Jesus Teaches in Parables
During His earthly ministry, as Jesus went about preaching and teaching, He frequently used parables (Matt. 13:1-3; 13:34-35).
It has been estimated that at least one-third of Jesus’ recorded teaching is found in the parables (Wiersbe, “Windows On The Parables”, p. 15).
Certainly many of the most often remembered sayings of Jesus are His parables.
It is therefore proper for disciples today to ask such questions as:
What is a “parable”?
Why did Jesus teach in parables?
What are they about?
How should we interpret them?
With this lesson, we begin a study on “The Parables Of Jesus”…
This first lesson will serve as an introduction to the parables in general.
Succeeding lessons will examine the parables in particular.
Let’s begin this “Introduction To The Parables” by noticing…
What is a Parable? – Definition.
The word “parable” is a transliteration of the Greek word παραβολή.
It means “to place beside, to cast alongside.”
Vine defines it, saying that it “signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a view to comparison.”
Wiersbe describes a parable…
As “a story that places one thing beside another for the purpose of teaching.”
“It puts the known next to the unknown so that we may learn.”
A parable can usually be identified by the use of the word “like” (Matt. 13:31, 33).
In the NT, parables are …
Usually a story or narrative drawn from nature or human circumstances,
From which spiritual lessons can be made by comparison.
In fact, a common definition of a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”
But this naturally leads one to the question: “Why did Jesus teach in parables?”
In other words, why did he not simply speak straightforward when He was teaching?
To understand why, consider …
Why Did Jesus Teach in Parables? – Purpose.
The primary purpose was to “conceal.”
Jesus began speaking in parables because of the hardness of many people’s hearts (Matt. 13:10-17).
The disciples’ attitude was such that they were blessed to learn “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:10-12, 16-17).
But because of the hard hearts of many in the multitude, Jesus began speaking to them in parables (Matt. 13:13-15; Mark 4:10-12).
He would then explain the parables in private to His disciples (Mark 4:33-34).
By resorting to parables, Jesus effectively separated the truth seekers from the curiosity seekers!
Those seeking the truth would seek an explanation (Matt. 13:36).
Whereas the simply curious could easily be sent away.
Indeed, Jesus used parables to carry out Divine judgment… (Matt. 13:12).
“For whoever has (a good heart, listening ears), to him more will be given, and he will have abundance (by virtue of the parable being explained).”
“But whoever does not have (a good heart, listening ears), even what he has will be taken away from him (by virtue of being sent away with the multitude).”
Another purpose was to “reveal.”
Even though the primary purpose in telling parables was to conceal the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” from the multitude!
For once the disciples understood the basic meaning of the parables…
… the comparison of the “known” (earthly) truths with the “unknown” (heavenly) truths would shed further light on the unknown.
Therefore, with the help of the Lord’s explanation of His parables we can learn more about “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:34-35).
This leads us to the next question: “What are the parables about?” (Matt. 13:11) certainly helps us to understand these truths.
What Are Parables About? – Theme.
The general theme is concerning the kingdom of heaven.
As suggested by (Matt. 13:11).
As illustrated with several parables, which all start with “The kingdom of heaven is like…” (Matt. 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47).
Indeed, the “kingdom of heaven” was the theme of…
Jesus’ itinerant ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 4:17, 23).
His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3, 10, 19-20; 6:10, 33; 7:21).
There are three sub-themes found in the parables as well.
The character of the kingdom – for example…
The Parable of the Mustard Seed.
The Parable of the Leaven.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.
The character of the King – for example…
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.
The Parable of the Lost Son.
The character of the King’s subjects – for example…
The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Parable of the Persistent Widow.
Of course, the sub-themes often overlap in some parables.
But they clearly demonstrate that the overall theme of the parables was “the kingdom of heaven.”
Finally, a few thoughts in answer to the question, “How do we interpret the parables?”
How do we interpret the parables? – Meaning.
There are two extremes to avoid:
Seeking to find some spiritual truth in every little detail (e.g. Calvinist interpretation of Parable of Sheep and Goats).
Saying that there is only ONE spiritual truth in each parable (e.g. both sons in the Prodigal Son).
Here are some guidelines for how to interpret them.
Learn from the explanations Jesus gave in those parables He explained.
Understanding the parable of the sower helps us to understand other parables (Mark 4:13).
“Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?”
Jesus therefore went on to explain that parable…
Look for the central truth of the parable, making sure that any other truths gleaned from the parable are in harmony with it, as with the many truths we might be able to glean from the Prodigal Son.
Consider carefully the context of Jesus words…
Looking for an introduction or an application which may give insight.
As supplied by either the Lord Himself, or His inspired writers.
Don’t use the parables to formulate new doctrine.
Remember, parables were originally told to conceal, so they are not always that clear in their meaning.
Therefore don’t try to build a case for a doctrine based solely on a parable.
For instance, Muslims will take Luke 19:27, and say Jesus was violent.
“But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.”
Following these sensible guidelines to interpreting the Parables of Jesus,
we can look forward to the joy of understanding more fully “the mysteries”
or revealed truths of the kingdom of heaven.
As we get into the parables themselves,
I hope that we will appreciate how blessed we are to live in an age when people who have a desire to learn about the kingdom can do so:
“But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for the hear; “for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matt. 13:16-17)
What we are about to study in these parables concern things which Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and many others looked forward to, but did not fully understand in their lifetime!
Yet these “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11), containing “things kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 13:35), are now being made known through the preaching of the gospel of Christ:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith;” (Rom. 16:25-26).
Dear friend, have you yet rendered obedience to the faith by responding to the call of the gospel of Christ? – cf. Mark 16:15-16.