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Seven times in the New Testament and only from the mouth of Jesus Christ, do we read the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8, 14:35). He who has ears? Does that imply that there is someone out there who does not have ears? Well, yes, it actually does. Not in a physical sense, of course. But certainly in a spiritual sense. The word “has” in that sentence is a word that means “to hold; to possess; in a sense of wearing.” In other words, it implies that there are some who do not possess, or wear the very thing that Jesus is declaring necessary for understanding, that being “ears to hear.”
Ears in Figurative Language
We certainly comprehend this type of figurative language. We show it when we say, “You may be hearing me, but you aren’t listening.” It indicates someone is not paying attention. They are not absorbing what is being said. Or, they are simply choosing to ignore the words being spoken to them. This is what Jesus means by this statement. Perhaps, another way to express it might be, “Those who are paying attention and understand, listen up!”
Jesus typically used this phrase in conjunction with a parable or prophecy. His disciples noted the implication and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. … Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand,” (Matt 13:10-13). Jesus knew those who opposed Him were not paying attention to the Scriptures correctly. He knew they certainly were not absorbing His teaching. He knew they simply chose to ignore His words. The very words He said “that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life,” (John 6:63) and that His word would judge them (12:48) fell on deaf ears!
I find it rather interesting the way Jesus sometimes expressed prophecy. In Luke 9:44, He uses the same “ear” analogy predicting His death before the disciples, “Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.” In other words, “Listen carefully to what I am saying!” Hearing Jesus is critical to salvation and understanding truth. He affirmed this to Pilate, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice [emphasis added],” (John 18:37). We must hear Him!