BibleTools

Topical Studies

 A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


What the Bible says about Parable of the Mustard Seed
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Matthew 13:1-58

An overview of Matthew 13 is essential, because we need to understand the whole context to see what Jesus was trying to get across to us. A particular Bible translation may divide the chapter into only seven parables, but there are eight parables in Matthew 13. Usually the eighth is combined with the seventh parable. In a way, the eighth follows the seventh, but it is a parable in its own right. It should stand alone.

These eight parables can be divided into three sections. The first consists of the first four parables: the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and the Parable of the Leaven. The second section consists of the next three parables: the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, and the Parable of the Dragnet. The third section is the last parable, the Parable of the Householder, who takes out of his treasury both old and new.

The titles of these three sections give an idea of what Jesus emphasizes in Matthew 13. We can title the first section "Satan's Plan to Destroy the Church." The second section can be titled "God's Work on Behalf of the Church," what God does to make sure that Satan does not destroy the church. The third section can be titled "The Ministry's Duty to the Church."

Notice the comment Matthew makes following the first section. In Matthew 13:34 is an explanation why the first four parables can be titled "Satan's Plan to Destroy the Church":

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world."

What was kept secret from the foundation of the world? Satan's plan to destroy God's plan of salvation, which He is fulfilling through the church.

Matthew 13:34 applies specifically to what Jesus had just said, but it also applies generally to all the parables. Through them, Jesus opens up matters that have been concealed from the foundation of the world. In Psalm 78:2, it does not say, "I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Instead, it says: "I will utter dark sayings of old," providing another clue that what Matthew 13:34 refers to in respect to the first four parables is dark. Jesus is speaking of dark mysteries, dark things happening. These can only be Satanic things, bad, negative things inspired by the Devil.

What Jesus spoke before verse 34 is primarily negative, not positive, and these negative things have been hidden from man since the foundation of the world. What happened at the foundation of the world? Adam and Eve sinned. That was the first step in Satan's plan—"Get them while they're young"—and he has been doing the same thing ever since. Jesus touches on this in the first parable.

So, in the first half of this chapter, Jesus is saying, "Look, My disciples, this is the plan that you must fight against. If you understand what is in these parables, you will have a pretty good idea of what is happening spiritually."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:1-53

Matthew 13 contains Christ's explanation of His use of parables as a way of teaching. In analyzing these parables, we discover the King's personal view of His Kingdom through the past, present, and future of the history of His church. They seem not to reveal as much about the church's eternal characteristics as about its day-to-day efforts resulting from Christ's work in coming into the world. They act as a prophetic summary of the historical development of God's church. The recurring phrase "kingdom of heaven" denotes Christ's work through His church to make known "the word of the kingdom" (verse 19), that is, to announce the good news of the coming Kingdom of God.

The chapter contains eight parables. Jesus gave the first four to the mixed multitude, while He told the last four to the twelve disciples in private. After the first series of four parables, Matthew writes, "All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them" (verse 34). These four parables describe the outward characteristics of the church, the working of the mystery of sin against the church, and the extent to which the Evil One is allowed to go in his opposition. The remaining four parables illustrate the inner characteristics of His church. After the eighth parable, Matthew makes another concluding statement, ". . . when Jesus had finished these parables, . . . He departed from there" (verse 53).

The parables can also be grouped into related pairs that illustrate the church's different characteristics:

First Pair: The Sower (verse 3) represents the relationship of the church to the different groups of people with which it comes into contact while doing its work. The Tares (verse 24) represents the relationship of the church to the wicked one and his agents.

Second Pair: The Mustard Seed (verse 31) represents the dynamic growth of the church from small beginnings even while adversaries confront it. The Leaven (verse 33) represents the progress of the church against and despite the contagious outspread of sin.

Third Pair: The Treasure (verse 44) represents the preciousness of Christians to Christ, who can see their hidden value and sacrifices all to possess them. The Pearl (verse 45) represents the preciousness of the church to Christ, who sacrifices everything to acquire it.

Fourth Pair: The Dragnet (verse 47) teaches that the good and evil who intermingle on earth will be completely separated in the judgment. The Householder (verse 52) represents the work of the true minister and teacher who feeds the household of faith from a rich storehouse of essential spiritual treasures.

