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?
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