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Bible Commentaries
Mark 4

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Jesus took his message to the seashore and the open sky and delivered the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-9), explained it (Mark 4:10-20), and gave a number of sentence sermons (Mark 4:21-25). He then gave the parable of the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29), and that of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-34). The chapter is concluded by the narrative of his calming the great storm (Mark 4:35-41).

Verse 1

And again he began to teach by the sea side and there is gathered unto him a very great multitude, so that he entered into a boat, and sat in the sea; and all the multitude were by the sea on the land.

Jesus’ innovative method of making a boat the pulpit in an auditorium of land and sea must have been regarded by many of the religious class as sensationalism and stunting; but, as Barclay said, "It would be well if his church was equally wise and equally adventurous."(F1)

A very great multitude … is literally "a greatest multitude,"(F2) stressing the superlative size of the immense throng which attended the preaching of the Master.

Verse 2

And he taught them many things in parables, and said unto them in his teaching,

Practically all of this chapter deals with parables. The Hebrews had but a single word for several English words, including both PARABLE and PROVERB. "A parable is a truth presented by a similitude, being of necessity figurative"; but a proverb may be "figurative, but not necessarily."(F3) The reason for Jesus’ resort to the method of teaching by parables is complex: (1) He did so in order to fulfill prophecy. (2) He did so to confound the spies of the Pharisees. (3) He thus challenged his disciples to greater spiritual discernment. (4) The Hebrew people were familiar with that method. (5) It made his teachings easier to remember. (6) The parables were interesting in the highest degree. (7) They contained the dynamic teaching of Jesus in language which was unsuitable to the court-charges the Pharisees were anxious to make against him. In short, he, by this method, taught those who wished to know the truth and confounded those who sought to oppose him. In the literature of all the world, there is nothing to compare with the parables of Jesus.

Verses 3-9

Hearken: Behold the sower went forth to sow: and it came to pass as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside, and the birds came and devoured it. And other fell on the rocky ground, where it had not much earth; and straightway it sprang up, because it had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered way. And other fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And others fell into the good ground, and yielded fruit, growing up and increasing; and brought forth, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold. And he said, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.


The interpretation of the various things of this great parable will be undertaken in connection with the Saviour’s own explanation of it, beginning in Mark 4:14.

Hearken … and Let him hear … are, in a sense, the Lord’s own double exclamation points bracketing the parable first and last, and thus indicating its very great importance.

Seeds … (in Mark 4:8), being plural, and thus contrasting with "some" and "other" seed mentioned in Mark 4:4 and Mark 4:7, is important, according to Cranfield,(F4) who saw in this an indication of a great harvest, the size of the harvest, in his view, being the great message of the parable.

A fact of great significance is that Jesus our Lord saw in the entire world around him the analogies between earthly and heavenly things. His mightiest teachings were related to a farmer planting wheat, fishermen casting nets, the lamp, the bed, the bushel, the candlestick, the hen and little chickens, the yoke, pruning grape vines, patching old clothes, making bread, a son leaving home, a merchant seeking pearls, a shepherd finding the lost sheep, searching for a lost coin, lighting a lamp, sweeping the house, etc. "Earthly things must remind us of heavenly. We must translate the book of nature into the book of grace."(F5)

A proper understanding of this parable depends upon a knowledge of the method of sowing grain which was used in Jesus’ times, and which may still be observed in the world today. The sower put a bag full of grain on his shoulder, having first prepared his field; and then he strode forth scattering the seeds with his hands, fanning them out in an arc before him as he walked. Naturally, such a sowing is a jubilee for the birds. Also, any seeds falling upon a pathway, or into thorn-infested ground, were unproductive. However, the farmer mentioned by Jesus made a good crop.

Verses 10-12

And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables. And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables: that seeing they may see and not perceive; and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them.

They that were about him with the twelve … refers to a wider circle of believers, perhaps including the seventy.