Taken together, the stories describe the characteristics and dynamism of the church, its formidable obstacles, and its ultimate victory. They show Christ working through His messengers to preach the gospel of the Kingdom between the time of His first and second comings.

The first parable, The Sower, and the eighth, The Householder, are key, the first introducing and anticipating all of the parables, and the last concluding and reflecting back on the whole, stating the church's purpose and duty under the authority of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus finished the first seven parables, He asked His disciples, "Have you understood all these things?" That they understood made it possible for Jesus to conclude with a final parable that reveals the responsibility of the disciples as "scribes" in the church, "instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven" (verse 52). The apostles, and the church Jesus would build, would bring forth a treasure of knowledge and understanding, "things new and old."

Jesus teaches us by the simplicity and shortness of His parables that directness and brevity are effective teaching tools. His method stands in sharp contrast to the involved and lengthy style of some Bible commentators. Jesus gave clear and precise illustrations to which His audience could relate. Farmers listened to pictures of agricultural life. Wives could grasp His word pictures from home life. Merchants could relate to illustrations from the business world that translated into spiritual principles. Jesus also spoke of common civic duties and social events. Portrayals of nature scenes provided Him with analogies with which to express spiritual truth. Jesus used pictures that fit the occasion in a way that preserved their naturalness.

Only Christ's disciples can really understand the true spiritual principles involved in the parables, "because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (verse 11). They were inspired by His Father in heaven, "[for] all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15), therefore "blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears, for they hear" (Matthew 13:16).

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part One): Introduction

Matthew 13:1-43

Matthew 13:1-3 show the context and setting for Christ's teaching:

On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables. . . . (Emphasis ours throughout.)

While it is easy to read over these details, they are crucial for grasping Christ's meaning because they show that Jesus spoke the first four parables (the Sower, the Wheat and the Tares, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven) to “great multitudes.” Verses 34-36 confirm that He preached to the people at large at this point rather than strictly to His disciples:

All these things [the first four parables] Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”

In the first four parables, Jesus is speaking primarily to the physical nation, the remnant citizenry of the earthly Kingdom of God. Even though they could not grasp the parables' full depth, He was still responding to the attitude and approach of the nation shown in the previous chapter, particularly of the leadership that continually rejected the dominion of heaven.

While Christ's teachings apply on multiple levels, it is paramount to grasp the primary meaning before looking for other applications. The complete fulfillment of the Kingdom was far beyond what the folk of Judea and Galilee could comprehend, yet He still spoke to them. The parables were not exclusively for His disciples, just as His prophecy, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you” (Matthew 21:43), was not spoken to His disciples. In short, the King had a message for the subjects of the physical Kingdom that He had established. He was giving them a testimony—a final chance—and when they rejected it, He focused on the budding spiritual nation that had Abraham's faith rather than merely his blood (Galatians 3:15-29).

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)

Matthew 13:1-53

Matthew 13 contains eight parables of “the kingdom,” and commentators generally interpret them all with the church in view. However, Christ spoke the first four to the multitudes (Matthew 13:2, 34, 36), and the setting suggests that His public teaching better suited the degenerate state of the physical nation than the growth of the yet-to-be-established church. Luke 13:10-20 contains two of the four—the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven—and in that account, Jesus plainly gave them in response to the nation's existing, degenerate belief system.

Whereas Jesus spoke the first four parables to the folk of Judea and Galilee—explaining two of them to the disciples—He told the last four parables solely to the disciples (Matthew 13:36). This suggests Jesus was turning His focus to a different aspect of the reign of God: the spiritual nation that would bear the fruits of the Kingdom—that is, the church.

However, despite the change in audience, the last four parables still connect to the first four, providing positive instruction to the disciples and now the church. We see the close connection in the parables' deliberate structure, which few take into consideration.

As with the rest of God's creation, His Word displays an order and beauty in its organization. The parables in Matthew 13 are arranged in a chiasm (also known as an introversion or epanados), a structure wherein similar ideas are repeated but in reverse sequence. In plain terms, the first and last parables form a pair because they teach about a common theme. Similarly, the second and seventh, the third and sixth, and the fourth and fifth parables form pairs because their respective lessons closely relate. In general, the first parable of each pair, spoken to the multitudes, presents a problem to which the second, spoken to the disciples, provides the spiritual solution.

