The Mustard Seed
As you can see from the title, this paper will cover four separate parables. All are fairly short and to the point, so I don’t expect this to take too long. The first is the parable of the mustard seed. I’ve already talked about this one in the articles "The Kingdom of Heaven" and "The Parables of Jesus – Part 4"; but let’s go back and review what I’ve already said, then add some more to it.
This parable is found in Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19. This is Matthew’s account.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a single mustard seed, which a man planted in his field. Even though it is the smallest of seeds, it grows into one of the largest plants. And when it is grown, it is the size of a tree, and birds come to live in its branches."
Remember, parables are comparisons and illustrations. "The kingdom of heaven is like…" Like what? It’s like the smallest of seeds that grows up to be the largest of plants. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds known; so small it’s used as an illustration to emphasize smallness (Matthew 17:20). Yet varieties of this plant common to Judea grow into tree-like plants, often 12 feet high. Again, this parable illustrates the smallness of the seed to the greatness of what the seed produces. Jesus’ influence on such a small group of people in a relatively small area surrounding Jerusalem seems insignificant when compared to all the people in the whole world. Yet, it quickly led to the formation of a worldwide religious conglomeration unsurpassed in the influence and power it has held over people for almost two thousand years now – for both good and bad (but as we’ll see from this parable, mostly for bad).
As in all the parables found in Matthew 13, the man in this parable is Jesus. Here, as in others using this illustration, the seed is the Word or message of the kingdom and the field is the world. And, as I’ve been careful to point out in the other articles mentioned above, the birds of the air that lodge in the branches of this tree-sized plant are demons. The term used here is peteinon, that which is able to fly, with ouranos, heavens, and literally means "those who are able to traverse the heavens", a reference to demons.
This is consistent with what Jesus has already said in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9 (specifically, verse 4 about the seed that falls by the side of the road being quickly eaten by birds) and in His explanation of this parable that follows in Matthew 13:18-23 (again, specifically verse 19, where He says the wicked one comes to snatch away or destroy the message). So from this we can conclude the birds in the parable of the mustard seed are the same as the birds in the parable of the sower, demons under the supervision of Satan, sent to lodge in this worldwide religious conglomeration called the kingdom of heaven to deceive those who reside there and rob them of truth.
And if you remember, then, the parable of the tares follows the sower and leads up to the mustard seed. Jesus’ illustration of the activities and program of Satan is consistent. In His explanation of this parable Jesus explains that the tares are the children of the wicked one and the enemy that sowed them is the devil. The good seed (the message of the kingdom) sown by the master produced good wheat (children of the kingdom); but the other seed sown by the enemy (religious deception) produced something that looked like wheat, but was really tares or darnel (children of the wicked one) (Matthew 13:37-43).
There is absolutely no reason to think that these three parables (or the other parables that follow in Matthew 13, as we will see) are isolated, unrelated stories. Jesus meant for us to compare the illustrations contained in them in order to understand more fully their meaning and the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven they describe. And keep in mind, the term "kingdom of heaven" is used to describe this current age of religious profession, a time clearly illustrated by these parables when true children of the kingdom live in the same realm with those who look like them, but are really the children of the wicked one.
Therefore, the birds in the parable of the mustard seed are used to illustrate demons sent by Satan to deceive the inhabitants of the kingdom and steal away the truth. This deception comes in the form of the religious systems that make up the kingdom. The "branches" of the mustard plant represent all the different religious institutions and denominations that exist. And the parable of the mustard seed clearly illustrates the fact that demons lodge in every branch – religious deception is not isolated or limited to certain groups, it’s pervasive in the world.
There’s one more point that must be made to solidify this idea of demonic participation in the religious institutions of the world. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit John uses the same "bird" illustration in Revelation 18:2. Here’s what he says:
"And he (the angel) shouted with a loud voice, She is fallen! Mighty Babylon is fallen! She had become the habitation of demons, a dungeon for every loathsome spirit and a prison for every filthy, hateful bird."
Now, I’ll try to make this short. If you look at Revelation 16:17, the seventh vial is poured out on the earth. If you study the subject, you’ll find these vials describe the judgment of God on the earth during the last 3 ½ years of the tribulation period. They’re called the "vials of God’s anger" in Revelation 16:1. The fall of Babylon is one of the many significant events that take place during this time described under the seventh vial. If you read Chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation you’ll see a description of Mystery Babylon (here, "mystery" means, symbolic) and an account of her destruction.
Symbolic Babylon is not a city; it represents the worldwide system of religious institutions. "She" is described as the great "whore" (17:2) with whom the leaders of the world have committed unrestrained lust and idolatry and by whom the inhabitants of the earth have been overthrown, intoxicated by the deceptions of her religious influence (17:3). Her name describes her sin, "Mystery Babylon The Great, the Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth (17:5): literally, symbolic Babylon, the source from which has proceeded the religious practice of mixing ungodly, pagan rituals and beliefs with the Truth of God in order to deceive those who would follow Him.
A cursory examination of religious history is all that’s needed to know the original, ancient Babylon of Nimrod and his evil queen Semiramis was the beginning of institutional, religious whoredom. Their cultic practices (worship of images, veneration of heroes (later, "saints"), holy sites, relics, confessions to priests, penances, scourging, pilgrimages, pagan festivals and sexual perversions) spread among all people groups and influenced the formation of their religious practices. The Old Testament uses "harlotry" and "whoredom" to describe this religious idolatry, a temptation Israel fell into with some regularity and a sin for which they were judged with the same regularity.
Of course, non-Catholics insist the Babylon of Revelation is the Catholic Church; a position of some credibility among religious types who know the history of the Catholic Church. It can be easily traced back to 378 AD. This is when Demasus, bishop of the Christian church in Rome, united pagan Roman Babylonianism and Christianity. Catholics try to deny this, starting their history with Peter, their first Pope - this in hopes of glossing over the obvious. I suspect Peter wants nothing to do with that. Most all of the religious crowd, Catholic and non-Catholic alike (with the obvious exception of Peter) are seriously deceived.
Religious institutions regardless of their name, origins, beliefs and practices or any other factor are part of the symbolic Babylon that will be destroyed in the end time. Name any denomination, any group, it doesn’t matter, they’re all included. People who read statements like this in my articles are always trying to exclude their group from what I call traditional, institutional religion. They always want to believe their group is the one that’s right. Sorry, Jesus illustrates in these parables that there’s no such thing as a group that’s right. Give it up. If you go to the building with the rest of the herd on Sunday morning to participate in the program, you’re joined at the hip with symbolic Babylon. And if you’re going to a "house church" but still do the same things you did when you were running with the herd, you’re still a Babylonian. When nothing changes, nothing changes.
Religious idolatry today may not involve the obvious idols of more ancient religions carved from wood or stone. Contemporary religion has its own idols: idols more sophisticated and appropriate to the age, wealth, possessions, big buildings, influence, fame, wrong doctrine, a worldly lifestyle that caters to the whims of the flesh, exciting entertainment, maybe some signs and wonders (along with the old forms and rituals to satisfy the traditionalists). And how do they justify them? They do it by mixing half-truth with The Truth. It’s the same deceptive shell game started by Satan in the garden and continued through the ages by his emissaries, demons sent to promote religion, distort truth and deceive the weak and unsuspecting, the proud and insolent, the ignorant and unconcerned.
There are some today who argue this deception does not now exist, the "church" is an honest representation of what God intended it to be and that this invasion of demons and deception will only come towards the end of the age. I don’t know what they’re smoking, but whatever it is, their reality is seriously distorted. This invasion started over six thousand years ago. And Satan has been trying to mess things up ever since he caught Eve looking at the forbidden tree in the garden. The aorist tense of the verb in Revelation 18:2, translated "had become" above, describes simple, undefined action as to time, an indication this condition has been true for an indefinite period.
