Jesus' Parables:
Grace & Judgment (Part 1)

By Neil Earle

People in general know two things about Jesus: He was crucified and He taught in parables. Jesus did not invent the Parable form, as we shall see, but, as with the Law, he transformed it and raised it to an entirely different level.

A Parable (“comparison” in the Greek) has been defined as a figure of speech in which a comparison is made between God’s Kingdom or activities and something in this world – real or imagined (Arnland J. Hultgren). Gordon Fee sees Jesus’ parables primarily as vehicles for confronting people with the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that has already come in Jesus. The Parables express God’s character – setting out offers of mercy (the Prodigal Son) along with threats and warnings (The Pharisee and the Publican). They show us that the Kingdom is to be prized above all else (the Pearl) and that true Discipleship means selling all in a mood of both urgency and delight.

It is a misconception to read Matthew 13:10-17 as implying that Jesus used parables to hide his message from the public (“the hardening” theory). No. The Pharisees saw and heard enough to know he was talking about them as Matthew 21:45 clearly states. It is just that the lessons of the Parables can be either ignored or skated over. The chance for decisive change can be lost. You can look in the mirror and pretend all is well. Therefore “take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24).

Both Joachim Jeremias and A. Hultgren group the Parables into five or six categories as does James Montgomery Boice. Boice has:

  1. Kingdom Parables – e.g. the Seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26), the Leaven in the Lump (Matthew 13:33). With Pharisees watching his every step and Romans occupation troops always there, Jesus had to be careful about how he phrased his Kingdom Message with himself as the King. This is often called “the Messianic Secret” motif – the Kingdom is already beginning.
  2. Salvation Themes – Luke 12:16 and the Rich Fool, the Closed Door (Luke 13:24).
  3. Wisdom versus Folly – The Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24), the King planning a war (Luke 14:31).
  4. The Christian Life (Discipleship) – The Dutiful Slave (Luke 17:7), the Talents (Matthew 25:14).
  5. Judgment – The Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24), the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47), the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31).

In all of this, what comes across clearly is God’s loving invitation to the Kingdom for Kingdom living NOW. Thus Jesus gently invites Simon the Pharisee to experience redemption, to live gracefully before God and men (Luke 7:40-42). That gracious invite is offered to us at well – we can be guests at the Wedding Banquet of the Son. Or not.

To Be Continued