Section 86: Parable of the Wheat and Tares
This revelation was received December 6, 1832, at Kirtland while the Prophet was working on his inspired revision of the Bible with Frederick G. Williams as scribe. During that same month, Joseph received two additional revelations focused primarily upon events associated with the end of the world. These include section 87 which describes the wars and destruction that were soon to rage over the earth and section 88 which discusses the redemption of Christ and other events relating to his second coming. Section 86 is usually studied for its value in shedding light on Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). A contribution of equal worth is the insight it gives into one of the most significant revelations of the ancient Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah chapter 49).
Section 86 clarifies the timing and the sequence of the elements symbolized in the parable of the wheat and the tares. In particular, verse 7 explains that it is the wheat, the children of the kingdom who are to be gathered first, whereas the tares left over will then be bundled for burning. This reverses both the order and the focus of the parable as it is given in the King James Version but also brings the parable into agreement with other scriptures (see Matthews, Plainer Translation, 82). Concerning this revelation, Joseph wrote simply, “On the 6th of December, 1832, I received the following revelation explaining the parable of the wheat and tares” (HC, 1:300).
First let’s consider the Lord’s parable. Fundamental to an understanding of the parable is a knowledge of the nature of tares. Tares is a noxious weed, known today as darnel. It could be sown in a wheat field by an enemy of the farmer and prove to be most troublesome because it cannot be distinguished from the wheat among which it is growing until the darnel ripens and its seeds turn yellow. Hence, the farmer must allow both to grow until harvest. Farmers assigned their wives and children the tedious task of pulling out the tare kernels one by one from the good grain after harvesting. If tares are ground into meal they spoil the flour and may cause dizziness or nausea when eaten. The bundled tares are burned or fed to the chickens.
I will attempt to summarize the parable and provide, as interjected material, insights gleaned from both the book of Matthew (KJV) and section 86.
A man sowed good wheat seed in his field. In Matthew the Lord declared to his disciples that the sower was Jesus himself. Section 86 identifies the sowers as the apostles. Joseph Fielding Smith taught that there is really no contradiction here, since the Savior is the one who instructed and commissioned the apostles to go forth. Sowing good wheat seed means preaching the gospel. The field is the world.
While the man (the sower) slept, his enemy sowed tares among the wheat and went on his way. The enemy is Satan. The tares represent rebellious, iniquitous persons or the followers of Satan, while the wheat represents children of the kingdom or righteous persons. The wicked choke the righteous and cause apostasy—drive the Church “into the wilderness.” Actually, the good wheat seed is sown—and the tares sown among the good seed—on two occasions. The first was during the Savior’s mortal ministry (see D&C 86:2), and the second is in the last days, the dispensation of the fulness of times (see D&C 86:4).
As the grains ripened, it became apparent that both wheat and tares were growing in the man’s field. When the man’s servants pointed out the presence of the noxious grain, the man knew that his enemy had done this thing. The man’s servants or reapers asked if they might be permitted to harvest the tares, and the man denied them lest they destroy the good wheat at the same time. The reapers are the angels who are crying unto the Lord both day and night and who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields—to destroy the wicked. In these last days, when the restored gospel is just beginning to go forth, the blades of wheat—the converted saints—are yet tender and would be destroyed if any attempt were made to harvest the tares—the rebellious and wicked.
The man instructed his reapers to allow both wheat and tares to grow together until the harvest (the final cleansing at the beginning of the Millennium). Then the reapers could harvest the grain separate the two types into bundles. The tares would be burned and the wheat gathered into the man’s barn.
Hence we learn that this parable, as taught by Jesus, refers to our time—the last days.
Wilford Woodruff, in an address to Salt Lake Temple workers in 1894 (Young Women’s Journal, August 1894, 5:412-13) taught that the angels of destruction “have left the portals of heaven, and they stand over the earth waiting to pour out judgments. And from this very day shall they be poured out . . . the next twenty years will see mighty changes among the nations of the earth.” It was in August 1914, twenty years later, that World War I broke upon the world.
