"Gather ye together first the tares" (Matthew 13:30).


Which Gathering First?

Post-tribs see virtue in harmonizing the two aspects of the second coming into one event. Let me remind you, however, that there is no virtue of itself in harmonizing events. The virtue lies in harmonizing passages of Scripture.

In this chapter I want to show you a harmony of Scripture which is written in parallel columns in the chart. This harmony reveals an amazingly consistent pattern which uncovers a surprising fact. The moment Christ returns to earth after the tribulation, He does not gather any believers in any way. No gathering of believers occurs until well after Christ sets His foot upon the earth!

Let me now point out the significant features of the harmony which you see in the parallel columns.



The Time of Harvest


Matthew 13:30,
40–42, 49

Revelation 14:14–20


Revelation 13:5; 20:6; Daniel 12:7, 11, 12–13

Before the Harvest

Let both grow together



And power was given unto him to continue forty and two months [1260 days].
It shall be for a time, times, and an half [1260 days]; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.

The Decision

until the harvest:

And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angle came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in they sickle, and reap: for the time is come for the to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.

And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.


Gathering of the Wicked

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: 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 (and sever the wicked from among the just); And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe: And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.



Gathering of the Righteous

but gather the wheat


And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth

And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.

The Harvest Ended

into my barn.


to the uttermost part of heaven.

Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Thou (Daniel and Old Testament saints) shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.



The crucial passage in the harmony is the parable of the tares in Matthew 13, because this clearly puts the gathering of the wicked first, before the gathering of the righteous. "Gather ye together first the tares." What does this prove to you? Does it prove pre-trib or post-trib? This has been used against pre-tribulationism, but we will turn it around and demonstrate that it disproves post-tribulationism.

The order of gatherings is crucial, because the order is opposite to the post-trib scheme. Post-tribs say the righteous are raptured "from among" the wicked at the end of the tribulation. But Jesus says that at that time the angels shall "sever the wicked from among the just." The order is exactly the opposite. They both can't be right.

So, let's take time to scrutinize the post-tribs' objections closely.


Who Are the Tares? One objection is that the tares represent only a portion of the wicked. This portion consists of professing Christians in the church, not true believers, who are gathered before Christ returns. This supposedly allows a gathering of the tares first, the rapture of believers next, and the dealing with the rest of the wicked later so that the order will come out correct.

Often we do not even have to interpret the Bible, because the interpretation is given right there. All we have to do is read it. Simply read it. In this case, Jesus Himself explains "the field is the world." The field is not the church. The field is the world. According to Jesus the tares represent people in the world, not the church only.

He further explains that the tares are "the children of the wicked one." Again, no limitation to professing Christians. "The children of the wicked one" encompasses all unbelievers the world over. If the wheat is all the believers, it is consistent for the tares to be all the unbelievers in the whole world.

That is Jesus' interpretation of the parable. Simply read it. What right do we have to re-interpret His interpretation?

The objection comes back: Do not the tares sown especially among the wheat signify unbelievers especially in Christian circles? Well, the location of the tares does not prove anything, because the wheat is in the world, and so the tares likewise are in the world. If a limited sphere were intended, Jesus could have said that the field is the church and that the wheat and the tares were sown in the church. Why didn't He say this? No, the field is still the world, for both wheat and tares. The wheat is in the world and the tares cannot be limited any more than the wheat is.

The objection might be pressed that not all the wicked are included because of the companion parable of the fishnet. The net gathers all kinds of fish out of the sea, not all the fish in the sea. This objection would stand if it could be shown that the sea is the world and the net is the church. However, using Christ's interpretation as our only guide, we see that the net in one parable corresponds to the field of the other parable, because each denotes the sphere of separation between the good and the bad. Jesus makes no mention of separation in the sea since it is merely an addition to the story which points to the main object, the net. By correspondence, then, if the field is the world, then the net is the world, and the sphere of separation is still the world, not the church.

Now forget all my arguments for a minute, and let's suppose that the field were the church and that the tares were unbelievers in the professing church. Suppose that we let them grow together with no attempt to separate them as the parable says to do. Now how will we explain to the Lord our refusal to expel false members in the church? How will we face the charge of insubordination to commands like these: "Deliver such an one unto Satan ... Purge out therefore the old leaven ... Put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1 Corinthians 5:6,7,13), and, "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam ... So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. Repent ... I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel ..." (Revelation 2:14,15,20)?

