Mysteries of the Kingdom
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Parable of the Mustard Seed
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field,
which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31, 32)
The parable of the mustard seed continues with the same central thoughts set forth in the previous parable, the parable of the wheat and tares. Fruit-bearing remains at the forefront (v. 31), as well as Satan’s continuing activity as he seeks to stop Christians from bearing fruit. And the method that Satan uses as he seeks to stop Christians from bearing fruit, revealed in the previous parable, is through sowing tares among the wheat.
Then the parable of the mustard seed reveals that which would happen because of this activity of Satan. In this respect, the parable of the mustard seed is simply a commentary on the previous parable, providing additional explanatory help.
In the true sense of the definition of a parable and why the Lord used parables — to provide additional information pertaining to previously revealed truths (ref. chapter 1 of this book) — the parable of the mustard seed was given to help explain the parable that had previously been given, the parable of the wheat and tares.
And the same thing could be said concerning why the Lord gave the parable of the wheat and tares. It was given to help explain a part of the parable given prior to this one, the parable of the Sower.
Then, looking ahead to the parable following the parable of the mustard seed — the parable of the leaven — the same thing can be seen. This parable was given to provide additional explanatory help for the parable of the mustard seed.
That’s the evident, divinely designed, interrelationship that exists between the first four parables in Matthew chapter thirteen. The parable of the Sower, the first parable spoken outside the house, by the seaside, introduces the matter; and the succeeding three parables spoken outside the house, by the seaside, simply build, after a successive fashion, on that which is introduced in the first parable.
Natural, Unnatural Growth
In the second parable — the parable of the wheat and tares — Satan is seen sowing contrary-minded individuals in the midst of Christians bringing forth fruit (seen in the latter part of the first parable, the parable of the Sower), seeking to stop fruit-bearing. This is how matters had become in Christendom relative to fruit-bearing, with the kingdom of the heavens in view. Then the third parable, the parable of the mustard seed, presents how matters would continue in this respect.
This parable first depicts the mustard seed germinating, with a natural growth occurring for a time. The natural growth of this particular seed, “the least of all the seeds,” would result in an herb, referred to as “greater than the herbs” when grown. And, beyond that, a natural growth of this herb would result in fruit-bearing (v. 32), as seen in the previous two parables.
Thus, Satan’s success in stopping fruit-bearing would be contingent on his success in preventing the continuance of a natural growth of the mustard seed. One would go hand-in-hand with the other.
The mustard seed in the parable represents, not individuals per se, but an entity made up of individuals — the good seed, the sons of the kingdom from the previous parable. And a natural or unnatural growth of the mustard seed would represent a natural or unnatural development of those comprising the good seed.
Should Satan be unsuccessful in his efforts to prevent a natural development of those comprising the mustard seed, growth would eventually result in that which God had intended; and fruit-bearing would go hand-in-hand with their growth and development.
However, should Satan be successful in his efforts to prevent the continuance of a natural development of those comprising the mustard seed, growth would eventually result in something other than that which God had intended; and barrenness would ensue.
And the latter is exactly what is seen in this parable. The mustard seed, following a period of normal growth (which, if not interfered with, would result in “greater than the herbs”), is seen experiencing an abnormal growth and becoming “a tree.” And not only did this abnormal growth ensue, but the mustard seed is seen developing so abnormally that it not only grew into a tree, but the nature of this tree allowed “the birds of the air,” individuals doing the work of Satan, to find a lodging place in its branches (v. 32; cf. vv. 4, 19).
Thus, the third parable, continuing the thought from the second parable, presents the tares being quite effective. They are seen deceiving fruit-bearing Christians to the degree that they bring about an unnatural spiritual growth among these Christians, resulting in unfruitfulness, barrenness; and the matter is carried to the point that, in the end, the tares are able to simply settle down in that which they had produced, finding acceptance among those whom they had deceived.
