Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.
The Lamp and The Measure
21 And he said to them, “Surely a lamp is not brought so that it may be put under a bushel basket or under a bed, is it? Is it not so that it may be put on a lampstand? 22 For nothing is secret except so that it may be revealed, nor has become hidden except so that it will come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” 24 And he said to them, “Take care what you hear! With the measure by which you measure out, it will be measured out to you, and will be added to you. 25 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:21-25, LEB)
The two parables in Mark 4:21-25 at first appear very simple and straightforward—maybe they are, and maybe appearances can be deceiving.
In verse 21, the Lord talks about the correct use of a lamp. He says that a lamp is not placed under a basket or under a bed, but on a lampstand. Why? Because the lamp is supposed to give light so people can see what is in the room.
Many people, when they read verse 21, immediately associate it with the Lord's other parable about a lamp—which is found in Matthew 5:14-16 and has some similarities with the parable in Mark:
14 You are the light of the world. A city located on top of a hill cannot be hidden, 15 nor do they light a lamp and place it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it shines on all those in the house. 16 In the same way let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, LEB)
Yes, the lamp in Matthew 5:15 is also supposed to be put on lampstand instead of under a basket—but that's the only similarity. Although the Jesus in Matthew is the same Jesus as in Mark, Mark is not Matthew, and the context of Mark's lamp is different from the context of Matthew's lamp because Mark and Matthew are making reference to different lessons taught by Jesus.
Keep reading unto the following verse in Mark (verse 22), and the Lord says that all secrets will be revealed, and everything that is hidden will come to the light—that's not something he said in Matthew.
The Lord finally calls on anyone having ears to hear to listen.
So, what then is all this about in the gospel of Mark?
Well, in Mark 4:21, the Lord tells the parable about the lamp immediately after explaining the parable of the sower and the seed. From the context, it seems that the parable about the lamp is related to the parable about the sower and the seed. What is that relationship?
Whreas the lamp in Matthew 5:15 is clearly related to the disciples (see Matthew 5:14), the lamp in Mark 4:21 appears to be somehow related to the seed in the parable about the sower and the seed.
In the parable, the seed represented the word of God, and the ground represented the human heart. The quality of the ground was tested when it received the seed (the word of God).
in the parable about the lamp we see a similar situation: the things that are secret and the things that are hidden are revealed when the lamp is put on the lampstand, and the light of the lamp makes the secret things and the hidden things visible.
This leads us to the conclusion that, just as in the parable about the sower and the seed, the sower represents Jesus and the seed represents the word, the lamp in this second parable represents Jesus and the light he gives represents the word.
Just as when the seed (the word) falls on the ground (the human heart), and the quality of the ground is made evident to the sower (whether it was good ground or bad ground), the secret and hidden things—that is, the quality of the heart—is made evident when a person hears the word of God, because the word of God demands a reponse from the person: faith or rejection.
The context of the parable is key to us understanding the parable.
Moreover, what did Jesus mean when he said that anyone with hears to hear should listen? Here is one possible way to interpret this saying:
Ears are for the purpose of hearing, and—in general—everyone hearing Jesus had ears. So, Jesus was telling everyone to listen to what he was teaching them because it was important. In other words, he appears to have been saying, "All of you, pay attention because this message is important."
If you only read verse 24, the parable about the measure appears to be a repetition of the Lord's teaching in Matthew 7:2, which says:
"For by what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and by what measure you measure out, it will be measured out to you." (Matthew 7:2, LEB)
In Matthew 7:2, the Lord is instructing his disciples not to judge other people (we will clarify in a future article what this means).
However, if you keep on reading, the parable about the measure becomes harder to understand, unless you compare it with the context:
"For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:25, LEB)
Once again, these words sound like the words in another passage:
"I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away." (Luke 19:26, LEB)
Nevertheless, the context is quite different.
So, what is this parable all about? Well, if you compare the whole thing to its context, this parable is about the same thing that the Lord has been talking about this whole time: the word of God exposes our real spiritual condition.
Look at the whole parable again:
24 And he said to them, “Take care what you hear! With the measure by which you measure out, it will be measured out to you, and will be added to you. 25 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:21-25, LEB)
Here is what it means when you read it in light of its context:
Pay attention to what Jesus is teaching you. You will be judged in the same way you judge him, and even more.
For those who have a relationship with God already, will hear the word Jesus teaches and grow in understanding; but, those who do not have a relationship with Godk will hear the word Jesus teaches and be condemned.
How do we now we are on the right path with this interpretation? Look at what the Lord said a few verses before about what the purpose of the parables is:
10 And when he was alone, those around him together with the twelve began asking him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been granted the secret of the kingdom of God, but to those who are outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
‘they may look closely and not perceive,
and they may listen carefully and not understand,
lest they turn and it be forgiven them.’” (Mark 4:10-12, LEB)
The parables were not meant to help unrighteous people understand the word of God, but to condemn them by making sure they did not understand it and repent!
This point then brings out another meaning in the Lord's words: "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 4:23, LEB). The Lord probably wasn't only saying that his message was for everyoe—if he was saying that at all: instead, he was saying that his message was only for those who had spiritual ears to hear the word of God—which was not everyone, because not everyone had a right relationship with God.
Remember to Look at The Immediate Context
Although comparing Scripture with Scripture is an important and valid hermeneutical principle, you need to first interpret Scripture within its immediate context.
in this article, we analyzed two parables in the Gospel of Mark and saw that, although they remind us of other teachings in the other two synoptic gospels (Matthew and Luke), they mean something completely different when we analyze them in light of their immediate context instead of imposing on them the meaning of similar words in the other gospels.
Remember, Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote gospels that had very similar contents, but each author wanted to emphasize different aspects of the Lord's ministry and different lessons taught by him.
© 2022 Marcelo Carcach