Category Archives: Parables Questions

Questions about Parables: What Is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares?

 

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, or Tares, is filled with spiritual significance and truth. But, in spite of the clear explanation of the parable that Jesus gave (Matthew 13:36–43), this parable is very often misinterpreted. Many commentaries and sermons have attempted to use this story as an illustration of the condition of the church, noting that there are both true believers (the wheat) and false professors (the weeds) in both the church at large and individual local churches. While this may be true, Jesus distinctly explains that the field is not the church; it is the world (v. 38).

Even if He hadn’t specifically told us the world is the setting of the story, it would still be obvious. The landowner tells the servants not to pull up the weeds in the field, but to leave them until the end of the age. If the field were the church, this command would directly contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, which tells us how to deal with unrepentant sinners in the church: they are to be put out of the fellowship and treated as unbelievers. Jesus never instructed us to let impenitent sinners remain in our midst until the end of the age. So, Jesus is teaching here about “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 24) in the world.

In the agricultural society of Christ’s time, many farmers depended on the quality of their crops. An enemy sowing weeds would have sabotaged a business. The tares in the parable were likely darnel because that weed, until mature, appears as wheat. Without modern weed killers, what would a wise farmer do in such a dilemma? Instead of tearing out the wheat with the tares, the landowner in this parable wisely waited until the harvest. After harvesting the whole field, the tares could be separated and burned. The wheat would be saved in the barn.

In the explanation of parable, Christ declares that He Himself is the sower. He spreads His redeemed seed, true believers, in the field of the world. Through His grace, these Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–24). Their presence on earth is the reason the “kingdom of heaven” is like the field of the world. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 3:2), He meant the spiritual realm which exists on earth side by side with the realm of the evil one (1 John 5:19). When the kingdom of heaven comes to its fruition, heaven will be a reality and there will be no “weeds” among the “wheat.” But for now, both good and bad seeds mature in the world.

The enemy in the parable is Satan. In opposition to Jesus Christ, the devil tries to destroy Christ’s work by placing false believers and teachers in the world who lead many astray. One has only to look at the latest televangelist scandal to know the world is filled with professing “Christians” whose ungodly actions bring reproach on the name of Christ. But we are not to pursue such people in an effort to destroy them. For one thing, we don’t know if immature and innocent believers might be injured by our efforts. Further, one has only to look at the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the reign of “Bloody Mary” in England to see the results of men taking upon themselves the responsibility of separating true believers from false, a task reserved for God alone. Instead of requiring these false believers to be rooted out of the world, and possibly hurting immature believers in the process, Christ allows them to remain until His return. At that time, angels will separate the true from false believers.

In addition, we are not to take it upon ourselves to uproot unbelievers because the difference between true and false believers isn’t always obvious. Tares, especially in the early stages of growth, resemble wheat. Likewise, a false believer may resemble a true believer. In Matthew 7:22, Jesus warned that many profess faith but do not know Him. Thus, each person should examine his own relationship with Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). First John is an excellent test of salvation.

Jesus Christ will one day establish true righteousness. After He raptures the true church out of this world, God will pour out His righteous wrath on the world. During that tribulation, He will draw others to saving faith in Jesus Christ. At the end of the tribulation, all unbelievers will be judged for their sin and unbelief; then, they will be removed from God’s presence. True followers of Christ will reign with Him. What a glorious hope for the “wheat”![1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares?

 

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, or Tares, is filled with spiritual significance and truth. But, in spite of the clear explanation of the parable that Jesus gave (Matthew 13:36–43), this parable is very often misinterpreted. Many commentaries and sermons have attempted to use this story as an illustration of the condition of the church, noting that there are both true believers (the wheat) and false professors (the weeds) in both the church at large and individual local churches. While this may be true, Jesus distinctly explains that the field is not the church; it is the world (v. 38).

Even if He hadn’t specifically told us the world is the setting of the story, it would still be obvious. The landowner tells the servants not to pull up the weeds in the field, but to leave them until the end of the age. If the field were the church, this command would directly contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, which tells us how to deal with unrepentant sinners in the church: they are to be put out of the fellowship and treated as unbelievers. Jesus never instructed us to let impenitent sinners remain in our midst until the end of the age. So, Jesus is teaching here about “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 24) in the world.

In the agricultural society of Christ’s time, many farmers depended on the quality of their crops. An enemy sowing weeds would have sabotaged a business. The tares in the parable were likely darnel because that weed, until mature, appears as wheat. Without modern weed killers, what would a wise farmer do in such a dilemma? Instead of tearing out the wheat with the tares, the landowner in this parable wisely waited until the harvest. After harvesting the whole field, the tares could be separated and burned. The wheat would be saved in the barn.

In the explanation of parable, Christ declares that He Himself is the sower. He spreads His redeemed seed, true believers, in the field of the world. Through His grace, these Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–24). Their presence on earth is the reason the “kingdom of heaven” is like the field of the world. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 3:2), He meant the spiritual realm which exists on earth side by side with the realm of the evil one (1 John 5:19). When the kingdom of heaven comes to its fruition, heaven will be a reality and there will be no “weeds” among the “wheat.” But for now, both good and bad seeds mature in the world.

The enemy in the parable is Satan. In opposition to Jesus Christ, the devil tries to destroy Christ’s work by placing false believers and teachers in the world who lead many astray. One has only to look at the latest televangelist scandal to know the world is filled with professing “Christians” whose ungodly actions bring reproach on the name of Christ. But we are not to pursue such people in an effort to destroy them. For one thing, we don’t know if immature and innocent believers might be injured by our efforts. Further, one has only to look at the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the reign of “Bloody Mary” in England to see the results of men taking upon themselves the responsibility of separating true believers from false, a task reserved for God alone. Instead of requiring these false believers to be rooted out of the world, and possibly hurting immature believers in the process, Christ allows them to remain until His return. At that time, angels will separate the true from false believers.

In addition, we are not to take it upon ourselves to uproot unbelievers because the difference between true and false believers isn’t always obvious. Tares, especially in the early stages of growth, resemble wheat. Likewise, a false believer may resemble a true believer. In Matthew 7:22, Jesus warned that many profess faith but do not know Him. Thus, each person should examine his own relationship with Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). First John is an excellent test of salvation.

Jesus Christ will one day establish true righteousness. After He raptures the true church out of this world, God will pour out His righteous wrath on the world. During that tribulation, He will draw others to saving faith in Jesus Christ. At the end of the tribulation, all unbelievers will be judged for their sin and unbelief; then, they will be removed from God’s presence. True followers of Christ will reign with Him. What a glorious hope for the “wheat”![1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin?

 

The Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin are the first two in a series of three. The third is the “lost son” or the “prodigal son.” Just as in other cases, Jesus taught these parables in a set of three to emphasize His point. To properly understand the message of these parables, we must recognize exactly what a parable is, and why it is used.

What is a parable? At a basic level, a parable is a short story designed to convey a concept to be understood and/or a principle to be put into practice. This, however, tells us more about the intent of a parable than what it actually is. The word “parable” in Greek literally means, “to set beside,” as in the English word “comparison” or “similitude.” In the Jewish culture, things were explained not in terms of statistics or definitions as they are in English-speaking cultures. In the Jewish culture of biblical times, things were explained in word pictures.

Why did Jesus use parables? Word pictures do not draw attention to technicalities (like the Jewish law) but to attitudes, concepts, and characteristics. Jesus was speaking a language that all Jews could understand, but with an emphasis on attitudes rather than the outward appearances that the Pharisees focused on (John 7:24). Parables also have an emotional impact that makes them more meaningful and memorable to those who are soft of heart. At the same time, the parables of Jesus often times remained a mystery to those with a hardened heart because parables require the listeners to be self-critical and put themselves in the appropriate place in the story. The result was that the Pharisees would “be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving” (Isaiah 6:9; Psalm 78:2; Matthew 13:35).

By using parables, the teaching of Jesus remains timeless despite most changes in culture, time, and technology. For example, these two parables convey commonly understood concepts like grace, gentleness, concern, pride and others, all of which we can be understood by us, even though the story is over two thousand years old. In Jewish culture character traits are often described in relation to objects that are universally recognized like the regularity of the sun or the refreshing nature of rain (Hosea 6:3). This also explains why poetry is the most common mode of language used in the Bible. In the case of parables specifically, the elements mentioned in them are usually representations of something else, just as in an allegory. However, an overemphasis on a particular detail in a parable tends to lead to interpretive errors. Repetitions, patterns, or changes will often help us in identifying when we should focus on a particular detail.

