The Parable of the Mustard Seed

By COGwriter

Jesus spoke many parables. One was a comparison of the kingdom of God and a mustard seed. It is mentioned in Matthew's, Mark's, and Luke's gospels. Here is Luke's account

The He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches" (Luke 13:18-19).

Jesus is teaching that the Kingdom of God will start small, but it will massively increase.

Jesus called the mustard seed "the least of all seeds" (Matthew 13:32), yet it can grow 12 feet high. Some have considered that since other seeds in other regions can be smaller then perhaps Jesus was in error--He was not. Notice what one scholar states about the Greek word used in this parable:

A question is sometimes raised about this statement because the passage declared that the mustard seed is "the smallest of all your seeds" (v. 32). Actually, the text in the Greek New Testament is comparative (mikroteron) which means that it is smaller. Some hold that this is an error in Scripture because the seed of the orchid, for instance, is still smaller. This, however, is ruled out by the passage itself which limits the seeds under consideration to those that are planted in the Holy Land. The fact that smaller seeds are found elsewhere in the world is without significance (Walvoord John F. The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook. Victor Books, Wheaton (il), 1990, p. 375).

Here are photos of a wild mustard plant and yellow mustard seeds:

Wild Mustard Plant
Yellow Mustard

Jesus' parable suggests that, at first, the kingdom of God is quite small.

This is somewhat confirmed by the verses of another parable that follow.

The next parable compares the kingdom of God to leaven (Luke 13:20-21) which is very small. After hearing these parables and walking further (vs.22) notice what was taught,

Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few that will be saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you will seek to enter and will not be able" (vs.23-24).

So after hearing the parable of the mustard seed and the one with leaven, the disciples began to realize that Jesus was teaching that only a few will be called for salvation in this age (see also Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God differ from most Protestants).

Also notice what happened shortly before telling the parable about the mustard seed:

...the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand"(Matthew 13:10-13--note this same discussion also precedes the parable of the mustard seed in Mark's account as well).

Jesus explained that He spoke in parables so that most would not understand what He was teaching as access to the kingdom has not been given to most in this age. So because of all this, recall that His disciples figured out what He was teaching.

Yet the parable of the mustard seed is a classic example of people not quite understanding the parables--as some scholars erroneously feel that it shows that the Christian Church would quickly be large (Walvoord, pp. 374-375).

The Nelson Study Bible almost gets it right. It interprets Matthew's account of the parable to mean:

The parable of the mustard seed affirms that during that time period, the number of people who inherit the kingdom will be very small at first. But though it begins like the smallest of seeds, the nucleus will enjoy growth completely out of proportion to its initial size...The kingdom, though having only a small number of people at the beginning of the age, will ultimately be large and prosperous" (p. 1598).

Actually, if these authors kept and understood God's Holy Days, they probably would have understood this parable correctly. It is true that there will be few in the beginning of the kingdom. The Feast of Pentecost (also known as the Feast of Firstfruits) which occurs in the Spring, pictures that a small harvest will occur in this age. The Feast of Tabernacles (and the Last Great Day) which occurs in the Fall, pictures the large harvest which will occur at the end of the age.

Since these commentators do not observe the God's Holy Days (Lev 23:1), they have a different definition of the kingdom than those in the Churches of God. Notice further what The Nelson Study Bible commentators teach:

The kingdom of heaven is most likely synonymous with 'the kingdom of God'. Both terms seem to be used consistently throughout the New Testament to refer to God's heavenly kingdom coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. This kingdom begins with the incarnation of Christ, continues with the inception of the church, and will be fully manifested when Christ returns (p.1570).

In other words, these Protestant scholars are not looking for a literal kingdom.

The New Testament teaches that the true Church of God would be quite small in this age:

32 Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

5... at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace (Romans 11:5)

27... The remnant will be saved. 28 For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth (Romans 9:27-28).

As far as the short-work goes, check out the article Preparing for the 'Short Work' and The Famine of the Word. As far as God's plan for those beyond the remnant, check out the article Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis.

As far as the kingdom of God goes, one portion will begin at the start of the Millennium (which is the time of the first resurrection, Rev 20:4-6) and will have its largest harvest afterwards.

The kingdom of God starts very small (Daniel 2:36b), but will take over the whole earth (vs. 36b,44-45). This appears to be the meaning of the parable of the mustard seed. This is something that most scholars who read it simply do not seem to understand.

More information on the plan of God can be found in the articles Hope of Salvation: How the Churches of God differ from most Protestants, Universal Salvation? There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis, and The History of Early Christianity.

Notice also the following series of online video messages:

Parable of the Talents: Are there Prophetic Ramifications?
Universal Offer of Salvation I: God is love
Universal Offer of Salvation II: The Age to Come and the 'Little Flock'
Universal Offer of Salvation III: All Are to Know Jesus, But When?
Universal Offer of Salvation IV: Will the Guilty be Pardoned?
Universal Offer of Salvation V: All Israel Will be Saved?

Another article of interest may be The Kingdom of God was the Emphasis of Jesus and the Early Church as well as the YouTube video titled  The Gospel of the Kingdom. And this gospel is something that we in the Continuing Church of God teach.

Jesus also mentioned another mustard seed in scripture, more information on that is in the article Faith for those God has Called and Chosen.

Appendix: Is the Mustard Seed the Smallest of Seeds? If not, was Jesus wrong?

Notice the account of this parable from Matthew:

31 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, 32 which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)

Notice that Jesus was not actually comparing the mustard seed to all other seeds in the world, but to seeds that a local farmer in that area might have “sowed in his field,” i.e., a key qualifying phrase in verse 31. And it’s reportedly true that the black mustard seed (Brassica nigra = Sinapis nigra) was the smallest seed ever sown by a first-century farmer in that part of the world.

It is also true that the black mustard seed in Israel will typically grow to heights of 3.7 meters, or 12 (twelve) feet—large enough to hold at least one bird nest.

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