Understanding

Jesus’ teaching included some hard sayings that were often misunderstood by those that gathered to hear him speak. After the scribes and Pharisees began to twist his words and take them out of context, Jesus started using stories that were referred to as parables to convey truths about God’s kingdom. Jesus’ parables used comparisons or illustrations from nature and human life to convey messages that might be misconstrued if he were to talk about them openly among unbelievers. On one occasion, when there were so many people gathered by the sea side to listen to him teach that he had to get into a ship to keep from being crushed by the crowd (Matthew 13:1-2), Jesus used the parable of the sower to describe the effects of hearing the word of God. This parable included a key lesson that Jesus later interpreted for his disciples so that they wouldn’t misunderstand the point he was making. Therefore, its meaning was very important and Jesus wanted to make sure they didn’t misinterpret it.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10), it says in Matthew 13:11, “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” The Greek word translated mysteries, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) means a secret or mystery (through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites)” (3466). What Jesus was implying was that membership in God’s kingdom was required for certain information to be revealed. In other words, unbelievers weren’t on the need to know list, therefore, Jesus didn’t tell them everything about the kingdom of heaven. When he explained the parable to his disciples, the key issue Jesus focused on was the unbeliever’s inability to understand or assimilate the word of God. Jesus said, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13).

Understanding of the word of God occurs at a deeper level than information that is processed through our brains. Jesus likened the word of God to seeds because seeds need to be underneath the soil in order for them to germinate. Like farming, Jesus suggested that assimilation of the word of God was a process that took place over time and an important factor that was revealed in his parable was the quality of the soil, or in reality, the condition of a person’s heart. He said, “But he that received the seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. The Greek word Jesus used for understanding, suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee) is derived from the word sun (soon) which denotes union; “with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance” (4862). The process of taking in and fully understanding the information and ideas that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God occurred while the disciples were living with him over the course of three years.

True identity

Although Jesus was born with the divine authority of God, he did not as a child have all of the capabilities he needed to minister to God’s people. As a human, Jesus had to mature spiritually and gain experience in life. It says in Luke 2:40 that his parents did everything required of them according to the law of the Lord and then, “the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” In other words, Jesus was raised like any other Jewish child. He did not immediately have an understanding of how the world worked, nor did he glow, or have a halo above his head as some people may imagine him. Jesus looked and acted like a normal child. Apparently though, Jesus did have supernatural intelligence. His IQ was probably the highest of any person that has ever lived. When Jesus was twelve years old, his parents found him in the temple of God, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

Today, we might refer to Jesus as a child prodigy, a genius of the most extreme sort. It says in Luke 2:47, “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” The Greek word translated understanding, sunesis (soon´ – es – is) refers to “a mental putting together, i.e. intelligence or (concretely) the intellect” (4907). Sunesis is derived from a primary preposition denoting union; with or together, in the sense of an association gained through the process of learning (4862). Even his own parents, couldn’t fully comprehend the things that Jesus said. In a moment of frustration, when she found Jesus arguing with the priests in the temple, Mary said to her son, “Son why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). What Mary was implying was that she and Joseph didn’t have the same kind of supernatural intelligence that Jesus had. They had been looking all over for him and had no idea that he had stayed behind in Jerusalem after they had left the city to return home to Nazareth (Luke 2:43).

Jesus’ response to his mother’s frustrated comment was meant to distinguish not only his true identity, but also his primary responsibility as child of God. He said, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). This brief statement revealed that at the age of twelve, Jesus no longer associated himself with his earthly parents. Jesus understood that God was his actual father, in every sense of the word. The Greek word translated “Father’s business” is pater. This word is usually used to designate the nearest ancestor or male relative in a family, but metaphorically it can refer to “the originator of a family or company of persons animated by the same spirit as himself.” Pater is also used “of God in relation to those who have been born anew” (3962). Although Jesus did not become a believer, he may have reached a point at the age of twelve where he completely transferred his trust or loyalty from Joseph to his Father in heaven. From that point forward, everything Jesus did was due to his obedience to God.

A deeper understanding

At the conclusion of their building project, all the Jews gathered themselves together as a congregation and requested that Ezra read to them from the book of the law of Moses. Nehemiah previously noted that the whole congregation together was 42,360 people (Nehemiah 7:66), so the crowd would have been similar in size to a packed baseball stadium, but they actually took up much less space because Nehemiah said all the people stood in the street, and Ezra spoke to them from a pulpit made of wood that was raised above them so that everyone could see him (Nehemiah 8:4-5).

In his opening prayer, Ezra blessed the LORD, which means he kneeled down before him in reverence (1288). In response, as a sign of their commitment and willingness to submit themselves to God, it says in Nehemiah 8:6 that, “all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” Ezra’s reading of the law went beyond merely speaking it out loud so that everyone could hear it. His intent was to make sure that everyone clearly understood it. It says in Nehemiah 8:8, “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”

You could say the gathering of the Jews was more like a Bible Study than it was a recitation of the law. It was important for them to have a deeper understanding of God’s word because the people were expected to actually do what the law said they were supposed to. The Hebrew word translated distinctly, parash means to separate or disperse. In a figurative sense, the word can be used to specify something or to wound someone as with a harsh word or saying (6567). The Apostle Paul said in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

One of the ways Ezra knew that the people truly understood what he was saying to them was “all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law” (Nehemiah 8:9). In other words, they were convicted of their sins and felt bad about all the things they had been doing wrong. Surprisingly, Ezra didn’t encourage the people to grieve or to be sorry for their sin, but told them they should celebrate because “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), meaning, in their process of reaching spiritual maturity, it was more important for the people to convey the joy of God’s forgiveness than it was for them to express grief because they had sinned. “And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (Nehemiah 8:12).