Why Jesus taught these parables Let us look at the particular details of these parables. The situation in which Jesus is speaking can be seen in v. 1–2. “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’ ” (NIV). Notice that the Pharisees did not complain that Jesus is teaching sinners. Since the Pharisees thought themselves to be righteous teachers of the law and all others to be wicked, they could not condemn His preaching to “sinners,” but they thought it was inconsistent with the dignity of someone so knowledgeable in the Scriptures to “eat with them.” The presupposition behind the statement of the Pharisees, “this man welcomes sinners,” is what Jesus addresses in all three parables.

To understand the significance of the opening statement in chapter 15, we must consider that the Jewish culture is a shame/honor-driven society that used shame/honor in a way that developed a sort of caste system. Virtually everything that is done in Jewish culture brings either shame or honor. The primary motivation for what and how things are done is based on seeking honor for oneself and avoiding shame. This was the central and all-consuming preoccupation of all Jewish interaction.

In the first parable, Jesus invites His listeners to place themselves into the story with, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep.” In doing this Jesus is appealing to their intuitive reasoning and life experiences. As the story completes, the Pharisees in their pride refuse to see themselves as shameful “sinners,” but eagerly take the honoring label of being “righteous.” However, by the implication of their own pride, they place themselves in the position of being the less significant group of ninety-nine: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” There may be a bit of sarcasm in the reference to the Pharisees “who do not need to repent” (see Romans 3:23).

In the “lost coin” parable, the ten silver coins refers to a piece of jewelry with ten silver coins on it worn by brides. This was the equivalent of a wedding ring in modern times.

Upon careful examination of the parables, we can see that Jesus was turning His listeners’ understanding of things upside down. The Pharisees saw themselves as being the beloved of God and the “sinners” as refuse. Jesus uses the Pharisees’ prejudices against them, while encouraging the sinners with one clear message. That message is this: God has a tender, personal concern (“and when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders,” v. 5). God has a joyous love for individuals who are lost (in sin) and are found (repent). Jesus makes it clear that the Pharisees, who thought they were close to God, were actually distant and those sinners and tax collectors were the ones God was seeking after. We see this same message in 18:9–14. There, Jesus is teaching on attitudes of prayer, but the problem he is addressing is the same as in chapter 15. In 18:14 Jesus provides the conclusion for us: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Patterns of progression in the parables By identifying things in common in the parables, we can gain context to help us understand the significance of otherwise subtle elements in the story. As the old saying goes, “Proper context covers a multitude of interpretive errors.” 1) The progression of value: in the first parable a sheep is lost, then a silver coin in the next, followed by a son in the third. As mentioned before, part of the power of these parables to reach the audience comes from the shame/honor aspect of their culture. To lose a sheep as a shepherd would be a very shameful thing, a coin from a piece of bridal jewelry lost in her own house would be more shameful, followed by the lost son, which was the worst of all in Jewish culture. 2) The personal progression from seeking after only 1 of 100 sheep, then 1 of 10 coins, then 1 of 2 sons. This shows the scope of God’s personal concern for individuals and would have been of great comfort to the “sinners” Jesus was teaching. 3) A change in tense in each parable regarding the rejoicing at that which was found, from future tense, to present, and then to past tense: “will be more joy” to “there is joy” and finally “had to be.” This may have communicated the certainty of God’s acceptance of those who repent. 4) The progression of earthly references to what the thing was lost in (a subtle reference to sin). The sheep was lost in open fields, the coin was lost in the dirt that was swept up, and son was in the mud of a pigsty before coming to his senses. 5) The relational power of each parable: Poor men and young boys would have related best to the shepherd and the lost sheep. Women would have related best to the lost bridal coin. The last parable dealt with everyone present by dealing with the relationship of a father and son.

Patterns of Consistency in the parables 1) The main character possesses something valuable and does not want to lose it. 2) The main character rejoices in the finding of the lost thing, but does not rejoice alone. 3) The main character (God) expresses care in either the looking or the handling of that which was lost. 4) Each thing that was lost has a personal value, not just a monetary value: shepherds care for their sheep, women cherish their bridal jewelry, and a father loves his son.

Incidentally, this first illustration of the shepherd caring the sheep on his shoulders was the original figure used to identify Christians before people began identifying Christianity with crosses. In these parables Jesus paints with words a beautiful picture of God’s grace in His desire to see the lost return to Him. Men seek honor and avoid shame; God seeks to glorify Himself through us His sheep, His sons and daughters. Despite having ninety-nine other sheep, despite the sinful rebellion of His lost sheep, God joyfully receives it back, just as He does when we repent and return to Him.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price?

 

Jesus had just finished explaining to the disciples the meaning of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, and these two short parables are a continuance of His discussion of the “kingdom of heaven.” He expressed truths about the kingdom in three pairs of parables in Matthew 13: the seed and the sower (vv. 3–23) and the weeds in the field (vv. 24–30); the mustard seed (vv. 31–32) and the leaven (v. 33); and the hidden treasure (v. 44) and the pearl of great price (vv. 45–46).

The similarities of these two short parables make it clear they teach the same lesson—the kingdom of heaven is of inestimable value. Both parables involve a man who sold all he had to possess the kingdom. The treasure and the pearl represent Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers. And while we cannot pay for salvation by selling all our worldly goods, once we have found the prize, we are willing to give up everything to possess it. But what is attained in exchange is so much more valuable that it is comparable to trading an ounce of trash for a ton of diamonds (Philippians 3:7–9).

In both parables, the treasures are hidden, indicating that spiritual truth is missed by many and cannot be found by intelligence or power or worldly wisdom. Matthew 13:11–17 and 1 Corinthians 2:7–8, 14 make it clear that the mysteries of the kingdom are hidden from some who are unable to hear, see, and comprehend these truths. The disobedient reap the natural consequences of their unbelief—spiritual blindness. Those whose eyes are opened by the Spirit do discern spiritual truth, and they, like the men in the parable, understand its great value.

Notice that the merchant stopped seeking pearls when he found the pearl of great price. Eternal life, the incorruptible inheritance, and the love of God through Christ constitute the pearl which, once found, makes further searching unnecessary. Christ fulfills our greatest needs, satisfies our longings, makes us whole and clean before God, calms and quiets our hearts, and gives us hope for the future. The “great price,” of course, is that which was paid by Christ for our redemption. He emptied Himself of His glory, came to earth in the form of a lowly man and shed His precious blood on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parables of Fasting at the Wedding Feast, the Old Cloth, and the Wineskins?

 

These parables, found in Mark 2:18–22, begin with a statement that the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were fasting. The twice-weekly fast was a tradition adopted by the legalistic Pharisees at the time, even though the Mosaic Law prescribed only one fast on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31). Some people came to Jesus and asked Him why His disciples did not fast like the Pharisees and those of John’s disciples who had remained loyal to the Pharisaic traditions. Jesus’ response is given in three short parables.

The first one is a parable of a bridegroom with his groomsmen at a wedding feast. Jesus’ point is that fasting during the wedding feast is pointless. In this story Jesus is the Bridegroom, and while He is present in this world, it is a time of celebration because He is the fulfillment of their Messianic prophecies. Jesus Himself said that He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). To continue fasting with Jesus present is akin to fasting and being mournful during a wedding celebration in which the groom is present.

The other two parables, which are similar, make the same point. The first one says you don’t put a new patch on an old garment, and the second says you don’t put new wine into an old wineskin. In the first parable, if you put a new patch on an old garment, when the new patch shrinks due to washing, it will tear away from the older garment, making the tear worse. Similarly, new wine needs a new wineskin because as the new wine expands during the fermentation process, it stretches the wineskin. An old wineskin will burst under the pressure of new wine.

These two parables illustrate the fact that you can’t mix old religious rituals with new faith in Jesus. Jesus’ disciples were not fasting along with the Pharisees and John’s disciples because they were now under the new covenant of grace and faith in Christ. As mentioned earlier, Jesus fulfilled the law; therefore, there is no longer any need to continue with the old rituals. Jesus cannot be added to a works-based religion. In the case of the Pharisees, they were consumed with their own self-righteousness, and faith in Jesus cannot be combined with self-righteous rituals.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Wedding Feast?

 

Jesus told the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1–14. This parable is similar in some ways to the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15–24), but the occasion is different, and it has some important distinctions. To better understand the context of this story, it is important to know some basic facts about weddings in Jesus’ day.

In Jewish society, the parents of the betrothed generally drew up the marriage contract. The bride and groom would meet, perhaps for the first time, when this contract was signed. The couple was considered married at this point, but they would separate until the actual time of the ceremony. The bride would remain with her parents, and the groom would leave to prepare their home. This could take quite a while. When the home was all was ready, the groom would return for his bride without notice. The marriage ceremony would then take place, and the wedding banquet would follow.

