Why Did Jesus Use Parables and What Do They Tell Us?
The Bible records Jesus’s parables to explain the kingdom of God
Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God and hardly ever mentions church. This suggests church may be our idea and not his. Perhaps Jesus just wants us to be part of the kingdom of God and church doesn’t matter so much. Seriously.
In reading what Jesus says about the subject, twelve truths about the kingdom of God emerge. We can use these to guide our perspective in what it means to follow Jesus. If we would truly do this, it could change everything about how today’s church functions.
The Kingdom of God
We learn about the kingdom of God from Jesus’s parables. Many times Jesus says “the kingdom of God is like . . . ” and then he launches into a parable. (Matthew often writes “kingdom of heaven,” but he means the same thing as kingdom of God.)Parables teach about the kingdom of God and inform us of what it means to follow Jesus. Click To Tweet
Does this mean all of Jesus’s parables teach us about the kingdom of God? I think so. If the parables can instruct us about the kingdom of God, then they too can inform us of what it means to follow Jesus and how we should think, talk, and act.
Jesus’s disciples ask him why he uses parables when he talks to the people. Though today we see Jesus’s parables as a great teaching tool, Jesus says he uses parables to keep the masses from understanding, that only his followers truly know what the parables mean. And he cites the prophet Isaiah to prove his point (Matthew 13:10-17, Isaiah 6:9-10).
This suggests Jesus intends his followers to understand and apply his parables. To insiders the parables are a guide; to outsiders the parables are a mystery, albeit an intriguing one. Jesus says, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables” (Luke 8:10, Mark 4:11-12). While the Bible doesn’t tell us Jesus’s explanation of every parable, as his followers we should be able to readily comprehend his intention.
The Bible records thirty-seven of Jesus’s parables for us to consider. (Some people come up with different numbers, as low as thirty-three and as high as forty-six.) Luke records the most parables, followed closely by Matthew. Mark, the shortest of Jesus’s four biographies, provides far fewer, while John gives none.
John Shifts His Focus
Interestingly, John also talks much less about the kingdom of God compared to the other three gospels, mentioning it only twice. John wrote his gospel last, much later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Could John’s failure to mention any parables and his scant mention of the kingdom of God, signal a change in perspective? Perhaps this suggests that by the time John wrote his gospel account, Jesus’s followers had already moved away from his kingdom of God teaching and the parables that support it.
Regardless, we can honor Jesus by returning our attention to what he says about the kingdom of God. His parables are a great place to start.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.