One of the things that every Christian should be doing is Bible study. This is an important part of spiritual growth. As you study the Bible, you will gain knowledge about God and will learn what you need and what God wants you to be doing. But sometimes, Bible study is difficult. Even the apostle Peter had trouble understanding some Bible truths. He said, “Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand.”
So what do we do when we come to a difficult portion of the Bible. Some might respond by skipping that part. I just can’t understand it. But is this what God wants for us? No, God has told us to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Some of the teaching in the Bible may be difficult, but that should drive us to more diligence. Work hard and try to find what God is teaching. There is a great benefit to studying and understanding what God says in the Bible.
The reason why I mention this is that this passage took some time for me to understand. Jesus spoke these words but didn’t explain His meaning. So, it took some time to figure out what He meant. But after much study, I would like you to consider what I found.
- What does it say? (Mark 4:21-25)
Jesus began by asking two questions and then making several statements. His questions involved the use of a lamp. Both questions had to do with the purpose of a lamp. Is a lamp brought to a room to be hidden under a basket or under a bed? The obvious answer is no. “Who would bring a lighted lamp just in order to set it where its light could do no good?”7 Nobody brings a lamp to a room to hide its light. The second question also expects an answer. Isn’t the purpose for a lamp to set it on a lampstand? The obvious answer is yes.
Let’s talk about the lamp and lampstand mentioned in this passage. When we think of a lamp, we think of the electrical lamp which sits atop the table next to our armchair or bed. But in biblical times, the lamp was usually made “of clay or metal, with olive oil to fuel its wick (not a candle).”1 You can still buy these types of lamps on the internet.2 They look like a flattened tea kettle with a handle, center hole for filling, and a spout with the lighted wick. The lampstand was a stand on which the lamp could be placed safely and where its light could cover the most area. “It might be a shelf extending from the pillar in the center of the room … or a single stone projecting inward from the wall, or a piece of metal conspicuously placed and used similarly.”5
After using the lamp as an illustration, Jesus said that nothing was hidden that would be not be revealed. He then repeated the idea by saying that nothing has been kept secret that would not come to light. After saying this, Jesus invited anyone who had ears to hear.
Next, Jesus broadened his thoughts about hearing. He warned his audience to take heed to what they heard. By saying take heed, he meant that they should “pay attention”3 to what they heard. He told them that the amount of information they used would be the amount they would be given. If they heard (and presumably acted on it), they would be given more. Those who had would be given more. But those who didn’t have would have what they had been given taken away from them.
- What does it mean?
You may notice that what Jesus said to the people was not explained. So we are left to interpret what he meant by the context of the rest of the chapter. One thing to remember is that Jesus had previously explained to the disciples that they had been given the privilege of understanding the truth (Mark 4:10-12). But those who were outside (referring to those who had rejected Him) were being judged by God for their sin and would only hear the parables without an explanation.
Note also what Jesus said to his ignorant disciples. He was surprised that they did not understand the parable of the four soils.
Mark 4:13 – “And He said to them, Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?”
This shows us that we who have been born again ought to be able to understand Jesus’ parables. Since the Holy Spirit indwells us and the veil has been removed from our spiritual understanding, we should be able to study Jesus’ sayings and understand the meaning. This does not imply that it will be easy. It may take a while to think about them and may involve prayer and comparison to other things Jesus taught. But with the help given to us by God, we should be able to understand what Jesus is saying in these parables.
To whom was Jesus speaking?
At the beginning (Mark 4:2) and the ending (Mark 4:33-34), Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. But in the middle of this section, He explained things to His disciples when they were alone (Mark 4:10). In verses 10-20, Jesus was speaking privately to the disciples. But when we come to the following three parables, to whom was He speaking?
Perhaps the key is found in how Mark begins each paragraph. In verses 21 and 24, it says that “He said to them.” But in verses 26 and 30, there is no mention of “them.” Then in verses 33-34, it mentions that Jesus only spoke in parables to the crowds but explained them when alone with the disciples. With that in mind, I think that in our passage, Jesus is still speaking to His disciples. Knowing to whom He was speaking will help us to interpret what He said to them.
What does the lamp represent? (Mark 4:21-23)
In the parable of the four soils, Jesus defined the seed as God’s truth and the soil as people’s hearts. In this parable, Jesus does not explicitly define the terms. So what does the lamp represent in this part of His teaching?
Jesus is the lamp.
If you are familiar with the gospels, you may remember that Jesus called Himself the Light of the world.
John 8:12 – “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
If Jesus was equating Himself with the lamp here, then He was saying that His voice was not something to keep hidden. As He spoke the truth, hidden things and secrets would be revealed. While Jesus is the Light of the world and His presence was a light to people, I don’t think this is what He meant here. Why would He refer to Himself as the lamp and then talk about hiding Himself under a basket or bed?