The mystery of the kingdom of God … "Nowhere in the New Testament does this term (mystery) correspond to esoteric knowledge and rites as in the so-called mystery religions of the Roman Empire."(F6) "Mystery" in the New Testament sense refers to a glorious truth long concealed but now revealed (Romans 16:25-26). Cranfield described the mystery as the fact "that the kingdom of God has come in the person, words, and works of Jesus."(F7) According to New Testament definitions of it: (1) it is the enlightenment of all nations concerning the obedience of faith to the only wise God through Jesus Christ (Romans 16:25-27); (2) it is the plan of redemption formulated by the Father before the world was, but now preached in Christ (1 Corinthians 2:7); (3) it is the revelation of God’s purpose of summing up all things in heaven and upon earth in Christ (Ephesians 1:10); (4) it is God’s eternal purpose of including Gentiles as fellow-heirs with Jews, fellow-members of the spiritual body of Christ, and fellow-partakers of the promises in Christ (Ephesians 3:6); (5) in short, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:19), hidden under the types and shadows of the old covenant, but now proclaimed to all nations through Christ and his apostles.

That seeing they may not perceive, etc. … Jesus’ statement here to the effect that the parables were intentionally designed to blind some of his audience is viewed as a problem by some of the commentators. Even Cranfield referred to it as "a stumblingblock"(F8) but admitted the meaning to be that the kingdom of God, "in accordance with Old Testament prophecy, remains hidden from many, … something that is within the purpose of God."(F9) Barclay wrote that "The real difficulty of the passage (is that) if we take it at its face value, it sounds as if Jesus taught in parables deliberately to cloak his meaning, purposely to hide it from all ordinary men and women."(F10)

Barclay’s analysis is correct except in his identification of the persons from whom Jesus hid his message by the parables. (See under Mark 4:2). If Jesus had spoken plainly and unambiguously of his Messiahship and kingdom, the Pharisees could have accomplished his murder prematurely; therefore, it was under the most positive necessity that Jesus cloaked his teachings in those beautiful and humble parables, which in no sense hid his message from "ordinary men and women," they being the very ones who fully understood him. They did, however, fully hide it from the proud, arrogant, unspiritual priesthood who organized the cabal against him and finally accomplished his judicial murder. This purpose of concealment was a fundamental characteristic of the parables. In addition to the reasons for speaking in parables cited under Mark 4:2, above, Cranfield has the discerning word that "God’s self-revelation is veiled, in order that men may be left sufficient room in which to make a personal decision."(F11)


Despite the fact that scholars reject the understanding of the parables as to a great extent allegorical, and having plural analogies in them, it is clear that our Lord’s explanation is untroubled with any such restrictions. Barclay thought that "a parable must never be treated as an allegory";(F12) but Cranfield noted that Jesus’ interpretation "certainly allegorizes this one."(F13) Cranfield also refuted the view which would make this interpretation, not of Jesus, but of the early church. The following analogies are in the parable:

The seed is the word of God.

The way side soil is the hardened hearer.

The shallow soil is the unstable hearer.

The thorny ground is the hearer who allows the cares, riches and pleasures of life to choke out the word.

The good ground is the faithful hearer who bears fruit.

The birds of the air are the evil one.

The sun’s heat is persecution and tribulation.

The thorns are the cares, riches, and pleasures of life.

The variable yields are the variable effectiveness of Christians in bearing fruit.

The sudden sprouting of seed on the rocky ground stands for the ease with which the unstable are converted.

The sower stands for God.

There are interlocking triple portions in the parable.

There are three types of unproductive soil; the thorns are the cares, riches and pleasures; and the productive soil has three gradations of 30-fold, 60-fold, and 100-fold.

For further discussion of this parable, see the Commentary on Matthew, (Matthew 13:18-23) pp. 190-192.

May see and not perceive … lest … they should turn and be forgiven … The whole of Mark 4:12 is taken from Isaiah 6:9-10, a passage Matthew quoted in this context. This appeal to Isaiah is important for a number of reasons. It shows that Jesus’ speaking in parables was a fulfillment of the prophecy, and that the reason many in Israel would be unable to understand was their own self-caused hardening, confirmed by the judicial hardening from the Father. They are wrong who find in the parables the cause of Israel’s failure to understand. "Their eyes they have closed" (Matthew 13:15) is the true reason why they could not see. It is an inaccurate reading of what Mark here recorded to make it mean that Jesus spoke in parables in order to prevent some people from being saved. In this place, as throughout the entire New Testament, the truth is not fully discernible from a single passage; but life and understanding come from the soul’s reception of "all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25), "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4), and of the essential truth that every passage of God’s word must be understood in the light of the principle laid down by Jesus Christ that "again it is written" (Matthew 4:7). The exegesis practiced by many of the critical scholars of postulating what they call "truth" upon this or that isolated passage in one gospel or another is nothing but a somewhat more sophisticated employment of the "proof-text" method so readily condemned in others.

