Monday, July 2, 2007

the mustard tree

As I've been reading through the New Testament now, I've found that Jesus tells a lot of stories that start, "The kingdom of heaven is like..." and proceeds to give an illustration of some aspect of God's domain. The story of the mustard seed is one of those stories, found almost verbatim both in Matthew 13: 31-32 and Luke 13: 18-19. Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches." (Matthew)

Many of you know that I have a personal ongoing project called Tree Stories, with an accompanying blog at, so the story of heaven being like a tree was something I had to jump at. So the first thing I set out to do was find out what a mustard tree looked like, and see if there were any near me that I could get a photograph of. Not long into my online research, I realized there is no such thing as a mustard tree - so what, I had to ask, was Jesus talking about? And I found a commentary that seemed to answer that exact question, better than anything I had ever heard. (Unfortunately I don't know where that was, but if someone else finds it again, I'll put a link in here.)

So here's what Jesus was saying, that heaven is like a seed you plant, the tiniest of seeds, expecting to get a bush, actually a pretty big bush from such a small seed, and what you get is a tree, larger than anything else in the garden, bigger and better than you would have ever expected. It's not just the concept of a huge thing coming from a small thing, like I have seen some translations make the story a pine nut and a huge pine tree - no, heaven is more than what you expect, impossible for you to completely imagine, better than your wildest dreams! Jesus wasn't referring to some obscure tree and as the Creator himself, he certainly knew that trees don't grow from mustard seeds - but he wanted us to understand that is exactly what heaven is like - the impossible come to life.

So this will become one of my Visions of Heaven, also one of my Tree Stories, and the title is Tree Story #30: The Mustard Tree. This colored version here is just a colored copy, but I'll post the final here when I get that far. I've got other pieces that are Visions of Heaven Tree Stories, which you can find on my Tree Stories blog, but I'll post here with a little more commentary at a later date.

(If you click on the "mustard tree" link below, you will see all my posts on the subject, including the final piece.)


Unknown said...

Thanks a mil. I was looking for a picture of the mustard tree and came across your commentary. I think it is actually better than finding a tree. I will use your thoughts in my children's story next month. God is great.

Beevo said...

I, too, was looking for a picture or description of a mustard tree.Knowing only the weed that grows rampant in the fields..never a tree. Your interpretation is helpful. Thank you.

Pastor Jaci said...

Ditto. Your painting is beautiful. I plan on "quoting" it in a paper. I will definitely footnote you.

Caroline said...

Doing a sermon on how small is greater than big. Thought I should look at a mustard tree to see if I was missing anything and found that it doesn't exist!! Can't get smaller or greater than that!
Less is more and dying to the self is what gives us life in Him. Praise His wonderful name!

Unknown said...

I started to teach on the kingdom of heaven, and saw your comment, thanks for your work.
Now, this is my imput:
There is no such thing as a mustard tree, but what Jesus the Messiah is teaching is about is "The Kingdom Of Heaven". the subject is not a mustard seed, that is just the example.
So, "The Kingdom Of Heaven" (the vision of the expansion of the gospel) is sown in the field of a man; meanining the heart. Now, this is the punch line:
When the seed grows, is one of the big vegetables (considering the size of the seed) but that's now all!
The Kingdom Of Heaven (not the mustar seed), does a quantum leap, from one size to the another. then the birds find refuge in the branches; meaning that when the vision grows, becomes a place of refuge to people. (spiritual support)
Please, pray for ministries with vision, religious people and the media usually attack them and critize them. Big ministries impact the world. Many others never grow. But the Kingdom Of Heaven is always expanding.

Unknown said...