This work of Satan — producing an unnatural growth, resulting in barrenness — could only have been accomplished through one means. It could only have been accomplished through the promulgation of false doctrine. It could only have been accomplished through Satan placing false teachers in the midst of fruit-bearing Christians, leading them away from the truth of the Scriptures, leading them away from an adherence to the faith. And this is exactly the way Scripture elsewhere reveals that the matter occurred.
There are multiplied warnings in numerous places in Scripture concerning false teachers who would arise and teach “perverse things,” particularly relative to the faith, the Word of the Kingdom. And these false teachers would arise, not from the world, but from within Christendom itself. These false teachers would arise from the ranks of Christians, from within the churches (Acts 20:29-32; cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:8, 18; 3:7, 8; 4:1-4; 2 Peter 2:1ff; Jude 3ff).
As it was surrounding Christ’s first coming and the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel, so would it be surrounding Christ’s second coming and the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Christians. Jewish religious leaders were responsible for that which happened in the past dispensation surrounding the proffered kingdom at Christ’s first coming, and Christian religious leaders are responsible for that which is happening during the present dispensation surrounding the proffered kingdom and Christ’s second coming.
The religious leaders in Israel followed Christ about the country and sought, at every turn, to speak against that which was being seen and heard. Christ’s ministry centered around supernatural signs, which pointed to that which Israel could have — supernatural healing, supernatural provision — if the nation would repent. But the religious leaders would have no part in the matter; and they misled the people, resulting in the nation’s rejection of the proffered kingdom and the subsequent crucifixion of the nation’s King.
And the situation relative to the proclamation of the Word of the Kingdom throughout the present dispensation has been no different. Christians down through the years have been misled, not by those in the world, but by their own religious leaders. Scripture is very clear on this matter.
1) At the Beginning of the Dispensation
The message of the hour at the beginning of the dispensation — one proclaimed throughout Christendom — centered around the faith, the saving of the soul, the Word of the Kingdom. This was the message that Paul referred to as “my gospel” (Romans 16:25), “our gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:3), and “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4); this was the message that Paul had been called to proclaim to Christians throughout the Gentile world (Acts 9:15; Galatians 1:11, 12, 16; 2:7); and this was the message that Paul and others, during the first few decades of the existence of the Church, “preached to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:5, 6, 23).
(The reference to “every creature under heaven” in Colossians 1:23 would, contextually, refer to the saved alone, not to the unsaved. This would be a reference to all of the saved having heard the message that saved individuals are to hear following their salvation — the Word of the Kingdom.
The unsaved cannot be in view in this passage, for the only message that they are to hear is the good news that Christ has died for their sins. Only after they have heard this message and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ are they in a position to hear the message referenced in this verse in Colossians, which has to do with the purpose for their salvation, the reason why they have been saved.)
Thus, during the first century of the Church’s existence, the message surrounding the proffered kingdom was something universally proclaimed throughout Christendom. And this message could only have been well-known and understood by Christians everywhere, resulting in at least a segment of Christendom developing in a natural fashion and these Christians, correspondingly, bearing fruit.
It was within a setting of this nature that Satan sowed tares among the wheat, seeking to stop the natural growth and development of the seed that had been sown; and success in stopping this natural growth and development would, in turn, over time, ultimately result in a barren condition of the plant.
Now, note the problem that Satan faced at the beginning of the dispensation. He faced the problem of countering a message that was being proclaimed and received throughout Christendom. Christians who had received the true message were developing after a proper fashion (growing from immaturity to maturity), with a corresponding fruitfulness.
To counter the true message, Satan simply placed individuals proclaiming a false message in the midst of those Christians who had received the true message. Then, over time, the false message progressively took root and did its damaging work, accomplishing its purpose.
This false message, once received, resulted in an improper development in Christendom (an improper growth from immaturity to maturity). And, developing after an improper fashion, a corresponding barrenness ensued.
