Earth's Final Harvest
In giving the parable of the wheat and tares our Savior said to let them both grow together up to the harvest. (Matthew 13:30). This mandate is clear and emphatic; let the good and bad remain together until the time of separation. But what is the harvest? When is it to take place? For most Seventh-day Adventists the answer is a foregone conclusion; it takes place at the second coming when Jesus takes the righteous to glory for a thousand years and the wicked are left here below in their graves. After all, didn’t Christ say the Harvest is the “end of the world?” Furthermore, didn’t Ellen White also tell us that the wheat and tares will be to together until the close of time.
Yes, it is true that this is the standard teaching of the church. But somehow we have misunderstood the subject of the harvest?
It is true that Jesus’ return in the clouds brings about a separation, but it is not the same one of Matthew 13. Now before you relegate this idea to the realm of absurdity, please give it a fair hearing. We are confident that if you stay with it, you will see clear biblical and Spirit of Prophecy evidence that the Harvest of Matthew 13 takes place before the final close of probation and the falling of the seven last plagues–which is, of course, before the second coming. Keep in mind the injunction of the Apostle Paul who told us to: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (I Thessalonians 5:21) The servant of the Lord instructed us to: “take pains to hear the reasons a messenger may give,”1 and that we should remember that “we have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn.”2 So let us go right to the Scriptures and refresh our memories with the parable.
A Man Planted a Field
“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field. But while men slept, his enemy sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.” Matthew 13:24, 25.
After the servants realized their neglect they came to the owner and asked, “Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then have it tares?” (Verse 27). The Master told them an enemy had done it. They seemed anxious to uproot the weeds, but the wise owner told them to wait lest they accidentally pull up some good while trying to root out the bad. (Verses 28, 29). Then the owner added something further which is crucial to our understanding the subject. He said: “let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Verse 30).
The disciples later asked him what the parable meant. Verses 36 – 40 gives us the interpretation of the various parts of the parable. Christ Himself is the owner, or he who planted the good seed (verse 37), the field is the world, the good seed represents the righteous, and the tares represent the bad or unfaithful. (Verse 38). Verse 40 tells us that the enemy is the Devil, the harvest the end of the world and the reapers are the angels.
The End of the World What Does That Mean?
The primary misunderstanding comes in with the interpretation of the phrase, “the harvest is the end of the world.” (Verse 39). The term, “end of the world,” seems to suggest the second coming when Christ will return to take his children home to glory. But in truth, the expression just means “the last days” or “latter days”, or “the time of the end.” Take for example, Hebrews 9:24 -26. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with the blood of others. For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Here the Bible tells us the Christ moved into the Most Holy Place in the end of the world. Now we know that this event took place in 1844, yet Paul referred to it prophetically as the “end of the world.” Certainly this could not be the day when Christ will return in the clouds! Thus the phrase points to the “last days” or “the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4). It is similar to our saying that December is the end of the year. Jesus was simply telling His disciples that the harvest was not to be in their days but in the time of the end.
The Harvest Ends With the Close of Probation
The term harvest itself point to a time before probation closes, a time when people can be saved. Jesus in speaking about the preaching of the gospel, sent his disciples out to work for souls, then declared that the harvest is truly great, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:1,2). Clearly this is speaking about souls during probationary time. Jeremiah put it this way: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20). Inspiration establishes the fact that this prophecy is fulfilled at the final close of probation. Ellen White says: “At the day of judgment there comes to the lost a full realization of the meaning of the sacrifice made on Calvary. . . .They think of the high, pure association it was their privilege to gain. But it is too late. The last call has been made. The wail is heard: ‘the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.’”3
The fact that the wicked cry out that the harvest is past and as a result they are lost, indicates that they could have been saved during the time of harvest. Again, it reveals that the harvest is a time when people can be saved. When Christ returns, the wicked will not be crying out, the harvest is past and that they could have been saved at his coming! Besides, they will be in their graves and remain as such for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:5).
So the harvest will end at the final close of probation when our High Priest throws down the censer and pronounces those solemn words: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still, and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” This is the same period of which Amos spoke: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” Amos 8:10, 11.
We must say it again, based upon the aforementioned evidence, the harvest will end when all of God’s people are brought into the “barn” or church of Christ, probation closes for everyone, and the plagues begin to fall. And, remember that the falling of the seven last plagues are before the second return of Christ. Now that we know when the harvest will end, we want to know when will it begin?
When Does the Harvest Begin?
The answer is found in verse 30 which we quoted earlier. Perhaps we should look at it again for emphasis. “ Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, gather first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Did you read carefully what the Scriptures told us? The wheat and tares grow together “until” or up to the harvest, but “in the time of harvest,” that is, when the harvest time begins, God will send his reapers, the angels, to remove the tares and destroy them, “first.” God must first uproot and destroy the tares before the wheat are put into his barn. Put another way, the harvest will begin when the “children of the wicked one”–the mere professors, the unconverted or those who are not doers of the word, are eliminated from the field. Remember, the harvest ends with the final close of probation, but begins when the unconverted are removed and then continues with a mass ingathering of the wheat who are placed into God’s barn. In other words, brothers and sisters, there must be a separation before the final close of probation in the field of God. The children of the wicked one must be gotten rid of before the gathering of the wheat. But from where are the tares to be uprooted and the wheat garnered? Of course, they both grow in the field.
