All these things Yeshua (Jesus) said to the multitude in parables; yes, He said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world. (Matthew 13: 34-35; Ps 78:2)
What is the goal of a parable?
The Hebrew word for parable is mashal (מָשָׁל), which comes from a similar root verb (מָשַׁל), meaning to represent or to be the same. There are very many parables in the Scriptures.
During the last few weeks I often have been asked many questions regarding the parables or imagery of God. The simplest images of how we are the "sheep" and Jesus is our "shepherd", or the image of the "ark" as a place of protection are not understood or ridiculed as invented "stories".
For this reason I would like to deal with the parables of Yeshua today. They are basically metaphorical stories.
A story contains at least one main character (king, owner, shepherd) who has a problem (with a field, son, sheep) that is solved. In order to solve the parable, we look for the deeper meaning and significance of how God wants us to live in this world. God himself tells us that He is the author of many parables:
"I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. [literally, parables and representations]". (Hosea 12:10)
In Yeshua's time most rabbis (teachers, masters) use parables. With the help of a mashal one could understand the words of the Torah. Just as a burning candle shines and can help you find a gold coin or precious pearl, so a parable can reveal the precious treasures in the Word of God. Even though Yeshua wanted the Jewish people to learn to live according to God's will through the parables, his messages were somewhat different from those of the rabbis of that time.
In fact, perhaps eight of the 40 or so parables of Yeshua (one-fifth) were aimed at the religious leaders of his time or at the nation of Israel as a whole, such as the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9).
The parables of the prodigal son, the Good Samaritan, and even of the talents were originally intended for the ears of Israel's elite. The parable of the Evil Tenants (Mark 12) directly rebuked these leaders. Yeshua even placed the parable in a setting that was often used in the rabbinical teaching of his time - a vineyard, as described by the prophet Isaiah:
"Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting (From the Song of the Vineyard, Isaiah 5:1, 7)
In Yeshua's divine story, a man (God) hands over a vineyard (Israel) to tenants (religious leaders) who rob the man while they beat, insult and/or kill any servant (prophet) sent by the owner. Then the man sends his only beloved son (Messiah Yeshua) and says: "They will respect my son. But these tenants said to each other, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours. So they seized him, killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard."
Yeshua continued, "What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others [the believers in Yeshua, the Messianic Jews and the Gentiles].
Jesus said: Have you not read this Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”" [Psalm 118: 22-23]? Then (the Pharisees) sought to seize him, but they feared the people; for they realized that he had spoken the parable against them. And they departed from him and went away. (Mark 12: 10-12)
More than just rebuking the leadership of the time, this parable explains that God YHWH was not satisfied with how they handled the spiritual supervision entrusted to them, and especially how they rejected God's beloved heir, the one who was prophesied to come - the Messiah Yeshua.
Parables about the past kingdom and the future kingdom
The rabbis mostly used parables to explain aspects of Israel's past history and Jewish tradition. In contrast, we can see that about half of the parables of Yeshua deal with questions of the future kingdom, such as salvation, the Day of Judgment, and the realities of heaven and hell.
The parable of the wheat and the tares also points to this coming kingdom. Jesus describes a field where wheat and tares (a worthless plant that resembles wheat) are intertwined. The owner tells the servant to "let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers: "Gather up the tares first and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13: 24-30)
Who are the tares and who is the wheat in God's kingdom? To whom are the mysteries of the kingdom of God given?
As a Christian I had often heard that Jesus taught in parables to keep the secret things of the Kingdom hidden. However, 24 of his about 40 parables contain an interpretation. They were taught in parables at that time and God still uses parables, images, visions or dreams to let us know His truth.
Through his parables Yeshua gave people ample opportunity to learn how to live their lives in such a way that they would enter eternal life if they would only seek the answer and listen.
But when he was alone, those around him and the twelve asked him about the parable. And he spoke to them: To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to those who are without, all things are given in parables, "that they may see with seeing eyes and yet not know, and hear with hearing ears and yet not understand, lest they should repent and have their sins forgiven. (Mark 4, 10-12; Is 6: 9-10)
The disciples often did not understand the meaning of the parables, but they let Yeshua explain them to them. In Matthew 13:36-43 we read Yeshua's answer about the wheat and the tares.
Yeshua taught with heavenly retrospection and divine foresight as the master rabbi and true heir of the vineyard, who now sits at the right hand of the Father, and to him is given all authority under heaven and earth.
Apostle Paul helped us to understand that with the authority and power of Yeshua (Jesus) in us we should also have his heavenly and divine foresight: If you have been raised with the Messiah, seek that which is above, where the Messiah is, sitting at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)
To understand the parables and images of God and Jesus, we must ask Him for interpretation. The Holy Spirit will lead us into the truth and the right understanding. Our eyes and ears will be opened for this.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:16-17)
Ask for open eyes and ears so that you too can learn to understand God's language and explanations.