I am thinking the meaning or one of the meanings may be far more insidious if you are offended by it's meaning or perhaps illuminating if you are enlightened by this application. Taken at His word, the Kingdom of God is like a freak tree that does not exist, one that has grown far beyond the divine command of to reproduce each after its own kind. In other words, the Kingdom of God becomes a perverted farce of what was intended. The second part of this verse may be the most frightening. What do the birds represent? What in general do birds represent in The Word? Classically one can draw the connection between Doves specifically and the Spirit of God but this does not use the term for Doves it uses birds. And what were the birds specifically doing in Jesus' other parables? Were they not devouring the Word? Note, Jesus said the key to understanding his parables is understanding the parable of the sower of seeds. Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4:13) Clearly it is Satan/Birds that are devouring the Word. Is Jesus simply telling us, and his audience then that the Kingdom of God has grown into a perverse caricature of its intended design and is occupied by Satan? Can one not clearly see Jesus' attitude toward the Pharisees and Sadducees in this parable? Could it possibly be that the deep unsettling in our spirit in "church" at some of the things we see taking place, some of the teachings we hear, some of the activities encouraged are the result of the Spirit of the Living God in the saved in turmoil at Satanic teachings in the "church"? The more I look at this parable in light of all of his recorded parables I am drawn to this interpretation. I think He is warning us of Satan in the church. Look, his audience knew well and good that a mustard tree did not occur, it is a scruffy little bush.

Food for thought?

Unknown said...

Can a mustard seed become a large tree?

"With man this is impossible, but with GOD all things are possible." -- LORD Jesus Christ (Matthew 19:26)


Unknown said...

According to Strongs Concordance there is such a tree as the Mustard tree. Here is the copy and paste of it..KJV Concordance for -mustard tree-
Strongs #4615 Mustard seed
The name of a plant which in oriental countries grows from a very small seed and attains to the height of a TREE, 10 feet (3 m) AND MORE; hence a very small quantity of a thing is likened to a mustard seed, and also a thing which grows to a remarkable size.
Here are pictures of the Mustard trees..

Unknown said...

Did not find a digital photo of a large mustard tree at the link you have provided.

What does Jesus want?

santhosh P kumar said...

Hello Judith,
When i was readind Mark 4:30-32 The Parable of musterd seed and tree i started to search in google and i came to your blog and was happy to see musterd tree.

Iam santhosh P kumar from Kolar gold fiels, India

thank you

God Bless You

Unknown said...

Christopher's thoughts on it are probably most exegetically correct. You have to look at the parable within the context and right after it they talk about yeast. Christ didn't use yeast in positive ways. "Yeast of the Pharisees" Also birds were also most often used to indicate something evil because they feed off of fruit and in this case they eat the fruit off of the tree making it not as fruitful. When the people first heard this they were probably like what does this mean cause a mustard seed grows into a bush not a tree so Jesus was saying the church is going to grow into something it's not intended to be and will be big enough to house/nest evil or people who use the church for their selfish gain.

Regardless which interpretation you should apply God's Word and not take it as food for thought but use God's truths from scripture and live a transformed life through the Word.

Unknown said...

I came across this blog when looking for a picture of a mustard seed. I love your pictures. And I know the conversation started a long time ago, but I would like to add a few things.

Jesus spoke many times of the kingdom of heaven/God. A kingdom is the thing that is within the king's domain. Jesus preached "repent for the kingdom is at hand/near" and he also said "the kingdom is upon you." Jesus is the King of kings. where He is, the kingdom of heaven is. He also taught us to pray "thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."

The kingdom of heaven is at its fullest in Christ. That is why where ever Jesus went, the sick were healed, demons were cast out, and the dead even raised. Because none of those things exist in the kingdom of heaven and Jesus walked in such a way that he brought heaven to earth. He passed this authority on to his disciples, telling them to do the same thing. And he wanted us to have "life abundant", which by definition would require complete surrender to Jesus and the Holy Spirit (which would mean that God's domain/kingdom is expanding in us). So, we too, are called to expand Christs kingdom on earth preaching "repent because the kingdom is near".

The kingdom of heaven is more powerful than anything that we can understand in earthly terms. Just as a small mustard seed becomes a massive tree that blesses birds and all who see it, so too, does the seed that is planted in good ground (in our hearts) grow to become much larger than what was originally sown. The kingdom expands, because it is its nature to grow. (Interestingly, the universe itself is continuing to expand, according to physicists, which I think reflects nicely on the kingdom of heaven expanding, as well. The physical reality imitates the spiritual reality).

