One sunny day, as Jesus was in the middle of teaching by way of parables, (in the 13th chapter of Matthew) Matthew makes a brief comment that may help us in understanding why Jesus taught in parables.
Matthews first comment is on the regularity of Jesus teaching in parables. His second comment is on the the fulfillment of prophecy in doing so.
I’m sorry – What was that? Teaching in parables was a fullfillment of prophecy?
Hang on – we will get to it, but first lets look at the passage from the gospel of Matthew.
34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.
35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Verse 34 seems to be telling us that Jesus limited Himself to teaching only in parables, yet we know that He taught in many ways, sometimes with object lessons, or with a simple direct narrative. He is the Great Teacher, and exercised many methods of teaching.
So what is Matthew saying? At this time in Jesus ministry, and with the current audience, He taught them with parables. That, in my opinion was a simple observation. Verse 35 is where I am struggling.
A Difficulty – Apostolic Interpretation
My first difficulty is the fact that this method of teaching is a fulfillment of prophecy. Let’s consider the Old Testament verse we find the prophecy in.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old
It appears that the psalmist is stating the current condition for his writing, that is, he will open his mouth in a parable. It is his chosen method of teaching in his current historical context. As a young believer, reading through the Old Testament, there were prophecies that were obvious, such as Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22, concerning the Messiah. Psalm 78, without the apostles direction, would not have occured to me as prophetic.
This is critical, for the apostles are the teachers of truth, based on the Lords method of reading the Old Testament.
Which makes this next passage so amazing.
A Difficulty – Parabolic Reasons
The Lord supplied the reason for speaking in parables in the following verses.
13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘”You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
Again, let’s consider the passage Jesus is referring to in verse 14.
And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
God is speaking to Isaiah, telling him that the people of his day will hear the words, but not understand the message. When I read this passage, it seems to be directed to the people Isaiah was ministering to over 700 yrs before the Messiah. I wouldn’t have seen this as prophetic, and that is why the apostolic interpretation of the Old Testament is such an important concept to grasp as we read through the New Testament.
As amazing as the apostolic interpretation of the Old Testament is (which is such a gift!), the reason why the parables are Jesus’ preferred teaching method is even more amazing.
Jesus tells His apostles that the reason He teaches in parables is to teach only to the teachable. (And yet some of his disciples didn’t understand the parables!) He tells stories that only those who are willing and able to hear can understand. The people He is teaching at this time, that do not “hear” Him, only become deafer and blinder.
Another Feature of Grace
Truly amazing when you think of the loneliness of the Master as He taught. No-one was getting it! How frustrating. The Master Teacher came to earth, spent His days speaking out truth, and yet His best students/disciples were struggling with understanding the message.
What hope do we have? The Spirit of God and prayer are critical for this effort. As I have quickly reviewed the parables in accumulating them for the study, I am concerned I may be biting off more than I can chew.
No – that is wrong. I am definetly biting off more than I can chew. I need guidance and strength to understand, see and hear His message.
I do hope you will venture along with me on this trek. It promises to be a whopper!
Thanks again for coming to visit. I hope you found something of interest in this post and would appreciate a comment, to begin a discussion.