Today’s reading is Mark 4:21-25:
And Jesus said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
In what is now referred to as the fourth chapter of Mark, Jesus delivers several teachings regarding the Kingdom of God. For this reason, Mark’s version of the “lamp on a stand” teaching should be interpreted through the contextual theme of the Kingdom of God rather than that of evangelism and conduct of disciples (Mt 5:15-16) or the more ambiguous application in the Lukan account (Lk 11:33-36). If the lamp and the lampstand are parabolic of the Kingdom of God, then what does Jesus mean when he says, “For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light”?
Let’s start with the lamp and the lampstand. Jesus begins the lesson by asking a double-question ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?” The point is fairly clear: lamps are used for the purpose of illumination – for revelation. When placed on a stand the light of the lamp scatters the darkness and reveals what was previously hidden. Conversely, hiding a lamp under a basket or a bed would be contrary to its intended function.
Okay, but what is the lamp and what exactly is it illuminating? As already noted, the surrounding context of this metaphor is a string of parables explicitly regarding the Kingdom of God. Although there are a variety of possible interpretations, for reasons already mentioned, the most probable meaning of the “lamp” has something to do with the identity of Jesus as Son of God and the coming of His Kingdom. But this may seem strange to the astute reader who may have noticed that at the time of the teaching both of these things were not well known and largely shrouded in mysterious parables. Just a few verses up, Jesus told His disciples “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables” (Mk 4:11). Why then is Jesus not being a lamp on a stand but rather a lamp under a basket? Did Jesus not just point to the absurdity of covering a lamp? Should not the mystery of the Kingdom of God be revealed and His identity as Son of God be may made clear?
The verse that follows offers what appears at first glance to be a dose of conflicting logic. “For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light” (Mk 4:22). This seems at odds with the principle of placing a lamp on the stand. Moreover, the notion of hiding something in order to reveal it seems generally backwards. Reconciliation of these two verses and the meaning of the parable becomes clearer upon the earlier observation that, at the time of Jesus’s preaching, the lamp was not on the lampstand but rather was still covered; the knowledge of the Kingdom and the Redemption plan was still a secret. But why?
The lamp was kept hidden and the Kingdom of God kept a secret temporarily so that men living in darkness would unwittingly play their role in accomplishing God’s redemptive plan.
Taken as a fraud,
Just another man.
They killed the Son of God,
They offered up the Lamb.
“They do not know what they do”
Forgive them God of Grace.
The soldiers standing there,
Who slapped their Savior’s face.
The grave, it tried to hold Him
And it did for three short days.
Then Jesus rose again
At last the Lamp is raised.
Thus, the lamp is no longer covered. And although darkness still exists, the light spreads as more and more people come to know Christ as Lord, and there will be a day when all will see the Lamp on His stand and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
Daniel Lowery ’16 is a Government concentrator living in Dudley House.