Why did Jesus use parables so often?
Matthew 13:3 notes, "[Jesus] told them many things in parables." In fact, much of what Jesus taught came in the form of parables, often described as stories with spiritual principles. Why did Jesus teach in parables?
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When the disciples of Jesus asked Him why He spoke in parables, He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 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" (Matthew 13:11-13).
From these words, four observations can be made regarding why Jesus used parables. First, Jesus used parables in order to make His message clear to all, but the meaning was revealed only to those able to understand. The audiences gathered to hear Jesus speak about sheep, birds, farmers, and other familiar images, but often left without understanding the larger picture of the stories He spoke. His disciples would frequently later be told the full meaning of the stories.
Second, Jesus used parables to communicate to both the common people and the religious leaders. Rather than using the words of the learned scholars, Jesus spoke in everyday language that connected with His audience.
Third, Jesus used parables in part because He spoke with authority. Matthew 7:29 says, "he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." The scribes often quoted both long passages of the Law as well as traditions of other Jewish teachers to support their message. Yet Jesus spoke from His own authority, breaking from this tradition.
Fourth, parables were a common cultural form of communication. Though the religious leaders regularly resorted to quoting one another or used academic language, Jesus spoke in the storytelling format already familiar to His culture. In doing so, He connected with His audience in a way the religious leaders did not, both touching personal needs and communicating spiritual truth.
Jesus spoke as the Messiah and could have used any teaching format He desired. His choice of parables, stories with a spiritual purpose, was used for a variety of reasons. Among these were the ability to reveal information to those "ready to hear," to communicate with the common people, and to assert His authority. These factors and others reveal a Messiah whose love extended to all yet also revealed information to different people in different ways, something God continues to do in the lives of individuals today through His Word.
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