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The Meaning of the Parable of the Mustard Seed

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The Parable of the Mustard Seed is a story with timeless lessons intended to teach a concept or “big idea” to Christians. By using narrative elements that are common, representative, and easily recognizable, Jesus demonstrates His wisdom in explaining spiritual principles with simplicity. However, an emphasis on the details or literal interpretation of the parable can lead to an incomplete understanding of its main message. Instead, focus on the overall lesson that Jesus is conveying.

He said, therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 

Luke 13:18-19 (ESV)
image of scripture with mustard seeds on top for the post on the meaning of the parable of the mustard seed

The teaching of Jesus on the power of faith is illustrated in several parables that each revolve around the mustard seed. Jesus draws on this small yet mighty seed to help us comprehend the remarkably great power of even the smallest amount of faith in the Lord. Let’s explore these parables to better understand what Jesus is trying to tell us.

Jesus tells this same parable twice.  The first is found in Matthew:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”  

Matthew 13:31-32 (ESV)

Then in Luke:

He said, therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Luke 13:18-19 (ESV)

The parable of the mustard seed is synonymous with the teachings of Jesus Christ and is familiar to many Christ-followers. But the profound message at its core often eludes us. What did Jesus mean for us to learn from this story? By deepening our exploration of this parable, we can gain insight into the manner in which Jesus wanted to shape our lives.

Have you ever laid eyes on a mustard seed? Tiny and no bigger than a peppercorn, it’s the perfect illustration of Jesus’ parable. He used the mustard seed to demonstrate the power of small beginnings; how even the smallest thing can eventually grow into something bigger – much bigger – like a tree providing shelter for birds. It’s a powerful testament that speaks to us today.

Our Lord began by saying,

The form you have selected does not exist.

What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed…”

In today’s world, the Kingdom of God is widespread and open to all. But it wasn’t always this way. In times past, the Kingdom was much more limited. For Christians especially, it was a different experience.

Jesus knew the importance of a timeless message, so He used parables to communicate His wisdom in a way that would last. These parables, with their vivid imagery and simple language, remain relevant even two thousand years later. 

For example, even today we can understand the concept of a growing seed and the power of Jesus’ parables can still ignite an inner transformation of our hearts and our practice of Christian principles. 

By encapsulating His teachings in stories, He ensures His messages will never become outdated or obsolete, instead they will remain as vivid and meaningful for generations to come.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is a powerful reminder of the incredible power of God that is found in the three Synoptic Gospels. Through this parable, Jesus reveals the promise that Heaven’s Kingdom will grow far and wide – a message of tremendous hope to Christians everywhere. The Mustard Seed is a powerful illustration of how God can take something small and turn it into something great.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed reminds us all of the power of humble beginnings. Though small in size, the mustard seed grows into a large shrub up to ten feet in height; a vivid example of the potential of something seemingly insignificant. Jesus used this parable to illustrate the growth and blessings of the Kingdom of God—despite humble beginnings, His short ministry had an incalculable reach. 

He had only a handful of followers, no rank or wealth, and He lived in what was considered a remote region of the world. Yet, His ministry touched people everywhere, changing lives, inspiring faith, and transforming our world forever.

Christ’s life and death was initially disregarded, nothing more than a mustard seed beside the road. But this was the work of God and what began as a small and unassuming seed blossomed into a movement of global influence, unstoppable in its reach. 

Christians everywhere recognize that through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, God has given us hope and life. (see Acts 5:38–39). 

The kingdom of God is a blessing to all who follow it – like birds perched on a mature mustard tree. Not only do we reap the rewards of His grace, but our lives become a source of blessing to those around us. As Christians, we have the power to bring His love, mercy, and hope to our world.

The kingdom of God is like a mature mustard plant whose branches provide a refuge for the birds. Everyone who partakes in it finds a rewarding benefit – a fulfilling life filled with joy and purpose. This is the impact of the Lord’s kingdom on the lives of the faithful; it is an invitation for us all to reap the rewards of an abundant life. (Ezekiel 17:22). 

The Lord promised great things from even the smallest of beginnings. With just a small sprig, Jesus’s kingdom would grow to become a “splendid cedar” – providing shelter and security for all who find refuge in its branches. As the messianic prophecy states, “Birds of every kind will nest in it.” There is no limit to the height and depth of Christ’s kingdom when we entrust our lives and faith to Him.

On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.

Ezekiel 17:23 (ESV)

Jesus’ parable of the Mustard Seed has puzzled many Christians. It describes the mustard seed as “the smallest of all seeds” and the mature mustard plant as “the largest of all garden plants.” But this doesn’t make sense because there are smaller seeds and bigger plants. So what did Jesus mean?

