Parable of the Mustard Seed

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What does the parable of the mustard seed mean?

Matthew 13:31-32 tells the parable of the mustard seed: “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.”

Using parables, Jesus related truth through intriguing stories with familiar settings. Our grasp of this parable hinges upon a correct understanding of its key elements: the sower, the mustard seed, the great tree which grew from it, and the birds which perched on its branches.

The first two elements are easily understood.
  • The sower is Jesus Himself. He is the planter who came to atone for our sins so that we might become fruitful.
  • The mustard seed was the smallest seed known at the time. While it becomes more of a shrub than a tree, it can reach about 10 feet high. The mustard seed represents the Gospel, starting very small but growing to reach millions throughout the world who will inherit the kingdom. The field represents all the people of the earth who will receive Him.
  • The tree is rooted in Jesus Christ and has grown a harvest far beyond its initial planting. The King James Version says “it is the greatest among all herbs,” growing far reaching branches beyond natural explanation.
  • The birds’ of the air in this parable probably come from the Greek word “orneon,” signifying ”to perceive, to hear.” The tree offers a refuge for His faithful to rest in Him.
A tree, whose large branches offer a sanctuary for birds, was a familiar Old Testament symbol for a mighty kingdom which gave shelter to the nations. The tree represents earthly greatness and refuge to the nations. The tiny mustard seed, growing to be a tree, symbolizes Jesus’ offer of refuge and life in God’s Kingdom.



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