Matthew 13:31–35: The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven

by Jul 3, 2023Premium, The Gospel of Matthew

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In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught about the different kinds of hearts who receive the gospel in in differing degrees. Then, in the parable of the weeds, Jesus exhorted his hearers to persevere, even when surrounding by vast amounts of evil that remain in the world until the final judgment. In both of these parables, Jesus explained why the kingdom of heaven does not seem to be growing at the speed we might expect, given its divine power. By the end of those parables, Jesus’ hearers might have reasonably wondered: “What, then, can we really expect from such a kingdom?” In the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in Matthew 13:31–35, Jesus teaches that the kingdom of heaven will come by surprise.

Discussion Questions

1. What does the smallness of the mustard seed emphasize in relation to the kingdom of heaven (v. 32)? What does the final tree represent, especially in light of the symbolic meaning of a tree in Old Testament prophetic literature (Ezek. 17:22–24; 31:3–9; Dan. 4:10–12)? Why does Jesus emphasize the visible and external growth of the kingdom? How do we see the visible growth of Jesus’ kingdom today in the world?

2. What does Jesus mean when he says that the woman “hid” the leaven in flour (v. 33)? Where else does Jesus talk about the secret, hidden nature of the kingdom? Where else in the Old Testament do we see people preparing three measures/seahs (or, one ephah) of flour for a feast? What do those stories have in common? What does the parable of the leaven emphasize about the invisible and spiritual growth of the kingdom?

3. Why does Jesus say nothing to the crowds without a parable (v. 34; see Matt. 13:10–17)? Why does Jesus quote from Psalm 78? What does that psalm tell us about God’s purposes in history to build a kingdom for his messiah, David? How does that winding road of history incorporate great acts of God’s salvation and deliverance, as well as the sin of the people? How does the theme of that psalm relate especially to these two parables?

4. What is the visible church? What is the invisible church? How does the visible church relate to the invisible church? How do the visible and the invisible church relate to the kingdom of heaven? How do these parables talk about the interconnected growth of the visible and the invisible church? What do these parables teach us about the importance of the church? What surprises you or corrects your own thinking about and/or relationship toward the church?