D&C 86 (compare Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) Parable of the Wheat and Tares
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants, concerning the parable of the wheat and of the tares:
verse 1 The speaker or first person is the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Behold, verily I say, the field was the world, and the apostles were the sowers of the seed;
verse 2 “the field was the world” The corresponding passage in Matthew 13:38 reads, “the field is the world” (italics mine). This change indicates that the parable has a dual application, one for the meridian of time which has passed, and one for “the last days” (verse 4) in which we now live. When the good seed was sown in the former dispensation, the tares succeeded in choking the wheat and in driving the Church into the wilderness. In the second instance, “in the last days,” quite a different outcome is predicted.
“the apostles were the sowers of the seed” As mentioned above, in Matthew 13:37 the Lord identified himself as the sower of the good seed. However, after he had personally taught his apostles, he sent them out after his resurrection to “teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19), so the reference here is probably to the spread of the Church in the apostolic period. Moreover, according to D&C 1:38, the one who is commissioned and sent is the same as the one who sends him (“whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same”), so the point is moot.
3 And after they have fallen asleep 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 “after they have fallen asleep” As long as the apostles lived, the good seed or the children of the kingdom (see Matthew 13:38) remained. Only after those who held the keys of the Lord’s work had been removed and the ordinances could no longer be performed with authority could Satan complete his work of choking out the good seed and driving the Church into the wilderness. The elimination of the apostles and prophets was a final step in the completion of the Great Apostasy.
“the apostate, the whore, even Babylon” Another scriptural designation for this entity is the “great and abominable church (1 Nephi 14:3; 22:14), or the “church of the devil” (1 Nephi 14:10). For a discussion of the identity of the great and abominable church, see the introductory commentary for 1 Nephi 13 in Learning to Love the Book of Mormon.
A generation in the early history of Christianity knew the truth of the gospel and then willfully perverted it, thus bringing about the Great Apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:312).
“maketh all nations to drink of her cup” See the commentary for D&C 29:17; 35:11.
“in whose hearts, the enemy, Satan, sitteth to reign” This is likely an allusion to 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 which reads: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” In this passage, the “temple” in which Satan “sitteth” is the Church which is made up of the members collectively. In other words, as he “sitteth in the temple of God,” he and his influence dwell prominently among the members of the Church (see 2 Corinthians 6:16, for example, where Paul says to the members of the Church, “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Keep in mind that ye here, as always, is plural). When Satan instead of Jesus sits and reigns in the hearts of the members collectively, the Church of the Lamb has become “the church of the devil” (1 Nephi 14:10).
“he soweth the tares” According to the metaphor, Satan sows or plants the darnel seeds among the wheat in an attempt to choke out the wheat and cause it to be overtaken by the tares. But if we look beyond the figurative to the literal, then Satan actually places or plants wicked people among the righteous saints in an attempt influence the saints to do and think and say evil.
“the tares choke the wheat and drive the Church into the wilderness” See the commentary for D&C 33:5.
4 But behold, in the last days, even now while the Lord is beginning to bring forth the word, and the blade is springing up and is yet tender—
verse 4 “in the last days, even now” In this final dispensation, the good seed has been planted a second time upon the earth through the restoration of the gospel. The first blades of wheat are beginning to show forth but are yet tender and subject to injury.
5 Behold, verily I say unto you, the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields;
verse 5 “the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night” The period of restoration of the gospel seems to be presided over by the four angels that John the Revelator saw in Revelation 7:1. These angels stand at the “four corners of the earth” and have the power to save and to destroy—“hurt the earth and the sea.” They preside over the period of restoration of the gospel, and whether they save or destroy depends upon the reaction of the people to the gospel message. Modern revelation confirms this view and adds depth:
Q. What are we to understand by the four angels, spoken of in the 7th chapter and 1st verse of Revelation? A. We are to understand that they are four angels sent forth from God, to whom is given power over the four parts of the earth, to save life and to destroy; these are they who have the everlasting gospel to commit to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; having power to shut up the heavens, to seal up unto life, or to cast down to the regions of darkness (D&C 77:8).
