Early in His ministry, after Jesus had taught the multitudes the parable of the sower, "When he was alone, they that were about him [along] with the twelve asked of him [about the meaning of] the parable. 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: That seeing they may see, and not perceive: and hearing they may hear, and not understand; least at any time they should be converted and their sins should be forgiven them" (Mark 4:10-12).
This statement by Jesus has puzzled many people and others have been troubled by it because these verses of scripture seem to say that the reason Jesus taught the public at large in parables was so they wouldn't understand the meaning of His message. That is to say, parables were stories that taught the gospel in a way that the average person wouldn't clearly understand its meaning. And the stated reason why Jesus taught in parables was so there wouldn't come a time when the people would become converted to Christ and thereby have their sins forgiven.
The question has often been asked, "Why would Jesus deliberately teach in such a way as to make the average person not understand the point He was trying to make? After all, if Jesus wants all men to come unto Him then shouldn't He clearly teach His message of salvation?
This question arises because Mark's account gives us an incomplete picture of what Jesus told His disciples on that occasion. In Matthew's account, he relates that when "the disciples came and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them (the non-believers) in parables, 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. For whosever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore, speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them if fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive. For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; least at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart and should be converted and I should heal them" (Matthew 13:10-15)
To some, Matthew's account may seem no different than that of Mark's but upon closer examination there is one very significant difference between these two versions of what Jesus said that day.
It should first be noted that both accounts quote Jesus as saying that the mysteries of the kingdom are to be given to the believers in Christ but not to the non-believers. The reason for this is because the believer will cherish them while the unbeliever will have little or no regard for them. However, Mark's account makes it sound as though it is Jesus who is deliberately trying to hid this information from the public while Matthew's account makes it clear that it is the people themselves who are refusing to understand and perceive what Jesus is saying. Therefore, Jesus taught people using language they would accept.
There are two others incidents in the life of Christ that illustrate this point.
"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The same came to Jesus by night and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. [Puzzled by this] Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?… How can these things be?" (John 3:1-4,9).
Nicodemus was not only a Pharisee, which meant he was a student of the law, but he was also "a ruler of the Jews" meaning that the people came to him to learn what the law of Moses taught and what it meant. And it was because of his religious learning that he recognized Jesus was "a teacher come from God" and that "God [was] with him." But when Jesus said that a man must be born again, "of the water and of the Spirit" Nicodemus was puzzled by this statement because he didn't understand what Jesus meant. In his mind, he interpreted this to mean that a man had to reenter his mother's womb and literally be "born again."
However, it seems that Jesus was just as puzzled by the inability of Nicodemus to understand the point He was trying to make. For some time prior to this conversation John the Baptist had been out in the wilderness crying repentance and exhorting people to become baptized for the remission of their sins in order to prepare themselves for the kingdom of God. From what we learn in the scriptures it seems that baptism for the remission of sins was something the Pharisees were familiar with. Notice that while the Pharisees questioned John's authority to perform baptism, they didn't question the ceremony itself. Therefore, it seems certain that, Jesus must have assumed that Nicodemus, as a student of the scriptures and a ruler of the Jews, clearly understood the need for baptism.
But even though the Pharisees were familiar with the need for this ceremony, they nonetheless felt that just because they were the children of Abraham and religiously kept the ceremonial law of Moses that they would still go to heaven whether they were baptized or not. No doubt, in their mind, they didn't feel they needed to repent. And this was the kind of attitude that Nicodemus had when he came to talk with Jesus. What it seems he wanted to do was engage Him in a philosophical, religious discussion about the law, because that's the sort of thing the Pharisees liked to do. But from His response it seems that, rather than getting into such a debate, Jesus tried to teach Nicodemus the need to become baptized if he ever hoped to enter the kingdom of God.
However, when Nicodemus failed to understand this simple and most basic concept of salvation, Jesus was astonished and perhaps somewhat annoyed with him. Therefore, "Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master in Israel and knowest not these things?" Although the scriptures don't tell us what reaction Nicodemus had to that question he must have felt somewhat shamed by such a rebuke. Here he was a ruler and a master in Israel and yet he couldn't comprehend what Jesus was talking about, even though John the Baptist had been loudly preaching this message for quite some time.
That then led Jesus to say, "If I have told you [of] earthly things and ye believe not, how shall I tell you of heavenly things?" Jesus was talking very plainly to Nicodemus, thinking he was talking on his level yet such was not the case because even though Nicodemus heard what Jesus said, he understood not; and seeing, he perceived not.
Later in His ministry a group of people came searching for Jesus and when they found Him, He said unto them, "Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed…. Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst…. if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you… Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?... From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:24-66).
While it's true that this was a new doctrine Jesus was teaching and He did use symbolism to explain it, we have to remember that He was talking to His "disciples" - those who believed in Him. Yet, even many of them closed their minds and refused to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. In the same way, when Jesus taught the multitudes the parable of the sower, they heard the story but they didn't understand what it meant. However, the difference between them and Christ's disciples was that later the disciples came to Jesus asking to know the meaning of the parable while the rest of the people went their way uninterested in learning what Jesus was trying to teach them. That is why He said, "For whosever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."
And the same situation exists today. There are still those who hearing, hear not, and seeing, see not and God deals with them the same way He did in the past. He gives to those who already have knowledge in abundance and takes away from those who are not interested in what He has to say even that which they already know.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes all that God has revealed both in ancient as well as in modern times and "that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (9th Article of Faith). There are those in the LDS Church who are anxious to know more about the mysteries of God and sometimes wonder why God doesn't give us more revelation. However, the truth is that God does reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God, even today but not just to anyone. As in the days when Jesus walked the earth, the great multitudes of people today will not receive new revelation, even when it is given to them. However, those who have ears to hear and eyes to see will continue to receive revelation. But in order to gain that revelation we must first understand how revelation comes to us.
