You Do Not Know Where It Will Have Success!
“In the morning sow your seed and until the evening do not let your hand rest; for you are not knowing where this will have success.”—ECCL. 11:6.
1. Why is witnessing the growth process both amazing and humbling?
A FARMER needs to be patient. (Jas. 5:7) After sowing the seed, he needs to wait for it to sprout and grow. Gradually, when conditions are favorable, shoots begin to appear, breaking through the surface of the ground. Then they develop into plants that sprout heads of grain. Eventually, the farmer has a field ready to be harvested. How amazing it is to witness the miracle of growth! How humbling, too, to realize who is the Source of this growth. We can nurture the seed. We can assist with the watering process. But only God can make it grow.—Compare 1 Corinthians 3:6.
2. What points did Jesus teach about spiritual growth in the illustrations considered in the preceding article?
2 As mentioned in the preceding article, Jesus likened the Kingdom-preaching work to a farmer’s sowing of seed. In the illustration of the different types of soil, Jesus emphasized that even though the farmer sows good seed, the heart condition of an individual determines whether the seed grows to maturity or not. (Mark 4:3-9) In the illustration of the sower who sleeps, Jesus highlighted that the farmer does not fully understand the process of growth. This is because growth is due to God’s power, not to human efforts. (Mark 4:26-29) Let us now consider three more of Jesus’ illustrations—the mustard grain, the leaven, and the dragnet.a
The Illustration of the Mustard Grain
3, 4. The illustration of the mustard grain highlights what aspects concerning the Kingdom message?
3 The illustration of the mustard grain, also recorded in Mark chapter 4, highlights two things: first, the amazing growth of the Kingdom message; second, the protection given to those who accept the message. Jesus said: “With what are we to liken the kingdom of God, or in what illustration shall we set it out? Like a mustard grain, which at the time it was sown in the ground was the tiniest of all the seeds that are on the earth—but when it has been sown, it comes up and becomes greater than all other vegetables and produces great branches, so that the birds of the heaven are able to find lodging under its shadow.”—Mark 4:30-32.
4 Here we find portrayed the growth of “the kingdom of God” as evidenced by the spread of the Kingdom message and the growth of the Christian congregation from Pentecost 33 C.E. onward. A mustard grain is a tiny seed that can represent something very small. (Compare Luke 17:6.) Eventually, though, a mustard plant may attain a height of from 10 to 15 feet [3-5 m] and have sturdy branches, thus virtually becoming a tree.—Matt. 13:31, 32.
5. What growth was experienced by the first-century Christian congregation?
5 The growth of the Christian congregation started in a small way in 33 C.E. when about 120 disciples were anointed with holy spirit. Within a relatively short period of time, this tiny congregation of disciples came to include thousands of believers. (Read Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:28; 6:7; 12:24; 19:20.) Within three decades, the number of harvest workers had expanded so much that the apostle Paul could say to the congregation in Colossae that the good news had already been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Col. 1:23) What spectacular growth!
6, 7. (a) What expansion has taken place since 1914? (b) What further growth will take place?
6 Since the establishment of God’s Kingdom in heaven in 1914, the branches of the mustard “tree” have expanded beyond expectations. God’s people have seen the literal fulfillment of the prophecy recorded by Isaiah: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation.” (Isa. 60:22) The small group of anointed ones associated with the Kingdom work early in the 20th century had no way of knowing that by the year 2008, about seven million Witnesses would be engaging in this work in over 230 lands. Truly amazing growth, comparable to that of the mustard grain in Jesus’ illustration!
7 But does the growth stop there? No. The subjects of God’s Kingdom will eventually encompass the entire earth. All opposers will have been removed. This will not occur as a result of human efforts but because of the intervention of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah in earth’s affairs. (Read Daniel 2:34, 35.) We will then see the final fulfillment of another prophecy recorded by Isaiah: “The earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isa. 11:9.
8. (a) Whom do the birds in Jesus’ illustration represent? (b) From what are we protected even now?
