Matthew 13:31-32. “Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”
This third parable represents the church at Pergamos, meaning “high tower” and “married.” The professing church becomes huge, a state institution under Constantine the Great. The big tree and the unclean birds (nations) find shelter there.
I can’t stress too much how important it is that we see these parables accurately. So much wrong teaching has developed with the misinterpretation of them The “field” in these parables is NOT Israel, and it is NOT the church. It is the WORLD. Jesus said so in His own exposition throughout this chapter. If we keep this in mind as we study, it will help clarify what Jesus was actually teaching.
Also, the church is NOT the kingdom of heaven that Jesus mentions in the parables.The kingdom of heaven in these parables represents all who profess, but not all who truly possess, the faith. The mustard seed parable shows the outward development of the kingdom of the heavens as it grows and expands, in an unnatural way, and becomes the roosting place of the birds of heaven.
The almost universal understanding of this mustard seed and its miraculous growth is that it fully declares the expansion of the church. The birds of heaven are thought to be the people and nationsw who find shelter in the church. As it continues to grow, the mustard tree spreads over the entire earth, soon covering the earth like the waters cover the deep. If all that had really been what Jesus meant, then this parable would be in complete contradiction with other reachings in the Bible concerning the church in the earth, its mission and its future. The church is not “of the world,” but for a time is IN the world. Don’t forget that the field is the world. The mustard tree is rooted in the field, the world; in John 17:14 Jesus said that neither He nor those who believe in Him are in the world. The church, made up of those who truly believe in Him, is not of the world.
The mustard tree, however, is firmly planted and rooted in the world. God never intended His church to be of the world; He never reveals to us in His Word that the church would become a worldwide shelter. It is, rather spoken of as a local assembly, not a trans-world organization.
So, if the mustard seed and its growth is not the church, then what is it? It is the Kingdom of the heavens, or professing Christendom. Now the parable makes sense The little mustard seed was not destined to be a tree, but only a shrub.It is, in modern slang, a “freak of nature” when it grows beyond shrub into tree. Likewise the church, committed into the care of man, developed into an unnatural thing. It is professing Christendom as a system of the world, professing Christ without possessing Him and His Spirit.
If the mustard tree were the church, then the birds would have to be converted sinners. However, there is no instance in the Bible in which birds represent good. In the first parable, the birds were instruments of Satan. Birds of heaven, or fowls, never mean anything good in Scripture. In this parable, the birds are the unsaved, unconverted people and nations who flock for selfish motives to the tree, the outward form of Christendom, and find shelter there. But they defile the tree.
Revelation 18:2 says, “. . . Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”
Not exactly the pretty picture that is painted by those who believe the mustard seed/tree and the birds represent good. They don’t. They represent a distortion of what God’s original purpose was; they show a desecration of His church in the field, the world