And Satan’s work in this manner is how Scripture reveals that he stops fruit-bearing. He places individuals with a false message relative to the kingdom among those bearing fruit for the kingdom. The false message takes root, growth becomes progressively unnatural, and fruit-bearing is stymied. Then, the false message continues to take hold until the point is reached where growth becomes so unnatural that fruit-bearing can no longer exist.
a) The Messengers
Both Peter in his second epistle and Jude begin their epistles by exhorting Christians to strain every muscle of their being in the present race of the faith (2 Peter 1:2-11; Jude 3); and that which necessitates this exhortation, in both epistles, is the presence of false teachers in their midst (2 Peter 2:1ff; Jude 4ff).
These are the same false teachers to which Christ had referred in the parables in Matthew chapter thirteen, who would produce an unnatural growth among fruit-bearing Christians; and these are the same false teachers to which Paul subsequently referred, who would arise among Christians, take truths concerning the Word of the Kingdom, and distort and twist these truths (Acts 20:30, 31).
These are the apostates, dealt with extensively in Scripture — a type of individual identified by the meaning of the word itself. Our English word, “apostasy,” is simply an Anglicized form of the Greek word apostasia. This is a compound word comprised of apo (from) and stasis (to stand). The word means “to stand away from”; and the word refers to a person standing away from a place which he had previously occupied.
The apostasy in view has to do with “the faith” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:18; 3:8; Jude 3). Thus, true apostates relative to the faith can only be individuals who had, at one time, received the message concerning the faith; but then, at a later time, they had departed from an adherence to this message. These are individuals who had initially heard, understood, and received the truth; but then they had apostatized. They “stood away from” the truth. They turned from the truth, began to speak out against the truth, and, in the process, taught that which was untrue.
These are the type individuals referred to in Paul’s warnings in both Acts and his epistles, as well as Peter’s and Jude’s warnings in their epistles. These are the type of individuals — those quite familiar with the matter that they were speaking against — whom Satan knew that he could use the most effectively, whom Satan knew that he could use to do the most damage.
Thus, Satan simply began to place individuals of this nature in the midst of those Christians bringing forth fruit. And they began to “draw away the disciples” after themselves (Acts 20:30). They began to reproduce after their kind (cf. Genesis 1:11), resulting in fruit also after their kind, an “evil fruit” (Matthew 7:15-20; cf. vv. 13, 14, 21-23 [KJV]).
Aside from Paul’s identification of these individuals in Acts 20:30 — “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things . . . .” — note Peter’s identification of them in 2 Peter 2:18-20:
For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error.
While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
Note particularly the word “knowledge” in verse twenty. These individuals had escaped the “pollutions of the world” through the “knowledge [Greek: epignosis, ‘mature knowledge’] of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” They had come into a mature knowledge of the things in view — things surrounding the Word of the Kingdom. And having come into a mature knowledge of these things, they turned from these things and began to teach perverse, contrary things.
That these were saved individuals is evident, for an unsaved person cannot even come into a rudimentary knowledge of these things (1 Corinthians 2:14 [gnosis, the regular Greek word for “knowledge,” appears in this passage]), much less the mature knowledge seen in 2 Peter 2:20. Thus, the text can only have to do with saved individuals turning from the central message of that day, distorting and twisting the truth as they taught false doctrine relative to the Word of the Kingdom.
Satan used this type of individual — after this manner, during the opening decades of the Church’s existence — to do his bidding, to stop Christians from bearing fruit. And though the ones whom Satan used were also Christians, they were doing the works of Satan; and doing works of this nature, they were identified with Satan, referred to as “tares,” “sons of the wicked one” (ref. chapter 4 of this book).
b) Their Message
The teaching of the apostates is spoken of as “destructive heresies [‘heresies that lead to destruction’]” (2 Peter 2:1). And the destruction in view has nothing to do with salvation by grace through faith, with the Christians’ presently possessed free gift of eternal life.
Eternal life is not even in view. The destruction has to do solely with the Word of the Kingdom, the subject matter at hand. The apostates taught heresy of a nature that led Christians to a destructive end relative to the proffered kingdom.