8 Jesus says that the birds of the heaven are able to find lodging under the shadow of this Kingdom. These birds do not represent enemies of the Kingdom who try to eat up the good seeds, as was true of the birds in the illustration of the man who scattered seed on different kinds of soil. (Mark 4:4) Rather, in this illustration the birds represent righthearted ones who seek protection within the confines of the Christian congregation. Even now, these ones are protected from the spiritually defiling habits and unclean practices of this wicked world. (Compare Isaiah 32:1, 2.) Jehovah similarly likened the Messianic Kingdom to a tree and stated prophetically: “On the mountain of the height of Israel I shall transplant it, and it will certainly bear boughs and produce fruit and become a majestic cedar. And under it there will actually reside all the birds of every wing; in the shadow of its foliage they will reside.”—Ezek. 17:23.
The Illustration of the Leaven
9, 10. (a) What point did Jesus emphasize in the illustration of the leaven? (b) In the Bible, what does leaven often represent, and what question about Jesus’ reference to leaven will we consider?
9 Growth is not always visible to human eyes. In his next illustration, Jesus emphasizes this point. He says: “The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three large measures of flour, until the whole mass was fermented.” (Matt. 13:33) What does this leaven represent, and how does it relate to the growth of the Kingdom?
10 In the Bible, leaven is often used to represent sin. The apostle Paul referred to leaven in this way when speaking of the corrupting influence of a sinner in the congregation in ancient Corinth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8) Was Jesus now using leaven to represent the growth of something negative?
11. How was leaven used in Israel of old?
11 Before answering that question, we need to take note of three basic facts. First, although Jehovah did not allow leaven during the time of the Passover festival, at other times he did accept sacrifices that contained leaven. Leaven was used in connection with thanksgiving communion offerings, in which the offerer voluntarily made his presentation in a spirit of thankfulness for Jehovah’s many blessings. This meal was one of cheerfulness.—Lev. 7:11-15.
12. What can we learn from the way the Bible uses word pictures?
12 Second, although an element may on one occasion have a negative connotation in the Scriptures, on another occasion the same element may be used to represent something positive. For example, at 1 Peter 5:8, Satan is likened to a lion, picturing his dangerous, vicious nature. But at Revelation 5:5, Jesus is likened to a lion—“the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah.” In the latter case, the lion is used as a symbol of courageous justice.
13. What does Jesus’ illustration of the leaven show about spiritual growth?
13 Third, in Jesus’ illustration, he did not say that the leaven corrupted the whole mass of flour, making it unusable. He simply referred to the normal process of making bread. The housewife deliberately added the leaven, and the results were positive. The leaven was hidden in the mass of flour. Thus, the leavening process was hidden from the view of the housewife. This reminds us of the man who sows seed and sleeps at night. Jesus said that “the seed sprouts and grows tall, just how [the man] does not know.” (Mark 4:27) What a simple way to illustrate the unseen progression of spiritual growth! We may not see the growth initially, but eventually its results become manifest.
14. What aspect of the preaching work is illustrated by the fact that the leaven ferments the whole mass?
14 Not only is this growth unseen to human eyes but it is also pervasive. This is another aspect emphasized in the illustration of the leaven. The leaven ferments the whole mass, all “three large measures of flour.” (Luke 13:21) Like leaven, the Kingdom-preaching work that has prompted this spiritual growth has expanded to the point that the Kingdom is now being preached “to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8; Matt. 24:14) What a wonderful privilege it is to be part of this amazing expansion of the Kingdom work!
15, 16. (a) Summarize the illustration of the dragnet. (b) What does the dragnet represent, and to what aspect of Kingdom growth does this illustration allude?
15 More important than the number of those who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ is the quality of those disciples. Jesus alludes to this aspect of Kingdom growth when he gives another illustration, one about a dragnet. He said: “Again the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up fish of every kind.”—Matt. 13:47.
16 The dragnet, which represents the Kingdom-preaching work, gathers fish of every kind. Jesus goes on to say: “When [the dragnet] got full they hauled it up onto the beach and, sitting down, they collected the fine ones into vessels, but the unsuitable they threw away. That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous and will cast them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”—Matt. 13:48-50.
