Parables Overview 1 of 3

Parables – An Overview (Part 1 of 3)

As Jesus went about preaching and teaching, He frequently used parables. More than 1/3 of His recorded teaching is found in them as are His most often remembered sayings.

Definition of Parable – a transliteration of the Greek “parabole” (para-bow-LAY) meaning “to place beside; to cast alongside”.  Vine’s: “signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a view to comparison”, thus, a yardstick, a story placing one thing beside another for the purpose of teaching. 

A parable is usually a story or narrative drawn from nature or human circumstances from which spiritual lessons can be found. It’s is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  It is a picture of life, used by Jesus as a way of recording on the mind for instant playback. The heavenly is revealed in the earthly, Divinity in humanity, the invisible in the visible, and the unknown in the known.  Christ as Creator made the things in His parables and defines their truest meaning. When He says, “Consider the lilies”, He then shows the thought of God. 

The purpose of the parables was to reveal to the truth-seeker but to conceal from the hard of heart.

Matthew 13:10-17 10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Jesus was effectively separating truth-seekers from curiosity-seekers! Those seeking truth would say “Explain to us” while the casually curious could be sent away after a free lunch.  Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, Herodians, and elders all wanted to accuse Him, but he gave no ground, leaving them puzzled. 

But, the disciples’ attitude enabled them to learn “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 13: 10-12,16-17) as Jesus explained the parables in private, using “known” (earthly) truths to show “unknown” (heavenly) truths. He would always explain to anyone who asked what the meaning was.

The subject matter of the parables was the kingdom of heaven which was the theme of Jesus’ gospel message and the apostles’ preaching in the Book of Acts. Three sub-themes are stressed: 1, the character of the kingdom; 2, the character of the King; and 3, the character of the King’s subjects. This is how Jesus revealed “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”.

Matthew 13:34-35 34 All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”

For the interpretation of the parables, the best guideline is to look for the central truth of the parable, making sure that any other truths gleaned from it are in harmony with it, remembering that parables were originally told to conceal, so they are not always that clear on the surface. Therefore don’t build a case for doctrine based solely on just one parable.

Parables concern things which Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, and many others looked forward to, but did not fully understand in their lifetime! (v. 11) “it has been given to you (NT believers) to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”.

Romans 16:25-26 25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith—

Mark 16:15-16 15 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Matthew 13 was the turning point in Christ’s verbal ministry.  Plain words had already been spoken but salvation had not yet been received…although what is to be known of God is plain.

Romans 1:19-25 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The Creation as God’s object lesson had become perverted, elevated to the place of God rather than received as His tutorial. In the lilies, the salt, the light, the seed, etc., Christ was interpreting the very thought He had placed in the natural at creation.  All nature is a parable.

Mt.13 has 8 parables, all given at one discourse although divided equally between the multitudes and the disciples (4 each).

Matthew 13:36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”


  1. Sower 13:1-3  
  2. Wheat and tares 13:24         another = beside
  3. Mustard  Seed 13:31                 another = beside

          4.   Leaven 13:33                            another = beside

Disciples onlyexplanation in private:

5.   Hidden treasure 13:44 again

6.   Pearl of great price 13:45 again

7.   Dragnet  13:47 again

8.   Householder 13:52 ____

All 8 show the Kingdom in progress among men. The first 4 are the King’s view of Kingdom “in this age” (not in eternity).  They show from the first advent to the second (human viewpoint). The second 4 are the King’s view of Kingdom, still in this age but from the Divine viewpoint. 

In the first 4 (public; man’s viewpoint), all have 2 oppositional influences in conflict (sower with soil; wheat with weeds; mustard with earthly greatness that harbors birds of the air; three loaves with the leaven of decomposition and disintegration, making puffed up.

In the second group, however, good wins over evil.  Of these, #8 is different.  All the others start with “the Kingdom of Heaven is like” but #8 does not say that:

Matthew 13:51-52 51 Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” 52 Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”

Parable #1 is the nature of His mission; #2 (v.24) is “His field”; which, v.44, He bought. The mission of Jesus changed the Kingdom of Heaven not in eternity but in its conditions and expression amongst men.      

Parables #3-7 give the character of change and the result thereof; #8 places responsibility for knowing and acting appropriately, not on Israel’s scribes, but on His listeners.

A brief look at the 1st Parable of Matthew 13, The Sower: (More on this in Part 2)

Matthew 13:3-9 3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Matthew 13:18-23 18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

The background for this is the Sea of Galilee where a multitude had gathered from a healing crusade.  In view was the plain of Gennesaret where both sowers and reapers were working.

v.3 “went out to sow” – No one lived on farms but in walled villages due to many dangers. They literally went out to open country to farm with no roads, no fences – just paths that crisscrossed.

Matthew 13:37 37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.

Christ’s mission as “The Sower”, the Son of Man, was misunderstood. He cries “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and men cry “Show us a sign”.  His mission and men’s desires were not one. They expected the overthrow of kingdoms.  But Jesus came as a Sower, not with militant violence but with the implantation of a new principle in the hearts of men. There will be a harvest, not an overthrow… after patient toil: 

Luke 8:15 15 But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.

v.3 again, “A sower went forth” – Christ left His home to be sown as a seed and die. This is seen with Abram (Heb.11:8) told to “go out” and Paul (Acts 22:21) told, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”  We, too must “leave”:

Psalm 84:5 5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.

The distinction between the original parable and the explanation is, the parable puts emphasis on the soil; the explanation puts emphasis on the seed.

On this point, note the 4 elements in the parable of the Sower: (Application will be discussed in Part 2)

  1. Sower
  2. Seed 
  3. Soil the only thing that changes is the soil
  4. Sequence

Mark 4:13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Your heart is the issue!  If it is right, you can understand all Christ teaches! The Seed is the Word in people.  Believers carry the Word. Jesus sows His Word in us… and we don’t get devoured, aren’t rootless, and don’t get entangled. We bear fruit.  (Application in Part 2)