The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide is published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's edition is shown above.
Official Adventist Resources for week 2:
Support this project
If you would like to support this website, please click on the following link to donate online or you may mail your check to: Life Assurance Ministries, PO Box 905, Redlands, CA 92373. Mark your check "Bible Studies."
First Quarter 2014 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLESHIP
Week 2: January 4–10
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLING THROUGH METAPHOR
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Commentary on this week's lesson
This week’s lesson attempts to demonstrate that Jesus’ use of parables and figurative language was His masterful way of making immaterial concepts clear so that His hearers would grasp His meanings and become good, knowledgable disciples. In fact, the Teachers’ Comments and the discussion questions encourage the reader to recognize and use the medium of story to teach spiritual concepts and to demonstrate the principles of discipleship.
Saturday’s lesson sets the stage with this passage from Matthew 13:34, 35:
All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35 ESV)
The day’s comments then make the point that “Jesus framed eternal truths in ways that went beyond mere intellect alone. Jesus spoke through concrete pictures drawn from everyday life in order to reach people where they were. children and adults could understand deep truths delivered through parables wrapped in images and metaphors.”
Unfortunately, the author completely missed Jesus’ own explanation for teaching in parables.
Matthew 12:22-32 records the climax of the Jews’ attempts to discredit and defuse Jesus’ power. Jesus cast out a demon from a man who was blind and mute. People were amazed and began to ask, “Can this be the Son of David?” (verse 23).
This was not an idle question. The Jews knew their prophets had promised a Son of David who would sit on David’s throne and would deliver them from their enemies. Their question about whether Jesus might be this promised Son of David was a messianic question. People were beginning to wonder if He might be the Promised One.
The Jewish rulers were furious and malignantly fearful of losing their position and power and of being fully overtaken by the Romans.
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:24-32 ESV)
Jesus identified the Pharisees’ sin of attributing the work of God to Satan as the unpardonable sin. This was the last straw. They looked straight at Jesus, at His casting out of demons, at the CLEAR evidence of God’s power, and their arrogance and hard hearts knew no bounds. They attributed God’s power to Satan. This event marked a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
Immediately after this account in Matthew 12, Jesus talked about a tree being known by its fruit, and in verse 36 He said,
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37 ESV)
He then says no sign will be given an unbelieving generation except the sign of Jonah (a reference to His own resurrection), and he tells the parable of an evil spirit being swept out but returning and finding the house empty and in order. It goes out and brings seven other even worse spirits with it, and they enter and dwell in the cleaned but empty house. “So also will it be with this evil generation” (v. 45b).
The very next paragraph, the end of chapter 12, Jesus identifies who His family really is: “For whoever does the will of myFather in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (v. 50).
So, in a nutshell, here’s the progression of Jesus’ teaching: after the Pharisees commit the unpardonable sin of accusing Him of using Satan’s power to cast out demons (a logical fallacy at any rate, as Jesus points out to them), he immediately uses a parable to talk about the fact that “good fruit” cannot yield from a bad tree—a clear reference to the Pharisees. He makes His point still another way when the relentlessly curious Pharisees ask for a sign. They were preoccupied with the supernatural manifestations of Jesus’ miracles. Jesus had already been giving them many signs, miracles that specifically fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, but they refused to believe. They simply wanted more titillation.
Jesus refused to entertain them and said a wicked and adulterous generation would only receive the sign of Jonah—a metaphorical answer, to be sure. He compares them and their generation with a man who is re-possessed by seven spirits after getting rid of one. As long as the man’s “house” was not filled, the demons found it ready for them. Without being filled by God’s Spirit, a person is vulnerable to evil. Jesus specifically compared the unbelieving Pharisees to a person who become increasingly evil and possessed of more and more demons as they refuse to receive the Person of the Jesus as the Way to be filled with God’s Spirit. He clearly condemns them and exposes their evil, unrepentant hearts.
Then, as if these parables weren’t damning enough, Jesus completely redefined family. Within Judaism, “family” was everything. Their genetic connection to Abraham symbolized by physical circumcision and their connection to Moses through the law and the Old Covenant was their claim to “specialness”. They were the “chosen ones”.
Here, however, Jesus identifies His family not as those who share His bloodline but as those who do the will of His Father. He specifically identified His disciples as His mother and brothers. All who do the Father’s will are His brothers and sisters and mothers.