There are three ways God reveals knowledge. The first is that He plainly states it in the scriptures. Usually, this happens with the basic doctrines of salvation which include faith, repentance, baptism, the need to receive the Holy Ghost, and the necessity of remaining faithful in keeping God's commandments. In fact, it is these principles that we often get tired of hearing about because they are taught over and over again in a multitude of different ways with such clarity that we are never left in any doubt as to what God wants us to know. And the reason for this clarity is because that's what's needed to know in order to inherit the kingdom of God. Anything else is not essential for salvation.
However, over the past two centuries, even these basic doctrines have been reinterpreted, altered, and so corrupted that it spawned a revolution that continues to this day. For example, from the very beginning, the Church always taught the need for Christians to live a righteous life, but, over time, the Church began to over emphasize this aspect of the gospel to the point where performing works of righteousness, such as attending church, saying prayers, paying penitence, and other "holy" works, became more important than having faith in God. In fact, these works became a substitute for faith under the guise that such works were the evidence of our faith.
By the 1500's this practice had gotten so out of hand that Martin Luther rebelled against it. But instead of reforming the Church from within, as he wanted, he was forced to start his own church in order to restore the true teachings of Christ, as he understood them. But, in time, others established their own religious organization to correct what they felt was an incorrect understanding of the Bible.
It was because of all these different, conflicting, and confusing beliefs about salvation that God had to once more reveal the true principles of salvation through Joseph Smith. Then He again established His church organization with apostles and prophets to insure that these basic doctrines didn't become corrupted again. So much of what we find in our modern-day scriptures isn't new revelation but rather are old teachings revealed anew.
However, in addition to these basic truths, God has also revealed new truths that were not plainly taught in ancient times, such as the three degrees of glory and a greater understanding of the resurrection. While these doctrines may be clearly stated, there are others that are not so clear or that only make passing mention of some things, thereby tantalizing our imagination. And this is the second way God reveals things to us.
Some of the revelations found in the D&C are deep and hard to understand and these can be likened to the parables that Jesus taught in that their message is not plainly understood. Those who behave like the multitudes of old, who merely read these revelations with little or no thought, gain only a superficial knowledge about the things of God or are left more confused than they were before. On the other hand, those who behave like the disciples of old, who ask the Lord for understanding, usually get what they are searching for. These are they whose eyes are open, trying to perceive the meaning of what they read and whose ears are attuned to the whispering of the Spirit. Often such people find the meaning of the scriptures being revealed to them.
But there is yet a third way that God reveals knowledge. Perhaps the best way to describe this method is to use the illustration of a puzzle.
A puzzle is a picture that is broken up into many small parts that fit together in a very precise way. If the pieces of the puzzle aren't put together in just the right order then the picture doesn't become visible. Often, these pieces are so small that all that can be seen of the picture on any one piece is only some color. Therefore, by looking at each individual piece of the puzzle it is impossible to know what the picture is. However, as more and more pieces of the puzzle are put together soon small parts of the picture begin to reveal themselves.
The scriptures are the same way. While God has not revealed everything to us, sometimes as we put one scripture together with another, we come to see something new that neither scripture alone reveals. This generally happens as we study and ponder the words of God. And it is in this way that God "reveal(s) many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."
A good example of this can be found in the books written by Elder Bruce R. McConkie. Through his extensive and exhaustive study of the scriptures he has come to see and understand things about the gospel that ordinary members of the Church haven't grasped. That is why so many people buy and read his books. But the reason why he knows so much "pertaining to the kingdom of God" is because these things have been personally revealed to him as he has searched and become prepared to receive these revelations.
This became obvious in his remarks made during his last General Conference address in April 1985. During that talk Elder McConkie bore his testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ but before he did, he prefaced his remarks with these words: "In speaking of these wondrous things I will use my own words. Though you might think these are the words of scripture, words spoken by other Apostles and Prophets, true it is that they were first proclaimed by others, but they are now mine. For the Holy Spirit of God has born witness to me that they are true… This I know of myself independent of any other person. I am one of his Witnesses. And in the coming day I will feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God's almighty Son and he is our Savior and Redeemer and that Salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way."
This knowledge came to Elder McConkie as a personal revelation from God and we can come to have that same knowledge revealed to us. In that same talk, Elder McConkie counseled, "Now the Atonement of Christ is the basic fundamental of the Gospel and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths. Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see [us] through the trials and perils of life… May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement."
God continually reveals many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God to people, even today but it comes to individuals who have prepared themselves to receive such revelation rather than as a general, public disclosure.
However, we need to be careful because if our thoughts are not guided by the Holy Ghost, we can put various verses of scripture together in ways that can give us an erroneous picture. A clear example of this is the doctrine of the Trinity. Although that word is not found in any scripture, yet, many Christians have pieced together a number of scriptural verses to produce a picture of God as being some sort of incomprehensible three-in-one Being who is so large that He fills the entire universe. And the same sort of thing happens in the LDS Church. There are some members who have come to understand the gospel in ways that are contrary to what the Church teaches and in some cases such people have been excommunicated for teaching false doctrine.
But, when we, as humble followers of Christ, come to Him seeking to understand His words, as did His disciples of old after hearing the parable of the sower, then He will still take the time to teach us many great and important things.