SEVEN PARABLES of Matt.13
The next two parables our Lord spake to reveal still more
of the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens are the parables of the mustard
seed and of the leaven. They belong together. We shall learn in the exposition
of these two parables, how the popular interpretation of them through the
leading commentators of Christendom has turned everything upside down. The fact
is, precisely the opposite our Lord meant is being taught by teachers in
evangelical Christendom. The fault of this erroneous interpretation springs
from the great fundamental error that the Lord has the church in view when He
speaks of the kingdom of the heavens, and that the church is that kingdom.
Therefore it is taken for granted by this false exposition that when the Lord
now speaks of a grain of mustard seed, which becomes a great tree and which
gives shelter to the birds, that this is a prophecy relating to the expansion
of the church. The leaven is therefore made to mean the gospel with its
leavening power. All this is radically wrong. We turn to the parable of the
grain of mustard seed first.
"Another parable set He before them, saying, The kingdom of the heavens is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field, which is less indeed than all seeds, but when it is grown is greater than herbs, and becomes a tree so that the birds of heaven come and roost in its branches."
Here we have the outward development of the kingdom of the heavens as it grows and expands in an unnatural way, and becomes the roosting place of the birds of heaven. As indicated above, the almost universal comment on this musstard seed and its miraculous growth, as it is termed, is that it fully declares the expansion of the church, and the birds of heaven are interpreted as many peoples and nations, who find shelter in the church.
Growing and still growing. the mustard tree reaches over the entire earth, its branches spread out wider and wider and soon (so they tell us) the tree will have covered the earth as the waters cover the deep. It is also a common occurrence that some denominational leader - a bishop or an elder- claims the parable for his denomination and illustrates with it the phenomenal growth of the sect to which he belongs, or claims a great future of success. Again, the history of the"church is resorted to for the sake of showing the fulfillment of this parable and the statistics of Christendom, so many millions of Protestants (including all the infidels, unsaved masses of Germany, England, and every other "evangelical" country) now, so many more than fifty years ago, etc.
Now, if the Lord had meant His church by this illustration, which becomes a tree and the roosting place of birds, if it is really the church. which is his body, then this parable would be in flagrant contradiction with what He and the Holy Spirit teach elsewhere concerning the church in the earth, the mission and the future of the church. The greatest clash of teaching would be the result.
For instance, in His prayer our Lord says concerning His own, those who are one as the Father and Son are one: "They are not of the world, as I am not of the world" (John xvii: 14). The church then, composed of all believers, is not of the world as He is not of the world. The church is from above, as every believer has a life which is from above but for a little while the church is in the world, and in a little while the church will be above, where He is the glorified Head of His body. The mustard seed springing up in the field (do not forget the field is the world), rooting deeper and deeper in the earth and expanding in this unnatural way affording room for birds, is the picture of something entirely different. It shows us a system which is rooted in the earth and which aims at greatness in the world, expansion over the earth. The Lord never meant His church to be rooted and grounded in the field, the world. He never called the church to assume such proportions and become an abnormal growth in the earth. Whatever is spoken of Christ is spoken of the church. Suffering and glory, lowliness followed by exaltation, is the way Christ went; it is the way ordained for the church. She is to be lowly, flow suffering with Him, rejected and disowned by the world as He was, never to reign and rule now, but patiently waiting with Him for the moment when He is manifested and then to share His Throne and His Glory. The calling and destiny of the church is heavenly. Her mission is to shine out Himself and testify of His grace, but never to control and overspread the world. The epistles addressed to the church make this sufficiently clear.
But if the mustard seed and its growth does not mean the church, what does it mean? It means the Kingdom of the heavens, and this is, as we have seen before, professing Christendom. At once the parable becomes illuminated with light. Looked upon in this light, in full harmony with all the Lord teaches in this chapter, all is easily understood. The little mustard seed, which was not destined to be a tree but only a shrub, easily taken out of the garden where it had been planted, develops against its nature into a tree. That which came from Him, the Son of Man, the Sower, develops, committed into the hands of men, into an unnatural thing - one might say, a monstrosity - for such a mustard tree is. This unnatural thing, this monstrosity, is professing Christendom as a system of the world, professing Christ, without possessing Him and His Spirit.
Here we have to call attention to the third message to the churches in Revelation, the second chapter. That is the message to Pergamos, typifying the age of the history of Christendom, beginning with Constantine the Great in the fourth century. The professing church was made a state church. The mustard seed suddenly became the tree, and ever since the professing church has delighted in looking upon herself as a big expanding tree. But notice the perfect agreement - the third parable and the third church message.
