Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

A study on Jesus' parable of the mustard seed from Matthew 13.

  • Matthew 13:31-32
  • Revelation 17:3-5
  • Luke 13:18-21
  • 2 Timothy 4:3-5
  • Ezekiel 17:22-24
  • Ezekiel 31:3-6; 10-13
  • Daniel 4:9-14;19-23
  • Revelation 18:2
  • What We Know About the Kingdom of God
  • Parables of Matthew 13
  • Parable of the Mustard Seed
  • A Small Seed
  • Spectacular Growth
  • Birds Taking Shelter
  • Conclusion
Has the spread of  Christianity slowed down in the past 100 years compared to previous years?
Matthew 13:31-32
31He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

What We Know About Kingdom of God

  • “Kingdom of God” means reign or rule of God
  • “Kingdom of God” is the same as “Kingdom of Heaven”
  • The Kingdom of the World or Kingdom of Satan opposes the Kingdom of God
  • The Kingdom of God arrived when Christ came
  • We got access to it when Kingdom  died on the cross
  • The Kingdom is in place now but not fully accessible by us
  • It will be fully accessible after the end of the age when we are in our glorified bodies
  • At that time there will be no more sin, death or evil
  • The plan for God’s future Kingdom is the same as what He intended with Adam and Eve
  • To have His will implemented upon the earth through mankind

Parables of Matthew 13

We have looked at 3 parables about the Kingdom of God in Matthew 13
  1. Parable of the Sower/Soils
  2. Parable of the Wheat and Weeds
  3. Parable of the Leaven

Parable of the Sower/Soils

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells us about 4 types of soil:
  1. The Path
  2. Rocky Soil
  3. The Thorns
  4. Good Soil
Only one of these 4 soils is good  
  • Only one of these soils produces fruit  
  • In the other 3 soils the word of God is impeded and they produce no benefit to the Kingdom  
We learn in this parable:
  • The Kingdom can be missed
  • The enemy can prevent the seed of the Kingdom from staying in someone’s heart
  • The Kingdom can be obtained and then lost
  • Worrying about your earthly situation can cause you to lose the Kingdom
  • Chasing after worldly success can cause you to lose the Kingdom
  • The Kingdom grows at different rates in different people
This parable of the Kingdom is describing undesirable things that will happen in relation to the Kingdom.  Jesus said that understanding this parable unlocks the others.

Parable of the Weeds

We learn from this parable:
  • Jesus has planted Children of the Kingdom in the world
  • Satan is actively opposing the Kingdom
  • Satan introduced evil into the world
  • Jesus will remove wicked people from the Kingdom at the end of the age
  • Those include: false prophets, church leaders who mislead the flock, and those whose lawless deeds have not been forgiven
This parable is describing undesirable things that will happen in the Kingdom.

Parable of the Leaven

The parable speaks of a woman mixing leaven into a large batch of meal until it permeates through the entire batch.
Leaven is used in the Old and New Testament to represent:
  • Sin
  • Wrong teaching
  • Hypocrisy
  • Pride, malice,
  • False doctrine
The parable is telling us that an unidentified woman hid: sin, wrong teaching, hypocrisy, pride, malice, and false doctrine into the Kingdom.
Often times when an unidentified woman is used symbolically in the bible, she represents a system of beliefs and practices.  We looked at the example in Revelation 17.
Revelation 17:3-5
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.
4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality,
5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
  • The blasphemous woman here is identified as Babylon
  • This is a representation of the Babylonian religious system
  • This is the religious system that the Jews practiced causing God’s anger with them
Many of the pagan religious practices that have become mainstream in the church originated from this religion of Babylon including:
  • The origins of Easter and Christmas
  • Christmas trees, yule logs, Easter bunnies and Easter eggs
  • The worship of saints and female deities like Mary
These are all examples of leaven that has crept into the church
Example: seaweed in Zambia
  • Plant grew unchallenged because it was foreign


The order of the parables in the chapter is:
  • Parable of the sower / soils
  • Parable of the weeds
  • Parable of the mustard seed
  • Parable of the leaven
  • Explanation of the parable of the weeds
All of the other parables show an example of something that started out good but then got corrupted in an unexpected way.  Jesus warns us that there will be opposition mixed into the Kingdom.
How likely is it that in the middle of these parables that are warnings Jesus would give a parable about how the Kingdom is going to overtake the world?