The term chiasm comes from the Greek letter chi, which we know as the letter X. The pivotal point of the X, and the crux of the chiasm, lies at the intersection. Applying this to the parables of Matthew 13, the decisive truth of Christ's teaching is found in the middle of the chiasm, the Parable of the Leaven (fourth parable) and the Parable of the Hidden Treasure (fifth parable). The previous parables lead up to this pair, and the remaining parables build upon their pivotal understanding.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Three)

Matthew 13:4

It does not sound good that the birds eat the seed—and it is not. The "birds of the air" are a negative symbol. In verse 19, instead of saying "birds of the air," Jesus interprets them as "the wicked one" devouring the seed. In his version, Mark uses the specific word "Satan," and similarly, Luke has "the Devil."

Notice Genesis 15:11, where Abraham is making a covenant with God: "And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away." What were the vultures doing? They were interfering between God and man, trying to defile Abraham's sacrifice.

Deuteronomy 28:26, a somewhat different context being within the Blessings and Curses chapter, has this as a curse: "Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away." God promises that there would be no Abraham around, as it were, to fend off the birds. "Birds of the air" is a negative symbol.

Revelation 18:2 really nails it down:

And [an angel] cried mightily with a loud voice, saying Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!

What are the "birds of the air"? Demons! They try to get us when we are young in the church. Like the lion of I Peter 5, they go for the stragglers, the weak, and the newborn, because they are the easy pickings. What is step one of Satan's plan against the church? Attack God's people early in their calling. Distract them. Persecute them. Crush them—before they are strong enough to resist.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:19

Jesus clearly says that the seed is "the word of the kingdom" (verse 19). It is what He plants in us to draw us out of this world and gives us an opportunity for salvation. It is the truth, the knowledge of God, the gospel, the whole counsel of God. It is described by many different terms.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31

The common interpretation of the Parable of the Mustard Seed is that the mustard seed represents the Kingdom of God, which begins tiny, and over time, expands or grows into a worldwide system, becoming the home for many nations or many people. They dwell there in peace, safety, and harmony. This looks good and true on the surface, but after analyzing the symbols, we will see that it is incorrect. It does not hold water.

Verse 31 is very clear. Everyone agrees that the man - the sower - is Jesus Christ, as in the Parable of the Tares. Again, the field is the world. Did God not pull us all out of the world?

However, the "mustard seed" is a bit more controversial. We learn in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares that a seed is the means by which a plant grows and reproduces itself. It makes no sense to say that the Kingdom of God grows by means of the Kingdom of God. The mustard seed cannot be the Kingdom of God. It is instead an agent of the Kingdom of God at work to make the Kingdom of God grow and expand.

Notice Jesus does not say, "The Kingdom of God is a mustard seed," but it is "like a mustard seed." It is an analogy, and as in all analogies, the correlation is not exact. The comparison between "the mustard seed" and the "Kingdom of God" is not so close as to be identical, but it is a representation that explains a certain aspect of God's Kingdom.

What is the mustard plant? In the Greek, the word for it is sinapi, the common word for "mustard." Black mustard grows all across America, which is used to make the mustard that we put on our hot dogs, hamburgers, and sandwiches. Normally the mustard plant grows to be four to six feet tall with spindly branches. However, it is not a tree; it is a mustard plant. A mustard plant, if it is planted in a perfect spot with perfect nutrients, perfect light, perfect irrigation, etc., has been found to grow up to about 15 feet (5 meters) tall. That is almost twice the height of most ceilings.

But even if it grows to fifteen feet, does the mustard plant become a tree? No. The mustard plant is always a shrub. It does not grow a thick trunk and large branches. Most of the time, it does not grow past six feet.

We know about the mustard seed. This is one point that people always get from this parable - that it is among the smallest of cultivated seeds. Its smallness, then, is really our only clue as to what the parable is teaching. The mustard seed represents something small that does its part in expanding God's Kingdom. What could it be?

In Matthew 7:13-14, Christ says the way that leads to eternal life is difficult and narrow, and there are few who find it. Matthew 20:16 reiterates this by saying that few are chosen. In Luke 10:2, when He sends the seventy out, He says the laborers are few. In Luke 12:31-32, He refers to His church as a little flock.

