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What the Bible says about Comprehension of Parables
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Matthew 13:1-43

Matthew 13:1-3 show the context and setting for Christ's teaching:

On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables. . . . (Emphasis ours throughout.)

While it is easy to read over these details, they are crucial for grasping Christ's meaning because they show that Jesus spoke the first four parables (the Sower, the Wheat and the Tares, the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven) to “great multitudes.” Verses 34-36 confirm that He preached to the people at large at this point rather than strictly to His disciples:

All these things [the first four parables] 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.” Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”

In the first four parables, Jesus is speaking primarily to the physical nation, the remnant citizenry of the earthly Kingdom of God. Even though they could not grasp the parables' full depth, He was still responding to the attitude and approach of the nation shown in the previous chapter, particularly of the leadership that continually rejected the dominion of heaven.

While Christ's teachings apply on multiple levels, it is paramount to grasp the primary meaning before looking for other applications. The complete fulfillment of the Kingdom was far beyond what the folk of Judea and Galilee could comprehend, yet He still spoke to them. The parables were not exclusively for His disciples, just as His prophecy, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you” (Matthew 21:43), was not spoken to His disciples. In short, the King had a message for the subjects of the physical Kingdom that He had established. He was giving them a testimony—a final chance—and when they rejected it, He focused on the budding spiritual nation that had Abraham's faith rather than merely his blood (Galatians 3:15-29).

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part One)

Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus defines His symbols to His disciples (Matthew 13:38). The field, He says, is “the world.” While there can still be an application of this parable to the church, Jesus' immediate audience was “great multitudes” (Matthew 13:2, 34, 36), and the scope was “the world,” rather than the limited assembly of called-out ones.

Jesus defines the tares as “the sons of the wicked one.” While it is common to interpret this parable and its players strictly in terms of the church, consider that both God and Satan have had “sons” from the very beginning, long before the founding of the church. Abel lived by faith, but Cain, the first murderer, bore the spiritual image of his father, Satan (see John 8:44). Seth likewise was of the “good seed,” as were Enoch, Noah, and others. God planted in the world all these righteous men, who had to contend with the sons of the Adversary.

The parables in Matthew 13 come after a verbal altercation with the Pharisees in which Jesus calls them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34), indicating they were offspring of the serpent—sons of Satan—because they bore his spiritual image. John the Baptist also dubs the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers,” implying they will be burned like the tares (Matthew 3:7-12). In John 8:44, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they were of their father the Devil, just another way of saying “sons of the wicked one.” He uses parallel imagery in Matthew 15:13, again regarding the Pharisees: “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”

Jesus says that “while men slept,” the “enemy came and sowed tares” (Matthew 13:25). The Bible often uses sleep as a symbol of obliviousness, non-awareness, or inattention. As such, it is frequently a negative symbol, often coinciding with lethargy, apathy, and letting down in one's duties (see Proverbs 6:4-10; 24:30-34).

Within Israel, God appointed watchmen who were not merely to keep an eye out for approaching armies but were also to monitor the nation's moral condition (see Isaiah 56:10-11). Those who should have sounded the alarm about the problems creeping into the nation before the captivity were—as we would say—asleep at the switch! Focused on their own concerns, they allowed ungodly elements to take root, leading to the nation's spiritual downfall.

Jesus ends the parable's explanation with, “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:43). Similarly, Daniel 12:3 says the “wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” This glorification is also linked with the “harvest” in John 5:28-30. This end-time harvest is not limited to righteous individuals who lived from AD 31 onward—that is, the church—but includes all who have lived and died by faith, beginning with righteous Abel. As Hebrews 11:40 explains, all the true sons of the Kingdom, planted throughout history, will be made perfect at the same time.

Certainly, this parable can apply within the assembly of believers, for the New Testament is replete with warnings about false teachers and false brethren. Yet the principle is not limited to the church. The Pharisees were “sons of the wicked one”—and thus tares—even before Christ founded His church. The parable warns that not everyone who appears to be under the dominion of God is actually of God. The Pharisees and other leaders defied God's sovereign authority, but He commands His servants to leave Satan's offspring in place until the conclusion of His purpose.

David C. Grabbe
God's Kingdom in the Parables (Part Two)

Matthew 13:51

The first and last parables in Matthew 13 are key parables. The first, the Parable of the Sower, introduces and anticipates the whole series of parables, and the last, the Parable of the Householder (Matthew 13:51-52), concludes and reflects on them. When Jesus finishes giving the first seven parables, He asks His disciples, "Have you understood these things?" They reply, "Yes." Their comprehension allows Jesus to give one more illustration to reveal their responsibility as scribes being instructed on the subject of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Martin G. Collins
The Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Eight): The Parable of the Dragnet

Luke 5:36-39

While these examples are valuable in their own right, they do not stand on their own. If we were to begin here, it would be like coming in on the last part of a conversation; without understanding what led up to this, our comprehension will be spotty at best. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all put this parable at the end of a fairly lengthy, yet identical, record of Christ's actions and the Pharisees' objections (Matthew 9:1-17; Mark 2:1-22; Luke 5:17-39). His words here, then, are the summation and capstone of a much longer interaction.

David C. Grabbe
Clothing, Wineskins, and Wine


 




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