“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8.8)
“To you [My disciples] has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven” (Mark 4.11-12).
As said in the opening of my last post, the concept of “having ears” and “hearing” at first glance appears to signify that the recipient of Jesus’ words is fully capable on their own to understand (discern; come to a correct judgment) the meaning of His parables. Since parables were essentially taking the common experiences of life and then relating them to deeper spiritual truths, and all people (in general) have ears that hear, then, as the argument sometimes put forward is, that those who heard them ought to be able to “listen and obey.” (Within those same parameters, I would include not just the parables, but also Jesus’ preaching/teaching ministry in general). In other words, the teachings of Christ (in general) and the telling of His parables (specifically) weren’t meant to be difficult, but rather easy to discern.
However, as I began to show you previously, this was not what Jesus said. He said the opposite. He said that His teaching was veiled to some, but revealed to others. He also said that who He left in the dark, and who He brought into the light was His choice. To His disciples was given the secrets of the kingdom. To them was given the secrets of the wisdom of God. To them was given the secrets of the knowledge of God, leading to everlasting life. Not to others.
An Apparent Exception: Luke 20
Immediately after saying that I am reminded of the parable that Jesus taught the chief priests and scribes (many of whom belonged to the Pharisees). These men were well learned in the Tanakh (Old Testament). History claims that many of them studied the Bible so strenuously in their day that they had the whole Jewish canon memorized. They’d put many of us ministers to shame with their excellent study habits and commitment.
So, when Jesus told them the parable of the tenants they caught on rather quickly. Their ears seemed to work, for the apparently heard the meaning of the parable. As a result, they…
“sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor” (Luke 20.19-20).
The Source of their Angst…
The parable of the tenants is about a vineyard that has been planted by the owner of the field (cf. Isa 5; Jer 2.21; Psa 80.8). After some time had passed, the man sent servants to gather the fruit of the crops that were supposed to be sown for his benefit. However, they beat the first servant “and sent him away empty-handed” (Luke 20.10). The owner “sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed” (Luke 20.11). The same result transpired when he sent a third servant (Luke 20.12). Therefore, “the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours’” (Luke 20.13-14). Which is exactly what they preceded to do (Luke 20.15).
Jesus then interjects a rhetorical question into the parable: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” (Luke 20.15b). Well, the answer is obvious to the observant listener: “He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others” (Luke 20.16). Now when those listening heard this, “they said, ‘Surely not!” (Luke 20.16b). (It appears then that they too understood the message). And then, the Lord shows justification for this teaching by referring to several poignant passages from the Scriptures in vv. 17-18 (see Psa 118.22; Isa 28.16; Zech 3.90; Dan 2.44-45).
A Semblance of Understanding…
And so, we have an instance of the crowd and the religious leaders of Israel seemingly understanding a parable of Jesus. Thus, the person who denies that Jesus’ parables were taught to keep things from those who were not His people believes that they have found justification. For if the converse were true, then these people who would later be screaming for His blood on the day of His crucifixion would have been left in the dark; “hearing but not hearing, seeing but not seeing.”
Unless…of course, it was Jesus’ intention for His hearers to know what He meant? Which is certainly plausible, and I think this is part of it. However, I also believe that in general people heard the parables (and other teachings) of Jesus and were able to grasp their “surface” meaning.
You see, the people had a basic understanding of sowing seed in the land (Luke 8.5). They understood the nature of leaven in a lump of dough (Matt 13.33). They were able to gather the point of a strong man (the thief) coming in and binding the strong man (the tenant) and taking his possessions (Mark 3.27). They knew the danger of attempting to pull the tares out of the wheat field before harvest, before they had beat them on the threshing floor (Matt 13.29-30). They comprehended the value of finding lost money (Luke 15.9), or showing kindness to your neighbor even if he were not of your household (Luke 10.36), of cherishing wealth rather than the will and word of God (Luke 12.20-21; 16.31).
Basic vs. Complete Understanding
All of these things taught in parables—and there are many more—the people would have had a basic understanding of them. But the deeper spiritual meaning? Those things can only be spiritually discerned. Something the religious leaders did not do, even though they understood the basic premise of the parable of the tenants, or they would not have pursued killing Jesus. They wouldn’t have spent money and time in an effort to get the nation, and even those outside of Israel, to vilify Him.
The fact that they did do those things, rather than embrace their Messiah proves that the truth of the matter had not been revealed to them. Here are a few points of reference that should settle the matter in our hearts.
How Peter knew…
- Jesus asks His disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
- They answered Him: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt 16.14).
- Jesus then said: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16.15).
- Immediately, Simon Peter speaks up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matt 16.16).
- Notice what Jesus said in response: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16.17; cf. 11.25-27).
