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Bible Commentaries
Mark 4

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Verses 1-9


In the previous chapter, the testimony of the Holy Spirit was rejected, as was the Son of Man personally. As a result, the Lord no longer acknowledges the old relationships. Instead, He forms new relationships (Mark 3:35). Subsequently, a description of His ministry follows in this chapter.

1. In the form of parables the course and results of His service are shown (Mark 4:1-Proverbs :).

2. We also see that the responsibility of the disciples in view of their part in this work is discussed (Mark 4:21-Lamentations :).

3. We also see the rest of those who, as they work, trust in God (Mark 4:26-Joel :).

4. Finally, at the end of this chapter, we see the circumstances of the disciples during their ministry (Mark 4:35-:). The storm in which they find themselves points to the storms that will come to test their faith, while the Lord seems to pay no attention to them.

Parable of the Sower

This chapter shows again how the Lord continues His ordinary work of teaching. Many are attracted thereby. Because He is by the sea and there is a great danger that the crowd will drive Him into it, He takes His place in a ship. As He sits down there, He speaks to the crowd standing on the land. By sitting down in a ship, He separates Himself from the people who rejected Him and His religious leaders in the previous section, where they attribute His work to the devil (Mark 3:22).

He does start again with His ordinary work, teaching, but He gives this teaching in a different form. In connection with the development that has just taken place in His relationship with the Jews, He will make use of parables. He explains the reason for this in Mark 4:10-2 Kings :.

With the call “listen!” (Mark 4:3) He urges the whole crowd to listen carefully to what He is going to say. Although He speaks to the crowd, it is the condition of each individual person that matters. Each individual person is a kind of ground into which the seed falls. He proposes to them a sower who goes out to sow. That sower is He Himself. He goes out, He has gone out from the Father (John 13:3). That He now presents Himself as the Sower means that it is no longer a matter of seeking fruit in His vineyard Israel - and He had come for that purpose - but that, by sowing that fruit, He is now going to produce it Himself.

The seed that is sown falls on different types of soil. The first kind is beside the road, the hardened road. The seed that ends up there becomes a prey of birds, because the soil is so hard that it cannot take root. The second kind where part of the seed ends up, is rocky soil. There is a little bit of earth there, which makes it look as if this seed does produce something. But because of the rocky soil, the seed hasn’t been able to get deep roots. So when the sun rises, it scorches. Another part ends up between the thorns. There is soil and it can take root, but it can’t grow because of the thorns that choke it, so there won’t be any fruit from this seed either.

The fourth type of soil is the good soil. The seeds that fall in it grow, increase, and yield fruit. The fruit is represented in different measures. There is seed that bears thirtyfold fruit, there is seed that bears sixtyfold fruit, and there is seed that bears a hundredfold fruit.

In Matthew 13 (Matthew 13:23) the order is the other way around. There it is about the history of the kingdom of heaven as it has been entrusted to the responsibility of man. Everything that is entrusted to man’s responsibility begins well, but then decay makes its entrance and a process of weakening begins. Thus the church starts well on the day of Pentecost and the first days thereafter, but more and more worldly influences cause that first strength and freshness to gradually diminish.

Here in the Gospel according to Mark it is about the work of the perfect Servant. Then the result increases further and further to the perfect measure.

What the Lord says to the multitude at the beginning, “listens”, or “hear”, He says at the end of the parable to the few who are eager for Divine instruction. We must first listen, or hear, in order to bring forth fruit.

Verses 10-12

Why Parables?

Those who are genuinely interested in the things of God ask the Lord about the meaning of the parables. In His answer He underlines the distinction between the unbelieving Jews and His disciples. The latter are a picture of the faithful remnant. Parables manifest who truly belong to Him and who do not. Those who belong to Him are taught by Him about the mystery of the kingdom of God. To them He tells that the kingdom of God is not initially founded in external glory, but in a hidden way.

This hidden form of the kingdom is the result of His people rejecting Him. His rejection by the people means postponement of the kingdom in power and majesty on earth. Instead, it is established in the hearts of those who acknowledge Him as their personal Lord (Romans 14:17).

