We learned what parables are and why Jesus used them. We also saw that there are three distinct sets or groupings of parables, each having a different theme. Last month we began to examine the first six parables of the first group. We will conclude the study of the six parables about the Kingdom of God in this article.
And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear" (Mark 4:21-23). This parable had an especially significant meaning for the disciples. Jesus had told them earlier: "Fear them [the people] not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops" (Matthew 10:26-27). The Gospel message is the light that shines in a dark place. Christ was the Light of the world (John 1:9). Christians are to light the world with their example and with their message (Matthew 5:14-16). It is the work and the duty of God's Church to proclaim the mysteries of the Kingdom of God to all the world. Christ illustrated this important point by showing that if a person bought a candle it would be ridiculous to hide it (or snuff out its light) beneath a bushel basket! So it is with the message of the Kingdom. It is not something for a Christian to clutch to his breast as a personal talisman; it is not his alone to have and to keep. It is a message that must be proclaimed. As Paul said, "... woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:16). God has revealed to His people truths that were kept secret from the beginning of time. Even the mighty prophets of old were not granted the same insight into the plan of salvation that lay members of God's Church may have today. Even angels desire to look into some of the things we may readily know (I Peter 1:10-12). "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. "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (I Corinthians 2:9, 10). Can we hide such truth and light under a "bushel"? God forbid!
The grain of mustard seed
"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 (Matthew 13:31, 32). Again, we use Matthew's account. This parable shows that the preparation for the Kingdom of God has the smallest of beginnings. Yet that ruling Kingdom will ultimately fill all the earth. Daniel wrote: "And there was given him [Christ] dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:14). The saints will inherit this Kingdom with Christ. "But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever" (verse 18). What a magnificent destiny! What incredible glory! This is the marvelous future of all true Christians — to inherit all things as a part of the universe-filling Kingdom of God. But look how small it all began! In all of Old Testament times, only a comparative handful of people were called to inherit the Kingdom of God. Men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Daniel and David. Women like Esther, Rahab, Sarah and others. It was not until shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ that substantial numbers of people were called to the Kingdom of God. On the day of Pentecost, A.D. 31, 3,000 people were added to the Church; and from then on it grew or contracted in varying degrees throughout the centuries (Acts 2:41-47). At this present time, God is adding to the Body of Christ those who are called to eternal life. By the return of Jesus Christ, thousands upon thousands shall have been added to that ever-growing multitude. It will then constitute the ruling Family in the Kingdom of God. Eventually, all Israel and every human being who has ever lived will have had an opportunity for salvation. God is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9). Think of all the billions of people who have ever lived and realize that most of them will ultimately be added to the Kingdom of God. When it's all said and done, that Kingdom will finally fill the earth! How appropriate is the parable of the tiny mustard seed that grows into a large shrub or bush in which the birds of heaven find shelter. That tiny seed produces a plant many thousands of times its own size — and so it will be with the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom like leaven
"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" (Matthew 13:33). The fifth parable illustrates essentially the same point as the previous one, but by a different analogy. The entire parable is contained in Matthew 13:33. Leaven is the substance used to make bread dough rise by expansion. Most homemakers will be familiar with its qualities. Even those who have not used yeast, have at least made cakes, biscuits, pancakes or a similar product with baking powder, which is also a type of leaven. A little leaven is, all that is necessary to leaven the whole lump of dough (Galatians 5:9). So it is with the Kingdom of God. What God has started with a comparative few at this time will ultimately result in the entire earth being blanketed with the knowledge of God. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain [nation]: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
The seed growing of itself
"And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come" (Mark 4:26-29). We do not understand the precise mechanism by which the Word of God produces fruit in human lives. But we certainly can plainly see that it does! God's ministers are very much like those who plant seed and then care for it while it comes to fruition. Paul made such an analogy when he referred to himself and Apollos: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase" (I Corinthians 3:6-7). God causes each member of the Church to grow in grace, in knowledge and in character. This growth is brought about by God's Holy Spirit working in each individual life — not by the minister (husbandman). It is also God who adds to the Church as a whole (compare John 6:44 and Acts 2:47). He increases it quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Those who are called in this age are the "firstfruits" of that great harvest of lives (James 1:18). And it is God who will reap His own harvest in the end of this age of growth.
This completes the first six parables, which were given to the people without explanation. Later they were all explained to the disciples: "... and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples" (Mark 4:34). The predominant theme of these particular parables is plainly the Kingdom of God. By these parables Jesus showed that most people who are called pass through several stages. Those who endure to the end — continuing to bear the good fruit of God's Spirit will ultimately achieve salvation and glory for all eternity. The rest will be cast into a lake of fire, which represents their second - and final — death. But the righteous and the sinner will have to live side by side in this society like the grain and the weeds — that is, until the final harvest of souls at the end of the world. Then Christ's angelic servants will make a separation. Also, it is God who gives the growth in His Church — both numerically and spiritually. And the example of the lamp under the bushel teaches us that the Church of God must preach the Gospel of the Kingdom as a beacon of light shining in a world of darkness. In addition, we have learned that what God is starting so small in us now will eventually fill the entire earth! The Kingdom will grow and flourish to become millions of times its starting size. What profound truths these simple parables contain! What glory is revealed in them!
Concerning the Mustard Tree by Lawson Briggs
Critics have taken great exception to Jesus' mention of the mustard plant and its seed in a parable. Much of the problem is a result of a lack of understanding of what Jesus actually said. Not only has Jesus' own intelligence and understanding been impugned, but also the entire veracity and reliability of the Word of God — all because people have read their own ideas and experience into the Palestinian background. The mustard plant was not the largest of trees, they have said, not even a tree at all. Certainly birds could not build nests in it, and its seed is not the smallest of seeds. But they are missing the point. Although various other identifications have been proposed, most modern commentators agree that the plant of Jesus' parables was the ordinary black mustard, Brassica nigra. It is an annual herb that grows up rapidly each spring from a tiny seed and reaches a height of three or four, or even at times 10 or 15, feet. The leaves are large, the flowers are yellow, and the small, blackish seeds grow in linear pods. One must not overlook that Jesus was speaking of an agricultural plant and a seed that was sown, not a tree. "The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed" (Matt. 13:31). This should be further obvious by the context in Matthew 13. The mustard seed parable follows the parable of the sower and the seed and the parables of the tares sowed by the adversary. Matthew and Mark describe the mustard plant as an herb (not a tree as we think of trees) and the word signifies a garden herb, a cultivated plant. Mustard, of course, was cultivated for its seeds, which were ground up for commercial mustard and also for its oil. Of all garden seeds, its seeds were indeed the smallest, and of all garden annuals, the grown mustard plant — was the largest. Even today in Palestine the mustard is a common weed seen projecting far above the heads of the grain and exceeding in height all others in the field. In autumn the stems and branches become hard and rigid and have more than enough strength to bear the weight of the small birds that are attracted by their fondness for the edible seeds. It is not necessary to suppose that these birds actually built nests in the branches, as translated in the Revised Standard Version. The word (rendered in the King James Version lodge) simply means light upon. (Note that Mark 4:32.reads "under the shadow of it.") People have claimed to have seen nests, however, built either late in the season or in the spring in a dead skeleton of a previous year's plant. This tree-like plant with a stem the size of a man's arm could justifiably be regarded as a tree.