What is the Significance of the Field?
“‘The field,’ Christ said, ‘is the world.’ But we must understand this as signifying the church of Christ in the world. The parable is a description of that which pertains to the kingdom of God, his work of salvation of men; and this work is accomplished through the church. True, the Holy Spirit has gone out into all the world; everywhere it is moving upon the hearts of men; but it is in the church that we are to grow and ripen for the garner of God.”4
Clear it is that the wheat and tares grow in the church. But what church are we speaking about? Well, it has to be the church of the last days. The church in the time of the end or “end of the world.” That church of course, is our beloved Seventh-day Adventists peoples. The harvest, then, will begin with the separation among those who hold to the faith of the Third Angel’s Message. Put another way, it will begin with us. The first thing the angels of God will do is remove the unconverted from among the faithful in the field, the church. Brothers and sisters, this is absolutely imperative to understand! Do you get the lesson? No wonder the Apostle wrote, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.” (1 Peter 4:17). So before the gospel can be preached with the miraculous power of the Spirit of God, and the ingathering the great harvest of souls, (Matthew 24:14, Revelation 18: 1 – 4) the Seventh-day Adventist Church must be purified by the removal of the unconverted in its midst. That may be shocking, but that is what the Scriptures are telling us.
Let us look at Matthew 13: 40, 41. “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.”
This text is typically explained to be the second advent of our Christ. But it cannot be. It actually applies to the same separation of the tares from the wheat in the church. Why? Because if you compare this text with Matthew 24:30, 31, which undeniably refers to the second coming, you will notice a significant difference. Notice that in verse 31, it tells us that Christ sends “his angels with a great sound of the trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Did you catch the difference? In Matthew 13: 41, the angels take away the unfaithful out of “His kingdom” or His church, leaving the righteous. Whereas Matthew 24:31, the angels gather or take the righteous and leave the wicked. The Matthew 13 separation takes place in the church of Christ, but the separation at His second coming take place in the world. They are two different events. The first, the purifying of His church, takes place before the final close of probation, while the second at His second coming; at which time the “elect” are taken to heaven for a thousand years and the wicked left in their graves. Thus there are two judgements. The first is for Seventh-day Adventists, the second takes place in the world in the form of the seven last plagues and the destruction at the second advent. So there is a probation for the church and another for the world.
In Harmony with the Spirit of Prophecy
Some may be concerned about several of Ellen White’s statements that appear to contradict the idea that the harvest is not the second coming. Let us look briefly at three of the most common ones.
“The tares,” says Sister White, “and the wheat are to grow together until the harvest; and the harvest is the end of probationary time.”5
Yes, according to this statement the harvest is the end of probationary time, taking place at, not after, the close of probation. The harvest, in other words, is a part of probationary time. It means the harvest is a part of probationary time not after it. It is the last part of it. Thus, she is in perfect harmony with what the Bible says and what we have studied. So the harvest is the last portion of man’s probationary time. That last portion will begin with the separation in the church and end with the completion of the gospel.
“He [Christ] has said that false brethren will be found in the church till the close of time.”6
There is no contradiction here either. Are we not living in the close of time as we have already discussed. So the expression should not be taken to mean just the second coming of Lord.
Here is the third. “When the work of the gospel is completed, there immediately follows the separation between the good and the evil, and the destiny of each class is forever fixed.”7
This statement definitely is referring to the separation that will take place after probation closes and culminates with the second return of Christ. But there is no problem here because the separation at the second coming does not obviate the prior separation of the wheat and the tares. In other words, the separation referred to in this statement, is not referring the harvest of Matthew 13; they are two different events as we mentioned previously.
How is the Separation to Take Place?
The Scriptures tell us that the separation of the tares from the wheat will be done by the angels, not men. “The work of separation is given the angels of God, and not committed into the hands of any man.”8 And where do we find a description of this judgment or separation? Please study Ezekiel Chapter Nine. We cannot now go deeper into the topic, but consider this reference of Ellen White: “Study the ninth chapter of Ezekiel, these words will be literally fulfilled.”9
Now you see the subject of the harvest in plain view. Ponder it. Pray about it, and get ready for it. Will you be ready when the angels come to “sever the wicked from among the just”? Something to think about.
1. Counsels on Sabbath School Work, pp. 28 -31, E.G. White
2. Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 37, E.G.White
3. Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 7, p. 16, E.G. White
4. Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 70, E.G. White
5. Ibid 72
6. Ibid 73
7. Ibid 123
8. Testimonies to Ministers, p. 47, E.G. White
9. Manuscript Releases, Vol. 1, p. 260, E. G. White