The parables of Jesus were stories He told to illustrate spiritual truth with everyday things. Seeds, fish, trees, bread — things people could easily relate to. While the parables He told sparked spiritual understanding in some people, they also served to make others aware of their own darkened spirituality.
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:10-13 NASB).
These are heavy words. Jesus didn’t come to make everyone feel better about themselves, but to bring truth, salvation, and grace to them. To bring freedom to their soul, not pillows for their prison cells. In some cases, His words turned up the light in their hearts and for others, when the Light came near, they retreated further into their own darkness.
However, some responded to their uncomfortable lack of understanding by pressing into Jesus harder. Nicodemus and the woman at the well are two examples of people who thought they understood the truth about spirituality and when they were confronted with Jesus’ unsettling words, they pushed into Him instead of drawing away.
Understanding Jesus’ Parables
Peter also pressed into Jesus despite or even perhaps because of how hard it was to understand His parables. When Jesus explained that He is the Bread of Life, many were confused, thinking He meant for them to literally eat His body.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:60-68).
List of Parables and Their Meanings
Each parable Jesus told served to bring truth and that truth functioned like a knife separating those who wanted truth and those who didn’t.
Here is a simplified list of topics included in Jesus’ parables. Many of the parables described the Kingdom of Heaven, not just heaven the place, but heaven as a kingdom with a purpose.
How the Kingdom of Heaven Is Shared with Others
- The lamp on the stand (Mark 4:21-25)
- The city on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16)
- The sower and the seed (Matthew 13:1-23)
How The Kingdom Of Heaven Works (How God’s Character/Values Are Revealed)
- The new cloth and the old garment (Mark 2:21-22, Matthew 9:16-17); A divided kingdom (Mark 3:23-27, Matthew 12:24-30); The speck and the log (Matthew 7:1-5)
- Growing seed/mustard seed (Mark 4:30-34, Matthew 13:31-32);l The leaven (Matthew 13:33-34); The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37)
- The friend at midnight (Luke 11:5-13); The heart of a man (Matthew 15:10-20); The rich fool (Luke 12:13-21)
- The barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9); The invited guests and taking a lower seat (Luke 14:7-14); The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)
- Laboring in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16); Two sons (Matthew 21:28-32); The tenant farmers and the stone of stumbling (Matthew 21:33-45, Mark 12:1-12); The talents/10 gold coins (Matthew 25:14-30)
How God Responds to Those Who Have Gone Astray
- The lost sheep (Matthew 18:10-14)
- The lost coin (Luke 15:8-10)
- The prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32)
- The rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
- The Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14)
How the Kingdom of Heaven Is Attained
- The hidden treasure in the field and the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46)
- The unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35)
- Day laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)
The Coming Time When the Kingdom of Heaven Reigns Unchallenged
- The budding fig tree (Mark 13:28-33); The faithful vs. wicked servant (Matthew 24:45-51, Mark 13:34-37); Weeds in the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30)
- The fishing net (Matthew 13:47-50); The marriage feast (Matthew 22:1-14); The 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
Why Does This Matter Today?
While the parables reveal spiritual truth through practical illustrations, regardless of whether or not a sowing seed hits us personally in our day-to-day living, just like the original audience, the parables require us to decide if we press into or turn away from the Scripture we understand. Will we respond like the disciples who followed Jesus until His words seemed too radical or will we, like Peter, Nicodemus, and the woman at the well, follow Him all the more when His words are hard to swallow?
The Parables of Matthew 13
The parable spoken by Jesus and recorded by Matthew in chapter 13 in Mark and chapter four are obviously hugely important to Jesus' ministry. And I would contend that the parables themselves are an absolutely magisterial stroke of strategic and pedagogical. That is in terms of strategizing Jesus' ministry and what's going on, and in terms of being very, very effective as teaching tools, they're magisterial, but they're a bit misunderstood. In Matthew 12, you have this unpardonable sin, which makes it so clear that the nation is committed to disbelief, that no matter what measure of proof they have.
Jesus healed a man who was both blind and dumb. Isaiah says that when Messiah comes, he'll lose the tongue of the dumb, he'll open the eyes of the blind. And in the face of that, the people turned to the Pharisees and said, help us. This man isn't the son of David, right? Give us an excuse. And they came up with the Beelzebub thing and they said, okay, good enough for us.
What is often overlooked is that that is the only parable he told publicly because Matthew suggested, but Mark is explicit that he spoke the parable to the masses. But then Mark chapter four and verse 10 says when he was alone, his disciples came to him and said, why do you speak this way? And Mark eight and verse 33 says specific ... I'm sorry, verse 34 says, He spoke parables, but when they were alone, he explained the parables to his disciples.
Now, frankly, I think that story was designed by Jesus strategically. He was wise as a serpent, and he was more or less portraying himself as innocuous, as harmless. I think it left people standing around saying, What is that [inaudible 00:02:10]? And that's why his disciples come to him privately and they say, what's going on? Why are you teaching this way? What's that about? Jesus says that the reason I'm preaching this way is because these people have demonstrated themselves to be exactly like Isaiah's generation, that hearing they will not hear and seeing they will not see, and they will not understand. They have committed themselves to disbelief, and therefore it is folly. It is pearls before swine to keep giving them the truth.
This is why I'm teaching this way, Jesus says, because, to you, it's given to know the kingdom of heaven. To them, it's not. And to those who have, I'm going to take away what they have. So this innocuous little story left people just standing around like, what was that all about? But on the other hand, because I'm going to give you the interpretation, you're going to understand what's going on. And basically, I think what's going on is this, that those huge crowds not only tie the hands of Jesus' enemies but those huge crops totally confused. Jesus' disciples. And they're totally convinced we're on a roll here. This is going well.
And I think the point of the parable is you need to know, gentlemen, those apostles, in private, you need to know this is not going nearly as well as you think. And though they are a huge crowd, there are the Pharisees. That's the seed that fell on the road and the bird just plucked it away. They're clearly non-believers. They never took root. But there's an awful lot of shallow and thorny soil out there. And it's going to take the angels to come and sort it all out. And this is not going to be an easy thing. And you're going to pay a dear price, and you need to cling to this kingdom hope in spite of it.
So the parables are designed on the one hand to disarm the crowd, that is to quiet the crowds. Jesus seems to be some sort of innocuous little teller of very, very uninteresting stories. But on the other hand, it's a hugely important message that he has to bear to his disciples. And he does that by giving them the interpretation and [inaudible 00:04:20] them for the parable. So on the one hand, they were designed to teach. On the other hand, they were designed to confuse. And in so doing, Jesus who has such his ... His steps have to be so circumspect because his enemies are anxious to be done with him. And so Jesus strategically, wise as a serpent, begins to speak in parables at that stage of his ministry.
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April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.