So, the time described by John in the Book of Revelation is the same as that described by Jesus in His parables (and, in truth, thousands of years before that). The only difference being that John’s focus is on the end of that time. John tells us symbolic Babylon is dominated by religious deception sponsored by Satan and carried out by demons. Jesus tells us the kingdom of heaven is dominated by religious deception sponsored by Satan and carried out by demons. It should be just as obvious that Old Testament Judaism was dominated by religious deception sponsored by Satan and carried out by demons. Is there an echo in here?
And to emphasize and re-emphasize his point, John repeats something three times. In Revelation 18:2 he tells us symbolic Babylon is: (1) "the habitation of demons"; (2) "a dungeon for every loathsome spirit"; and (3)"a prison for every filthy and hateful bird". Is there any doubt the symbolism used here by John is the same as that used by Jesus in the parables of the sower, the tares and the mustard seed? I don’t see how there could be. These "birds" are demons. Their agenda is to promote religion. And when symbolic Babylon is destroyed, when the religions of the world go away for all time and eternity, every creature in heaven will rejoice! (Revelation 19:1-6)
This parable is found in Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20-21. It goes like this.
"The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and mixed into three measures of flour and it worked it’s way through the dough till all of it was leavened."
The symbolism here is important to the meaning of this parable. What is the kingdom of heaven like? Here, it’s like leaven (sour or fermented dough) that’s put into unleavened dough. Jesus uses this term several times. In Matthew 16:6-12 He warns the disciples to be on their guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Later, the disciples discern His meaning to be a warning against their false teaching. In Luke 12:1 Jesus again uses the term to illustrate religious hypocrisy. In Mark 8:15 He uses it to tell His disciples to mark the Pharisees and Herodians and their indifference to truth, after which Jesus admonishes them because they didn’t understand His meaning.
In this parable fermented dough (dough mixed with yeast) illustrates truth mixed with error - a condition common to all the examples given above and an extension or re-emphasis of this same principle as it was illustrated in the previous parable of the mustard seed. I’d better go back and read that one over again. Sometimes these long sentences confuse me. The program of demons is to mix truth with error to create deception. The kingdom of heaven is not all error, just like leaven is not all yeast, but dough with yeast mixed in. Therefore, the religious institutions that exist today (including all the ones that have been formed since Jesus’ day) that make up the kingdom of heaven all share this one common characteristic – the truth they have is mixed with error.
Now, there is one element of this parable that is crystal clear and must be emphasized, because it supports what Jesus has already said in the parable of the mustard seed. All of the dough is leavened, telling us all of the kingdom is influenced by this error and deception, endorsed by Satan and executed by his followers, both spirit and human. We must keep in mind the entire parable constitutes the likeness of the kingdom. The history of Christianity (in fact, the history of the Judaism that preceded it, the Islam that followed it, or any of the other religions that came before, during or after) will show that the truth of God is adulterated with error. Most religion that exists on the earth is a combination of God’s truth mixed with demonic error. However, some of these religions do not attribute their truth to God, and in some the truth is so distorted, it’s difficult to recognize.
The missing ingredient not yet mentioned in this parable is the symbolism of the woman. In the Scriptures "woman" used in a negative sense always illustrates religion in a negative sense. This is yet another reinforcement of the same principle. In the Old Testament idolatrous Israel is called a harlot and a whore, because they embraced false religions and were guilty of infidelity with the God Who espoused them. As we’ve already noted, Revelation 17 and 18 uses the term over and over in reference to the false, demonic religious system that is finally overthrown just before the Lord’s second coming. Here, yet again, you see the unbroken line through time. The whore (religious deception) that you see in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 16:15-42) exists through the New Testament and is finally destroyed at the end of the age (Revelation 17:1-6)..
Like the parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus uses to illustrate the pervasiveness of demonic influence throughout the kingdom of heaven; Jesus uses leaven to illustrate the prevalence of error, extending to the furthest reaches of the kingdom. And just to make sure we understand where this error comes from, He uses the woman to illustrate the reality that this error comes out of the false religions of the world dominated by demons. Jesus could not have been any clearer if He had drawn us a complete diagram with pictures and detailed footnotes.
