The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Matthew 13:31-32 and Mark 4:30-32

DIG: What is abnormal about this growth? What religious movements, denominations or sects represent the birds today? Are most saved? Why or why not? What is the invisible universal Church? Are all saved? How do we know? How do the parables that we have seen so far develop into a basic flow of thought?

REFLECT: Why is it important to know the difference between the visible church and the invisible universal Church? Can you assume that just because someone is attending your church or messianic synagogue that he or she is a believer? Just because you sit in the garage, does that necessarily make you a car?

The one main point to the parable of the mustard seed is that the visible church will assume abnormal outer growth.

The second couplet is made up of the parables of the Mustard Seed (external) and the Leaven (internal), where we see the corruption of the visible church. Because the apostles would be commissioned to proclaim the message of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth (Mattityahu 28:19-20), it would be easy for them to feel that the harvest depended on their efforts. The Lord of the harvest wanted to make it clear that although the visible church would grow tremendously, false doctrine would enter the congregations of God. There is indeed a narrow gate that leads to life, and the wide gate that leads to destruction (see Dw – The Narrow and Wide Gates). However, they should not be surprised or discouraged because Jesus had forewarned them.

The next two parables deal with the same theme, and that has to do with the visible church. Thus, we need to examine the difference between the visible church and invisible universal Church. A false religious system will be introduced into the visible church and it will result in the corruption of church doctrine. It is a picture of “Christendom” (Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Protestants, Seven-Day Adventists, and Mormons) that we can see with our own eyes. Some people in the visible church are saved but most are not. But, the invisible universal Church, the Bride of Christ (John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8 and 21:9-10), is made up of true believers, or the body of Messiah (First Corinthians 10:15-17 and 12:27; Ephesians 4:16; Colossians 1:18), as we are placed in Him (see Bw – What God Does for Us at the Moment of Faith).

Again, He told them another parable: What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field (Mattityahu 13:31a; Mark 4:30-31a). This plant would have been very familiar to the Jews.

Which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground (Matthew 13:31b; Mark 4:31). The mustard seed was in fact the smallest of all the garden seeds known. Scientifically we know that there were smaller seeds; however, the mustard seed was the smallest seed Yeshua’s audience was familiar with. The black mustard seed is smaller than a grain seed, a grape seed, or a cucumber seed. In fact, it is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Of all the garden seeds, it is the smallest, with the greatest growth potential.698 The mustard seed normally reached six to eight feet in height, but it has been known to reach ten to twelve feet, and would blossom with yellow flowers. It is an herb and not a bush or a tree. The seeds were used to flavor meats or vegetables and were a favorite food of birds. The birds like linnets and finches, would not build their nests in the mustard plant, but would settle or rest upon it for a period of time.

In the time of Christ, the mustard seed was a proverbial saying illustrating something small (Mishnah Toboroth 8.8; Niddah 5.2; B’rakhot 31a and Lev Rabbah 31:9). It was used by Rabbis to indicate the smallest amount, such as the least drop of blood, the least defilement, or the smallest remnant of sunglow in the sky.699 Later, when the talmidim could not drive a demon out from a man, they asked: Why couldn’t we drive it out? Yeshua replied: Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there, and it will move, Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20).

Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants and while the mustard plant is always small, here it grows abnormally and becomes a tree (Matthew 13:32a; Mark 4:32a). Jesus’ audience knew the simile of the large tree whose wide-spreading branches afforded a perch for birds, was a familiar figure in Jewish Scriptures for a mighty kingdom that gave shelter to all nations (Ezekiel 31:6 and Daniel 4:12). The emphasis here is the greatness of the visible church when contrasted to its humble beginnings. In the Oriental mind-set this parable would be seen as showing a contrast, as opposed to progress. So our Savior taught that there would be an abnormal growth of the mustard seed, thus an abnormal growth of the visible church into many great organizations, big churches, and large programs, all produced by human energy and not by the Ruach HaKodesh.

It grows so abnormally large, with such big branches that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches for shade (Matthew 13:32b). There will be an abnormal external growth until it becomes a monstrosity and a resting place for birds. The seed that becomes this enormous mustard plant is a picture of the visible church. Jesus said that understanding the parable of the Soils was the key in understanding all the other parables. So like the birds that snatched away the Gospel seed before it could be planted in the hearts of the lost in that first parable, here, the birds represent the agents of the Adversary. These birds represent unbelievers who sit in the congregations of God, various pseudo-Christian movements, various cults and other corruptions of the true Church.

We are going to look at nine parables that develop a basic flow of thought: (1) The Parable of the Soils (Et) teaches that there will be different responses to the scattering of the Gospel throughout the Church Age. (2) The Parable of the Seed Growing By Itself (Eu) teaches that Gospel seed will have an inner energy so that it will spring to life on its own. (3) The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Ev) teaches that the true planting will be imitated by a false counter-planting. (4) The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Ew) teaches that the visible church will assume abnormal outer growth.700

 

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