Jesus illustrates his point by using rhetorical hyperbole – a powerful exaggeration – to show how drastic the change can be. Rather than using a botanical example, proverbs are employed to emphasize the immense size difference, and the remarkable surprise this can cause. 

Jesus’ emphasis is on the contrast between small and great; nothing else.

The power of Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed has proven true throughout history: the Church has blossomed from its small beginnings to a worldwide source of sustenance, shelter, and protection. 

Despite recurring persecution and other attempts to eradicate its influence, Christ’s kingdom has endured, and when Jesus returns to earth to rule from Zion, it will be just the beginning of the ultimate manifestation of God’s grace. Christians everywhere can take comfort in the Church’s remarkable story of faith and resilience.

The Kingdom of God is Like a Tiny Mustard Seed

In the Bible, Jesus famously likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. While minuscule, this seed made a powerful statement about the Kingdom of God—it was small and unassuming, yet significant, just like the Kingdom of God during Jesus’ time which was largely unseen. 

The mustard seed was so tiny it would have been difficult to find if it fell on the ground—a fitting metaphor for the unassuming beginnings of God’s Kingdom. For Christians, this is a reminder that even the smallest gestures can have a big impact.

Jesus and his twelve disciples were the only physical representatives of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus used the illustration of the mustard seed to explain its potential. He wanted to demonstrate how a small start can grow and become something great. This story not only applies to the Kingdom of God, but is a reminder to all Christians that nothing is impossible when we surrender to God’s will.

Jesus then proceeds,

“… a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree…”

Jesus, the Sower of the Word, deliberately chose to spread His Gospel throughout the world. By doing so, He offered the gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins to all who believe and accept Him. 

He wants us to live in relationship with Him and benefit from the richness of His teachings.

The parable of the mustard seed found in Matthew 13 and the other gospels is a reminder that even the smallest of faith can have great rewards. Jesus knew that nothing is impossible with God, and so the mustard seed, which usually grows into a shrub, became a tree—a demonstration of God’s power and our potential when we trust completely in Him.

Jesus understood that even with only a few dedicated followers, His kingdom would grow and many would come to Him. By faith, we can accomplish seemingly impossible tasks when we are acting through God’s power. This task of spreading the word of the Gospel to those without it will rapidly spread, with the help of God, throughout the world.

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus used a mustard seed as a powerful illustration to emphasize faith. This example serves as a reminder to Christians of the power of even the smallest amount of faith.

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20 (ESV)

This is a lesson in faith for all Christians. With the Lord, our Savior, nothing is too difficult; it simply requires believing in his word. Believe in the Lord and he will do wonders for you.

At the end of the parable,

“…and the birds of the air made nests in its branches

Jesus was making clear that the Kingdom of God is open to all. Through Him, we can touch others’ lives and share the Good News with all the world. He’s not only calling us to be followers, but emissaries of the gospel.

This parable shows us how God’s kingdom has grown from the humblest of beginnings to become a place of refuge for all people around the globe. It illustrates how God’s love can transform any situation, no matter how small. 

With Christ at its head, the kingdom of God is an ever-expanding source of comfort and hope for Christians on their spiritual journey.

What Does it Mean to Have Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed?

The parable of the mustard seed serves as a powerful reminder of the power of faith in God. This small seed packs a big punch, symbolizing how even the tiniest amount of belief in the Lord can grow into something big and meaningful. 

Through this parable, Jesus reminds us that our faith in Him is more powerful than any doubt or worry that may come our way.

This parable, among many others, is my favorite to read from the Old Testament. Despite being sometimes puzzling, these stories offer valuable guidance we can apply in our daily lives — even in the present day — when understood. Christians in particular will find great comfort and insight in these age-old stories.

The parable of the mustard seed is a reminder of the power of our faith in Jesus. Though our faith may be small, it still has the power to move mountains and do wonderful things. As Christians, it’s essential that we keep in mind the power of our faith and trust in Jesus, no matter how feeble our belief may seem.

What is Faith of a Mustard Seed?

Believers have long been encouraged to have faith the size of a mustard seed. But what does that mean? This ancient symbol is a reminder to have faith that, although seemingly small, is powerful enough to move mountains. 

What’s more, scripture promises God will strengthen and grow that faith if we nurture it. So have courage – a little faith can go a long way.

Jesus spoke of the mustard seed often, and specifically mentioned it in two verses of the Bible – Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6. In both passages, Jesus uses the mustard seed as an example of how even the smallest of faith can result in incredible things. 