Jesus said to Peter, “You did not know me by natural means but by supernatural means. This was not revealed to you by humans means but godly means. The Father revealed to Peter the true identity of Jesus (the Son). And, in turn Jesus called him blessed.”
How the Corinthians knew…
In similar fashion we find this same sort of argument presented by the apostle Paul. Speaking to the Church in Corinth he says that the personal knowledge they have gained of Christ (having been delivered from the state of sin to the state of life) was a
- “demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2.4b-5).
As opposed to what the world receives. What has been given by God is
- “a secret and hidden wisdom” that “None of the rulers of this age understood…for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2.7, 8).
However, what the Christians in Corinth had been given, Paul says where what
- “…God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us by God (1 Cor 2.10-12; cf. Mark 4.11).
Something he tacitly denies is possible for the person whom God has not decided to reveal Himself to:
- “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2.14).
Further Proofs from Jesus’ Ministry
With that in mind we turn to our final points of reference. I will have more to say on this matter in at least one more upcoming post, but these last two instances will be the end of the current discussion.
In John 5, Jesus highlights to the Jews what Paul has been teaching the Christians in Corinth. He has been preaching and teaching in their midst for some time. He has demonstrated His power over creation time and time again. He has fulfilled what the prophets, like Isaiah, said would come to pass when the Messiah came. The very things Jesus used to verify to John the Baptist that he need not look for another (see Luke 7.19-23; refers to Isa 29.18-19; 42.6-7; 61.1-3 and some others).
But the Jews were blind to what they saw. They were deaf to what they heard. Seeing they did not see; hearing they did not hear. The Lord said to them,
“…the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to come to me that you may have life” (John 5.37-39).
Much could be said about Jesus’ words here. I will attempt to be brief. First notice that Jesus levels several charges against these who claim to know God. Second, they are unable to make sense of the Scriptures even though they have read them and have heard them many times throughout their lives. Third, they have no life in themselves, and failing to truly see and hear Jesus they do not come to Him that they might have life.
In John 8 we find a similar scenario unfolding. Actually, this happens throughout the four-gospels if due diligence is given in observational reading and a willingness to lay aside presuppositional blinders.
Jesus tells the learned and the common man the same thing. He is
- “…the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8.12).
When those who profess to see and hear the God through His Word mock the Lord, He says to them…
- “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would also know my Father” (John 8.19).
Meanwhile, to those who said they believed in him, the Lord responded…
- “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.31-32).
But this strikes against the heart of the would-be believers. They have heard Him. They have seen Him, but they fail to really “hear and see.” Though they have ears, their ears fail to listen to the truth. The result of which would be to remain as slaves of sin and to die under them (John 8.21, 24, 34-36).
Why? Why couldn’t they see Jesus for who He truly is as Peter did? Why couldn’t they hear the truth and discern its meaning and turn from their sin to Him, in order to be forgiven and gain life? Jesus gives the answer if we are willing to accept it:
- “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear [are not able] to hear my word” (John 8.43; cf. Isa 44.18; Mic 4.12; brackets section added for clarity).
When I want to hide a gift from my wife, do you know where I put it? Right in the open. In a place where I know it will cross her path, but since her mind will be on other things, she will often times (not always) fail to see it.
These truths (presented in the last two posts) are not radically new. They might appear “new” to you, the reader, but they are found throughout the Bible. The truth is hidden in the open. Just like Jesus was to the masses that saw Him, touched Him, and heard Him.
The only ones who recognized the Lord and Christ for who He truly is are the ones whom the Triune Creator God revealed the truth to. Remember, Jesus said these things were hidden, but to whom they were revealed was a work of the Father (revealing), the Son (revealing), and the Spirit (revealing) in those whom found the favor of God. Not a work of man, but a gift (grace) of God’s mercy.
I think I will return to this subject one more time to deal with a possible objection. Until then, God Bless.
 This is one particular passage that highlights the lifelessness of Jesus’ hearers. Though they are what we would term physically alive before Him, Jesus says they don’t really have life. Why, because they are separated from the life of God. Some might argue “No, this is merely speaking about eternal-life, not saying that they are spiritually dead.” Uhm, I fail to see how that is a meaningful distinction. If one has life in God, it is eternal. The opposite is what? Eternal separation, right? Yes, which according to the way the Bible defines death is what? Spiritually dead. If a person is to be given true life (eternal-life/everlasting-life), then their status as being dead spiritually (i.e., separated from the living God due to their sinful state) must be changed. Who does that? The person or God? We are told “salvation belongs to the Lord,” so too does “life,” which Jesus will give to all that the Father has given Him (John 6.37); those whom have been drawn by the Father (John 6.44), and this an instance of “revealing” the true identity of both (Luke 10.21-22; cf. John 6.45).
 Note to Reader: All Scripture references are of the English Standard Version (ESV).