The wedding banquet was one of the most joyous occasions in Jewish life and could last for up to a week. In His parable, Jesus compares heaven to a wedding banquet that a king had prepared for his son (Matthew 22:2). Many people had been invited, but when the time for the banquet came and the table was set, those invited refused to come (verses 4–5). In fact, the king’s servants who brought the joyful message were mistreated and even killed (verse 6).

The king, enraged at the response of those who had been invited, sent his army to avenge the death of his servants (verse 7). He then sent invitations to anyone his servants could find, with the result that the wedding hall was filed (verses 8–10).

During the feast the king noticed a man “who was not wearing wedding clothes” (verse 11). When asked how he came to be there without the furnished attire, the man had no answer and was promptly ejected from the feast “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verses 12–13). Jesus then ends the parable with this statement: “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (verse 14).

The king is God the Father, and the son who is being honored at the banquet is Jesus Christ, who “came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). Israel held the invitation to the kingdom, but when the time actually came for the kingdom to appear (see Matthew 3:1), they refused to believe it. Many prophets, including John the Baptist, had been murdered (Matthew 14:10). The king’s reprisal against the murderers can be interpreted as a prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70 at the hands of the Romans (cf. Luke 21:5). More broadly, the king’s vengeance speaks of the desolation mentioned in the book of Revelation. God is patient, but He will not tolerate wickedness forever (Obadiah 1:15). His judgment will come upon those who reject His offer of salvation. Considering what that salvation cost Jesus, is not this judgment well deserved (see Hebrews 10:29–31)?

Note that it is not because the invited guests could not come to the wedding feast, but that they would not come (see Luke 13:34). Everyone had an excuse. How tragic, and how indicative of human nature, to be offered the blessings of God and to refuse them because of the draw of mundane things!

The wedding invitation is extended to anyone and everyone, total strangers, both good and bad. This refers to the gospel being taken to the Gentiles. This portion of the parable is a foreshadowing of the Jews’ rejection of the gospel in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas were in Pisidian Antioch, where the Jewish leaders strongly opposed them. The apostle’s words echo the king’s estimation that those invited to the wedding “did not deserve to come”: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). The gospel message, Jesus taught, would be made available to everyone.

The matter of the wedding garment is instructive. It would be a gross insult to the king to refuse to wear the garment provided to the guests. The man who was caught wearing his old clothing learned what an offense it was as he was removed from the celebration.

This was Jesus’ way of teaching the inadequacy of self-righteousness. From the very beginning, God has provided a “covering” for our sin. To insist on covering ourselves is to be clad in “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Adam and Eve tried to cover their shame, but they found their fig leaves to be woefully scant. God took away their handmade clothes and replaced them with skins of (sacrificed) animals (Genesis 3:7, 21). In the book of Revelation, we see those in heaven wearing “white robes” (Revelation 7:9), and we learn that the whiteness of the robes is due to their being washed in the blood of the Lamb (verse 14). We trust in God’s righteousness, not our own (Philippians 3:9).

Just as the king provided wedding garments for his guests, God provides salvation for mankind. Our wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ, and unless we have it, we will miss the wedding feast. When the religions of the world are stripped down to their basic tenets, we either find man working his way toward God, or we find the cross of Christ. The cross is the only way to salvation (John 14:6).

For his crime against the king, the improperly attired guest is thrown out into the darkness. For their crimes against God, there will be many who will be consigned to “outer darkness”—existence without God for eternity. Christ concludes the parable with the sad fact that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” In other words, many people hear the call of God, but only a few heed it.

To summarize the point of the Parable of the Wedding Feast, God sent His Son into the world, and the very people who should have celebrated His coming rejected Him, bringing judgment upon themselves. As a result, the kingdom of heaven was opened up to anyone who will set aside his own righteousness and by faith accept the righteousness God provides in Christ. Those who spurn the gift of salvation and cling instead to their own “good” works will spend eternity in hell.

The self-righteous Pharisees who heard this parable did not miss Jesus’ point. In the very next verse, “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matthew 22:15). The Parable of the Wedding Feast is also a warning to us, to make sure we are relying on God’s provision of salvation, not on our own good works or religious service.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Vineyard?

 

The Parable of the Vineyard appears in three of the gospels (Matthew 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12; Luke 20:9–19), with Matthew’s account being the most complete. However, there are additions in the others; hence, it is wise to study all three accounts so as to achieve the greatest understanding. To get the context of what is happening, we need to look at Matthew 21:18. Early in the morning, Jesus goes to the temple courts to teach (21:23). While He is teaching, the chief priest and elders confront Him, wanting to know by what authority He is teaching. Not allowing them to control the conversation, Jesus answers the question by first asking a question (21:24–26). They do not like His question nor His response to their answer; essentially, He has told them that they can’t save face from their obvious attempt to cajole Him and, therefore, He is not obligated to answer their question (21:27). What Jesus told them is that John the Baptist and He received their authority from the same source. This exchange causes the leaders to become angry and puts them in opposition to Jesus. Jesus then further frustrates the priests by telling two parables: the first one is the Parable of the Two Sons, and the second is the Parable of the Vineyard, sometimes called the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

The first parable Jesus teaches tells the priests that they have claimed to accept the message from God but they have failed to live up to it by being obedient. Outwardly, they are pious and appear to be people of God, but God knows the heart, and there they have failed miserably. The next parable (the Parable of the Vineyard) is like pouring salt on a wound. Just in case they didn’t fully understand (which they did), Jesus gives a much clearer picture of what He means. Obviously, this further infuriates the priests, but it also gives the others who were present an opportunity to hear Jesus fully explain the implications of the disobedience of the Jewish people throughout the ages.

Background: There are 6 main characters in this parable: 1) the landowner—God, 2) the vineyard—Israel, 3) the tenants/farmers—the Jewish religious leadership, 4) the landowner’s servants—the prophets who remained obedient and preached God’s word to the people of Israel, 5) the son—Jesus, and 6) the other tenants—the Gentiles. The imagery used is similar to Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (it would be prudent to study this also) found in Isaiah chapter 5. The watchtower and the wall mentioned in verse 33 are means of protecting the vineyard and the ripened grapes. The winepress is obviously for stamping out the juice of the grapes to make the wine. The farmer was apparently away at the time of harvest and had rented the vineyard to the tenants. This was customary of the times, and he could expect as much as half of the grapes as payment by the tenants for use of his land.

Explanation: Verses 34–36 tell us the landowner sent his servants to collect his portion of the harvest and how they were cruelly rejected by the tenants; some were beaten, stoned, and even killed. Then he sent even more the second time and they received the same treatment. The servants sent represent the prophets that God had sent to His people/Israel and then were rejected and killed by the very people who were claiming to be of God and obedient to Him. Jeremiah was beaten (Jeremiah 26:7–11; 38:1–28), John the Baptist was killed (Matthew 14:1–12), and others were stoned (2 Chronicles 24:21). In this parable Jesus is not only reminding the religious establishment what they were like, but He was putting in their minds a question: how could they claim obedience as God’s people and still reject His messengers? We don’t know how many servants the owner sent, but that is not what is important; the theme is God’s repeated appeal through His prophets to an unrepentant people. In next verses (37–39), the situation becomes even more critical. The landowner sends his own son, believing that they will surely respect him. But the tenants see an opportunity here; they believe that if they kill the son they will then receive his inheritance. The law at the time provided that if there were no heirs then the property would pass to those in possession (possession is nine tenths of the law). This amounts to conspiracy to commit murder by the Jewish leadership, and it is prophetic in the sense that Jesus is now telling them what they are going to do to Him (see Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16). After Jesus’ death, Peter would make the same charges against the religious establishment (Acts 4:8–12). The tenants probably thought that the fight for the property was over, but it wasn’t; the owner would now appear on the scene.

Jesus now (vs.40–41) asks the question, what will the owner do to the evil tenants? What He is doing is forcing the religious leaders/priests to declare their own miserable fate: condemnation for their blatant disobedience. This is similar to the question that Nathan put to David (2 Samuel 12:1–7). Up to this point, Jesus has been dealing with the immediate situation of Israel and its past disobedience; now Jesus leaves open the question of what Israel’s leadership is going to do with the Messiah, the Son of God, whom He refers to as the “chief cornerstone” (vs 42). Cornerstones and capstones are used symbolically in Scripture and picture Christ as the main piece of the foundation of the church and the head of the church, respectively. Jesus is the beginning of and is foundational to the church, and He now stands over the church in His rightful position of honor, guiding the church to fulfill its divine destiny. This verse makes clear prophetically how Jesus will be rejected by the religious establishment and ultimately be crucified (see Psalm 118:22–23).

