But while he slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.1
Even from the beginning, when Jesus Christ first established His Church upon the earth in the meridian of time, evil-minded and misleading members have mingled with the humble and stalwart followers of Christ. This hidden apostasy was even found among the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, which became readily apparent when Judas betrayed the Savior. The Lord knew that the Church would have these unstable members within it, and in the parable of the wheat and tares, He explained the source of these problems and the final solution that He would bring to pass in the last days:
“The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field; but while he slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
“So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, ‘Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? Whence then hath it tares?’
“He said unto them, ‘An enemy hath done this.’
“And the servants said unto him, ‘Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?’
“But he said, ‘Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather ye together first the wheat into my barn; and the tares are bound in bundles to be burned.’”2
The tares have been sown among the good wheat both in the ancient Church and in the Church today.3 These destructive tares are members of the Church who are not truly converted and who are not obedient, while the wheat of the Church are those who want to grow in gospel knowledge and obediently follow the Spirit.4 These tares harm and hinder the growth of the Saints. Unfortunately, the tares often look and act deceptively like wheat, and they can subtly lead others astray.5
However, the scriptures and the prophets indicate that the day will come when the tares will be completely removed from the Church.6 The Lord has told us how He intends to remove the tares and preserve the wheat, and why it is necessary that this important change is brought to pass.
Gathering the Wheat into Places of Safety
When the Lord’s Twelve Apostles asked Him to explain the parable of the wheat and tares, He told them that He had allowed the tares to grow among the wheat so that the wheat would not be damaged by removing the tares.7 The root systems of the tares had intertwined themselves into the roots of the wheat. Some of the members of the Church whose beliefs are based on the testimonies of others could falter if the tares were removed from the Church.
But this situation will not continue indefinitely. When the time of harvest arrives, the wheat will be gathered and the tares will be left in the field, where they will be burned in bundles at the end of the season.8
When the Prophet Joseph Smith corrected the account of the parable of the wheat and tares recorded in the book of Matthew, the Lord inspired him to make several important changes that highlight this sequence of events:
“Let both [the wheat and tares] grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the wheat into my barn; and the tares are bound in bundles to be burned. . . . The harvest is the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked.”9
It is important to note that the Lord will gather the wheat into His barn, a place of safety and refuge. The Lord also told us that the field represents the wicked world.10 The tares, which are left vulnerable out in the open field of the wicked world, will then be bound for destruction. The Lord also said that this will occur at the end of the wicked world, when the unrighteous will be destroyed in the last days.11
The tares and the wicked world will be destroyed “with the sword, and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations.”12
While all of this destruction is taking place, the wheat will be gathered into the safety of the barn.
The Gathering Will Occur as the Tares Are Being Bound for Destruction
The Prophet Joseph Smith gave us an additional insight into this gathering of the wheat from the midst of the tares. In September 1835 he wrote a general epistle to the elders of the Church in which he explained many things about latter-day events, including the parable of the wheat and tares. He told the elders:
“We understand that the work of gathering together of the wheat into barns, or garners, is to take place while the tares are being bound over, and preparing for the day of burning; that after the day of burnings, the righteous shall shine forth like the sun, in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”13
The Prophet Joseph further explained in this epistle that this process of binding up the tares occurs “as they harden their hearts and reject the light of truth, . . . they are left in darkness, and delivered over unto the day of burning; thus being bound up by their creeds, and their bands being made strong by their priests.”14
As the tares reject the light of the gospel and leave the Church, they will join with the wicked, where they will be bound tighter and tighter in darkness.
The Fate of Those Who Turn Against the Church
Unfortunately, many of these apostate tares will turn against the Church and the former truth that they once knew. Heber C. Kimball prophesied that these fallen members who attack the Church will be destroyed in the same manner that Judas Iscariot was:
“Judas was like salt that had lost its saving principles---good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. It is just so with you men and women, if you do not honor your callings and cultivate the principles you have received. It is so with you, ye elders of Israel, when you forfeit your covenants.