Until you understand that the kingdom of heaven is meant to dwell within us, most of Jesus's parables about the kingdom of heaven will remain partly veiled to you. When we die, we live. That is, when we die to this earth (figuratively), our Spirit lives and steps, at least in part, into the kingdom of heaven. When we physically die, assuming we are known by Christ, we will physically enter the kingdom of heaven, in full. I pray that the kingdom of heaven takes a hold of your mind, so that you may unlock the mysteries that Jesus spoke of (see Matthew 13).

And to respond to an earlier comment: "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." (Matthew 13:33). In other words, God's kingdom is meant to take over all of us, working its way through your entire being. Likewise, he warned against the "yeast of the Pharisees" because that evil spirit/mindset/heart can work its way through your entire being as well and ruin you. The yeast of the kingdom of heaven is good. The yeast of the pharisees is destructive.

Should it be any surprise that Jesus uses yeast sometimes as good and sometimes as an example of something bad? No. Because yeast is neither. Rather, he is speaking of the way that yeast can transform.

and are birds inherently evil? Are they always representing something evil? Absolutely not. Didn't God use the ravens to feed Elijah? And didn't Jesus speak of how God feeds the birds of the air? No, the birds here, clearly represent how the kingdom of heaven itself will bless those around, and even creation itself, because the kingdom of heaven is inherently 100% good. The kingdom of heaven is not to be confused with the kingdoms of this earth.

Thanks for starting this discussion.

Anonymous said...

The explanation I have heard (and accept) is that the mustard tree is an obvious example of unnatural growth. You can't "fool" farmers about mustard; they experience it all the time, as it grows wild. Mustard is an annual, which means that it lives by dying, casting seeds for new life. While a single mustard plant may be buffeted by the wind, a field of plants will support each other. If a "bird of the air" (see the Parable of the Sower) or an evil one, were to nest in a mustard plant, it would crush and destroy it, but the others would be unaffected. If the mustard were to grow into a tree, the whole structure would continue to support the evil one in its midst.

Mustard is a sharp flavor, improving many foods. It is an irritant (from the Greek word to sting), so a mustard plaster stimulates blood flow and, thus, healing. Mustard is for all classes, from the modest packets grabbed at McDonalds to the jars of Grey Poupon shared between chauffeured limos.

BTW, mustard gas is not related to the mustard seed, so that's something completely different.

Lanny said...

I am boggled that anyone can ascribe an evil interpretation to the parable of the mustard seed. Yehoshua said to beware lest we stray from the simplicity that is in Him.

I am delighted with the interpretation that the Kingdom of Heaven turns out to be more than we ever expected, and displays that nothing is impossible with God. Indeed, that is what my walk with God has been like.

At first, I came to Him because I realized that Hell is real and I don't want to go there, and then I fell in love with Yehoshua as I got to know Him better.

Here is another aspect of the parable, which I have written about on my website at Yehoshua is the mustard seed and the man in the parable is God.

God sent His Son to the Earth in a form that was small and despised, as a baby born in a stable to a woman who was suspected of adultery and had Him raised by a humble carpenter to be just a humble carpenter Himself - no university degrees, no prestige, no seat on the Sanhedrin.

Then that despised seed was crucified and cast into the ground, and from His sacrifice and resurrection came the Church, which has many branches (denominations) according to the various revelations that God has given to the Church over time.

Some people are attracted more to some truths than to other truths, so that is where they choose to grow, and the angels of God are the birds of the air who rest upon those branches and savour the other mustard seeds that have come from that one mustard seed, studying the mystery of salvation.

Karen F (India) said...

Thank you. I guess I am one of whom Jesus said "oh ye of little faith" - I planted a seed and was wondering if it would ever grow big - so I needed to see a picture of the tree when it is fully gown. Thank you, I should plant this seed in my heart - for great FAITH.