The mystery of the kingdom of God means that Christ tells His servants to consider what they will encounter in their service in that kingdom. The terrain is vast, but we must count on the fruit being small, and work constantly to bring forth a hundredfold fruit. Ecumenism – and we see this also in fast-growing evangelical denominations – is focused on large fruit which is, however, only a number. Those who are focused on large numbers are blind to the true character of the service.

For those who are ‘outside’ the parables mean judgment. They do not want to bow down to Him because He does not meet their expectations as a Messiah. They acknowledge only as Messiah one who delivers them from the yoke of the Romans, ignoring that this yoke of foreign domination is the result of their forsaking of God (cf. Nehemiah 9:35-Zephaniah :).

The parables prevent them from repenting and receiving forgiveness. Indeed, the repentance they would show if He did not speak in parables would not be real repentance. And the forgiveness they would think they have would be an imaginary forgiveness.

Verses 13-20

Explaining the Parable of the Sower

The Lord makes it clear that if they understand the parable of the sower, they will understand all parables. For this parable lays the foundation for all other parables.

He does not say that He Himself is the sower, but emphasizes what the sower does. This fits the character of this Gospel in which He is presented as the true Servant. A servant is about what he does, not who he is. The work of the Servant is to sow the Word, these are the words of God. Only the Word gives fruit. Fruit is not obtained through civilization, education, upbringing, or examples, however useful these things may be. The sower sows only the Word and nothing else. The effect of the sown Word does not lie in the Word, but in the condition of the soil. The soil in which the seed falls represents the spiritual state of the human being who hears the Word.

Mark speaks of the seed as “the Word”. Matthew speaks of the seed as “the Word of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:19), which indicates the content of the Word. Luke speaks of the seed as “the Word of God” (Luke 8:11), which indicates the source, the origin of the Word.

Those who beside the road are those who have hardened hearts. When they hear the Word, it does nothing to them. They are so under the influence of satan that he immediately takes away the sown Word. In this group we see the scribes. With them the soil is so hard, that nothing of the seed can grow. Demonic powers take it away. But the application is also for us. For example, we can say: ‘I don’t understand anything’ and then we proceed to the order of the day, without making any effort to understand what we have read. Satan wants us to react like this.

The next group of people consists of those who “immediately receive it with joy”. Joy, however, is never the first result of the sown Word. The first thing the Word does is to discover man to himself, through which he sees that he is a lost sinner who deserves hell. When God speaks to someone, He does so in conscience, awakening a sense of sin and guilt (Acts 2:37). When people joyfully accept the Word directly, there is no root. People can become emotional from what they see or hear without conscience being reached (Acts 23:27-Hosea :). As soon as pressure is put on them for their confession, they will be exposed. God uses oppression or persecution to test the authenticity of faith.

In this second group and also in the next group, we can see the Lord’s relatives. They are not enemies of Him and the Word. There is a soil in which the seed falls and shoots. Yet there is no fruit. This happens when the Word is only accepted by feeling. They become happy and get a warm feeling, but the conscience remains unaffected. When they are away from the sphere of the Word, they have forgotten everything again. The sown Word has not convinced the heart of sin and judgment. That would bring repentance. The application to us is that there is a danger that anything but our conscience will be appealed to, so that we will not be brought to a life of dedication to Christ.

The third category of people who hear the Word are compared to those who are sown between the thorns. These people live in conditions that influence them so much that the Word heard is overgrown by them. The circumstances in which they live can consist of worries, wealth, and desires.

Poverty and wealth are two extremes. Both have the great danger of seizing us so much that we forget the Word (Proverbs 30:8-1 Samuel :). He who is poor must be wary that the worries do not occupy him in such a way that the Word cannot do its work. He who is rich must be wary that he is not carried away by the deceitfulness of riches by which he becomes disconnected from God and the Word cannot affect him.

For all people, lusts to all kinds of other things can come in, that is, into the heart. The things we have are a danger, and the things we don’t have are if we want them. What the eye sees awakens the desire to want it. If someone can only think about that, he shuts himself off from the workings of the Word, and it becomes barren. This too has its application to the believers.

Even in the good earth there is a difference in results. What is fatal for the unbeliever can seriously harm the fruit of the believer. Fruit can be described as follows: the received blessing is returned to God – what we do by worshipping Him for that blessing He has given – and life is lived in His presence and to His glory. In this way God receives fruit from the life of His own.