“The world is ripe, and there are no saving principles within them, with a very few exceptions; and they [the righteous] will gather out, and the rest of mankind are ready for destruction, for they will have no salt to save them. I know the day is right at hand when men will forfeit their priesthood and turn against us and against the covenants they have made, and they will be destroyed as Judas was.”15
It is amazing to watch the dissolution of an individual who decides to turn against the Church and attack it. It is not long before his mind begins to become corrupt with a slow form of increasing insanity as he is abandoned by God, “left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the Saints, and to fight against God.”16
All of the knowledge that he has previously learned begins to confuse and bewilder his mind, as he seeks for any self-justification for an illogical and unjustifiable course of action. Meanwhile, as a deluded individual loses himself on the road to apostasy, the Church and Saints continue to grow stronger as they move forward in faith and accomplish their assignments from the Lord. As President Brigham Young said:
“For instance, let a man or woman who has received much of the power of God, visions and revelations, turn away from the holy commandments of the Lord, and it seems that their senses are taken from them, their understanding and judgment in righteousness are taken away, they go into darkness, and become like a blind person who gropes by the wall.
“Many of you witness this almost daily. Such will continue to go on the retrograde path until they are decomposed; while those who are faithful will continue to increase, and this is the great blessing the Lord has given to, or placed within the reach of, the children of man, even to be capable of receiving eternal lives.”17
“You have known men who, while in the Church, were active, quick and full of intelligence; but after they have left the Church, they have become contracted in their understandings, they have become darkened in their minds, and everything has become a mystery to them, and in regard to the things of God, they have become like the rest of the world, who think, hope and pray that such and such things may be so, but they do not know the least about it.
“This is precisely the position of those who leave this Church: they go into the dark, they are not able to judge, conceive or comprehend things as they are. They are like the drunken man---he thinks that everybody is the worse for liquor but himself, and he is the only sober man in the neighborhood. The apostates think that everybody is wrong but themselves.”18
The Threshing of the Wheat
As the wheat is gathered into the safety of the barn, the Lord will continue to “thresh” and refine the wheat so that all of the chaff can be removed in preparation for His Return. This was clearly illustrated in a letter that the Twelve Apostles wrote on November 15, 1841. It was two years after the Saints had moved to Nauvoo and the city had begun to emerge from the swamp waters of the Mississippi. The Apostles wrote to the Saints in England, asking them to immigrate to Nauvoo. In this letter, they clearly illustrated how the wheat will be threshed and cleansed once the people have been gathered:
“The wheat and tares must grow together till the harvest, at the harvest the wheat is gathered together into the threshing floor; so with the Saints---the stakes are the threshing floor. Here they will be threshed with all sorts of difficulties, trials, afflictions and everything to mar their peace, which they can imagine, and thousands which they cannot imagine, but he that endures the threshing till all the chaff, superstition, folly and unbelief are pounded out of him, and does not suffer himself to be blown away as chaff by the foul blast of slander, but endures faithfully to the end, shall be saved.”19
It will be during this time of “difficulties, trials and afflictions” that any of the remaining tares will leave the Church and congregate with the wicked. As the history of the Church very clearly demonstrates, when the Saints pass through a period of increased persecution, the tares soon leave the Church.20 Since many of the tares have friends and family within the Church, it is only deep and severe persecution that would cause the tares to leave.