Judith said...

I am amazed and humbled at the ongoing discussion this post has generated... not sure if it's clear, but you can see the finished piece at this link:

michael said...

amazed at all the spiritual insights of some, which is very interesting. The mustard seed is the smallest and does not develop into a tree. Although the kingdom of heaven may start out small in your heart it develops into a mighty and powerful tree in your heart. The kingdom is Christ in you is the hope of glory of which Jesus commented when he healed the multitudes he said that the kingdom of God had come close to them, also he told us if we had faith as a mustard seed, we could say to the mountain be removed and it would have to obey us. Some people thinks this is unrealistic like the mustard seed making a tree not in the seeds -DNA-but if we are in the kindom all things are possible to him that believes, we are supposed topreach and teach the kingdom to the world ,didn't Jesus say pray that the kingdom would be manifested on earth when we pray and we are supposed to manifest his kingdom allthought originally it was not in our-DNA-until we were born again of this seed of the word of God.

Antaraxia said...

I was talking to my boyfriend about the process that a mustard seed goes through in the ground, before the plant ever gets to see the light of day. Such a tiny little seed needs to crack, to break so that it can bear its "fruit". That must be painful, but it's worth it. So, whenever and whatever you're going through in your life, even though the process might seem too hard and painful, endure it!! Wait and you'll see the blessings of God abundantly in your life. Be as a mustard seed, accept the pain and God will make beauty from pain, things you've never seen before, things you've never imagined possible... will happen. Because God's promises are a rock for our feet, Jesus is our strong tower and in HIM we live.

Anonymous said...

Even though I know you'll toss this comment, site owner, you should consider this. Rather than explaining it clearly, God has to resort to humans to explain what he "really" meant? That might work but Christians can't agree on what that "really" is at all. Why is that? Which of you have the "right" story? How can you tell?

Judith said...

Hello Annon, I would never omit an on-topic comment. But I do have to moderate comments to prevent spam...

When it comes to understanding God, what makes you think we even have the capacity to fully understand him, when we can't even manage to understand each other so much of the time?

As for who is right? I'm looking forward to finding that out when we all get to hang out together for eternity and I do know that God is very clear about how I can do that: acknowledge that I can never live up to God's standards because I will always mess up; ask for forgiveness and accept his son Jesus for taking my punishment by dying for me, then live my life for him to the very best of my abilities, misunderstandings and all...

Peace to you!

Anonymous said...

There are only 5 times that mustard seed is used in the New Testament. The Greek word 'sinapis'...interesting in itself.

Definition by Bullinger's Critical Lexicon is "a plant often growing in Palestine to a considerable size. I would like to give more about this in the Greek but find a limited ability with current symbols.

Anonymous said...

Also in Bullinger "it is a proverbial phrase for the smallest particle"...Artistotle said it was the atom??? Now we know more?

Simply Divine Photography said...

I can't tell if my original comment actually posted ~ But I love this post and the accompanying links to the rest of the Mustard Seed/Tree story. Love your art and writing!

loneeagle26016 said...

In one of the first world war story written by a soldier from the northeast India, he mentioned a mustard tree which is so big and one can climb on it to pluck the leaves...I'm searching for that kinda tree and Google landed me simply to this blog...and dont know who you guys are..but I'm a christian too ! Wait, this guy I told you about is not some one who'd tell lies..there must some kind of mustard trees which can hold humans and worth climbing to it in France...since I found this blog, tempted to drop Have a great day and God bless you !

Anonymous said...

Love Worth Finding with Dr. Adrian Rogers, has a good explanation of the parable.

Anonymous said...

I am writing devotions for our youth on growing in faith and I was looking for a picture of a mustard seed tree - finding this was soooo much better, I'll definitely share this

Kristin said...

I can't not respond to this discussion. First of all, Mustard Tress/Shrubs can grow to 20 feet and can also be that wide. So, they are pretty big and they originated in the Middle East (Iran). So, it was a plant familiar to the people Jesus was talking to. He always used parables that would have been familiar in that culture. And, 20 feet it pretty big...just saying.

