Mysteries of the Kingdom-Matthew 13.1-33

“Christianity” can be defined as: The collection of organizational groups that names Christ and His work as their official belief. However, not all who confess Christ actually know Him. Further, this is not the definition of the Church, which is more technically defined as His Body comprised of those whom the Father has drawn to Christ. That The Kingdom is composed of a mixture is one of the secrets that His genuine disciples know from Mt. 13. 1-33. This same phenomenon afflicted ancient Israel, where, in the end, only a remnant were redeemed: But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves (2Pet. 2.1 NIV).

Jesus warned His disciples that though many will confess Him, and the outward form of God’s Kingdom will become huge, only a few will be saved: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Mt.7.13-14 NIV).

Jesus gave the Parable of The Sower to the crowds but only explained it to His disciples. This method was a way to winnow the chaff from the wheat in that society. Many only followed Jesus and listened to Him for what they could derive from Him (loaves and fish) or, possibly, entertainment value in seeing a miracle. Still others merely wanted to be out from under Rome’s thumb and were looking for a commander. Many have had a brush with Jesus, but, ultimately, didn’t realize who He was. They had calloused hearts and also closed their ears and eyes (Mt. 13.15). The inherent lesson of the Sower Parable showed that most of those hearing God’s word didn’t have fruit. This post will not extensively deal with the Parable of the Sower or The Wheat and Weeds since their interpretation is given by Jesus in the text.

Jesus gives a prophecy to encourage His followers, that, when it comes true, they would be heartened to know that ultimately He is in control and to trust Him further. From observing Jesus’ ministry, there was no way to predict that He or His teaching would become great in subsequent history. Therefore, knowing the future, Jesus indicates the eventual nominal success of His teachings and warns His true disciples of future treacherous individuals. This aspect of humility on Jesus’ part seems also to demonstrate to His disciples that, even though their labors may be despised in their own lifetime, eventual fruit will result.

Most Christians realize the parables of the Mustard Tree and Yeast speak of Christianity’s small start and eventual enormous growth. What many fail to see is that all is not well in the Earthly Secret Kingdom and the parables themselves indicate this fact. In the Wheat and Weeds parable (Mt. 13.24-30), Jesus reveals the meaning to His disciples (Mt. 13.37-43), with the reader tipped off that the subsequent two parables also speak to this sad and corrupt reality, and not just that Christianity will grow extensively from a small start.

The Mustard Tree – Mt. 13.31-32)

He told them another parable: “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 seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (NIV)

Jesus’ ministry in the 20s CE was reported in writing by no one at the time. He was utterly ignored by the world. The Gospels were written several decades later by The Spirit working in Jesus’ disciples (see Jn. 16.13). No one thought that the teaching of Jesus would amount to much during the time it happened. However, He turned the world upside down (Acts 17.6). Jesus, therefore, gave this parable of The Mustard Tree to show He knew the future exactly. He said that their common mustard seed was “the smallest” (mikroteron) of the garden seeds and yet becomes a tree (dendron). This tree’s branches are large enough to support the birds of the air (or heaven) that perch in it.

It’s very interesting that Jesus used the term of sky, better, heaven to indicate these bird’s origin. Essentially, it doesn’t matter whether one translates the term “heaven” or “sky”, since it conveys the same figurative idea. In Eph. 2.2, Paul uses “air” (aeros) of Satan’s sphere of influence on earth: in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (NIV). However, in the same letter, Paul uses “heavenly realm” (epouranios), in 6.12, to denote the existence of evil spirits who still have access to heaven. Therefore, either “sky/air” or “heaven” would be accurate translations.

It seems that, periodically, Satan and his hosts need to present themselves to God and possibly report on their activity (see Job.1.6). Also, one day heaven will be cleansed of these entities as seen by Is. 34.5: and when my sword has finished its work in the heavens, it will fall upon Edom, the nation I have marked for destruction (NLT). Further, Rev. 12.7-9 is explicit in the description of this future cleansing by the war with Michael against the dragon: Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (NIV).

Some might claim that no evil spirits are in view in the Parable of the Mustard Tree; but the contrary is easy to prove by Christ’s use of terms in the Sower Parable. Notice how in both parables the term peteina is used for birds. Jesus interprets the Sower Parable and gives the figurative solution of who the birds are: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path (Mt. 13.19 NIV). Therefore, at least some of the future church organizational authority seem to be controlled by evil spirits.

The Parable of Yeast – Mt. 13.33

In the parable of the woman who mixes yeast in the dough, the amount of flour starting out is enormous, 3 Satas/Seahs. It is unclear whether the weight is important to the understanding (about 60 pounds/27kilos), or the number 3 is significant. The amount is much larger than for a single family, obviously, and may represent the amount to make The Bread of The Presence in the Tabernacle. Also, 3 Seahs was what Sarah took and baked into bread when Abraham had the visitors in Gen. 18.6. Some interpreters have suggested that the number “3” in the parable refers to the 3 divisions of Christianity: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestants.

That the bread is leavened with yeast seems to indicate a level of corruption and not just its swelling. The first Jewish Festival (Passover) featured a week of eating unleavened bread. This first festival of the year was both retrospective and prospective in that it commemorated freedom from Egyptian bondage and looked forward to the Lamb of God who would deliver His people from the spiritual bondage of sin. On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover was a cluster festival of 3 observations: unleavened bread, the sacrifice of the lamb, and the waving of the firstfruits of the barley harvest), the 14th of the month of Abib, all leaven was to be cleared from their dwellings. This was the day when the Passover animal (lamb or kid) was killed and roasted. The 15th of Abib started when the sun set and the Passover eaten with unleavened bread. For the next 7 days no leavened food was to be consumed with the stipulation that anyone doing so would be “cut off:” For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel (NIV).

Yeast, of course, in itself, is not in anyway sinful since for 51 weeks of the year the Jews ate leavened bread. God would have forbidden yeast completely if it was sinful; instead, yeast is meant to teach a spiritual lesson by its use as a metaphor. In my opinion, the original and subsequent lesson was that they didn’t need to rely upon themselves for their own escape from bondage. Their bread had no time to rise when they made it before sunset on the 14th and their consumption just after sunset on the 15th. In my view, they didn’t need to fight or do anything, and thus be swelled with pride that they escaped by their own merit. Thus, just as bread swells from yeast, and leaven forbidden for them, the teaching of the figure is not to be swelled with pride. Instead, they were to praise God for His complete deliverance from their Egyptian bondage and present salvation from sin. The figure is almost obvious – unleavened bread is all substance, whereas, leavened bread is puffed up.

Paul sees the figure of leaven as boasting in the Corinthian Church and uses this Jewish Feast as a spiritual lesson. One of the reasons Paul wrote his first letter to them was due to reports of a member engaging in egregious sexual sin. The Apostle charges the Corinthians with pride (1Cor. 5.2), instead of confronting this member with his sin; they seemed to be open-minded (possibly antinomian). To this boasting (vs. 6) and pride, Paul applies the lesson of the Passover Feast with its metaphorical usage of leaven to the situation at Corinth. He also shows how Christ fulfilled this element in Israel’s festal cycle: Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1Cor. 5. 6-8 NIV).

The “malice and wickedness” Paul mentions probably results from the fact of, if everyone is proud, contention is sure to follow, resulting in these destructive features. An illustration of this phenomenon of pride causing wickedness could be Diotrephes in 3 Jn. 9-10. He “loves to be first,” and his spreading “malicious nonsense” (ponarios – the same word for wickedness in 1Cor. 5.8): I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church (NIV).