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Hidden Since the Creation of the World

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)

     It is good to be together again as we look in to the Word of God. The title for the lesson is: Hidden since the creation of the world.  Our text is taken from the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 13 and verses 31 thru 35.  Please listen to the Word of God.  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.”  He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.  So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

This is the Word of God.

     After the “Parable of the Weeds” in Matthew 13 Matthew recorded two of Jesus’ shortest parables: the “Parable of the mustard seed” and the “Parable of the yeast.”  The evangelist Mark also records the “Parable of the mustard seed” only.  Luke records both parables.  All three evangelists Matthew – Mark – Luke use very similar language and details.

     The challenge of course is to understand the correct meaning of these two parables.  Interestingly, after Mark recorded the “Parable of the mustard seed” in Mark 4:30-32 he also added in Mark 4:34 “…but when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”  So, presumably Jesus also explained the parables of the mustard seed and yeast.  Unfortunately, none of these gospel writers were inspired of the Holy Spirit to record Jesus’ explanations.

     Probably serious Bible students are expected to understand these two parables by comparing contextual, spiritual similarities from the Old Testament.  Could it be that their brevity and recording together, at least in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, possibly indicates they belong together with each helping us to understand the other?

     One Bible scholar writes “Of all the parables Christ told, none has produced such diametrically opposed interpretations as these two.”  Since we do not have Jesus’s explanations recorded in scripture, we should not be overly dogmatic as to their meanings

     My preference is to point out the most reasonable interpretations and prayerfully seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  Scripture reveals that the believer’s indwelling Holy Spirit teaches us spiritual truth.  In First John 2:27 “…as his anointing teaches you about all things.”  Of course, we need to prayerfully search the scriptures seeking the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s begin:

     Matthew 13:31 “…the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.”  A mustard seed is minute and of three varieties in Palestine planted primarily for a condiment or seasoning. In verse 32 “…Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants…”  Jesus’ teaching point here is the smallest growing to be the largest.

     John MacArthur, a fine Bible expositor, gives these small to large illustrations.  “western music is commonly composed of only twelve notes – the seven basic notes and their five sharps/flats.  Every symphony, hymn, love song, and other piece of music is made up of various combinations and octaves of those same few notes.  Similarly, every poem, essay, novel, letter and other piece of English literature is composed of combinations of the same twenty-six letters.”  Small to largest.

      But of course, our text is about the “kingdom of heaven” or (Kingdom of God) in its secret or mystery phase.  This is confirmed in that after Jesus stated these two parables, Matthew wrote in Matthew 13:35 “So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”  Hidden from the Old Testament prophets of God.  Hidden corresponds also to Jesus’s response to his disciple’s question in Matthew 13:10 “…why do you speak to the people in parables?”  in verse 11 “He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them.”  This secret or mystery phase of the Kingdom of Heaven is the church age.

     Robert Garrett, a very fine expositor and student of scripture writes “This mystery phase of the kingdom must first take place and run its course before the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy is established.  This is the unalterable purpose, pleasure, and will of God which he ordained and kept “hidden since the creation of the world.”  That is what Jesus is revealing in these mystery parables and what the Holy Spirit revealed through the apostle Pau concerning the “Mystery of Christ” of Ephesians 3.”

     So, what is the meaning of the “smallest of all your seeds” becoming “the largest of garden plants” regarding the kingdom of heaven in its secret or mystery phase, that is the church age, revealing?  Seems plain enough but interpretations are many.

     There are two main interpretations:  First, for example, William M. Taylor in his book on the parables writes of the “Parable of the Mustard Seed”: “A great result from a small beginning, a large growth from a little germ” meaning the church, is the church.  Most postmillennialists and amillennialists take this view since it fits their “Last things” interpretation or eschatology.  It’s a parable that reveals the church’s triumph in the world before Christ’s return by the gospel.  The second interpretation has similarity however, with a much different emphasis.

     Arno C. Gaebelein believes the parable teaches growth of course, but an abnormal and harmful expansion of the church.  As a premillennialist, his interpretation of the “Last things” is that the kingdom’s church phase is not going to have triumph in the world before Christ returns.

     But why is the “Last things” or eschatological significance even a bone of contention?  The rest of Matthew 13:32 “…and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”  One amillennial commentator simply states “becomes a tree is and exaggeration to emphasize the unpromising beginning of the kingdom which became a precursor to the explosive growth of the church.”

