This parable is also found in Mk 4:30-32 and Lu 13:18-19. Jesus did not interpret this parable, nor the ones that follow in Mt 13 as He did with the previous two parables, and consequently there are many contrasting views among Christians as to what they teach. Every view must be respected, but they cannot all be right, and we can only agree with those that are strictly grounded in scripture and conform to the principles of interpretation Jesus outlined for us in the previous two parables. We learned earlier that in order to correctly interpret the parables of Jesus, we must study them in the context in which they are spoken, taking into account the teaching which precedes them, and that which follows (see comments on 13:3).
In the parable of the sower Jesus showed us that as well as faithfulness and godliness among those who profess Christ, there will also be apostasy and worldliness, and in the parable of the tares of the field, He showed us that the emissaries of Satan will always be present in the world in opposition to the children of the kingdom, throughout the kingdom age. It is in the light of this teaching that the parable of the mustard seed must be interpreted. The parable of the mustard seed illustrates the abnormal growth of the kingdom in its present earthly aspect from a small beginning to a vast sphere of operation for demon powers, represented by the birds of the air who lodge in the branches of the tree. Jesus used the figure of birds, or fowls of the air, to symbolize demon powers in the parable of the sower and so too He uses them to symbolize demon powers here. He would not use the same figure of speech in two different senses, making one parable contradict the teaching of another. The birds of the air do not represent the devil in one parable and Christians in another, as many in the church believe. Their view is that the parable illustrates the rapid spread of the gospel and the growth of Christianity throughout the earth from a very small beginning, with the figure of the birds of the air lodging in the branches of the tree as typifying new converts to Christianity finding shelter in the church. The problem with this view however is that it illustrates the growth of professing Christianity and the church in the earth, whereas the parable concerns the nature and development of the kingdom of heaven in its earthly aspect (CP V31). As we learned in our study on Mt 3:1-3, the kingdom of heaven has a much broader aspect in the earth than the professing church. It takes in the whole of God's activity in Christ in the world - the whole of human society. The church is simply the visible manifestation of the kingdom. The birds of the air are a figure of the emissaries of Satan hiding behind the cloak of Christianity disguised as apostles of Christ and ministers of righteousness. Satan has had to watch the spread of the gospel and the growth of Christianity throughout the earth from the time Jesus ushered in the kingdom, and he has ever sought to find a shelter in it. In the early centuries of church history he attacked the church from outside the kingdom, but when that failed to extinguish the light of the gospel he changed his tactics and moved his forces inside the kingdom, and since then countless millions of sincere people genuinely seeking the truth have been condemned to hell after being waylaid and deceived by his false apostles, and caught up in their counterfeit Christianity (CP Mt 7:15-23; 24:5; 2Cor 11:4, 13-15).
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