The parables of Jesus are found primarily in the synoptic gospels (See Note1). Parables, by their nature, typically, have one central truth at heart. Parables are one of the oldest and simplest forms of instruction - even the Old Testament uses them. I won't delve into the debate over whether a saying is a parable or a proverb - the debate is not relevant to learning The Gospel Jesus taught. In general, "Occam's Razor" applies here - the answer that requires the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct answer. Remember Jesus said to be as children. Do children try to pick apart what is said and try to find hidden meanings?
People have historically wondered why Jesus taught some things via parables. I can think of several good reasons that could be posited for this methodology. First, it was a common teaching method already known to be in use among the folks He was talking to; so, it would have been natural to employ such a teaching style - much as a PowerPoint presentation would be natural to use with a "computer literate" group today. Second, as Jesus explained (i.e. Matthew 13:13/14), it served to fulfill prophecy some folks were just so stubborn or hard-headed that they acted as if they were blind or deaf to His words. Third, some folks were already trying to trip Him up, to twist His words, or use His words to make accusations against Him (i.e. Matthew 12:10). Parables make doing any of that more difficult for an antagonist.
People have differing opinions as to another possible purpose of using parables. Many say it was to hide the true meaning, other to reveal hidden truths. This subject could warrant a separate study; but, for ease of understanding here, I posit that it served both purposes and that it was intended to do so. For the indifferent or the antagonistic it would continue to hide the true meaning. For the sincere seeker of the knowledge Jesus was trying to share it could reveal the truth. I hold this belief for several reasons based on Jesus' own words. First, He repeatedly specified, "those that have ears, let them hear". This tells me that if you are listening for the knowledge He is offering you can learn it; but, if you are listening for any other reason you will learn nothing. Matthew 13:15 shows that "seeing" and "hearing" should lead to "understanding with the heart". Second, Jesus, in fulfilling prophecy in His use of parables, was revealing things that had been kept secret but were not anymore (Matthew 13:35). Third, Jesus showed that He expected those who wanted to follow Him to understand Him Mark 4:13. Note that in Matthew 13:23 Jesus specifically connects hearing the word with understanding if the seed/word is received by "good ground". (See Note2)
This doesn't mean you are not "good ground" just because you don't have a full understanding the first time you read something in Scripture - even the original disciples often needed help and time to grasp the full meaning. When Jesus said these things the disciples had Jesus there to help explain things to them. They would later receive the Holy Spirit - as Jesus said (John 16:13) - to guide them in all truth. We too have access to this same help today - the Holy Spirit. That is how and why we are saved by grace - unmerited help.
Nothing, not even studying the Bible, can ever replace the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your ability to understand the Gospel Jesus taught or with your relationship with God. The New Testament did not exist in Jesus' time; further, few people could read the Scriptures (Old Testament). What Jesus did tell us, and He knew we would have the New Testament today, was "pray always" (Luke 21:36, See also Luke 18:1).
The parables are often divided into various "theme" categories. I won't delve into that here; but, in addition to the study guides included in the last article, I have included one below that does do a "theme" categorization chart - See Note3.
We don't know how many of the parables Jesus explained to His disciples. We do know that some of the explanations Jesus gave were recorded so that we can study them today. One is the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24/30) which Jesus explained later in Matthew 13:37/43. Another is the parable of the sower (also called the parable of the four soils). It is also one of the few parables to appear in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew 13:3/9, Mark 4:3/9, and Luke 8:5/8). The explanation Jesus gave is also recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew 13:18/23, Mark 4:14/20, and Luke 8:11/15).
Because we have Jesus' own explanation for some of the parables it seems prudent to continue a study of His words by focusing on those parables in particular. Most studies I've seen begin with the parable of the sower; but, here we will begin with the parable of the tares.
The Parable of the Tares*
He put before them another parable, saying: The kingdom of Heaven is compared to a man sowing good seed in his fields; but, while the men were sleeping one hostile to him came and sowed darnel in the midst of the wheat and went away. And when the blade sprouted and produced fruit the darnel appeared too. And coming near, the slaves of the housemaster said to him, Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? Then why does it have darnel? And he said to them, a man, an enemy did this. And the slaves said to him, do you desire, then, that we should gather them? But he said, No, lest gathering the darnel you should uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest. And in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, first gather the darnel and bind them into bundles to burn them; but, gather the wheat into my granary.
*Tares Defined: Thayer - a kind of darnel, resembling wheat except the grains are black; Strong - darnel or false grain: - tares.
The explanation Jesus gave for the Parable of the Tares
Then sending away the crowds Jesus went in the house. And His disciples came to Him saying, Explain to us the parable of the darnel of the field. And answering, He said to them, The One sowing the good seed is the Son of Man. And the field is the world and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; but, the darnel are the sons of the evil one. And the hostile one who sowed them is the Devil, and the harvest is the end of the age, and the angels are the reapers. Then as the darnel is gathered and is consumed in the fire, so it will be in the completion of this age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all the offenses and those who negate the law. And they will throw them in the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of the teeth. Then the righteous will shine out like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The one having ears to hear, let him hear.
Jesus' explanation needs no help from me. I will, however, end here by pointing out one unrelated thing that impacts what many currently believe. Note that Jesus clearly says that the darnel the tares will be gathered first not the wheat. His words counter those that believe the saved will be "raptured" first. It also shows that His words still apply: the gathering has not yet occurred. We are under the words of Jesus - not the false apostle Paul.
In Brotherly Love,
Note1: John may have parables; but, John does not specifically say the word parable. In John 10:6 the KJV uses the term parable incorrectly. The word the KJV translates here as parable - "paroimia" is translated as proverb elsewhere in the KJV (even in John) and in the DRB translation (and as allegory, similitude, etc in other translations - i.e. LITV, YLT, etc.). The word "parabolē" is the word used for parable.
Note2: Jesus said the seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11). It is important to remember that the "seed/word" is not the New Testament it did not exist. The "seed/word" is only what they, the hearers, had access to as the word of God the Old Testament and the words (Gospel) of Jesus. To repeat, the "seed/word" is not the New Testament, it is not the words of Paul, or the Pope, or Joseph Smith. The "seed/word" is the Old Testament and the Words of Jesus!
Note3: The New Testament Parables of Jesus Provides charts for the categorization and chronological order for 32 parables - is available at my website on the Free Downloads page.