These are commands to expel, not commands to tolerate. The difference of commands proves the difference of spheres. Do we expel them or do we let them grow together? It all depends. In the church we expel them; in the world we let them grow. Therefore, the sphere of separation in Matthew 13 is the world, not the church.


Is the Order Important? If it be agreed that the scope of separation is the entire world, it may yet be objected that the order of separation is not to be pressed. But why would Jesus make a special point to say the tares are gathered first when He could just as easily have said the opposite or not have made a point of it at all. If it were not true it would be misleading for Him to put it the way He did. Also this is no isolated mention of the wicked's being gathered first. In the companion parable of the fishnet, the angels "sever the wicked from among [literally, out of the midst of] the just" (Matthew 13:49). The order is repeated. It must be real.

The time of burning the tares is irrelevant. The order of gatherings is what counts.


It's Only a Parable. I can think of one more objection that post-tribs may try to make. "It's only a parable. You can't prove doctrine from parables, because you can make a parable say anything you want to."

In response, let me say, "I agree with you." I do not so much depend on the parable of the tares, or the parable of the net, but I depend on Jesus' interpretation of these parables. It is Jesus' interpretation which says that the wicked are severed from among the just instead of the other way around. It is Jesus' interpretation that explains the field to be the world. I don't make the parable say anything I want to by making the field the church or by limiting "the children of the wicked one" to some of the children of the wicked one, or by inserting any foreign material whatsoever. All I am asking is that we let Jesus' interpretation be our interpretation.

Another point, if the sphere of separation were the church, and if the Lord supposedly roots out false members before He returns, then tell me, when is the harvest?

Even if the tares were unbelievers in the church, there is no record of any future rooting out of all false believers before Christ returns. It simply will not happen. It is true that Babylon is destroyed before Christ returns (Revelation 17–18), but how does the destruction of one city exterminate false Christians worldwide?



It is time we quit trying to figure out our own interpretations and let Scripture give its own interpretation. This drives us to the second feature of our harmony, a passage which pinpoints the time of the harvest.

Revelation 14:14–20 places the time of harvest after the tribulation at the return of Christ. The time is specific—this is the moment for reaping (verse 15).

Other evidence backs up Revelation 14:15. If the harvest is the end of the world (Matthew 13:39), then Matthew 24:3 shows the end of the world to be the end of the tribulation. If the reapers are the angels (Matthew 13:39), then nowhere else do we find angels reaping but at the end of the tribulation (Revelation 14:17–19 and Matthew 24:31). If after the harvest the righteous shall shine in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43), then Matthew 26:29 places the kingdom of the Father in the millennium. Finally, Joel 3:13 places the harvest at the end of the tribulation.

Of course, in one sense there is a harvest of men's souls going on right now as we win them to the Lord (John 4:35). But in another sense, Scripture reveals only one time of harvest in the end of the age. Our job is to harvest as many as we can now before the angels step in and do their harvesting.


Concerning the Rapture. "In the time of harvest" is the answer to the post-trib argument against pre-tribs. Some suppose that the rapture could not be before the tribulation because that would place the gathering of the righteous first. We are accused of being out of order. But Jesus said—this is His interpretation, not mine—the order of separation applies to "the time of harvest" (Matthew 13:30), and Revelation 14:15 places the time of harvest at the end of the tribulation. The order of gatherings at the end of the tribulation is what counts. A rapture seven years earlier, seven years before the time of harvest, does not enter into the order of gatherings at all.

Suppose I told you to buy eggs on Monday. Then on Friday told you to buy meat and eggs in that order—meat first, eggs second. Would you conclude that you were not supposed to buy eggs on Monday because the order would be wrong? Of course not! The order on Friday has nothing to do whatsoever with the purchase on Monday. Likewise, the order of harvest at the end of the tribulation has nothing to do with the rapture at the beginning of the tribulation.