Numerous statements are given concerning the teaching and action of the apostates (cf. 2 Peter 2:1-3, 10ff; Jude 4, 8ff). But one thing in Peter’s second epistle stands out above everything else. There is a septenary structure to Peter’s second epistle, with a particular reference to and emphasis upon Christ’s return within this structure (1:16-18; 3:4-8).
The apostates are seen “walking according to their own lusts [‘desires’ — desires which would be soulical (‘their own desires’), not spiritual (that which the Lord would desire)]” (3:3; cf. 2:18). And, within this type of walk, they are seen proclaiming a message that would strike at the heart of all sound biblical teaching surrounding Christ’s return and the Messianic Kingdom:
Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. (3:4)
Then the verses that follow (vv. 5-9) — answering the apostates false message by referring to events beginning with the opening verses of Genesis — make matters very clear that the heart of the apostates’ message had to do with denying Christ’s return at the end of six thousand years, with attendant destruction on the one hand and attendant blessings on the other. They had willingly allowed the things surrounding this entire panorama of teaching to escape their attention, and they are seen infiltrating the ranks of fruit-bearing Christians everywhere, seeking to promulgate their false doctrine.
The misleading, destructive doctrine proclaimed by the apostates is seen taking numerous forms. But the foundation upon which all their false teaching rested is seen taking only one form. All their false teaching is seen resting on a totally perverted form of the true foundation set forth in Genesis 1:1-2:3 — the God-established foundation upon which all subsequent Scripture rests.
In all the various forms that their false teaching took, they sought to do away with two things:
1) The septenary structure of Scripture as set forth in the beginning, in Genesis 1:1-2:3.
2) Teachings surrounding Christ’s return within the framework of this septenary structure (at the end of six days, at the end of 6,000 years).
Then, building on a totally perverted foundation of this nature, the apostates sought to spread all types of destructive heresies relative to the various facets of the Word of the Kingdom among fruit-bearing Christians. And, over time, as seen in the parable of the mustard seed, they were quite successful.
The mustard seed germinated and grew, normally for a time, but then in an abnormal manner; and, over time, it became something that it was not supposed to become at all. It became a tree. And not only did it become a tree, but the false teachers took up residence in the branches of the tree, continuing their destructive work from within.
Proper growth can come only from that which has not been corrupted (1 Peter 2:1, 2). And the converse of that is equally true. Only improper growth can result when corruption has occurred. Thus, to bring about improper growth, the false teachers simply proclaimed a corrupted form of the only thing that God had provided for the nourishment and well-being of the spiritual man. And through so doing, they went back to and began with the very heart of the matter — the foundation itself, in the opening two chapters of Genesis.
It was the work of the apostates that brought about the conditions seen in the parable of the mustard seed. A corrupted and improper diet of spiritual food resulted in a corrupted and improper growth; and a growth of this nature, over time, ultimately resulted in barrenness. Then the false teachers simply took up residence within that which they had produced, assuring that conditions would remain in a corrupted and barren state.
2) At the End of the Dispensation
Near the end of the dispensation (today), relative to the Word of the Kingdom, conditions throughout Christendom are seen to have become completely turned around from the way that they existed at the beginning of the dispensation. After almost two millennia, the Word of the Kingdom — taught and understood throughout the churches at the beginning of the dispensation — is seldom even heard in Christian circles. And, with the message not being proclaimed, Christians throughout the churches of the land, correspondingly, have little to no understanding of truths surrounding the coming kingdom.
Thus, during the present day and time, Satan has little need for apostates to infiltrate and settle down within the ranks of Christians. Christendom is too far gone for any type overall change or recovery to occur. And, beyond that, though little infiltration of apostates need exist on Satan’s part today, he would undoubtedly be hard-pressed to find very many true apostates during the present time.
For a person to be a true apostate, he would, first of all have to come into an understanding of the Word of the Kingdom before he could apostatize. And those having a conversant knowledge of this message today — the only ones in a position to apostatize — are far and few between.