The key to understanding this parable and what it says about the religious leaders is found in verse 43, where Jesus makes their lack of obedience personal. Jesus tells the leaders that because of their disobedience they will be left out of the kingdom of heaven (individually and as a people); that they have let their opportunity for the time being slip away to be given to the Gentiles (see verse 41, “other tenants”). This will be more than they can tolerate, as we will see in verses 45 and 46. He is saying that there will be a new people of God made up of all peoples who will temporarily replace the Jews so that Jesus can establish His church. This will change the way God deals with man, from the old dispensation of the law to a new dispensation of God’s grace. It will usher in a period of time where man will no longer understand forgiveness of sins as man’s work through what he does or doesn’t do or by the sacrifices of animals on the altar, but by the work of Christ on the cross. It will be a time where each individual can have a personal and saving relationship with the One and only God of the universe. The exciting part of the verse is the phrase “who will produce fruit”; this gives authority to the church to share the gospel of Christ to the lost of the world. Up to this time, the Jews felt that they had automatic membership in God’s kingdom because of their relationship to Abraham; this is why they put so much emphasis on genealogies. But the new people of God would truly have what God wanted for Israel all along: a personal and holy relationship that would be honored through the spreading of God’s word to all peoples (see Exodus 19:5–6).

Jesus continues the stone metaphor in verse 44 to show how a stone can be used to build something beautiful, such as His church, or it can be used to crush and destroy, depending on the situation. This could be likened to God’s word: to some it is salvation, peace and comfort. To others it is foolish and disconcerting because of its ability to convict man of his sins (2 Timothy 3:16).

Verses 45 and 46 give us three insights into the psyche of the chief priest of the religious establishment. 1) They are jealous and envious of Jesus’ popularity with the common people. This encroaches on their authority and power to govern. 2) They have come to the realization that Jesus is talking about them. This hurts their pride and embarrasses them in front of the people. 3) They understood the analogy of the son and that Jesus was referring to Himself. This would be blasphemous to them, and they would now seek to kill Jesus. From here the leaders would meet in secrecy to plot how they would get rid of Jesus. Why all the secrecy? The people thought of Jesus as a prophet from God; arresting Him could cause an uprising. An uprising would jeopardize the leaders’ relationship with the Roman authorities, something that the Jews did not want at any cost.

Application: We apply this parable to our lives by asking two questions; first, have you come to know Christ as you Lord and Savior, or have you rejected Him like the Jewish leadership did? The process is simple, as long as you are sincere in seeking a relationship with Christ. You need to recognize your sins, and then accept Christ as the only One who can save you from the penalty of your sins. Second, if you are a believer, what have you done with Jesus? Are you like the bad tenants, rejecting His Word and living a life of disobedience? If you are, you need to study God’s Word and pray for guidance, seeking His will for your life and living out that will as best as you can, moment by moment, day by day.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Unforgiving / Unmerciful Servant?

 

We find the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant only in Matthew 18:23–35. The Apostle Peter had asked how many times one should forgive, “Till seven times?” and Jesus answered, “Not seven times but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21–22). The context of this passage is Jesus teaching His disciples about the “kingdom of heaven.” We can take some very important principles from this parable and apply them to our lives today.

The servant whose lord forgave him much, ten thousand talents, equivalent to several millions of dollars, was unwilling to forgive another servant who owed him a hundred denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage and was worth approximately sixteen cents. Therefore, compared to what the first servant was forgiven, this was a very small amount. The principle here is, “the one forgiven much should forgive much.” In other words, the principle of forgiveness is that grace or forgiveness to another is without limit. The disciples are not to count the number of times they forgive. Rather, as the parable teaches, they are to forgive much because God has forgiven much.

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus is presenting a new principle that is similar to the basis of the forgiveness command for believers found in Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind to one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Jesus is teaching His disciples pre-cross, and therefore in the pre-church age, but the basis for forgiveness is the same. Because God has forgiven us, we are to forgive each other. Therefore, because we have received much grace, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), we are commanded to give that same grace to others. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the first servant’s debt was forgiven, and he was not required to repay until his unforgiving nature was discovered. In contrast, our sin debt was paid in full by Christ and is the only basis for God’s forgiveness. We cannot repay our debt to God or earn our salvation. It is a gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Therefore, in the Parable of the Unforgiving / Unmerciful / Unjust Servant, Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us by extension, that forgiveness should be in like proportion to the amount forgiven. The first servant had been forgiven all, and he then should have forgiven all. In like manner, a child of God by faith through Christ has had all sins forgiven. Therefore, when someone offends or sins against us we should be willing to forgive him from a heart of gratitude for the grace to which we ourselves are debtors.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What is the meaning of the Parable of the Two Sons?

 

The Parable of the Two Sons can be found in Matthew 21:28–32. The basic story is of a man with two sons who told them to go work in the vineyard. The first son refused, but later obeyed and went. The second son initially expressed obedience, but actually disobeyed and refused to work in the vineyard. The son who ultimately did the will of his father was the first son because he eventually obeyed. Jesus then likens the first son to tax collectors and prostitutes—the outcasts of Jewish society—because they believed John the Baptist and accepted “the way of righteousness” (v. 32), in spite of their initial disobedience to the Law.

The key interpretive point in understanding the Parable of the Two Sons comes in defining to whom Jesus is speaking. For that we need to look at the overall context of this passage. Matthew chapter 21 begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The whole point of Matthew’s gospel is to show Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. The crowd responds by shouting Hosannas and praises to the King. The King’s first act upon entering Jerusalem is to cleanse the temple (21:12–17). Afterwards, we see Jesus cursing a fig tree (21:18–22). This account may seem an isolated story, but Jesus was making a strong symbolic point. The fig tree is often symbolic of Israel (cf. Hosea 9:10; Joel 1:7). The fact that the fig tree had leaves but no fruit is symbolic of Israel’s religious activity—i.e., all the trappings of spirituality, but no substance. Israel may have had the leaves of activity, but not the fruit of repentance and obedience to God, which is why Jesus tells them the prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom ahead of them (v. 31).

In Matthew 21:23–27, the religious authorities—the chief priests and elders—question Jesus’ authority. Who is this Jesus who comes into Jerusalem receiving the praises of the masses and drives the moneychangers out of the temple? The stage is set for the showdown. It is in this context that Jesus tells three parables—the Two Sons, the Tenants, and the Wedding Feast. Each of these parables is told to the Jewish religious leaders, each illustrates their rejection of Jesus, and each pronounces judgment on Israel for their rejection of their Messiah. In the Parable of the Two Sons, the leaders of Israel are the second son who claimed obedience, but did not do the will of the father.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Ten Virgins?

 

As we take a good look at the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), we must acknowledge up front that there has been much debate as to the meaning of these words of our Savior. At least one aspect of this parable can be known with absolute certainty. The bridegroom is Jesus Christ, and this parable describes His return. Both the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:4–6; 62:4–5; Hosea 2:19) and the New Testament (John 3:27–30; Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19–20) represent the Messiah as a bridegroom. Both God’s people Israel and the Church are described in Scripture as the bride (Ephesians 5:25–32) for the Messiah.

The historical setting can also be known with a fair amount of certainty. In describing a first-century Jewish wedding, D.A. Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary describes the setting this way: “Normally the bridegroom with some close friends left his home to go to the bride’s home, where there were various ceremonies, followed by a procession through the streets—after nightfall—to his home. The ten virgins may be bridesmaids who have been assisting the bride; and they expect to meet the groom as he comes from the bride’s house … Everyone in the procession was expected to carry his or her own torch. Those without a torch would be assumed to be party crashers or even brigands. The festivities, which might last several days, would formally get under way at the groom’s house.” The torch was either a lamp with a small oil tank and wick or a stick with a rag soaked in oil on the end of it which would require occasional re-soaking to maintain the flame.

Of interpretive significance is which return of Christ is this? Is it His return for the rapture of the Church, or is it His return to set up the Millennial Kingdom at the end of the Tribulation? Dispensational scholars divide over this issue, and no attempt will be made to answer that question here. Regardless of which return it is, the lessons to be learned are relevant to both.

The overall and easily seen thrust of the parable is that Christ will return at an unknown hour and that His people must be ready. Being ready means preparing for whatever contingency arises in our lives and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus at all times while we eagerly await His coming. As seen in the fact that all the virgins were sleeping when the call came indicates that it doesn’t matter what we are doing when Christ returns. We may be working, eating, sleeping, or pursuing leisure activities. Whatever it is, we must be doing it in such a way that we don’t have to “make things right” (get more oil) when He comes. This would apply to either the coming of Christ for His Church or for the Tribulation saints as they await His second coming.