The Hidden Treasure
The parable of the hidden treasure is found only in Matthew 13:44. It goes something like this.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again. Then, with joy he goes and sells all he has and buys the field."
The narrative of Matthew 13 continues with yet another parable illustrating the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven, giving us more specific information to add to what we’ve already seen. Here Jesus departs from His explanation of the demonic influences being exerted on the kingdom of heaven (the general subject of the previous four parables – the sower, the tares, the mustard seed and the leaven) to focus on the true believers who inhabit the kingdom. Let’s look at the illustrations He uses here.
The field is the world. This is the same symbolism Jesus used in the story of the tares or darnel (Matthew 13:38). The man is the same as the man in all these parables, when a man is part of the story - it’s Jesus. The treasure represents true believers. Jesus has already acknowledged there will be a "few" that will strive to follow the narrow road that leads to life, as opposed to the "many" who will simply follow the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). He will further explain (in Luke 13:23-28) that only a few will be saved, in contrast to the many who are deceived into thinking their religion will get them to heaven. Paul quotes Isaiah 10:22-23 in Romans 9:27 to tell us that a small remnant of Israel will escape God’s judgment as well. Remember, this is a characteristic of the kingdom of heaven, the time in which we now live. And here God makes no distinction as to nationality, social status or sex (Galatians 3:28); the issue is whether or not we do the will of the Father (I John 2:17).
The price Jesus pays for His treasure is "all he has" (Philippians 2:5-8), and as Jesus points out in this parable, there is joy in the payment of it (Hebrews 12:2). And when payment was made, the man buys the entire field where the treasure is hidden. Jesus paid for the whole world with the payment of Himself (I John 2:2).
This brings us to the last point. When the man in the parable finds the hidden treasure in the field, he doesn’t take it out, he puts it back and it remains hidden. The word translated "hid" above in the parable is krupto and here means, to conceal. True believers are part of the kingdom; Jesus makes that clear in both the sower and the tares. But here Jesus emphasizes the fact that in the kingdom of heaven true believers are concealed. They’re not an obvious, visible part of the kingdom. They don’t fit the mold, they don’t rise to prominence, they’re few in number, they don’t have a voice (at least not one that’s taken seriously), they’re not the popular majority and they don’t blindly accept the majority view. And I know for many this is all hard to believe, but if you’ll study the lives of the Old Testament prophets, you’ll see what I mean. With few exceptions, people who know God, understand His purpose and determine to follow Him regardless of the cost are destined to lives of rejection and obscurity in this world.
This, again, is an illustration of a principle that has been mentioned several times before. The Satanic principle embraced by the religious crowd is this: the majority is always right. However, the truth borne out in Scripture over and over again is: the majority is always wrong, and only a small minority is right. The same fact illustrated by the aforementioned "few" who follow the narrow road to life and the "many" who follow the broad road to destruction. This parable simply illustrates in a different way what Jesus has already illustrated in the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, which is that the kingdom of heaven is dominated by religious deception. His treasure will remain hidden until He returns to take it out of His field once and for all (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).
The Pearl of Great Price
The parable of the pearl of great price follows immediately after the hidden treasure in Matthew 13:45-46. This is how it reads.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of beautiful, high quality pearls; who, when he found a single, costly pearl, went and sold all he had and bought it."
Obviously, this parable is very similar to the hidden treasure, but not altogether. Again, the man is Jesus. The purchase price is the same – "all he had". The valuable pearl represents the same thing as the hidden treasure, true believers. The main difference is that here the pearl is purchased, instead of the place where the pearl was found. In the previous parable true believers are concealed. The religious system doesn’t recognize them; they’re relatively unknown in the world. In this parable the pearl becomes the man’s prized possession; this is Jesus’ way of giving the assurance that even though the world is oblivious to them, He’s not.
The parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price when compared to one another simply give us the same information, but from a different perspective. In the first, true believers are hidden, concealed from the world; but in the second they are Jesus’ precious possession and the object of His attention.
To be continued in Part 7 – The Unforgiving Servant and The Good Samaritan