We learn here that God commissioned these four angels and gave them power both to save life and to destroy it. They have power over the processes of spreading the gospel and condemning judgment. They have, as it were, two faces. They are not only saving angels, but destroying angels as well. What makes the difference is how men respond to the message they dispense.
The angels have long since left their home in heaven and are now on the earth. These angels are those who in 1831 were “waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned” (D&C 38:12). Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that these four angels “seem to fit the description of the angels spoken of in the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; D&C 86:1-7) who plead with the Lord that they might go forth to reap down the field. They were told to let the wheat and the tares grow together to the time of the end of the harvest, which is the end of the world (Matthew 13:38-39). These are now at work in the earth on their sacred mission” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:70). President Wilford Woodruff stated that these angels have been loosed and are currently at work here on earth (“Temple Worker’s Excursion,” 512). President Joseph Fielding Smith emphasized that their job is not just to destroy but to commit the gospel as well (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:300-01).
6 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.
verse 6 “pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender” Any method which the angels may use to destroy the tares from off the earth will also destroy the wheat, particularly because the wheat is yet tender (the strength and the faith of the saints is yet lacking).
7 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.
verse 7 “then ye shall first gather out the wheat from among the tares” Matthew 13:30 reads, “Let both grow [the wheat and the tares] 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.” Here in Matthew the focus is on the burning of the wicked. However, in this verse of section 86, the order of events in the parable is reversed. That is, the wheat is gathered first. Then the tares are bound and burned. Hence, the parable is brought into conformity with other scriptures, and the focus is changed from the burning of the wicked to the gathering of the righteous of Israel (see Matthews, Plainer Translation, 82).
“the field remaineth to be burned” Explaining a bit more about the metaphor: After the grain had been harvested, the fields of stubble and trash were burned, together with any weeds (tares) that remained. This practice eliminated the trash, destroyed the seeds of unwanted plants, sterilized the fields of some kinds of diseases and insect pests, and added valuable nutrients to the soil for the following year’s crop.
verses 8-11 Let us now turn our attention to the final four verses of section 86, verses 8-11. To understand their contribution to our knowledge, we must have a firm understanding of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 49:1-6. Let’s take this prophecy of Isaiah’s apart, verse by verse, and see if we can come to understand it. Acknowledgment for the following material is given to Kent P. Jackson and his essay, “Revelation Concerning Isaiah” contained in Studies in Scripture, Volume One, The Doctrine and Covenants, 326-30.
It is exciting to open the Book of Isaiah to chapter 49 and follow along in verses 1 through 6. I will format these six Isaiah verses and their commentary as we do the Doctrine and Covenants verses:
1 Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
verse 1 The speaker in this passage is named Israel as is evident in verse 3. From the days of the ancient patriarchs, Joseph, the son of Jacob (or Israel), and his descendants have been singled out to stand at the head of the house of Israel and provide spiritual leadership (see Genesis 37:5-11; 48:13-20; 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:1617). This was their foreordained calling. An important part of that calling included the challenge to Joseph’s descendants to be saviors of their brethren of Israel, just as their forefather Joseph had been a temporal savior in ancient times.
Of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim had the birthright. Jeremiah prophesied concerning Ephraim’s role in the latter-day gathering of Israel. As the presiding tribe, it would be he who would announce to all that the time of the gathering and return had come (Jeremiah 31:6).
The terms “called me from the womb” or “from the bowels of my mother hath he mentioned my name” imply that Ephraim’s role has been prophesied from very early times—from the beginning.
It seems reasonable to conclude that “Israel” or the speaker in this prophecy is the tribe that is to preside in these latter days—the tribe of Ephraim. At the head of that tribe, and presiding under the Lord’s direction over latter-day Israel, stands the prophet Joseph Smith. Thus, Joseph Smith himself might be considered to be the first person in this prophecy of Isaiah.