It is neither in the proof-text method, nor in the proof-passage method, nor in the proof-gospel method (as in the Markan priority theory) that God’s truth may be fully learned. This fact is implicit in the fact that even the Son of God himself refused to accept the Scriptures quoted by the devil, except in the light of what was "again written" elsewhere. If our Saviour and head of our holy religion relied upon the consensus of ALL that the sacred writers had written, how may his servants hope to achieve true knowledge by any other device? (Matthew 4:1-7).

Verse 13

And he saith unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how shall ye know all the parables?

As Cranfield noted, this verse "suggests in some sense that the parable of the soils is the key to all the parables."(F14) The fact of our Lord’s drawing a number of analogies from it would also suggest the propriety of looking for analogies in all the parables. That such a way of interpreting parables is subject to grave abuses, none will deny; but it is equally obvious that the limitation of parables to "one main point" is ridiculous.

Verse 14

The sower soweth the word.

Jesus called this parable the "parable of the sower" (Matthew 13:18), thus making the emphasis to rest upon God’s planting the earth with his truth, for the sower refers to God, and equally to the Son of God. It is not therefore "the parable of the soils," nor "the parable of the great harvest," nor "the parable of hindrances to the word," nor "the parable of the various fruitfulness of Christians," etc., although all such teachings are definitely in it. The great message is that the word of God still falls as seed upon all men, the enmity, hardness, or preoccupation of the vast majority being, in a sense, absolutely immaterial. There is always some good ground where God’s purpose is achieved.

Verse 15

And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; and when they have heard, straightway cometh Satan, and taketh away the word which hath been sown in them.

The soil in a path, or roadway, is hard, being unable to receive seed, which the birds, immediately eat. Hearts hardened by indulgence of sin do not receive God’s word, Satan immediately removing the word such people may chance to hear. (See list of analogies above).

The word … is a proper designation of the truth of the gospel and has been a favorite term in all ages. It is of note that Jesus himself was the first to make this use of it.

Verse 16

And these in like manner are those that are sown upon the rocky places, who, when they have heard the word, straightway receive it with joy.

In like manner … indicates that the analogy of the seed as the word is to be continued and that the various soils are classes of hearers.

Receive it with joy … The joyful reception of the great promises of the gospel by souls which are essentially "shallow" and superficial in their thinking is a well known phenomenon. The easier the convert is to convince, the greater the likelihood of his falling away. This fact derives from the truth that the gospel is not a matter of merely receiving great promises; but it is also a matter of denying self, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, and of deliberately choosing a way of life that is opposed to much that is found in every society. The joyful, fast, and ready receivers of the word are here compared to shallow soil on a ledge of stone which germinates seed quickly but cannot sustain their growth.

Verse 17

And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word straightway they stumble.

See list of analogies above. "Tribulation or persecution …" may not be viewed as anything unexpected. As sure as the sun rises, believers in Christ may expect the scorching and withering effect of the world’s opposition to the truth. Any casual, shallow, or partial commitment to Christ will quail before it.

Verse 18

And others are they that are shown among the thorns; these are they that have heard the word.

Sown among the thorns … Alas, this is true of so many in all ages, and is, in a sense, true to some extent of all. Human hearts are seed beds, not merely of the truth of God, but also of every possible philosophy of men. Here there is a significant difference between soils and hearts. Soils do not choose to be thorny ground; but human hearts are endowed with the power to expel the thorns, the power to be good soil, or thorny soil.

Verse 19

And the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

In the analogies, the thorns stand for the cares, riches, and lusts of other things, or, as Luke stated it, "cares, riches, and pleasures of this life" (Luke 8:14). Are not most of earth’s pleasures "lusts" of various kinds? Even the pursuit of legitimate pleasure if excessive, may become, in fact, a "lust."

