What wonderful things God created for mankind. All creation reflects His glory—even simple bugs. (1 Corinthians 1:27) For those who study these miraculous creatures, glimpses into God’s love for mankind can be seen everywhere. The extraordinary milkweed butterfly group, the most popular of which is the monarch butterfly, provides us one such example. Their very special life-source relationship with the milkweed plant provides a wonderful comparison to an even more precious story!
As larvae and then as adults, the milkweed butterfly group live a life that is dependent upon the power-source within the milkweed plant for everything! Its sustenance, its protection, its very existence totally revolve around its relationship with the plant for a successful life. (John 15:5)
Initially, the grubby little caterpillars break forth from their yellow pouches and immediately begin to gorge themselves on the leaves of the milkweed plant to which they are attached. As they feast on the leaves, they grow at an incredible rate. Within weeks they grow to over 2700 times their original size. They molt five times and develop their own peculiar caterpillar look. As the caterpillars feast on the plants, the plants generate more leaves to provide for their needs.
The milkweed plant has all but disappeared from many places in North America, but this is not because of the ravenous caterpillar’s appetite, but rather, the disdain of people for its presence. Milkweed plants have been removed because they poison livestock and because they are not considered pretty enough to flank a condominium or shopping mall. Yet, the Creator God made milkweed plants exquisitely beautiful to the monarch! (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The protective blood of the milkweed plant contains a cardiac poison (cardiac glycosides) which will sicken or kill most vertebrate animals, yet the bitter fluid does not harm the caterpillar. The monarch retains this toxic substance into adulthood which protects it from its predators.
The monarch is one of the best-known of all North American butterflies. However, it has been found in several other places around the world. People of New Zealand and Australia sometimes refer to the monarch as “the wanderer” because of its migratory habits. They have observed that the butterfly acts as if it has no place in this world to call home and is only passing through. (1 Peter 2:11)
Known for its amazing migration routes, these tiny, beautiful insects perform migration flights totaling thousands of miles. Traveling from Nova Scotia Canada to the mountains of Mexico, monarchs fly over 3,000 miles! This same scenario is witnessed around the world. It appears that as milkweed plants have grown in other parts of the globe, the monarch seems to have followed the nourishment, protection, and power provided by the plant.
Interestingly, other butterflies mimic the monarch but lack its protective power. The viceroy butterfly provides such a mimic example. The viceroy even flies among the monarch’s group periodically, seeking safety from its savvy predators, birds of prey. It merely copies the monarch, pretending to be one of them, yet lacking the protective power the monarch has been supplied. If the viceroy leaves the monarch fold and makes its way to other areas of nectar, many predators see it for what it is and make short work of this defenseless insect. You see, even though it looks the part, the enemy knows what is on the inside. What a picture of those who look and sound like Christians, but are spiritually far from The Lord; who speak of His goodness, but merely have a form of godliness denying the power of The One they claim to serve. (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 15:8; 2 Timothy 3:5) The world needs to see true Christianity and that is what the Lord Jesus expects.
Just as there are mimic monarchs, there are also mimic milkweeds — the black swallow-wort. The milkweed and the black swallow-wort possess similar chemical properties that fool the monarch into laying their eggs on the mimic black swallow-wort. However, this mimic plant lacks the necessary nutrients and chemical protection which allows the larvae to develop into a pupa and later, to hold within it a defensive authority to shield the insect from its enemies. When born on the fake milkweed plant, the butterflies never develop to adulthood due to the poor nourishment that is provided, and even if they did, they would lack the key component needed to protect themselves. (Matthew 24:4; 1 Corinthians 3:18)
The mimic milkweed or false gods of this world promise multiple, broad roads to happiness, but leave people hollow and defenseless. They cannot provide the true strength, wisdom and blessings for a person in this life, nor the sacrifice needed to redeem them from their sins. In the Bible God presents a narrow road, “The” scriptural map to success following His example while on this journey, and “The Way” to attain eternal life. (Psalm 119:105; Matthew 7:14; John 14:6; John 14:8-11)
Monarchs can feed on the nectar of several flowers which contain vital sugars and nutrients, but they can only lay their eggs on the protective leaves of the real milkweed plants if they want the next generation to survive. Their offspring must absorb the vital milkweed power in order to defend itself and to allow the little bugs to be successful on life’s journey.
