To whom was Jesus referring when He said 'He who has ears to hear…'?
The phrase "ears to hear" is used throughout the Bible, starting with Deuteronomy 29:4. Moses was rebuking the rebellious Israelites by saying, "But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear." He was not referring to physical hearing, but to those who may hear the commands of the Lord but who lacked comprehension and desire to act upon those words (Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2). Those who do not have "ears to hear" are spiritually dead and cannot obey God until they respond to His work in their hearts (John 6:65; Romans 11:8).
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Jesus echoes this phrase many times in the Gospels (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:23; Luke 14:35). "Having ears to hear" was a common idiom that referred to those whose hearts were ready to act upon the truth they were given. Thousands were impacted by Jesus' earthly ministry, but only a handful had "ears to hear." In John 6:66, Jesus had again explained about who He is, but John records that, "After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him." These were people who had heard His message, but their hearts had not been quickened with the desire to obey it. Only those with "ears to hear" stayed because they recognized that Jesus had the "words of eternal life" (John 6:68–69).
In modern culture, the gospel is more widely available than ever before. Yet, atheism is on the rise because even in our day, most people do not have ears to hear. Jesus said that no one can come to Him unless the Father first draws them (John 6:44). It is the Holy Spirit who gives us ears to hear, but it is our responsibility to act upon that gift or it may no longer be given (Hebrews 3:15; Romans 1:18–32). When we respond to the truth we have been given, we can be entrusted with more (Mark 4:25). Wisdom and greater understanding are the rewards for those with ears to hear.
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