Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Matthew 13:10-11 (ESV)
The disciples asked a question that perhaps many people have asked down through the years. Or perhaps many have read this passage numerous times and have not stopped to consider why some people understood what Jesus preached and others did not. It is obvious from Jesus’ response, “. . . to them it has not be given,” that the ability to understand the secrets of the kingdom came from a source outside of the individual.
Jesus explained to the disciples; “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’” Matthew 13:13-15 (ESV)
In his gospel, John also quotes the passage from Isaiah 6 to explain why people had not believed on Jesus. “When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’” John 12:36-40 (ESV)
The apostle Paul also cited Isaiah 6 after encountering a group of Jews who would not believe his testimony of the kingdom of God. “And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: ‘The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: Go to this people and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’” Acts 28:25-27 (ESV)
Why did these people not see? Why did they not hear? Why did they not understand? Why had their hearts grown dull and their eyes closed? Answer: To them it had not been given. Given by whom? I believe Jesus answers that question for us in Matthew 11:25-27. “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’” (ESV)
Jesus said that is was the Father’s gracious will to hide certain things from some people and to reveal them to others. He also said that he, himself, had authority to reveal things to those whom he chose. Paul makes the argument in Romans 9:18 that God has mercy on whomever he wills and hardens whomever he wills. In Romans 11 Paul says that Israel did not obtain what they were seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened. So, God had an elect people among the Jews and Gentiles who he chose to reveal the righteousness of Christ and some whom he chose not to.
Paul answers the argument of God’s fairness with this statement: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” Romans 9:19-24 (ESV)
Loraine Boettner explains it this way. “The hearts of the wicked are, of course, never hardened by the direct influence of God–He simply permits some men to follow out the evil impulses which are already in their hearts, so that, as a result of their own choices, they become more and more calloused and obstinate. God is ultimately responsible for the hardening of the heart in that he permits it to occur, but never are we to understand that God is the immediate and efficient cause.”
F.E. Hamilton concurs. He writes, “All God does is to let him (the unregenerate) alone and allow him to go his own way without interference. It is his nature to be evil, and God simply has foreordained to leave that nature unchanged. The picture often painted. . . , of a cruel God refusing to save those who long to be saved, is a gross caricature. God saves all who want to be saved, but no one whose nature is unchanged wants to be saved.”
Were the disciples of Jesus smarter than those who did not understand the parables? Were they just able to figure it out when others could not? No! Jesus told them that it was given to them to know the secrets of the kingdom. Given to them by the sovereign choice of God. Otherwise they too would not have understood. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God who has mercy.” Romans 9:16 (ESV)
That’s why we praise him!