OceanSide church of Christ

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An Introduction to the Parables

Victor M. Eskew




A.   The work of a teacher is extremely difficult.

1.     One must understand the truth.

2.     One must apply the truth.

3.     One must convey the truth effectively to his listeners.


B.    Jesus was a master at all of these things.  Thus, He has been called the “Master
Teacher.”  He has also been referred to as the “Teacher’s Teacher.”


C.   One of Jesus’ most prominent forms of teaching involved the parable.  The parables occupy about 1/3 of all the teachings we have of Jesus.


D.   On Sunday evenings we are going to engage in a series entitled:  “The Parables of Jesus.”


E.    In this lesson, we want to begin with “An Introduction to the Parables.”




A.   Our English word comes from the Greek word “parabole.”

1.     Note:  This is a transliteration of the word, not a translation.

2.     The word itself means “to lay along side of.”  Jesus would take an earthly illustration and lay along side of it a spiritual application.

3.     Thus, some have defined a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”


B.    Very closely connected to the above definition is the idea of a parable being a comparison (Luke 13:18).


Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like?  And whereunto shall I resemble it?


C.   Other definitions:

1.     The use of the known to explain the unknown.

2.     Familiar examples that lead men’s minds toward heavenly concepts.

3.     A revelation of that which is spiritual found within the Creation of God.

a.     Exodus 20:11a


For in six days the Lord made the heavens and earth, the sea, and all that in them is…


b.    Within the Creation, God packed hundreds of spiritual lessons.

c.    Jesus, the Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17), was able to reveal many of these lessons in their fullness through the parables.

4.     A parable is Jesus’ art because of the masterful way the parables paint pictures upon the mind.

5.     Stories


“…We read the parables, and the poor homes of that little land are before our eyes.  We see the baking of bread and the patching of garments; we see even the emergency of a friend borrowing a loaf at midnight for his sudden guests.  Rich homes are drawn with a pencil equally shrewd – barns bursting with fatness, laborers not daring to eat until their master has broken his fast, and the unseemly scramble for the chief seats at the feasts of the mighty.  The glaring contrasts of our earth are drawn in dramatic line – ‘chosen’ Jews and despised Samaritans, sumptuous Dives and abject Lazarus, householders and thieves, compassionate parenthood and the rascally steward who feathered his nest against the well-merited retribu-tion.  The whole gamut of human life is sounded – farmers at the plough, fishermen at their nets, a wedding procession moving through the dark with dancing torches, builders rearing towers, kings marching to their wars, and a widow pleading her cause in the persistence of despair before a heartless judge.

          “Over all there is the mystic glamour of Palestine.  Behold a sower tramping weary furrows.  Soon the field will be ‘white unto harvest.’  On the high hillside flocks are grazing beneath a watchful shepherd’s eye.  In the distance there is a vineyard on a favored slope, or a deep defile where brigands lurk.  The dry watercourse is a raging torrent when a storm breaks in the mountains, and on its golden summer sand a foolish man once built his house.

          “This motley array of characters and this vivid scenery are wrought into unforgettable stories” (The Parables of Jesus, George A. Buttrick, “Introduction,” pp. xviii-xix).




A.   Total number?

1.     The number of parables varies due to how an individual defines a parable.

2.     Some include even the “proverbs,” the short, pithy statements of Jesus, in the list of parables.

3.     The number, therefore, can range between 30 and 60 parables.


B.    The number of parables in each of the Gospels:

1.     Matthew            23 parables              11 unique

2.     Mark                 8 parables                2 unique

3.     Luke                  24 parables              18 unique

4.     John                  2 parables                2 unique




A.   Parables of the coming kingdom, the church (Matt. 13:44; 20:1; 22:2)


For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.


B.    Parables of loss and redemption:  The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons (Luke 15).



C.   Parables about prayer (Luke 18:1)


And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.


D.   Parables of forgiveness and compassion

1.     Peter’s question:  “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” prompts a parable from Jesus (Matt. 18:21-35).

2.     The question:  “Who is my neighbor?” also ended with a parable by our Lord (Luke 10:29-37).


E.    Parables of eschatology, that is, end time events:  Matthew 25 contains three of these parables, The Ten Virgins, The Talents, and The Sheep and Goats.




A.   To incite interest in the hearers.

1.     One of the rules of teaching is K I S S, Keep It Simple Stupid

2.     The parables were simple and interesting (Mark 12:37).


…And the common people heard him gladly.


B.    To help people remember the teaching.

1.     Lengthy texts and deep theological concepts are hard to remember.

2.     Simple stories, especially that are very common, stay in the mind.


C.   To make a spiritual point.  Most parables are designed to convey one primary thought.


D.   To define the kingdom that was soon to come.

1.     Matthew 4:17


From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent:  for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.


2.     John 18:36


Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world:  if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered unto the Jews:  but now is my kingdom not from hence.


3.     See Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47


E.    To fulfill prophecy.

1.     Matthew 13:34-35


And these things spake Jesus unto the multitudes in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:  that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables…


2.     The prophecy is found in Psalm 78:2


I will open my mouth in a parable:  I will utter dark sayings of old.


F.     To conceal the truth from those whose hearts were dishonest and hard (Matt. 13:13-15).


Therefore speak I to them in parables:  because they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esais, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive.  For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.




A.   Parables have one primary lesson that they teach.

1.     This lesson can usually be easily determined by the context.

2.     Example:  Jesus spoke the three parables of Luke 15 because of the murmur-ing of the Pharisees when sinners came to Him (Luke 15:1-2).


Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.  And the Pharisess and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.


B.    The parables contain secondary lessons.  Example:  The Parable of the Talents

1.     Primary lesson:  When the Lord returns He will judge each of us on how we used our talents.

2.     Secondary lesson:  All have been given different talents by God.


C.   We must be careful not to press a parable too far.

1.     The Friend at Midnight:  What is the significance of midnight?

2.     The Ten Virgins:  What does the oil in the lamps signify?




A.    My favorite definition of a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”


B.    Over the next several weeks, we will be studying the parables, particularly the kingdom parables since they relate to our theme this year:  “Make Christ Your King in 2013.”