The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-34)

The Gospel of Mark: The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-34)


Mark 4:13-34

This morning we arrive at Jesus’ final parable on the kingdom of God within this portion of Mark. Compared to Matthew, Mark gives us a very condensed version of Jesus’ teachings on the subject. Up to this point we have been taught:

1.) The Parable of the Soils (Mark 4:1-20)

2.) The Lamp (Mark 4:21-22)

3.) Hearing Ears (Mark 4:24-25)

4.) The Parable of the Seed (Mark 4:26-29)

We now find The Parable of the Mustard Seed:

Mark 4:30-32

30 And He said, ‘How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, 32 yet when it is sown, grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.”

A proper interpretation of this parable will help us to understand exactly what we see taking place today among the church universally. May Jesus’ teaching here help us to see clearly in this lost and fallen world. May Jesus’ teaching here equip us to discern. May Jesus’ teaching here encourage us to persevere with His gospel.

« Let’s look at the text again:

Mark 4:30

30 And He said, ‘How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it?”

I believe we should understand, beginning with the parable of the seed, Jesus went back to teaching the multitude, and not only His disciples. The end of this text definitely leads us to this:

Mark 4:33-34

33 And with many such parables He was speaking the word to them as they were able to hear it; 34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.”

Consider as well Mark’s use of words as he introduces each parable:

Mark 4:1-2

1 And He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very great multitude gathered to Him2 and He was teaching them (Mixed crowd) many things…”

Mark 4:10-11a

10 And as soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. 11 And He was saying to them (Disciples)…”

Mark 4:13a

13 And He said to them (Disciples), ‘Do you not understand this parable?’”

Mark 4:21

21 And He was saying to them (Disciples)…”

Mark 4:24

24 And He was saying to them (Disciples)…”

Watch what happens now:

Mark 4:26a, 30a, 33-34

26a And He was saying…, 30a And He said…, 33 And with many such parables He was speaking the word to them as they were able to hear it (Mixed Crowd); 34 and He did not speak to them (Mixed Crowd) without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.”

So we see Jesus here gearing up for another parable to be taught to the multitude. This means two things:

1.) He is intentionally concealing spiritual truth from His non-believing rejecters.

2.) He is intentionally revealing spiritual truth to His believing disciples through natural illustrations.

Let’s look at the first part of the parable:

Mark 4:31-32a

31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, 32 yet when it is sown, grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches…”

Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed. Now, mustard seed was known for being among the smallest of seeds, but capable of producing a bush that could reach 7-10ft; potentially 15ft. So we can quickly see that something will begin very small, but grow to a very great size. Some have even noted there is an abnormality about the growth of this specific bush. Notice it becomes larger than the garden plants as it normally should, but Jesus adds:

32 and forms large branches…”

Matthew and Luke both refer to it as a tree.[1] Realize there is no such thing as a mustard tree! This is unnatural.

Let’s get this question answered:

What does the mustard seed represent?

As we look closely we see the seed is singular unlike the two other parables that show a plurality. Within The Parable of the Soils and The Parable of the Seed, the seed being cast represented the living word being sown among hearts likened to soil. When we compare this to Matthew and Luke we see this singular seed is being planted in a field.[2] Jesus interprets the field is the world.[3]

Knowing this we see this singular seed being planted in the world. I believe we should understand this singular seed to represent the product of the sown word.

What is the product of the sown word? The visible church of Christ!

The Word of God alone produces eternal life within each individual. Every individual possessing eternal life in Christ through His Word makes up one body, the church. Though there be a plurality of believers there is but one true church with Christ as the head.[4]

So Jesus shows us here what Christianity being sown into the world is going to look like:

1.) It will start small, but it will grow well beyond what is expected with such meager beginnings. Clearly seen in The Gospels and Acts!

2.) The growth will continue in such a way and to such an extent it will be unnatural.

Jesus then teaches us that something is going to occur as the kingdom of God expands unnaturally:

Mark 4:32b

32…forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.”

The question that naturally arises is:

What are the birds of the air referring to?

Now, there are really two schools of thought:

1.) Christianity will have such amazing growth it will provide refuge for people from all nations.

2.) Professing Christendom will grow in an unnatural way it provides Satan with a comfortable home.

Clearly these views radically oppose each other. With this in mind, it is paramount we allow Jesus to interpret this!