The birds which roost in that tree would have to mean, if the parable applies to the church, converted sinners. Do birds ever represent clean persons? We need not go outside of the chapter to answer this. The birds which fell upon the seed which had fallen by the wayside were instruments of Satan. Birds of heaven, or fowls, never mean anything good in Scripture. Abraham stood in the midst of the pieces of the sacrifices and drove away the fowls which were ready to fall upon the pieces (Gen. xv). The animals divided there represent Christ and the fowls nothing good. Birds in this parable mean unsaved, unconverted people and nations who flock for selfish motives to the tree, the outward form of Christendom, and find shelter there. But they defile the tree.
At last the tree will be full grown. Of the full grown tree it is said, "Great Babylon has become the habitation (roosting place) of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird" (Rev. xviii :2).
But let us not forget there is a tree which is to grow up and spread its branches, taking sap out of the root, over the whole earth. This tree is Israel - the good olive tree with its indestructible root. Some of the branches are now broken off and lie upon the ground. Romans xi, however, assures us that God is able to graft them in again. Yet before this olive tree with its holy root, this olive tree with its long promised future, the covenant made with an oath, stands high-minded, boasting Christendom, boasting itself against the branches and claiming to be the tree to overspread the earth and thus attending to Israels earthly calling. Alas! the warning is cast into the winds,"if God spared not the natural branches take heed lest He spare not thee." What a fall it will be when at last that tree, the monstrous tree, falls and is destroyed forever root and all!
But we must now turn our attention to the next parable, the parable of the leaven. "He spoke another parable to them: The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until it had been all leavened" (verse 33). It is, perhaps, unnecessary to state the universal explanation of the parable of the leaven. All the leading commentators of the Bible have accepted it, and it is taught throughout Christendom. However, we must refer to it briefly. The leaven is taken to mean the Gospel and its power. The woman represents the church. The woman takes the leaven and puts it into three measures of meal, which, according to this general exegesis, represents humanity, the entire human family. Here the leaven does, in a hidden manner, its work in an assimilating process in penetrating the whole mass of humanity. That the parable could mean anything but The woman is an apt figure that, which we have briefly outlined, seems to the great majority of teachers and preachers of Christendom next to an impossible thing. It is such a generally accepted view that but few can tear themselves loose from it, and see the true teaching our Lord gives in this fourth parable. One hears so continually statements about the Gospel leaven and prayer that the "good" leaven may do its work, etc., that another explanation of this parable puts one at odds with the bulk of Christian believers. Indeed, this little parable contained in this little verse is apt to revolutionize the conception of many truths revealed in the Word of God. If we then approach this parable with a candid mind, laying aside any prejudice and preconceived ideas and are willing to know and follow the truth at any cost, we shall certainly find the truth and with it great joy and peace. If it revolutionizes our views it will only put us right, for whosoever follows the accepted teachings of men is generally not right of the church. Leaven, a substance kindred, yet quite opposed to meal, having the power of transforming and preserving it, and converting it into bread, thus representing the divine in its relation to, and influence upon, our natural life.
One of the main points of the parable is the hiding or the mixing of the leaven in the three measures of meal. This refers to the great visible church, in which the living Gospel seems, as it were, hidden and lost." If then the leaven means the Gospel, and the woman the church, and the three measures of meal humanity, the Lord would teach that the Gospel, through the instrumentality of the church, is to permeate humanity, and that the world is to be converted by the assimilating power of the Gospel in penetrating the whole mass of humanity. Such, of course, is the belief, the unscriptural belief, of Christendom. But if the Lord teaches any such doctrine in this parable He manifestly contradicts Himself, a thing impossible with Him, who is infallible. We have seen in the second parable that the wheat and the tares grow together until the time of the harvest. This eaicludes the thought of world conversion in this age. This age, as we have seen, is a mixed one, and these conditions prevail to the end of it. If our Lord meant the leaven to permeate the whole lump of humanity then He teaches something entirely different from what He taught in the second parable.