Just before the day of Pentecost in AD 31, Acts 1:15 puts the number of disciples - or perhaps families - at about a hundred and twenty. Not very many for three-and-a-half year's work - it was a little flock. Romans 9:27 quotes Isaiah saying that the remnant will be saved. Consider also the small pinch of hairs that Ezekiel stuck in his pocket, and then he took some of them out and burned them in the fire too! I Corinthians 1:26-29 says that God called the weak and the base of the world to put to shame the mighty and the noble.

What, then, is the mustard seed? Simple - it is His church: the few, the small, the weak, and the base. He is referring to those who voluntarily submit to God's dominion (the Kingdom of God), and they are absolutely few indeed at this point in time - compared with fifty billion people who have lived on this earth.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-32

When Jesus taught parables as prophecies of the course of the church's history until His return, He provided two views of the one subject: specifically, the outward aspect, shown to the multitude of people; and the inward aspect, as revealed to His disciples. He gave the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19) to the mixed multitude to disclose evidence of a specific characteristic of the church compared to the outside world.

The historical development of the church of God would be one of humble beginnings. However, this parable contains more than this important truth. Hidden within it is a warning about the perversion of the church's method of growth and of satanic attacks upon it. This parable is an analogy, and as with all analogies, the symbolism is not exact but similar. Therefore, the symbolism of the Kingdom of God being likened to a mustard seed is not identical, yet it explains a particular aspect of the process that the church goes through in preparing for God's Kingdom.

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Four): The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31

The mustard seed stands for the progress of the church from small beginnings. Because of its minuteness, the mustard seed came to symbolize small beginnings, denoting the smallest weight or measure, a tiny particle. The parable focuses on this idea of smallness. The mustard seed is something small that does its part to expand in preparation for the Kingdom of God. The seed represents an instrument by which spiritual growth can be advanced, just as a plant grows and reproduces itself through a seed.

In this parable, the small seed is the church, which appeared as the firstfruits of the Word. Just as in the Parable of the Sower, the one who sows the mustard seed is the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, and the field is the world. Jesus Himself had an insignificant entrance into the world by human standards, and the church He founded is likewise a "little flock" (Luke 12:31-32), small and designed by God not to become a physically powerful organization that would make a spectacle of itself.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Christ says the way that leads to eternal life is difficult and narrow, and few find it. He reiterates in Matthew 20:16 that few are chosen. In Luke 10:2, when sending the seventy out, He says the laborers are few. Paul argues in I Corinthians 1:26-29 that God calls the weak and the base of the world to put to shame the mighty and the noble. Jesus is referring to those few who, upon their calling by God, voluntarily submit to God's dominion, the Kingdom of God.

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Four): The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-32

Aside from this parable, His only other mention of a mustard seed relates to faith (Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6). This usage does not mean that the mustard seed is faith, but faith is nevertheless a component of the growth or increase to which Jesus refers in the symbol of the seed. In addition, He describes the mustard seed as “the least of all the seeds,” linking it with God's description of Israel as “the least of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7). Its first human king, Saul, even protested that he was from the smallest tribe, and his family was “the least of all the families” (I Samuel 9:21).

The real beginning of the nation/kingdom, though, was Abraham. Through Abraham's faith, the nation (which became a kingdom) began. By his faith in God's promise of an heir, the nation grew. God promised Abraham that “kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:6) and that “kings of peoples shall be from” his wife Sarah (verse 16). Thus, the “least of all peoples” had a faithful seed (beginning), and this seed likewise grew because of faith.

The commentaries are divided over the nature of the mustard plant in this parable. Some suggest that something contrary to nature takes place for the mustard plant to be considered a tree large enough to support birds. Yet others assert that the mustard plant can reach fifteen feet in height and provide anecdotes that suggest Jesus describes nothing unusual in His parable. Even today, mustard plants in the area of modern Israel are found with branches an inch in diameter. Relative to other local herbs such as hyssop, as well as the minuscule seed involved, a one-inch branch is massive!

Historians often herald Solomon's kingdom as the Golden Age of Israel, yet it was also oppressive and unsustainable. Ultimately, his wives turned his heart from God, and the worship of foreign gods (demons) received official sanction within the “thriving” kingdom. God blessed Solomon's kingdom, yet through his unwise excesses, it ultimately veered in a disastrous direction.