A pre-tribulation rapture does not interfere in any way with the order of gatherings in the time of harvest. The rapture does not keep saints and sinners from growing together until the end of the age. The rapture does not interfere with the main point of the parable, that the wicked are not to be rooted out until the end. The rapture does not interfere with a gathering of the righteous after the wicked. At no point does a pre-trib rapture make this parable untrue.

For the post-tribulationist, however, problems multiply. Not only does he have to reckon with the order, but also if he theorizes a harvest of the wicked before the time of harvest, then he is premature on the time. Revelation 14:15 nails down the time.

Revelation 14 not only nails down the time; it also confirms the order of Matthew 13. That is why I put these passages in parallel columns so that you can see the harmony. If, as post-tribs suppose, verses 14–16 described the rapture, and verses 17–20 described the gathering of the wicked, then Revelation 14 would be out of order! However, if we take verses 14–16 as judgment, and verses 17–20 as the gathering resulting from that judgment, then we have no problem with the order, and it harmonizes perfectly with Matthew 13. (For other reasons why Revelation 14:14–16 cannot be the rapture, see our discussion in the previous chapter.)


Concerning the Gathering. If believers are gathered after the tribulation, and if this gathering is not the rapture, then who is gathered and why are they gathered? To find the answer we go to the third feature of our harmony, Mark 13:27 and Matthew 24:31. First of all, notice how these passages confirm the order which we have been talking about. Even though these passages omit the harvest of the wicked, we can still perceive an order of events. First Christ comes (the whole world sees Him); then He gathers the elect. Have you ever noticed that before? If post-tribulationism were correct we would think that the believers are gathered first, then the world sees Him coming in the clouds with the saints. Some post-tribs even guess that there might be a period of several hours between the gathering and the coming. But it's pretty hard to squeeze even one hour in there, because the world sees Him coming before He gathers the saints. How ironic! The very verses which have been used to prove a post-trib rapture have the wrong order!

If this is not the rapture gathering, then what gathering is it? Who is gathered, when are they gathered, and how are they gathered? The answer lies in two Old Testament passages, because Matthew 24 and Mark 13 allude to these passages. Whenever the New Testament alludes to the Old Testament, it helps to read the New in light of the Old. This is sound interpretation. Here are the two Old Testament passages:

And [He shall] gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12b). (The gathering of verse 12 comes after the slaying of the wicked in verse 4.)
And ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:12b–13).

What, then, is the gathering? It is a gathering of Israel to Jerusalem, not a gathering of the church in the air. (Israel is called the "elect" in Isaiah 45:4 and 65:9.) Furthermore, it is a gathering "one by one," not a gathering en masse. They will come by ship, plane, car, or whatever means of transportation is available, as other nations assist the Israelites in their gathering to the land (Isaiah 49:22 and 66:20).

This chart shows the utter difference between the two gatherings.



Gathering of Israel

Rapture of the Church


to Jerusalem

in the clouds


one by one

en masse


after the return of Christ

at the return of Christ


Now let's go to the next question. How soon after Christ's return will the gathering of Israel take place? Daniel indicates a 75-day gap between the return of Christ and the beginning of the millennium. Daniel's twelfth chapter mentions three dates, "time, times, and an half" (1260 days), 1290 days, and 1335 days. What happens on these three dates? We saw from chapter two that Christ returns on the 1260th day. But what happens on the other two dates?


What happens on days 1290 and 1335?


On the last of these dates is Daniel's resurrection, because Daniel 12:13 says, "For thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days." Since the resurrection begins the millennium according to Revelation 20:4, then this makes a 75-day gap between the tribulation and the millennium.

What happens in between? Scripture does not spell it out, but let me share with you my guesses which I think are based on Scripture. You be the judge. The first 30 days allows time for the rooting out of the tares. How will Christ do this? In chapter 10 we will see how Christ treads the winepress, beginning at the Mount of Olives, going to Edom, and returning again in victory. These 30 days of destroying the wicked may be concluded on day 1290 by the chaining of Satan (Revelation 20:1–3).

Then—according to the proper order of Matthew 13, tares first, wheat second—begins the gathering of the elect from the four corners of the earth. They are gathered "one by one" for 45 days. Then on day 1335 the gathering is completed to the uttermost part of heaven as the believing souls join new bodies in the resurrection. Thus this 75-day "time of harvest" allows 30 days for the destruction of the wicked and 45 days for the gathering of the righteous, and it is all according to the proper order of Matthew 13.