Being ready for Christ’s return ultimately involves one major thing which manifests itself in several areas of our lives. If we would be ready for Christ’s return, we must be born again through saving faith in Jesus Christ … His death, burial and literal resurrection from the dead (John 3:16; 14:6; Romans 10:9 and 10; 1 Corinthians 15:1–4; Ephesians 2:1–10). Saving faith in Jesus Christ will manifest itself in every aspect of our lives. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) will begin to show. A desire for greater holiness and less sin will be apparent. And a consistent looking for His coming will mark our lives. One of the best passages articulating what saving grace and faith look like in a believer’s life is Titus 2:11–14, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

The five virgins who have the extra oil represent the truly born again who are looking with eagerness to the coming of Christ. They have saving faith and have determined that, whatever occurs, be it lengthy time or adverse circumstances, when Jesus returns, they will be looking with eagerness. The five virgins without the oil represent false believers who enjoy the benefits of the Christian community without true love for Christ. They are more concerned about the party than about longing to see the bridegroom. Their hope is that their association with true believers (“give us some of your oil” of verse 8) will bring them into the kingdom at the end. This, of course, is never the case. One person’s faith in Jesus cannot save another. The “Lord, lord” and “I do not know you” of verses 11 and 12 fit very well with Jesus’ condemnation of the false believers of Matthew 7:21–23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ ”

May we not be found “going away to make the purchase” (v. 10) when Christ returns. Take the time now to fill your lamp with oil and take extra along. Keep waiting and watching with joy and anticipation.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Talents?

 

Matthew, in chapters 24–25, records the Lord’s heart of compassion and love mingled with unwavering holiness. This section of Scripture, including the Parable of the Talents, constitutes final warnings, prophecies, and encouragements to His people Israel prior to His departure. He, who is their Lord, is leaving for an undisclosed period of time. He is delegating to them the responsibility, as stewards, to care for His kingdom. The Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14–30, impresses on them the weight of that responsibility and the serious consequences of neglecting to understand and apply His instructions. There is also a message to all mankind.

If the talents are talents of gold, the value of what the master entrusted to the stewards would be immensely high, in the millions of dollars. Since the Lord uses only the term “talents” we must make some assumptions, but is seems reasonable to assume that the owner of the talents, the man traveling into a far country, was a wealthy man. He is entrusting his wealth to three men who become stewards of his money. One receives five talents. Another receives two talents. A third steward receives one talent. Each is given a significant amount of money. These are stewards entrusted with the care of the money. The stewards must know the personality and character of their Lord. He expects them to know Him well enough to apply the spirit as well as the letter of His instructions. Those that do are richly rewarded. The others receive severe judgment. The amount given is based on each steward’s ability. The first two understand the spirit and letter of instructions and the character of their Lord. They both use the resources by “trading” to gain a profit. Each of them makes a 100 percent profit. Fear and mistrust of his Lord motivate the third steward. He buries the money in the earth and returns the original amount. The profitable stewards are praised, given increased responsibilities and invited to enter into the joy of their Lord. The untrusting steward is scolded, rejected, and punished.

The application of this parable must be understood within the context of the message of Matthew 24–25. It is first a message to the people of Israel that will live in the last days before the Lord returns. The statement, in Matthew 24:13, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved,” is a key statement. This is the believing remnant that will receive the promise of the kingdom. In Matthew 24:32–34, the Lord states, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” These will be alive when He returns and will have understood and believed their Lord. The application to the people of Israel is graphic and relevant. Those that believe Him will be rewarded in His kingdom. The basis of the reward will be their stewardship of His resources entrusted to them. Those who fear and do not believe will be rejected and judged.

There is also a universal application to all mankind. From the time of the creation of mankind, each individual has been entrusted with resources of time and material wealth. Everything we have comes from God and belongs to Him. We are responsible for using those resources so that they increase in value. As Christians, we have additionally the most valuable resource of all—the Word of God. If we believe and understand Him, and apply His Word as good stewards, we are a blessing to others and the value of what we do multiplies. We are accountable to the Lord for the use of His resources.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What is the meaning of the Parable of the Sower?

The Parable of the Sower (also known as the Parable of the Four Soils) is found in Matthew 13:3–9; Mark 4:2–9; and Luke 8:4–8. After presenting this parable to the multitude, Jesus interprets it for His disciples in Matthew 13:18–23; Mark 4:13–20; and Luke 8:11–15.

The Parable of the Sower concerns a sower who scatters seed, which falls on four different types of ground. The hard ground “by the way side” prevents the seed from sprouting at all, and the seed becomes nothing more than bird food. The stony ground provides enough soil for the seeds to germinate and begin to grow, but because there is “no deepness of earth,” the plants do not take root and are soon withered in the sun. The thorny ground allows the seed to grow, but the competing thorns choke the life out of the beneficial plants. The good ground receives the seed and produces much fruit.

Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Sower highlights four different responses to the gospel. The seed is “the word of the kingdom.” The hard ground represents someone who is hardened by sin; he hears but does not understand the Word, and Satan plucks the message away, keeping the heart dull and preventing the Word from making an impression. The stony ground pictures a man who professes delight with the Word; however, his heart is not changed, and when trouble arises, his so-called faith quickly disappears. The thorny ground depicts one who seems to receive the Word, but whose heart is full of riches, pleasures, and lusts; the things of this world take his time and attention away from the Word, and he ends up having no time for it. The good ground portrays the one who hears, understands, and receives the Word—and then allows the Word to accomplish its result in his life. The man represented by the “good ground” is the only one of the four who is truly saved, because salvation’s proof is fruit (Matthew 3:7–8; 7:15–20).

To summarize the point of the Parable of the Sower: “A man’s reception of God’s Word is determined by the condition of his heart.” A secondary lesson would be “Salvation is more than a superficial, albeit joyful, hearing of the gospel. Someone who is truly saved will go on to prove it.” May our faith and our lives exemplify the “good soil” in the Parable of the Sower.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables – What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Sheep and Goats?

The Parable of the Sheep and Goats is part of the Olivet Discourse. It is found in Matthew 25:31–46. A parable is a short, simple story of comparison. Jesus used parables to teach spiritual truths by means of earthly situations.

Jesus begins the parable by saying it concerns His return in glory to set up His kingdom (verse 31). Therefore, the setting of this event is at the beginning of the millennium, after the tribulation. All those on earth at that time will be brought before the Lord, and He will separate them “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (verses 32–33).

The sheep on Jesus’ right hand are blessed by God the Father and given an inheritance. The reason is stated: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (verses 35–36). The righteous will not understand: when did they see Jesus in such a pitiful condition and help Him? “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ ” (verses 39–40).

The goats on Jesus’ left hand are cursed with eternal hell-fire, “prepared for the devil and his angels” (verse 41). The reason is given: they had opportunity to minister to the Lord, but they did nothing (verses 42–43). The damned ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (verse 44). Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (verse 45).

Jesus then ends the discourse with a contrast: “They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (verse 46).

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, we are looking at man redeemed and saved, and man condemned and lost. A casual reading seems to suggest that salvation is the result of good works. The “sheep” acted charitably, giving food, drink, and clothing to the needy. The “goats” showed no charity. This seems to result in salvation for the sheep and damnation for the goats.

However, Scripture does not contradict itself, and the Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that salvation is by faith through the grace of God and not by our good works (see John 1:12; Acts 15:11; Romans 3:22–24; Romans 4:4–8; Romans 7:24–25; Romans 8:12; Galatians 3:6–9; and Ephesians 2:8–10). In fact, Jesus Himself makes it clear in the parable that the salvation of the “sheep” is not based on their works—their inheritance was theirs “since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34), long before they could ever do any good works!

The good works mentioned in the parable are not the cause of salvation but the effect of salvation. As Christians we become like Christ (see Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; and Colossians 2:6–7). Galatians 5:22 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Good works in a Christian’s life are the direct overflow of these traits, and are only acceptable to God because of the relationship that exists between servant and Master, the saved and their Savior, the sheep and their Shepherd (see Ephesians 2:10).

The core message of the Parable of the Sheep and Goats is that God’s people will love others. Good works will result from our relationship to the Shepherd. Followers of Christ will treat others with kindness, serving them as if they were serving Christ Himself. The unregenerate live in the opposite manner. While “goats” can indeed perform acts of kindness and charity, their hearts are not right with God, and their actions are not for the right purpose—to honor and worship God.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What is the meaning of the Parable of the Rich Fool?

The Parable of the Rich Fool can be found in Luke 12:13–21. The key to understanding this parable is in v. 15 (and later summarized in v. 21). Luke 12:15 says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus says this to the man who asked him to arbitrate between him and his brother. In ancient times, the firstborn was guaranteed a double portion of the family inheritance. More than likely, the brother who was addressing Jesus was not the firstborn and was asking for an equal share of the inheritance. Jesus refuses to arbitrate their dispute and gets to the heart of the matter: Covetousness! Jesus warns this person, and all within earshot, that our lives are not to be about gathering wealth. Life is so much more than the “abundance of possessions.”

