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.”
This parable is also found in Mark 4:30-31.
We are not to understand from our Lord’s words that the mustard seed is the most infinitesimal of all seeds in the entire vegetable kingdom, but it is the least of all the seeds of the garden herbs; yet when it is grown it becomes the greatest of all the herbs, towering over all the rest, so that it forms a place of shelter. — Ironside, page 167.
Some have noted that the mustard seed described as “the least of all seeds” is not actually the smallest seed, and that this is an error in the Scriptures. The answer is twofold. The Greek word translated “smallest” (mikroteron) is actually a comparative and should be translated “smaller,” … The thought is that it is “very small.” Second, Jesus is speaking of the seeds that were ordinarily planted in ancient gardens, hence the remark that botanists know about many seeds that are still smaller is pointless. — Walvoord, pages 101-102.
The expression, “small as a mustard seed,” had become proverbial, and was used, not only by our Lord, but frequently by the Rabbis, to indicate the smallest amount.
Mustard was in Palestine mixed with, or used as food for pigeons, and presumably would be sought by other birds.
The Kingdom of Heaven, planted in the field of the world as the smallest seed, in the most humble and uncompromising manner, would grow till it far outstripped all other similar plants, and gave shelter to all nations under heaven.
Out of that insignificant seed in one year would grow a plant that became large enough for birds to nest in it. Daniel 4:12 and Ezekiel 31:6 use the figure of a spreading tree in which birds lodge to indicate a great kingdom that can protect many people. — Pentecost, page 217.
My commentaries all saw this as a picture of the world today. Many of them say that a mustard plant the size of a tree would be an abnormal thing and equate it with the professing church of the current age. Birds, they say, always represent evil and, therefore, are the apostasy and evil ones of this age, or those who profess to be Christians but aren’t.
But again, this makes no sense to me. The Lord had been preaching the literal kingdom all through His ministry up to this point. And although the Jews didn’t understand and had rejected Him as the Messiah, they hadn’t yet finally rejected the kingdom because the kingdom wasn’t offered until Pentecost. (Even if, hypothetically, the Jews had accepted Christ as the Messiah, the kingdom still couldn’t have been ushered in until Pentecost because, without Christ’s death and resurrection, there would be no salvation.)
So … I’m forced to decide for myself what this parable means. If it’s referring to the Millennial Kingdom, which I believe all of Christ’s references to the kingdom in Matthew are, then … The Jewish leaders had just rejected Christ. Only a small group of followers (a mustard seed’s worth) were planted on the earth. But someday, in the Millennium, that small group will be a huge nation that covers the earth, large enough for the other nations to take cover under its blessing.
I understand that I’m disagreeing with the widespread consensus here, which makes me wonder why I see this so differently. I think it’s this …
Many (most?) people see this age as the culmination of earthly history — Christ died and rose again and salvation is offered to everyone who believes and so all Scripture must, somehow, be about now.
I don’t agree. I think the culmination of earthly history will be the Millennial Kingdom when Jesus Christ is on the throne in Jerusalem, there will be widespread peace on earth, and all the nations of the world are blessed through Israel. That, and not the situation today, fulfills the promised made to Abraham and David. That provides the literal fulfillment of so very many Old Testament prophecies. That explains Acts 2 and Romans 9-11 and Revelation. And any claim that we’re experiencing God’s ultimate plan for earth today makes God look like a failure.
This current age is, as it is often named, an age of grace. God, before He reigns, is going to judge the world. He is postponing that awful judgment because of His grace. But it’s coming.
I think Satan primarily works by twisting the truth just enough to confuse people. Claiming that this age is the culmination of history sounds good. It makes us feel important. It can be backed up by a lot of Scripture (taken out of context or interpreted incorrectly). And it keeps people from properly understanding God’s Word.