Recent Posts
Lowell Brueckner

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Seeking the Truth of the Kingdom, chapter three


I would strongly recommend that you read the four paragraphs that I wrote at the head of chapter two before studying this chapter. When I confessed to my prejudices and the difficulty in overcoming them, I wrote also with the intention of calling the reader’s attention to the probability that he also holds some prejudices in biblical interpretation.
This chapter is part of
the book pictured above

You will find that many commentators hold to a different interpretation to this parable from the one that I present. Their view was my former view, but when I heard and read teaching by many other Bible teachers who held to the following point-of-view, I was convinced, after a good deal of study on my own, that they were right. It seemed to me that it was much more consistent with Scripture and also history records that this view actually prophesied what actually happened in the church. It became a political and financial power and great numbers of insincere people, who had never been reborn, flocked into it and often controlled it. 


“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.” (Matthew 13:31-32)


The parable of the mustard seed is found in Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32 (where there is a very important statement in relation to the parables, to which we have already referred, in verses 33 and 34), and Luke 13:18-19.

Even though we do not have the interpretation of this parable written (we have the first two and the last one interpreted), we do know that Jesus interpreted all of them to his first disciples: “With many such parables He was speaking the word to them, so far as they were able to hear it; and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples” (Mk. 4:33-34). He also told them that it was advantageous for them that He would leave them, so that the Comforter would come and “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (Jn. 16:7; 14:26). We can hope that the Holy Spirit would give us the same understanding that Jesus gave to His first disciples. As we have tried to learn, the first parable is the key to all and there are certain truths in it that we can apply to all the rest. To a lesser degree, we can say that of all the parables. I mean that, studying them all, we can learn things in one and apply them to others. The Teacher and Author of them all is the same Lord.

In the parable of the wheat and the tares, which we have just contemplated, the bulk of our study concerned this truth: He that must sow the seed is the Son of Man (vs. 37). We are not yet going to abandon this point, because once again in the present parable, we observe a man sowing a seed. If any work is going to be genuine, He must sow and if not, there is no potential to go beyond a human and temporal plan. God alone does an eternal work.

In Matthew 15:12, we find the disciples worried, because Jesus had just offended the Pharisees. Their concern was not due to respect for them, but to a fear of man, which, according to the wisdom of God, “brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Pr. 29:25). The disciples are still seeing things through human eyes. The servant of God cannot be losing time, held by a snare of fear that he might offend someone, be that whoever it may be. His longing is to trust in God and obey Him, no matter what the cost. From childhood, Jesus cared only to be in His Father’s business, because, as He taught his disciples, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Mt. 15:13). Then, what should be their position concerning the Pharisees? “Let them alone,” Jesus instructed them, “they are blind guides of the blind” (vs. 14). We take this principle into account as we begin, because it comes into play in this parable.

He that sows the mustard seed is the Son of Man. Also, we have seen that the seed sown is the word and its purpose is to produce fruit according to the nature of the seed. He wants the wheat seeds to produce a harvest of wheat and He is not at all content, when tares are scattered throughout the field. Now that He has sown a mustard seed, what do you suppose He wants to get from it? Obviously, he wants to harvest mustard.

In other passages, when Jesus taught about a grain of mustard, He compared it to faith. The word sown in the heart produces faith: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Ro. 10:17). Everything that has value and brings growth in the Kingdom of God comes from faith. It is of supreme importance that we learn this basic truth. Salvation is by faith. Growth in sanctification is by faith. Evangelism is by faith and the growth of God’s work (His Kingdom) is by faith. There is no other way to participate in that which is heavenly and eternal, except by faith.

The doctrine of faith concerns something small, which God takes and supernaturally demonstrates His power, utilizing that thing to do something great. This is Bible teaching from Genesis to Revelation. The heart of this lesson is found in those highly important first and second chapters of 1 Corinthians. Therefore, the rich man must abandon his possessions in order to follow Jesus. His riches are not going to help in His Kingdom and so, he must stop negotiating with money and begin to function by faith. Now, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Mt. 17:20), or “if you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you” (Lk. 17:6). This is what is needed to combat demons, walk on the water, and transform obstacles of this world into benefits for the Kingdom of God. Of course, we could write a book over this subject alone, but now we must return to the parable to see its significance.


