Did Jesus Deliberately Withhold The Truth?
QUESTION: In answering His disciples’ question about the reason for speaking in parables (Matthew 13:10), Jesus seems to have said that He was deliberately withholding the truth from other listeners in case they would understand and “be converted” (vv. 11-15). This is hard for me to accept: first, because parables would seem to illustrate, not obscure; and, second, because I cannot understand why Jesus would want to prevent His hearers from learning the truth. If He did hide it from them, can they be responsible for not believing? Please explain.
ANSWER (Submitted by Mr. David B. Long of Toronto, Canada):
First, it would be wise to sort out the question and some of the propositions laid down in it.
1. It would be rash indeed for any believer to think that Jesus was deliberately withholding the truth. He IS the truth (John 14:6), and even His enemies admitted, “Thou teachest the way of God in truth” (Matthew 22:16). To every open heart He poured out truth in all its fulness. He taught the multitudes in ALL their towns and villages (Matthew 9: 35). Therefore, whatever else the verse may mean, it does not mean this.
2. Read the Lord’s words with care. His statement here has nothing to do with “learning the truth,” nor could it be the REASON for their “not believing.” They had heard the truth again and again and deliberately rejected it. Therefore, He was not going to enlighten them as to “the mysteries of the kingdom” which were none of their business as unbelievers. G. Campbell Morgan remarks, “They had rejected the King, and without Him they had no key to the mysteries.” We would go further and say that, as rejectors of the kingdom, what went on in its inner mysteries and among its subjects had nothing to do with them. These teachings, about the mysteries, were not of a kind that would lead anyone to believe and find life, but were rather an explanation to DISCIPLES of conditions that would exist for God and them as a result of the rejection of the kingdom by Israel as a nation.
3. The assumption that parables were “to illustrate the truth” or to make it simpler or more acceptable is very much an ASSUMPTION that is not based on the Scriptures. The Lord’s explanation of THESE parables, at least as given in Luke 8:10, teaches the very opposite.
EXPANSION: The revelations of inner mysteries, made in Matthew 13 to believers, were necessary because the Lord had been rejected by the leaders of the nation. The movements toward that point are made clear in the preceding chapters. In chapter 10, when Christ sent out the Twelve to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” He warned that this would bring a cleavage (v. 34), as some would confess and some would deny Him (vv. 32-33). Decisions about Him would devide men, even families (vv. 34-36). The cross must be taken up by all who profess to follow Him (v. 38). The whole business swings on “receiving” or not receiving Him (v. 40). This is teaching truth that would save those who accepted it, and nothing is hidden from them either deliberately or otherwise.
Even in Matthew 11:25 some things are revealed to one class and hidden from another because of unbelief, but still the loving presentation of truth goes out to all “weary and burdened ones” who will “COME” (vv. 28-30).
Matthew 12 reveals the growing antagonism of those unwilling to repent and believe. In verse 24 the very miracles authenticating Christ’s Messiahship are attributed to Satanic power bringing out the teaching about the unpardonable sin, and challenging a decision with the words, “He that is not with me is against me” (v. 30). In verse 14 the die is already cast —they had decided to “destroy Him.” At the end of the chapter, old relationships based on family or race are declared null and a new one announced based on obedience to God’s will. In the light of all this it is hard to understand how anyone could think that somehow by being refused the key to the inner and private mysteries of the kingdom any were being denied the ability to believe. They had already refused to believe on any conditions whatsoever, and all that remained for them as a consequence was judgment and doom.
In Matthew 13:1 on that “same day,” in a highly symbolic act, Christ left “the house” and went out to “the seaside,” rejected by the nation and its leaders and accepted by a small remnant. To the mixed crowd He tells a series of parables regarding certain “mysteries” which concern disciples and have nothing to do with those who will have no part of either the kingdom or its mysteries. Verse 12 gives a clue to the understanding of the whole situation: “Whosoever has (Christ and faith in Him) to Him shall be given (understanding of all else), but he who has not (Christ), even what he has shall be taken away from him.” In Mark 4:11 Christ says that the parabolic veiling was to “them that are without” (i.e., outsiders).
At this point in the teaching, the quotation from Isaiah 6:9 is introduced. It is, in fact, cited six times in the New Testament. All four Gospels have it in connection with Israel’s deliberate rejection of the Messiah and the consequent judgment of God on them. If they refused the light, He would send them blindness. If they spurned the King, then further understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom would be refused them. In not one of these passages is “hiding the truth” or “preventing His hearers from believing” in any way involved. God here, as always, simply declines to cater to the curiosity of Christ-rejectors.
In Acts 28:24-28 the passage is quoted by Paul to “the chief of the Jews” (v. 17), when, after a whole day of exposition and testimony, they “believed not.” The situation is identical. There is no question of “hiding” anything from them, since he had spent a whole day explaining it all to them from their own Scriptures. But when they stubbornly refused the truth in the face of the clearest enlightenment, then judicial blindness fell on them in fulfillment of Isaiah 6:9.
In Romans 11:8 the same truth is pressed, linked to Isaiah 29:10. Israel had heard the truth for the “beautiful feet” of the preachers had been there. But they were a “disobedient and gainsaying” people who killed the prophets and demolished God’s altars, and so the sentence is pronounced.
In 2 Corinthians 3:14, though the passage is not quoted directly, the theme is quite obvious and the background the same. Israel’s mind is “blinded” as though by a veil because of the nations’ refusal to obey the revelation of God.
To revert to John 12, we have the whole matter summed up for us. After the final pressing appeal in verse 36: “While ye have light, believe in the light … ,” the Lord departed and hid Himself from them, for the simple reason that “though He had done so many signs before them, yet they believed not on Him; that the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, ‘Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore, they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, ‘He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.’”
This blinding and hardening were the inevitable RESULT and PUNISHMENT of their unbelief, not the cause of it.
(Please send all questions to Dr. James T. Naismith, 1121 Hilltop St., Peterborough, Ont. K9J 5S6.)