THE PARABLE OF A MAN CASTING THE SEED
11. According to Mark 4:26-29 what illustration did Jesus then give?
11 In illustration of the foregoing, Mark 4:26-29 records: “So he [Jesus] went on to say: ‘In this way the kingdom of God is just as when a man casts the seed upon the ground, and he sleeps at night and rises up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows tall, just how he does not know. Of its own self the ground bears fruit gradually, first the grass-blade, then the stalk head, finally the full grain in the head. But as soon as the fruit permits it, he thrusts in the sickle, because the harvesttime has come.’”*
12. What do some Bible students think this illustration teaches as respects God’s kingdom?
12 In Jesus’ earlier illustration given from aboard a boat, he described a sower whose seed fell on four types of soil. (Mark 4:1-9) Did that sower picture the same as the caster of seed in this later illustration? Many Bible students think so. They think that the man casting the seed abroad also pictures the foremost proclaimer of God’s kingdom, namely, Jesus Christ. On this basis they reason that the “seed” pictures the members of the heavenly Kingdom class. Thus the whole illustration pictures the growth of the Kingdom class from the 3,000 on Pentecost day of 33 C.E. to the final full number of 144,000. (Rev. 14:1) Hence, we must now be in “the harvesttime” of the final members of the heirs of God’s kingdom. However, such an explanation of Jesus’ illustration runs into a number of insurmountable difficulties. What may these be?
13. When did Jesus begin building his spirit-begotten congregation, and in what condition was he at that time?
13 Well, the illustration says that the man scattering the seed “sleeps at night and rises up by day.” How does such a description fit the glorified Jesus Christ since he began building his spirit-begotten congregation on the day of Pentecost? It does not fit at all! First Peter 3:18 speaks of Jesus as “being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit,” so that he no longer is the perfect man that he used to be on earth. Ever since God the Almighty raised Jesus from the dead on Sunday, Nisan 16, 33 C.E., the exalted Son of God “is the reflection of his glory and the exact representation of his very being.”—Heb. 1:3.
14. As regards the mere matter of sleeping at night, why could the man casting the seed on the ground not picture the glorified Jesus Christ?
14 That being so, then what? Well, Psalm 121:1-4 says: “My help is from Jehovah, the Maker of heaven and earth. He cannot possibly allow your foot to totter. The One guarding you cannot possibly be drowsy. Look! He will not be drowsy nor go to sleep, he that is guarding Israel.” (Note also Jeremiah 1:12.) How, then, could the glorified Jesus Christ at God’s right hand possibly go to sleep regularly with the setting of the sun in the Middle East like a man on earth? He no longer needs an earthly night’s sleep in order to be fit for the work of the daylight hours. Why, what is 1,000 years for man is like a mere day for the Godlike Jesus Christ! (Ps. 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8) For this reason alone the man casting the seed upon the ground could not possibly picture the glorified, immortal Jesus Christ.*
15. What shows whether the prehuman Son of God knew about the growth of seed and of how the ground bears fruit of its own self?
15 Another point to note is that Jesus’ illustration goes on to say: “And the seed sprouts and grows tall, just how he does not know. Of its own self the ground bears fruit gradually.” (Mark 4:27, 28) If, now, the seed that sprouts and grows tall pictures the Christian congregation in its growth from a small membership to a large one, it means that the sower does not know how the congregation keeps growing to 144,000 strong. But the prehuman Jesus Christ was a coworker with Jehovah God on the third creative day, when “the earth began to put forth grass, vegetation bearing seed according to its kind and trees yielding fruit, the seed of which is in it according to its kind.” (Gen. 1:12) Thus the prehuman Son of God displayed full knowledge of the growth of plants and of how the ground bears fruit of itself gradually.
16. What vision in the last book of the Bible shows whether the glorified Jesus Christ is drowsy or asleep as to the growth of the Christian congregations?
16 However, as to congregation growth, the Bible’s last book, Revelation, written about 63 years after Jesus ascended to heaven on Thursday, Iyyar 25, 33 C.E. (May 12, 33 C.E.), pictures Jesus Christ as walking in among the seven lampstands that stand for seven congregations in Asia Minor. With his eyes like a “fiery flame,” he should be wide awake as he inspects the spiritual state of these seven prominent congregations. So he is not pictured as being drowsy or asleep with regard to the growth of the congregations. He must have known how those congregations grew to the spiritual state in which he describes them to be.—Rev. 1:14; 2:18.
17. What vision described in Revelation 5:6 shows whether the glorified Jesus Christ could be pictured by the man who casts the seed on the ground and sleeps at night?
