Book Plunge: Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught Part 8

Did Jesus want the message to get out there? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jesus came into the world to preach the gospel and save the lost. Right? Then why do we find statements like this?

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret [or mystery] of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ (Mark 4:10-12, NRSV)

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (p. 59). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

Madison tells us that devout Christian scholars have been stressed about this verse. Unfortunately, he doesn’t cite any of them. He is correct that some scholars thought about a Messianic Secret. So let’s see what some such scholars say about this passage.

The phrase “in parables” in 4:11 takes on a different meaning from its use in 4:2. It now means bewildering puzzles. Revelation becomes riddles and stumpers to the hardened, shallow, and indifferent mind; and the end result is befuddlement. God’s mysterious revelation consequently reveals the blindness of the world, and that blindness is manifest in surprising groups: the religious authorities, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (2:1–3:6; 3:22–30), Jesus’ nearest relatives (3:31–35), and even his disciples (8:14–21). They are wedded to old ways of perceiving and evaluate things only from human perspectives and potentialities. They see but see nothing special. These persons do not suffer from a thick skull but a hardened heart. The parables are therefore a “two-edged sword” that reveal the mystery of the kingdom to disciples who understand but create blindness in others. Edwards comments that they are

like the cloud which separated the fleeing Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians. It brought “darkness to the one side and light to the other” (Exod 14:20). The same cloud which condemned the Egyptians to their hardness of heart also protected Israel and made a way for her through the sea. That which was blindness to Egypt was revelation to Israel.

Outsiders see no revelation of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ miracles, his teaching, or his death. Only insiders, even if they are sometimes confused by its enigmatic concealment, can see the truth.
The secret is therefore revealed to those who respond to Jesus by hearing and following. Jesus’ charge to hear only occurs in the public parables and not in the private explanations because insiders have already heard and have responded by coming to Jesus to hear more. Disciples are not quicker than others, nor are they able to unravel mysteries for themselves. The mystery is something that is “given” to them. The understanding comes by grace as Jesus’ interpretation unlocks the mystery for them.
The quotation from Isaiah 6:9–10. The citation from Isaiah has long troubled commentators because it suggests that Jesus deliberately excludes people by making things hard to understand with dark sayings that cloak the truth. The context in Isaiah is helpful for interpreting what is meant. God tells the prophet to preach in spite of warning him in advance that it will only harden the hearts of the hearers until God carries out the punishment. That command brims over with irony and scorn. God calls a faithful prophet to preach to faithless people. Jesus’ explanation for the parables has the same ironic tenor and can be translated: “So that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; because the last thing they want is to turn and have their sins forgiven.” In Isaiah’s time the people could not understand the message until the land and Jerusalem were decimated (Isa. 6:11–13). What was true for the days of Isaiah holds true for the time of Jesus. The present time is one of concealment and suffering, and understanding may have to wait destruction—the death of the Son of God and the desolation of Jerusalem.
Insiders and outsiders. What is it that makes one an insider over against an outsider? Kermode objects that the outsider seems to be kept “outside, dismayed and frustrated in a seemingly arbitrary manner.” But this misreads the text, because the key element that distinguishes one from the other is that the insider gathers around Jesus as an honest inquirer (Mark 4:10). Disciples are no different from anyone in needing explanations for the parables, but they are different from outsiders in that they choose to come to Jesus for explanations. They also have to puzzle out the parables, but they ask questions sincerely. The decisive difference is that insiders are not indifferent. At the conclusion of this section of parables, Mark tells us that Jesus explains the parables to his disciples privately because they come to him and ask for an explanation (4:34). The fact that Jesus does this in private does not mean that he intends to exclude the others. Outsiders simply do not regard what he says to be critical enough to bother joining the disciples around Jesus in order to receive illumination.
Being an insider, however, does not mean that one knows everything. Insiders are elite only in the sense that they have knowledge that will save their lives. But insiders can be baffled and deceived and must watch how they listen. Malbon observes, “The resounding pattern is this: Hear. Understand? Listen again! See. Understand? Look again!” Insiders and outsiders are not separated by an unbridgeable chasm, such as the one that divided Lazarus from the rich man. So-called outsiders can become insiders, otherwise “the whole mission of preaching the good news of God’s kingship is a cruel hoax.” “The Twelve and the others around him” (4:10) must not be considered a closed group. So-called insiders can become outsiders; otherwise there would be no reason to caution them to pay heed to how they listen so that they can discern what lies hidden beneath the surface.