He proceeds to tell the man the Parable of the Rich Fool. This person was materially blessed by God; his land “produced plentifully” (v. 16). As God continued to bless the man, instead of using his increase to further the will of God, all he was interested in was managing his increase and accumulating his growing wealth. So the man builds larger barns in place of the existing ones and starts planning an early retirement. Unbeknownst to him, this was his last night on planet earth. Jesus then closes the story by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

So the point of the Parable of the Rich Fool is twofold. One, we are not to devote our lives to the gathering and accumulation of wealth. There is an interesting point made in the parable. God says to the man in the story, “and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” This echoes the thought expressed in Ecclesiastes 2:18 (“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me.”). You see it all the time in people who are singularly devoted to the accumulation of wealth. What happens to all that wealth when they die? It gets left behind to others who didn’t earn it and won’t appreciate it. Furthermore, if money is your master, that means God is not (Matthew 6:24).

The second point of the Parable of the Rich Fool is the fact that we are not blessed by God to hoard our wealth to ourselves. We are blessed to be a blessing in the lives of others and we are blessed to build the kingdom of God. The Bible says if our riches increase, we are not to set our hearts upon it (Psalm 62:10). The Bible also says there is one who gives freely and grows all the richer (Proverbs 11:24). Finally the Bible says we are to honor God with the first fruits of our increase (Proverbs 3:9–10). The point is clear, if we honor God with what he has given us, He will bless with more so that we can honor Him with more. There is a passage in Second Corinthians that summarizes this aptly (2 Corinthians 9:6–15). In that passage Paul says, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” We are blessed by God, so we can in turn “abound in every good work” and be a blessing in the lives of others. So if God has blessed you with material wealth “set not your heart on it” and “be rich toward God.” That is the message of the Parable of the Rich Fool.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is found in Luke chapter 15, verses 11–32. The main character in the parable, the forgiving father, whose character remains constant throughout the story, is a picture of God. In telling the story, Jesus identifies Himself with God in His loving attitude to the lost. The younger son symbolizes the lost (the tax collectors and sinners of that day, Luke 15:1), and the elder brother represents the self-righteous (the Pharisees and teachers of the law of that day, Luke 15:2). The major theme of this parable seems not to be so much the conversion of the sinner, as in the previous two parables of Luke 15, but rather the restoration of a believer into fellowship with the Father. In the first two parables, the owner went out to look for what was lost (Luke 15:1–10), whereas in this story the father waits and watches eagerly for his son’s return. We see a progression through the three parables from the relationship of one in a hundred (Luke 15:1–7), to one in ten (Luke 15:8–10), to one in one (Luke 15:11–32), demonstrating God’s love for each individual and His personal attentiveness towards all humanity. We see in this story the graciousness of the father overshadowing the sinfulness of the son, as it is the memory of the father’s goodness that brings the prodigal son to repentance (Romans 2:4).

We will begin unfolding the meaning of this parable at verse 12, in which the younger son asks his father for his share of his estate, which would have been half of what his older brother would receive; in other words, 1/3 for the younger, 2/3 for the older (Deuteronomy 21:17). Though it was perfectly within his rights to ask, it was not a loving thing to do, as it implied that he wished his father dead. Instead of rebuking his son, the father patiently grants him his request. This is a picture of God letting a sinner go his own way (Deuteronomy 30:19). We all possess this foolish ambition to be independent, which is at the root of the sinner persisting in his sin (Genesis 3:6; Romans 1:28). A sinful state is a departure and distance from God (Romans 1:21). A sinful state is also a state of constant discontent. Luke 12:15 says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” This son learned the hard way that covetousness leads to a life of dissatisfaction and disappointment. He also learned that the most valuable things in life are the things you cannot buy or replace.

In verse 13 we read that he travels to a distant country. It is evident from his previous actions that he had already made that journey in his heart, and the physical departure was a display of his willful disobedience to all the goodness his father had offered (Proverbs 27:19; Matthew 6:21; 12:34). In the process, he squanders all his father had worked so hard for on selfish, shallow fulfillment, losing everything. His financial disaster is followed by a natural disaster in the form of a famine, which he failed to plan for (Genesis 41:33–36). At this point he sells himself into physical slavery to a Gentile and finds himself feeding pigs, a detestable job to the Jewish people (Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:8; Isaiah 65:4; 66:17). Needless to say, he must have been incredibly desperate at that point to willingly enter into such a loathsome position. And what an irony that his choices led him to a position in which he had no choice but to work, and for a stranger at that, doing the very things he refused to do for his father. To top it off, he apparently was paid so little that he longed to eat the pig’s food. Just when he must have thought life could not get any worse, he couldn’t even find mercy among the people. Apparently, once his wealth was gone, so were his friends. The text clearly says, “No one gave him anything” (vs. 16). Even these unclean animals seemed to be better off than he was at this point. This is a picture of the state of the lost sinner or a rebellious Christian who has returned to a life of slavery to sin (2 Peter 2:19–21). It is a picture of what sin really does in a person’s life when he rejects the Father’s will (Hebrews 12:1; Acts 8:23). “Sin always promises more than it gives, takes you further than you wanted to go, and leaves you worse off than you were before.” Sin promises freedom but brings slavery (John 6:23).

The son begins to reflect on his condition and realizes that even his father’s servants had it better than he. His painful circumstances help him to see his father in a new light and bring him hope (Psalm 147:11; Isaiah 40:30–31; Romans 8:24–25; 1 Timothy 4:10). This is reflective of the sinner when he/she discovers the destitute condition of his life because of sin. It is a realization that, apart from God, there is no hope (Ephesians 2:12; 2 Timothy 2:25–26). This is when a repentant sinner “comes to his senses” and longs to return to the state of fellowship with God which was lost when Adam sinned (Genesis 3:8). The son devises a plan of action. Though at a quick glance it may seem that he may not be truly repentant, but rather motivated by his hunger, a more thorough study of the text gives new insights. He is willing to give up his rights as his father’s son and take on the position of his servant. We can only speculate on this point, but he may even have been willing to repay what he had lost (Luke 19:8; Leviticus 6:4–5). Regardless of the motivation, it demonstrates a true humility and true repentance, not based on what he said but on what he was willing to do and eventually acted upon (Acts 26:20). He realizes he had no right to claim a blessing upon return to his father’s household, nor does he have anything to offer, except a life of service, in repentance of his previous actions. With that, he is prepared to fall at his father’s feet and hope for forgiveness and mercy. This is exactly what conversion is all about: ending a life of slavery to sin through confession to the Father and faith in Jesus Christ and becoming a slave to righteousness, offering one’s body as a living sacrifice (1 John 1:9; Romans 6:6–18; 12:1).

Jesus portrays the father as waiting for his son, perhaps daily searching the distant road, hoping for his appearance. The father notices him while he was still a long way off. The father’s compassion assumes some knowledge of the son’s pitiful state, possibly from reports sent home. During that time it was not the custom of men to run, yet the father runs to greet his son (vs.20). Why would he break convention for this wayward child who had sinned against him? The obvious answer is because he loved him and was eager to show him that love and restore the relationship. When the father reaches his son, not only does he throw his arms around him, but he also greets him with a kiss of love (1 Peter 5:14). He is so filled with joy at his son’s return that he doesn’t even let him finish his confession. Nor does he question or lecture him; instead, he unconditionally forgives him and accepts him back into fellowship. The father running to his son, greeting him with a kiss and ordering the celebration is a picture of how our Heavenly Father feels towards sinners who repent. God greatly loves us, patiently waits for us to repent so he can show us His great mercy, because he does not want any to perish nor escape as though by the fire (Ephesians 2:1–10; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Corinthians 3:15).

This prodigal son was satisfied to return home as a slave, but to his surprise and delight is restored back into the full privilege of being his father’s son. He had been transformed from a state of destitution to complete restoration. That is what God’s grace does for a penitent sinner (Psalm 40:2; 103:4). Not only are we forgiven, but we receive a spirit of sonship as His children, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, of His incomparable riches (Romans 8:16–17; Ephesians 1:18–19). The father then orders the servants to bring the best robe, no doubt one of his own (a sign of dignity and honor, proof of the prodigal’s acceptance back into the family), a ring for the son’s hand (a sign of authority and sonship) and sandals for his feet (a sign of not being a servant, as servants did not wear shoes—or, for that matter, rings or expensive clothing, vs.22). All these things represent what we receive in Christ upon salvation: the robe of the Redeemer’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), the privilege of partaking of the Spirit of adoption (Ephesians 1:5), and feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, prepared to walk in the ways of holiness (Ephesians 6:15). A fattened calf is prepared, and a party is held (notice that blood was shed = atonement for sin, Hebrews 9:22). Fatted calves in those times were saved for special occasions such as the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26–32). This was not just any party; it was a rare and complete celebration. Had the boy been dealt with according to the Law, there would have been a funeral, not a celebration. “The Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:10–13). Instead of condemnation, there is rejoicing for a son who had been dead but now is alive, who once was lost but now is found (Romans 8:1; John 5:24). Note the parallel between “dead” and “alive” and “lost” and “found”—terms that also apply to one’s state before and after conversion to Christ (Ephesians 2:1–5). This is a picture of what occurs in heaven over one repentant sinner (Luke 15:7, 10).

