Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed ears, then the weeds also appeared.
‘The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”
‘“An enemy did this,” he replied.
‘The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
‘“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”’
- Matthew 13:24-30
I recently read what is probably the most famous sermon ever preached. 'Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God' was delivered by the theologian Jonathan Edwards on 8 July 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut. Historians of religion think it was catalytic for the First Great Awakening.
It is an incredible piece of rhetoric, and such was the panic and intensity in the congregation that Edwards had to pause for people to calm down. But it doesn’t feel like good news. It's the opposite - the most terrible news imaginable. In Edward’s view, God exists, he’s personal and he is furious with our sin. Cast yourself on his mercy, and hope that he will save you from the flames!
This isn't really a biblical way of understanding the way Jesus will judge the living and the dead. Look at how Jesus teaches in the parable. There are four stages even in this short story - 1) the action of the farmer, 2) the action of an enemy, 3) the patience of the farmer, and 4) the sorting.
The action of the farmer a picture of the work of God and the people of God. But the plan is disrupted by an enemy in such a way that it is hard to tell the good from the bad - the wheat from the weeds. Therefore, there's a time of patient wait for the fruit to become clear, and then a judgment and a sorting.
Whenever we look at the evil of the world, and we think to ourselves that some action, word, or pattern is destructive, and that it doesn't belong, we exercise judgement. The ultimate judgement of Jesus is of the same kind - there are words, or actions, or behaviours that do not belong in God's kingdom. They will and cannot be allowed to roll on into eternity, so they will be separated.
But we could never doubt that the judgement will be merciful. It's will be the judgement we should expect from a kind of judge who has climbed down from his bench and stood alongside the accused.