2 And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;
verse 2 “In the shadow of his hand hath he hid me” At the same time that Joseph’s father, Jacob, pronounced the blessing of presidency on Joseph and his posterity, he prophesied that the government would be in the hands of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8-10). This was fulfilled in the kingship of David and his descendants, and it will be fulfilled to its fullest measure in the millennial kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ. The descendants of Joseph never ruled over the house of Israel, in spite of the fact that they inherited from their ancestor the keys of presidency.
Ephraim’s presidency over Israel was to be realized in the last days, thus Ephraim was hidden “in the shadow of his hand” until the last days. With the calling of Joseph Smith, a descendant of Ephraim, the tribe to which he belonged took its rightful position at the head of the family of Israel. Foreordained to a great latter-day service, ancient Joseph’s children—both of Ephraim and Manasseh—have accepted their calling to bring the blessings of the gospel to their brethren.
“a polished shaft . . . in his quiver” Joseph Smith himself provided an interpretation that may explain the fulfillment of this scripture. He said of himself, “I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else . . . all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty” (TPJS, 304). Thus Joseph viewed himself as a polished shaft in the Lord’s quiver, in direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s words.
3 And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
verse 3 Through Israel the Lord will be glorified. That this act of glorification would take place later than Isaiah’s day is clear from his use of future tenses throughout the passage. The ways in which Israel would glorify the Lord are specified in verses 5 and 6 and include: (1) the re-establishing of Israel and gathering it again to the Lord, and (2) serving as a “light to the Gentiles,” to make the gospel available to them.
4 Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.
verse 4 “Israel” points out that his labors in the past have been in vain. To this, the Lord responded with a powerful prophecy of more significant labors that lay ahead in verses 5 and 6. The Prophet Joseph eloquently expressed his discouragement while imprisoned in Liberty Jail (D&C 121:1-6; D&C 122:1-4).
5 And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.
verse 5 As has been discussed already, it was the commission of the birthright of ancient Joseph to bring about the gathering of Israel in the last days. Ephraim’s leader, Joseph Smith, was the one to whom the keys of gathering were restored (D&C 110:11). It will be under the authority of those keys that the gathering will continue.
Jeremiah explained that it would be “the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim” that would cry, “Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God” (Jeremiah 31:6). In modern revelation, the Lord has affirmed that “they who are in the north countries” will return and receive their blessings under the hand of “the children of Ephraim” (D&C 133:26-34).
Today it is, with few exceptions, the children of Ephraim and Manasseh, who constitute the Lord’s Church; and who are taking the gospel message to the scattered remnants of Israel. They are gathering their brethren.
6 And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
verse 6 “It is a light thing” This phrase means it is a comparatively small task, that Israelites should work to gather and restore only other blood Israelites. Israelites must also serve as a “light to the Gentiles”—an ensign (an example or missionary) to all the world, even those outside the blood of Israel.
“a light to the Gentiles” Nephi and others taught how the great blessings of the last days would be made available not only to the house of Israel, but to the Gentiles as well (see 1 Nephi 22:8-11). The gospel is to be taken by Ephraim, in the dispensation of the fulness of times, to all people (see JS-M 31; D&C 42:58). Once again, the tribe of Ephraim and Joseph Smith stand out as the main participants in this work.
verses 8-11 With this background, then, we are prepared to understand D&C 86:8-11. These verses identify Joseph Smith and his co-workers of the tribe of Joseph—the members of the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days—as the fulfillment of these words from Isaiah. These are they “with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of [their] fathers, for [they] are lawful heirs according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God.” Having been foreordained long ago to this calling, and having inherited it through lineal descent, Ephraim’s children are now no longer “hid from the world” but are at the forefront of the Lord’s work in the last days to restore scattered Israel to the covenant blessings, and to bring the message of the gospel to the Gentiles.
In a conference address in April 1975, Elder Theodore M. Burton was assigned to speak on verses 8 through 11 of section 86. I would commend this talk to you, the reader (Ensign, May 1976, 69-71).
