SYNOPSIS – The parable pictures the “Son of Man” sowing the “seed” of the gospel in the world where it grows unseen until the end of the age – Mark 4:1-20.
The first parable of Jesus recorded in the gospel of Mark is the parable of the Sower. He taught it to a “great crowd” near the Sea of Galilee. A key point of the parable is – The kingdom of God began to invade the present age beginning with the preaching of Jesus Christ. Put another way, the kingdom has been in the process of implementation ever since the ministry of Jesus – (Mark 4:1-9, Matthew 13:1-9, Luke 8:4-8).
What is a parable? The word Greek word rendered “parable” means “something that is thrown alongside, to cast beside.” It is something that is laid alongside something else for clarification and comparison, a way to teach by analogy.
His parables were pictorial stories drawn from everyday life. They often featured jarring images designed to grab the attention of an audience. Generally, a parable illustrated one or two points of comparison. They were a regular feature of the teaching of Jesus and their most frequent topic was the “Kingdom of God.”
(Mark 4:1-9) – “And, again, began he to be teaching by the sea; and there come together unto him a very great multitude, so that, he into a boat entering, was sitting upon the sea—and all the multitude were near the sea upon the land. And he began to teach them in parables many things and was saying unto them in his teaching—Hearken! Lo! the sower went forth to sow; And it came to pass, as he sowed, some indeed, fell by the pathway, and the birds came and devoured it; And some fell on the rocky places, [even] where it had not much earth—and, straightway, it sprang forth by reason of its not having depth of earth; and when the sun arose it was scorched—and by reason of its not having root, it was dried up; And some fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and fruit it yielded not; And other fell into the good ground, and was yielding fruit, coming up and growing—and was bearing, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold, And he was saying—He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!’” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The sower went out in order to sow seed; the “Son of Man” planted “seed” by proclaiming the good news about the Kingdom of God and, thus, he inaugurated the New Covenant and began to sow the “good seed” of the Kingdom – (Mark 2:2, 4:33, 8:32, 9:10, 10:22, 11:29).
A better title for this parable might be, the ‘Parable of Different Types of Soil.’ The stress is not on the actions of the Sower or the kind of “seed” he sowed but, instead, on how the seed interacts with different types of soil. The Sower, the seed, and the method of sowing are the same with each soil type. What happens to the seed once it contacts the “soil” is the focus of the story, and the seed fell on four types of soil: hardened, rocky, thorny, and fertile.
A harvest of thirty, sixty or a hundredfold in Galilee would be extraordinary. This was an exaggerated figure designed to catch the hearer’s attention. With the Kingdom of God, regardless of how insignificant its beginnings, the results exceed all expectations because God’s Word will not return void to him.
The Mysteries of the Kingdom
(Mark 4:10-12) – “And when he was alone they who were about him with the twelve questioned him as to the parables; and he was saying unto them—To you, the sacred secret hath been given of the kingdom of God, whereas, to them who are outside, in parables are all things coming to pass—that They may surely look and yet not see, and surely hear and yet not understand, lest once they should return and it be forgiven them.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The saying of Jesus alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah:
“Then said be—Go and say unto this people—Hear on but do not discern, See on but do not perceive: Stupefy thou the heart of this people, And their ears make thou heavy, And their eyes overspread—Lest they see with their eyes And with their ears should hear, And their heart should discern and come back. And they be healed” – (Isaiah 6:9-10).
The contrast in the application of the words from Isaiah is between those who follow Jesus and those who do not – Those who do hear the parable and receive its explanation and those who do not – For they neither hear, nor do they understand his words.
The question posed by the disciples was – Why do those outside receive a parable without explanation but those inside receive a parable and its explanation? Parables separate the insider from the outsider – They reveal AND they conceal. They bring blessings to some, but judgment to others.
This was the pattern of Christ’s ministry. Some Jews reacted in faith to the good news – Others were blinded by unbelief and rejected it. The failure of some men and women to understand the teachings of Jesus was a sign of divine judgment on their hardness of heart.
Jesus declared – “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God.” The Greek noun rendered “mystery” does not refer to something esoteric, weird, or mysterious, but to something hidden that now is disclosed.
The unveiling of the mystery is “given.” It cannot be acquired through human effort or intellect – It must be received from God. The mystery is revealed to those who follow Jesus because they hearken to his words.
The word “parable” occurs twelve times in the gospel of Mark, each time in a context of opposition to Jesus. By means of parables, he reveals the mystery of the Kingdom to hearers, but he also exposes the opponents of the Kingdom – (Mark 3:23, 7:17, 12:1, 13:28).
In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet received a vision of Yahweh sitting on his throne surrounded by the seraphim when he received his prophetic call to bring the words of God to Israel. He was warned that the people of Israel would not receive his words, therefore, judgment was sure to follow. One glimmer of hope was the promise of a remnant that would heed the words of Yahweh.
Explanation of the Parable
(Mark 4:13-20) – “And he saith unto them—Know ye not this parable? How then will ye get to know all the parables? The sower soweth the word; And these are they beside the pathway where the word is sown—and as soon as they hear, straightway, cometh Satan and snatcheth away the word which hath been sown into them; And these are likewise they upon the rocky places sown—who, as soon as they hear the word, straightway with joy receive it, and have no root in themselves but only for a season are—afterwards, when there ariseth tribulation or persecution by reason of the word, straightway, they find cause of stumbling; And others are they who among thorns are sown—these are they who hear the word, and the anxieties of the age, and the deceit of wealth, and the covetings about the remaining things, entering in, choke up the word and unfruitful it becometh; And those yonder are they who on the good ground are sown—who, indeed, hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit—thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The parable concerns the process of the Kingdom spreading in the world and the response of men to it. It was being implemented through the proclamation of the gospel – First by Jesus, then by his small group of disciples, but not through military, political or economic might. A paradoxical aspect was that many people opposed the proclamation of the kingdom by Jesus, especially the most religious members of Judean society.
The proclamation of a message by a ragtag group of poorly educated Galileans appeared weak to the human mind, if not futile. But a small beginning would initiate something far greater and lasting. However, the results could not be seen at the time the “seed” was sown. In the end, the proclamation of the gospel would bring in the long-promised Kingdom of God and everlasting life for all those who responded in faith.
The parable is about the four different ways in which the word of the Kingdom is received. The division of responses into four groups is not intended to provide statistical information on what percentage of people accept or reject the Gospel. The seed sown on the hardened soil meets with no response and is rejected; hence, Satan snatches it away. Some seed is received initially with enthusiasm, but the hearers give it up when circumstances become challenging. This is the rocky soil.
Some receive the seed, but the life given by it is smothered by the competing forces of this age. This is the soil on which thorns grow. The seed that falls on good soil represents those who hear and receive the gospel, act on it in faith, and then bear fruit. They live out the life of the Kingdom.
Jesus faced outright rejection by some, initial acceptance by others who were not prepared to pay the later required costs, and acceptance by others who later recanted because of the deceitfulness of riches. It is the same for every man who heeds the call and begins to sow the good seed of the kingdom of God.