While we can understand parables logically to some extent, Jesus told us that we actually need the “Secret of the Kingdom of God” to fully understand (Mark 4:11). That’s a very intriguing phrase right there and it leaves us wondering what Jesus is talking about. To find the answer, we need to first understand how that phrase would have been understood by the people Jesus said it to. Kenneth S. Wuest saw it as a connection to the mystery religions of the time.
The mystery-religions had their secrets and signs as modern secret societies have today. Those initiated into these pagan cults, knew these secret signs. The word mustērion…. as used in Scripture means “the secret counsels of God which are hidden from the ungodly but when revealed to the godly, are understood by them.” The mystery is not in the fact that they are difficult of interpretation, but that they are impossible of interpretation until their meaning is revealed, when they become plain. The disciples had been initiated into these secret things. (Wuest, Kenneth S. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997, pp. 84-85.)
In Mark 4 we see that Jesus told parables in order to conceal the truth from some and reveal it others at the Father’s choosing. So if we want to know the parable’s interpretations, we have to have the key; the mystery; the secret. And just what exactly is that key? Well, in the case of Mark 4, Jesus served as the answer key. And for that reason, He seemed surprised that the disciples couldn’t see the parable’s interpretation without Him explaining it to them. It’s as though He expected them to be supernaturally given the interpretation as He was saying the parables out loud. But how could He have expected that?
The only plausible understanding seems to be that the Holy Spirit would have revealed the answer to them. While it’s true that the Spirit isn’t specifically mentioned in this passage, it seems unreasonable to think the answer would have come from anywhere else. After all, the parable is God’s riddle and so He must be the one to whisper the interpretation to His disciples. He does do this in His incarnate form, but again, Jesus expected them to have understood it sooner. And seeing as how God cannot show up in His actual form and explain the answer to them, the Holy Spirit is the most sensible entity to do the job. After all, the Spirit carries other names in Scripture, such as “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2). And since it’s things like wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge that Jesus is trying to impart to His disciples in this passage, it just makes sense that the Spirit would play that role—not to mention that Paul believed that it is the Spirit who reveals to us God’s secret and hidden wisdom (1 Cor 2:7-10).
All of that being said, if we want to understand the parables, we must know the Spirit. He is the one who conceals and reveals, distinguishing between those in the crowd who have shown up to see the Messiah do signs and wonders and those who have come because they need a Messiah. He knows which hearts God wants to reveal His parabolic truth to.
We can further discern that the Spirit relates to us the point of the parables just by looking back over the last two thousand years, for the parables were written for us too. We have not had Jesus in the flesh explaining them to us, but His Holy Spirit has been illuminating our Bibles and disclosing to us truths that we would not otherwise perceive.
This is a part of the reason as to why atheists who read the Bible come away from the Bible differently than Christians do. When we read it, we read it with the Spirit and allow Him to teach us truth on a spiritual level, whereas those reading it with their own spirit come away from the experience with ammunition that misses the point. Without the Spirit leading us through the Scriptures, we will not get the truths God desires us to get; for “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).
Jesus wants us to see more than we can see with our own eyes and comprehend more than we can comprehend with our own spirit. This fact is communicated clearly in the story of the walk to Emmaus. After rising from the dead, Jesus disguises Himself and takes a walk with two of His followers. After these followers explain their confusion in regards to Jesus’ death and the rumors of His resurrection, Jesus in disguise begins to explain why everything went down the way it did. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).
And then later in this chapter, Jesus goes on to reveal the Scriptures to more of His disciples by opening “their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45). What was once concealed is now revealed by the Holy Spirit. And so this passage shows that it’s not just parables that Jesus needs to reveal to us, but the entire Bible; for He had to begin with Moses and make His way through the prophets and the Psalms just to explain to His own disciples who He was and how He fulfilled Scripture.