Parables have often been misunderstood or not taught correctly. The error was not in the way they are presented but that full and complete information has been missing.
A wise scholar once said the problem of the Pharisees was not in their execution of the law, but was instead that they did not go far enough with the law, which led to them think they could achieve righteousness on their own. We must remember that omissions can be just as bad as commissions.
A Parable Must Be Defined
The part that is often lacking when seeking to understand parables is that they typically must have a person or key to interpret the meaning of the parable. In many cases in the past when a teacher told a parable, they would conclude with the statement, “and the moral of the story is…” Then they gave an interpretation of the story’s narrative so that their audience would understand the meaning. This was done so that the point being made was not lost because of using an alternate subject to explain something more complicated. Parables were often used to explain complicated concepts to children.
It’s important not to presume that the audience understands the meaning of the parable. A key or a person may yet be needed to help them interpret what it is modeling.
The Word “Parable”
The meaning of the Greek word for parable (Greek: parabole) is “similitude,” which literally means: “to lay alongside,” indicating a story that is parallel to a truth that the storyteller is seeking to communicate.
The understanding of the word parable is that you would tell one story that has some similarities to the real story you want to tell. In some ways, both stories are parallel, although different. It is not the difference that is important, but the similarity that is noted. Parables are a teaching tool somewhat like a metaphor: one subject which is easily understood is compared to a subject which is not so easily comprehended.
Normally parables are made easy to understand, but not necessarily so.
The storyteller may explain the parable, though they do not have to.
However, the parable can only be profitable for the hearer if an explanation of its meaning is given to make its meaning clear.
A year after his affair with Bathsheba, after David had arranged for the death of the Hittite and thought that he’d gotten away with his sin by marrying Bathsheba, Nathan the prophet came to him with a story — a metaphor — which was actually a parable.
The parable was that a rich man had visitors come at night and as he prepared a meal for them, instead of butchering one of his own sheep which were numerous, he instead butchered a lamb that belonged to his poor neighbor. When Nathan told this story to David, it made David furious and he demanded justice.
Then Nathan explained that the true story was really about David taking Bathsheba from the Hittite.
When the story was explained to him it brought David to a deep conviction, but Nathan needed to explain it to him so he would understand the connection.
Why did God have Nathan use a parable? For over a year David had been unrepentant concerning the sin of this arranged murder. He had found a way, as many do during a backslidden state, to attempt to be comfortable with his sin, though in actuality he was running from God. God wanted for David to be emotionally invested in understanding the depravity of his sin. Therefore he had the prophet use a parable where David, in an unguarded state, would understand the evil of the sin committed. Then when his connection with the parable was revealed, it left David without the ability to rationalize his own horrible behavior.
Parables are great teaching tools, but we must not assume that we understand the lesson without the teacher explaining it.
Jesus’ Use of Unexplained Parables
Up until the time of the events recorded in Matthew chapter 12, Jesus explained his parables very openly as He tried to explain the kingdom of heaven to the Jews. But from that time on — fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah — He does not explain his parables to the crowds or the Pharisees of Israel, which would cause them to understand the true lessons being taught Jesus did, however, explain them to his disciples.
Many of His parables went unexplained to many of the Jews.
Matthew 13:10-11 is where Jesus presents why He does not explain all of His parables to the people:
“Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”
The true meaning of the word for parable (Greek: parabole) mandates that the connection between the “laid alongside” story must be made and explained in order to understand the principle being presented, otherwise there is no way to understand the allegory, and without further explanation concerning the parable, the true meaning of the principle is hidden.
An example of this is found in the story of the seeds as recorded in Matthew 13:3-9 wherein Jesus, while at the Sea of Tiberias gives the parable without explaining its meaning and we have no idea what He is talking about until some time later when He was alone with His disciples (Matthew 13:10) and they ask Him the meaning of the parable.
The story that He laid out had a deeper meaning only when it was explained and laid alongside the truth He sought to unfold.
Parables have been repeated described as teaching tools to enlighten; yet in reality, Jesus often utilized parables to hide His truth during His time on earth.
In fact what the disciples actually asked Jesus is why He spoke to the crowds in hidden code.