He emphasizes that having faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. This is an example of the power of faith that Jesus encourages us to have.

And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.  

Luke 17:6 (ESV)

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20 (ESV)

Drawing from Jesus’ parable in Luke 17:6, we can discover one powerful truth: faith moves mountains. Not only that, but it can grow and spread exponentially when we put it into action. Through faith, believers can see even the most difficult tasks become possible.

Have you ever been uplifted, inspired, or simply encouraged by witnessing God’s transformative power in another person’s life? Just like a mustard seed can grow into a large shrub, so too can faith spread through the hearts and minds of those around us. 

When we are blessed to witness such an occurrence, may we never forget to let the seeds of their faith take root in our own lives.

What if, instead of the opposite happening, your faith planted the seeds of knowledge that sprouted into somebody else learning about Jesus? Your witnessing could be the start of a new Christian faith journey.

Have you ever experienced a difficult situation and trusted God to carry you through? Even the smallest amount of faith, like the size of a mustard seed, can bring miraculous results when placed in the hands of the Lord. 

Pray, and let Him work His wonders in your life.

Many Christians mistakenly believe that they must be “super religious” or be a devout prayer warrior in order for God to use them in His Kingdom. But God is capable of working wonders even through those with the smallest amount of faith. 

His power is not limited by human abilities. Utilize the faith you have been endowed with, no matter how small, and watch God work in ways that exceed what you thought possible.

Our Christian family is like birds of the air, spreading seeds of faith across vast distances. One bird can cast forth an abundance of seeds, seeding far-reaching lands with potential for abundant fruit. 

We can take inspiration from these birds, confident that when we share our faith, even if it is small, it has the potential to multiply and bring life and joy to many.

Though it may seem impossible, even the tiniest bit of faith can result in a great movement. Believers in the gospel of Jesus can join together to share the good news of his message throughout the world! 

Just like the parable of the mustard seed, the smallest amount of faith can grow into something large and powerful. Let us all unite to spread the Word!

By allowing the Holy Spirit to inhabit and empower you, you can witness miracles take place! Whether that’s in your own life or in the lives of those in your community, the power of the Holy Spirit is unimaginable. Through Him, you can make the impossible possible. Embrace the gift of His presence and watch your life be transformed!

Studying the parable of the mustard seed is essential for Christians, as it contains a powerful symbol that carries deep spiritual significance. 

But what does the mustard seed represent? Let’s explore its symbolic meaning to better comprehend its significance in the parable.

image of Mustard flower with seeds over white background for the post on the meaning of the parable of the mustard seed

The concept of the “kingdom of Heaven” and the “kingdom of God” is often used interchangeably in Christian teachings. Matthew’s Gospel in particular emphasizes the kingdom of Heaven, which is drawn from the ancient writings of King David. 

As we explore the teachings of Jesus and the future of our faith, we must remember the foundational words of King David as we seek to adhere to the kingdom of Heaven.

“The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations perish from his land.”  

Psalm 10:16 (ESV)

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.”  

Psalm 29:10 (ESV)

Jesus spoke of a kingdom here on Earth—the one He was sent to establish and rule over—made up of God’s people, His family of believers, a.k.a. His Church. This is God’s kingdom, and it is alive today.

The mustard seed is a powerful symbol of Jesus’ kingdom – one that starts with just twelve disciples dedicated to faithfully following him. By summoning a simple faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus taught that even the slightest kernel of faith can move mountains.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, Acts 1 records a devoted gathering of 120 faithful believers meeting “constantly in prayer” and awaiting the promised Comforter. By joining together in prayer, these devoted Christians illustrated the power that comes from united faith.

After Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost, we read,

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” 

Acts 2:46-47 (ESV)

By AD 150, the Christian population had blossomed to a whopping 40,000. By the turn of the century, this had more than quintupled to 218,000! This remarkable growth is an incredible testament to the power of faith and serves as a modern-day parable of the mustard seed. If this isn’t the parable of the mustard seed coming to life, I don’t know what is! 

Mustard is an incredible plant, growing from a tiny seed into a large shrub in no time! But its quick spread can be a nuisance in gardens and other carefully-planned areas; some might even call it “invasive”. Still, for Christians, mustard is a powerful metaphor: even something as small as faith can take over and bring incredible change.

The smallest of seeds can often grow into some of the grandest things! For example, many herbs, such as mint, start as a tiny seed – yet, when given the right environment, can spread far and wide and completely take over a garden. Conversely, a single Moringa tree begins as a large seed, yet miraculously only produces one tree. 

