Why did Jesus speak in parables? Why did He not just come right out and directly say what needed to be said about sin, about what the people needed to know now? One reason could be that false prophets usually told people nothing but doom and gloom directives; a kind of "follow God, or else", and then name what that "or else" was to be. But Jesus came along and spoke to people, not as equals, but as human beings with brains to think with. In His parables, Jesus told stories that the people could understand, using images such as seeds, oil, dirt, sheep, goats, light and dark, to give His meaning in a more simple way that would stir up thoughts in the hearer's minds that he could comprehend and take with him as he walked along the road, or was doing his chores.
In his book, "All the Parables of the Bible" (1963), Dr. Herbert Lockyer says that "Jesus parables are not mere illustration, but internal analogies, nature becoming a witness for the spiritual world; whatever is found in the earthly exists also in the heavenly kingdom" (p. 13). Jesus used parables because they were the best way to bring the earthly and the heavenly together in one place, just as He Himself, as a man who is God, has brought the heavenly and the earthly together in one body. In this paper, I will evaluate the different reasons for Jesus use of the parable in His teachings.
We know that God's thoughts and ways are higher than ours. Is that why Jesus just didn't come right out and tell us what He wanted us to hear? Did He know that we wouldn't understand a word He said if He used God's higher thoughts, and told us God's higher ways of what humanity was created for? Let's look at the three reasons that Jesus spoke in parables. We will see that His reasoning was perfect and had the effect He was looking to achieve in the lives of those who heard His heavenly words.
Let's begin by identifying three primary theological reasons for Jesus speaking in parables. The first reason Jesus spoke in parables was to show the secrets of the Kingdom of God to only those who had the spiritual ears to understand it. Only to the disciples did Jesus give the full meaning of the Kingdom, and even then the disciples did not understand it fully. To those who understood Jesus' words about the Kingdom by having the spiritual eyes and ears to see and hear, Jesus imparted more wisdom about it. But those who did not understand Jesus' words walked away shaking their heads because they couldn't grasp what Jesus was saying. On Don Schwager's (2008) website about the parables of Jesus, he says, "Jesus' parables have a double meaning. First, there is the literal meaning, apparent to anyone who has experience with the subject matter. But beyond the literal meaning lies a deeper meaning a beneath-the-surface lesson about God's truth and his kingdom. For example, the parable of the leaven (see Matthew 13:33) describes the simple transformation of dough into bread by the inclusion of the yeast. In like manner, we are transformed by God's kingdom when we allow his word and Spirit to take root in our hearts. And in turn we are called to be leaven that transforms the society in which we live and work."
The second reason why Jesus spoke in parables was to convict people of their sins. Jesus spoke often about the sovereignty of God and what God was looking for in the spiritual and physical lives of the people who called Him Lord. Jesus, speaking of the sovereignty of God, included the choosing of His disciples, the convicting of sins, and who Jesus was and is in the forgiveness of those sins. When it came to sin, Jesus' parables were designed to see who was more spiritual, and to let people know that they have sinned (in what way depends on what the parable is saying), that they are responsible for their sins, and are responsible for accepting what Jesus was telling them about Himself and the way to salvation. For those who could "see", Jesus
was not just providing information about the Kingdom of God, He was also giving them the way into the Kingdom of God. Herbert Lockyer also says that "Parables sometimes withdraw light from those who love darkness. They protect the truth which they enshrine from the mockery of the scoffer. They leave something with the careless which may be interpreted and understood afterwards. They reveal, on the other hand, seekers after truth" (p. 17). The more spiritual you are, the easier it will be to understand the parables of Jesus.
The third reason Jesus spoke in parables was to fulfill scripture in letting the Jews know that the Kingdom of God they had been waiting for was now here amongst them after all of these years of being told it was coming. Jesus was fulfilling scripture because the people were told of a future time of judgment when the Kingdom arrived on the scene. Jesus was proclaiming to them that the Kingdom was now here and that God was continuing to carry out the plan to redeem His people not only from their enemies, but from their sins as well. Most of the Jews didn't listen to Jesus because they didn't believe the Kingdom had come, since Jesus didn't overthrow the Romans and hadn't declared Himself as king upon His arrival to Jerusalem.
Next, let's discuss how important it was for Jesus to mask the truth He came to teach. Jesus' masking of the truth in His parables was to make the people think about their sin. Those who lived their lives close to God had been given spiritual ears to hear and would have understood what Jesus was saying in His parables. While those furthest from God might not get the parable's meaning without explanation because their spiritual ears were closed up in the world. Madeleine I. Boucher (1980) said on her website about the parables of Jesus, "An
observation made by a New Testament scholar writing at the beginning of this century, M. J. Lagrange, seems to me sound. Noting that the parable is not always absolutely clear, Lagrange explained this by saying that the purpose of a parable is to strike the imagination, to pique the curiosity, to make the listener reflect and work to arrive at the meaning, but only so that the lesson will be more deeply engraved on the mind." This is why one of Jesus' most prolific sentences was, "Let those who have ears hear, and those who have eyes see."
As for myself, I don't remember a time when I didn't understand the parables of Jesus. God has gifted me with the gifts of teaching, preaching, and exhortation, so I seem to understand the meaning of the words and pictures scripture is conveying to me. I also have a commentary of some sort by my side so I can find out the meaning of scripture when I can't figure it out for myself. But, usually, I can understand what God is saying to me and can explain it to others in a simple fashion. I love the parables because they have a lot of meaning attached to them. I can read them three different times and come out with three different ways of how to live my life better for Jesus. Jesus was an amazing orator and knew just how to reach those with ears that hear.
Boucher, M. (1980). The parables. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/ frontline/shows/religion/jesus/parables.html
Carson, D. (1995). God with us: themes from matthew. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Lockyer, H. (1963). All the parables of the bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Schwager, D. (2008). The parables of jesus. Retrieved from: http://www.rc.net/wcc/ parable1.html
Bobby Bruno was saved 15 years ago in a way that left him no doubt that Jesus wanted him to reach others with His great and abounding love. He started writing at the age of 12 and hasn't stopped since. He achieved Associates Degree in Biblical Studies from Ohio Christian University in early 2014.
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