Jesus has clearly drawn a line between those with whom He closely identifies and those who refused to believe in Him. Not only has He distinguished between His own relationships with believers and unbelievers, but He has identified the hard of heart as being under the power of Satan and incapable of bearing any good fruit whatsoever—even if they performed good deeds recognized by society.
Chapter 13 opens with the disciples coming to Him after these pointed parables and asking, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (v. 10).
Here is Jesus’ answer:
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. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 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.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it (Matthew 13:11-17 ESV)
Jesus’s answer is very clear. He began teaching in parables because the Jews’ hearts were hard. Because they not only refused to believe Him but refused to believe that His works were the works of God, because they attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan, Jesus obscured his truth from them.
His parables were not clever teaching tools to make concepts plain. Rather, they were judgments meted out on hard, unbelieving hearts that did not want to pay the price of acknowledging Who Jesus was and where His power was coming from.
Moreover, this situation was the fulfillment of prophecy, and Jesus very clearly pointed out that His obscuring of truth through the use of parables was the fulfillment of God’s word. The quotation in verses 14-15 above is from Isaiah 6:9-10. Their hearts would be so hard that they would be unable to hear or see, and they would reject the truth.
By speaking in parables, Jesus was actually protecting the truth and Himself from premature fury. This was a form of His own teaching not to cast pearls before pigs lest they trample the pearls into the mud and turn to attack you (Mt. 7:6).
The parable were only for those who had ears to hear—and His true disciples were those people. The parables were a judgment on the Pharisees and a confirmation of His disciples’ desire to know truth.
John explained the deepening unbelief of the Jews this way:
While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
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.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:36-43 ESV)
The unbelief that triggered Jesus’ move away from clear gospel statements to parables was not uninformed. The Pharisees knew the Messianic prophecies, and they looked at Jesus and saw that He was doing what the Old Testament foretold the Messiah would do. He was making the lame to walk, the blind to see, the dumb to speak, and the dead to live. They knew His power had to come from God, but they refused to believe. They were not unaware of the prophecies. They knew—but they didn’t want those prophecies to be fulfilled by someone like Jesus. They refused to believe, and they accused Him of being an instrument of Satan. They tried to “manage” Him to their own advantage, but instead, they came under divine judgment. The words of life were hidden from them, obscured deliberately, because of their hard hearts.
Jesus further said that His own word, the word they rejected, is what will judge them at the last day:
And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:44-50 ESV)
What about discipling?
In the light of Jesus’ own teaching on the power, permanence, and significance of His word, the point of this week’s lesson is horrifying. The author claims that Jesus used parables to make His lessons more accessible, more clear.
Jesus Himself explained that His parables were for the purpose of concealing His lessons from the unbelieving who had already cast their lot with Satan.
The completely inside-out teaching of this lesson ignores and changes the actual words of Scripture spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself. It rejects His own explanation of the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecies about the hard hearts of the unbelieving Jews.
This lesson is doing exactly what the Jews did to Jesus’ face: it is refusing to accept what Jesus actually said and is attempting, instead, to assign its own more comfortable meaning to it. It is unashamedly leaving out some of the most significant portions of Scripture immediately before and after its memory verse and is using that verse out-of-context to make a point that confirms Adventism’s particular skewed views.
True disciples are not those who learn lesson of good living and moral principles. Rather, true disciples are those who actually KNOW Jesus and are born of His Spirit when they repent for their intractable sin and receive His blood in payment for their inherited curse of death.
Discipleship does not consist of teaching the moral lessons of how to live like Jesus. Instead, discipleship is teaching those who have already repented and been born again to trust the Word of God—all of it, both Testaments. Discipleship consists of encouraging and exhorting other believers to trust God’s promises and to submit their minds to His word.
Unless we place our minds UNDER His word, we reserve the “right” to be in control of truth. Only God is truth—and He has given us one medium of knowing who He is: His Word. True discipleship can only mean one thing: submitting to God’s Word as our means of knowing His will and His reality. It is the source of truth that can mature and change us. It is what renews our minds when we know Jesus.
Parables are judgments, not clever teaching tools. They do not obscure the truth from believers, but they do obscure it from unbelievers.
I urge the reader to ask God to show you how to read His word without an Adventist veil. Ask Him to teach you His truth and to plant you firmly in reality.
His word is powerful and sufficient and eternal. The Lord Jesus has given us exactly what we need—the whole counsel of God!