The first parable to be covered in this article is “the parable of the mustard seed.” It is found in Matthew 13:31-32 and reads as follows:
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Jesus likened mustard seed to the smallest of seeds that fall within the herb family. Unlike our mustard, which is a relatively small plant, this type of mustard seed grows into a tree. So, a very small insignificant seed becomes a tree. What did Jesus mean by this parable?
Since the kingdom of heaven is the same as the Kingdom of God, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. The thought behind this parable is: What is this kingdom going to be like? The parable tells us that what starts out small becomes very large. Many theologians believe that the kingdom of heaven is the Church. Thus, the mustard tree refers to the Church. The parable is interpreted to mean that as the Church started out very small, it will grow to encompass the entire earth, and that it will, as the latter portion of verse 32 implies, provide a safe haven for man. Compare Daniel 4:10-12. While these accomplishments are not yet realized, many believe that in only a matter of time they will be. Today the majority of the more than five billion people on this earth do not profess Christianity. Only about 500 million do. And of those who do, how many really understand, believe, and practice what Christ taught? Not many! If they did, they would not be practicing much of what is done in the name of Christianity today. Clearly, the parable does not refer to the Church.
From a secular viewpoint, others believe that the United Nations will accomplish what the Bible prophesies will take place in the Kingdom of God-the establishment of world peace and harmony. Yet, what is the record of the United Nations? Has world peace been accomplished, or has any real progress been made to bring about harmony? Hardly! When criticized, the standard reply from United Nations advocates is, “Give us more money and more time.” But, how much more money and time do we have? The world is a very dangerous place in which to live. It has been said God created the earth in seven days, and man can now destroy it in one hour. Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of nuclear war still hangs over our heads. Then, there is disease. Many scientists and medical doctors are very apprehensive about the AIDS epidemic. In some countries up to one-quarter of the population has contracted the disease. Entire villages have been wiped out. Man has no cure, no solution to the problem. Some doctors are afraid that AIDS will eventually claim more lives than the Black Death during the Middle Ages. Is man really capable of bringing about a utopia on this earth? The sad truth is that neither the Church nor the United Nations has the power required to accomplish this. As we saw in the first parable of this series, Jesus said the Kingdom of God would not come by observation (Luke 17:20). People are not going to see it grow and grow into something big. Bible descriptions of the return of Christ do not depict a world in peace and harmony. See Revelation 11:15-18, Isaiah 66:15-16, and Zechariah 14:1-3. So, we can dispel the notion that the Church will fulfill the parable of the mustard seed. It will not fill the whole earth and it will not provide the haven for man depicted by the parable.
The Church indeed did start out small. But, what later became known as the vast Christian Church was not the Church Jesus built. Anyone versed in church history is aware that the Christian Church today bears little semblance to the original Church of the New Testament. Jesus said His Church was a little flock (Luke 12:32). The Apostle John wrote that at the time of Christ’s return there would be only 144,000 out of all the tribes of Israel who would be sealed. Later an innumerable number of Gentiles would come through the Great Tribulation to receive salvation (Rev. 7:1-4, 9-15). True Christians are little noticed by the world today. They comprise a very small minority of those who profess Christ. During this dispensation they are not destined to fill the whole earth. But what will?
Read it in Daniel 7:22, 26-27. Christ will intervene in the affairs of men. He will come with all power and authority. He will put down rebellious mankind. That rebellion is destined to continue on this earth, “Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. . . . But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” The same thing is seen in Daniel 2:44, when the governments of this world will be taken over by the saints. “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” Clearly, the Kingdom of God is not going to fill the earth until after the return of Jesus Christ. The vastness of this kingdom is described in Micah 4:1-3:
But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
The righteousness, justice, and peace of this kingdom is described in Isaiah 11:3-9:
. . . He shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
The Bible describes the scope of this kingdom in Isaiah 9:6-7. It speaks of Christ in verse six and goes on to show the vastness of the Kingdom of God:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
These texts, and many more, show that the kingdom of heaven is not the Church, and that no man or organization of men will bring peace to this world or provide a safe haven for mankind. The parable of the mustard seed shows that only Christ can do that!
The next parable to examine is found in Matthew 13:33. It is often referred to as “the parable of the leaven.” It reads as follows: “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” What does this parable mean?
