The Purpose of the Parables

Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (v. 17).  

- Matthew 13:12–17

Our study today will examine the purpose of parables. Jesus tells us in Matthew 15:12–15 that He speaks in parables to hide the secrets of the kingdom from some and reveal them to others (Matt. 13:12–15). This does not mean His parables are full of esoteric information that only a select few can grasp with their minds. Christ’s enemies often understand exactly what His parables mean (see 21:33–46); the problem is their refusal to trust His teaching about Himself and God’s kingdom. The difficulty the Pharisees have is moral and thus volitional, not intellectual. They choose not to believe our Savior’s words. Those who take up their cross gain more access to kingdom truth; those who reject Him lose whatever insight they had (13:12). Matthew Henry says parables make the things of God “more plain and easy” to those willing to be taught, and “at the same time more difficult and obscure to those who [are] willfully ignorant.”

A person’s final response to the parables reveals whether or not he is elect. Today’s passage assumes that God chooses to save only part of sinful humanity; the rest He leaves to harden themselves in their sin (Rom. 9:1–18). As Dr. R.C. Sproul has taught on many occasions, God does not create unbelief and is not culpable when sinners do not respond to the parables with saving faith. Yet this hardening is not outside the scope of our Creator’s sovereign plan. He sends Jesus to speak in parables so that the rebellious will rage against Him more fiercely and manifest the justness of their condemnation (Matt. 13:13–15; Rom. 9:19–24). The Almighty decrees that those whom His grace passes over will hate His Son. And those whom His grace passes over do choose to hate His Son without coercion. We are always free to do what we want, but apart from God’s grace we do not want to love Jesus. John Calvin writes that the Lord opens a man’s ears “and that no man obtains or accomplishes this by his own industry.”

We would be amiss to emphasize the parables’ hardening purpose over the gratitude Jesus encourages in the elect. Our focus is not to be on why God has not chosen some. Instead, we must be thankful that He has made us, who are no more deserving than the reprobate, to see the kingdom (Matt. 13:16–17).  

Coram Deo

We should marvel at God’s grace every time we recall that we have trusted Christ alone for our salvation. Before the Lord quickened us, we were dead in sin and had no desire at all to know or serve Him. But by His Spirit our Creator overcame this stubbornness and changed our hearts, enabling us to believe the Gospel. Take time today to thank God for His matchless grace and remember that your deeds contribute nothing to your salvation.

Passages for Further Study

Zechariah 12:10–13:1
2 Thess. 2:16–17

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343