A STUDY IN HOW TO INTERPRET THE PARABLES OF JESUS CHRIST
I am certain that the reader needs no illustration to prove just how varied are the interpretations of the parables of Jesus Christ, so I will not belabor the point. This paper, as the title suggests, is not primarily to offer yet another interpretation, although it will do that. But I offer this paper with the prayer that the reader will have a better understanding of how we should approach the interpretation of the parables.
In my opinion, one of the reasons, if not the main reason, there are so many interpretations and approaches to the parables of our Lord is because most approach them beginning with the New Testament. But the parables were spoken to those who were very familiar with the Old Testament. They would, therefore, have a certain mind set on how to interpret the parables taken from the parables of the Old Testament. I believe that it would be very helpful to familiarize ourselves with the Old Testament parables in order that we come to the New Testament with the same (or as close to the same as possible) mind set as those to whom the parables of our Lord were first given. I believe that if we do that, we would have a much better grasp as to how to approach the New Testament parables.
Towards that end we will discuss the following:
THE HEBREW WORD TRANSLATED “PARABLE”
A STUDY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT PARABLES
A STUDY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT PARABLES
THE HEBREW WORD TRANSLATED “PARABLE”
The Hebrew word translated “parable” is “mahshah”. It is used in the Old Testament 40 times. It is translated “proverb” 21 times, “parable” 17 times, and “like” and “byword” one time each.
Because in the majority of times it is used “mahshah” is translated “proverb”, let us begin our study of the word with a study of the proverbs of Solomon. We read in Proverbs 1:2-5 the reason that Solomon has compiled these proverbs. “To know wisdom and instruction; To perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity: To give subtlety to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels”. It is important to note that the proverbs are to be understood, and are to give the wise increased knowledge and to the young knowledge and discretion. In other words, we may expect to see the very simple proverb as well as the more profound proverb, the former for the young and the later for the older. And, as we shall see as we continue in this study, the same is true of the parables of the New Testament. That is to say, some of the parables are quite clear and easily understood , and others are not so clear and not so easy to understand.
Let us consider a few examples of the simple proverb and an example of the more profound proverb. Most of the easily understood proverbs are found in the book of Proverbs. For example we read in Prov. 3:12, “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments. For length of days, and long life, and peace shall they add to thee”. I’m sure the reader will agree, there is nothing difficult to understand or hidden in this proverb. Let me offer just a few more from this same context. Verses 3-4 read, “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart; so shall thee find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man”. One more proverb should suffice to make the point that some proverbs are perfectly understandable and have no hidden meanings. Consider verses 5-6 of this same chapter, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths”. That is so straight forward that most young people have memorized it (of course living by it is another matter).
But, not all proverbs are simple and straightforward. We read in Is. 14:4, “That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say……”. What follows is a narrative about Lucifer. Note for example verses 13-14, “For thou hast said in thine heart, ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High”. In this passage we have the “king of Babylon” used as a metaphor for Lucifer. This is not a simple straight forward parable, it requires some knowledge of God’s Word for a correct understanding.
What we have learned thus far is that some proverbs are easily understood and some are not. How can we be sure that we are not overlooking some hidden gem as we read a simple proverb? I would suggest that the first question one must ask of themselves is, “What is the point of this proverb?” Once one understands the point, then one may look at the proverb again and see if there is something that might be hidden, that enhances the point. Let’s use the proverbs we have discussed above as an example.
Prov. 3:12, “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments. For length of days, and long life, and peace shall they add to thee”. What is the point of this proverb? The point is that if one obeys God’s commandments from the heart he will have a long and peaceful life. That is exactly what it says, and that is exactly what it means. There is nothing hidden in that.