17. The separating mentioned in the illustration of the dragnet refers to what time period?
17 Does this separating refer to the final judgment of the sheep and the goats that Jesus said would occur when he arrived in his glory? (Matt. 25:31-33) No. That final judgment will occur at Jesus’ coming during the great tribulation. By contrast, the separating referred to in the illustration of the dragnet occurs during “the conclusion of the system of things.”b This is the time in which we are now living—the days leading up to the great tribulation. So how is a separating work taking place now?
18, 19. (a) How is a separating work taking place now? (b) What step must honesthearted ones take? (See also footnote on page 21.)
18 Literally millions of symbolic fish from the sea of humanity have been attracted to Jehovah’s congregation in modern times. Some attend the Memorial, others come to our meetings, and still others are happy to study the Bible. But do all of these prove to be genuine Christians? They may be “hauled up onto the beach,” but Jesus tells us that only “the fine ones” are gathered into vessels, which represent Christian congregations. The unsuitable are thrown away, eventually to be cast into a symbolic fiery furnace, denoting future destruction.
19 As with the unsuitable fish, many who once studied the Bible with Jehovah’s people have stopped studying. Some born to Christian parents have never really wanted to become footstep followers of Jesus. They have been unwilling to make the decision to serve Jehovah or after serving him for a while have ceased doing so.c (Ezek. 33:32, 33) It is imperative, though, that all honesthearted ones allow themselves to be gathered into the vessellike congregations before the final day of judgment and to remain in a place of safety.
20, 21. (a) What have we learned from reviewing Jesus’ illustrations concerning growth? (b) What are you determined to do?
20 So, what have we learned from our brief review of Jesus’ illustrations concerning growth? First, like the growth of the mustard grain, there has been a tremendous growth in the Kingdom interests here on earth. Nothing can stop the spread of Jehovah’s work! (Isa. 54:17) Additionally, spiritual protection has been provided for those who have sought “lodging under [the tree’s] shadow.” Second, it is God who makes it grow. Just as the hidden leaven spread through the whole mass, this growth has not always been readily discernible or understood, but spread it does! Third, not all those who responded have proved themselves suitable. Some have been like the unsuitable fish in Jesus’ illustration.
21 How encouraging, though, it is to see so many suitable ones being drawn by Jehovah! (John 6:44) This has resulted in spectacular increases in country after country. All glory for this growth goes to Jehovah God. Witnessing this, each of us should be motivated to obey the admonition written centuries ago: “In the morning sow your seed . . . , for you are not knowing where this will have success, either here or there, or whether both of them will alike be good.”—Eccl. 11:6.
a The following explanations are an adjustment to what was previously explained in the June 15, 1992, issue of The Watchtower, pages 17-22, and the October 1, 1975, issue, pages 589-608.
b Although Matthew 13:39-43 refers to a different aspect of the Kingdom-preaching work, the time of its fulfillment parallels the time of the fulfillment of the dragnet illustration, namely, during “the conclusion of the system of things.” The separating of the symbolic fish is an ongoing process, just as the sowing and harvesting work is continual throughout this time period.—The Watchtower, October 15, 2000, pages 25-26; Worship the Only True God, pages 178-181, paragraphs 8-11.
c Does this mean that everyone who has stopped studying or associating with Jehovah’s people has been thrown away as unsuitable by the angels? No! If someone sincerely desires to return to Jehovah, he will find the way open.—Mal. 3:7.
How Would You Answer?
• What does Jesus’ illustration about the mustard grain teach us about Kingdom growth and spiritual protection?
• What does the leaven in Jesus’ illustration represent, and what truth about Kingdom growth does Jesus highlight?
• What aspect of Kingdom growth is pointed out in the illustration of the dragnet?
• How can we make sure that we remain among those who have been ‘collected into vessels’?
[Pictures on page 18]
What does the illustration of the mustard grain teach us about Kingdom increase?
[Picture on page 19]
What do we learn from the illustration of the leaven?
[Picture on page 21]
What is pictured by the separating of the fine fish from the unsuitable fish?