Parables of Jesus

Until Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8, Jesus used parables infrequently in His teaching. The disciples came
to Him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). In order to
understand their question, we need to recognize that a parable is a device to teach by means of

In order to make it possible to discover truth in an unknown realm, something familiar is transferred from
the known realm to the unknown realm. To accomplish this, a simple figure of speech, such a metaphor
may be used: “I am the gate” (John 10:9). Or the figure might be a simile such, as “Be as shrewd as
snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). The figure may also be more complex, consisting of
a parable which is a narrative and conveys one principal point of parallelism, even though there are many
other incidental parallels. Sometimes there is an allegory, where there are many intended parallelisms.

In response to the disciple’s question, then, concerning why He spoke in parables, Christ replied that He
used parable first to reveal truth to some, and second, to hide truth from others (Matthew 13:11-15; Mark
4:11-12; Luke 8:10). Because most rejected Him, they would not understand. But the few who received
Him, would understand the mystery of the kingdom of God.

Primary keys to understanding parables lie in discovering the original audience to whom they were
speaking, the points of reference, and the context in which they are recorded. Most parables have one
main point and only one. Jesus’ parables usually have an unexpected turn in the story. Some are
interpreted by Jesus. The meaning of some parables is very apparent while other remain very cryptic.
For example,

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom
of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as
old” (Matthew 13:52).

Points of Reference:

Owner of a House – Interpreter-Teacher

Storeroom – Word of God

New Treasures – New Covenant

Old Treasures – Old Covenant

Point of this parable: Christ, the Interpreter-Teacher, is revealing New Covenant truths about the
kingdom of heaven that are hidden in the Old Covenant promises. The parables are designed to teach
new truth concerning God’s kingdom program and that knowledge has been given to His disciples also
(Matthew 13:11).

Two parables of Jesus add to our understanding of this truth.

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the
garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the
skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine
into new wineskins, and both are preserved (Matthew 9:16-17).

The point of the two parables is that Jesus has come with a new message of grace, as opposed to the old
legal order (represented by the Pharisees and John the Baptizer). The Gospel, which is gracious in
character, is not merely something tacked on to the Law system; nor can it be adapted to the old worship
forms. It is a new message and requires a new approach and new forms.

Scholars vary widely in the number of parables they discover in the Gospels. Their lists range from about
thirty to eighty, depending on whether they include seeming parables not described by the term “parable”
and whether they include shorter parables and parabolic illustrations.

It should be noted that the words of Christ recorded in the Gospels present in outline a complete system
of Christian doctrine. He refers to the Scriptures, the Godhead (Father; His Person, Holy Spirit), angels,
salvation, man, the Church, and the future.

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