For numberless souls, it is just a case of permitting the word of God to be choked out by other things. Those who correspond to the thorny soil are they who have not ordered life’s priorities. No man can do everything that comes into his mind as permissible or desirable; and those who attempt to do so will find their lives so filled up that there is not any time left, not even time to pray. "The more complicated life becomes, the more necessity there is to see that our priorities are right."(F15)

The fact of Mark’s rendering this explanation as "lusts of other things," contrasted with Luke’s "pleasures of this life," is a pseudocon. Pleasures may be either sinful or innocent, Luke having reference to innocent pleasures, and Mark to sinful pleasures. In Jesus’ parable, there can be no doubt that both were in view; thus we have another example of the necessity of taking into account all that is written in order to know the whole truth. The Christian is not denied the innocent pleasures of life. As Dorris said:

The phrase "pleasures of this life" does not indicate that the Christian is to have no pleasure … It is not sin for the Christian to be happy. Such pleasures as destroy spirituality and wean away from Christ are, of course, forbidden.(F16)

The three classes of thorns stand for distractions which pertain to responsibilities and duties (cares), the possession or pursuit of wealth (riches), and the pursuit of pleasure, that is, following any sinful pleasure, or the inordinate pursuit of even innocent pleasure. (See under Mark 4:21).

Verse 20

And those are they that were sown upon the good ground; such as hear the word, and accept it, and bear fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.

The good ground … is not merely ground of sufficient quality and depth to produce a harvest, but it is likewise unencumbered ground. In the fast-moving current era, perhaps the encumbrances are the greatest deterrent to fruit-bearing.

Thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold … Why the various yields from ground uniformly "good"? As in the agricultural world from which the analogies are drawn, the time of planting, the manner of cultivation, and even many intangible factors enter into the amount harvested.

Verse 21

And he said unto them, Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be put on the stand?

This verse and through Mark 4:25 make up a paragraph of disconnected sayings of Christ, brought together here in a remarkable application in a new context, indicating that the sacred Scriptures have a vitality and meaning of their own, even out of context. Jesus did here exactly what Paul did in Romans 10:8, where he quoted Deuteronomy 30:11-14 with an application not found in Deuteronomy. Both Richard A. Batey(F17) and John Locke(F18) have commented on this, which is actually one of the most important prerequisites for truly understanding Scripture. It is precisely the lack of the insight into this phenomenon which cripples much of the exegesis coming out of the critical schools.

The truth of Mark 4:21 has a double meaning: (a) that which is inherent in it, and (b) that which it denotes in context. Is such a characteristic of the word of God what is meant by its being "a two-edged sword"? (Hebrews 4:12). It is obvious that Jesus used "the same sayings in different contexts,"(F19) saying "the same things over and over";(F20) and "It is evident that he repeated his sayings, and used them sometimes in a different connection."(F21) To this evident, obvious truth should be added the equally evident fact that he did not repeat sayings verbatim, but varied his terminology. Therefore, we shall study this verse both ways, inherently, and in context.

In (this) context: Jesus had just emphasized the concealment of his teachings through the use of parables; but this reference to the lamp shows that the concealment will end. As Cranfield interpreted it:

No one in his right senses would carry a lighted lamp into a house simply in order to hide it … No more must it be supposed that God’s whole purpose in sending Jesus is that he should be concealed.(F22)

Inherently: Christ warned against hiding the lighted lamp (a) under a vessel (Luke 8:16), (b) under a bushel (Mark 4:21), (c) under a bed (Mark 4:21; Matthew 5:15), or (d) in a cellar (that is, "in a secret place")(F23) (Luke 11:33). Notice the remarkable correspondence between these things which hide the light and the thorns which choke out the word (Mark 4:19): (a) stands for cares (the vessel), (b) stands for riches (the bushel), with (c) and (d) standing for wicked pleasures associated with both the bed and the sacred place. The proximity of this verse to Mark 4:19 strongly suggests that the thought connects there rather than with Mark 4:12 as suggested by Cranfield.

On the stand … In all the references in the above paragraph, the "stand" is conspicuously mentioned as the place for the lighted lamp. An apostle made this to be a congregation of the Lord’s church (Revelation 1:20), indicating still another application of this mighty one-sentence parable. In this application, the lighted lamp is the Christian, and his lamp should be displayed on the stand, that is in the church or congregation.

Verse 22

For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light.

The same idea in different words is in Matthew 10:26. Dummelow’s understanding of Jesus’ repetition of this maxim here seems to be correct:

Our Lord corrects a false impression which might have arisen from the mention of a mystery (Mark 4:11). If the gospel was for a moment treated as a secret, it was so only because this temporary secrecy was essential to its successful proclamation after the ascension.(F24)

Inherently: This saying of our Lord also has meaning far beyond its application in context, as explained by Dummelow. The secrets of all men shall be made manifest at the judgment of the great day.