David E. Garland, Mark (The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 158–161.


Some have sought to avoid the conclusion that Jesus used parables to hide the truth by claiming that Mark or someone before him mistranslated Jesus’ Aramaic word “so that” rather than “who.” This is a possible explanation, but a better one focuses on the meaning of the quotation from Isa 6:9–10. God told the prophet to deliver his message even though it would be rejected. The seeing without perceiving, the hearing without understanding, and the failure to turn and be forgiven (Isaiah wrote “be healed”) were the result, not the purpose, of his message. So it was also with the parables of Jesus. Therefore the Greek word hina (translated “so that” in the NIV) at the beginning of v. 12 ought to be translated “as a result.” This is a well-established meaning. Jesus did not speak in parables for the purpose of withholding truth from anyone; but the result of his parables, the rest of his teaching, and even his miracles was that most did not understand and respond positively. He did speak in parables to provoke thought and invite commitment. Therefore parables are more than mere illustrations. They constitute spiritual tests that separate those who understand and believe from those who do not. Still another possibility is to translate hina “that is” (cf. its use in 9:12). This rendering and the translation “as a result” do not differ greatly.

James A. Brooks, Mark (vol. 23; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 83.


Then He quotes Isaiah 6:9–10 to drive home His point and to demonstrate that the Scriptures are being fulfilled in Him: “So that they may look and look, yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back—and be forgiven.” His point is that, just as the sun that hardens the clay also melts the wax, so the Word of the gospel offends the resistant and rebellious while it is enthusiastically received by the receptive. Those outside are not denied the possibility of belief, but if they persist in their unbelief, they will not receive more evidence or revelation. That clarifies verse 25: “For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Love the Word and you will get more satisfaction and understanding in who God has revealed Himself to be. Refuse the Word and even the understanding you do have will be taken away.

Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in Mark (ed. Daniel L. Akin, David Platt, and Tony Merida; Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary; Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014), 88.

I could keep going on, but it looks like a number of scholars have an explanation for this. It’s the one I would use. Jesus speaks so that those who really want the truth will work for it. What a shock that we are dealing with someone who didn’t cite any New Testament scholars here and yet speaks about how perplexed they allegedly are.

He moves on then to another passage:

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26, NRSV) Which is it? Is it the role of the Holy Spirit to teach “everything”? Or is the Holy Spirit busy sowing confusion to pursue the goal of keeping people in the dark?

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (p. 61). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

Well since Jesus was talking to His inner circle, like He did in the Markan parables when He explained them, then there’s really no difficulty here.

There are now more than 30,000 different Christian brands because Christians can’t agree on what God is like, what he wants humans to do, and how he wants to be worshiped. Was Jesus wrong in expecting that the Holy Spirit would keep everyone correctly informed?

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (p. 62). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

Even Catholic sources are coming to realize the 30,000 denominations or however many they throw out is a false statistic.

But hey, it agreed with what Madison wanted to say so why bother researching it?

And it’s not just that God doesn’t want some people to understand the truth. Apparently, he also doesn’t want even his most loyal followers thinking too much. Jesus idealizes childhood, that stage in human development when critical thinking is least likely to occur. He seems to be saying that understanding is of far less value than credulity. Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4, NRSV) The gospels were written well before critical thinking—especially about religion—had come into fashion, well before due diligence and fact-checking were common practice, and before literacy among the common people was widespread. But even today, religions—not just Christianity—are good at aiming their appeals at people who will simply believe and comply. What better audience, in fact, than children, who generally trust parents and authority figures, and adults who have similar levels of naiveté?

Madison, David. Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (pp. 62-64). Insighting Growth Publications. Kindle Edition.

Yes. That’s obviously the point. Jesus is telling His disciples to be stupid. It couldn’t possibly be He is referring to the way children trust those above them could it?

Madison. Before you talk to others about critical thinking, make sure you are doing it yourself. You’re not.

And next time, it looks like we cover judgment. Fun.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)