The disciples are the lamp.
One of the many Bible references to light is found in Matthew 5:16.
Matt. 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
In that passage, Jesus told the disciples that they were a light to the dark world. They should not hide their light but should be an influence on all people they met. But does that fit with our current passage? If the disciples are the lamp, then Jesus was telling them to shine, but how does that fit with hidden things being revealed? I don’t think that is what Jesus was saying here.
God’s truth is the lamp.
The Bible also talks about God’s truth being a lamp to people.
Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
This seems to fit the context best. In the previous parable, the seed represented God’s truth spoken to people. In this parable, the lamp represents God’s truth shining into people’s lives. As it shines, hidden things and secrets are revealed. This is how I will interpret this parable.
With this in mind, this is the meaning Jesus was trying to get across to His disciples. Gods’ truth is not something to keep hidden from others. Instead, it is something to be proclaimed openly so that men’s sins can be revealed, people can repent, and find forgiveness from God. This only possible when God’s people are proclaiming God’s truth and people are listening.
What does the hearing and measuring mean? (Mark 4:23-25)
Note that Jesus calls on people to hear if they are able (4:23). He then tells them to pay attention to what they hear because how they respond will affect the results it produces in their lives (4:24-25). There are two thoughts here.
Not everyone listens (4:23).
As Jesus spoke to His disciples and to the crowds, He addressed those who had ears to hear. There were two types of people. As you may recall, there were some people who had rejected Jesus (many of the religious leaders). There were others who were only interested in what Jesus could do for them (healing and miracles). These were spiritually deaf people who were not tuned into what Jesus was saying. But there were some whose hearts had been touched by God. They were listening to what Jesus said because God had opened their hearts to receive Him. The sad truth is that not everyone listens. But the happy truth is that some do listen.
Everyone will be rewarded for his response (4:24-25).
The second part of Jesus’ teaching involves the response of those who heard Him. When Jesus told them that they should pay attention to what they heard, He noted that there were only two responses and that each would have its own results.
For those who hear and pay attention to Jesus’ teaching, there is a promise for more to be given to them. As they hear and respond favorably to it, they will be given more of God’s truth. “Truth received and carefully assimilated enlarges one’s capacity to receive more truth.”4 And as they continue listening and obeying God’s truth, more truth will be revealed.
But those who hear but do not pay attention to what Jesus says will have nothing. And even the truth they were given will be taken away from them. This reminds me of the seed scattered on the wayside. Before the seed of God’s truth could take root in their hearts, Satan steals it away and they never do believe.
What Jesus said is true. “It is a universal law that the measure of their diligent attention to the teaching will be the measure of the profit they derive from it.”4 How a person responds to God’s truth will determine the results it will have in his life. A positive response will have good results. A negative response will have bad results. This is how God has designed for it to work.
- How does it apply?
There are two truths here which can be applied to our lives.
Understand that you can’t hide from God.
When the light of God’s truth shines on your life, it will reveal the sins hidden in your heart. You can’t hide anything from God. “Men may try to cover up things, but in this they will always be unsuccessful, for God brings everything out into the open. One day whatever is now concealed will be revealed. … Men think they can get away with their evil thoughts, plans, words, and actions. God, however, will expose all this.”6
While this may appear to be a terrifying thing, it is actually a benefit. Instead of allowing you to continue in your sin, God wants your sin to be revealed so that you can be changed. His goal is for you to recognize your sin against Him, to repent of it, and then to turn to Jesus and be forgiven. If your sin was never uncovered, you would never find God’s forgiveness. So allow the light of God’s truth to penetrate your heart. Only then will you find cleansing and forgiveness.
Pay attention to what God is saying.
When the light of God’s truth comes into your life, you have the opportunity to respond. How will you respond today? Will you pay attention to what God has said? Or will you continue in your ignorance? If you hear God’s truth and apply it to your life, God will help you. He wants to give you a relationship with Him that is growing and becoming better every day. But if you hear God’s truth and let it go in one ear and out the other, you will never benefit from it.
If you are a Christian, you have the unique privilege of hearing and understanding God’s truth. As you read the Bible and search for God’s plan for your life, He will reveal it to you. But it takes effort. You can’t think that a lackadaisical effort will produce good results. It won’t. This week, start putting effort into your own personal Bible study. Take the time to read the Bible and apply it to your life on a daily basis. When you do that, you will benefit greatly.
1 Mounce, Bill, λύχνος as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/lychnos on 9/23/2023.
3 Mounce Bill, βλέπω as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/blepo on 9/23/2023.
4 Hiebert 117.
5 Hendriksen 162.
6 Hendriksen 163.
7 Lenski 180.
Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.
Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.
Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.
Lenski, R. C. H., The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel, Columbus: Wartburg, 1946.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.
“What is the significance of the lampstand in the Bible?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=6134 on 9/23/2023.