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Comprehending the parables

To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, for they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ Matthew 13:12-15

The parables of Jesus have been described as “earthly stories with heavenly meanings.” While there is an element of truth in that description, it does not do justice to the purpose of these parables that Matthew has gathered together in chapter 13. In his Gospel, these parables are told immediately by Jesus after the account of widespread hostility and rejection because of His message, and they serve to explain to us why that hostility exists. The parables are not simply illustrations of Jesus’ teaching in the way a preacher might tell a story to illustrate a point. They are key elements of His teaching so our focus will be on the coming of His kingdom. By speaking in parables, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy. The psalmist had declared that the Messiah will be speaking in parables (see Psalm 78:2). Matthew sees this as prophetic; “”This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet: “I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world”” (Matthew 13:35). It is no surprise to us to find Jesus speaking in parables because that was what the Messiah would do. Also, when Jesus spoke in parables, it caused division among His hearers. The use of the parables relates to the gospel proclaimed by Jesus. And whenever the gospel is proclaimed, there are those that believe and some do not. This is also the effect at this present time; faith and unbelief exist side by side. This is a reminder to us that God can send His word with a purpose of judgement as well as of salvation. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (John 5:24). The parables become doors by which some enter into the glories of the kingdom, while others are shut out from its blessings. One thing is certain; when Jesus speaks, and when the gospel is preached, there is always a response. This is why Jesus asks, “Have you understood?” (v. 51), echoing their earlier question, ‘Why speak like this?’ Jesus wanted to confirm the presence of faith from His hearers.


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