Verses 23-24

If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear. And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you; and more shall be given unto you.

Take heed what ye hear … has the obvious meaning of enjoining selectivity in the things men choose to hear; but Dummelow advocated another reading as quite possible, "Understand (weigh well the meaning of) what ye hear."(F25) Both ideas are valid Scriptural injunctions.

With what measure ye mete, etc. … Euthymius paraphrased this thus: "In that measure in which you measure your attention to my teaching, in the same measure will spiritual understanding be measured unto you."(F26)

Inherently: This one-sentence parable is true in any context. Thus the Lord applied it to the kind of judgments men give of others, resulting always in their being judged in the same fashion (Matthew 7:2). Again, the Saviour extended it in an application to the grace of giving (Luke 6:38).

Verse 25

For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.

This is no high-handed injustice of robbing the poor to enrich the affluent; but it is the statement of an eternal law, applicable in context or out of it.

In context: To the diligent student of divine truth more of divine truth shall be revealed. The slothful student shall not only learn no more, but shall even forget what he already knows(F27)

In another context: Jesus applied this law to the judgment of the one-talent man from whom the one talent was taken and given to the man who had ten talents (Matthew 25:19-28). Barclay has a sermon which develops the thought of this law thus: (1) it is true of knowledge; (2) it is true of skill or craft; (3) it is true of effort; and (4) it is true of the ability to bear responsibility.(F28)

Verses 26-29

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how. The earth beareth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come.


Trench was in a great quandary between applying this parable to earthly preachers of the word or to Christ (God) the sower as in the parable of the sower. He resolved the difficulty by applying it "to Christ, though not exclusively."(F29) Many opinions have been advocated as to the meaning of the harvest. Barclay thought "It means the day when all the world will accept the will of God"(F30) Cranfield understood it to mean that the present ambiguity of the kingdom of God will reach a harvest by being "succeeded by its glorious manifestation."(F31) Barnes, with reservations, made it the death of Christians: "As soon as he is prepared for heaven, he is taken there."(F32) McMillan viewed the harvest as then present at the time Christ spoke: "Harvest has come. The seed which God planted in Israel many generations past has now come to full fruit and is waiting to be gathered."(F33) "With the concentration of twentieth-century theologians on eschatology,"(F34) it has been very popular to name this parable "Seedtime and Harvest," with almost exclusive emphasis on the harvest; and "The main idea then becomes that the kingdom will soon break in upon us!"(F35)

This interpreter suggests a different approach to this parable, as indicated in these analogies:

The man sowing seed is the teacher or preacher of truth.

His sleeping and rising night and day indicate that human effort is not the cause of the growth of the seed.

His knowing not how the seed grows stresses the ignorance of men in both physical and spiritual areas.

His knowing when to put in the sickle, despite his ignorance of "how" it came about, answers to the ability of men to reap spiritual results without full knowledge of just "how" they are produced (John 3:5 ff).

The harvest is the gathering of souls into the kingdom of Christ in this present age.

The earth bringing forth fruit of herself answers to the adaptability of human nature to the word of God.

If a man should cast seed upon the earth … refers to human proclaimers of the gospel, and not to Christ. If God (or Christ) had been meant, he would have been proclaimed as "the sower," and not "a man." Further, the fact of sleeping and rising night and day and that of his not knowing "how" point to man and not to God.

He knoweth not how … is perhaps the key word in the parable. Nicodemus stumbled in regard to "how can these things be?" and here is the answer to Nicodemus’ question: one does not have to know how!

The earth beareth fruit of herself … The ancients were certainly correct in seeing here the principal weight of the parable. The earth into which the seed falls is the moral and spiritual nature of man. The seed of Christianity will grow because the soil into which it will fall is suitable to nourish it. As Dummelow noted: "The human soul is naturally Christian (Tertullian), and Christianity is the `natural religion.’ Christianity therefore can propagate itself without human effort, and often does so."(F36) God destined every man ever born on earth to be a Christian. See full discussion of this in the Commentary on Romans, p. 318.

The blade, the ear, the full grain … These emphasize the gradual growth of the word of God in human hearts.

