Jesus compares the coming of the kingdom to the growing of a mustard seed, and to leaven. The image is a simple one, showing that the kingdom grows, and that it’s growth is pervasive.
Simple but Surprising
But while that image is simple, it is still surprising. Comparing kingdoms to trees was not new. Neither was the detail about birds nesting in the branches (Ezek 31:3-6). And the promised kingdom of God is cast in similar terms (Ezek 17:23). But invariably, these kingdoms are compared to cedars or firs, majestic in size, with their branches in the clouds of heaven. What Jesus tells us is shocking. Far from just being a spectacular tree, the kingdom starts out as a tiny seed and grows. Perhaps it is stretching Jesus’ imagery too much, but it is striking that his image points, not to the cedar of Ezekiel 17, but to a desert shrub. Not only is the kingdom something that will grow and develop over time, but its appearance will not be particularly impressive before it comes in its fullness at Christ’s return. Then the shrub will be the cedar.
The Kingdom Comes
When we grasp that the coming of the kingdom is the restoration of the creation order, with man in dominion over the works of God’s hands, and man in utter submission to the Creator-Redeemer, we are in a place to grasp, not only a growing kingdom, but a wholly pervasive one. Christ came as the second Adam, to exercise dominion over God’s creation. He has healed diseases, which are an aberration, and exorcised demons, kicking satan to the curb as the first Adam ought to have done in the garden. He has commanded the winds and the waves. He has even forgiven sin, acting on the authority delegated to him by God (an authority, incidentally, which he now extends to the church as it exists “in him” – Matt. 18:18). And in the end, having exercised his dominion with perfect obedience, he will lay down his life to pay the penalty for the sins of those the Father gave him (John 6:37-39; 10:11-17, 28-29; 17:6, 9, 12, 24).
The Kingdom Grows
And now, he has given the kingdom to his church (Luke 11:13; 12:32; Acts 1:6-8) at pentecost. What began so small and unimpressive, with what appeared to be the bastard son of a carpenter in a backwater province of the Roman empire, was then handed to 12, then 120, was poured out on about 3000 at Pentecost. And by the end of the book of Acts, the kingdom is being proclaimed to the ends of the earth, and is growing “unhindered”, even while its witnesses are in chains (Acts 28:30-31). Unimpressive? Perhaps. Growing? Undoubtedly … and unhinderedly. It permeates the world, even extending into Caesar’s own household (Phil. 4:22). And not only does the kingdom grow extensively, it grows intensively. That is, not only does the kingdom expand in number, it also grows in the life of all its subjects. There is no area of our lives that is off limits to its effects. We are, little by little being transformed into the image of our savior, Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 1:6). Little by little, we are submitting more and more of our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As we do that by the power of the Spirit (Phil. 2:13), the kingdom pervades. And as we bear witness, the kingdom expands.