Purpose of the Parables (Matthew 13:10-17)
Purpose of the Parables (Matthew 13:10-17)
The parables of Matthew 13 are commonly referred to as “The Parables of the Kingdom.” Matthew often refers to the kingdom of heaven, while Luke and Mark often use the phrase kingdom of God. Jesus used the terms interchangeably. The coming of this kingdom was the great expectation of God’s people throughout the Old Testament, when their enemies would be defeated, they would dwell securely in the land, and a righteous king would be seated on the throne. The New Testament makes clear that in one sense, this promised kingdom came with the coming of Jesus Christ, but not as the Jewish people were expecting. Therefore, Jesus refers to the kingdom as a mystery (v. 11), meaning that its true nature was hidden in the past, but now has been revealed in Christ to those who have eyes to see.
To explain these mysteries in Matthew 13, Jesus uses parables, which raises a question in the minds of the disciples. Why has Jesus now chosen to use parables as his primary means of teaching (v. 10)? In fact, Jesus is now using parables exclusively, and—as in the case of the parable of the sower (vv3-8)—he isn’t even giving an explanation to the crowds as to what the parables mean. Why is Jesus speaking in a way that seems to be deliberately less clear than the way he previously spoke? Why this sudden shift in teaching technique in Matthew 13? Jesus gives two reasons:
Two Kinds of People (v. 11)
Among the crowd, there are those that have been granted a knowledge of the kingdom, and those that have not been granted that knowledge (v. 11). While Matthew tells us that Jesus is speaking to the “disciples” here, Mark makes clear in his account of the same event that in addition to Jesus’ disciples, there were also other “followers” (Mark 4:10). To the disciples and to those that have begun to follow Him, it has been granted to understand that He is the king and that He came to establish the kingdom. But to many in the crowd, this knowledge had not been granted.
It isn’t that the crowd would have like to have known about the kingdom, and would have known had they been given sufficient revelation—not at all! They had seen many of the same things the disciples had seen: they had witnessed the miracles and the signs; they had heard Jesus’ teaching; they had looked directly into the face of the Messiah. And yet, they had determined that Jesus was not the kind of king they wanted, and His kingdom was not the kind of kingdom they were looking for. Their ignorance of the kingdom was owed to their own sinful rejection of the One God sent. As Jesus says in John 3:19: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” They didn’t have a knowledge of the kingdom because they didn’t want it, proving true the words of Jesus in John 3:3: “Unless one is born again, He cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Two Distinct Purposes (vv. 12-17)
In light of these two kinds of people—those who have received the kingdom and those who have rejected it—Jesus says that the parables have two distinct purposes. On the one hand, they will serve to add an even greater understanding of the kingdom to those who have the basic knowledge and acceptance of the truth. On the other hand, they will serve to further conceal truth from those who have rejected the truth they had already been exposed to. If the Jewish people were going to continue to reject the king and the message of the kingdom, then any further opportunity for them to know or understand would now be kept from them, so that even the revelation they had previously been given will be taken away. But for the disciples, who were believing and following the truth that had been given them, they would be given more and more truth until they have in abundance.
- The lesson of this passage for us should be that we ought to live on the light we’ve been given, lest even the light we have been given be turned off entirely. If there is any inclination toward repentance, if there is any desire to seek Christ, if there is any understanding of your need for Christ, then act on it. The promise is that as you do, even more will be given you until the Lord causes you to have an abundance. The warning is that if you harden your heart and ignore what God is impressing on your heart through His word, there may very well be no opportunity later on.