Why Did Jesus Tell Parables? (part 2)
Whenever Jesus told a parable, some people understood what He was saying while others completely missed His point. His parables illuminated eternal truths for some, while others walked away more confused than ever. The question remains, then, why did Jesus tell parables at all? Why was He not more straightforward with His message?
In reading through the New Testament, three primary reasons emerge. Jesus used parables:
1. To allow His hearers the choice of receiving or rejecting the truth of His words.
When explaining His use of parables, Jesus referenced the words of Isaiah (6:9-10), saying, “…They have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand…” (Matthew 13:15, NLT). Notice how Jesus said the audience closed their own eyes to what Jesus was revealing. Jesus was not hiding it; they were refusing to see it. Not everyone in the crowds listening to Jesus responded this way, but a significant number did.
People did not understand because they did not want to understand. They did not want to be challenged, they did not want to be convicted, and they did not want their lives to be changed. They were not looking to be exposed to spiritual truth, so they chose to reject spiritual truth rather than receive it.
G. F. Handel was described by Beethoven as “the greatest composer that ever lived.” Beethoven went on to say, “I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb.” Pretty high praise, considering the greatness of Beethoven himself.
Indeed, Handel’s Messiah is recognized as one of the most famous oratorios ever composed. As you might expect from the title, Messiah is all about Jesus. Its famous “Hallelujah Chorus” worships Jesus as “King of Kings, Lord of Lords” and boldly proclaims, “He shall reign forever and ever.”
How many people listen to that magnificent anthem but never realize what it’s saying? How many even participate in performances but completely miss the message? How many are impressed by the music, but fail to perceive anything else?
Some who heard Jesus speak completely missed His message because they were not open to receiving it. Those who chose to reject it were permitted to remain in their ignorance.
2. To reveal the secrets of the Kingdom to those who wanted to understand.
During World War II, radio communication was the primary means of transmitting tactical data from one location to another. However, the Allied forces became afraid that the enemy would intercept their messages and crack their codes. To thwart this possibility, they began to use the languages of Native North Americans such as the Navajo.
The grammar of the Navajo language was complex. Plus, it was an unwritten language. With fewer than 30 non-Navajos in the world capable of speaking the language, the enemy would have a difficult time translating the language or capturing anyone who understood it. Eventually, then, a Navajo was deployed with each Marine division in the Pacific Theater. They would be able to communicate with each other, but the enemy would have no idea what they were saying.
When Jesus spoke in parables, it was like an undecipherable code for those who did not want to hear it. For those who were open to what Jesus was saying, however, it was as if they spoke the language. They wanted to understand, so they could understand. As Jesus said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand” (Matthew 13:9, NLT).
3. To make people more receptive to His message the next time.
The Message paraphrase records Jesus explaining His parables to His followers, “You’ve been given insight into God’s Kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight” (Mark 4:11-12, MSG). In other words, those who were disinterested or closed off might hear at least one thing Jesus said and it would intrigue them. It would nudge them, making them more receptive the next time they were exposed to His teaching. They may not have been ready yet to receive His message in full, but they were gradually becoming ready.
This interpretation, though not readily apparent in other translations, seems to be consistent with passages declaring that the Lord is patiently working and waiting, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV). Clearly, Jesus did not desire to hide Truth from His hearers; rather, He wanted all to receive His message and respond in faith to His grace.
The parables of Jesus required that the audience pay attention and think about what He was saying. Those willing to put in the effort were rewarded with the richness of Jesus’ message; those who dismissed the parables as simple stories missed out. It was true then, and it is still true today. Will you receive His words wholeheartedly, or will you reject His message regardless of the form it takes?