Because Jesus does not explain the mustard tree's size either way, it proves helpful to consider the elements of the parable that remain. First, Jesus draws attention to the fantastically humble beginning, which applies to Israel. Second, He points out its tremendous growth relative to its minuscule beginning. However, even with this surprising growth, the nation of Israel did not overshadow other “trees”—other kingdoms. Instead, it “grows up and becomes greater than all herbs” (Mark 4:32).

A third element is that the final state of the mustard tree is as a host to birds. This third point is central because Jesus uses birds as a symbol for Satan and his demons (Matthew 13:19). The humble mustard plant, with its faithful beginning and dramatic growth, in time became a place where the demons felt at home.

The gospels highlight demon possession as a major problem in Judea and Galilee during Christ's short ministry, and casting out demons was a significant part of His and the disciples' work. Because of Israel's unfaithfulness, God had removed His protection, and demons were “nesting” everywhere in the kingdom. The parable describes the nation's then-current satanic state rather than, as many commentators hold, the growth of the then-future church.

God inspired Moses to write that when Israel grew large through His increase, she would also fall into idolatry (Deuteronomy 32:15-17), which involves demonism, an exact parallel to what Jesus describes in the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Moses knew that Israel would “become utterly corrupt,” warning them that “evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:29). Israel's corruption is a consistent Old Testament theme (Psalm 14:3; 53:3; Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 7:11; 10:21; Ezekiel 16:47; 23:11). Without the new heart and Spirit available under the New Covenant, she followed the world's course into spiritual uncleanness and demonic activity.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Two)

Matthew 13:31-33

Luke also records the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven (Luke 13:18-21), and the setting in his gospel underscores Christ's object in giving them: as a testimony against the kingdom's condition and particularly its leadership. The context begins in Luke 13:10, with Jesus healing a woman with “a spirit of infirmity” on the Sabbath. Later, He describes the woman as being bound by Satan (verse 16), which again stresses the nation's problem with “birds” (demons). The healed woman glorified God, but the ruler of the synagogue was incensed:

But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14).

The Jews' beliefs and practices had become so perverse that, even though they believed they were keeping the fourth commandment (the breaking of which was a major cause of their captivity; see Ezekiel 20:10-24), they completely misunderstood the liberating intent of God's law. Their worldview was so warped that they could feel only indignation at divine deliverance from spiritual bondage, showing how far their hearts had turned from their Creator and how aligned they were with their spiritual captor.

As in Matthew 13, Jesus spoke the two parables to “the multitude” (Luke 13:17) in response to their skewed practices rather than to foretell the future growth and influence of the yet-to-be-established church. In reading through the whole passage, the concept of future church growth is wholly incongruous. In Luke 12:32, our Good Shepherd refers to His followers as a “little flock,” and He says God calls many but chooses only a few (Matthew 20:16). Likewise, James 1:18 calls us “a kind of firstfruits,” implying that the church is limited in number, a remnant (Romans 9:27; 11:5), while the more abundant main harvest will come later.

Using a different metaphor, Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:18, “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” God alone adds individuals to the spiritual Body, so numeric growth is entirely in His hands—it will never expand beyond the limits He places on it. Paul also writes to Christians at Corinth that, because of Christ's sacrifice, “You truly are unleavened.” His statement does not mean they were without sin but that God imputed righteousness to them based on Christ's work. These scriptures contradict the interpretations that the true church will become either exceptionally large or “all leavened.”

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Two)

Matthew 13:31-32

The Mustard Seed parable describes a plant with the humblest of beginnings, representing the Kingdom's beginning with Abraham by faith. Its growth relative to its initial size sets it apart from other plants.

Hebrews 11:12 describes the same effect but with a different metaphor: “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.” A mighty increase occurred from what God began with Abraham. However, the parable concludes with birds—used as a symbol of Satan and the demons (see Matthew 13:4, 19)—nesting in the branches, which shows the spiritually unclean state of the Kingdom at the time of Jesus' teaching.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Four)

Matthew 13:32

Birds are naturally attracted to the taste of the mustard seed. Matthew identifies the birds of the air as "the wicked one" (Matthew 13:4, 19). Mark connects them with "Satan" (Mark 4:4, 15), and Luke links them to "the devil" (Luke 8:5, 12). In Genesis 15:11, fowls swoop down on Abraham's sacrifices, and he has to drive them away (see Deuteronomy 28:26). The end-time Babylon becomes "a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird" (Revelation 18:2).

