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To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God;
but to those who are outside,
all things come in parables.
Mk. 4:11

Following the parable of the sower and his seed that fell on four different soils with four different results, Jesus speaks the above words regarding the mystery of the Kingdom and the use of parables.

Parables are designed to inform and to confound, to be heard and to be understood, to be heard and to inhibit understanding, to impart knowledge and to keep knowledge concealed, to give a word from God and to hide a word from God, to bring salvation and to keep salvation obscure. Jesus Himself said that for those who are outside, all thing come in parables, so that “seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them” (Mk. 4:12; see: Lu. 8:10 for a briefer statement).

A fuller account of the statement of Jesus is given in Matthew, and the statement of Christ is attributed to prophecy in Isaiah:

Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and heart with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn so that I should heal them (Matt. 13:14-15; see: Isa. 6:9-10).

In these statements Jesus asserts Sovereignty, which at times softens and at times hardens the heart, and He also affirms judicial punishment and withdrawal from those who are set in opposition to God, His Word and His Way. To have the understanding veiled reveals the lack of election, and reveals a heart that has grown dull. Profound insight into the ways of God is revealed in this passage. Who is man to question the acts of God? Is not God the Potter? (See: God is Sovereign and Theistic Determinism)

A Biblical mystery is a truth or truths that cannot be discovered by human reason but must become known by Divine Revelation and can only be known by Revelation. Man is not capable of arriving at such knowledge by his own initiative or ingenuity; man simply cannot elevate himself to the level of God’s knowledge. For God to be known, and for His ways to be know, God must inform. Man will remain in ignorance and darkness unless God sends knowledge and light. In all things man is at the mercy of God.

In this sense a mystery is a secret or concealed truth that will remain hidden unless it is made known, that is, unless it is revealed. And the revelation of  the mystery is the doing of God. Passages in Ephesians state this to be the case:

. . . how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery . . . which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets . . . (Eph. 3:3-5);

. . . to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:9);

I became a minister to . . . the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints (Col. 1:25-26).

These verses contain the central truths related to the concept of Biblical mystery: the mystery is known to God; it has been hidden with God since before the creation; God is the One who makes the mystery known; He makes the mystery know to select individuals; the recipients of the mystery then make it known to others. The point is that the mystery cannot and will not be known unless God makes it known.

Only three times does the word “mystery” (mustērion) appear in the Gospels (Matt. 13:11; Mk. 4:11; Lu. 8:10; each reference is to the Kingdom), but it appears twenty-four times in the rest of the New Testament. The word is used of good and evil: the mystery of the kingdom of God; the mystery of iniquity that was already at work in the early days of the Church; the mystery of the Gospel; and the mystery of Babylon, the great end-time whore. Essentially, the word speaks of that which is hidden until it becomes known.

While Mark simply refers to “the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mk. 4:11), both Matthew and Luke speak of “the mysteries of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:11, “the kingdom of heaven”; Lu. 8:10, “the kingdom of God”). There is the mystery of the Kingdom itself, and there are mysteries related to the Kingdom concept. And if all of this is to be known then God Himself must make it known—all true thought related to the Kingdom is of God.

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