The teaching of Jesus is central to the four Gospels. The essential component of his message, at least in Mark’s Gospel, concerns the Kingdom of God. In Mark 4:11 Jesus characterizes this teaching about the Kingdom as a "mystery" that "has been given" specifically to those who constitute his disciples.
We have some familiarity with the term "mystery" through Paul’s letters. Several times he rejoices in the fact that the "mystery" of the Messiah that has been given to him and through him to the Gentiles (Eph. 3:9;Col. 1:25-27). However, we generally do not associate this term with Jesus’ teaching. Yet, here it is, embedded in a very significant text and located at a crucial point in Jesus’ mentoring of his disciples.
In Mark 4 Jesus considers the possession of this "mystery of the Kingdom" as the critical difference between those who have committed themselves to him and "those on the outside". By attaching themselves to Jesus, people have the opportunity to receive and understand this mystery. For those who reject Jesus and remain outside of his circle – "all things happen in parables" (or riddles?). They do not have access to this mystery. Jesus’ paraphrase of Isaiah 6:9-10 (Mark 4:12) indicates the blindness and ignorance which prevents them from experiencing repentance and forgiveness.
The formulation Mark uses in reporting Jesus’ words (4:11) includes the term "has been given". Passive forms in Mark often imply that God is the hidden agent and this probably is the case here as well. It is God’s actions in the Messiah that bring this mystery into the lives of these people. As Jesus proclaimed in Mark 1:15 "the time has been fulfilled" and this timing is in accordance with God’s schedule. Jesus’ actions and message are in complete harmony with God’s will. As the history of God’s people demonstrates, God’s revelations are always His gifts to us.
But what about this term "mystery"? Why does Jesus choose to use it here and specifically in conjunction with the concept of the Kingdom? Here we enter the world of apocalyptic ideas. Daniel’s visionary experiences probably form the background for this term. In Daniel 2 Nebuchadnezzar requires his advisors to tell him what his dream was and what it means. None can do it and all are sentenced to death. This punishment extends even to Daniel. When he discovers what has happened he requests opportunity to respond to the king’s demand. Daniel’s confidence is in the "God in heaven who reveals mysteries" (2:28-29). This God "reveals deep and hidden things" (2:22). Daniel’s term "mystery" connotes secret things known to God and that He may, from time to time, choose to reveal to human beings. There is a sense of divine order and scheduling that God has devised and is known only to Him, but that directs our human affairs.
When Jesus defines his message of the Kingdom as a "mystery" he is tapping into this language. God has His plans all in place for the implementation and extension of His Kingdom. This includes His Messiah, Jesus. Now, as Jesus has "come forth", this mystery or God’s secret plans for His Kingdom, becomes discernible to human beings. This is God’s gift to those who by faith perceive in Jesus the centre piece of God’s Kingdom work.
What we do with this gift, this awesome, Kingdom revelation, defines our discipleship.
- All that we know about God and His plans is His gracious gift to us. God knows the end from the beginning. He reveals "deep and hidden things" according to His own purpose. Our response of faith is to have confidence that God’s plans are in place, are perfect, and are for good.
- We today have access to the "mystery of the Kingdom of God" because Jesus came and provides for us the way to repent, receive forgiveness and join God’s royal family.