Mustard Seed and Kingdom Growth | 4:30–34

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. 

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

While it’s not the smallest of all seeds, the mustard seed is the smallest of all kosher seeds sown into the earth.  A large plant (from which we get everyone’s favorite condiment) sprouts from this seed, even though it’s only a tenth of an inch in diameter.  Similarly, the kingdom of God begins small, with the Word and the work of twelve, but it grows exponentially.

The kingdom is large enough for all peoples.  Jesus’s words here bring to mind some Old Testament images.  Many of these wild birds must picture the Gentile peoples because the Old Testament references use these images to describe the nations coming to Israel (Dn 4:21; Eze 17:23; 31:6).  Those who follow the Word that Christ gave to His disciples will find a resting place in the kingdom of God, regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic background.

The kingdom is large enough to attract pretenders.  It’s plausible that some of these birds don’t nest for the same reasons, as the wicked birds of the previous Parable of the Sower snatch away the Word of God (vv. 4, 15).  Since the kingdom grows so large, it’s inevitable that false believers take up residence within the church.  As the net of the kingdom draws in fish, some will be bad and separated at the judgment (Mt 13:47–50).


Mark says here that Jesus “spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.”  Some can be with the Lord and hearing His teaching without observing it within themselves.  As 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”  If you are in the faith, then follow the command of Christ to beware false teachers infiltrating the church with fruit foreign to the kingdom (Mt 7:15–20).   

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