In the parable, Jesus predicts the birds of the air would lodge in the branches. These "birds," demons led by "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), have continually tried to infiltrate the church. Upon the unsuspecting early church, Satan moved quickly to implant his agents in it to teach false doctrine while appearing to be true Christians. Just as God permitted Satan to tempt Job intensely (Job 1:12; 2:6) and to sift Peter as wheat (Luke 22:31), He has allowed antichrists to lodge within His church (I Corinthians 11:18-19).

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Four): The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:32

The largest of mustard plants, even under ideal conditions, can grow only to a height of about 15 feet. Luke 13:19 describes it as "a large tree," yet the natural mustard plant is not "a large tree" by any stretch of the imagination. All varieties of the mustard family, which are herbs, have thin, pulpy—not woody—stems and branches. It is nothing like a tree.

This mustard plant did something abnormal by growing beyond its design parameters; it became larger than what God designed as normal. What is this large mustard tree in which, apparently, demons are welcome? As the church grew from a tiny seed into a small mustard bush, it was as God designed it, but over time, it mutated into a large tree, something never intended by God.

This plant ceased to be God's church when it perverted its doctrines and objectives, moving beyond God's intended limits. It became a counterfeit of the true church, appropriating the name "Christian" and blending or syncretizing pagan mystery religions with Christianity. Eventually, it called itself the Roman Catholic Church, and later produced Protestant daughter churches whose doctrines are rooted in Catholicism.

What became of the true church? When the mustard plant mutated from its original form, God replanted His true church in another corner of the field, beginning the process anew. It is a consistent characteristic of God's true church to remain as a small herb, spiritually feeding the few who are chosen to become regenerated children of the Kingdom of God.

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Four): The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:33

Most of the time, commentators interpret this parable just as they interpret the Parable of the Mustard Seed—that the Kingdom would grow big and eventually encompass the whole earth, and everything would be great. Hallelujah! But is this correct?

When the Jews heard this parable, they must have been astounded. If Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God was like leaven in bread, what would we think? It does not sound very good to us—nor did it sound right to the Jews—because we know what leaven represents in Scripture: the corruption of sin. How can the Kingdom be likened to leaven? It is almost unthinkable that the Kingdom of God would be full of leaven throughout. Is the Kingdom evil? Is it full of sin? This does not square with what we learn in the Old Testament. The Kingdom is supposed to be glorious and pure, and Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom is full of leaven. How can this be?

And we are right! Everywhere else in the Bible where the word "leaven" or "unleavened" appears, "leaven" carries with it a negative implication. Yet, according to the commentators, this one case is the exception! In 87 out of 88 times, it means something bad, but here in Matthew 13, leaven is positive. Why? It does not make sense for a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Leaven must still be negative here.

The commentators are uncomfortable with the idea that the Kingdom of God in its present form can have leaven in it, that it could be full of sin. But we need to remember that Jesus was seeing what would happen between the time He died and the time He returned. He saw that the people would be full of leaven, and they would always be, until they were changed to spirit.

That is the beauty of grace—that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and we can then come under His blood and be cleaned. This does not mean we are clean forever—we still sin after we are cleaned. So we have to go back before the throne of grace and plead for mercy and forgiveness again and again and again—even up until the time that we die or we are changed. We sin because we are full of leaven, and we spend our whole lives getting rid of it.

Every year, we keep the Days of Unleavened Bread to depict just this process and to be thankful that we have this sacrifice—Christ our Passover—who saves us and forgives us. In the Levitical sacrifices, no leaven could be in any of the offerings that were made (Leviticus 2:11), because they typified the sinless Christ. The two wave loaves that were offered on the day of Pentecost (Leviticus 23) were made with leaven, because they represent us, the Old Testament and the New Testament, or the Old Covenant and the New Covenant—the churches of those times that were full of leaven, that is, sinful people. But God accepts them because the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). He knows our frame and gives us grace (Psalm 103:14).

In I Corinthians 5:6, Paul writes, "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" This sounds like the Parable of the Leaven. The leaven went throughout the Corinthian church. In verse 7, Paul says, in essence, "You are supposed to be pure. Get that sin out, so you can repent." In verse 8, Paul defines leaven as "malice and wickedness." In other words, it is sin.

