The Parables of Jesus: Meaning, Purpose, and Themes

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The parables of Jesus are simple and memorable stories to illustrate spiritual truth with everyday things. Although these parables seem easy to read, the messages they convey are deep and central to the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is no ordinary rabbi. Not only because He was the Son of God, but also because of how He turned simple everyday life into extraordinary parables. These Parables of Jesus convey spiritual truth for everyone to see and hear. It was Jesus’ way of telling His message to the poor and rich, young and old, sick and well. So if you want to learn more about God’s mercy and love through the parables, go ahead and continue reading!

What is a Parable?

Back when we were all kids, our teachers used to tell stories through word pictures or illustrations, right? They spoke in a way that helped us understand a story better because again, we were kids and we don’t know much yet. It’s like they spoke in our language so we can be able to picture what the story is all about. Our teachers had a way of capturing our imaginations. Jesus Christ did the same thing through what we call the parables. 

Parables are stories taken from the everyday lives of people with which Jesus Christ turned into a response of God’s love and truth. These are simple relatable stories that produce different spiritual lessons. Jesus taught by using various pictures and illustrations that have hidden deeper meanings so that people can apply them in their real life. 

In addition, a parable is not just any kind of a simple story that creates moral lessons. Jesus also had a way of twisting the plots so it can turn from a very familiar experience to a remarkable comparison which later on expands the imaginations of His audience, paving a way for a further reflection of the parable. 

How Many Parables of Jesus Are There?

There are a lot of discussions regarding the total count of the Parable of Jesus. Some resources say 46, while others say 38. This is because some same Parables are written in different books, and some are not completely considered as parables for they lack something. However, there are certainly at least 36 parables of Jesus written in the New Testament. 

Why did Jesus speak in Parables?

To conceal truth

Jesus spoke in metaphors so that people who are not open to understanding the truth will be confused. He used parables so that those who are willing to learn will be forced to meditate on them. He wanted us to humble ourselves so we can better understand and accept His teachings.

To catch His listener’s attention  

Jesus told stories in a way that caught the attention and hearts of the people who listened to Him. He made sure that the messages He conveyed are interesting enough to drive people’s imagination. 

To demonstrate significant and accessible truth

The simple stories that Jesus illustrated enabled His audience to apply their learnings in their everyday life. He used terms that people could easily relate to, like comparing God’s kingdom to fishing, cooking, farming, agriculture, and shepherding. It is fascinating how He used these earthly stories to convey heavenly meanings. 

To fulfill prophecy

A thousand years before Jesus came, Psalmist Asaph already knew that Jesus would preach in parables, and so He did. (Matthew 13:34-35)

To make His message more remarkable for His audience to remember

You know you heard a great sermon if you remember it months later. This is the same with how Jesus spoke volumes even with just a few words. He used parables for the message to be heard up until 2,000 years later. 

Where are the Parables of Jesus Found in the Bible?

Canonical Gospels

The first four books of the New Testament are what comprises the Canonical Gospels. These are the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They have a narrative structure that includes birth narratives, Jesus’ sayings, His mighty acts, an account of His passion and death, and lastly, His post-resurrection appearance stories. That is why the parables of Jesus are found in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke which are also referred to as the synoptic gospels.

Non-Canonical Gospels

On the other hand, none of the Non-canonical gospels include all elements that were stated in the Canonical Gospels. This also refers to texts that are not accepted as part of the New Testament. However, Non-canonical Gospels are valuable for those who are interested in early Christianity’s growth. 

Themes of the Parables of Jesus

Jesus Christ had a way of telling these parables with different themes, meanings, and contexts. They were not just simply told. Instead, they were related to certain issues of the people back then.

Kingdom of Heaven: Hearing, Seeking, and Growing

The Parable of Sower and Four Types of Soil 

Everyone receives the seed, which is the word of God, but not everyone will yield to produce a fruitful life. The four types of soil mentioned are hard, rocky, thorny, and good soil. (Matthew 13:23)

The Parable of Growing Seed 

We can never grow our faith by our efforts alone. True spiritual growth comes from God Himself. (Mark 4:26-29)

The Parable of the Mustard Seed 

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, for it starts small and eventually grows into something remarkable and tremendous. (Matthew 13:32)

The Parable of the Leaven 

When yeast or leaven is kneaded into the dough, it will spread and make the dough rise. Just like God’s kingdom. It will first change the hearts of people and later on, will transform the kingdom. (Matthew 13:33)

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and Valuable Pearl 

The valuable pearl is compared to how we also value the hidden treasure, which is the kingdom of God. This parable illustrates our willingness to give up everything we possess to acquire the kingdom of God. (Matthew 13:44–46)

Loss and Redemption

The Parable of the Lost Sheep – sheep as children

This parable shows that to care for the weak is what Jesus pointed out in this parable. (Matthew 18:14)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep – sheep as sinners 

Illustration of how Jesus, as a shepherd, would leave the 99 sheep to find that one sheep who is lost. (Luke 15:7)

The Parable of the Lost Coin 

God loves a sinner who has been lost but still repents. God values these people more than those who sin and repent but claims not to. (Luke 15:10)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son 

No matter how far we wander and sin, He will always be there to welcome us with open arms. (Luke 15:31)

Love and Forgiveness

The Parable of the Moneylender 

A story about how a moneylender forgave all the debtors. The same way that sinners will love God more because of the mercy He has shown. (Luke 7:42)

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant 

This teaches how we should forgive people because we have been forgiven as well. (Matthew 18:28

The Parable of the Good Samaritan 

A Samaritan went out of his way to help a Jew who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. But he was first seen by a priest and Levite who did not do anything to help him. This shows how we could be loving neighbors even to those who hate us. (Luke 10:36–37)