17 With regard to Jesus’ ascending and appearing in God’s heavenly presence, he is pictured as a lamb just slaughtered, but again alive with “seven eyes, which eyes mean the seven spirits of God that have been sent forth into the whole earth.” (Rev. 5:6) Far from suggesting drowsiness or sleepiness, such sevenfold vision of the Lamb of God would signify the state of being wide awake and all-discerning, constantly. Plainly, then, the glorified Jesus Christ could not be pictured by the man who casts the seed upon the ground and who sleeps at night and who does not know how the growth of what he planted comes about.
18. Whom, then, does the man in the illustration logically picture?
18 Whom, then, does the man in the illustration picture? The Gospel writer Mark calls this individual farmer to our attention right after Jesus advises his intimate disciples to pay attention to what they are hearing. A certain measure of attention was to be recompensed with proportionate returns, even more being added to such. Reasonably, therefore, the man in the illustration pictures each individual who professes to be a disciple or learner of Jesus Christ, the foremost Preacher of the kingdom of God.
INDICATIVE FEATURES OF THE ILLUSTRATION
19, 20. What two main things embrace the whole illustration, and so what is the point that is made by the illustration, and with what in view, quantity or quality?
19 Jesus opened up the illustration by saying: “In this way [or, Thus] the kingdom of God is just as when a man casts the seed upon the ground.”—Mark 4:26, NW; Kingdom Interlinear Translation.
20 We note two main things that embrace the whole illustration. First, there is a sowing of the seed in connection with God’s kingdom, and, secondly, there is a harvesting, or reaping, of the crop that results from the seed sown. So the point is that, just as surely as there was a sowing, or a planting, of the seed, there must be expected a harvesting, or a reaping. The one thing inevitably follows the other. The solemn truth is that what a person sows with relation to God’s kingdom leads on to what he will harvest, or reap. Rather than quantity, the quality of what he reaps is important!
21. Did Jesus specify the kind of seed or the type of soil on which it was cast, and yet what question arises as to the seed?
21 Jesus did not specify the kind of seed or the type of soil involved in the planting. He said: “But as soon as the fruit permits it, he thrusts in the sickle [a small hand instrument], because the harvesttime has come.” (Mark 4:29) The Jews to whom Jesus gave the illustration had three harvests during the agricultural year. The first took place right after the spring Passover festival, a sheaf of the barley harvest being presented on Nisan 16 by the high priest at Jerusalem’s temple. Fifty days from then, the high priest presented the firstfruits of the wheat harvest at the temple and after that this harvest went forward. The third harvest came at the end of the summer and was memorialized by the festival of ingathering, or of the booths (tabernacles), beginning on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, Tishri. (Ex. 23:14-17) Which of these three harvesttimes was the one meant in the illustration is not stated. But, whatever seed it was that was sown, what does it picture?
22. If not picturing members of the Christian congregation, what does the seed picture, and is the growth of such “seed” beyond control?
22 Jesus’ illustration says that the seed sown sprouted and grew tall and matured to having the full grain in the head. We have noted that the seed sown does not picture the members of the Christian congregation. As the next article will show, the seed scattered about upon the ground pictures the seeds of the sower’s personal qualities, attitudes and capacities for service in connection with God’s kingdom. He must seek nourishment for these as from the ground. The growth of these personal traits to maturity and ripeness for harvesting is gradual. This is a thing for us to watch, for it is not beyond control.
3. In the illustration at Mark 4:26-29, what does the seed picture, and what do Christians have to cultivate with regard to their personality today just as first-century Christians had to do?
3 In the parable of the sower and the seed, as related at Mark 4:26-29, the seed pictures qualities of personality. To the Jews who rejected the parable of the sower and other parables, Jesus said: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.” (Matt. 21:43, 45, 46) According to this, there are “fruits” of the kingdom of God. (Luke 3:8) Allied with those Kingdom fruits there is what is called “the fruitage of the spirit,” namely, “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22, 23) Back there in the first century, the Christians to whom the apostle Paul wrote had to sow “seed” in the way of Christian qualities that need nourishment, just as Christians today have to do in connection with the kingdom of God. These personal qualities must be developed to full maturity, completion.—Zech. 8:12; Jas. 3:18.
4. What does the “seed” of personal Christian qualities need for nourishment?
4 At the time of their fully ripening would be the normal time to harvest them. But where should the Christian sower of such “seed” choose to sow it in hope of finally reaping the desired harvest? He wants his crop to have God’s approval, that he may be counted worthy of acceptance in connection with God’s kingdom. Just as natural seed needs ground, so the seed of personal Christian qualities, “the fruitage of the spirit,” needs environment.—Prov. 18:1.
