26 “The kingdom of God is like this,” He said. “A man scatters seed on the ground;
27 he sleeps and rises—night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he doesn’t know how.
28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head.
29 But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because harvest has come.”
Mark is the only gospel writer who records this parable, which Jesus tells after explaining the parable of the sower to His disciples (Mark 4:13-20) and after admonishing them to share His teachings with others (Mark 4:21-25). Commentators like Herbert Lockyer believe this parable “can be regarded as supplementary to the parable of The Sower, being designed to complete the history of the growth of the good seed which fell on the good ground. It is one of the three parables which reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom of God in terms of a sower’s work” (All the Parables of the Bible).
The central theme of this parable is that God is sovereign over His kingdom. Christ’s disciples are to labor faithfully in His fields, but it is God who gives the growth (see 1 Cor. 3:5-8).
The central character in this parable is the man who “scatters seed on the ground” (Mark 4:26). This represents all those whom God uses to establish His kingdom in the hearts of men. Christ has finished the work of redemption and has given to His followers the responsibility of carrying the gospel message to the entire world (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). God the Father draws people to Christ and grants them everlasting life through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, bringing the spiritually dead to new life in Christ. As Matthew Henry writes, “… we know not how the Spirit by the word makes a change in the heart, any more than we can account for the blowing of the wind, which we hear the sound of, but cannot tell whence it comes, or whither it goes” (Matthew Henry Unabridged). On this side of heaven, believers will never fully understand how God works to populate His kingdom, yet we are called to faithfully spread the good news of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14; Mark 1:14).
According to Herbert Lockyer in All the Parables of the Bible, “Our Lord was directing His disciples to the three stages of The Kingdom of God:”
1. The blade, or the kingdom in mystery (the church age);
2. The ear, or the kingdom in manifestation throughout the millennial kingdom;
3. The full corn, or the kingdom in its majestic perfection after God creates new heavens and a new earth.
While other commentators apply this parable to the believer’s personal spiritual growth, Lockyer’s interpretation seems to fit Jesus’ other parables of the kingdom of heaven. The Jews in Jesus’ day are expecting the kingdom to come in a singular, dramatic event. Yet Jesus teaches through His parables that the kingdom of heaven is both a present reality and a future hope, growing to full maturity over a long period of time.
Let’s look more closely at other elements in this parable:
- The seed. Most certainly this is “the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). As Jesus explains following the parable of the sower, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11) – the good news that the kingdom has come in the Person of Jesus the Messiah and that all may enter into the kingdom by faith in Him, the Word (Logos, John 1:1).
- The ground. As in the parable of the sower, the ground symbolizes the human heart. The ground cannot sow and it cannot reap, but it may receive the seed. The starting place of the kingdom of heaven is the heart captivated by God. When Jesus says, “The soil produces a crop by itself” (v. 28), we are not required “to suppose that our Saviour meant to say that the earth had any productive power by itself, but only that it produced its fruits not by the power of man. God gives it its power…. So religion in the heart is not by the power of man” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
- The mystery of the growth. The sower sleeps, rises and does not know how the seed bursts forth into life and fruitfulness. In the same way, we do not understand the mysterious work of God in the hearts of men and women. Nor can we fully fathom His work in bringing the kingdom to full maturity. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways…. For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
- The harvest. This may be looked upon as the consummation of all things (Matt. 13:39) – “the most glorious consummation when with the devil forever vanquished, and sin completely destroyed, and the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth, Jesus will surrender all things to the Father” (All the Parables of the Bible).
Just as Christ’s kingdom will grow to full maturity, God’s design for His children is that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, [growing]into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:13).