As said, in the Gospel according to Matthew we see the reverse order because it is about what man does with what is entrusted to him and then we see that decay occurs in it. Here it is about the service, and in this we see an increase, because the Lord’s service is aimed at us bringing forth more fruit.

Verses 21-25

Under a Basket or Under a Bed

After the Lord Jesus has compared the Word with seed sown to bear fruit, He now compares the Word with a lamp (Philippians 2:15; Psalms 119:105). Where there is fruit, there is also testimony. The fruit must become a light. The implanted Word not only results in salvation of people and fruit among believers, but also leads to testimony.

He speaks “to them”, they are the ones who ask for the explanation (Mark 4:10). They are now also held responsible for giving testimony. The light received must be dispersed. The spreading of light has nothing to do with the possession or exercise of a gift, but with the new life that Christ is and becomes visible.

Just as the seed remains fruitless or produces little fruit for certain causes, the light of the testimony can also be obscured by certain causes. A first cause is the basket. This is a picture of commerce or activity. Activities of all kinds can occupy a person in such a way that there is no room for a testimony to the Lord.

Another cause is the bed that can become a large bed like that of Og, the king of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:11). This is a picture of laziness and ease. Also because of this, Christians do not bear witness to the Lord Jesus. They prefer an easy life rather than the effort to go out and tell others of Him.

The light belongs on the lampstand, so that it is spread unhindered. To be a light is more difficult than speaking to a large group. It is about showing the Lord Jesus as the light in all things of life every day, all day long.

The Lord warns that it will become public how our testimony has been. There will come a time when everything that covered the light and prevented it from spreading will come to light. Everything that could not bear the light will be revealed, even the most hidden deliberations of the hearts of men (1 Corinthians 4:5).

The purpose of this warning is that we will be faithful in giving our testimony. The Lord is also saying that the hidden faithful remnant of the Jews will someday be manifested in the future. The little fruit will be seen everywhere. The fact that what He said in secret and is written down here by Mark is also a fulfillment of that word.

This word about the light, like His word about the seed (Mark 4:9), is of personal importance to every listener. In order to both bear fruit and radiate light, we must listen. The call “if a person has ears to hear, let him hear” is therefore an urgent appeal to each of the disciples individually.

In listening, the disciples must heed what they hear, for God will act with them according to their faithfulness in the stewardship of the Word entrusted to them. We must heed what we hear, for it is our task to distribute what we ourselves have received. That is why it is important to listen and keep our ear to the ground. Do we get up in the morning with the desire to listen to the Lord (Isaiah 50:4)?

Our spiritual poverty comes to light when we have nothing to share. With what we attribute to others, we determine the measure of what is attributed to us. Only they possess something that is distributed in grace, and they will receive it more abundantly (Proverbs 11:25). Those who in reality possess nothing will also lose the pretense of what they possess.

For example, the Jews possessed the sayings of God (Romans 3:2), but they did not really possess them because they did not recognize Him for Who they are. Therefore they – the unbelieving Jews – will lose everything that God’s Word contains for them and on which they boast. The same goes for the Christians who are Christians only in name, who confess Christ only with their mouths, but have no new life.

Verses 30-32

Parable of the Mustard Seed

The Lord tells another parable of the kingdom of God. He introduces it with the question with which He will compare it or propose it. He knows, but He wants to make His hearers aware of the parable He is about to tell.

This parable of the mustard seed we know from Matthew 13 (Matthew 13:31-Jonah :). There the Lord compares the kingdom of heaven with a mustard seed. What He calls there the kingdom of heaven, He calls here the kingdom of God. Both are compared with a mustard seed. So it is the same kingdom, but each is seen from a different point of view. In one case it is about the reign of heaven, in the other case it is about the reign of God. What is the same is that the kingdom is not established in public glory, but is established in a hidden form because of the rejection of the King. In fact, it is established in the hearts of people who confess to have accepted the rejected Lord as King.

The beginning of the kingdom is small. It began with a handful of disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem, where only one hundred and twenty people were gathered (Acts 1:15). The kingdom has not remained small, but has expanded. This did not happen, however, only by adding those who were truly born again. It has become a great power because masses of people have come who saw advantages in acknowledging that Lord, but without really bowing down and submitting to Him. We see this in the Christianity that strives for power and influence and wants to be counted in the world.