That which exists in Christendom today is the aftermath, the end result, of Satan sowing tares among the wheat, of Satan bringing about an abnormal growth of the mustard seed. In general, in relation to the Word of the Kingdom, because of that which has occurred in the past, a corrupted Christendom presently exists.
Those occupying the pulpit are silent on the subject, and those occupying the pew, accordingly, know little to nothing about the matter. And, should the subject ever emerge — as it sometimes does — those occupying the pulpit are usually quick in their attempts to squelch the message. This message encompasses things that are out of line with the training that they received in the theology schools of the land; and they, accordingly, view the message after an erroneous fashion.
In this respect, the effectiveness of the false teachers at the beginning of the dispensation is evidenced by two things near the end of the dispensation. It is evidenced by the condition of Christian leadership in particular and the condition of the Church in general.
Thus, a completely different situation exists in Christendom during the present day and time than existed during the first several centuries of the dispensation. There would be some need for true apostates, for there are individuals — one here, and one there — who believe the Word of the Kingdom and are bringing forth fruit. But such a need would be minimal.
In this respect, with conditions as such, Satan could concentrate his efforts on bringing to completion that which he began almost two millennia ago. He could concentrate on maintaining the status quo as he continues his efforts to produce total corruption. And, as will become evident in the completion of the parables given outside the house, by the sea (the parable of the leaven), total corruption is exactly the picture that these parables (and Scriptures elsewhere) present of conditions in Christendom at the end of the dispensation.
The particular type of abnormal spiritual growth seen resulting from the false message of the apostates is something that can be seen in both Church history throughout the course of the dispensation and in the Church of today near the end of the dispensation The abnormal growth of the mustard seed in history resulted in a tree, in which those who had brought about its abnormal growth are, in the end, seen resting in its branches; and the tree remains to this day, with its roots sinking ever deeper into the earth, with Satan’s emissaries resting in its branches.
1) Symbolism of a Tree
To fully comprehend and understand that which is in view, note the symbolism of a tree in Scripture. A “tree” is used in Scripture to symbolize a national power.
In Judges 9:8-15, which relates the oldest known parable in the world, “trees” are seen symbolizing nations that had sought to elect a king to reign over them.
Daniel, in his prophecy, refers to the vision of “a tree in the midst of the earth,” which “reached to the heavens.” And this “tree” is said to symbolize the kingdom of Babylon (Daniel 4:10-12, 20-22).
Israel is referred to in Joel’s prophecy by a “fig tree” (Joel 1:7). And Christ not only referred to Israel through the symbolism of a “fig tree” during his earthly ministry but He also referred to the surrounding Gentile nations through the symbolism of “all the trees” (Matthew 21:18, 19; 24:32; Luke 21:29).
There can be no question concerning Scripture using “trees” in a symbolic sense to signify national powers. And, remaining within the confines of the symbolism that Scripture itself provides, there can, as well, be no question concerning that which is in view through the mustard seed germinating and eventually becoming a tree.
The teaching, through the symbolism given, is clear. That which is represented by the mustard seed germinated and eventually became a national power — something that it was not supposed to become at all during the present dispensation, something reserved for the coming dispensation. It became a national power during the time Satan ruled within the kingdom of the heavens; it became a national power within the present kingdom of Satan.
And any biblical thought of Christians exercising power in the world was to be reserved for a future day, a time after Satan had been put down and Christ had taken the scepter; power of this nature was to be exercised solely within the future kingdom of Christ.
(In short, Satan, through his action as seen in the parable of the mustard seed, caused Christendom, forming the Church, to grow into a national power that would be under his control and sway.
Satan, throughout Man’s Day, following man’s fall, has ruled the earth through the nations [once national powers had been brought into existence]. This though would exclude Israel [once the nation had been brought into existence], for Israel was not to be “reckoned among the nations” [Numbers 23:9 (KJV)].
