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# 56: 4-16-19 1

Matthew 13:31-33

In Galilee, Jesus had begun to speak to the crowd of Jews following Him in parables - stories with hidden
meaning. The parables were a teaching tool that Jesus used to separate believer from unbeliever - as Jesus
revealed meaning only to those who had put their faith in Him, while leaving unbelievers in the dark -
giving them something further to harden their hearts against.

Jesus spoke a whole series of these parables, which He told His disciples were mysteries of the kingdom of
heaven - how God was obtaining His kingdom of sons. Matthew’s presentation of these parables is
significant, not only in terms of the content of the teaching, but also in terms of the order and even the
setting in which Jesus preached them.

We’ve looked at the first two parables so far - the parable of the sower, and the parable of the wheat and the
tares. But before we continue, I want to pause to take a look with you at the order and the setting of this
whole series of parables.

Remember that when Jesus began, He had been in a house; then He left the house and took a boat out onto
the Sea of Galilee to address the crowd (Mt 13:1-2) - and His disciples were in the boat, with Him.

We’ve seen a prophetic significance to this setting, as the Lord will set aside the house of Israel, distancing
Himself from them, while the Word of God goes out to the Gentile nations - the sea of humanity.

It is from this boat, at a distance from the Jews, that Jesus then preaches to them the first set of parables -
which His disciples also hear. The parable of the sower reveals Jesus preaching the Word of the kingdom -
the gospel. Just as the parable showed, most of the Jews proved unreceptive to it, but certain ones received
it, to become sons of the kingdom. This was the beginning of the church.

The second parable, also preached from the boat, then revealed these sons of the kingdom going out into
the world, with the gospel - but false teachers came into their midst - who were of the wicked one - and
they shared an alternate way into the kingdom - a false way, most often based on a religious system of

In the text, the emphasis in this parable is on the discussion between the landowner and the servants, which
took place during the growing period of the grain. And what would this growing period represent, in time?
The church age.

We’ll be looking at the third and fourth parables today, which were also preached by Jesus to the crowd
from the boat - with the disciples. We’ll see that these reveal further developments, during the church age.
Jesus explained parts of the first two parables to His disciples, but did not explain any of the parables, to
the crowd.

Then we read in verse 36 that Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house. The disciples of
Jesus followed Him, requesting an explanation of the parable of the tares of the field, which Jesus explains.
But in the explanation, Jesus emphasized the harvest.

That will take place at the end of the church age; when Jesus returns to the earth, to set up His kingdom, for
His thousand-year reign on the earth. That is when He will return to the house - the house of Israel - and
the believing remnant will receive Jesus as their Messiah. We see this prophetically pictured in the return
of Jesus to the house, with His disciples gathered to Him.
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After the explanation, Jesus will give another set of parables - this time, to His disciples only - about a
treasure, a pearl, and a dragnet. Finally, following a brief explanation, Jesus will give one last parable,
about a scribe.

So the first four parables concerning the sons of the kingdom, for the heavenly realm - the church. What do
you think the last four parables might be about, then? Also about the sons of the kingdom - but for the
earthly realm. That will give you some direction as you begin to study them.

We can observe Matthew’s order in terms of Jesus’ audience - a series of four and four. Four in Scripture is
the number of creation; God’s creative work. Here are the two sets of created sons, that God has obtained
for His kingdom - one for the realm of heaven, the other for the earth.

But we can also see an order in terms of the written text. Seven parables are given essentially back to back;
then the disciples are asked if they understand them; and then Jesus speaks an eighth parable, as His
conclusion to the series.

What does the number seven represent, in Scripture? The number of completion or perfection. There’s
God’s completed kingdom. But then with the last parable, we have eight in total. And what does the
number eight represent, in Scripture? It’s the number for new beginning. So a new beginning is reflected
in the instructed scribe - which we’ll discuss, when we get to that one.

Meanwhile, we’re ready to now look at the parable of the mustard seed. Let’s read it, in verse 31 and 32.

