The Parable of the Mustard Seed reads: “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” (Mt 13:31–32). Unquestionably, the image symbolizes something magnificent beyond expectation: a minuscule mustard seed giving rise to a large tree.
Though birds could easily eat a mustard seed, the mustard tree becomes large enough that they flock to it in order to build their nests for their young. The Old Testament provides similar imagery that assists us: birds singing among the tree branches picture peaceful serenity and divine provision (Ps 104:12, 17).
In Daniel 4:12 and Ezekiel 31:3, 6 Daniel portrays Babylon and Assyria (which God providentially prospers, Jer 27:5–8; Eze 31:3, 91) as massive kingdoms to which birds flock to build their nests. Daniel 4:12 indicates that this speaks of the gracious provision of food for all; Ezekiel 31 shows that this symbolizes the king-dom’s fairness, greatness, and provision for all great nations. That is, these kingdoms were great for a time, securing provisions and shelter for men.
But God has a kingdom that also will become a great tree providing a nesting place for the birds and their young. Ezekiel 17:22–24 reads:
I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain. In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree.
This symbolizes the universal magnificence and exaltation of the kingdom of heaven, which will graciously provide shelter for all, when it comes to full fruition. Daniel’s vision seems to provide the specific backdrop of Christ’s parable, which he adapts by recasting it as a mustard plant.2 Both point to the dominance of Christ’s kingdom: the twig is planted on a high mountain above all the trees; the mustard seed becomes the largest plant in the garden. So then, the Mustard Seed Parable s.
1. Cf. Ps 75:6–7; Da 2:21; 4:17, 32; Job 12:23.
2. The language is closest to that of Dn. 4:21.” Nolland, Matthew, 551.See also: France, Matthew, 526–27.