During each monarch’s flight, it keeps a close, continual relation with the milkweed plant. The monarch realizes the importance of the incredible source of energy the milkweed’s sweet nectar provides for its own endurance. This incredible relationship between the butterfly’s thirst and the nectar the milkweed produces forms what looks like a peculiar cloud of flying flowers maintaining an incredibly straight path from beginning to end. The plant’s blood, providing super-strength and enduring zeal, essentially saves and emboldens the monarch to do what it normally could not do. (John 15:6)
Humans locate the milkweed plant by seeing its bright red flowers that bloom out in every direction, but the monarch takes a different approach. God designed it with sensory organs on its feet to discern the true milkweed plant. The butterfly approaches the plant and waves its front arms around the areas of the flower to “taste it and see if it is good.” (Psalms 34:8) Fundamentally, it then knows it is close to home and a place of security, regardless of where it is at that point in time. After the assurance of where it has landed, it plunges into the plant’s rich fluid, which some describe as the spirit of the plant, and feeds until it is full. Once its energy has been replenished and its insides comforted, the monarch resumes its crossing.
The same plant that gave so selflessly when the butterfly was a youth now gives additional vigor to it as an adult. In truth, the plant does not really need the butterfly. It has several effective means of pollination and transportation. (John 15:16) However, it provides a distinct opportunity to the winged creature to give back to the plant by allowing the insect to spread the precious, protective milkweed to different areas and thus supply the possibility of protection for others.
Life is not perfect. Several things can still attack the little bug, such as parasites that grip and gain access to the young, animals, and birds like the black-headed grosbeaks who feast on parts of the insects. (Matthew 10:16) Many times, death results due to where the parents placed the children for their developmental stages. If the butterfly falls to the ground or fails to safely return to its nesting place, wandering away from the monarch fold, the eggs will not survive. (Deuteronomy 6:7) Through it all, the marvelous Creator provides strength for the journey and great success may be measured by the clouds of similar, yet individualized, creatures that fly in waves across the sky each year.
Our Lord’s creation declares His glory. (Psalms 19:1) This story about the monarch is one of a multitude of nature’s examples which reflect Jesus’ love, direction and sacrifice for us. (John 3:16)
We see another striking lesson as we study the butterfly-milkweed relationship. The milkweed does not need the butterfly, yet allows it to be a part of the process of spreading the plant to different places. God does not need man, but He does allow us the opportunity worship Him and to share His Word and the good news of Jesus Christ with others. (John 15:14)
Another gem of wisdom may be gained looking at the dangers the young caterpillars face if they are not placed in the right areas for growth. This mirrors the perils in which many children find themselves when brought up in a house without Christ at the center. (Leviticus 20:5; Jeremiah 32:35)
Anything a person puts before God is an idol, a false god. When people put their faith in a false god, they are teaching their children to do the same. Tragically, their little ones do not know the true milkweed’s joyful strength and protection. Often, through seemingly small things in life like anger, fear, covetousness, and ungratefulness, adults fail to demonstrate the necessary relationship between themselves and their Creator. (Deuteronomy 6:6-10)
How many times have you witnessed someone refuse the help of a fellow Christian, thinking they can do it on their own, and finding themselves alone, weak in the faith, open for the enemy’s attacks. (Galatians 6:2; Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) This is similar to how the butterfly can fall away from the protective fold of the group which may be able to assist in blocking some of the harsh winds along the way or how it can find itself in places it should not be when suddenly, a predator with the ability to hurt it lashes out and destroys the butterfly’s chance for success. In like manner, God often offers us help, protection, direction, and strength through fellow believers. The picture of what happens to the butterfly that refuses the help and fellowship of other butterflies pales in comparison to what happens to the Christian who forsakes the fellowship of other godly Christian brothers and sisters. What an amazing plan God has laid out for mankind if they will trust him.
Although there are reflections of the saving power of Christ’s blood and the peace and boldness found through the infilling of the Holy Ghost seen in the relationship between the milkweed and the butterflies, the story of God’s love for man through Jesus Christ goes far beyond any relationship found in nature. (1 John 1:1-4) The Gospel story makes all other sacrifices pale when placed beside its crimson flow! There is truly no parallel, no narrative in nature that can compare to the peace found from the infilling of His Spirit. (Psalms 32:11; John 15:11) All that we see and don’t see, all that we know and don’t know (which is so very much), and all creation reflect His greatness, wisdom, intellect, creativity, judgment and grace. (Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9)
Wow! The butterfly’s blood does give glimpses into the Creator’s greatest love, visualized in what He did for mankind. (John 3:16) The One True God sent His only begotten Son to supply the blood sacrifice to redeem Adam’s race creating a bridge between The Almighty and man. Like the butterfly which is free to choose the one true plant that can supply its every need, we, too, are free to choose the saving power and sweet comfort of the Holy Spirit, freely given to all who call upon His name. (John 16:7)
Praise and Honor and Glory to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ our Lord!
– L. Estis