Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 28. Mustard Seed & Yeast
Mt 13:31,32 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
So here we have the third of these three parables about the happenings in a farmer’s field. It is very simple and easy to understand – in its basic details at least. A man takes and plants a mustard seed, which is one of the smallest of seeds, and yet it can grow into a ten-foot-high plant, even a tree, sufficient for the birds to roost in. That which is tiny has the potential to grow very big and that, said Jesus, is what the kingdom of God – the reign of God on earth – is like. It started with one man, Jesus himself, and today is the largest of the ‘religious’ (God-orientated) ‘faiths’ of the world.
Is this parable prophecy? In that Jesus was declaring what WOULD happen, yes. The first echoes of this are found in Daniel, for example, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” (Dan 2:44) That was very much a declaration of the supremacy of God’s kingdom and a similar declaration of what is presumably the Last Days or even Millennium times came later in the book: “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.” (Dan 7:27) Christ’s supremacy over the kingdom of God also appears in the last book of the Bible: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 11:15) However we may interpret the timing of these things, the general teaching is quite specific: God’s kingdom, without doubt, will grow to be the largest in the world and no other will be able to challenge its sovereignty.
For us, as Christians in the West today, this teaching comes as a challenge as we see the numbers of genuine believers in the UK being only about 5% of the population and in the USA only about 30% of the population and declining. A comment: there have been other times in history when the Christian faith seemed under threat, but times come and go and God’s sovereignty remains unchallenged. The history of genuine revivals is of sovereign moves of God and it is clear that, should He wish, He could move in that sovereign power and sweep millions into the kingdom. I seem to remember a notable prophet of the last thirty years prophesying that worldwide revival, I believe it was, would come about 2021/22. Whatever the numbers God is still sovereign.
So the point of this particular parable seems to be to point out that Jesus’ rule over what we refer to as the kingdom of God is going to get bigger and bigger until there is no doubt that it is the biggest kingdom in the earth. But Jesus doesn’t leave it there; he adds another mini-parable to drive home the point: “He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (v.33) Yes, he moves away from field analogies and moves to another domestic picture of which each of his listeners would be familiar, that of a woman making bread. The problem with this one is that Jesus does not explain it and so we are left to speculate about its application.
The picture, as such, is quite simple. A woman would take flour and then add a little yeast to it and as she worked the dough so the yeast would work its way right through the dough until it permeated the whole of it and the whole would rise. So what was Jesus saying? To what did this apply?
Well, if we take it with the previous parable it is clear that it supports and adds to the teaching of that parable and simply suggests that the kingdom of God will spread throughout the whole earth, i.e. it may signify the growth of the kingdom by the inner working of the Holy Spirit and He will spread the word of God quietly and subtly throughout the earth. Sometimes it is suggested that as yeast permeates a batch of dough, so the kingdom of God spreads through a person’s life, i.e. sanctification is a hidden process hereby the Spirit works and works in our lives to bring us more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
Whatever the application in Jesus’ mind, the use of the picture of yeast working in a batch of flour seems to suggest a hidden but sure working. We will not always be able to see the working of God going on in our own lives or the lives of those around us, but He will be working and working, for as Jesus said, He is always working (Jn 5:17). This is why it doesn’t matter how much powerful people or powerful parties work in national politics to try to subdue the Christian faith around the world, because God is hidden and He cannot be stopped working. Russia and China are the two classic examples of where Communist powers did all they could (and in China’s case, still do) to squash the Christian faith but after years of their activity there are just as many believers, if not more than before. The Lord had been working through the batch of the nation until His word and His believers permeated the whole nation.
There may appear ups and downs in the spiritual affairs of a nation or many nations, but the truth is that God is still God and His word is still as effective as ever and His Holy Spirit cannot be contained. There may be end time apostasy but that does not stop the Lord working in the midst of it so that some people still become believers. You will not stop the yeast spreading!