Now to the final and tragic character in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the oldest son, who, once again, illustrates the Pharisees and the scribes. Outwardly they lived blameless lives, but inwardly their attitudes were abominable (Matthew 23:25–28). This was true of the older son who worked hard, obeyed his father, and brought no disgrace to his family or townspeople. It is obvious by his words and actions, upon his brothers return, that he is not showing love for his father or brother. One of the duties of the eldest son would have included reconciliation between the father and his son. He would have been the host at the feast to celebrate his brother’s return. Yet he remains in the field instead of in the house where he should have been. This act alone would have brought public disgrace upon the father. Still, the father, with great patience, goes to his angry and hurting son. He does not rebuke him as his actions and disrespectful address of his father warrant (vs.29, “Look,” he says, instead of addressing him as “father” or “my lord”), nor does his compassion cease as he listens to his complaints and criticisms. The boy appeals to his father’s righteousness by proudly proclaiming his own self-righteousness in comparison to his brother’s sinfulness (Matthew 7:3–5). By saying, “This son of yours,” the older brother avoids acknowledging that the prodigal is his own brother (vs. 30). Just like the Pharisees, the older brother was defining sin by outward actions, not inward attitudes (Luke 18:9–14). In essence, the older brother is saying that he was the one worthy of the celebration, and his father had been ungrateful for all his work. Now the one who had squandered his wealth was getting what he, the older son, deserved. The father tenderly addresses his oldest as “my son” (vs. 31) and corrects the error in his thinking by referring to the prodigal son as “this brother of yours” (vs. 32). The father’s response, “We had to celebrate,” suggests that the elder brother should have joined in the celebration, as there seems to be a sense of urgency in not postponing the celebration of the brother’s return.

The older brother’s focus was on himself, and as a result there is no joy in his brother’s arrival home. He is so consumed with issues of justice and equity that he fails to see the value of his brother’s repentance and return. He fails to realize that “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him” (1 John 2:9–11). The older brother allows anger to take root in his heart to the point that he is unable to show compassion towards his brother, and, for that matter he is unable to forgive the perceived sin of his father against him (Genesis 4:5–8). He prefers to nurse his anger rather than enjoy fellowship with his father, brother and the community. He chooses suffering and isolation over restoration and reconciliation (Matthew 5:24, 6:14–15). He sees his brother’s return as a threat to his own inheritance. After all, why should he have to share his portion with a brother who has squandered his? And why hadn’t his father rejoiced in his presence through his faithful years of service?

The wise father seeks to bring restoration by pointing out that all he has is and has always been available for the asking to his obedient son, as it was his portion of the inheritance since the time of the allotment. The older son never utilized the blessings at his disposal (Galatians 5:22; 2 Peter 1:5–8). This is similar to the Pharisees with their religion of good works. They hoped to earn blessings from God and in their obedience merit eternal life (Romans 9:31–33; 10:3). They failed to understand the grace of God and failed to comprehend the meaning of forgiveness. It was, therefore, not what they did that became a stumbling block to their growth but rather what they did not do which alienated them from God (Matthew 23:23–24, Romans 10:4). They were irate when Jesus was receiving and forgiving “unholy” people, failing to see their own need for a Savior. We do not know how this story ended for the oldest son, but we do know that the Pharisees continued to oppose Jesus and separate themselves from His followers. Despite the father’s pleading for them to “come in,” they refused and were the ones who instigated the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:59). A tragic ending to a story filled with such hope, mercy, joy, and forgiveness.

The picture of the father receiving the son back into relationship is a picture of how we should respond to repentant sinners as well (1 John 4:20–21; Luke 17:3; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19–20). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are included in that “all,” and we must remember that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” apart from Christ (Isaiah 64:6; John 15:1–6). It is only by God’s grace that we are saved, not by works that we may boast of (Ephesians 2:9; Romans 9:16; Psalm 51:5). That is the core message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15–24)?

The Parable of the Great Banquet is found in Luke 14:15–24. It is similar to the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1–14), but with some significant differences. The story in Luke’s Gospel was told at a dinner that Jesus attended. Jesus had just healed a man with dropsy and taught a brief lesson on serving others. Jesus then says that those who serve others “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14). At the mention of the resurrection, someone at the table with Jesus said, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (verse 15). In reply, Jesus tells the Parable of the Great Banquet.

In the parable, a man planned a large banquet and sent out invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to contact each of the invited guests, telling them that all was ready and the meal was about to start (verses 16–17). One after another, the guests made excuses for not coming. One had just bought a piece of land and said he had to go see it (verse 18). Another had purchased some oxen and said he was on the way to yoke them up and try them out (verse 19). Another gave the excuse that he was newly married and therefore could not come (verse 20).

When the master of the house heard these flimsy excuses, he was angry. He told his servant to forget the guest list and go into the back streets and alleyways of the town and invite “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (verse 21). The servant had already brought in the down-and-out townspeople, and still there was room in the banquet hall. So the master sent his servant on a broader search: “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full” (verses 22–23).

Jesus ends the parable by relating the master’s determination that “not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet” (verse 24).

The statement that prompted the parable is key. The man who, in verse 15, looks forward to dining in the Messianic kingdom probably subscribed to the popular notion that only Jews would be part of that kingdom. The parable Jesus tells is aimed at debunking that notion, as the following explanation makes clear:

The master of the house is God, and the great banquet is the kingdom, a metaphor that was suggested by the speaker at the table. The invited guests picture the Jewish nation. The kingdom was prepared for them, but when Jesus came preaching that “the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17), He was rejected. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).

The excuses for skipping the banquet are laughably bad. No one buys land without seeing it first, and the same can be said for buying oxen. And what, exactly, would keep a newly married couple from attending a social event? All three excuses in the parable reveal insincerity on the part of those invited. The interpretation is that the Jews of Jesus’ day had no valid excuse for spurning Jesus’ message; in fact, they had every reason to accept Him as their Messiah.

The detail that the invitation is opened up to society’s maimed and downtrodden is important. These were the types of people that the Pharisees considered “unclean” and under God’s curse (cf. John 9:1–2, 34). Jesus, however, taught that the kingdom was available even to those considered “unclean” (cf. Acts 10). His involvement with tax collectors and sinners brought condemnation from the Pharisees, yet it showed the extent of God’s grace (Matthew 9:10–11). The fact that the master in the parable sends the servant far afield to persuade everyone to come indicates that the offer of salvation would be extended to the Gentiles and “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” (Romans 15:10).

The master is not satisfied with a partially full banquet hall; he wants every place at the table to be filled. John MacArthur’s comment on this fact is that “God is more willing to save sinners than sinners are to be saved.”

Those who ignored the invitation to the banquet chose their own punishment—they missed out. The master respects their choice by making it permanent: they would not “taste of my banquet.” So it will be with God’s judgment on those who choose to reject Christ: they will have their choice confirmed, and they will never taste the joys of heaven.

The basic message of the Parable of the Great Banquet could be stated this way: “The tragedy of the Jewish rejection of Christ has opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles. The blessings of the kingdom are available to all who will come to Christ by faith.”

The inclusion of the Gentiles is a fulfillment of Hosea 2:23, “I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ” God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), and “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26–29)?

The first thing we notice about this parable is its similarity to the Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:2–9. In some ways, this parable expands on Jesus’ teaching of how the “good soil” (a receptive heart) receives the “seed” (the Word of God).

In the Parable of the Growing Seed, Jesus tells of a man who scatters seed on the ground and then allows nature to take its course. As the man who sowed the seed goes about his business day by day, the seed begins to have an effect. First, the seed sprouts; then it produces a stalk and leaves, then a head of grain, and, finally, fully developed kernels in the head. Jesus emphasizes that all of this happens without the man’s help. The man who scattered the seed cannot even fully understand how it happens—it is simply the work of nature. “All by itself the soil produces” (verse 28).

The parable ends with a harvest. As soon as the grain is ripe, the sickle is employed, and the seed is harvested. This happens at just the right time.