This type of rule by Satan is revealed in Daniel 10:12-21, with Satan and his angels ruling through the nations, but with Israel occupying a position separate from the nations and Satan’s rule in this respect [ref. the author’s books, The Most High Ruleth and The Spiritual Warfare, for additional information on this subject].
Through Satan’s efforts — producing an abnormal growth in Christendom, resulting in that which is symbolized by a tree — he sought to make Christendom a national power during the time when he rules through national powers, with his emissaries finding ready acceptance in this national power [the birds of the air lodging in the branches of the tree]. Satan sought to make Christendom a national power, as the nations, through which he and his angels could exert rulership and control.)
2) In History, During the Present Day
During the early part of the first century, when the apostates first infiltrated the ranks of fruit-bearing Christians, Christianity was looked upon in the Roman world as an illegal religion. And, in some quarters, Christians were looked upon by the Romans as being guilty of treason.
Rome practiced emperor worship, and, within this practice, “religion” and “state” became one entity. Christians, on the other hand, were monotheistic and spoke of a King other than Caesar and of a Kingdom other than Rome. Thus, it is little wonder that the Romans looked upon Christianity and Christians in an illegal and a treasonous sense.
It was these basic differences that resulted in all of the Roman persecution, lasting several centuries. But something else also happened during this time. The apostates progressively broke down the barriers separating the Roman Empire and Christianity, until the day came, near the end of the fourth century, when these barriers no longer existed. And this was followed by a merger of Church and State.
Constantine, during the opening years of the fourth century put a stop to the persecution of Christians, and he himself later embraced Christianity (for reasons upon which historians differ). And all of this set the stage for that which was to follow.
In the year 380 A.D., Theodosius I issued an edict that made Christianity the exclusive state religion; and, in the year 395 A.D., Christianity was finally recognized as the official and only religion of the Roman Empire.
At this point, Christianity found itself completely enmeshed within a world power in the sphere of governmental authority over which Satan exercised control, completely out of line with God’s plans and purposes for the new creation “in Christ.”
This condition of Christendom though did not result from the previous Roman persecution. The previous persecution had only resulted in Christian growth. As Tertullian, a Christian living during the period of Roman persecution, said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
That which ultimately occurred in Christendom was caused by the apostates. Their attack was not centered upon the entity itself (as was Rome’s attack) but upon that which brought the entity to a fruit-bearing stage. They went back to that upon which the entity was fed and nourished, introducing corruption and destruction at this point.
And the end result was exactly as Christ had foretold. The mustard seed germinated, grew normally for awhile, then took an abnormal growth, and eventually became a tree. The abnormal growth, over time, ultimately resulted in barrenness; and Christians found themselves occupying a position that they were not supposed to occupy during the present dispensation at all. They found themselves associated with Gentile world power within the present kingdom of Satan.
And this is a position from which Christianity has never recovered. Down to the present day, though Rome has long since passed off the scene, Christians can still be found involving themselves in activities associated with the tree of Matthew 13:32. They can be seen on every hand involving themselves in the present government after all types of fashions, attempting to exert some type of power in the present kingdom under Satan.
But this is simply not the day when Christians are to rule and reign. That day lies in the future, after Christ has taken the kingdom and Christians have been placed in positions of power and authority.
The entire present system is in its death-throes and is to be destroyed by Christ when He returns. Christians having works associated with the present system will one day see their works suffer the same fate that the system is about to suffer. Such works will be destroyed, burned “in fire” at the judgment seat; and even though these Christians will be “saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15), they will be left with nothing of value in relation to the coming kingdom of Christ. And they will consequently be rejected for regal positions with Christ.
But for those Christians who will not have allowed the pseudo form of Christendom enmeshed within the present world system to govern their lives, things will be different. Their works will not suffer the same fate as those having works associated with the present world system. They will possess works that will endure the fire, and they will be left with something of value in relation to the coming kingdom of Christ. These are the ones who will have waited to exercise regal power and authority, and these are the ones who will rule as co-heirs with Christ in His kingdom.