This outline of events is one possible way to account for the events which must transpire between the tribulation and the millennium. Maybe I am all wrong, but at least this scheme allows for the proper order of gatherings as well as the time needed for each (treading the winepress to Edom and gathering "one by one"). It also accounts for the 1260, 1290, and 1335 days of Daniel. If this outline is anywhere near correct, then the post-tribulational gathering occurs weeks after Christ sets His foot upon the earth, not while He is still in the air.

Back to our two Old Testament passages, if you took the time to read the entire chapters of Isaiah 11 and 27 you would see that each context associates the gathering with the beginning of the millennium. For example, the gathering occurs after the "serpent" is dealt with (Isaiah 27:1—compare the time of the chaining of Satan in Revelation 20:1–3). So even the Old Testament puts the gathering after Christ sets His foot upon the earth.

Scripture will harmonize itself if we will let it. I'm not depending on just one or two parables but the united testimony of Matthew 13, Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27, as well as Isaiah 11:12 and 27:12–13; all combine into a consistent testimony concerning the order and time of the gatherings. Overwhelming harmony. And furthermore, no passage—I say no passage—specifically puts a gathering of the elect of any kind at Christ's post-trib return. Surprising absence. Even that favorite verse in the hands of post-tribulationists, Matthew 24:31, turns out to be the opposite of what they thought it was.

We conclude that the very assumption of post-tribs can be used against their own position:

... direct unquestioned statements of Scripture that Jesus Christ will return after the tribulation and that the first resurrection will occur after the tribulation, coupled with the absence of statements placing similar events before the tribulation, make it natural to place the rapture of the church after the tribulation....1

Reasoning similarly, I could say, "Direct unquestioned statements of Scripture that Christ will gather believers after the post-tribulational return, coupled with the absence of statements placing such a gathering at His post-tribulational return, make it natural to place the rapture of the church at a time different than after the tribulation."

The weakness of post-tribulationism now comes to light. They assume a post-trib rapture contrary to the order and time of gatherings. We now see that the assumptions are on the other side. Pre-tribulationists now have the impregnable position, because there is nothing forbidding a rapture before the tribulation, whereas the order of gatherings forbids any rapture after the tribulation.


Nothing Forbidden. We have said that nothing in Scripture forbids a pre-trib rapture. Some may think that Acts 3:21 forbids it because it says of Christ, "Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution, of all things." If Christ must remain in heaven until the restitution, that is, until He sets up His kingdom upon the earth, then this prevents Him from leaving heaven for a pre-trib rapture, so the argument goes.

The whole argument stands or falls on the definition of the word "heaven." "Heaven" is used in different ways in the Bible. "Heaven" can be where God lives, or "heaven" can be where the birds fly, or "heaven" can include both. Flip back a couple chapters from Acts 3:21 and look at Acts 1:9–11:

And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Into which heaven were the men gazing? Could they see up into the heaven where God lives? No, all they could see was the heaven where the clouds were. Into which heaven did Christ ascend? Into the heaven of clouds and into the heaven beyond.

If Acts 1 uses "heaven" in this way, why not Acts 3? Thus the argument disappears. At the rapture when Christ meets us in the air He remains in the cloudy heaven and the requirements of the verse are fulfilled. To disprove a pre-trib rapture one would have to prove that "heaven" excludes the cloudy heaven.

Another passage used similarly against pre-tribulationism is Hebrews 10:12–13. But "henceforth" in the original language refers to time, not to location.

Therefore, no verse, not Acts 3:21, not Hebrews 10:12–13, nor any other verse forbids a pre-trib rapture But the order of gatherings forbids a post-trib rapture.

It is asserted that the burden of proof rests on the pre-tribulationists. We already know that Christ will return after the tribulation: so it is up to pre-tribulationists to prove that He will come at another time. I agree. It is only proper and fair that we assume this burden of proof; so that is what I have done in this chapter. I have faced the issue squarely and have given Scriptural evidence that the order and time of gatherings is wrong for a post-trib rapture. In light of this evidence, the burden of proof has now shifted to the post-tribulationists.


1. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, p. 10.