5. To reap the expected harvest, care with respect to what must be exercised, as emphasized in Luke 8:14?
5 Recall Jesus’ parable with reference to the four kinds of soil upon which the seed of the sower fell. (Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:5-15) This parable illustrates how care and the right choice must be exercised as to the environment for the seed if the expected harvest is to be reaped. Just as Jesus explained concerning the thorn-infested environment for the seed: “As for that which fell among the thorns, these are the ones that have heard, but, by being carried away by anxieties and riches and pleasures of this life, they are completely choked and bring nothing to perfection.”—Luke 8:14.
6. In Galatians 5:7-9, how did Paul call attention to the effect of bad environment?
6 In line with this, the apostle Paul made an observation in connection with the Christians in Galatia to whom he wrote about “the fruitage of the spirit,” to warn them that they were being badly affected by the wrong environment. He said: “You were running well. Who hindered you from keeping on obeying the truth? This sort of persuasion is not from the One calling you. A little leaven ferments the whole lump.” (Gal. 5:7-9; Matt. 13:33) Those Galatian Christians were being influenced by those Judaizers whose hearts were unreceptive to full Christianity, whose ears were unresponsive and whose eyes were pasted shut. (Matt. 13:14, 15; Gal. 5:10) Such hindering associations must be avoided, abandoned.
7. How did Paul express similar concern over the effect of bad environment for the Christians in Corinth?
7 The apostle Paul also feared that the Corinthian congregation might not be cultivating “the fruitage of the spirit,” for he wrote them to say: “I am afraid that somehow, when I arrive, I may find you not as I could wish and I may prove to be to you not as you could wish, but, instead, there should somehow be strife, jealousy, cases of anger, contentions, backbitings, whisperings, cases of being puffed up, disorders.” (2 Cor. 12:20) After quoting those who say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die,” Paul could, with good reason, issue the warning: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.”—1 Cor. 15:32, 33.
8. Why will the growth of personality qualities go on in spite of a Christian’s taking of sleep, and why cannot he be certain when judging according to the first out-growth?
8 Like ground, into which the seed falls and which has the God-given power for nourishing either wheat or thorns, the environment in which a Christian chooses to cultivate qualities of personality will affect him for good or for bad. Even if he sleeps while embedding himself in such an environment, the law of environmental influence will relentlessly operate toward him until the outgrowth allows for the sickle to be thrust in because personal harvesttime has come. In this connection, Jesus said: “Of its own self the ground bears fruit gradually, first the grass-blade, then the stalk head, finally the full grain in the head.” (Mark 4:28) To the sower the growth is almost imperceptible and it is by a power that he cannot comprehend. The growth in the one direction or the other will go on gradually, first like a grass-blade, then like a stalk head, finally like the full grain in the head.
9. How does the parable of the wheat and the weeds illustrate the uncertainty regarding the final outcome from sowing in a certain environment?
9 When the seed first sprouts and produces the grass-blade, the sower may not be exactly sure of what he will harvest, to judge from the appearance of things. At that early stage of growth he may not be positively certain of what is coming up; he merely remembers what kind of seed he planted. To illustrate: In Jesus parable of the wheat and the weeds, in Matthew 13:26-30, he said:
When the blade sprouted and produced fruit, then the weeds appeared also. So the slaves of the householder came up and said to him, “Master, did you not sow fine seed in your field? How, then, does it come to have weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy, a man, did this.” They said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go out and collect them?” He said, “No; that by no chance, while collecting the weeds, you uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the harvest season I will tell the reapers, First collect the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up, then go to gathering the wheat into my storehouse.”
10. When will we discern the unmistakable effect of sowing in any given environment?
10 So, after we have sown the seeds of our traits of personality, what comes up like a grass-blade may at first not be distinguishable as to what the soil has yielded. Only later, when the growth matures and bears fruit, there will be no mistaking as to what the soil has yielded to the individual sowing there.
11. Besides the physical features of soil, what else is important in determining the quality of the thing grown on such soil?
11 The soil is an important factor toward what is finally yielded. Jesus said: “Of its own self the ground [not God] bears fruit gradually, first the grass-blade, then the stalk head, finally the full grain in the head.” (Mark 4:28) In the parable of the four types of soil, Jesus described only the physical features of the soils. But the chemical properties of the soil are also important in determining the quality of what is yielded, as when soil is sour, acid, saline, or is treated with inorganic fertilizer or organic fertilizer.
12. What, therefore, does the ground or soil picture?
12 Inasmuch as the ground, or soil, plays such an important part in the matter of growth and its quality, it pictures the social, moral and religious environment in the midst of which we nurture the seeds of our personal traits and, naturally, it involves people.* This is something deserving selectivity.