     Whereas premillennialist James Montgomery Boice writes “The growth of a mustard seed into a tree is abnormal.  Mustard seed grows into a shrub.  Anyone to whom Christ spoke would know that.  If Christ had wanted to stress the victorious church view, He should have referred to a cedar seed growing up to be one of the mighty trees of Lebanon.  Also in the context of Matthew 13, the birds who rest in the mustard tree’s branches have already been identified as the devil’s messengers in comparing Matthew 13:4 with Matthew 13:19.  It is true that an element of one parable need not necessarily carry the same meaning, if it is used in the next, but it surely would be strange if an element that symbolize such evil at the start of Matthew 13 carried a totally different meaning just thirteen verses later. 

     Who are the birds who roost in the church’s branches if not those whom the devil has sown among the organized church?  Finally, it is significant that these two parables are bracketed by that of the devil’s work in sowing tares among the wheat in Matthew 13:24-30, and Christ’s explanation of that parable in verses 36 thru 43.  This structure suggests they should be taken not as teaching something entirely different from the “Parable of the Tares” (or weeds), but as expanding it.”

     Robert Garrett writes with scriptural perception “A tree is often used in the Old Testament as a figure for an earthly kingdom, a mighty kingdom that gives shelter to the nations as in Daniel 4 and Ezekiel 31.  The Messianic Kingdom, the resurrection of the house and throne of David, is portrayed as a great tree planted by the Lord on the mountain heights of Israel in Ezekiel 17:22-24.  The mustard tree is not that kingdom, because the parable represents the present “mystery” form of the kingdom.  It is a garden plant and becomes the largest of the garden plants, becoming a “tree” by comparison to the size of the other garden plants.  Although it grows taller than the other garden plants, it never towers over the trees of the forest.  Thus, it is in contrast to the towering and mighty cedar tree of the prophecy in Ezekiel 17:22-24.  It is the mystery phase of the kingdom that was not envisioned by Ezekiel.  We often distinguish between the visible church, that which profess to be Christian in the world, from the invisible church, the body of true believers.  The mustard tree represents the visible church, that which is seen by the world as the “church”, Christendom, with all its corrupted and various denominational branches.  So, the kingdom of Christ in a great measure converted into a kingdom of this world.  “An admonition to the true First century church is also true, to the 21st century true church.

     In Second Corinthians 6:17-18 “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.  Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

     Matthew 13:33 “He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

     A commentator of the first position regarding only a positive interpretation of the Triumphant growth of the church writes, “Leaven, or yeast, is commonly used in the Bible to describe the contaminating power of evil, but here it is used in a positive sense to illustrate the potency of a small agent.  By inverting common figures of the sacred and profane, Jesus may be stressing that his kingdom accepts the unacceptable – “that the tax collectors and the harlots enter into the kingdom of heaven before the chief priests and elders.””

     Regarding the second position of interpretation Robert Garrett writes: “This is often interpreted as the gospel having an influence for good on the world.  While it is true that the gospel has had an influence for good, that is not the point of the parable.  Scripture is to be explained with scripture.  Jesus elsewhere used yeast always as a symbol of evil, of corruption; never of anything good.  So, it is contradictory to say that he is here using yeast to symbolize the gospel!  Yeast is therefore the symbol of formalism, hypocrisy, rationalism, skepticism and worldliness.  The history of the church shows that the doctrine of Christ has been adulterated and corrupted by all these things.  The yeast is not a repetition of the mustard tree.  The mustard tree represents corrupt organization (visible church) that is a roost for all kinds of man-made doctrines, practices and evil.  The yeast represents corrupt teaching that makes insidious and often undetected inroads into the pure gospel, the pure doctrine of Christ.  The parable is to reveal a “Mystery of the kingdom.”  Paul declared that “the mystery of iniquity” King James version Second Thessalians 2:7 was already at work.

     James Montgomery Boice adds “As Christians, we must be on guard against Satan’s tactics.  We are warned not only against his infusion of the own people into the Christian community, but also against the visible church’s bureaucratic growth, which confuses size and structure with spiritual fruit). The secular church is one dominated by the world, as much of the contemporary church is.  It is characterized by the world’s wisdom, the world’s theology, the world’s agenda, and the world’s methods.  It looks to the media and money rather than to God and his power, which is unleashed through prayer.  Under normal circumstances, yeast that has begun to work cannot be eradicated.  That is why it is such a good picture of the evil that will be in the church and world until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Satan is active.  The yeast of the Pharisees will work.  Yet in First Corinthians 15:57 “But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory thru our Lord Jesus Christ.”   

             David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, Indiana.

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2 corinthians 1:3-4