The birds here are a picture of demonic powers. They find shelter in the confessed, apostate church at the end of its history, which is Christianity under the leadership of the roman catholic church, Babylon the great (Revelation 18:2). The faithful servant sees all this, but he waits patiently until “the crop” is there and “the harvest” has come (Mark 4:29).

Verses 33-34

Using Parables

The Lord has spoken more parables, but Mark does not recount them for us. The parables used are attuned to the hearers. The Lord does not speak over the heads. He knows what they are capable of hearing, and He takes that into account. This is also an important clue for us. When we tell others something about the Lord, we have to consider what they can comprehend.

Through the use of parables, the true disciples become public. Those who really want to learn from Him understand that He wants to teach them with the parables, and they ask Him for the meaning. These are “His own disciples”. They are taught separately by Him about the explanation. That doesn’t mean the crowd is being kept ignorant. He tells parables they can understand, but for the deeper meaning they depend on the Lord’s explanation.

Verses 35-41

The Storm at Sea

As noted at the beginning of this chapter, Mark gives us an overview of the Lord’s service and of our service. He is the true Servant and prepares us as servants to follow in His footsteps. He has shown the results of the divine service in the parable of the sower. The fruit is comparatively small. What brings fruit must become more fruit, and then the fruit must become light. What He has taught in secret must be passed on publicly to others. Then He also tells in two parables the two sides of the service that are important for today’s dispensation. It is about the inner and the outer side of growth. God works the growth, but outwardly it becomes a tree.

In the last event of this chapter, the storm at sea, we also see that the Lord is asleep, as in the first parable (Mark 4:27). He sleeps aboard the ship in the storm. In the storm we see the outward circumstances directed against “the One Who serves” and His servants.

The Lord has been busy all day, until the evening (cf. Psalms 104:23). When evening falls, He commands His disciples to go over to the other side. He says: “Let us go over.” He goes with them. He’s with them, though He sleeps. So it seems sometimes when we serve Him. We know He’s with us, but sometimes it seems like He’s asleep. As long as there are no storms, we don’t notice, but when storms come, who we are will be revealed and we will see Who He is.

When He goes aboard, He leaves the crowd behind. The disciples take Him, “just as He was”, into the ship. This addition, which only Mark gives us, shows us how important it is to allow the Lord into our lives “just as He is” and not to create another image of Him for us. It doesn’t suit us to tell Him how He should be and that we don’t allow Him into our lives until He answers our ideas about Him.

We have to ask ourselves how we take Him with us in our individual and also in our church vessel of life. Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 11 about the danger of tolerating someone who preaches another Jesus than he has preached (2 Corinthians 11:4). If we do that, we do not take Him with us just as He is. In order to know whether we take the Lord Jesus “just as He was”, we will have to open the Bible. If we keep what we read about Him in our hearts, it will result in us living our lives according to His will. Then He will take the first place in everything and will be followed and served by us with love and thankfulness.

In addition to the ship on which He is aboard, there are other ships with Him. It is reminiscent of those believers who do all kinds of things in His Name. They are not with the disciples (Mark 9:38-Malachi :), but the Lord uses them because they are acting in His Name. All those other ships are also at sea and in the storm, but they are with Him. Although He is not with them on board, they also share in the blessing of quieting the storm.

The disciples in the storm are a picture of servants in trials. This event is also a picture of the history of faithful servants through the ages. After showing the development of the sown Word in the previous parables, the Holy Spirit now shows how things will go with the disciples in the time when the Word is sown. They will be in great difficulty. The enemy will create a storm against them.

The storm into which the disciples will go is no ordinary storm. They were used to something. Certainly, the fishermen among them were familiar with the water. But here even the most experienced sailors lose all faith in their own skill and, what is worse, their faith in their sleeping Master.

The Lord sleeps in perfect rest, while everything around Him is in turmoil. He is completely opposite of the man in the next chapter. He is in a place of absolute rest, the graves, but nowhere is it so restless as in his heart (Mark 5:1-Judges :).

Here we have the only reference in the Gospels to the Lord’s sleep. He sleeps the sleep of complete trust in His God (Psalms 4:8). From His rest they could have learned to be calm as well. However, we do not see that. We see that they awaken Him and then blame Him for not caring that they perish.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Mark 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/mark-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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