Matthew 13:31-32 (NASB): 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.”
The mustard seed is very small, smaller than a grain of rice, but has a big impact both in size and in how much it produces. This parable Yeshua tells is also small but with a much bigger message. It’s only two verses, 63 words in the NASB, but it teaches us a great truth that is larger than it first seems.
The setting is similar to the Parable of the Sower earlier in Matthew 13. There is a sower, there is seed, there is a field and there is the act of planting. But the Parable of the Sower is intended to teach us about ourselves; how we hear and react to the Word of G-d. This parable is meant to teach us about the Kingdom of Heaven.
The mustard seed is introduced as the smallest seed of those planted in a garden. While very small, it can grow into a plant so large, between 3-10 feet tall, that it is easily the size of a small tree. Birds will even come and make their nests in its branches.
It’s also said to be an invasive plant. Once it gets in your garden, it can be hard to get rid of. This speaks to the tenacity of the Kingdom, that it will not be stopped.
But the seed must first be planted. While we share the Word, it is the Spirit who sows the seed, putting it into the good soil found in this world. Like the Parable of the Sower, the good soil is the heart of the believer that accepts and walks out the Word of G-d.
This emphasizes that the Kingdom of Heaven is spiritual in nature. Although the crowd of listeners was looking for physical deliverance from Rome, Yeshua was, as always, more concerned that they would be spiritually fit for the Kingdom.
The Kingdom had, to this point, been confined mostly to Israel. While we do read of Gentiles like Ruth and Naaman the leper coming in, to this time it’s generally been the Jews that have accepted the ways of Adonai.
Here, Yeshua is saying that the Kingdom will grow larger than it was before. The City that Abraham looked for, whose Builder and Maker is Adonai (Hebrews 11:10), will expand and become much greater.
The covenant made with Abraham, that his descendants would be more numerous than the sand on the beach or the stars in the sky, was about to kick into overdrive.
How would this happen? While the Kingdom of Heaven is spiritual, it’s always linked to Israel. But Israel was living under an oppressive Roman rule. They were not free to build up and expand their kingdom. The Jews had never been a large people. Their numbers never amounted to much compared to other nations. There has to be a plan to grow and expand Israel.
The parable tells us the mustard plant is large enough for the birds of the air to nest in.
There are many verses in Scripture, including in the Parable of the Sower, where birds are the enemies of the Word that try to destroy it. They are represented as birds of prey or scavengers that attack men at every chance.
But there is one other reference to birds that closely matches the quote in our parable. It’s found in Ezekiel and talks about the restoration of Israel from exile.
Ezekiel 17:22-24 (NASB): 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.”
This prophecy refers to the Messiah. He is the one broken off the top of the cedar and planted on the high mountain of Israel. He has become the stately cedar that provides shelter and protection for those who come to Him.
Yeshua was broken off. He was cut off early from his people and raised up on a mountain outside of Jerusalem. This resulted in an expanding of the Kingdom. Ezekiel says that birds of every kind will nest under this tree. The Gentiles from the nations are welcomed into the Kingdom and can find rest inside.
By putting our faith in our Creator, by accepting his Word as truth and believing that he will do as he says, we can dwell with him.
This is our calling. To remember the sacrifice our Messiah made to deliver us from the kingdom of this world and bring us into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are You, O L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who expands Your Kingdom to include all nations.