Jesus recites the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9-10, saying that the prophet Isaiah was speaking about that which Jesus was doing: that of speaking in ways that they would hear but not understand what He was saying.
“And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” (Isa 6:9-10)
During that time, the truths were revealed by Jesus. In our current day, the Holy Spirit reveals the meaning of Scripture to us believers.
Jesus was fulfilling prophecy by hiding the truth that He alone could reveal to his disciples (not just the 12, He had over 70 at this time).
But why would God chose to hide the truth when Jesus came to reveal the truth?
In Matthew chapter 4, we see Jesus introduce the kingdom of heaven to the masses, and stating that it is at hand.
Then in Matthew 12:22-32*, we are told of the situation where Christ heals a demon-possessed man and the religious leaders of Israel — the Pharisees along with the priests — attribute His miracle to Beelzebub, a demon of Satan.
It is at this point that Jesus changes his teaching style.
Until that time, he taught using illustrations which were open and self-explanatory.
Yet, after this event involving the religious leaders rejecting him (and agreed to by many of the masses, as seen later when they cried “crucify him,” as He stood before Pilate), Jesus deliberately hides the truth from the multitude, stating that He is fulfilling the Isaiah passage.
The reason why He does this is that the leadership of Israel rejected their Messiah, and because of this rejection the Gospel would be given to the gentiles, which God had foreseen.
Through the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, the world would be saved because salvation would be now offered to all, as Jesus spoke about in parables about the wedding feast and the rejection of the His chosen people to receive Him, such as in Matthew 22:1-14.
Therefore, to conclude that Jesus always used parables to teach truth to the masses is not true, according to His own words parables were used to hide the truth that He had to explain (Matthew 13:10-17).
The rejection of the leaders of Israel was more than the simple rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, it was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because the leaders attributed the healing of the man that was demon-possessed to the power of Beelzebub and not the Holy Spirit. *
Jesus explained that blasphemy against Himself would be forgiven, yet it would not be forgiven when done against the Holy Spirit.
This seems to be the crucial moment in Jesus’ ministry where everything changes.
He no longer is offering the kingdom of heaven at hand. He no longer is talking to them in ways which indicate He is going to immediately fulfill all righteousness concerning the Messiah.
At this point in history everything changes
Prior to this change, Jesus gives the story of the tree that is known by its fruit as a last public presentation in which the meaning is obvious (Matthew 12:33).
In Matthew 12:28, the scribes and Pharisees (these two groups were enemies, yet appear to work together to fight against Jesus) tempt Jesus seeking signs, even after all the miracles He had already done.
In response to this, Jesus presents the enigma (a prophecy meant to stay hidden until completed) of the sign of Jonah and the fish.
He finally gives a very dark parable about the unclean spirit leaving and coming back with 7 others so that the state of the person is worse than before (Matthew 12:43-45).
It appears that Christ does this to make His final point that they have rejected Him, and He has told them plainly who He is and what will now happen.
From Matthew 13 onwards, Christ speaks in parables, which are riddles beyond comprehension to the multitudes, deliberately hiding insight from public understanding.
He explains some of them to His disciples while opening their eyes for understanding (seemingly so from Matthew 13:51-52); yet they didn’t understand before without Jesus’ explanation of what the parable meant.
To reiterate this crucial point, chronologically from the events recorded in Matthew 13 on, salvation is offered to the Gentiles at a future point, through the Jews (John 4:22). Christ’s apostles were all Jews.
In Luke 19 Jesus held the inhabitants of Jerusalem responsible for recognizing the time of the visitation of the Messiah. They did not, due to their lack of understanding of God’s Word, especially in light of the teaching of Daniel 9:25, which plainly teaches when and how the Messiah would enter Jerusalem (see the essay: “The Presentation of the Messiah ~ Prophecy Fulfilled” for a brief summary of this), in the event which we refer to as His “Triumphful Entry.”
For the first time in His ministry, Jesus declares Himself to be the Messiah by purposely fulfilling the requirements of Zachariah 9:9. He orchestrated the events so that He would ride a colt into Jerusalem through the very gate that the Messiah was prophesied to enter through, while the people were singing the very Psalm that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were to sing as the Messiah entered on that very road He was on, as they lay down palm branches, and even their own apparel in fulfilling their acknowledgment that He was the Messiah of Israel.
