Lesson 21

The Gospel According to Mark

World English Bible translation

 Today's Scripture

4:30 He said, "How will we liken the Kingdom of God? Or by what parable will we compare it? 4:31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, though it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth, 4:32 yet when it is sown, grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow."

4:33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 4:34 Without a parable he didn't speak to them; but privately to his own disciples he explained all things.

Today's Lesson 

Today's parable concludes chapter 4 and is the last of the parables in this section. This parable is close in nature to the parable that we covered in yesterday's lesson. It concerns the nature and the growth of the Kingdom of God. In Today's Scripture, the Kingdom of God is compared to a mustard seed.


The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds one can imagine. It is no more than a speck on a man's hand. While most modern varieties of mustard are not allowed to grow very large, the mustard plants of the area of Palestine has been known to reach 15 feet in height. Birds have indeed been known to nest in its branches. As such, there is no reason to believe that Jesus is speaking of anything more than a natural mustard plant and mustard seed in this parable. Some translations read that the mustard becomes the greatest of all the trees, but that is probably not the best translation of the Greek.


The emphasis of the parable then is on the natural growth of the mustard from the smallest seed to that of the largest herb. Jesus is telling His disciples that the Kingdom of God shares this quality with the mustard seed. It begins in an inconspicuous way but it will soon grow to be large. This growth is a natural thing that God has planned from the beginning of time. The Kingdom of God will not be something that is brought into the world and imposed upon creation as though it were not an original part of the plan of nature.


Once again we can examine the proper interpretation of parables through this particular parable. Many interpreters will allegorize the branches and the birds of verse 32 and come up with all kinds of different theories as to what these images are meant to represent. For instance, the most prevalent interpretation for the birds is that the birds represent the people of the church age that nest in the "branches" of the Kingdom of God. But, if the central theme of the parable is the natural growth of the mustard from the smallest of seeds to the largest of herbs, then the image of the birds is simply to emphasize the size of the final mustard plant. The birds probably do not mean anything more in this story other than birds. They are not meant to represent anything else. The proper way to interpret a parable is to understand the central theme and then to interpret everything else in the parable in light of that central theme. Jesus used each parable, for the most part and with only rare exceptions, to illustrate one thing very well. That is why parables are such a memorable teaching device.


Concerning the conclusion that Mark makes to these parables in verses 33 and 34 we have already spoken about in other lessons. Mark reiterates that to the multitude, Jesus spoke mainly in parables. Jesus did not give His truth out to those that were unprepared and unwilling to believe. But, to His own disciples, He explained all things.


Does the Spirit of God explain the things of God to you just as Jesus explained the parables to the disciples? Are you ready to moved to a deeper understanding though His instruction?


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