“He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”” (Matthew 13:31–32, NASB95)
“And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? “It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.”” (Mark 4:30–32, NASB95)
“So He was saying, “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 threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”” (Luke 13:18–19, NASB95)
I’ve included all three passages where this parable is retold for us in the Bible. Notice that all of them are consistent and not in conflict with each other while each of them brings varying amounts of detail. The record of Mark is the most complete, and following Mark’s retelling of this parable he also wrote to inform us that while Jesus continued to speak in parables He also continued to explain His parables privately to His disciples. “With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.” (Mark 4:33–34, NASB95)
For those of us who would have liked to continue reading the rest of Jesus’ explanations we are left to study the Scriptures and looking to what else God’s Spirit has disclosed to us through His inspired Word. But I think the apostle John explained for us maybe why not each parable’s explanation was not given when he wrote in the last words of His gospel account, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25, NASB95)
First of all, we read that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Jesus had just spoken two parables including seeds. The first had to do the ground in which the seed is planted, where only one soil was found to take root, grow, and produce fruit. The next two had to do with the types of seed. In the parable of the wheat and the tares we find two seeds planted side by side—one good and one bad—which were going to be separated at the time of harvest. This we know represents both those who are saved and inherit the kingdom of God and those who are lost and suffer eternal separation in the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels. In this third parable we have another seed, the mustard seed, which is of no significance when compared in size to other seeds. In the notes of the ESV Study Bible we read this about the mustard seed and its ultimate size at maturity, “It was the smallest of all agricultural seeds in Palestine. The mustard “tree” grows to a height of 8 to 12 feet.” While it is actually a shrub and not a tree, its size clearly would cause it to dwarf much of what it surrounds such that birds could rest in its shade and nest in its branches. What is most significant in the parable is the contrast between its beginning and its end.
In sharing this parable Jesus also quoted Old Testament Scripture which some of His hearers would likely know whether they made the current connection or not. In Ezekiel we read of the downfall of King Zedekiah and the nation of Judah. The Lord God described what He was going to do for His people with these words, “Thus says the Lord God, “I will also take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and set it out; I will pluck from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one and I will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the high mountain of Israel I will plant it, that it may bring forth boughs and bear fruit and become a stately cedar. And birds of every kind will nest under it; they will nest in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the field will know that I am the Lord; I bring down the high tree, exalt the low tree, dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will perform it.”” (Ezekiel 17:22–24, NASB95) In these words we read that God will take a sprig—a remnant—of the lofty cedar (Israel) and that He would plant that sprig on the high mountain of Israel and that the tree would grow strong and mighty such that all of the trees of the field would know that He is the Lord. It is in this tree that we read both of the birds finding shade (Mark’s account) and nesting (Matthew’s account).
We recently looked at the end times when Christ returns to deliver His people Israel and to establish and earthly reign of 1,000 years. It is during at His return that we read the mountains will literally be thrown down and that Jerusalem will be raised up. It is from there that Jesus would rule during the Millennium. It is under His rule that all of the promises of Scripture concerning preserving a remnant of Israel and returning all of Israel to God are fulfilled. It is in these promises that mankind will physically see the King of kings sitting on a throne before His people, and it is following this period when all of those who are saved will enter into the new heaven and the new earth where man will live in the presence of God for all eternity.
And as we look at all of the prophecies concerning our coming Savior we find our God bringing Him through a single people group among all the possible nations, through a singular lineage among all of the lineages, born to an insignificant young virgin among all of the women in a small and seemingly insignificant town. Our God works all of this in His incredibly amazing way. I was reminded of this again as I thought about a Moabite widow who would become the great-grandmother of King David and mentioned in by Matthew in the lineage of Jesus. Consider the blessing the people gave Boaz when he came before the elders to redeem this destitute widow and take her as his wife along with caring for her mother-in-law, “All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. “Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”” (Ruth 4:11–12, NASB95)
Truly our Lord has come as the fulfillment of the seed that was planted in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of the tribe of Jesse and the lineage of King David. And truly through this seed of Abraham, born by the women spoken of in Ruth, all of the nations will be blessed and those who are saved will find their eternal home in His presence.
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, NASB95)
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:16, NASB95)