Parables of Jesus-- What are parables?
The 66 books of the Bible consist of varied literary styles and devices, including the parables of Jesus. Indeed, the Bible contains some of the most vivid illustrations which, even apart from any spiritual application, evoke a wide range of emotions. The parable is one such literary tool employed in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus Himself used this method most frequently.
Generally speaking, a parable is a fictitious tale, although usually realistic. The normal purpose of Bible parables was to convey a higher, spiritual truth.
Derived from the word “paraballo,” the word “parable” signifies a comparison between two objects. Thus, a parable may contain one main word which is used to mirror another singular concept or object. Matthew 13:33 is one example: “He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’" Here, the kingdom of heaven is compared to one thing, “yeast.” Sometimes the truth is conveyed by the entire story, such as the parable of the two sons (Luke 15:11-32).
Because parables resemble probable happenings, some Bible scholars believe the stories actually happened. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31 is one such example. Some argue that this parable includes real people and events; others believe that it was a fictional lesson directed by Jesus at the hardened hearts of His day.
In contrast to allegories, parables generally contain one point rather than multiple points of comparison, one truth or lesson to convey.
Parables of Jesus-- Why did Jesus speak in parables?
Of all the parables in the Bible, Jesus Christ Himself made the greatest use of this literary device. One can only imagine the wonder of the occasions: Jesus -- drawing from real life issues of agriculture, justice, greed, and love -- would capture the attention of whole crowds. Yet despite the simplicity, His stories were filled with eternal, spiritual truths.
Jesus used parables to hide these truths from temporary listeners who cared more about entertainment than salvation. Only the spiritually awakened understood the truth behind the story. As a result, most listeners did not comprehend Jesus’ message.
The disciples came to Him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" (Matthew 13:10). Jesus answered, “. . .The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them'” (Matthew 13:11, 15). For those who resisted Him, such as many of the religious leaders of that day, Jesus hid the truth in parables from their unreceptive hearts, “. . . because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrew 4:2a).
Individuals who reject the Word of God risk the danger of being rejected themselves. Jesus cloaked the spiritual truths in secret parabolic symbols, not counting the unreceptive listeners worthy of the “pearls” (Matthew 7:6).
Parables of Jesus-- How do we understand them?
Bible parables conform to artistic, illustrative devices which may have been used in any well-written literary piece. They must also, however, be understood as tools employed by God the Holy Spirit to inspire His written word and convey His truths. Let’s view one example of a biblical parable. What story is more succinctly vivid than the account of the ewe lamb that the prophet Nathan told King David?
“The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, ‘There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him'" (2 Samuel 12:1-4).
Although David had committed grave sins, God used the parable to reach his heart. Upon first hearing the parable, David condemned himself by stating that such a man should die. Nathan then exclaimed, “You are the man.” How was David brought under conviction? David was made to see the folly of his ways by the clear illustration of Nathan’s Spirit-inspired parable. The Word of God, no matter how simply portrayed, can touch a heart of faith.