At the same time that the tares are forsaking the Church, the Lord will continue to gather the Saints into places of safety. The tares who refuse to gather will also leave the Church. The Lord has told us that the righteous and the wicked will separate themselves as they divide themselves into two camps of the obedient and the disobedient:
“And until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise; and at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire.”21
“Cut Off from Among My People”
The process of separating the wicked from the righteous is described numerous times throughout the scriptures. Many prophets have prophesied of this event, and almost all of them used the same phrase to describe it—“cut off from among my people.” It was first mentioned by the prophet Moses, who prophesied of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and said that the Lord would cut off the wicked who would not hearken unto His words.22
Nephi later prophesied to his brothers that the tares and the wicked would be “cut off from among my people.”23 Six hundred years after this the Savior also promised the Nephites that this prophecy would be fulfilled,24 and explained that its fulfillment would result in the destruction of the wicked American Gentiles by the children of Lehi.25
When the angel Moroni visited 17-year-old Joseph Smith to prepare him to receive the golden plates, he said that “the day had not yet come when ‘they who would not hear His voice should be cut off from among the people,’ but soon would come.”26 The Lord later revealed to the Prophet Joseph that those “who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles shall be cut off from among the people.”27
But what does it mean to be “cut off from among the people”? This phrase is used quite often in the pages of the Bible. It literally means that the wicked are to be destroyed and removed from the face of the earth.28 When Jesus was teaching His Twelve Apostles about the events of the last days a short time before His death and resurrection, He gave us further details of the fate of those who are “cut off.” Speaking of those who are unfaithful and unprepared at the Second Coming, He said:
“But if that evil servant shall say in his heart: ‘My lord delayeth his coming,’and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken, the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and shall appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth [this is the fate of those cast into outer darkness29]. And thus cometh the end of the wicked, according to the prophecy of Moses, saying: ‘They shall be cut off from among the people.’”30
This prophecy of the wicked being cut off has already been partially fulfilled at other times in human history. Prior to the destruction of the Nephite nation, the Lord told the prophet Mormon that the wicked Nephites would be “cut off from the face of the earth.”31 This soon came to pass as the entire Nephite nation was then annihilated by the Lamanites. The land was littered with their dead and dying bodies---men, women and children who had chosen wickedness and death instead of righteousness and life. Their destruction was a heart-rending loss that caused Mormon to mourn for them from the depths of his soul.32
When the Lord tells us that He intends to “cut off” the wicked, it is a warning that should be carefully heeded. The prophet Nephi prophesied that “the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will He destroy; and He will spare His people.”33
This great division of the people will result in a day of choosing, when those who are willing to follow the Lord will be preserved, and those who today live half-heartedly by His counsel will be destroyed. It will be a day of deciding, as the prophet Joel vividly described: “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”34
And, as the prophets have taught, this day of deciding will help to cleanse the latter-day church, purifying and removing those elements that might hinder the Church as it prepares for the return of our Savior.
1 . JST Matthew 13:23.
2 . JST Matthew 13:22-30.
3 . Matthew 13:38, 41.
4 . Brigham Young, March 29, 1868, Journal of Discourses 12:168-169.
5 . Matthew 13:41.
6 . Matthew 13:41.
7 . Matthew 13:24-30, 37-43.
8 . JST Matthew 13:29.
9 . JST Matthew 13:29, 39; emphasis added on changes in the Joseph Smith Translation.
10 . Matthew 13:38.
11 . JST Matthew 13:39.
12 . D&C 87:6.
13 . History of the Church 2:271; see also D&C 101:65-66.
14 . History of the Church 2:271.
15 . Heber C. Kimball, December 13, 1857, Journal of Discourses 6:126.
16 . D&C 121:38.
17 . Brigham Young, June 3, 1855, Journal of Discourses 2:301.
18 . Brigham Young, June 28, 1873, Journal of Discourses 16:66; emphasis added.
19 . History of the Church 4:451-452.
20 . Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, p. 752.
21 . D&C 63:54.
22 . Deuteronomy 18:18-19; 1 Nephi 22:20.
23 . 1 Nephi 22:19-20.
24 . 3 Nephi 20:23.
25 . 3 Nephi 21:11-21; Micah 5:7-15.
26 . Joseph Smith---History 1:40; emphasis added.
27 . D&C 1:14; see also D&C 133:63-64.
28 . Exodus 9:15, 23:23; Numbers 4:18-19; 1 Samuel 20:15, 24:21; 1 Kings 11:16, 13:34, 14:10, 18:4; Ezekiel 14:1-8.
29 . These are the individuals who must pay for their own sins by suffering in outer darkness. See Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30; Alma 40:13; D&C 19:5, 101:91, 133:71-73. This topic is discussed extensively in Brother Joseph, pp. 350-353.
30 . Joseph Smith---Matthew 1:51-55; emphasis added.
31 . Mormon 3:15.
32 . Mormon 6:16-22.
33 . 2 Nephi 30:10; emphasis added.
34 . Joel 3:14.