#11 – The Mustard Seed – Matt 13:31,32

  • The mustard seed – also from the sermon on the seashoreMatt 13:31-32 Mark 4:31-32 Luke 13:18-19

Matthew 13:31-32
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.”

Mark 4:30-32
30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it?
31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth;
32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”

Luke 13:18-19
18  Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?
19  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.” 

This parable is another comparison type of story that Jesus uses to illustrate spiritual things by giving physical examples.  Notice in the account in Mark that he says “… Or with what parable shall we picture it?…”  Jesus teaches with “pictures” of known natural processes (or duties) with which the Jews are familiar.  The method takes advantage of human memory processes in that it helps his students remember the principles being taught.  However, we often see that they don’t yet understand the spiritual application that he is teaching.  Therefore, his disciples often ask him to explain the parables.

Luke 8:9-10  Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”  10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’

This illustrates that even people of that time could learn what he was teaching if they were willing to dig deeper and study.  His disciples were willing to follow him and seek his knowledge. That principle is still true today.  We can understand his will for us if we try (Acts 17:11). Later on, his disciples remembered his teaching and prophesying.

John 12:16  His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.

Luke 24:7-8 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ “ 8  And they remembered His words. 

John 2:22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

But Jesus’ mission was to give the Jews opportunity to repent and accept the coming new kingdom.  Some did accept his teaching, but many rejected his message and warnings.  The Jews had a long history of rejecting the prophets that were sent to them.

Acts 7:52  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,

Verse 31 – In Mathew’s account we notice that the mustard seed is deliberately planted in a field.  Yet in Luke’s account it is deliberately planted in a garden.  The parable was probably told by Jesus on many occasions in his ministry to different crowds.  The mustard seed is thought to be black mustard, which is an annual plant that can grow up to 9 feet tall.

Verse 32 – That size is unusually tall for a herb and was probably selected by Jesus as an example of something very small producing something very large.  It illustrates the large growth of the kingdom from a small beginning.  If it is indeed the black mustard, it is considered an invasive plant, which has even more ramifications for discussion of typology.

There is much speculation by commentators about who/what the birds represent. Elsewhere birds are depicted as evil and are attracted to the growth of the seed Matt 13:4,19 Rev 18:2.  But most likely the phrase about the birds is just to illustrate the size of the plant when fully grown. 

There is one alternative view that might merit discussion, that is that the parable illustrates that growth of faith within man’s soul similar to other parables.  There are other references to the tree/kingdom comparison found in Dan 4:11-21 and in this scripture:

Ezekiel 17:22-24
22  Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain.
23  On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell.
24  And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it.”

Finally, there is this verse that teaches that a seed must be planted to be of use.  It is very interesting that Jesus spoke it in reference to his “hour,” the hour of his death and burial.

John 12:24
24  Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.


Brent E. Hughes