Parable of the Mustard Seed

Luke 13:18-21
So He was saying, "What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it?
19 "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and THE BIRDS OF THE AIR NESTED IN ITS BRANCHES."
  • Notice that the man put it in his own garden

Mustard Seed is a Commonly Used Metaphor

Other Mustard seed stories:
  • Buddha
  • - grieving mother lost her only child
  • Jewish philosopher
  • - universe expanded...was size of mustard seed at it’s creation
  • Mohammed
  • - he who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of pride would not enter Paradise
It was a commonly used metaphor that represented something small.
  • Representing the smallest thing

About The Mustard Plant

While mustard is one of the best known of all Bible plants, there is no indication of how ancient Hebrews actually used it.   A plant species in the family Brassicaceae.  The alternative older name, Cruciferae, means "cross-bearing", describing the four petals of mustard flowers, which resemble a cross.
From interviews of Palestinian farmers, they perhaps ate the leaves as a vegetable like many members of the mustard family: cabbage, turnips, and broccoli.
Mustard could be, grown in gardens, but would not need any cultivating, because it sprouts all by itself.  
Some don’t believe it was used for gardening:
The Jewish tradition (in the Mishnah(6)), however, states that it is not a garden vegetable, but that it is grown in fields.

Invasive aggressive mustard species are known for being self-fertile, seeding very heavily with small seeds that have a lengthy lifespan coupled with a very high rate of viability and germination, and for being completely unpalatable for both herbivores and insects in areas they are not native to.  It grows like a weed and would take over the whole garden.

Not a Botany Lesson

It’s a parable
  • The purpose of the parable is to make one or two specific point by use of an illustration
  • That illustration does not have to be something that actually happened
The parable is not explaining:
  • Whether people actually plant mustard seeds or not
  • Which seeds are largest and which are smallest
  • How mustard seeds normally grow
  • Where birds nest

Not a tree

A mustard is an herb, botanically speaking, not a tree
  • Popularly considered a shrub
  • There are wild mustard plants over ten feet tall near the Jordan River
  • Although trees in most parts of the Holy Land do not grow very large
  • This plant, or any mustard, could not support roosting birds

Not the Smallest Seed

 If grown in a garden it wouldn’t be yellow mustard, it would be Brassica nigra - black or white mustard.  The seed of both black and white mustard is similar in size, about 1.0 to 3.0 mm (1/8 inch)(11) so it is not the smallest seed  
  • It may be  the smallest seed of those which "you plant in the ground"
  •  The black orchid seed is smaller
It’s not the smallest of all seeds
  • Likely the smallest seed used in Palestine in those days
Example: Genesis not a response to Darwinism
  •  God doesn’t change the culture of the author or the audience
  • He’s not going to teach you science in order to tell you who made the earth
Parables exaggerate or emphasize features of things to make a point
  • There was no woman mixing yeast into thirty-two cups of flour
  • There was likely no good Samaritan who acted out the story
  • The purpose is to tell a story that makes a point

Points Made by the Parable

The 4 features of the mustard plant are:
  1. The small size of the seed
  2. The large and rapid growth
  3.  Evokes a tree
  4. The birds taking shelter in it

Small Seed

The greatness of the Kingdom would be no surprise for Jesus' audience - they were born and bred in a religious background were this Messianic magnificence of the age to come was taught with much emphasis. On the contrary, a real novelty in the teaching of Jesus was the perspective of the smallness of its beginning.  
This smallness theme runs throughout the whole chapter:
  • a sower sows a small seed
  • the enemy introduces tiny weed of evil
  • a minute lump of leaven permeates an enormous amount of dough
Jesus was emphasizing that the spread of the Kingdom wasn’t going to start with a massive takeover of the huge Roman empire converting everyone instantly.  They were expecting an overturn of the government.  It was started by Him and His disciples going from town to town speaking to crowds and individuals.