8 Therefore, thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers—
verse 8 “with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers” It was not the priesthood itself that had continued down through the lineage of Joseph and his associates (in which case there would have been no need for a restoration). Rather, it was the right by lineage to receive and hold the priesthood— when it was restored—that these individuals had inherited from their ancestors. Section 86 is directed to the Lord’s servants (see verse 1) in the latter days. Just as Joseph Smith is a direct descendant of the biblical Joseph and Ephraim (see 2 Nephi 3:6-7), and through Joseph a descendant also of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so also are many other priesthood leaders and members in these latter days descendants of the ancient patriarchs. For these literal descendants of the patriarchs or fathers, the right to receive the priesthood comes with their lineage because of the promises made to the fathers concerning their posterity. When the literal descendants of the fathers turn to God in righteousness and seek their rights as heirs, God is obligated to reveal the gospel and the priesthood to them (see Abraham 1:2-4).
God promised Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph that the gospel and the priesthood would be restored in the latter days to their direct, biological descendants and that through their family the gospel and the priesthood would then be taken to the rest of the world (see Abraham 2:9-11). In this dispensation, God’s promise to the patriarchs has been fulfilled by the restoration of the priesthood to direct descendants of Abraham and Joseph.
However, the fulfillment of this promise to the patriarchs that the gospel and the priesthood would be restored to their descendants first, in no way excludes other lineages from learning the gospel, coming to Christ, and receiving the priesthood and its blessings. In fact, it is the intent of God, and the mission of Israel that this very thing happen, through the leadership of these rightful heirs in the latter days (see Abraham 2:10; Isaiah 49:12, 21-22).
9 For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—
verse 9 “For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh” Joseph Smith and his associates are literal descendants and therefore rightful heirs of the promises made by God to the fathers.
“and have been hid from the world with Christ in God” See the commentary for Isaiah 49:2 above. Among the hidden things are the true nature, lineage, identity, and importance of the prophet Joseph Smith and of his associates in the leadership of the Lord’s Church and kingdom upon the earth. Some hidden things might require knowledge of the premortal life, of foreordination, or of the postmortal spirit world in order to be understood at all, and these are things that the world does not know. The world perceives only the temporal, and therefore a true understanding of the Lord’s servants and the importance of their work is hidden from the world’s view (compare Colossians 3:1-3).
10 Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began.
verse 10 “your life and the priesthood have remained” The word your here is plural, as is also indicated by the use of “ye” (which is plural) in verses 9 and 11. Because the Lord’s servants (see verse 1) are rightful heirs of the promises made to the fathers, their lineage, speaking collectively, will continue to hold the keys and administer the kingdom until the Savior comes. The phrase “life and the priesthood” refers to their right to the priesthood by virtue of their genealogy.
“until the restoration of all things” This glorious time began with the restoration of the gospel and of the priesthood in the latter days but will not be complete until all things have been restored. This would include the restoration of spirits to their bodies at the resurrection (see Alma 40:23-24), the restoration of the kingdom of David to its rightful ruler (see Acts 2:6-7), and the restoration of the earth to its paradisiacal glory (see Articles of Faith 1:10). In its fullest sense, therefore the restoration of all things can only take place after the second coming of Christ and the establishment of his millennial kingdom upon the earth.
11 Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel. The Lord hath said it. Amen.
Brief Historical Setting
By the fall and winter of 1832, an explosive political situation was smoldering in the United States. Tensions were rife between the northern and southern states. On Christmas day the Lord warned, in a revelation, that a devastating civil war between the states would occur [D&C 87 -A Prophecy on War]. As we know, that war did begin in April 1861, some twenty-eight years later.
In contrast to the dire prophecy of Christmas day, a few days later, the Lord revealed a great message of peace to the earth which is replete with important doctrines [D&C 88 -The Olive Leaf]. This revelation, section 88, included a commandment to start building a temple in Kirtland, but this particular commandment went largely unheeded by the saints.
In January a seminary for missionaries and church leaders was organized in Kirtland. This school, the School of the Prophets, was also called the School of the Elders. Although religious topics received the main emphasis in this school, a variety of other subjects was also studied. The school was initially held in Bishop Whitney’s store in a small room which measured fifteen by fifteen feet.
- Michael J. Preece