The Parable of the Mustard Seed
Matthew 13:31-32 is one of the accounts where “The Parable of the Mustard Seed” is found, and it tells us about the growth of the kingdom. The passage says: “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.”
In verse 32, the mustard seed is said to be the least of all seeds. Those familiar with the mustard seed today are well aware of its small size. However, the mustard seed is not the smallest seed known as there are several kinds of seed which are smaller. It was, however, the smallest seed which would normally be planted in the fields by the Jews. It seems Jesus used the expression (the least of all seeds) in that sense. Also, the phrase “small as a grain of mustard seed” was a proverbial expression among the Jews. It meant something very small. Jesus used the expression again in Matthew 17:20 when He said, “. . . If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place and it shall be removed . . .”
Verse 32 points out that the seed grew into a tree, and it was so large the birds came and lodged in the branches of it. Most of us are unfamiliar with mustard plants which grow this large. However, it seems that in the Palestine area these plants could grow much larger than what we are accustomed to. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia points out, “Several varieties of mustard have notably small seed, and under favorable conditions grow in a few months into tall herbs 10 to 12 feet.” Barnes, in his commentary on Matthew, quotes from an individual who said, “I have seen this plant on the rich plain of Akkar as tall as the horse and his rider.”
The seed started out very small and produced a large plant. The kingdom, or church, is compared to this as it started out with small numbers and grew to a large size.
In Acts 2, we read of the beginning of the church and its growth. Here Peter preached to people who had actually been involved in the crucifixion of Jesus. He told them they needed to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (2:38). Many realized their error and obeyed. Acts 2:41 says, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” The early Christians faced much persecution, but this did not stop the growth of the Lord’s church. Acts 4:4 shows that it continued to grow as it says, “Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” Only the number of men is recorded. Clearly, however, there were many women who also obeyed the gospel which would have added to this number. We can further see the growth of the church from Acts 5:14 which points out that believers were the more added to the Lord. Acts 6:7 shows the continued growth of the early church as it says,” . . and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” After Stephen’s death, the disciples went everywhere preaching the Word (Acts 8:4). The scattering of the church from Jerusalem, because of further persecution, only helped spread the Word even more. Finally, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he pointed out that the gospel “. . . was preached to every creature which is under heaven. . .” The church clearly grew a lot.
It would be very difficult to say exactly how many people became Christians in the first century. It is obvious, however, the growth was tremendous as Christ indicated it would be in this parable. The growth has continued even until today. Like the mustard seed, the church started out very small but grew to large proportions.