Another comment - I urge every reader of the Bible to please PRAY when reading scripture for clarification. The reason why people are so offended by Christianity today is because people are quick to talk and slow to listen (to God). When we read scripture, we need to empty out our preconceived notions and human/shallow wisdom and open our minds and hearts to allow God to teach us. Then we will be like an empty jar waiting to be filled.

In spiritual discussions, what's important is not what you say - it is how well you have communicated the TRUTH. If it's not truth, don't say it.

Anonymous said...

I have another idea you might want to consider. I heard a Rabbi give this explanation of the mustard tree parable and to me it makes more sense than the explanation you give here. We need to remember that Christ was a Jew, taught Jews and we need to learn to think like a Jew. What if he was referring to what we consider the church instead of heaven? What if he planted his church to be small and vibrant plant but instead it grew into this huge tree that was never intended to be like that. We know that birds of the air is used all through scripture as unclean or evil. So what if the church grew into this huge thing that it was never meant to become and evil came and made a home in it. Seems to acurrately describe the fallen state of the "Church" we now have and that is described in Rev. as the apostate church. Seems to me that Christ wouldnt need to hide the truth in a parable if he was just saying heaven is a great place. Just a thought.

Judith said...

Another take on the Mustard Tree, forwarded to me:

Anonymous said...

“Another parable He put forth to them, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.’” —Matthew 13:31–32
The third parable of Matthew 13 is about the mustard seed that grew to become the greatest of the herbs. The basic message is about the success of the mustard tree, and it speaks of the success that the Church had over all the other religions when the Roman Empire became officially Christian. This third period we have titled the “Christian” Roman Empire.

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, “These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” —Revelation 2:12–17

Christ then warned Pergamum of their idolatry and immorality.
This prophetically showed what then began to happen during the Church of the Roman Empire, when the Church triumphed over the pagan religions only to begin backsliding in its popularity and prosperity.
The interpretation of their name, “exalted,” speaks of their triumph over the pagan religions, just as the mustard seed of the third parable also grew greater than all the other herbs.
The name of Pergamos translates as “exalted, lofty, or citadel.” The city was given this name because of its commanding position on a high hill overlooking the Caicus valley.
This name suggests a similar meaning to the parable of the mustard seed that grew up to be an “exalted” tree. However, in Christ’s warnings to the church we also see a repeat of the message that the birds (the devil) came to live in the mustard tree (the Church).
While Christ’s letter to the church of Pergamos begins with His approval of several good things in the church, the major part of the message was to tell them to repent. Because of their false doctrines, idolatry, and immorality, the Lord warned that He would judge them. While Christ had given no message of reproof to the suffering church of Smyrna, the church of Pergamos was clearly of different character.

Mary said...

Thank you so much for your truly inspired explanation of the mustard seed tree. I just argued with my husband that Jesus would never have said it was a tree if it was not a tree, because he said there was no such thing as a mustard tree. Now we have both learned a lot because of your words and the words of others in the comments. Wonderful...

Anonymous said...

@ mary may the Lord our God and your Husband fully follow the Lord until the end...God Bless you and your family.

Anonymous said...

There is such a thing as a mustard tree. It is called Salvadore persica.
It is also called the toothbrush tree or the mustard tree. It has lots of health benefits.
There are a few different varieties plants. Some grow into trees which i have read can be up to 15 feet tall.
On that link you will find pictures of the mustard plants found in Israel.
That link will give you some interesting facts about mustard.

Lyn said...

Wow, that is quite awesome, I was going through a sermon by my pastor about the mustard seed and wanted to find out about the growth of the tree but this revelation that you gave is really awesome.
Praise God!

Lyn said...

Wow, that is quite awesome, I was going through a sermon by my pastor about the mustard seed and wanted to find out about the growth of the tree but this revelation that you gave is really awesome.
Praise God!

Patrick said...

