to be light. That means we are to proclaim the gospel and do good works. I am placed in this world by God to influence it. But according to Jesus in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the enemy has placed his sons, his daughters in the world, too. My job as a Christian, however, is not to identify them and uproot them; it is to be salt and light, to live a godly life. It is God’s job to identify the fake Christians, the tares among the wheat.
Whenever there is the genuine, there also will be the counterfeit, including counterfeit Christians. The apostle Paul wrote, “But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.”
Even in the first century, there were genuine imitations.
Not only will there be counterfeit Christians, but there will be a counterfeit gospel in the last days. Just because someone uses the term “gospel” doesn’t mean they are referring to the real gospel. For the gospel to be genuine, certain things must be in place, including the acknowledgement that everyone has sinned.
In addition, there will be a counterfeit Christ. By the way, I think it is futile to try and identify who this may be. Many people have spent a lot of energy on this and have come up with some very interesting choices, none of which turned out to be this individual. The Bible never tells us to look for him. He will emerge after the rapture of the church and will not be obviously evil. He will be suave. He will be a powerful communicator. And he will come up with ideas for peace treaties that actually will be implemented and will be successful for a time. He will come up with economic solutions. He will be so effective at what he does that some will herald him as the very Christ, hence his description, Antichrist. And “anti” not only means “against,” but it also means “instead of.” Some will hail him as the very Messiah.
That is what Jesus was talking about in his story of the tares among the wheat. And he made it clear that the separation of the wheat and the tares, the real and the counterfeit, will happen at the end of the age. Until that day, they will coexist side-by-side. They will breathe the same air, enjoy the same sun and rain, eat the same food, attend the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods and go to the same churches – talking the same talk, but certainly not walking the same walk.
But it won’t last forever. You can fool all of the people some of the time. You can fool some of the people all of the time. But you cannot fool God any of the time.