Figure of Speech

'small as a grain of mustard seed' was a proverbial expression among the Jews for something exceedingly minute"
"The rabbis called the smallest possible quantity 'the quantity of a grain of mustard,'
The point is that the Kingdom started small
  • It is not beginning how the listeners would have assumed

Spectacular Growth

There are few plants which grow so large in one season as a mustard.
  • Mustard planted one day could begin growing the next.
Mature mustard plants grow into shrubs.
  • It’s in the same family as: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, collards
One dispute about the parable of the mustard seed is whether the growth of mustard into a tree is really abnormal.
  • An herb does not become a tree naturally

Many commentaries say that Jesus is emphasizing that the Kingdom will have unnatural growth.  
  • A mustard seed should not turn into a tree
  • That is is unnatural
This implies that the growth of the Kingdom will not be natural
  • The kingdom grew into something that it wasn’t supposed to be
Example: Constantine and the Catholic Church
  • Changed the religion to allow pagans to continue practicing their customs

The Growth of the Kingdom

Growth of the Church

Has Christianity grown in the past 100 years?
  • In America...maybe not
  • Worldwide… yes
The church is shrinking in America.
In 1900 there were approximately 10 million Christians in Africa. In the year 2000 there were 360 million. Latin America and Asia have had similar growth.
“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University  Yang believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline.
Estimate say by the middle of this century there will be over 3 billion Christians in the world.
Bible best selling book every year since it came out.
The Kingdom is growing

Growth Isn’t Always Good

We think that bigger is better. We think that recognition and praise are the signs of significance.
Ministry growth doesn’t mean that God is in it.
  • A crowd draws a crowd
  • The electricity is contagious
A lot of churches teaching false doctrine are growing rapidly
  • If you’re not rich God’s not in your life
  • If you’re sick God’s not in your life
2 Timothy 4:3-5
3For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Birds Taking Shelter

  • Birds mentioned generically in the bible are usually bad
  • When referenced specifically (sparrows, eagles, etc) it can be good
  • When generically it’s usually bad.
No farmer plants seeds hoping to attract birds
When the seed was planted and it fell by the wayside, the birds of the air that plucked them up represented Satan coming to steal the  Word of God from people’s hearts
“Close study of birds as symbols in the Old Testament and especially in the literature of later Judaism shows that birds regularly symbolize evil and even demons or Satan (cf. b. Sanhedrin, 107a; cf. Revelation 18:2).” (Carson)

Messianic Kingdom

Birds nesting in a tree is a familiar illustration of a nation growing so large that it provides shelter to other nations.
  • Nations got protection from the tree.
  • The tree provided the shelter for the birds.
Ezekiel 17:22-24
22 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
“‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’”
  • This is a Messianic prophecy of a time when Israel would gain dominance over the world
  • Israel would support the other Gentile nations
The birds are not part of Israel
  • They are foreign nations


Assyria conquered and oppressed Israel.
Ezekial 31:3-6; 10-13
      3‘Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon
           With beautiful branches and forest shade,
           And very high,
           And its top was among the clouds.
     4‘The waters made it grow, the deep made it high.
           With its rivers it continually extended all around its planting place,
           And sent out its channels to all the trees of the field.
     5‘Therefore its height was loftier than all the trees of the field
           And its boughs became many and its branches long
           Because of many waters as it spread them out.
     6‘All the birds of the heavens nested in its boughs,
           And under its branches all the beasts of the field gave birth,
           And all great nations lived under its shade.

10‘Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Because it is high in stature and has set its top among the clouds, and its heart is haughty in its loftiness, 11therefore I will give it into the hand of a despot of the nations; he will thoroughly deal with it. According to its wickedness I have driven it away. 12“Alien tyrants of the nations have cut it down and left it; on the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land. And all the peoples of the earth have gone down from its shade and left it. 13“On its ruin all the birds of the heavens will dwell, and all the beasts of the field will be on its fallen branches
Foreign nations came under the rule of Assyria  
The birds initially represented the other nations over whom Assyria had dominance
Ultimately the foreign nations live within the fallen Assyrian nation