Remember what Jesus has said in regards to His kingdom parables, beginning with the soils:

Mark 4:13

13…’Do you not understand this parable? And how will you understand all the parables?

We have consistently looked at His key in regards to sower, seed and soil.

The question that needs to be answered is this:

Does Jesus provide us an interpretation for birds? Yes He does!

Look to the very beginning of the soils parable:

Mark 4:3-4

3 …’Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4and it came about that as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.’”

Jesus then gives us the interpretation:

Mark 4:14-15

14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; And when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.”

Who do the birds represent? Satan!

Within the immediate context Jesus teaches this parable about a mustard seed. The seed grows to such an extent and in such an unnatural way it provides the birds a place to nest.

Matthew records Jesus asking the disciples:

Matthew 13:51a

51 Have you understood all these things?”

The Scripture reads:

51 …They said to Him, ‘Yes.’”

After receiving the key what did they understand? Satan will comfortably nest among the bows of the visible church!

This means that not all of professing Christendom today is of Christ or even known by Him. When we universally look at the evangelical community rest assured the enemy is housed within.

This draws the question:

How has Satan been able to do this? Through false doctrine.

Consider the beginning:

How did Satan deceive Eve? He introduced a different theology!

Satan offered her a theology where God is a restrictive liar, and mankind has the potential of being just like Him. Adam and Eve believed him and disobeyed God, thus bringing sin into all of humanity. Being born of Adam means all of us are condemned already and deserving of eternal death and the divine wrath of the One good and holy God. Satan’s false theology was the driving factor.

My friends, he has not changed. Peter tells us Satan, “…prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[5] Paul indicates he does this through impersonation:

2 Corinthians 11:12-15a

12 But what I am doing, I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…”

Understand they are successful! Listen to Paul’s letter to Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:1

1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrine of demons.”

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warns him they will be “holding to a form of godliness.”[6] He later adds, “…impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”[7] It will reach such an extent that Paul says:

2 Timothy 4:3-4

3they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.”

The reality of the parable of the mustard seed reveals one of the clearest responsibilities of every single pastor shepherding Christ’s flock: Protecting!

This is clearly seen in several portions.

First and foremost we see it in the qualifications of the pastoral office:

Titus 1:9-11

9 Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict. 10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain.”

So a pastor protects the flock in two ways with sound doctrine: Exhortation and Refutation. Both of these equip the church of God:

1.) When an elder refutes false teaching with sound doctrine it reproves the church.

2.) When an elder exhorts the church with sound doctrine it receives correction and further instruction in Christ’s righteousness.

This is also seen in Paul’s letter to Ephesus:

Ephesians 4:11-14

11 And He (Christ) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”

What will happen when a pastor equips the church with sound doctrine? They will be protected from false doctrine.

Where will the false doctrine come from? Satan and those he has deceived.

Where will he be nested? In the midst of the visible church.

Paul’s final address to the Ephesian elders should help anybody struggling to believe this:

Acts 20:28-30

28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples.

Peter even says:

2 Peter 2:1

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”

One of the greatest responsibilities of a pastor is to protect the flock of Christ from false doctrine. He has this responsibility because of the reality of this parable.

This is not a call to be afraid!

It is a call to awareness and discernment!

It is not a call to heretic hunting, but being steadfast in the truth!

Acknowledge the enemies tactic, and test every spirit with sound teaching.[8] Whenever we sit under any form of teaching we must be like the Berean’s.

Luke tells us:

Acts 17:11

“…they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.”

Whether it be sitting under teaching this morning or listening to podcasts throughout the week make sure the word is being handled correctly!

I believe Paul’s final charge to Timothy is sufficient to help us understand what needs to be done in light of Satan nesting among the bows of Christendom:

2 Timothy 3:13-4:2

13 But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 4 1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction5Be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

What must we do? Continue to study and proclaim the Word!

By doing this:

1.) We will be able to recognize and refute false doctrine when it attempts to permeate in our midst.

2.) The lost men and women who are ensnared by Satan to do his will,[9] will be given as Paul says:

“…the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

May this all be done in love and to His glory alone!


[1] Matthew 13:32; Luke 13:19

[2] Matthew 13:31; Luke 13:18

[3] Matthew 13:38

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 4:4

[5] 1 Peter 5:8b

[6] 2 Timothy 3:5

[7] 2 Timothy 3:13

[8] 2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 John 4:1

[9] 2 Timothy 2:24-26

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