In Galatians 5:7-9, Paul calls leaven a "persuasion [that] does not come from Him who calls you," one that hinders us from obeying the truth. Putting these three verses together, this is how he defines leaven, as "a persuasion that does not come from God." In Luke 12:1, Jesus says that the leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy—hypocrisy in religion. In Mark 8:15, He speaks of "the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Herod had leaven, too, and his was basically secularism or the use of religion for political purposes. Then, in Matthew 16:5-6, 11, Jesus clearly says that the leaven He spoke about was the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

So, then, what is leaven? In its most basic sense, it is a symbol of corruption, which has a tendency to multiply and spread like yeast. A little bit of yeast in the dough will make the whole thing rise because the yeast ferments and spreads throughout the entire lump of dough, making it all rise. In this parable leaven symbolizes sin that corrupts and spreads.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven

Matthew 13:33

In both the the fourth and fifth parables in this chapter, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to something hidden. The fourth parable (Matthew 13:33) shows a woman hiding leaven in “three measures of meal,” resulting in the leaven spreading throughout. The fifth parable describes a man finding hidden treasure and hiding it again. We first see “three measures of meal” in the meeting of Abraham and Sarah and the Lord, when He foretold the birth of Isaac (Genesis 18:6). However, the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham's house degraded over the centuries, and by the time of Christ's ministry, their peaceful accord had become completely debased.

The Parable of the Leaven ties the first three parables together. The critical issue in the third parable, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, is that a plant with a faithful beginning ends up being a welcome home to demons (Matthew 13:31-32). Symbolically, this is the effect of leavening: false beliefs lead people astray—away from God and toward perdition. Even though Abraham lived by faith and kept God's commandments, “leavening” introduced to (and by) his descendants broke down the spiritual wall and made the nation an environment hospitable to demons. While not every Pharisee, Sadducee, or common Jew was demon-possessed, Jesus forthrightly classified those who opposed Him as Satan's children (see John 8:44), as did John the Baptist before Him, calling them a “brood of vipers” when they claimed Abraham as their father (Matthew 3:7-9).

The symbolism involved in leavening further explains the second parable, whose conflict is found in the dismaying presence of the tares among the wheat. God did not plant the tares. They threatened to diminish the harvest because their origin is satanic rather than divine. At the time Jesus spoke this parable, the tares were embodied in the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were oppressing those with whom God was working. Jesus rebukes them in Matthew 23:13, saying, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (emphasis ours throughout). Their active opposition to the good seed directly resulted from their corrupt—leavened—beliefs about righteousness.

Taking one more step back, the idea of leavening also plays into the Parable of the Sower, in which most of the soils on which the word of the Kingdom fell could not produce a positive, sustained response. In the first scenario, the birds—a symbol of demons—interfered before the seed had a chance to sprout. The demons were present because, by turning away from God, the nation had essentially invited them in. In the second scenario, the soil was stony, and the sprouting seed could not develop roots to allow continued survival and growth. The nation's hardness of heart made many slow to believe, which ties to the problem of leavening. Likewise, the thorns—pursuing the cares of the world—are a consequence of a misaligned belief system that prioritizes the material over the spiritual.

As we can see, Christ's woeful parables to the multitudes reach a climax in the Parable of the Leaven. It explains the underlying cause of the nation's spiritual problems described in the previous parables, as well as the controversy between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Matthew 12.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Three)

Matthew 13:37

The sower is Christ Himself. God calls (John 6:44), but He draws them to Christ. He is the Agent by whom the sowing is done.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:38

Jesus calls says that "the good seed" are "the sons of the kingdom." But does this not contradict what He said in the first parable—that the seed was the Word of God or the knowledge of God? No, because the word "seed" has been modified in both of these occasions.

What is a seed? An apple tree produces apples, and in the middle of an apple is a bunch of little seeds. What does the seed do? The seed is the means by which an apple tree reproduces itself, and by it the tree expands its domain, as it were. We have to substitute kingdom for apple tree to understand the analogy here.

In the parables, Jesus gives the disciples the symbols' narrow meanings. He says, "The seed is the word" and later it is "the sons of the kingdom." This is not a contradiction, for the overall meaning is the same. The seed is the product of the plant, and the seed is also the means by which the plant is reproduced. Now with this meaning, the meaning of seed fits both the word of God and the sons of God; both the word and the sons are means by which the Kingdom grows, expands, and reproduces.

