Suppose we were to conduct a person-on-the-street interview asking people why Jesus spoke in parables. They might respond by saying, “he was seeking to make things clear” or “he was folksy and relatable.” These responses are reasonable and expected, but Jesus answered this question in a way we may not expect.
One of the keys to understanding Jesus’ answer and faithfully interpreting the parables is recognizing that they’re delivered by the king and are about his kingdom. Jesus isn’t merely relaying information or providing instruction. He’s ushering in the kingdom of God. As he speaks, things happen. Some people are being hardened, and some people are being softened. Some are being judged, and others are being saved. Some are being warned, while others are being summoned. Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost, not simply to provide a way of salvation. The parables don’t just address this reality; they create this reality. The king and kingdom have come in the person of Jesus.
What Are Parables?
When exploring the parables, we do well to remember first and foremost that the speaker is the second person of the Holy Trinity in human flesh. Amazing! Second, keep focused on the reality; the parables tell us something about the king, his kingdom, and his people. They’re not lessons about economic principles, tips for living, civics lessons, or marital advice. The promised prophet, priest, and king has come and is bringing forth his eternal kingdom. If it were an old Western movie, we’d say there’s a new sheriff in town. Things will not go on as they have been. Now is a decisive turning point in human history and redemptive history.
Jesus makes this clear by noting that his speaking in parables is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa 6:9–10). In other words, Jesus is giving the kingdom to his people, and he’s hardening the hearts of his enemies. The Lord of salvation and judgment is present and speaking. Blessed are your eyes and your ears, for they hear. Redemption is a gift of God, not a human achievement. A theme of Scripture is that “salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9, Psalm 3:8, Isa 43:11, Eph 1:3–14, and Rev 7:10).
You Are the Man
Jesus isn’t the first person in the Scriptures to use parables to accomplish something significant. We read in 2 Samuel 12:1–15 an example from the Old Testament. Nathan, the prophet of the Lord, uses a parable to draw king David into the story, and to bring judgment or salvation.
As [we study the parables], it will serve us well to remember that parables are a “you are the man” type of speech. They’re not just telling us about something that did or will happen, but that something is happening right then and there. David, being convicted of his sin and called to repentance through Nathan’s parable, serves as a poignant example of this principle. Now a prophet greater than Nathan is on the scene. Jesus will judge and save, bring in or cast out, and soften and harden through his word and Spirit. He is the king of salvation and his kingdom.
This is an excerpt from our newest Bible Study, The Parables of King Jesus.