It is also important to see that the Son of Man sows faith, so that it may fulfill the Father’s plans and nothing more. Faith is given to do the will of God. Faith carries with it a responsibility, as do all the gifts of the Spirit. Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Co. 14:32), which means that the gift does not overpower a person, forcing him to use it correctly. This explains the reason why some can use genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and damage others to satisfy their ego. Some in Corinth were abusing the gifts, instead of using them for edification. What do we mean, when we speak of our involvement in edification? It means that we cooperate with the thing that God is constructing in each heart. Sadly faith can be utilized to build something corruptible and badly represent the testimony that God wants us to show to the world.

Paul spoke to the Philippians of those that “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives…” (Phil. 1:17) Nevertheless, he continues to explain, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” (vs. 18). How can Paul rejoice, when people, who are preaching the gospel, are doing it with bad intentions? It is because, in spite of the bad motives, God will work by means of His word to produce something genuine for His Kingdom. Richard Wurmbrand, who suffered barbarities during 13 years of imprisonment in communist Romania, wrote about converts, who came to Christ through traitorous pastors. They believed the gospel and were saved, then had to hide from the same ones who announced the gospel to them, so that they would not turn them over to the government authorities. God does His work, but also much is produced in the name of Christ that is not at all according to His plan.

Many have warned us that “what we learn from history is that we do not learn from history”. That means that instead of learning from the errors of the past, we continue to commit the same. Sometimes I am accused of “living in the past”, because I take into account its successes and failures. I see that the failures of the 21st century are the same as those of all history and so are the successes. I am very much in agreement with something I read recently from John Wesley, who was bold enough to declare that all new teaching has to be false.

The truth is ancient. Every serious disciple of Jesus Christ and student of Scripture also ought to learn something of the history of the church, since the time of the apostles to the present. I find it very frustrating these days to see people innocently and happily making the same mistakes that have been commonly proven to be erroneous in the past.

One of the biggest errors of history was made by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century after Christ. Up until his time, the church was persecuted by the Roman Empire and its Caesars. I don’t think I have to refresh your mind about what happened in the Roman Coliseum or about the crucifixion of thousands of Christians in the first centuries of church history. However, Constantine had a vision of a cross in the heavens and saw written, “By this sign, conquer”. Constantine converted into a Christian and popularized Christianity, which in a short time became the official, legal religion of Rome. He went east and founded the city of Constantinople (and built a cathedral), so that it would become the capital of Christianity in the world. Christians were no longer persecuted and millions of people entered the church. In time, the “Christian empire” divided in two. The western division became the Roman Catholic Church and in the East, with its seat in Constantinople, the Orthodox Church was planted.

So began a cycle that has repeated itself time after time. In the reformation of the Middle Ages, many were spiritually awakened and discovered anew the truth of apostolic times, concerning salvation by faith alone. These were persecuted by the organized church and they flourished under the persecution. In time, their faith was exchanged for a humanistic mentality and compromised with society. The reformed movement became popular, rich and powerful, but at the same time began to lose its faith and spiritual power. They degenerated into a poor, naked and wretched entity before God.

The faith of a grain of mustard is the faith that Jesus gave us and Jude told us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jud. 3), because already it was being corrupted and used for something beyond what God had purposed.

William MacDonald, in his commentary, writes that Christians should not let themselves be deceived, identifying growth with success. He states that the extreme growth in this parable is not positive. We have already seen that tares can be sown among wheat and later we will learn about a net, which catches bad fish, as well as good. Jesus tells us that He planted a seed which naturally becomes “greatest among herbs” (KJV), but is it to become “a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches”? This parable only gives us the result, but between the two quotes just above, something happens. It does not explain how an herb became a tree, but in the next parable, we will learn how it could happen.

This parable shows us that the birds of the air happily made their nests in its branches. In Mark, it states that they “can nest under its shade” (4:32). In our chapter in Matthew, verse four, there were birds that ate the seed that fell by the wayside and in verse 19 Jesus interpreted them to be the wicked one.


