Speaking Ever in Parables
“With many such parables [Jesus] spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”- Mark 4:33—34
Parables were so characteristic of our Lord’s teaching ministry that Mark adds a comment to his record of Jesus’ parables in chapter 4. As we see in today’s passage, Jesus spoke to the crowds “with many such parables” and in fact “did not speak to them without a parable” (vv. 33–34).
That Jesus spoke with many such parables, including but not limited to those recorded in Mark 4:1–32, is obvious. After all, Matthew and Luke include many parables from Christ not found in Mark. What might seem odd at first glance is the idea that Jesus did not speak to the crowds who heard him “without a parable.” After all, John records extensive blocks of Jesus’ teaching that do not contain any parables to people who were not His disciples (for example, John 6:22–59). Thus, it seems Mark is speaking more of the general tenor of Jesus’ teaching ministry and less about His specific sayings. In other words, parables were such a defining feature of the Savior’s instruction that one could say they were interwoven throughout His teaching. There was no topic that He covered that He failed to illustrate with a parable.
One commentator notes that the parables of Jesus are remarkable examples of both judgment and grace. They evidence grace because the nature of parables is to cause one to pause and think about their meaning. Parables give people time to consider the claims of Christ and His teaching on the kingdom, evidencing divine patience that does not condemn people immediately for unbelief but gives them a chance to think things over and come to faith. On the other hand, parables illustrate judgment because the hardness of the people’s hearts makes parables necessary. Parables function to hide God’s kingdom from those who are in impenitent rebellion against the Creator (Mark 4:10–12). Those who refuse to bow to the God of Israel are judged by having the Messiah withhold the kingdom from them by concealing it in parables.
Yet, for those who are willing to learn from Jesus—those who are His true disciples—the parables reveal God’s kingdom. To His disciples, He explains everything (v. 34). He does not do so by imparting esoteric, hidden knowledge, for His explanations are recorded for all to read in Scripture. Instead, He explains everything to His disciples by giving the explanation and empowering His people to believe in Him (see Eph. 2:8–10).
We who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone have the benefit of receiving the explanation of His teaching from Him. This does not occur by the impartation of secret knowledge available only to a select few; rather, it occurs by the illumination of the Holy Spirit as He takes the words of Christ and enables us to understand and believe them. He opens our eyes to the meaning of His Word.
Passages for Further Study