In this particular parable, the good seed represents the members of God's church, and the members of God's church are the means by which the Kingdom will grow throughout the whole earth. Christians are just the kernels, the beginnings, the "itty bits" that God starts with.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:45-46

Just as the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32) concerns a single plant, so the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price focuses on a single, precious gem. The Mustard Seed shows growth relative to a humble beginning. The Pearl of Great Price illustrates this also, as a pearl's value largely depends on how big it grows (in relative terms) over the years as layer upon layer of nacre accretes over a minuscule irritant. What people seek even more than size are a pearl's quality and perfection: A smaller, flawless pearl is worth more than a larger, marred, misshapen one.

The New King James Version's “beautiful” in Matthew 13:45 is translated as “goodly” in the King James Version. The Greek word, kalos, carries a sense of beauty, but it refers to moral goodness and virtue, not simply aesthetics. It is the same word underlying “good works,” “good fruit,” “good seed” and “good ground” (as in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares), “fitting,” “better,” “good shepherd,” as well as “honest.” The pearl was beautiful because of its exquisite qualities, not merely because it caught the eye.

The contrast between these two parables lies in the result. The latter end of the mustard plant is an abode for birds, just as the nation at the time of Jesus was rife with unclean spirits. In contrast, the pearl is a symbol of purity. It caught the attention of a merchant, who specialized in seeking “goodly” pearls. For the merchant to conclude his search with this singular, superlative pearl proves its great worth in this expert's eyes. Whereas the Parable of the Mustard Seed ends with spiritual uncleanness, the Pearl of Great Price concludes with satisfaction over superb quality and worth. The merchant spends everything he had; he could buy no other, nor did he desire to.

As with many of the previous parables, the most common interpretation of this parable lacks scriptural support. The popular reading asserts that the pearl variously represents salvation, the Kingdom, or Jesus Christ Himself. In this view, the merchant represents the individual Christian, willing to give up everything to purchase these things of inestimable worth.

While true and admirable sentiments exist in this view—a follower of Christ certainly must count the cost of discipleship and be willing to sacrifice all—the fact remains that human beings have no currency with which to purchase salvation, the Kingdom, or the Savior. They can accept or reject these gifts, but they can never procure them by wealth, works, or good intentions.

The merchant does not represent ordinary men. In the paired Parable of the Mustard Seed, the man represents Jesus Christ, symbolically sowing a tiny seed in the world, initiating a physical nation/kingdom. Likewise, the merchant in this parable represents Jesus Christ, who first surrendered His divine position to become human and then sacrificed His sinless, physical life. His sacrifice paid the redemption price for those with the faith of Abraham—the faith that is a gift of God and is demonstrated by works of obedience (Genesis 26:5; James 2:17-22; John 14:21; I John 5:2-3).

God's promises to Abraham are fulfilled in both the physical nation of Israel and spiritual Israel, the church, and this pairing of parables captures this overlap. One—the Mustard Seed—shows the biological family growing large, while the other—the Pearl—reveals the spiritual Family supremely valued. Abraham's faith facilitated the fulfillment of God's promise of an heir and thus the first increase of the Kingdom (see Genesis 17:5-7). However, the apostle Paul explains that physical heritage, while important in some aspects (Romans 3:1-2), matters far less than receiving from God the same faith Abraham had (Galatians 3:7-9).

Those with this faith are “bought at a price” (I Corinthians 6:20; 7:23); they are of “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Peter writes that God redeemed us “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:19). Truly, Christ sold all He had to purchase this pearl He found so valuable.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Four)

Luke 17:5

The apostles wanted more faith so they could meet the challenges of God's demands, but Jesus knew that it was not quantity they needed but quality. They did not need an increase of faith that would bring some reward following its use, but a faith that, although small like a mustard seed, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). The disciple with this type of living faith is convinced of the fact that God exists (Romans 4:16-22; Hebrews 11:1-3), conscious of his intimate relationship with God (Romans 5:1-2), and concerned about absolute submission to His will (Romans 12:2).

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Unprofitable Servants


 




The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment

The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment

Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 150,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.

Email Address:

   
Leave this field empty

We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.
 A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
©Copyright 1992-2022 Church of the Great God.   Contact C.G.G. if you have questions or comments.
Share this on FacebookEmailPrinter version
Close
E-mail This Page