[Matthew 13:31-32]

This parable - and the next, the leaven - were given by Jesus without any explanation, even to His disciples
- at least, none is recorded in the text by Matthew. But Mark comments that when they were alone, Jesus
explained all things to His disciples (Mk 4:34) - in context meaning all the parables.

So why wouldn’t Matthew have provided their explanation, in his gospel? We can’t be sure. Perhaps
Matthew thought their meaning - at least, on the surface - would be self-evident to his readers.

Of course, Matthew’s initial readers were Jewish. Certain things in these two parables would have been
understood by them, in their day, through their culture - and because of their knowledge of the OT

But many people in our day don’t have that understanding. And in addition to that, many look at these
parables from their perspective of culture and history, and read them with a contemporary slant, without
considering their origin and intent.

First, they forget that a parable is an entire story with a hidden meaning. The whole story must be
considered, for understanding - as well as other parables, if they were told, with it.

But instead, some people reduce the parable to a simplified comparison. They paraphrase that the kingdom
is heaven is like a mustard seed that grew into a tree, or like leaven that spread. And they hastily take these
items to represent God’s kingdom, itself.

Then, they surmise that because the kingdom of heaven is in itself a good thing - right? - then the situation
related must reflect this - it must be good.
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We find many a modern commentator seeing the growth of the little mustard seed into the great tree as the
successful growth of the church; the leaven in the meal, the spread of the gospel, as it is preached to every
creature - just as Jesus commanded (Mk 16:15). Perhaps you’ve heard these thoughts before - perhaps
you’ve even held them, yourself.

But of course, we’ve already seen from the first two parables that there is opposition, to the establishment
of God’s kingdom; there are unreceptive hearts; and there’s an enemy afoot. So we should not be surprised
if we were to discover that opposition continues, in the series.

What I’d like to do is get you to consider these parables as Jesus told them to the Jews - so that we can
begin to see how they would perceive the parables, from their life experience. Then we’ll look for support
in the Scriptures, for this perspective.

Remember, the overall theme of Jesus is how God is obtaining His kingdom of sons - and this set of four
parables pertain to sons for the heavenly realm, obtained during the church age.

The Jews would immediately have responded to the mention of a mustard seed, as it was proverbially
considered the smallest seed. Now there are several varieties of mustard that grow in that region of the

Commentators have gone through some pains to suggest that the variety Jesus meant was one that grows
rather larger, than the most common mustard plant. For instance, the black mustard can grow to six feet in
height; and some individual plants can make it to a bit taller.

But that hardly qualifies as a tree; and the branches are so thin and weak that no bird would build its nest, in
it. Not only that, but since the mustard is an annual, it would still be small in the spring, when birds do
their nest-building.

Actually, there’s every reason to think that Jesus was intending the common little mustard plant. The
botanical name of it is clearly implied by the Greek word He uses, as you can see on your word sheet; and
this name is distinct from the name of other mustards. The common mustard generally grows to about two
feet tall, under normal conditions.

So what would the Jews have understood from this parable? They would have grasped that this mustard
seed somehow resulted in abnormally extensive growth. Instead of growing into a little shrub, as the
farmer who sowed it in his field would have expected, it grew into a monster tree, with large, rigid
branches. Those branches then provided a perfect place for the birds of the air to come and make their

The disciples of Jesus would have understood more, based on the explanations that Jesus had already made,
to them. Here is a sower again; so who would they expect him to represent? The Son of Man; Jesus. And
He is once again sowing seed in a field; the Word of the kingdom, the gospel, being sown in the world; to
the ends of the earth.

Jesus intentionally chooses the tiny mustard seed to reflect the humble beginnings, of the gospel. By
Matthew’s day, those who received the good news, believing, had become established in small assemblies.

Each believer was a member of the Body of Christ, submitting to Jesus as the Head. In addition, each
believer submitted one to another - serving one another in love. In lowliness of mind, they esteemed others
better than themselves (Phil 2:3).
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This was how the Body of Christ was intended to grow - through the edifying of itself, in love (Eph 4:16) -
love that serves others.

But, sown in the field of the world, this little mustard plant - in the parable - became subject to some
powerful influences - worldly influences - that brought about abnormal growth.