When the Pharisees observed that the people were identifying Him as the Messiah, they told Jesus to stop the people from committing this blasphemy, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture stating that if these would hold their peace, that on this most holiest of days, the stones would fulfill the prophecy by verbally praising the Messiah as He entered Jerusalem (Luke 19:40).
Yet 4 days later, many of these same people would yell “Crucify Him!” And according to this rejection, the nation as a whole would suffer judgment because of their spiritual blindness which Paul referred to in Romans 11:25.
In response to the public rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah by the leaders of the nation of Israel, as well as the rejection my the masses of Him as He stood judged before Pilate, Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matthew 23:29, which were:
”For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
Unfortunately, many believers do not take the word of God literally and therefore do not take what Jesus said literally.
Here Jesus plainly says that the nation of Israel would not see Him again until they stop rejecting him and see Him as the Messiah. Then they will say blessed is He, the Messiah that would come in the name of the Lord.
What is seen in the Greek is that the individuals that are referred to must have rejected the person that is coming in the name of the Lord in order to reverse their rejection and now say blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, because He would not come until they said these words.
Israel, as is plainly taught in the following verses of the Old Testament; will repent of their rejection of their Messiah and that He will not come to save the remnant until they acknowledged who He was – their Messiah and their Deliver; the One that purchased them with His own blood.
And the same One that will come and rescue them when they call upon Him whom they have pierced.
Hosea 5:15 –
“I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.
Stating the obvious, this is a messianic prophecy concerning Jesus returning to heaven after the resurrection, and not returning to Earth until His people acknowledge their offense of rejecting Him and seek His face during the time of the great tribulation.
Hosea 6:1-2 –
“Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight.”
Again, stating the obvious, this is a prophecy that foretells that the remnant of Israel, who have come to understand that Jesus is the Messiah, decide to turn to Him. Jesus will then return to Earth to rescue them on the third day.
For 3 years Jesus was with them, for 3 days He was in the grave. In the same way that when Peter rejected having known the Lord 3 times (Matthew 26:34), after the resurrection Jesus asked him 3 times if he loved him (John 21:15-17); God always has a sense of reciprocity.
Zechariah 12:9-10 – “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me [Alph Tau] whom they have pierced, [right here in this text, un-translated are the two Hebrew letters: “Alph & Tau,” which are the first and the last letters of the Hebrew language. There are occasions in the Hebrew Scriptures that these two letters are in the text and are yet untranslated, such as in Genesis 1:1, after the word God, “In the beginning, God [, created …”, as well as Isaiah 52:6, “Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is [Alph/Tau] I“; and other passages which are prophecies concerning the Messiah. This expression is the equivalent to the expression of the “Apha & Omega” of the NT; both of the these OT and NT titles are a reference to Jesus Christ], and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
This is probably one of the most amazing Old Testament prophecies concerning proof that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.
During this time, as well as the history of Israel, death as a capital offense was always through stoning.
Piercing was never allowed as punishment, or to bring about death.
170 years before the time of Christ the Romans began using crucifixion as the death penalty, which they learned from the Persians who practiced it extensively.
Yet, it is the last part of this passage which is most fascinating. It displays the deep remorse and mourning of the Jewish people concerning the person that they had pierced.
This, more than most Scriptures concerning the prelude to the second coming of Jesus Christ expresses the mindset that the Jewish remnant will experience when their eyes are opened, when Romans 10: 28 is completed, and Israel is no longer blinded; realizing that Jesus is their Messiah and that they murdered him.
Hopefully this brief presentation will spur believers on to investigating this subject further.
When we find ourselves brought back to the cross and beginning to understand the depth of Christ’s sacrifice and His love for us, that repentance is truly facilitated.
How much more so shall it be with the Jewish remnant, just prior to them calling upon their Lord for deliverance during the tribulation.
“The difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’
is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast:
the chicken was ‘involved’ – the pig was ‘committed’.”