To go a little deeper into this matter and to question more concretely if this interpretation is correct or not, we will make two small studies of the biblical symbols used here, trees and birds. In the Old Testament, we have three very similar uses of trees in parabolic form. The first is in Ezekiel 17 and concerns the nation of Israel. First it is compared to a vine, which God uprooted, using the Babylonian Empire. Next the passage states that the Lord cuts a sprig from the top of a cedar tree and says, “I will plant it on a high and lofty mountain… And birds of every kind will nest under it; they will nest in the shade of its branches” (vs. 22-23). The plan of God was and is to make Israel a powerful political nation again, recognized by all the nations (called trees in the text) of the world. The cedar sprig produces a cedar tree.

Ezekiel, chapter 31, points to the Assyrian nation, a world power that surpassed in height all the trees of the field: “All the birds of heaven nested in its boughs… No tree in God’s garden could compare with it in its beauty” (vs. 6,8). Then, you may remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel, chapter 4, representing him and his Babylonian kingdom as a great tree. Once again, that portion mentions that the birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches. In all three cases, the tree represents a political power on earth, with all its imperfections, faults and spiritual influences. The meanings are absolutely identical.

Is it within the plan of God that the Kingdom of Christ be such a power in this world? Well, historically that is exactly what happened in Europe under the Roman Empire, but was that the intention of the Son of Man, when He planted a mustard seed? What are the characteristics of a mustard plant? Jesus said that it is the greatest of all herbs. The largest species may reach a height of 15 feet, but it does not have strong and thick branches as trees do. It is quite thin, somewhat comparable to a sunflower in its properties. It is obvious, that it is not meant to be a place for birds to make their nests or to live under its shade.

The Son of Man planted a grain of mustard, because He wanted a mustard plant. He sent His disciples out as sheep among wolves. That does not indicate a secure earthly position that guarantees shade for others, but quite the opposite; it indicates the need for a total dependency on the Lord for refuge and security. “You will be hated by all nations because of My name” (Mt. 24:9). His disciples must never be preoccupied about offending men and they should never open the gate to heaven a little wider, so that the gospel will become more popular. All which is produced by such efforts will have to be uprooted.

Jesus prophesied, “The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mt. 7:13-14). Though it is true that we are born in sin, it is not what Jesus is teaching here. He speaks of entering the road to destruction and not of being born into it. People are not born into a liberal, popular religion, but enter on their own volition, for they are not disposed to take the straight and narrow way. They like the tree that seems so strong and sure, fully endorsed by the world’s society, rather than the mustard herb. Nevertheless, “the kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’” (Lk. 17:20,21). As someone expressed in a song

He surveyed His Kingdom from a cross;
A rugged cross became His throne,
His Kingdom was in hearts alone.

The mustard herb does not bring to mind a strong tree planted in the earth, convenient and comfortable for the birds to nest in, but of something that only has value in the eyes of God, who planned and planted it. It is true that one day the Kingdom of God will dominate for a thousand years on this earth: “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, you shall shatter them like earthenware” (Ps. 2:8-9), however, I do not see in this prophecy any tolerance for the birds of the air.

As a symbol, the term “birds of the air” seems to have a negative connotation in Scripture. We have an appearance of birds, when God made a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15:11, which is very similar to those we see in the Parable of the Sower. The covenant required a sacrifice: “The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.”

Joseph gave a positive interpretation to the dream of Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, but when birds appeared in the chief baker’s dream, Joseph immediately discerned an evil meaning: “In the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” Joseph interpreted, “Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you” (Gen. 40:17,19).

In Jeremiah 5:27, we have the following: “Like a cage full of birds, so their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich.” It seems to me this condition in Judah was very similar to that of Laodicea. It was the church that viewed itself in a way most opposite from Christ’s viewpoint and it also had become rich. Then, we have figurative Babylon in Revelation 18:2, “a dwelling place of demons and prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird”.

We cannot give the interpretation to Scripture that we would prefer, but must endeavor to see it as God wants us to see it, allowing the Scripture to interpret itself. We should not have a tendency towards maintaining a positive viewpoint, but always be realistic, seeing things as they are. With the best intentions, Christ speaks pure truth to us, so that we will not be deceived, accepting what is popular and attractive to natural men. Let’s not be, as the early disciples, so afraid to offend them. What the Lord wants is that we be enriched with all that is spiritual and heavenly, receiving “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), rather than strengthening our ties on earth.


Post a Comment