Therefore speak I to them in parables - On this account, viz. to lead them into a proper knowledge of God. I speak to them in parables, natural representations of spiritual truths, that they may be allured to inquire, and to find out the spirit, which is hidden under the letter; because, seeing the miracles which I have wrought, they see not, i.e. the end for which I have wrought them; and hearing my doctrines, they hear not, so as to profit by what is spoken; neither do they understand, ουδε συνιουσι, they do not lay their hearts to it. Is not this obviously our Lord's meaning? Who can suppose that he would employ his time in speaking enigmatically to them, on purpose that they might not understand what was spoken? Could the God of truth and sincerity act thus? If he had designed to act otherwise, he might have saved his time and labor, and not spoken at all, which would have answered the same end, viz. to leave them in gross ignorance.
The mysteries of the kingdom - The word “mystery,” in the Bible, properly means a thing that is “concealed,” or that “has been concealed.” It does not mean that the thing was “incomprehensible,” or even difficult to be understood.
The thing might be “plain” enough if revealed, but it means simply that it “had” not been before made known. Thus the “mysteries of the kingdom” do not mean any doctrines incomprehensible in themselves considered, but simply doctrines about the preaching of the gospel and the establishment of the new kingdom of the Messiah, which “had not” been understood, and which were as yet concealed from the great body of the Jews. See Romans 16:25; Romans 11:25; Ephesians 3:3-4, Ephesians 3:9. Of this nature was the truth that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles; that the Jewish polity was to cease; that the Messiah was to die, etc. To the disciples it was given to know these truths. This was important for them, as they were to carry the gospel around the globe. To the others it was not “then” given. They were too gross, too earthly; they had too, grovelling conceptions of the Messiah‘s kingdom to understand these truths, even if communicated to them. They were not to preach the gospel, and hence our Saviour was at particular pains to instruct his apostles in the system which they were to preach. The Pharisees, and Jews generally, were not prepared to receive the system, and would not have believed it, and therefore he purposely employed a kind of teaching which was intended for his apostles only.
Whosoever hath - This is a proverbial method of speaking.
It means that a man who improves what light, grace, and opportunities he has, shall have them increased. From him that improves them not, it is proper that they should be taken away. The Jews had many opportunities of learning the truth, and some light still lingered among them; but they were gross and sensual, and misimproved them, and it was a just judgment that they should be deprived of them. Superior knowledge was given to the disciples of Christ: they improved it, however slowly, and the promise was that it should be greatly increased.
Matthew simply states the “fact,” that though they saw the “natural” meaning of the story - though they literally understood the parable - yet they did not understand its “spiritual” signification. Mark and Luke do not state the “fact,” but affirm that he spoke with this “intention” - implying that such “was” the result. Nor was there any dishonesty in this, or any unfair disguise. He had truths to state which he wished his “disciples particularly” to understand. They were of great importance to their ministry. Had he clearly and fully stated them to the Jews, they would have taken his life long before they did. He therefore chose to state the doctrines so that if their hearts had been right, and if they had not been malignant and blind, “they might have understood them.” His doctrines he stated in the best possible way, and it was not his fault if they did not understand him. By little and little, in this way, he prepared many even of the Jews to receive the truth; by the only possible way of ever gaining access to their minds. It was, moreover, entirely proper and right to impart instruction to his disciples which he did not “intend” for others.
And in them is fulfilled - This place is quoted substantially from Isaiah 6:9-10. It was literally fulfilled in the time of Isaiah. In the time of Christ the people had the same character. Like them, they closed their eyes upon the truth, and rejected the divine teaching. The words of Isaiah were therefore “as well fitted” to express the character of the people in the time of Christ as in that of the prophet. In this sense they were “fulfilled,” or “filled up;” that is, “a case occurred that corresponded to their meaning.” See the notes at Matthew 1:22. It is not by any means intended that Isaiah, when he spoke these words, had any reference to the time of Christ. The meaning in both places is, that the people were so gross, sensual, and prejudiced, that they “would” not see the truth, or understand anything that was contrary to their grovelling opinions and sensual desires; a case by no means uncommon in the world. See the passage more fully explained in my notes at Matthew 13:16
Blessed are your eyes - That is, you are happy that you are permitted to see truth which they will not see.
You are permitted to understand the spiritual meaning of the parables, and in some degree the plan of salvation.
Many prophets and righteous men - They wished to see the times of the Messiah.
They looked to it as a time when the hopes of the world would be fulfilled, and when the righteous would be happy, John 8:56. “Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” Compare also 1 Peter 1:10-12; Hebrews 11:13. So Isaiah and the prophets looked forward to the coming of the Messiah as the consummation of their wishes and the end of the prophecies, Revelation 19:10. The object always dearest to the hearts of all righteous people is to witness the coming and advancement of the kingdom of Christ. Compare Revelation 22:20.
“Christ sorrows and weeps over our churches, over our institutions of learning, that have failed to meet the demand of God. He comes to investigate in Battle Creek, which has been moving in the same track as Jerusalem. The publishing house has been turned into desecrated shrines, into places of unholy merchandise and traffic. It has become a place where injustice and fraud have been carried on, where selfishness, malice, envy, and passion have been borne sway. Yet the men who have led into this working upon wrong principles are seemingly unconscious of their wrong course of action. When warnings and entreaties come to them, they say, Doth He not speak in parables? Words of warning and reproof have been treated as idle tales.”—Letter 31, 1898. PM 167.5Read in context »
So wide was Christ's view of truth, so extended His teaching, that every phase of nature was employed in illustrating truth. The scenes upon which the eye daily rests were all connected with some spiritual truth, so that nature is clothed with the parables of the Master. COL 20.1
In the earlier part of His ministry, Christ had spoken to the people in words so plain that all His hearers might have grasped truths which would make them wise unto salvation. But in many hearts the truth had taken no root, and it had been quickly caught away. “Therefore speak I to them in parables,” He said; “because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.... For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed.” Matthew 13:13-15. COL 20.2
Jesus desired to awaken inquiry. He sought to arouse the careless, and impress truth upon the heart. Parable teaching was popular, and commanded the respect and attention, not only of the Jews, but of the people of other nations. No more effective method of instruction could He have employed. If His hearers had desired a knowledge of divine things, they might have understood His words; for He was always willing to explain them to the honest inquirer. COL 20.3Read in context »
It is the close connection with God which opens and makes quick and sharp the understanding. Men in Christ's day brought upon themselves that blindness that in seeing they see not and the willful deafness that in hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. Jesus told them that there was no reason for them to be surprised at what He had stated in regard to their unbelief, for Isaiah had predicted the same [Matthew 13:13-15 quoted].... TDG 361.4Read in context »
“Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee.”
The Great Teacher brought His hearers in contact with nature, that they might listen to the voice which speaks in all created things; and as their hearts became tender and their minds receptive, He helped them to interpret the spiritual teaching of the scenes upon which their eyes rested. The parables, by means of which He loved to teach lessons of truth, show how open His spirit was to the influences of nature and how He delighted to gather the spiritual teaching from the surroundings of daily life. Ed 102.1Read in context »