Explain the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven as illustrated in the seven parables of Matthew 13 is the sphere of Christian profession during this age. This particular parable illustrates what has taken place and is still taking place during the period between Pentecost and the Second Coming. This “mustard seed” was sown at Pentecost. From this small beginning it became a great tree, and the birds came and sheltered in its branches. This illustration is borrowed from the Old Testament (see Daniel 4).
[Show the growth of the “mustard seed,” which represents the Church, and the wheat and the tares:
Acts 1:15 (A.D. 58) - The number of names together was about one hundred and twenty.
Acts 2:41 (A.D. 33) - There were added unto them about three thousand souls.
Acts 4:4 (A.D. 33) - And the number of men was about five thousand souls.
Acts 8 (A.D. 36) - During the fourth persecution against the church at Jerusalem, the believers were scattered abroad. They went everywhere preaching the gospel.
1. The Ethiopian is converted.
2. Revival in Samaria – Simon the sorcerer
Acts 9 (A.D. 34) - Saul of Tarsus is converted.
Acts 10 (A.D. 41) - The Gentiles in the house of Cornelius are brought into the church.
Acts 13 (A.D. 46) - Paul and Barnabas begin the greatest missionary enterprise ever launched.
The mustard seed had germinated and was growing. From the Apostolic age, until the 3rd century, the church suffered severe persecution, but increased rapidly.]
In A.D. 300 Constantine was engaged in civil war with Maxentius to determine which one would be Emperor of Rome. Constantine desired to enlist the help of the Christians, as Christianity had become a very powerful force. He claimed to have had a vision in which he saw a flag unfurled; on it was a cross which had the following words written on it - “in this sign conquer.” He said this was the sign to him that Christianity was the true faith. He also made it clear that should he be victorious, Christianity would become the official religion of the Empire. He was victorious; thus, Christianity became the official religion.
Everyone, the victorious and the vanquished, and those who had been conquered, were baptized into the so-called Christian Church. This unholy union of Church and State eventually plunged Europe into the dark ages. The Church became political, (birds) or evil men sheltered in its branches. These were the emissaries of Satan, with evil intent using religion as a cloak for their dastardly deeds.
It took the Reformation to shake Europe loose from this strangle-hold. Evil men are still within the Kingdom as we shall see in a moment. These parables could speak to the coming kingdom. Note the dispensational aspect of the parable. Looking at the parable in this way, there seems to be an analogy between the condition of things depicted in the first and the early chapter of Church history. There was the first sowing of the seed, then the tares and wheat. After this, there was the abnormal growth of professed Christianity and finally the leaven permeating the meal through the instrumentality of the woman. These characteristics were apparent before the dark ages.
There are also those theologians who view the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven as the spread of the gospel. There are others who view the parables prophetically as showing the progress of good and evil. The mustard seed in the parable really outdid itself. From a very small beginning, it grew rapidly into a tree. In the first parable, the birds of the air represented the “wicked one” (Matthew), Satan (Mark), and the devil (Luke). The significance would be the same as the one found in this parable. The kingdom is likened unto a mustard tree. The mustard seed became something that it was supposed to become, while the kingdom had become something that it was never intended to be.