During His earthly ministry, Jesus used a unique teaching method called "parables" to reveal spiritual truths about the Kingdom of God. Today, we will look at what parables are and why Jesus used them to teach Kingdom principles.
A parable is a story which uses an example from the natural world to illustrate a spiritual truth. The actual meaning of the word "parable" is "to lay beside to compare."
In parables, Jesus used a natural example and compared it to a spiritual truth, an earthly story with a Heavenly meaning. That which is natural is something you can observe with your senses. You can see, hear, or touch it. That which is spiritual can only be observed with your spiritual senses.
The main subject of the parables of Jesus was the Kingdom of God. Before telling some of these parables Jesus clearly stated this as the subject:
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? (Mark 4:30)
Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? (Luke 13:20)
Even when the parable was not introduced by such a direct statement, the subject was still the Kingdom of God. Every parable told by Jesus related in some way to the Kingdom. So why did Jesus choose this unique teaching method of parables to reveal spiritual truths about the Kingdom of God? The disciples asked this same question:
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10)
And Jesus answered them:
...Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given. (Matthew 13:11)
Knowledge of the spiritual truths of the Kingdom was given to the disciples because they had spiritual minds. Those without spiritual minds heard the parables and failed to understand them because spiritual truths can only be understood by a spiritual mind:
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (I Corinthians 2:14)
Those with spiritual minds understand the Kingdom principles revealed in parables. Those with carnal, sinful minds cannot understand them. Jesus used parables to conceal these great spiritual principles from unbelievers:
That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing, they may hear, and not understand... (Mark 4:12)
All the parables told by Jesus reveal various facts about the Kingdom of God. The Patched Garment: (Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21; Luke 5:36) and the parable of the Wine Bottles: (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37) These two parables taught that Jesus offered a Kingdom that was new and unique. It could not be confined to the old patterns of religious tradition. It is not possible to understand the Kingdom of God by trying to fit it into old thought patterns and lifestyles.
Then there is the parable of the Good Shepherd: (John 10:1-16) Our Lord and King, Jesus is compared to a shepherd. He would lead His sheep out of religious bondage and bring them into the liberty of His Kingdom. His sheep would know His voice and respond to His offer of the Kingdom. Each parable teaches those with ears to hear a Biblical truth about the Kingdom of God.
Jesus used parables to reveal that the nation of Israel would reject Him as Messiah and King. This was illustrated in the parable of the murderous husbandmen. God sent prophets to earth with the offer of the Kingdom but Israel killed the prophets. Then God sent His own Son. He, too, was rejected and killed.
Jesus told a parable about a barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). The fig tree is a natural symbol of the nation of Israel. God raised up Israel as the nation through which He could reveal the Kingdom to the world. Time and time again God tried to get the "tree" of Israel to bring forth "fruit" among heathen nations by sharing their knowledge of the true God but Israel remained barren and unfruitful.
Jesus also used a parable of a wedding to illustrate His rejection (Matthew 22:2-14). Servants were sent to call people to the wedding but the people killed the servants and rejected the invitation. This revealed how the offer of the Kingdom was to be rejected.
Jesus told several parables, The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), The Watchful Servants (Luke 12:36-38), The Man on the Long Journey (Luke 12:39-46), which revealed the Kingdom of God would be established in its final form in the future.
The Kingdom would not come at the present time because Israel rejected Jesus as King. These parables also revealed Jesus would be absent for a time from the realm in which the Kingdom would finally be instituted. They stressed that His followers should be faithful over the task given them, using their talents and abilities to extend the Kingdom of God.
Jesus also told a parable about a fig tree which revealed the approximate timing for the final establishing of God's Kingdom. He said one can tell when summer is near because the fig tree puts out growth in leaves and blossoms. As already mentioned, the fig tree is a natural example of the nation of Israel. Jesus was revealing that when Israel was restored to her own land and began to "blossom" again as a nation, the time of the return of the King was near.
Several of the parables which Jesus told, illustrated how the Kingdom of God would extend throughout the world. The parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) which we discussed before also reveals that the Kingdom will be spread by wise use of the spiritual talents and abilities God has given believers. And then the parable of The Sower: (Matthew 13:3-8; Mark 4:3-8; Luke 8:5-8), teaches that the Gospel of the Kingdom will be spread by the sowing of the seed of the Word of God.
To this sowing there will be varied responses, depending on the attitude of the hearers. The fruit depends not on the sower but on the life that is in the seed itself and the condition of the soil (man's heart). Satan will try to defeat the spread of the Kingdom by sowing people described as "weeds" among the good seed of God's Kingdom. The weeds Satan sows resemble good wheat. At the time of harvest wheat can be identified by the grain it produces, however, while weeds produce no usable grain.
The Kingdom is also compared to a great net thrown into the sea (Matthew 13:47-50). All kinds of fish are caught, but when the net is drawn to shore the good fish are separated from the bad. The Kingdom will draw in men and women from all nations. Prior to the final establishing of the Kingdom, there will be judgment to determine those who must be excluded.
Jesus told several parables concerning future judgment in the Kingdom. At the time of judgment, those who are sheep of the true shepherd, Jesus Christ, will be accepted. All others will be denied entrance into the Kingdom.
Jesus used several parables such as The Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46) and The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44) to illustrate the great value of the Kingdom of God. These parables show that the Kingdom of God is of such great value that nothing else compares with it. It is more valuable than any possession of man, and if you must give up everything you possess in order to obtain the Kingdom, it is worth the sacrifice.
Many parables Jesus told, illustrated principles of Kingdom living. Through The Good Samaritan: (Luke 10:30-37) Jesus taught the Kingdom principle that love is for all of our neighbors. And that our neighbors are anyone in need, whose need we know, and whose need we are able to meet.
With The Two Debtors in Luke 7:41-43 He taught that love will be shown by the one who has experienced the love of the Kingdom.
And then there is The Pharisee And The Publican in Luke 18:10-14.The Pharisee approached God on the basis of his own righteousness. The tax collector recognized there was nothing in himself worthy to stand before the Lord. In this parable Jesus taught how people should approach God to offer worship, praise, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession in the Kingdom.
These nature examples of spiritual truths, these qualities of God's Kingdom. Jesus uses all of them to show those of us with open eyes and open hearts what the Kingdom looked like in the past, and how it will look in the future.
More importantly, Jesus shows us through these parables the Kingdom qualities He expects from us. And how we can grow spiritually and live more Christ-centered lives in God's Kingdom.