The harvest is come … We agree with Clarke that "This is not the gathering of saints to glory, but the gathering of men to Christ."(F37) Likewise with Trench, "When the soul is ripe for his kingdom, and he gathers it to himself, this is the harvest."(F38) In the sense that what Christ’s servants (his gospel ministers) do is also done by Christ, the gathering into the kingdom or church may be expressed either way, as being done by Christ or by his servants.

Verses 30-32

And he said, How shall we liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable shall we set it forth? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the earth, yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof.


How shall we liken, … In this, Jesus employed a device often used by good teachers, seeking to stimulate thinking on the part of his audience.

Less than all seeds … That certain seeds may be smaller than a mustard seed is no problem. Hyperbolic language was frequently employed then, as throughout history, in order to stress a point. Matthew’s "all Judaea" is hyperbole. Compare Matthew 3:5 and Luke 7:30.

Greater than all herbs … Many commentators stress the great size of the mature mustard tree, which in some parts of the world reaches to a height of more than twenty feet. Bickersteth reported such large specimens "on the slopes of the mountains of Chile that one could ride under the branches."(F39) The great point in this short parable is the contrast between the small seed and the mighty growth attained.

The birds of the heaven … It is illogical to press a parable down upon its all fours, but this writer cannot resist the analogy suggested by the birds. The mustard tree itself is the kingdom of God, beginning small and becoming great; and the fact that birds can build nests even in small trees makes it unlikely that the birds were introduced into this Parable solely to emphasize the size of it. They are a perfect representation of the extraneous and unrelated activities which through the ages have associated themselves with it. Just as the birds could not corrupt the tree, the foul birds whose nests have been built in the kingdom of God cannot corrupt the institution with which they are connected by association only, actually having no identity whatever with it. This interpretation is supported by Matthew 13:4; Matthew 13:19, and Revelation 18:2. The person planting the seed does not appear prominently in the parable; but the kingdom of God which was produced by it identifies the sower here with God, or Christ, as in the parable of the sower.

The following analogies are discernible:

The seed is the word of God.

The one who sowed it is Christ

The mustard tree is the kingdom of God.

The earth is the world.

The smallness of the seed is the smallness of the kingdom’s beginning.

The greatness of the tree is the vast extent of the kingdom.

The birds are the "operations" which are either evil or at best irrelevant to the kingdom, but which are connected with it, and yet no part of it.

For further thoughts on this parable, see the Commentary on Matthew, pp. 193-194. It has been suggested by some that Jesus’ purpose in giving this parable was to offset any pessimism arising from parables like that of the sower and of the tares, wherein unproductive soils and hostile activity of enemies were stressed.

Verses 33-34

And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it; and without a parable spake he not unto them: but privately to his own disciples he expounded all things.

See under Mark 4:2 for reasons why Jesus spoke in parables. As Sanner noted, "If he had spoken to the crowds in a direct way, he would have forced them to make a final decision at once, a decision of unbelief and rejection."(F40)

This glimpse of the deep interest of the disciples who waited until the multitudes departed and then received privately from Jesus a more explicit elaboration of all the wonderful truths he was revealing is very significant. Again, from Sanner:

In neglecting exposition of the Scriptures, men have not improved upon the method of Jesus. It is still true that men’s hearts will burn within them when someone opens to them the Scriptures (Luke 24:32).(F41)

Verse 35

And on that day, when even was come, he saith unto them, Let us go over unto the other side.


Christ here proposed a crossing to the eastern side of Lake Galilee. This beautiful lake was surrounded by at least a dozen towns in the time of Christ and was the most densely populated area of Palestine. It is thirteen miles long, six miles wide, pear-shaped; and the surface lies 700 feet below sea level. Steep mountains rise along both the western and eastern shores. It is fed by the Jordan river which enters at the north end and exits at the south where it resumes its course to the Dead Sea. The water is fresh and sweet, abounds with fish, and is edged with sparkling pebbly beaches. Due to its depression below sea level and the bordering mountains, it is subject to very severe and sudden storms, such as the one related here.(F42)

Verse 36

And leaving the multitude, they take him with them, even as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with them.

Even as he was … This means that:

The disciples sailed off with him just as he was in the boat from which he had been teaching the people; and they did not wait to provide any accommodations for the passage.(F43)

And other boats were with them … This very important detail indicates: (1) that the great audience on land was supplemented by a considerable number who approached in boats to hear the Lord, and (2) that there were other witnesses of the great miracle besides those aboard with Jesus. This also emphasizes the sudden and unexpected nature of the storm; because, if it had been threatening, neither the disciples nor those in the other boats would have begun the crossing.

Verses 37-38

And there ariseth a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the boat, insomuch that the boat was now filling. And he himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion: and they awake him and say unto him, Teacher, carest thou not that we perish?

The sure evidence of the eye-witness is apparent in the stark and vivid details. The waves beating into the boat, Jesus asleep in the stern on the boat cushion, the fact that the boat was taking on water at an alarming rate — all these mark the account as authentic.

"Only here in the New Testament does Jesus sleep."(F44)

Carest thou not that we perish … Turlington said that "Both Matthew and Luke soften the disciples’ outcry, so that they do not appear to reproach Jesus";(F45) such a comment being quite fashionable among the scholars who have decided that Mark was prior to Matthew and Luke, that Matthew and Luke did not consider Mark dependable at all and therefore felt free to "correct" him, and that, moreover, their motive in so doing was to protect the disciples’ reputation as regarded their conduct toward the Master! We reject this view as demeaning to the gospels, unreasonable, speculative, imaginative, and totally unreliable. Matthew even recorded that Jesus called Peter "Satan" (Matthew 16:23); why, then, should Matthew have been embarrassed to record such an understandable remark as this? It is far more likely that the explanation lies in the fact that this is what Peter said, Mark’s close connection with that apostle accounting for his record of it here.

Verse 39

And he awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

And he awoke … It is not even stated here that Jesus arose, but Matthew supplied that detail (Matthew 8:26).

He rebuked the wind … In the words of Trench:

To regard this as mere oratorical personification would be absurd; rather there is here a distinct tracing up of all the discords and disharmonies in the outward world to their source in a person, a referring them back to him, as to their ultimate ground; even as this person can be no other than Satan, the author of all disorders alike in the natural and in the physical world.(F46)

In this situation, Jesus appeared dramatically as the antitype of the first of the prophets, Jonah. Both were asleep on a ship at sea in a storm; both were awakened; both were vital to the safety of their vessel, Jonah being a danger to his and Christ the security of his; both produced a great calm, Jonah by being cast overboard, and Christ by fiat; the calm was instantaneous in both cases. For a more detailed development of this thesis, see the Commentary on John, pp. 210-211.

Peace, be still … These are the same words used by Jesus in casting out the demon (Mark 1:25), harmonizing with the view expressed by Trench.

Many of Jesus’ miracles, if indeed not all of them, were also parables with extensive application to the spiritual life of Christians; and from very early times, this one has been a favorite. Dummelow has recorded the following:

Augustine (400 A.D.) says, "We are sailing in this life as through a sea, and the wind rises, and storms of temptation are not wanting. Whence is this, save because Jesus is sleeping in thee, i.e., thy faith in Jesus is slumbering in thy heart? Rouse him, and say, Master, we perish. He will awaken, that is, thy faith will return to thee, and the danger will be over." Tertullian (200 A.D.) says, "But that little ship presented a figure of the Church, in that she is disquieted in the sea, that is, in the world, by temptations and persecutions, the Lord patiently sleeping, as it were, until roused at last by the prayers of the saints he checks the world, and restores tranquillity to his own."(F47)

Verse 40

And he said unto them, Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith?

It is ridiculous to make a big thing out of the fact that Matthew recorded this question as taking place before the great calm. Could Jesus not have said it twice? Besides that, the oldest historical reference to the gospel of Mark stated quite flatly that:

Mark, having been Peter’s interpreter, wrote all that Peter related; though he did not record in order that which was said or done by Christ.(F48)

This quotation was attributed to an apostolic presbyter by Papias in 130 A.D.

The apostles of Christ were slow, even with all the advantages they had, to understand fully the divine nature and power of Jesus, whose question here exhibits some element of surprise at their dullness.

Verse 41

And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Mark’s purpose in his gospel shines in such an expression as this, of which there are a number of examples. He intended that the mighty works of Christ should lead to they identification of Jesus Christ as a supernatural person, one with the Father, and fully able to give eternal life to them that come unto God through him.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 4". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/mark-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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