But let us turn our attention to the word "leaven." We should not forget that our Lord as the teacher, as Nicodemus called Him, come from God, was according to the flesh the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. These to whom He speaks were Jews. Now the hearers of the parable certainly understood what was meant by leaven. No Jew would ever dream that leaven used in illustrating some power of process, could stand for something good. Leaven with the Jews means always evil. It was excluded from every offering of the Lord made by fire. Conscientiously the orthodox Jew searches his dwelling before keeping the feast of the unleavened bread, if perhaps somewhere a morsel of bread with some leaven may be hid. He purges out the leaven. The word leaven, however, is not used here exclusively. We find it a number of times in the New Testament; the question is for what does it stand in the other passages? Three times our Lord uses the word leaven besides here in the parable. He speaks of the leaven of the Pharisees, the leaven of the Sadducees and the leaven of Herod. (Matt. xvi:12; Mark viii:15.) Does he mean some good quality of the Pharisees and Sadducees when He mentions leaven in connection with them? Certainly not, He cautions His disciples to beware of that leaven. He terms the hypocrisy of the ritualistic Pharisee, leaven, and the rationalism of the Sadducees and worldliness of Herod is leaven. The Holy Spirit furthermore uses the.word leaven only in an evil sense (i Cor. v:6; Gal. v:9). It is then evident in Scripture language leaven never means anything good, always stands for evil and corruption. It is impossible that it should mean only once something good, and that the Lord without any further comment, should use it here as a type of the gospel.
But let us turn to the question of the three measures of meal. What do they represent? The faulty but accepted teaching is, that the Lord means corrupted humanity by it. However, this is as impossible as it is for leaven to be something good. Where does the meal come from? Surely any child can answer this, the meal comes from the wheat. Tares, the type of evil, corruption, never yield fine, wholesome meal. Meal is the product of the good seed only. Good, nutritious and pure as it is, it can never represent the unregenerated mass of humanity. But we have still greater evidence. Three measures of meal (an ephah) stand in type for Christ, the corn of wheat and the bread of life. When Abraham comforted the Lord (Genesis xviii) it was by three measures of meal and a calf. Both are typical of Christ, His Person and His Work. He is good, pure, holy, undefiled, as well as that which He has given, His Word. It is therefore all folly to twist Scripture language around, and make the three measures of meal mean corruption, when it always denotes purity.
Again, if the Gospel is leaven, and this leaven is to pervade the whole mass of humanity, we have an additional contradiction. Does the Gospel really work like leaven? How does leaven work? It is put into meal and then it works by itself. That is all. Simply put it there, leave it alone, it is bound to leaven the whole lump. But this is not the way the Gospel works the power of God unto salvation.
Conceding that it is true, the Gospel is leaven and is to pervade the whole lump, then we can readily say the "Gospel leaven" is the biggest failure which has ever been put out. There is no nation, nor even a town or hamlet which has ever been successfully "leavened" by the Gospel.
The process is then a failure, the Gospel does not accomplish the leavening of the lump. It has not done it in 1000 years. The inference which comes next is, that in giving such a prophecy the speaker, our Lord, was mistaken.
We have now torn down the false explanation of the parable, and laid the foundation upon which we can easily build and grasp the true meaning of the parable. Leaven is error, evil, corruption The good pure meal stands for truth, for Christ and his Word. The leaven corrupts the meal, it changes that which is good, and attacks in a hidden way its purity, till it has pervaded the whole mass. The Lord teaches in the parable how evil doctrine will corrupt the fine meal, the doctrine of Christ. It follows the parable of the mustard seed. First the professing church was lifted up into prominence, and the next step was the woman who put leaven into the three measures of meal. Pergamos, the period of church history, in which the professing church is married (the meaning of Pergamos) to the state and the world, is followed by the fourth period, that of Thyatira. This fourth message corresponds to the parable of the woman and the leaven. A woman, the woman Jezebel, is mentioned in Revelation ii. No doubt she stands for Rome. The woman in the parable represents the same, the apostate church, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth. She has with her evil doctrine, the leaven, corrupted the fine meal, the doctrine of Christ. And now this leaven works in professing Christendom. It has not yet fully pervaded all, the whole is not yet leavened. The true believers, the church, still on the earth, are a hindrance to the full leavening process of evil. But the church will be removed from the earth, then the whole lump will be leavened. The fire alone can arrest the leaven in its work. The fire will make an end of the leaven. This explanation is the only correct one, for it agrees perfectly not only with the teaching of our Lord in the previous parables, but with Scripture as a whole. The evil conditions in which the kingdom of the heavens gets in the hands of men, during the absence of the Lord, is here fully declared. Christendom, Rome, the mother of harlots, and the daughters, is,evidence enough and proof how the Revealer of Secrets revealed things to come. All these parables show the growth of evil, and are prophecies extending over the entire age in which we live. May we bow before the Word and follow the Word and its clear teachings, the oracles of God, rather than the "voice of the church" or "the doctrines of men."
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