Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Lest they be forgiven"

Mar 4:10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. 11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all [these] things are done in parables: 12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and [their] sins should be forgiven them.
Lest? What do you mean “Lest…their sins should be forgiven them”? Doesn’t He want their sins to be forgiven. Jesus seems to be saying something very not-PC in Mark: that He doesn’t make parables clear for the purpose of people not believing in Him. The blow is softened in Luke’s account (so most Christians just skip over Mark’s “lest” and go on to a more comfortable Luke).

For those that do exposit this verse, it is generally taken to mean that Jesus is creating an insider group, separating those who would believe from those who would not. This has been taken as a verse in support of a Calvinist view of the world where those who are inside were predestined to be there and that’s the way God wants it; parables may even be a way of limiting the accountability of those who are going to be damned anyways. And though Calvinism is always tough to swallow, expositionally it’s usually a safe bet (and the side of the argument I usually find myself on).

Today in my Bible study, we went back and looked at where Jesus was quoting from:
Isa 6:9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
Pretty much the same thing (once you pass it through the Septuagint). First note the context: this is the first message given to Isaiah, immediately after his commissioning.[1] So the context makes this into a pretty important message. And what’s the message? Israel will not listen. But Isaiah isn’t satisfied with his commission. He asks God, “Lord, how long?” (Isa 6:11)[2]. And God tells him, “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant…” and then goes on to describe exile and a remnant.

When did that happen? From the writing of Isaiah to the present, the desolation of the cities of Israel was either by Nebuchadnezzar (586BCE) or by Vespasian (70CE … :P Just fooling. Anno Domini 70 [3]). But if you look at Jesus’ words, He seems to be applying God’s words to the present situation; He seems to be claiming His parables are the fulfillment of the first part (“lest they see…and hear”). It would follow that the prophecy of desolation is Vespasian’s.

Look closely at the Isaiah passage. The word that caught my attention was: “until”. The implication of ‘until’ is that this blindness is only temporary. Where do we hear about “blindness until…”? A BLB search yields one result:
Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved…
In this part of Romans, Paul is talking about Israel’s role in God’s plan. Here he describes how Israel’s disbelief benefits the Gentiles: “…through their fall salvation [is come] unto the Gentiles…” (Rom 11:11). In other words, if Israel did not fall, the Gentiles would not have had the chance for salvation. If the Jews would have accepted Jesus as King, they would have set up His throne in Jerusalem and kicked off the Millennium in 32AD; His crown would not have been of thorns and the fealty paid by the Romans would not have been in jest. But Eternity would have been empty save for a few million Jews, peppered with Gentiles like Melchizedek and Rahab.

Why doesn’t Jesus want them to be forgiven in Mark 4? Because if the Jews to whom he preached believed, then multitudes of Gentiles would not be saved. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t want the Jews to believe in Him; He didn’t want them to believe in him yet. By keeping the Kingdom of God a secret, by encoding it in parables and telling only His closest disciples, Christ was preparing the way for His own crucifixion. By keeping His identity a secret from those people who he loved most, by allowing his beloved ones to suffer from blindness, he made salvation possible for billions. His secrecy made possible a world where He would pay for the sins of the world, and a world where those few disciples to whom he told these secrets would then go out and preach Salvation to all tribes, tongues, peoples and nations.

What sounds like an elitist Jew speaking secrets to an inner circle, actually is a daring and heroic plan to save the world.

[1] In my book, Isaiah in this scene wins the “Best possible direct response to God” award: When God asks in His throne room (filled with recently-described super angels screaming to each other "Holy, Holy, Holy") “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah has the balls (faith) to shout “Here am I; send me.”

[2]This, by the way, is also pretty insightful/ballsy
God: “I’m going to crush them.”
Isaiah: “Yeah I know you’re saying that, but, come on, they’re your people. I know you won’t forever. So, how ‘bout it? When are you going to give up and bless them again like you always do?”

[3] I think I’m going to start saying the full translated phrase from now on. “When were you born?” “In the year of our Lord 1985.”

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