In the Four Gospels of the Bible, Jesus appears as the Master of Parables and rightly so since He is the Master of Life. Mark 4:34 says, “In fact, in His public speaking He taught only with parables, but afterward when He was alone with His disciples, He explained the meaning to them.” Some of Jesus’ parables required an explanation, so He would clarify the meaning of some of His parables privately to His disciples. Matthew 13:11 says, “Then He explained to them, ‘You have been permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others have not.’” Jesus never hid the truth from sincere seekers. Those who were receptive to spiritual truth understood the parables, while to others they were simply stories without meaning. Parables allowed Jesus to give spiritual food to those who hungered for it while preventing His enemies from trapping Him.
When Jesus taught He adapted His teaching styles to His audience’s ability and desire to understand. Jesus did not use parables to confuse His hearers; rather he used them to challenge those who had a sincere desire to understand the full meaning of His words. Jesus taught a lot against hypocrisy and impure motives which were the characteristics of the religious leaders of that time. Jesus would have impeded His ministry by speaking directly against the religious leaders. But by speaking in parables, those who paid close attention and listened carefully to His words knew exactly what He was talking about.
Hillyer Straton states that, “one of the interesting things about the parabolic form of literature is its rarity; good parables are few and far between.” When it comes to storytelling Jesus is unrivalled; He had the ability to instantly perceive things, had a rich imagination and precise discrimination. The parables of Jesus are unsurpassed from the standpoint of their reality to life. Jesus had the ability to use every form and variety of figurative speech, from the very simplistic to the more elaborate. Let’s look at a few examples:
Parable of sheep and wolves
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are really wolves that will tear you apart,” (Matthew 7:15). False prophets were common in Old Testament times. They prophesied only what the King and people wanted to hear and claimed it was a message from God. False teachers are just as common today. In this parable, Jesus is saying to beware of those whose words sound religious but who are motivated by money, fame or power. We can identify them because in their teaching they minimize Christ and glorify themselves. Such a teacher may teach correct doctrine, but if his life is contrary to his teaching, he is a ravenous wolf whose influence is destructive. We are not to be deceived by outward appearances.
Parable of the mustard seed
Jesus asked, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed. Though this is one of the smallest of seeds, it grows to become one of the largest of plants, with long branches where birds can come and find shelter,” (Mark 4:30-32). Jesus used this parable to explain that although Christianity had a small beginning; it would grow into a worldwide community of believers. That is why Christians never need to feel as if they are alone in their stand for Christ. God is building a world-wide Kingdom and He has faithful followers all around the world. Our faith, no matter how small, can join with the faith of all other believers to accomplish great things.
Parable of the lamp
“No one would light a lamp and then cover it up or put it under a bed. No, lamps are mounted in the open, where they can be seen by those entering the house. For everything that is hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light and made plain to all. So be sure to pay attention to what you hear. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they think they have will be taken away from them,” (Luke 8:16-18). When the light of the truth about Jesus illuminates Christians, it is their duty to shine that light to help others. Our witness for Christ should be public and not hidden. We should not keep the benefits of the Gospel to ourselves alone, but rather pass them on to others. Be helpful to others by being well placed and seek out opportunities to assist when unbelievers need help.
Here are some of the benefits of parables used in Scripture:
1) Parables attract, and when understood, will certainly be remembered. People are more apt to remember information shared through stories and illustrations.
2) Parables greatly help the mind and the thinking process. The meanings of parables must be studied. One must search with diligence to discover the hidden truth in a parable. Jesus knew that He could not teach His hearers unless He made them teach themselves. He had to reach their minds and get them to work with His mind. Parables attracted everyone; but only those who were willing to think could understand its meaning. Therefore parables both “attracted” and “sifted” the crowd of people.
3) Parables stir up, or excite the emotions and awaken consciences; For example; when hell in a parable is set up as a “furnace of fire,” (Matthew 13:50) and conscience by a “gnawing worm,” (Mark 9:48).
4) Parables arrest and hold the attention of the hearers. Listening to Jesus as He spoke parables, people were enthralled and said, “We have never heard anyone talk like this,” (John 7:46). Jesus had to make the people listen to Him---and they did! In the Bible it is wonderful to see how Jesus would swiftly and spontaneously use the suggestions of the moment and catch and keep the attention of those around Him!
5) Parables preserve truth. Cosmo Lang said, “What men think out for themselves they never forget; the exercise of their minds makes it their own. Moreover, the language of symbols – expressed in what is seen by the eye or pictured by the imagination – is more powerful and enduring in its effects than the language of mere abstract words. It conveys and brings back to the mind the inner meaning with swiftness and sureness; it carries with it a wealth of suggestion and association. And, mere words are constantly changing their meaning, whereas the symbols of life and nature, such as our Lord used in His parables, are as abiding as Nature and Life themselves.”
A parable has been defined as, “A beautiful image of a beautiful mind.” Jesus used parables to convey spiritual truth to the mind of the hearers. His parables displayed harmony between spiritual things and material things. Charles Kingsley wrote, “This earthly world which we do see is an exact picture and pattern of the spiritual and heavenly world which we do not see.” By studying the parables of Jesus you will discover images borrowed from the visible world, accompanied by a truth from the invisible or spiritual world. Jesus used the parable as a way of winning men and women for the Kingdom of God and He excelled at it.
All the Parables of the Bible by Lockyer