The Gospel According to Mark: Part V


Mark’s Parabolic Purpose

In Mark 4.1-34 we see Jesus’ use of Parables, what I’ll call Mark’s parabolic purpose. Why is this section placed here? And why are all the parables given at once? Did Jesus tell each of these parables one after the other? Or are they like a compilation album of His greatest hits?

Mark places this collection (in my opinion) of parables here to show that if Jesus is the King, there is a reason why there are some who don’t follow Him. Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God in the form of parables, how it is here, and how it is growing and will one day be consummated at the final judgment. There is a response to be made now.

1-20 The Parable of the Sower

We’re immediately introduced to a sandwich again.

A   The Parable of the Sower [1-9]
      B   The Purpose of the Parables [10-12]
A’   The Parable of the Sower Explained [13-20]


Jesus gives a parable in the form of an agricultural picture, one that fits an agrarian society. Parables like these are hard to understand for those of us who work a 9-5 job in air-conditioned office cubicles 5 days a week. But this fits the culture perfectly. Pretending that we are reading Mark for the first time, verses 1-9 don’t really tell us much about the kingdom of God… or anything else. We can understand the disciples question in v10. I’m asking for an explanation myself!


Yet, before explaining the parable, Jesus gives a foundational understanding to His parables. There are insiders and there are outsiders, which we see all over in Mark [ch’s 5, 6, 9, 10, 14] and in Matthew [11.25-30]. And, almost inconceivably, Jesus says that everything is in parables so that “…they may not perceive….not understand…lest they should turn and be forgiven.” There is a debate over the meaning of [ινα, hina {4.12}] and whether it means “in order that”, “so that”, “because otherwise they would see and not perceive….”, etc., etc.

The general consensus, though, agrees that those whose hearts are hardened against God will not know the meaning Jesus intends to give in His parables. Sure the Jewish leaders know what Jesus means in the parable of the wicked vinedressers [12.12], but they only have a cognitive knowledge. They do not know the meaning in such a way that they then respond by turning their hearts toward God. It’s good to recognize the eschatological nature of the Kingdom (it’s here and it is coming) so long as you understand the Christological nature as well (Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection have changed history. He is the King, and He demands a choice).


Jesus then explains the parable, again showing the disciples to be insiders [4.11], and the parable is about how the seed (the word of God, the proclamation of the King and His kingdom) can be received or rejected based on the soil (eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, hearts that do not ask for forgiveness). The sower’s job is to sow the word.

There are three soils which (eventually) reject the word. They hear the word, but then Satan takes it away [Judas], or stoney hearts [Pharisees] don’t let the Word take root, or riches [rich young ruler] and the world [King Herod {6.26}; Pilate {15.12-15}] choked the Word out.  And there is one soil which receives the word and produces abundant fruit [12.9; cf. Mt. 21.43]. 

21-25 A Lamp Under a Basket

Jesus describes Himself as one hidden under a basket. “Does a lamp come [Greek word here actually means ‘come’ and not ‘brought in’] to be put under a basket…?”

Jesus came to be made manifest and to be brought out into the light [4.22]! Yet for now, He is like a hidden lamp. And to those who hear, with the measure they use it will be measured against them, either positively or negatively. The more you know, the more you’re responsible for. Yet if you do have and understand, more will be given to you. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you” [Mt. 6.33]. If not, the little you do have will be taken away [4.15].

26-29 The Parable of the Seed Growing

Mark shows us two more parables after this. Whether you respond positively or negatively to the proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God [1.15], your choice will not prevent the Kingdom from coming. The man plants and does nothing, the earth produces, and the full grain grows. This doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing, but it also means that the coming of the Kingdom isn’t all on our shoulders. If one thing is for sure, the Kingdom will come in its entirety.

30-32 The Parable of the Mustard Seed

And as the Kingdom comes, it will pervade. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard shrub because of the immense size difference between the beginning and the finished product.  This isn’t a freakishly overgrown plant representing Satan’s minions in today’s church (while waiting for the Kingdom to come). The Kingdom is here! (though not yet realized).

The Kingdom started small like a mustard seed, but it will continue to grow and, like mustard shrubs which are left alone, will pervade the land in an unstoppable manner. So much so that the birds of the air will make nests in its shade. These birds may be represented positively as Gentile nations which will be included in the Kingdom under Christ [Ezek. 17.22-24; cf. 31.6; Dan 4.12, 21]. The Kingdom is for the whole world [Jn. 3.16].

33-34 Use of Parables

And Jesus spoke as the crowds were able to hear it. But He explained the parables to His disciples who, ironically in Mark 8.18, will be questioned and likened to those in 4.12. The parables were not an end in themselves. They were a means to an end. The Kingdom came like a small mustard seed, unrecognized by Rome and the Jewish leadership. They cannot conceive that the wedding has begun [2.19-22] and includes the harlots, publicans, poor, and blind [Lk. 14.21, 23]. But in the end, when the kingdom is consummated, it will be great indeed. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Cor. 6.2]. Right now Jesus is like a hidden lamp, but in due time when He is lifted up, resurrected, and ascended the disciples will go out into all the world and proclaim the name of the King who reigns.

Having taught on the Kingdom of God, the soils who receive and reject the word, and the overpowering effect of the Kingdom, the King will go on to show the power of His Kingdom over that of our world: nature, demons, illness, and even death.


Author: Spencer

I put ice in my cereal. Make yourself at home and feel more than welcome to contact me.

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