3.4.8.6 Jesus' parables and images

In His sermons, Jesus used many parables and in so doing employed a wide range of imagery from the daily lives of His listeners. In Matthew 13: 34-35 we read: "All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, 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.'"

In His parables Jesus talked about the essential elements of His doctrine and opened up the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven: "The kingdom of heaven is like ..." (Matthew 13: 1 et seq.).

More than forty parables are recorded in the first three gospels. Through them, the Son of God illustrated the major aspects of His gospel: the nearness of the kingdom of God, the commandment to love one's neighbour, the attitude of man's heart, and the coming of the Son of Man.

The kingdom of God is present in Jesus Christ

In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus illustrated the humble beginnings–and the growth–of the kingdom of God. In the parable of the leaven, He made it clear that Christ would permeate all things in the end (Matthew 13: 31-33).

The parable of the treasure hidden in a field and the parable of the pearl of great price showcase individuals who recognise the wealth hidden in Christ and make use of the offer to partake in the kingdom of God (Matthew 13: 44-46).

In this kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven, which is at hand, God identifies Himself as the loving heavenly Father. Thus the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15: 4-32) illustrate God's love for, and will to reconcile with, the sinner. Without regard for the person, the Lord invites all, and offers them fellowship with Him.

Love for one's neighbour

The greatest commandments of the law are to love God and one's neighbour. In the account of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-35), Jesus illustrated who this neighbour is, and that loving our neighbour means that we must not close our eyes to the distress of others, but rather provide help. The manner in which this is to be put into practice can also be derived from the parable of the Last Judgement (Matthew 25: 35-36).

The attitude of man's heart

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14) draws attention to the attitude of man's heart: it is not those who praise their own deeds, but those who approach God in humbleness and in search of grace, who will be justified. Among other things, the parable of the sower also deals with the attitude of man's heart: it demonstrates that a God-fearing heart is necessary in order to properly absorb the word of God (Luke 8: 15).

The parable of the unmerciful servant also has to do with attitude: it deals with forgiveness and calls upon those who have received God's grace to likewise show grace to others. Those who recognise the magnitude of God's love will feel the need to reconcile with their neighbour (Matthew 18: 21-35).

The coming of the Son of Man

In the parables about the return of the Son of Man, Jesus revealed future events. In Matthew 24: 37-39, a comparison is made between the time before His return and the time of Noah: the return of Christ will be sudden. In the same context, the parable of the thief in the night concludes with the exhortation: "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24: 44). This is also the message in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13): it is important to be watchful and prepared for the sudden return of the Lord. The parable of the talents is an admonition to make use of the time before Christ's return (Matthew 25: 14-30).

All of these parables deepen our understanding of Jesus' statements concerning His return, deliverance and the judgement, His reign at the end of time, the powers of this world, and eternal life as the actual destiny of mankind.

Images

Some images that bring Jesus' nature to expression–and thus constitute a self-revelation of God–can be found in the gospel of John. In the "I am" statements He introduces Himself as the "bread of life" (John 6: 35) and the "light of the world" (John 8: 12). Likewise He is the "door" to salvation (John 10: 9), the "good shepherd", who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10: 11), and He is the "vine" (John 15: 5). Jesus Christ is the "resurrection", "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 11: 25; 14: 6). He alone opens access to God, the Father. These seven "I am" statements demonstrate Jesus' entitlement to majesty and divinity: He is not only the messenger of the Father, but God Himself.

See also