One of the first and foremost aspects of Jesus Christ’s notoriety springs from His teaching–both content and style. He is a Master Teacher, though no one would have expected it from such a lowly carpenter’s son. Nor did Jesus ever require anyone to call Him “Rabbi.” [But, it was always appropriate to do so]. He is, after all, the Son of God.
Most interesting about His teachings are the parables. The Gospels are riddled with His parables, and they plainly make statements like, “He did not speak to them without a parable” (Mark 4:34). Luckily, the Holy Spirit directed the Gospel writers to record a few such parables… and their explanations!
But — Why parables?
The Lord Jesus declares in Mark 4 that the parables serve different purposes for different persons. To the disciples who have “the secret of the Kingdom of God,” the parables are for a one certain purpose. Yet, for those who are “outside,” the parables serve the purpose of hiding truth. Is God (Jesus) a hider of truth? Does He keep the truth hidden so that those who might believe will, in fact, not believe? Has God determined the damnation of some? Thankfully, NO!
According to the contexts of the passage and the entire Bible, one can be sure God is not arbitrarily hiding truth from anyone so as to damn them to Hell. Surely, one realizes that the Bible is special revelation, given by God so that mankind may know Him. God wants to be known by man; or, rather man ought to know God… and God declares that ought. And, all would agree that truths may be gleaned from its pages by anyone. So, then, it would be irrational for God to declare Himself, only to make His Self-Revelation impossible to understand. While mankind may not understand everything in the Bible fully, and while God may not be fully understandable to mankind; God can be understood in so much as He reveals truth to the mind of man and in so much as man is properly alligned with (sympathetic to and seeking union/communion) God, who is revealing Himself. Withstanding, truth is for those who seek it, and are willing to trust God for it, though it runs contrary to all the wisdom of Man.
That being said, we move to the context of the passage. Verses 22-35 have covered examples of “those who are outside,” both spiritually-symbolically and quite litterally. In the case of the Scribes of the Pharisees, these were sternly warned with no chance of forgiveness; because they falsely accused the Holy Spirit working within Christ. They said He (Jesus) works by the power of Beelzebub–blasphemy. Then, one reads of the unbelieving, earthly family members of Jesus standing “outside” the house, not willing to enter into the place where He was teaching. In other passages, these same family members are recorded to have said that Jesus was “out of his head.” In other words, they were embarrassed, thought Him crazy, and most certainly then did not believe in Him as Messiah or His teachings. [Even Mary (one of those not entering in) displayed doubt – albeit not lasting… as we see with James also – though the great miracle of virgin birth was through her own body.]
Yes, these are perfect examples of “those outside,” and since they are not alligned with God (sympathetic with and seeking union/communion) with Him, then it is hard for them to hear even though they are hearing. But, let’s not be confused. Christ clearly says that parables serve the purpose of keeping those who are “outside” from turning and being forgiven after hearing and understanding. Evidently, the outsiders are those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit and/or those who disbelieve Christ, though they have had very up-close and personal acquaintance with Him in one form or another, especially for the space of many years (30+ in this case). In short, the outsiders are disbelievers who are insistent on their disbelief. To invoke a modern addage, “you wouldn’t believe if I told you.” The rule of judgement has always been the same for disbelievers. It was forever set in stone and written in blood from the foundation of the world that the disbeliever is ordained to eternal damnation, but the one who seeks the Truth and believes shall be saved. The motivation is to “get in.” And, as is evidenced by James, Joseph of Arimethea, and presumably Nicodemus; getting in is only a matter of belief.
The question indirectly posed is not, “will someone who hears and understands and turns be forgiven?” No. It is perfectly understood that one who follows that prescription shall indeed be forgiven. However seeing is not always perceiving and hearing is not always to understand. That is Christ’s point and consequently the point of the parables. It is as if God is saying, “OK, you think you’re so smart and that you see everything so clearly or can figure it all out, try this one on for size. I defy your pride.” Those who think they perceive and understand God perfectly (such as the Pharisees) are proven incapable at best by the might of the parable.
Outsiders are in contradistinction to disciples. Disciples are “in.” They have sought the Truth and found it in Christ, though it has defied all the wisdom of man and religious hierarchy. And, seeking and finding it was part of the prescribed journey. “It is the glory of God to hide a thing; it is the glory of kings to seek it out.” Searching and finding a truth makes it a memorable reward as opposed to something worthless and common, or something apparent to fallen mankind’s immediate understanding. The disciples are party to a great secret, seeing they are not the so-called “prudent” and “wise,” but are babes (Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21). Those who say they see are yet in the darkness of sin, but those who admit their blindness see (are foriven their sins – John 9:41).
So, since the Lord needed to explain truths to those who believe, and since He needed to confirm the willful disbelief of others; He spoke in parables. Yet, again, I stress that if one desires the truth to believe it; then he can know it, as is evidenced by James and other biblically recorded Pharisees and Priests (Acts).
“The secret of the Kingdom of God” – found in verse 11 – is a statement full of insights. Immediately, the question arises, “What is the Kingdom of God… and what is that Secret?” Well, the Kingdom is the Kingdom…the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth, and the secret of the Kingdom is just that… a thing known to some but not all. However, it does the reader well to notice that Jesus is not focusing primarily on what but HOW. He is providing them parables; and as a general rule, parables (such as the one previous) depict the likeness of something–how it is, or what it is like, or how it works. The secret of the kingdom of God literally means, “the secret of namely God’s rulership.” As said, it hales both to the future 1000 yr. reign of Christ as well as the nature of Christ’s rule, which is “not of this world” (John 18:36) or entirely different from the rulership of mankind.
If there is a secret about God’s way of doing things, or as to how things go in God’s realm of rule (as apposed to mankind’s way), then that is a precious secret indeed. Yet, once someone gets the first taste of God’s way (salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone), he understands it and loves it. That salvation gives him the experiential foundation and spiritual capacity to understand more of God’s way of ruling. [But, until one has that Way, then he doesn’t have a clue–neither experientially, nor of inner capacity.]
Every parable is a small window that Jesus provides for the hearer to gaze briefly into God’s way of doing things, even down to the how and “what will it be like” of certain future events (ex. Matt. 24, 25), especially the Millennial Kingdom of Christ.