Prayer

The Parable of the Friend Seeking Friend 

God answers our prayers no matter how bold and impossible our requests may be. (Luke 11:8)

The Parable of the Persistent Widow and Crooked Judge 

Jesus encourages us to pray without giving up. Just like how the widow went out of her way to seek justice. She didn’t have money to pay the judge, but she got what she wanted because of her persistence. (Luke 18:7)

Pharisee and the Tax Collector 

God is more pleased to those who humble themselves and ask for His mercy, than those who are too entitled with their right deeds. (Luke 18:14b)

End Times

The Parable of the Rich Fool 

To store up for your worldly future shows that you should be on guard against greed. Do not neglect to make yourself rich in the eyes of God. Then, you will be fully secured in eternal life with Him. (Luke 12:20)

The Parable of the Watchful Servants 

Just like a thief in action in the middle of the night, we are to expect that this is the kind of surprise that Jesus will do when He comes again. We must be prepared when that time comes. (Luke 12:38)

The Parable of the Unfruitful Fig Tree 

Jesus offers a chance to repent. But it is also important to know that we cannot delay our repentance, for we do not know when our time is up. (Luke 13:9)

The Parable of the Weeds 

This is about how evil is very prevalent in our world today. However, we must remember that a time of God’s judgment will come. All we have to do is love our neighbors as we wait for His time to judge. (Matthew 13:29–30)

The Parable of the Fishing Net 

At the end of the age, real disciples will be separated from the false ones. Just like how the fishermen separate clean fish from the unclean ones. (Matthew 13:48)

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet 

Jesus points out that everyone is welcome in God’s kingdom. (Matthew 22:8)

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants 

Jesus reminds us that the kingdom of God will be taken away from the people who refuse to submit to God and it will be given to those who would. (Matthew 21:43)

The Parable of the Fig Tree 

The signs that Jesus gave the disciples about what is coming is the signal that the end is near. (Matthew 24:33)

The Parable of the Ten Virgins 

This parable is meant for the church. We must act in the truth and be ready. (Matthew 25:13)

The Parable of the Returning Owner 

This reminds us that we must be watchful because we do not know when the master will return. (Mark 13:37)

The Parable of the Great Banquet 

Just how God’s love is a gift, so is His invitation to His kingdom. (Luke 14:24)

Other Parables of Jesus Written in the Book of:

Matthew

The Parable of the New Cloth and New Wineskins 

To cover up something that is lacking would only make everything worse. This tells us that we can’t mix old traditions with new ones because Jesus has already fulfilled the law. (Matthew 9:16)

The Parable of the Lamp Stand 

Followers of Jesus are called to be the salt and light of the world. We must remember to shine our lights for Him who must be glorified in everything we do. (Matthew 5:16)

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders 

We must stand on biblical foundations, and not put our faith in rocky and uncertain beliefs. Our lives as followers of Jesus must always be rooted in His word. (Matthew 7:24)

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard 

We are God’s hired hands so it is our responsibility to endure and work hard for the work that has been given for us to do. (Matthew 20:16)

The Parable of the Two Sons 

This parable teaches us that our actions will be justified by how we act on obedience and not just by promising to be obedient. (Matthew 21:32)

The Parable of the Talents 

God has provided us resources in which He has given us the responsibility to be its stewards. They are given to us because God expects us to use our means to multiply them, not just store them. (Matthew 25:29)

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats 

We are called to serve and not to be served. When we serve His people, we are also doing it for Him who has laid down His life for us. (Matthew 25:40)

Mark

The following are from the Parables written in the Book of Mark, but were first in the book of Matthew:

  1. The Parables of New Cloth and New Wineskins
  2. The Parable of the Lamp Stand
  3. The Parable of the Sower
  4. The Parable of the Mustard Seed
  5. The Parable of the Tenants
  6. The Parable of the Fig Tree

Luke

The Parable of the Master and the Servant 

Jesus wants us to understand our duties as His followers. The grace that has been given to us shows that we owe Him everything, and He owes us nothing. (Luke 17:10)

The Parable of Place of Honor 

Jesus teaches us that we must always learn to take the lowest seat in the feast so when they ask you to move up, you will be honored. (Luke 14:11)

The Parable of Counting the Cost

To be a disciple of Jesus is costly. It would cost us our lives, efforts, and more. But He challenges us with all these to prove our motive. (Luke 14:28)

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager 

This parable talks about stewardship of our resources. God will not entrust bigger and greater blessings if we are not faithful in smaller things today. (Luke 16:9)

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus 

Our earthly possessions cause our spiritual blindness. So we are reminded in this parable that our possessions here on Earth will not guarantee our eternal life. (Luke 16:31)

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Servants 

This parable speaks to those who are in positions of authority within a church, for they are held accountable when the Master returns. (Luke 12:43)

Why do Parables of Jesus Matter Today?

Jesus understood that while evil is prevalent back in the day, it will still and certainly be prevalent up until the years to come. It is fascinating how He made sure that His message will reach the ends of the earth. He spoke in timeless realities to different kinds of people so that we will know the truth and nothing but the truth about who God is and what He has done. 

It is important to know Jesus’ parables today because it will first teach us humility, and will teach us something about ourselves later on. This will serve as our guide because Jesus spoke this Himself. But most importantly, these parables teach us who the real hero is and who needs to be glorified the most.

In Summary

Parables are Jesus’ way of demonstrating His grace to those who are spiritually blind. He made God’s wisdom accessible even to those who are undeserving, making the kingdom of God available for everyone. So we must keep in mind that the same Jesus Christ that spoke parables back in the day, is the same Jesus Christ that gives us love and hope today.

Alex Shute
AUTHOR
Alex Shute
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow. In his free time, he enjoys perfecting pour-over coffee, smoking meats, and discovering new cycling routes around Southern California.