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Why Did Jesus Use Parables?

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Almost without exception, Christians seem to think that parables were an ‘easy’ way to explain and understand truth. This is even taught to children in Sunday Schools. In reality, this is the opposite of the reason why Jesus spoke in parables!

Is a parable really ‘an earthly story with an Heavenly meaning?’ Really, that saying is almost meaningless. (In my own teaching, by the way, I never use the word ‘story’ to describe what scripture says, because it implies something that may not be true. Instead, I use the word ‘account’).

Furthermore, there are more parables in scripture than are usually listed, because they are very short. The parables given by Jesus are illustrative, but based on solid incidents and situations known to His hearers. Each parable contains a truth or set of truths about particular spiritual facts. It is commonly taught that Jesus used parables so that His hearers could understand better. This is untrue.... He used parables to HIDE what He was saying.

In this short Outline I will not look at the various parables of Jesus, but only wish to show you Jesus’ purpose in telling them.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

(Matthew 13:34, 35)

Even the disciples could not understand the parables, which is why, after Jesus sent the crowds away, they asked Him to explain what they meant. When He had given them several more parables, Jesus asked them if they understood (verse 51). If the disciples did not understand the parables on first hearing, what about the crowds? They must have gone away scratching their heads, probably in awe, repeating the usual maxim: “It must be profound – I didn’t understand it!”

“This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.” (John 10:6)

So, WHY did Jesus use parables? He gave His disciples the reason:

“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matthew 13:10,11)

Surely this is unfair? Anyone who says that does not understand Who God is or anything about His holy character:

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (verses 12-15)

“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” (Mark 4:11,12)

“And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” (Luke 8:10)

Parables... that they might not see... might not understand. This is not so hard for true believers to accept, for those who are dead in their sins will not entertain the Gospel, so will not understand. To speak plainly to them is to cast pearls before swine. Hence the parables, which are agreeable to the spiritually alive, but as nothing to the unbeliever, almost like a foreign language. Those who are born again can see what parables mean; those who are spiritually dead cannot see it at all.

© December 2014

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom