The "Mystery" of the Kingdom: Studies in Mark, Pt. 7

In Mark 4.14, just after Jesus finishes telling a parable, He remarks to those around Him, “Don’t you understand this parable? If you don’t understand this one, how will you understand any of them?” Now, there are a few ways to understand this, I’ll note a couple here: 1) That Jesus is simply saying this in a general sense, that is, He is saying something akin to, “This is one of My easiest parables to understand and you can’t get it; thus, there’s no hope for you getting some of my deeper ones.” 2) That Jesus is saying that this one, specific parable has in it, the key to unlocking the meaning of every single parable He will use.

As I understand Mark’s account of the Gospel, I opt for the second meaning above; that this one parable of the seeds contains within it, the key to making sense of every other parable. Let me explain.

After Jesus tells “the parable of the sower/soils” (4.3-9), He also goes on to explain its meaning (4.14-20). Yet, in between these two sections, Jesus says, “The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been given to you.” This leads me to ask: What exactly is the “mystery/secret” that is spoken of here? Well, to get this one has to go back to chapter 1. After Jesus’s baptism and His victorious stint in the wilderness, Mark’s account says this: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. ‘The time has come,’ He said, ‘the kingdom of God has approached you. Repent and believe the Good News’ (1.14-15). We must ask a few questions here:

* Who went preaching or proclaiming? Jesus!
* Where did Jesus go preaching? In Galilee, that is, to the Galilean people.
* What was He preaching? The Good News of God’s kingdom (along with repentance, etc.). (Of course, this is a direct subversion of Caesar’s “good news” and Caesar’s “kingdom”).
* Who has the new kingdom approached the people through? None other than Jesus Himself!

Now, I would suggest that the kingdom approaching the people through Jesus has something to say about Jesus’s divinity. In fact, I think that one of, if not the main thrust of, Mark’s account is to reveal Jesus’s divinity. Who can the kingdom of God come into this world and onto the scene but through God Himself? Even if you don’t agree with me on this last point just yet, it would seem like you have to concede that at the very least, Jesus is making the claim that the kingdom of God has arrived in Him in some special way. But let me continue.

I think that Jesus just having defeated satan in the wilderness and then turning around to defeat a demon in the synagogue is not accidental. Mark is showing Jesus’s authority and power over the evil spiritual realm; a feat that only God Himself is capable of. Mark starts out with these scenes for a reason!!! But then, while in Jesus’s house, some of the religious leaders grow angry at the thought of Jesus forgiving sins. They ask, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” and when Jesus says that He can and then does (thus proving the fact of His deity), this really upsets them and they charge Him with blasphemy! Now, why would they charge Him with blasphemy if He hadn’t claimed in some way or another to be God?

As I’ve shown in earlier posts, the leaders get progressively upset with Him and eventually are out to kill Him (3.6). Again, it is because of His claims of being God (e.g. calling Himself the bridegroom in 2.19, the Son of Man in 2.28 and even saying that the Sabbath was made for Him in that same verse). Beyond the shadow of a doubt, then, Jesus makes a number of divinity claims in the opening chapters of Mark’s Gospel account. Mark himself even labels Jesus the “Messiah” in 1.1. (See other examples such as Mk. 5.7ff.)

While I will not give a lot of attention to it here, when Jesus says in 4.11, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you,” the term dedoti there is, in, Greek terminology, a divine passive. This simply means that the divine is “doing something” to a passive agent. Thus, the divine is the one “giving” the secret here. But from context, who is it that is giving the secret? It is Jesus! What this suggests is that Jesus is using the divine passive of Himself here; He, as God, is giving them the secret of the kingdom.

Now, we’re almost to the home stretch, just a couple more points need to be made and it will all come together. When Jesus gives His explanation of the soils parable, it has to be borne in mind that He is not giving a general parable of the personal, spiritual growth process. Instead, each soil represents characters/groups that have already been encountered in Mark’s story.

* The soil along the path represents the hard-hearted religious leaders who already have their minds set that Jesus is wrong; nothing can change their views, they just want Jesus dead.
* The shallow soils represent the people who come to Jesus for their own personal gain or benefit, namely the large crowds who want a personal healing or whatever. They get the healing but don’t give a second thought to following Jesus (e.g. the leper in 1.40-45). They are shallow like that.
* The seed & soil among the thorns represents those close to Jesus (e.g. His family, see: 3.31-35) but they are getting in the way of His ministry; choking it—they don’t want Him to continue, perhaps due to the loss of family honor or even for fear of Him losing His life.
* The good soil represents the followers of Jesus, the in-crowd, the disciples; those who do His will (3.35).

Why is all of this important? The point of the seed/soils parable, as I said, is not personal, spiritual growth. Instead, Jesus uses this parable to say three things to those who are serious about following Him: 1) The mystery of the new kingdom is that I am God, 2) When people hear this, there will be numerous reactions to it (e.g. some will get angry, some will be shallow about it, some will think it is ludicrous and some will believe it), and 3) When you go out preaching this mystery, that I, Jesus, am God, you too will encounter all of these reactions and you need to be ready for them (thus, Jesus tells them in 6.11, “in some towns, you’ll just have to shake the dust off of your sandals and move on”).

What I am suggesting here is that the seed/soils parable is a parable about Jesus’s divinity and how people react to it. This, then, is why this parable is the key to understanding every other parable. The other parables only make sense in light of Jesus’s deity. If the disciples don’t understand this one, they will not understand any of the others and moreover, when they go out to preach, they will cave in under the pressure, persecution and ridicule. They must stand firm on this fact; anything less is unacceptable!

So, what we need to realize is that the mystery of the kingdom has at the heart of it, Jesus’s God-status (His human status would have been evident to the people). And the “word” that He calls the seed of the kingdom, is centered around this same fact! May we, in our preaching and teaching today, quit watering down these parables and truths; may we build our hope on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. Indeed, on Christ, The Solid Rock, we stand, all other ground is sinking sand…yes, all other ground is sinking sand—or shallow or covered in thorns…you get the point!

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