The imagery of the tree with birds nesting in it would have been familiar to the Jews, from a prophecy of
Daniel. It’s found in Daniel chapter 4. Let’s go back and take a look at it.

This was during the time that Nebuchadnezzar was reigning as king of Babylon. The king had a dream,
and once again sought out Daniel, the wisest man in he knew, to interpret his dream. We’re just going to
look at a small part of his description of the dream - a dream about a tree.

[Daniel 4:10-12] Of course, certain details here are not present in the parable; we’ll consider the ones that

When Nebuchadnezzar had related the dream in its entirety, Daniel then gave his interpretation, from the
LORD - the Most High God.

[Daniel 4:20-22] Now, in what sense could it be said that Nebuchadnezzar had grown in greatness to reach
the heavens? This is speaking of his kingdom; of Babylon. A king is associated with his kingdom.

So in the dream, the tree represents the kingdom of Babylon - Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom - which had
become a prosperous world empire.

In the book of Daniel, beasts represent worldly kingdoms, that contend on this earth for dominion (Dan
7:3). These beasts are finding shade under the great tree; the kingdom of Babylon has subdued them.

And the branches of the great tree are full of the birds of the heavens; they’ve made their home there.
Since the tree is symbolic, and the beasts are symbolic, it is certain that these birds are also symbolic. But
we’ll take them back with us to the parable in Matthew, to see the significance of them.

[Return to Matthew 13]

That tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was his kingdom; a kingdom of this world. It would certainly have
come to the mind of a Jew, based on the description of Jesus.

So what would this tree represent? Not the true church, the Body of Christ; it does not resemble a world
empire. But there is a false church that does; a great counterfeit church, which promotes the name of
Christ, but does not submit to Him. Sometimes we call it Christendom.

Christendom left its humble beginnings based on the gospel far behind, drawing its nurture, not from
Christ, but from the world system. It led to gigantic growth - till Christendom became less church and
more empire.

But its abnormal, worldly growth also led to division - all those branches - for the unity of the true church
comes from love that serves others - and that love has no place, in the world.
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And as Christendom branched out further away from Christ, it became an inviting home to those birds of
the air. Let’s see - what did those birds represent, in the first parable of Jesus? Let’s go back and look at

In verse 4, the birds came and devoured the seed that fell by the wayside - the wayside represents a heart
that is already occupied by a religious way of thinking - the Word of God never makes it in; it falls by the
side of the way - the way of thinking.

In verse 19, Jesus explained that the birds represent the wicked one - Satan - snatching away what was
sown in the heart - before it can penetrate.

More specifically, the birds would represent Satan’s emissaries - demonic spirits, that carry out his work in
the world system, promoting all those religious ways of thinking - world religions. These demonic spirits
inhabited Nebuchaddanezzar’s world empire also - for its glory was derived from the god of this world (Mt

The emissaries of the wicked one brought the world into the church; legalism, mysticism, monasticism,
asceticism, idolatry - Christendom, branching away from the simplicity of Christ held by the true church -
just a body of believers, in Christ Jesus - bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of
the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:2-3). Christendom branched out further and further, with each
branch leading to more division.

Jesus said that the birds come and nest there. What do birds lay, in nests? Eggs. The wicked one was
reproducing all of his various religious structures and forms, in Christendom - and he continues to do so,

We find the groundwork for the growth of Christendom, right within the Scriptures.

Turn to Revelation chapter 2. The apostle John was given this revelation from Jesus, concerning things
that must shortly take place, which were signified to John - shown to him, in signs and symbols.

After seeing a vision of the Son of Man as the Judge, John was given messages for each of seven churches
in Asia Minor. These were actual churches, and the content of the message specifically pertains to the
circumstances of each one. But the messages also transcend the actual churches, giving a prophetic
foretelling of the church age, from its inception to its end.

The first message is to the church of Ephesus - where Paul spent three years ministering. Jesus had much
about which to commend them; their labor, their discernment, their endurance; but He had one rebuke - a
terrible one. We see it down in verse 4.