As Christians, it reminds us of the parable of the mustard seed, which calls us to believe that even the seemingly weakest and most insignificant things can have a huge impact.

The Gospel of Jesus spread like wildfire, reaching even the farthest corners of the known world.

Lessons from the Parable of the Mustard Seed

What are the lessons of the parable of the mustard seed and how can we apply them to our lives today? 

Jesus had something profound to say about using the resources we have effectively. In the Parable of the Talents, we find an example of His teaching that “less is more.” 

With the right attitude and effort, we can maximize our potential, no matter how limited our resources may be. This parable is an encouraging reminder for Christians that it is possible to do much with a little, and that God blesses faithful stewards with abundance.

The parable of the mustard seed is a timeless story that offers a powerful lesson for Christians to take to heart. It serves as a reminder that even the smallest faith can lead us to overcome the greatest of obstacles and struggles. By believing in ourselves with the same tenacity as the tiny mustard seed, we can achieve incredible things.

The power of faith that propelled just a few disciples to bring about seismic change in the world with the extraordinary message of Jesus Christ is awe-inspiring. 

Now, think of the potential of what He can do through you and the people you lead to Him!

Mustard seed faith is powerful

The size of the mustard seed and the plant it grows into is significant. 

The parable of the mustard seed serves as an inspiring reminder of the power of faith – that the tiniest of seeds can bear the greatest blessings. This reminder is especially significant when considering the size of the mustard seed and the plant it grows into. No faith is too small!

“For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” 

Zechariah 4:10 (ESV) 

As the Jews returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, God’s words conveyed a message of hope and renewal that inspired them to rebuild the temple that once witnessed King Solomon’s grandeur. Despite memories of its former glory, the Jews found strength and comfort as they worked to restore it.

The beginnings of faith may seem small and insignificant – but don’t be discouraged! God’s plans for you, your ministry, and your family are sure to grow and spread, just like a plentiful mustard seed.

Similar to the parable of the leaven reminds us that God’s Kingdom often begins with small steps. Your efforts may seem insignificant at first, but with faith and dedication, the end result will exceed your expectations! So don’t let your current circumstances discourage you – anything is possible with God.

Allow God’s Kingdom to grow in your life 

Believers, the kingdom of God is much more than just a declaration of faith in Jesus’ death for our sins. It is a vibrant, living, and growing faith that requires nourishment. Cultivate your faith through reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, and learning. Allow God to transform your life each day as you seek to live within His kingdom.

As a Christian, you are called to spread the word of God and watch it take root and grow. In your heart, and in the hearts of your family, that faithful and loving kingdom will grow. It will also extend to those you share your life with and those you happen to meet. Let the kingdom of God be seen in you!

You don’t need a bucketful of faith; all you need is a seed. 

During my battle with cancer, people will often tell me how strong I was. 

Truth be told, I wasn’t strong at all, I was simply enduring what life had handed me. 

I resented God, I was afraid of dying and pushed through solely on the prayers of those who cared about me. 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” 

Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

My faith, no bigger than a mustard seed, was the spark of hope that God is everything He promises. I felt Him sustaining me, like an unstoppable force keeping me afloat. That seed of faith blossomed and gave me a power and assurance that completely transformed me.

Your heart is the fertile ground for mustard seed faith to flourish.

When it comes to receiving a miracle from God, the answer may be closer than expected. Most of us construct walls of pride, selfishness, and fear in our hearts, preventing us from being truly open to God’s grace. 

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). God uses our life’s challenges to break down these walls so we can experience His radical, miraculous love.  As we surrender to Him, we can find true peace, joy, and rest in the Father’s embrace.

The entire moral of the parable is this:

No matter where you are in your faith journey, you can experience God’s blessings. Though perfection isn’t possible, you don’t have to be perfect for God to work in your life. In fact, God works both in and through us to bring about amazing things. So take heart—God loves and accepts you, imperfections and all.

Do you ever feel like your faith or newness to Christianity prevents God from using you? Here’s the thing – God doesn’t demand perfection. All He asks is that you have faith, even if it’s a minuscule amount like a mustard seed. He can do marvelous things with even the tiniest amount of faith. If you trust in Him, He can and will move mountains on your behalf!

You may enjoy this video about the meaning of the parable of the mustard seed:

Or one of these recommended resources for further study on the parable of the mustard seed:

The Mustard Seed: A Story of Life and Faith by Todd White

Secrets of the Mustard Seed: Ten Life-Changing Promises from the New Testament by Steven R. Mosley 

I personally love to wear my mustard seed necklace as a reminder of my faith.

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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