Nebekenezer asks Daniel to interpret his dream
Daniel 4:9-14;19-23
9‘O Belteshazzar [Daniel], chief of the magicians, since I know that a spirit of the holy gods is in you and no mystery baffles you, tell me the visions of my dream which I have seen, along with its interpretation.
     10‘Now these were the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed: I was looking, and behold, there was a tree in the midst of the earth and its height was great.
     11‘The tree grew large and became strong
           And its height reached to the sky,
           And it was visible to the end of the whole earth.
     12‘Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant,
           And in it was food for all.
           The beasts of the field found shade under it,
           And the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches,
           And all living creatures fed themselves from it.
     13‘I was looking in the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed, and behold, an angelic watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven.
     14‘He shouted out and spoke as follows:
           “Chop down the tree and cut off its branches,
           Strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit;
           Let the beasts flee from under it
           And the birds from its branches.
19“Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.’ Belteshazzar replied, ‘My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you and its interpretation to your adversaries! 20‘The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth 21and whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged— 22it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth. 23‘In that the king saw an angelic watcher, a holy one, descending from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it; yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field, and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts of the field until seven periods of time pass over him,”
  • The birds represented other nations, foreign nations.
  • It meant that the dominion of Nebekenezer’s empire, Babylon, had reached the end of the earth.
  • This nation was eventually destroyed by God.

End Time Usage

Revelation 18:2
And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.
  • This is an event that will happen in the future.
  • Babylon will rise again and every unclean bird will dwell in it.
  • All ideas in opposition to God will be mixed into it.
The other passages were prophecies of things that happened in the past.  This is a prophecy of the future. Like the parable of the leaven we see that the book of Revelation confirms just what Jesus predicted would happen.  It confirms that Babylon will return to power in the end time.  
If we believe that the church will grow large we cannot ignore this fact.  Therefore the pagan ways of Babylon will be (and have been) intermixed into mainstream Christianity.
All of these nations were destroyed by God.
This is what Jesus is warning us about.


The birds nesting in the trees always represent other nations.
The birds always represent the inclusion of other kingdoms.
Jesus is telling us that another Kingdom will come and nest in the Kingdom of God
We know that there are two Kingdoms:
  1. The Kingdom of God
  2. The Kingdom of the World / Satan
The parable is telling us that the Kingdom of God is going to grow large, but that it will be permeated with influence from the world.
Chuck Smith commentary says about the parable:
This is a parable, really, of the Gentile church that would become a haven for every kind of bird that exists. And so we look at the Gentile church today and see all the weird birds lodging in its branches. It's amazing the things that have been brought into the church, incorporated as a part of Christianity, and the people who have taken on the name or the title of Christian. But, of course, it certainly reminds us of what Jesus said, "Not all who say, 'Lord, Lord,' are going to enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21). So Jesus is referring to the fact that as the Gentile church grows, the abnormal type of growth, that it is not a healthy, solid growth, that it is become the haven for birds.
The problem isn’t things that are blatantly against God
The big issues are the things that seem like they are legitimate worship or sacraments.
What types of things have been mixed in the church?
  • The Hindu Kundalini spirit
  • Holy Spirit being treated as a “force” versus “a person”
  • You can throw “it” around
  • You can press “it”into someone’s forehead
  • Psychic readings
Churches are turning to:
  • Experience over Reason
  • Spirituality over Doctrine and Absolutes
  • Images over Words
  • Feelings over Truth
  • Earthly Justice over Salvation
  • Social Action over Eternity


When Jesus told parables it always caused people to think and to do some self examination.
Jesus’ parables always separate people
  • They cause you to make an assessment of which group you are in.
  • There is clearly a Kingdom group and a worldly group
  • Which group are you in?
Are you:
  • Wheat or tare
  • Good soil, rocky soil, thorny soil, or the path?
Have you been influenced by the leaven?  
Have the birds nesting in the Kingdom influenced you?
Think of your top 5 goals in life.  
Think of your 5 year plan.
Think of how you spend the majority of your time.
Think of how you spend the majority of your money.
What do you pray for?
Which Kingdom is really your priority?
Which Kingdom are you pursuing?

Instructor: Michael Leadon


Understanding the Mustard Seed Parable - Matheus Zandona
Plants of the Bible - Mustard
What is the meaning of the Parable of the Mustard Seed?
The Parable of The Mustard Seed
The parable of the Mustardseed and the Leaven podcast – East Way church
Is Your Church New Age, Emergent, or Christian?

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