THE ELEMENT IN WHICH WE CULTIVATE TRAITS
13. Even in a Christian congregation, may there be an environment not conductive to proper Christian growth?
13 Even in the Christian congregation there may be an environment or association that is spiritually not most helpful. Some who recently came out of the world and symbolized their dedication to God by water baptism may tend to bring into the congregation something that still clings to them—a measure of worldliness. Let us remember that it was to a Christian congregation that the apostle Paul wrote: “In my [previous] letter I wrote you to quit mixing in company with fornicators, . . . But now I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.”—1 Cor. 5:9-11.
14. In Galatians 6:7, 8, how does Paul caution Christians against sowing in the wrong direction?
14 Also, to the congregations in the Roman province of Galatia in Asia Minor, the same apostle wrote: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh, but he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.” (Gal. 6:7, 8) A professed Christian can be sowing to his fallen flesh by seeking to develop his personality qualities in a worldly environment that caters to his fallen flesh.
15. What questions arise, therefore, with regard to seeking out our environment in the Christian congregation?
15 Today, in the congregation, do we gravitate toward members who still smack of worldliness? They regularly indulge in it and want to have the company of other members so as to feel a measure of justification for their frequent indulgence. Do we let our social environment or association inside the congregation hinder us in running well in the race for everlasting life? Do we allow congregation members who still incline to worldliness to persuade us into taking the same direction that they are taking, because it is so pleasing to our fallen flesh?
16. In order to meet the day of tests successfully, what do we have to consider about the environment in which we circulate?
16 At first the effects of our indulgent course may not be distinguishable as to what kind of professed Christians we shall eventually turn out to be. This is so because the “ground” or environment in which we choose to circulate will bear fruit gradually. The “grass-blade” looks innocent to beholders, not dangerously hurtful. We sleep at night and rise up by day, and the growth of our personal traits moves forward relentlessly, just how we do not know. Our persistence in this free-and-easy, liberal course will lead to an inescapable result, namely, the fully matured growth of personal traits due to the environment that is like ground, in which we have allowed ourselves to be nurtured. Will what we harvest by thrusting in the sickle qualify us to meet the tests of the day of reckoning successfully?
17. What should we not forget with regard to environment in which we imbed the seeds of our personality traits?
17 Let us not forget that, like “ground,” or soil, environment in which the seeds of our personal traits are buried and nourished will affect our development. It can make us a poor variety of the real thing, the thing that was intended when we began to sow.
18. What illustration of bad association is given to us in Numbers 11:4-34?
18 A historical example of the effect of bad associations even among Jehovah’s people was furnished in the wilderness of Sinai in Moses’ day. We remember the “vast mixed company” that went along with the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. (Ex. 12:38) Concerning this non-Israelite element, the prophet Moses tells us:
And the mixed crowd that was in the midst of them [the Israelites] expressed selfish longing, and the sons of Israel too began to weep again and say: “Who will give us meat to eat? How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers and the watermelons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic! But now our soul is dried away. Our eyes are on nothing at all except the manna.” . . . The name of that place came to be called Kibroth-hattaavah [meaning Burial Places of the Selfish Longing].—Numbers 11:4-34; see also 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10, 11.
19. How does that experience of the Israelites with the “vast mixed crowd” in the wilderness show that we cannot hold God responsible for bad effects from our chosen environment?
19 Thus that “vast mixed crowd” set things in motion among the Israelites. Unsatisfied with Jehovah’s provision of bread from heaven, they turned back in their hearts to Egypt because of selfishly longing for things once enjoyed in that idolatrous land. (Ps. 105:40) They made their belly their god, because they brought along selfish longing for the material comforts of demon-controlled Egypt. (Phil. 3:19) So they infected the Israelites with such an appetite. For the time being they proved to be bad associates for Jehovah’s chosen people Israel. This historical example serves as a good warning for us today. We cannot make God responsible for the bad effects that we reap from the bad environment that we select.
20. What rather than God is responsible for what results to us from the course we select?
20 If we cannot put God into the picture in the case of the parables of the four kinds of soil and of the wheat and the weeds, is it logical, consistent, to put God personally into the fulfillment of Mark 4:26-29? In a general way, “the earth itself brings forth its sprout” and “the garden itself makes the things that are sown in it sprout.” (Isa. 61:11) So, then, marijuana (“grass”), hashish, tobacco, and poppies grown for the purpose of making opium, will grow from the cultivated ground just the same as cereals. Plainly, then, the crop that is reaped depends upon what the sower plants and on what kind of soil he casts the seed.