I made a comment about the parable of the Mustard Seed from Matthew 13:31-32 coming from Albert Barnes commentary. I am very sorry but I made a mistake on the commentary as it was NOT Albert Barnes, but instead it was Adam Clarke. Again I apologize for the mistake.

Judith said...

And here is Patrick's original comment - my apologies, tiny touchscreens can cause problems sometimes:

During one of my bible studies, I also became more curious about the Mustard Tree that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13: 31-32. I have very fortunately at my dispossl, access to over 500 books on the Bible and research. One of my commentaries, Albert Barnes, as a very good description and explnation about the parble of the Mustard Tree. I is well worth reading and lends a very good insight into what the Lord was indeed talking about. God Bless you and yours

Mary O said...

When I was about 25 years of age I began reading the bible by just opening to a page with eyes shut and pointing to a spot to read. I prayed that whatever questions I had would be answered. This was so exciting for me because I became awe inspired each time I did this. Then one day my finger fell upon the parable of the mustard seed and for the life of me I could grasp the meaning. Consequently, I prayed and prayed until one day I feel the Holy Spirit imbued me with true meaning. The image that I got was that of a porous heart filled with tiny holes. The mustard seed could penetrate here. I began to image this as the virtue of humility. I then envisioned pride as something large like a blanket unable to penetrate the heart but more at smother the heart. The mustard seed became clear to me as the virtue of humility which is charity or perfect love. Pride opposes love. Neither can occupy a same given moment or space in time one is either in a state of humility or pride (charity vs self-fullness). Then I began to relate Jesus to the mustard seed. Jesus was the perfection of charity to us all, the giving of self to all. Jesus was not a worldly king, a rich and Nobel man by worldly standards. He was a simple man yet how is it that he is known loved and revered for over 2000 years. Humility is the key to perfecting love. God is Love. I realized that our life on earth is a trial to perfect love to the best of our ability so we can become one with love for all eternity. Where pride smothers hearts humility infiltrates hearts and is remembered. One can relate to one’s own memories and discover that the real treasures lie in the human touches and not worldly possessions. Again, God is Love and humility is the perfection of Love. Humility is perfect charity. Where one virtue is perfected then the other two Faith and Hope are also perfected. You can apply this to the parable of the yeast as well. In fact, after this realization I found that the whole Bible is centered on this very parable. I then realized that the Bible is virtually flawless as everything relates the virtue Humility.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. First so many people are over looking a few things we are all englis speaking and Jesus spoke Hebrew is it possible that the wording translations could be a little off. Secondly back in Jesus day He didn't have our scientific classificaiton for things. So if I am inclined to believe anyone it would be the fact that Jesus said what He meant and meant what He said. Man came up with these classifications after Jesus had already walked the earth. Third some of those so called shurbs get to be up to 20 feet high, extremely strong and can easily support a birds nest alone. Whatever your interpretation it is to help you. Don't get so caught up in what anyone sees. It is what they see and what God talks to them about that matter. This is really way more than it needs to be.

Anonymous said...

Mustard seed and tree--I think the benefit of the doubt goes to Christ. When he said it grows to a tree--he meant tree. So he's not talking about mustard plants.

believer said...

There most definitely is a mustard tree.It doesn't produce Mustard seeds per-Se,but a fruit that contains seeds that reproduce the tree. The seeds of this tree is much smaller than the seed from the "mustard plant" that produces the mustard seed that the condiment comes from.
A mustard tree is a small tree or bush that grows in the Middle East and Africa. The tree can also grow in the United States in dry, hot climates. The mustard tree does not produce mustard seeds used to make mustard products, but rather produces a fleshy fruit that is very sweet.

BeingBerean said...

At our Sunday morning Bible Study a teaching on this mustard seed like I had me dr heard was given. So I've been searching and came across your site as I was also looking for images of a mustard tree.
Since you asked, you may want to check out David Guziks commentary at
The point was also made that there is a correlation between the parables in this chapter and the seven churches in Revelation. Very interesting.
So on I go to search some more.