Jesus did not explain this parable, as He did some others. Instead, He left it to us to understand its meaning. Taking the seed to be the Word of God, as in Mark 4:14, we can interpret the growth of the plants as the working of God’s Word in individual hearts. The fact that the crop grows without the farmer’s intervention means that can God accomplish His purposes even when we are absent or unaware of what He’s doing. The goal is the ripened grain. At the proper time, the Word will bring forth its fruit, and the Lord of the harvest (Luke 10:2) will be glorified.

The truth of this parable is well illustrated in the growth of the early church: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Just like a farmer cannot force a crop to grow, an evangelist cannot force spiritual life or growth on others.

To summarize the point of the Parable of the Growing Seed: “The way God uses His Word in the heart of an individual is mysterious and completely independent of human effort.” May we be faithful in “sowing the seed,” praying for a harvest, and leaving the results to the Lord![1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Dragnet?

Jesus tells the Parable of the Dragnet, or the Parable of the Various Kinds of Fish, in Matthew 13:47–50. Jesus prefaces the parable by saying it illustrates an aspect of the kingdom of heaven. The story concerns fishermen using a dragnet, a weighted net dragged along the bottom of a body of water to collect an assortment of fish.

In the parable, the dragnet is cast into the sea and pulled onto shore full of all kinds of fish. Then the fishermen sat down to the business of sorting the fish into the “good” and the “bad.” The fish worth keeping were gathered into containers, but the rest were tossed away.

Jesus then interprets the parable for His disciples: “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verses 49–50).

This parable is similar to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:36–43). Both parables concern an end-times sorting, aided by angels, when believers will be separated from unbelievers once and for all.

Just as the net was cast into the sea drawing many fish, the gospel message is spread into the world, drawing many people to it. Just as the net gathered all types of fish, regardless of their value, so the gospel attracts many people who neither repent nor desire to follow Christ. Just as the fish could not be sorted until the net was pulled ashore, so false believers masquerading as true Christians will not be made known until the end of the age.

These “bad fish,” or false believers, can be likened to the rocky soil and thorny soil in Matthew 13:5–7 and to the tares in verse 40. They claim to have a relationship with Jesus, saying “Lord, Lord” (Matthew 7:22), and Jesus’ reply will be “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (verse 23).

The sobering main point of the parable can be stated thus: “A day of reckoning will come in which God will separate the true believers from mere pretenders, and those found to be false will be cast into hell.”[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Leaven?

Jesus’ Parable of the Leaven is found in two of the Gospels. It is a very simple story—a snapshot of life, really: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matthew 13:33; cf. Luke 13:20–21).

Jesus uses this story as an object lesson to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. A woman takes yeast (leaven) and mixes it into dough. Eventually, the whole of the dough is leavened. What does it mean?

First, it’s important to define “kingdom of heaven.” By this, Jesus is referring to His domain as the Messiah. In the current age, the kingdom of heaven is spiritual, existing within the hearts of believers (Luke 17:21). Later, the kingdom will be manifest physically, when the Lord Jesus establishes His throne on this earth (Revelation 11:15).

In the Parable of the Leaven, we learn several things about the working of the kingdom in our present age. Each of these lessons stems from the nature of yeast.

First, the kingdom of God may have small beginnings, but it will increase. Yeast is microscopic in size, and only a little is kneaded into the dough. Yet, given time, the yeast will spread through all the dough. In the same way, Jesus’ domain started with twelve men in an obscure corner of Galilee, but it has spread throughout the world. The gospel makes progress.

Second, the kingdom of God exerts its influence from within, not from without. Yeast makes dough rise from within. God first changes the heart of a person, and that internal change has external manifestations. The gospel influence in a culture works the same way: Christians within a culture act as agents of change, slowly transforming that culture from within.

Third, the effect of the kingdom of God will be comprehensive. Just as yeast works until the dough has completely risen, the ultimate benefit of the kingdom of God will be worldwide (Psalm 72:19; Daniel 2:35). “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

Fourth, although the kingdom of God works invisibly, its effect is evident to all. Yeast does its job slowly, secretly and silently, but no one can deny its effect on bread. The same is true of the work of grace in our hearts.

The nature of yeast is to grow and to change whatever it contacts. When we accept Christ, His grace grows in our hearts and changes us from the inside out. As the gospel transforms lives, it exerts a pervasive influence in the world at large. As we “reflect the Lord’s glory, [we] are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Parables: What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1–13)?

The Parable of the Unjust Steward can be found in Luke 16:1–13. The text can be broken down into two parts: The Parable (verses 1–8) and the application (verses 9–13). Luke 16:1 identifies that Jesus is speaking to His disciples, but there is a suggestion that His audience is mixed—disciples and Pharisees. Luke 16:14 states that the Pharisees “heard all these things and ridiculed [Jesus].” We also see in verse 1 that Jesus “also” said to the disciples; the “also” would suggest that this parable is connected to the previous three in Luke 15, and that audience was a mixed crowd of disciples and Pharisees.

It is important to know to whom Jesus is addressing this parable. The parable is for the benefit of the disciples, but there is also a not-so-subtle critique of the Pharisees, as was evident in Luke 15. Verse 14 is Luke’s commentary on the motivation of the Pharisees and in verse 15 we see our Lord condemn their motives. And what was the Pharisees’ motivation? They were those who were “lovers of money” and who “justify themselves before men” and exalted that which was an “abomination before God.”

With that as a backdrop, let’s look at the parable. It’s a fairly simple, if somewhat unorthodox, parable from Jesus. The story is simple, but the setting is unusual. In most of Jesus’ parables, the main protagonist is either representative of God, Christ, or some other positive character. In this parable, the characters are all wicked—the steward and the man whose possessions he manages are both unsavory characters. This should alert us to the fact that Jesus is not exhorting us to emulate the behavior of the characters, but is trying to expound on a larger principle.

The parable begins with a rich man calling his steward before him to inform him that he will be relieving him of his duties for mismanaging his master’s resources. A steward is a person who manages the resources of another. The steward had authority over all of the master’s resources and could transact business in his name. This requires the utmost level of trust in the steward. Now, it may not be apparent at this point in the parable (but is made more evident later on) but the master is probably not aware of steward’s dishonesty. The steward is being released for apparent mismanagement, not fraud. This explains why he is able to conduct a few more transactions before he is released and why he is not immediately tossed out on the street or executed.

The steward, realizing that he will soon be without a job, makes some shrewd deals behind his master’s back by reducing the debt owed by several of the master’s debtors in exchange for shelter when he is eventually put out. When the master becomes aware of what the wicked servant had done, he commends him for his “shrewdness”.

In His application of the story in the remaining verses, Jesus begins by saying, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Jesus is drawing a contrast between the “sons of the world” (i.e., unbelievers) and the “sons of light” (believers). Unbelievers are wiser in the things of this world than believers are about the things of the world to come. The unjust steward, once he knew he was about to be put out, maneuvered to put others’ debt to himself. He did so by cheating his master (who more than likely was cheating his customers). He made friends of his master’s debtors who would then be obligated to care for him once he lost his job.

What does this have to do with believers being wise about the life to come? Let’s look at verse 9: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Jesus is encouraging his followers to be generous with their wealth in this life so that in the life to come their new friends will receive them “into eternal dwellings.” This is similar to Jesus’ teaching on wealth in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus exhorts his followers to lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21).

The term “unrighteous (or worldly) wealth” seems to strike readers the wrong way. But Jesus is not saying that believers should gain wealth unrighteously and then be generous with it. “Unrighteous” in reference to wealth can refer to: 1) the means in acquiring wealth; 2) the way in which one desires to use the wealth; or 3) the corrupting influence wealth can have that often leads people to commit unrighteous acts. Given the way in which Jesus employs the term, the third explanation seems the most likely. Wealth is not inherently evil, but the love of money can lead to all sorts of sin (1 Timothy 6:10).

So the principle that Jesus is trying to convey is one of a just steward rather than an unjust one. The unjust steward saw his master’s resources as a means for his own personal enjoyment and advancement. Conversely, Jesus wants His followers to be just, righteous stewards. If we understand the principle that everything we own is a gift from God, then we realize that God is the owner of everything and that we are His stewards. As such, we are to use the Master’s resources to further the Master’s goals. In this specific case, we are to be generous with our wealth and use it for the benefit of others.

Jesus then goes on to expand in verses 10–13 the principle given in v. 9. If one is faithful in “little” (i.e., ‘unrighteous’ wealth), then one will be faithful in much. Similarly, if one is dishonest in little, he will also be dishonest in much. If we can’t be faithful with earthly wealth, which isn’t even ours to begin with, then how can we be entrusted with “true riches?” The true riches here is referring to stewardship and responsibility in God’s kingdom along with all the accompanying heavenly rewards.

The climax of Jesus’ application is v. 13: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). If God is our Master, then our wealth will be at His disposal. In other words, the faithful and just steward whose Master is God will employ that wealth in building up the kingdom of God.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.