21. That illustration from Holland shows that the environment in which the seed finds itself affects matters?
21 The environment in which the seed finds itself affects matters. Let us not forget that soils do not all have the same chemical properties. One is sour or acid, another is salty, and so forth. Thus when the Dutch wanted to reclaim land from the Zuider Zee, they built dikes and impounded the brackish waters in polders. Then they pumped out the seawater, leaving a low-lying land area. But such reclaimed land was impregnated with sea salt. It was not at once fit to grow grains for food. So first they had to accommodate the soil by planting reedy grasses that grew well in salty soil. This worked for purifying the soil. Then they could grow grains with good harvests.
22. Where are we generally bound to sow the seed of our personality qualities, and what is certain as to the outcome of this?
22 So with the seeds of our personality traits: we are bound to sow them somewhere, generally in the environment of our choice. We are bound to meet up with a harvesting, or a reaping. Will what we harvest be suitable for an approved relationship with God’s kingdom? The environment or the association that we regularly seek out will have much to do with that. Even inside the Christian congregation we can seek out social companionship with baptized persons who still cling to worldly things, but who feel no qualms of conscience about sneaking these into the congregation. Our Christian personality and conduct are sure to be affected by such infectious things.
23. Instead of the appearance of things at the beginning, what will determine out ultimate happiness?
23 Growth of an infected Christian in a worldly direction will be gradual, the angle of divergence from the Christian way being at first so slight as not to be discernible. It is like the emergence of the “grass-blade” from the seed. But harvesttime will at last show unmistakably into what we have developed, for there will be the consequences to pay. When at last only true Christianity will be able to meet the test, each individual will have to thrust in his sickle and gather what he has grown to be. Will what he harvests leave him disillusioned, exposed as false to his Christian claims? Happy is the Christian that has Scriptural reasons for being satisfied with what his sickle harvests.—Compare Psalm 126:5, 6.
24. Will our personal holiness counteract the effect of the environment that we put ourselves in contact with constantly?
24 We are steadily growing in one way or the other, in a worldly way or a spiritual way. Woe to us if we mislead ourselves or let others mislead us into thinking that we can entertain bad associations without having our useful Christian habits spoiled. (1 Cor. 15:33) We cannot mock God by trying to nullify his unchangeable law that, as there is a sowing, so there must also be a reaping and that where we sow will affect what we reap. He warns us that our personal holiness will not automatically rub off and make others holy. Rather, our unguarded contact constantly with unclean worldly persons will result in our becoming unclean also.—Hag. 2:10-14.
25. According to Galatians 5:19-24, what will keep us in suitable relationship with God’s kingdom?
25 By Scriptural forethought we can determine the outcome of our course. Are we aiming at continued peaceful relationship with God’s kingdom? The “works of the flesh” will never get us there! On the other hand, there is “the fruitage of the spirit,” and by cultivating it we shall not yield to the passions and the works of the flesh. Our pursuing this careful course will gratifyingly result in our harvesting fruit suitable for God’s kingdom by Christ.—Gal. 5:19-24.
26. For what course will we be rewarded with a harvesting of approved personality qualities?
26 God’s kingdom, long prayed for by Christ’s disciples, is now about to come against all enemy governments for the vindicating of His universal sovereignty. Along with that a personal harvesttime is ahead of each one of us in connection with that kingdom. The greatest care needs to be exercised with respect to the environmental “ground” in which we are imbedding the seeds of our personality traits. Our social, recreational, moral and religious association should be with those who are in favor of God’s kingdom by Christ first, last and all the time. Our giving serious forethought to what we are sowing, and where, and with God’s kingdom always in view will be rewarded with an abundant harvesting of the fruit of a matured and active Christlike personality. How greatly Jehovah God will be pleased with this! He will favor us with the expression of his unqualified approval and with all the blessings to which his approval leads.
27. What will result in a favorable fulfillment for us of the illustration at Mark 4:26-29?
27 So under the growing urgency of the times, we do well to heed the timely exhortation: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24, 25) This will result for us in a favorable fulfillment of the short but powerful parable of the sower and the seed, at Mark 4:26-29. We shall experience then “the rejoicing in the harvesttime.” With a great thrill we shall fully appreciate that “he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.”—Gal. 6:8; Isa. 9:3.
This resembles what Jesus said in his parable of the wheat and the weeds, that the “field” was the world of people. (Matt. 13:38) Only here, in Mark 4:26-28, the “ground” sown, instead of being world wide, goes only to the extent of the contact and association that the individual has with people. The “ground” does not represent the individual’s “heart,” as in Matthew 13:19 and Luke 8:12, 15.