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The Lord's Parables

The parables of the Lord. Jesus .Christ are so many and so varied, and so full of teaching, that it would be impossible to do them justice and deal with them adequately in one short article, so I will seek to say something about them. in a general way,. and perhaps pass comment on one or two of them.

The Lord's parables cover a wide range of subjects, and take in common everyday events, and also events that are extremely rare. He speaks of a woman putting leaven into meal (Matt. 13:33) that was common enough, and He also speaks of a nobleman going into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom (Luke 19:12) that was rare enough. He speaks of a sower sowing seed (Matt. 13:3)... that happens every year, and He also spoke of a king who made a marriage feast for his son (Matt. 22:2) - that event would normally happen only once in a lifetime.

We are told the reasons why He spoke many of His parables. He told a parable to encourage men not only to pray, but to continue to pray, "The Unjust Judge" (Luke 18:1). He told one to condemn pride and self-righteousness, "The Pharisee and the Publican" (Luke 18:9). He told a parable to curb the impatience of His disciples and to put them right regarding the coming kingdom, already mentioned above (Luke 19:12). He told a parable to teach us to forgive one another even as God has forgiven us, "The Unmerciful Servant" (Matt. 18:23). Alas that this was necessary! The parable shows how foolish and hard-hearted we can all become. And He told that delightful threefold parable of the "Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin and the Lost Son" (Luke 1.5), the parable which has been called the pearl of parables and which shows forth, as I see it, the work of the Divine and Holy Trinity, the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Father, in the salvation of a sinner.

Many of the Lord's parables are easy of interpretation; the lessons they would teach seem to be lying, as it were, on the surface. This is especially so in those parables which we have in the Gospel by Luke, some of which I have mentioned, although some speakers or commentators may make even these seem difficult of interpretation because they seek to find some hidden meaning in every detail of the parable. Parables in this sense are like the types: types do not, and cannot, answer in every detail to that which they seek to typify, otherwise they would cease to be types. They are only shadows "of the good things to come, not the very image" (Heb. 10:1). So it is with the parables; they were given by the Lord to teach vital lessons to men, and to seek to interpret every detail in them may only lead to confusion, and perhaps cloud the main lesson which the parable contains.

Now while many of the parables are easy of interpretation, there are others which are most difficult to interpret, and they have exercised the minds of men down through the years. This is especially so in the series of seven parables which we have in Matthew 13. These are known as parables of the kingdom of heaven. I, for one, am for ever thankful that the disciples asked the Lord to explain the first two, "The Sower" (Luke 8:9) and "The Tares of the Field" (Matt. 13:36), although even with the Lord's explanation of "The Tares" there is still much confusion of thought, especially as to what He meant when He said, "The field is the world".

He also, without being asked, explained the end part of the parable of "The Dragnet" (Matt. 13:49) and left the first part of it to be interpreted by men, and so there is difference of mind as to what the net speaks of. Apparently the disciples did not ask Him to explain the other four parables of the series. Does the leaven speak of that which is good, or that which is evil as it usually does (Matt. 13:33)? What does the mustard tree speak of (verse 32)? What is the treasure hidden in the field (verse 44)? And what is the pearl of great price (verse 46)? Many and varied are the explanations given of these parables, and even mighty men of God have been at variance over them.

According to the Gospel by Matthew, when the Lord started to speak to the people these parables of the kingdom of heaven, with their hidden meanings, it seemed to be so unlike His former manner of teaching that the disciples were surprised, and so we read, "The disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest Thou unto them in parables? And He answered and said unto them ... therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand" (Matt. 13:10-13). This answer of the Lord Jesus has stumbled many, because it seemed to be a judgement upon Israel. The meaning of these parables is veiled in mystery, and it seems to me that the speaking of them thus was indeed a judgement upon Israel.

An important factor in the Lord speaking to them in these parables is what the Pharisees said about His miracle in Matthew 12:24, "But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This Man doth not cast out demons (RV Margin), but by Beelzebub the prince of the demons". The Lord said about that judgement, "Therefore I say unto you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age (RV Margin), nor in that which is to come" (Matt. 12:31-32). It is very significant indeed that it was after this that the Lord spoke the parables of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13).

It has been a difficulty with commentators to find a suitable definition of the word "parable" that would embrace them all. We know what Dr Young and others say about them, that they are "similitudes, or something set alongside to make a comparison or likeness". W.E. Vine says a parable "is generally used of a somewhat lengthy utterance or narrative drawn from nature or human circumstances, the object of which is to set forth a spiritual lesson" or "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning". Now here is a clear and simple definition which helps us to understand the parables: they are events which take place here on earth, but they contain a hidden spiritual meaning. This is especially true of those parables which have to do with the kingdom of heaven, and helps us to understand the Lord's answer to the disciples, "Seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand". They could only see the earthly story. Who could not? A sower sowing seed, a merchant man seeking pearls, but they could not see the hidden spiritual meaning behind it, and because of this it was not possible for them to understand it.

Because the parables are earthly stories, they do not contain any miracles, or supernatural elements. We will find the supernatural in the spiritual interpretation of the parable, not in the parable itself.

In conclusion I would seek to point out that in speaking about parables we need to be very careful not to mix things up. For instance, the Lord Jesus did not say in His parables, that at the end of the age, the angels would go forth and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and cast them into the furnace of fire. No, no. He said that in His explanation of two parables, The Tares, and The Dragnet; that is the spiritual meaning behind the parables. The parable is one thing, the explanation or meaning of it is quite another. In the two parables the Lord speaks of tares being burned, and of bad fish being thrown away. Angels are not needed to do that, and men did not need to be told that tares would be burned; they knew that. Neither did they need to be told that bad fish would be cast away; they knew that. What they needed to be told was that men are going to be burned. It is men who are going to be cast into the furnace of fire, and this at the command of the Son of Man, and there will be no mistake, nor miscarriage of justice, for the angels will be the executors of His will. "The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:49,50). These words came from the lips, not of Peter or Paul, or any other man, but from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ. Never was a more solemn statement spoken; and He said it twice. The interpretation is certain, and the judgement sure. Therefore men need to be warned to flee from the wrath to come, and to flee to the only One who can save them from it, the mighty Saviour of sinners, who died to save them on Calvary.

It was said of the Lord Jesus on one occasion, "Never man so spake", and His parables contain some of the most precious things that He taught the children of men.