Passage: Mark 4
(Context: A passage full of interesting and difficult parables, which are purposefully enveloped in mystery, for true “listeners” of the Bible to grapple with and understand.)
Parables are tough to understand, and I don’t think I am alone in saying this. The Gospel’s themselves are difficult, and preachers often prefer to teach on anything but the Gospels when it comes to the New Testament. I think this is because Jesus at first look seems to be so simple and easy to understand, but in reality His teaching is the both the most profound and the deepest in the entire Bible.
He is God; therefore it does make perfect sense this way.
Recently I have been preaching on Luke 15 and the parable of the man with the two sons (which we have called the “Prodigal Son”). It is perhaps the most well-known and best-loved parable in the Bible, yet in studying it I began to realize that I didn’t really understand it myself. The most important person in the story is not the younger son. The older brother’s lack of repentance is more staggering and important than the repentance of the younger. This is because the younger son represents the repentant “sinners and tax collectors” (Luke 15:1) and the older son represents the proud and self-righteous “Pharisees and the experts of the law” (15:2). And yet, neither the younger nor the older son is the main character in the story. That would be the father, as Timothy Keller so accurately expresses in “The Prodigal God”. The story is about God’s love seen through Christ, the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the world. At the end, the story leaves the listener with a “…” What happens next Jesus?
Well, the older son kills his father, that’s what happens. Just like the Pharisees conspired, condemned, and unjustly killed Christ.
Context, context, context. That is how the “Prodigal Son” is understood. Jesus was telling the crowd their own story and their own fate. The application for us today starts there, to beware of licentiousness, but even more so of legalism. Lastly, and most importantly, though, Jesus is teaching us the importance God’s love, which can practically only extend, when speaking of Salvation, to the humble and penitent.
In Mark 4, a new type of parable is used. The ever-so-difficult parables about the “Kingdom” are found here. Some apply the “Kingdom of God” to 1. themselves, having the kingdom “in their hearts” (the Gospel), to 2. the Church Age, we are living “in the Kingdom”, and to 3. the Millennial reign and following eternal reign of Christ over a “future, literal, earthly, and eternal Kingdom”.
The discussion and variety of interpretations on this lead me to believe that there is no “right answer” here. In Mark 4, The Kingdom of God can be seen as the Gospel, how it spreads and transforms us (the “Parable of the Sower” is an example of this). The Kingdom of God can also be seen as the Church Age, how it comes out of insignificance to become great and surprisingly strong (the parable of “the mustard seed” is a clear example of this). Lastly, the Kingdom of God can also be seen as the future reign of Christ, how the end to the Church Age will come, bringing final judgement and a final “harvest” by the “He” (Jesus Himself, in Mark 4:26-9, and the parable of the “growing seed”) who is clearly an absolute authority.
Jesus often astounds me, and we often understand Him wrong. The greatest error is perhaps to try and put Him in a box, or to try and squeeze our interpretations into His words. A great example being the concept of “The Kingdom is now”, a concept which predominates in the Pentecostal Movement today, yet was originally developed by the Catholic Church to condone both the Crusades and the Inquisition. We all know how that turned out…
The Kingdom cannot only apply to ourselves, for this is a very Western and individualistic tendency, as we read our biases into the Scriptures. The Bible is sometimes personal in application, but more often than not it is to be applied to the group, to the country, or to the Church.
The Kingdom cannot only apply to the Church Age, for the fact that the Kingdom is called such implies a reign of a King. Jesus does not yet reign over this world, but Satan does. He who does not see this ignores both the reality of this world and is naive about its future Eschatological destiny under Antichrist.
Lastly, the Kingdom cannot only apply to a “future, literal, earthly, and eternal reign” of Christ on earth. We can see that the parables often speak about the growth of the church and its need to evangelize and spread. Yet under the eternal reign of Christ, the world will be under His Sovereign and Just dominion and no one will say “Who is Jesus?”.
He said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? Then how will you understand any parable?” (Mark 4:13)
Those with Jesus daily had trouble understanding the parables He spoke in. Thankfully there are many keys to understanding the parables throughout Scripture, and we can be pretty certain about the interpretation about most of them, yet some still leave my wondering and thinking.
To conclude, I recognize my weakness and difficulty in understanding fully and correctly the parables of Jesus. I pray to be able to read the Bible with an open mind, trying not to bring in my preconceived ideas that perhaps were formed outside of the Bible or even contrary to the Bible. This is easier said than done.