The Parables of Jesus

“I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.”

- Psalm 78:2

Christ’s ministry was so significant that it would be impossible for us to get an adequate grasp of it if we had only one record of His life. Thus, the Holy Spirit has given us four Gospels, each of which sheds a unique light on the person and work of our Savior. Mark’s gospel, we have seen, puts the emphasis on Jesus as a man of action, as the incarnate Son of God who inaugurated the kingdom by waging a direct war against the devil and even sin itself. Thus, he devotes comparatively less space in his record to our Lord’s teaching than Matthew, Luke, and John do.

This is particularly true of Jesus’ parables, for we find only a few of them in Mark. The parables Mark includes are helpful for getting a basic understanding of our Savior’s teaching on the kingdom of God; however, to comprehend more fully Christ’s instruction, we must look at some of the other parables recorded in Matthew and Luke. We will now do just that as we pause our study of the gospel of Mark and spend a few days looking at our Lord’s teaching ministry with the help of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series The Parables of Jesus.

Many teachers in Jesus’ day used parables. In fact, the use of parables goes back to the Old Testament prophets. Nathan, for instance, told the famous parable of the rich man’s the theft of the poor man’s sheep in order to confront David for the king’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:1–15). In Hosea 12:10, God says, “I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables.” Consequently, we find it no surprise that the parable became a popular teaching device for later Jewish rabbis, including Jesus.

Yet, we find one key difference between Christ’s use of parables and the way in which His contemporaries employed them. Whereas the rabbis typically used parables to illustrate the application of the old covenant law, Jesus spoke in parables not only to apply the Scriptures to His audience but also as a means of giving new revelation to the people of God. So different was Jesus’ teaching from that of the other rabbis that the crowds “were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28–29).

Christ used parables for illustration. The term parable means, literally, “to throw alongside of.” Jesus would give his teaching and throw an illustration alongside it—tell a parable—to help those who had ears to hear Him grasp His instruction.

Coram Deo

One of the things that characterize Jesus as a master teacher is His use of parables to illustrate His lessons. Vivid stories such as the parables help those who believe to understand the Word of God. Insofar as we teach the Word of God, either in the church or in our homes, we can help our hearers better comprehend Scripture through the use of helpful illustrations.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 17
Luke 14:7–11

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.