What did Jesus have against them? They left their first love. Who was their first love? Jesus, of course!
Jesus was saying they have gone off without Him; forsaken Him; deserted Him.

The idea is that they have moved away, from their pure, simple, personal relationship with Jesus. They
began to live by principles, and no longer by the person of Jesus. The church was branching out into
legalism. This church represents the apostolic age. So within a century, the little mustard plant was turning
into a monster.

Smyrna was the second church, representing a period of persecution in church history. It received no
rebuke from Jesus; persecution purified and strengthened the true church.
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But the third church was rebuked by Jesus. Pergamos reflects the period when Constantine made
Christianity the state religion of Rome, merging the church with the pagan state, in an unholy alliance. The
birds were starting to roost in the branches.

The fourth church addressed, Thyatira, reflects the extensive period when Christendom continued its
development under the popes - about a thousand years.

The church was held up as the supreme authority over the people; while the revelation of God in His Word
was suppressed. Churches ceased to be people; they became ornate buildings. Religious form was
reproduced everywhere: church hierarchy, religious orders, rituals, sacraments.

Next came the period of the Reformation; and we might think reformation would have brought the church
back on track. But in His letter to the church of Sardis, representing the reformed church, Jesus says, “You
have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (3:1). As a period in church history, the Reformation
simply resulted in more division, cold orthodoxy, and renewed legalism.

You can’t reform something that is dead. What is dead has to be regenerated; it needs a whole new

These churches show the pattern of Christendom’s history, with its abnormal growth, divisiveness, and
spiritual vulnerability.

Let’s return now to Matthew, and look at the next parable that Jesus told; the parable of the leaven.

[Matthew 13:33]

Matthew’s organization of the parables informs us that this one pertains also to the sons of God for the
heavenly realm - the church. But once again, we need to consider the perspective of Jesus’ Jewish
audience, in order to understand it.

It seems at first that Jesus is using an entirely new illustration, unrelated to the previous three. But there is
a connection; what is it? It’s the meal; what is meal? It’s flour; ground grain.

We have a connection there with the seed grain of the previous three parables. And what did the seed grain
represent, in all cases? The Word of the kingdom; the gospel.

Now when a Jew heard of “meal”, one of the first things he would connect it to is one of the Levitical
offerings; the meal, or grain offering (Lev 2).

The LORD instructed Moses about certain offerings and sacrifices that were to be offered, by the children of
Israel. The meal offering was a sweet savor offering, through which the offerer would be accepted, by the
LORD. There were various grades of meal offerings, but in every case, they were never, ever to be offered
with leaven (Lev 2:11).

This is because of what the meal offering represented. The grain points to that which comes up from the
earth. It pictures the Coming Messiah; God, sheathed in a body of flesh. The primary offering was fine
flour; without any lump or mixture in it. This reflects the sinless perfection of the Messiah, in His
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Now, leaven in that day contained both yeast and bacteria. A portion of previously leavened dough was

Flour was mixed with water to form some new dough, and then the old piece of leavened dough was
introduced into the new dough, and kneaded in. With time, the leaven multiplied by consuming parts of the
new dough, replicating itself, and producing gas and acid, until it permeated all the dough.

And why was leaven put into dough, in the first place? It made the resulting bread more palatable;
sourdough bread.

But in the Scriptures, leaven is a symbol of evil. This is because leaven has a corrupting influence, on the
dough; and it sours the dough; and it puffs it up. So the meal offering never contained leaven, to reflect that
the Messiah would be incorruptible; unspoiled by sin; and never puffed up, by any will for Himself.

There is never a case in Scripture where leaven symbolizes anything good; it is always evil. It represents
the evil of sin, and the evil of false doctrine.

So we must not imagine that it represents anything good here - like the spread of the gospel. That would
contradict the rest of Scripture; and symbols must be consistent, in order to communicate meaning.

In this parable of Jesus, there are three measures of meal - ground grain. Consistency with the previous
parables would suggest that these three measures of meal represent the Word of the kingdom - the gospel.