For one thing, the word “meal” should be translated “flour.” So, the leaven was placed in flour. When a baker makes bread, what happens when yeast, for example, is put into the flour? We all know the fermentation sets in and the dough begins to rise. In this parable we do not know the amount of leaven that was placed in the flour, but according to some Bible commentaries three measures of flour would come to about 50 pounds. While leaven is often used symbolically for evil in the Bible, some assume leaven in the bread always represents some type of evil. This parable, however, does not discuss whether leaven is good or bad; it simply shows what leaven does when it is placed in bread.
The leaven in the bread is likened to the Kingdom of God. How? We saw in the parable of the mustard seed that the Kingdom of God will fill the whole earth. The parable of the leaven illustrates a similar thing. A little leaven in the flour will soon spread and the entire amount will begin to ferment. Soon, we have dough that is ready to bake. We could certainly conclude that the parable illustrates, like the parable of the mustard seed, how the Kingdom of God will expand and fill the entire earth. Also, since leaven refers to doctrine (Matt. 16:6, 11), the parable could just as well mean that the true doctrine of God, illustrated by the leaven, will expand to permeate the whole earth. Notice how this is described in Isaiah 11:9: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”
In this present world the knowledge of the true God and what He stands for is sadly lacking. This parable illustrates the time in the future when the Kingdom of God will rule on the earth and the Truth of God will be recognized and appreciated for what it can really do for man. This will be a total contrast from man’s knowledge today that has placed the world on the brink of annihilation.
The parable of “the hidden treasure” is found in Matthew 13:44. It reads: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” Some people criticize this example saying that it does not illustrate proper ethics. It is unethical, they say, to find treasure, then buy the field when the owner does not know about the treasure. The parable is not illustrating ethics, nor is it concerned with them. It concerns itself with the importance of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is likened to treasure hid in a field, and what the man should be willing to do in order to attain it.
If one finds treasure on someone else’s property, it is unlawful to take it without the owner’s permission. The man who found the treasure immediately recognized the value. So, what did he do? He took steps to legally acquire the treasure. The property owner should have been more knowledgeable about his own land. In a sense, he was negligent, but he was not obligated to sell. He could just as well have refused. Then, what could the man do who found the treasure? What we see here is an example of a man who desired to attain the Kingdom of God, but to do so lawfully. Jesus gives us an example of the importance and value of the Kingdom of God. This is the lesson behind the parable, not whether or not what was done was ethical.
The last parable to be covered in this article is “the pearl of great price.” This parable is illustrated in Matthew 13:45-46. It again illustrates the importance and value of the Kingdom of God. The parallel Scriptures included in this section will demonstrate this. The parable reads: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” Notice, the Kingdom of God is likened to a man who was seeking very expensive, high quality pearls. When he saw what he was looking for, he raised the funds by selling his assets. He then purchased the pearl. The parable illustrates, once again, the great value of the Kingdom of God and what one should be willing to do to attain it. The merchant sacrificed all he had to obtain the pearl. Jesus is saying that those who truly value the Kingdom of God will give up everything in this life, if necessary, in order to attain that kingdom. They may be required to give up much, but the goal is worth it.
Jesus emphasized this principle more than once. Notice Mark 8:34-38:
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
What should we be willing to give up in order to enter the Kingdom of God? The huge stumbling block for most people consists of the amenities, pleasures, and wealth of this physical life. This was why Jesus said the wealth of the whole world is not worth salvation. Those who place money and what it can buy before obedience to God cannot possibly have what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God. They have failed to recognize the value of that kingdom and have chosen the temporary pleasures of this life in its place. How valuable is wealth of this world? Riches can be enjoyed for a short season only. One cannot take his money with him. Jesus gave the example of the rich man who hoarded his wealth. Then he suddenly died (Luke 12:19-20). What, then, became of his wealth? And what good did it do him?
Jesus warned about covetousness-the desire to possess and hold, among other things, wealth. Notice how He answered one man: “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:13-15). As we see above, Jesus then went on to give the illustration of the rich man who hoarded his wealth.
The Apostle Peter also emphasized the value of the Kingdom of God. He tells us in 2 Peter 1:2-4:
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Here is the pearl of great price. Paul writes: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). We must set our hearts on the Kingdom of God, not the pleasures and wealth of this world. Life is short. We are in the process of overcoming and building character. Character is the ability to recognize right from wrong, and then to always choose the right in opposition to the wrong. Those who set their hearts on the physical amenities are indeed shortsighted. They will fail their purpose in life if they do not recognize the value of the Kingdom of God.
Here is what Paul said about the amenities of this life: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). We would do well to follow his example. He knew where to set his priorities. Do we?