Exploring the Wisdom Embedded in Biblical Parables: the Mustard Seed and Leaven

Matthew 16:18: “…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”


In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus uses parables to illustrate the nature and growth of the Kingdom of Heaven and its present incarnation as the Church, comparing it to a mustard seed that grows into a large tree, and the leaven that impacts the purity of the church. These parables highlight the expansive and transformative power of God’s kingdom. Within this framework, the Church plays a pivotal role as the body of Christ, tasked with proclaiming the Gospel and living out Kingdom values. However, the parable of the leaven also serves as a caution about the potential for corrupting influences, especially false doctrines, within the Church. Scripture advises believers to remain steadfast in sound teaching and to confront and rebuke falsehoods. Ultimately, the mission of the Church is to act as ambassadors of the Kingdom, embodying its principles and preparing for its ultimate fulfillment in the New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem.

The Parables

Matthew chapter 13 contains several almost couplets. It begins with the Sower and the Wheat and Tares, the Hidden Treasure, and Costly Pearl; and it also includes the Mustard Seed and the Leaven in verses 31-33. Again, it is straightforward but significant.

Matthew 13:31-32 states, “He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”

Matthew 13:33 concludes, “He told them another parable. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.’”


The Kingdom of Heaven

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Christ makes an austere analogy between the size of a mustard seed, which is approximately 1 – 2 millimeters in diameter, and the size of its progeny, the Mustard Tree, which is typically 8 feet in height (although in some areas it can be as high as 20 feet). Christ uses the size comparison metaphorically to illustrate the phenomenal growth and impact of the Church. There is no question His prophecy has been fulfilled; from Adam to the nation Israel enduring even today despite continuous attacks and onto Christ, the new Adam, as illustrated in 1 Corinthians 15:45, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”

Recall that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God are used interchangeably, principally relative to the listening audience. Still, it is essential to grasp its relationship to the Church. The Kingdom of Heaven is broader than the Church and refers to God’s sovereign reign over all creation. It is both a present spiritual reality and a future physical reality. The Church, on the other hand, is the body of Christ, made up of all true believers who have, or will be, redeemed and is beautifully depicted in Colossians 1:13, where it states, “He [the Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son [Jesus Christ].”

There is yet another aspect to the Kingdom of Heaven: its ultimate realization when Christ returns to establish His Millennial Kingdom on earth, which will then be followed by His eternal recreation of a New Heaven, New Earth, and the New Jerusalem. The Millenium Kingdom is discussed in Revelation 20:4-6, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and Christ, and they [believers] will reign with Him for a thousand years.”

The final manifestation is discussed in Revelation 21:1-4 where John claims, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The Church’s mission is to proclaim this Gospel of the Kingdom, which includes preaching repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the only way into the Kingdom of Heaven. This responsibility is described in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Church is, in fact, Ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven and is to represent His Kingdom principles in its members’ ethical and spiritual lives. This is often linked to the concept of the Church being the salt and light of the world, which is encapsulated in Matthew 5:13-16 as follows, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”


Evil Influences

From such a simple Parable, we witness a magnificent progression. The Kingdom of Heaven emanates from the incarnation of Jesus Christ unto the representative body of Christ, His Church, who are charged with the responsibility of sharing the Gospel of Salvation and living lives as Salt and Light with an eventual manifestation of His Kingdom in the New Heaven, New Earth, and the New Jerusalem which will be both final and eternal. But, not all is peaches and cream, as the Parable of the Leaven warns. In the New Testament, Jesus himself cautions about the “leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6), referring to their corrupting influence. Unfortunately, not all growth and influence within the professing Kingdom of the Church is positive; some of it, much like leaven, is detrimental and can corrupt large numbers of the Church. Indeed, the permeating influence of false doctrines has spread throughout the Church, and from the very start, the writers of the Epistles were confronting its viral impact.

We are unsurprised, and Scripture advises what the Church needs to do to counter this influence. Titus 1:9 warns, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Additionally, 1 Timothy 6:3-5 advises, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” Our goals are clear: hold firm to the truths of the Bible and confront and expose those who teach false doctrines.


All that from two simple sentences.

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