But in what sense, specifically? The meal offering points to Jesus in His humanity - the Son of Man. The
three measures would suggest the three great gospel truths, which reflect His work on behalf of men - that
Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; that He was buried; and that He rose again the third
day, according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-4).

Jesus shared these truths with His disciples even before His hour had come (Mt 17:22-23; Lk 9:22); and the
Jews reading Matthew’s account would be well-acquainted with them, by that time.

But in the parable, there is a woman who has in her possession some leaven. And she introduces it to the
three measures of meal.

Jesus indicates that she “hid” it in the meal. The sense is that this was done clandestinely, as to avoid
detection. She had devious, deceitful intentions; to spoil the meal. And apparently, she was successful, for
the leaven spread throughout all the meal.

So who is this woman? We find a clue back in the book of Revelation, in the history of the church age.
Turn to Revelation chapter 2 again. We’re looking again at the church of Thyatira. Jesus commended what
He could, with this church, which was dominated by works. Then He issued a rebuke.

[Revelation 2:20] This church represents the long period when popes ruled over Christendom as kings.

Remember that Jezebel was the notorious Phoenician princess who married King Ahab. She introduced
Baal worship to Israel, by whom the whole kingdom was lead into idolatry. And Jezebel had the true
prophets of the LORD slain.
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The idea here is that Christendom had allowed the hierarchical system under the pope to rule in place of
God, dictating doctrines contrary to His Word, including the idolatrous worship of images, of Mary, and of
saints - which is spiritual adultery.

But this “Jezebel” was not exactly the woman, in the parable; she was just one of her daughters. We find
the woman in Revelation chapter 17. We’re just going to take an overview, here.

[Revelation 17:1-6] Babylon the Great is the mother of harlots, such as we have just seen represented in
the church of Thyatira. She is the religious system of this world - and she is still riding high, in our day.

Jesus was showing that religious thinking would be subtly introduced to the gospel, corrupting it; but
making it more palatable, for men:

Jesus was just a good man; a great teacher; a spiritual model. Learn from Him, and you’ll gradually

Jesus didn’t die on the cross, for sin; the Christ Spirit just inhabited Jesus, to convey His enlightened
teachings. And as you become enlightened, you’ll come to the realization that you too can become a god.

Jesus was never raised from the dead; He rose to a higher spiritual state, which you too can attain, if you
just try harder. And God will reward your effort; your good works, and your self-improvement. He’ll
accept you, just as you are.

No cross. No blood. No sin. No repentance. No need! Just follow Jesus, and eventually, you’ll get to
heaven; Jesus did.

It’s another gospel - that’s not another. In the tares, we saw counterfeit preachers; in the tree, a counterfeit
church; and in the leaven, a counterfeit gospel. Paul could see all of it beginning, as he planted churches in
his day.

Turn to Second Corinthians chapter 11. The church in Corinth had just emerged from an episode in which
false teachers had almost overtaken their assembly. Paul expressed his relief in this letter, and also his
continuing concern for the believers in Corinth.

[Second Corinthians 11:1-4, 13-15]

v. 1-4 Paul’s great concern for the Corinthians, who loved great speakers, was that they could be deceived
yet again - beguiled, as Eve was in the garden by Satan. Now look down to verse 13, as Paul continues to
speak of those who would bring in a different gospel.

v. 13-15 That’s what Satan did in the garden; he transformed himself into an angel of light; he enlightened
Eve to a new way of thinking, apart from what God said. But it was the way of death.

The leaven that was introduced to the meal spread throughout all the dough. And so the gospel has been
corrupted, in Christendom. The last church addressed in Revelation is Laodicea, the church of our age - the
lukewarm church, with its palatable, seeker-friendly, non-judgmental gospel - a profession of faith, without
any reality.
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But there has always been the true church, throughout every age - those who recognize the one and only
way to the Father is through the Son, and the work He has done, on our behalf; those who have repented of
sin, and turned to Him, to be saved.

These are the ones who will bear the fruit of eternal life - as glorified sons of God, who will one day soon
be gathered into the Father’s heavenly kingdom.

Reading: Matthew 13:44-52; 25:31-46; Isaiah 2:1-3; 60:1-7