Now let’s consider Is 14. What is the point of this proverb? I believe the point is that even though one may have been great and powerful, as is explained in this proverb, he will be brought low if he attempts to exalt himself. As soon as anyone reading Isaiah sees the phrase, “I will be like the Most High” they would know that there is something hidden in this proverb, i.e. that the “king of Babylon” is a metaphor. That phrase should bring to mind Dan. 11:36. It is exceedingly clear that the context of this passage refers to the antichrist in the time of the end. That verse reads, “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every God, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished…..”. By comparing Scripture with Scripture we have found that the king of Babylon is a metaphor for Lucifer and his representative, the antichrist.
So we have learned the following things that I believe will help us to understand how to approach the parables of the Old and New Testaments. 1) Some are straight forward and the point of the parable will not be enhanced by looking for something”hidden. 2) Some do have a hidden truth, and for that truth to be uncovered, we must compare scripture with scripture.
As stated above, the Hebrew word translated “proverb” is the same word that is translated “parable”. That being the case, we should expect to find the same characteristics in a parable as we found in a proverb. And that is exactly what we do find. We find that there are parables that are very easily understood and some that are more profound.
An example of an easily understood parable is found in Hab. 2:2-5, “Then the Lord replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that the herald may run with it. …….See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright………..he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples. Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule (parable, as it is in the KJV) saying, Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on? will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will not they wake up and make you tremble? then you will become their victim. Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you, for you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them”
Note that the point of this parable was to be made plain, i.e. easy to understand. The parable is against the wicked saying that the people will turn on them and they will be destroyed. Because the point is so very clear, we may conclude that there are no hidden truths in it. That is to say, we may be led to error by “finding” things that are not meant by the Author. The Holy Spirit has made the point very obvious. Any further or hidden meanings would only take away from the point as it is presented, and may lead us to error.
But, like the proverbs there are also some parables that are more profound. We read in Ps. 78:2, “I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter dark sayings of old”. The Hebrew word translated “dark” is usually translated “riddle”. This shows that this parable is not understood without looking more deeply into it. This is proved in Scripture as we consider Numbers 12:6-8, “And He (the Lord) said, ‘Hear now My words; If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?'”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word “apparently” is, “apparently=plainly”. The contrast is clear, God will speak with Moses plainly, not in dark speeches. That makes dark speeches something other than plain.
Because “proverb” and “parable” are translations of the same Hebrew word, and because we have already considered a profound proverb in Is. 14, we may conclude that some proverbs and some parables are plain and easily understood, and some are not. With that understanding we may continue in our study with a study of the Old Testament parables. My aim is to acquaint the reader with the mind set of those to whom the New Testament parables were given, so that the reader may approach them with the same mind set, or at least as close to it as possible.
THE PARABLES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
THE PARABLES OF BALAAM
The first parables recorded in the Word of God are found in Numbers, chapters 23 and 24. Let us set the stage, so to speak, so that we may understand why these parables were given and what is the point of each.
We read in Num. 22:2-3 that the Israelites had conquered the Amorites and Balak, king of Moab was “filled with dread because of the Israelites”. So Balak “sent messengers to summon Balaam”, a Hebrew prophet, to ask him to “put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me” (Num. 22:6). Balaam refused to come to Balak, but Balak sent a more prestigious group with the same message. With the Lord’s approval Balaam did go to speak with Balak. We read in Num. 23:5 that the Lord gave Balaam a message to give to Balak, which brings us to our first recorded parable, where the word is translated “parable”.
Num. 23:7-11, “And he (Balaam) took up his parable, and said, ‘Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, ‘Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel’. How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? Or how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defiled? For from the top of the rocks I see him, And from the hills I behold him: Lo the People shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his’. And Balak said unto Balaam, ‘What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and behold, thou has blessed them altogether'”
I trust the reader will agree that there is nothing hidden or “dark” in this parable. Note there are no metaphors either. The point is very clear, i.e. Balaam refused to curse Israel. Shall we look for a deeper meaning? Why should we? The point is perfectly clear and the message leads to the point. To look for a hidden meaning in this parable is not only unnecessary, it could lead to falsehood because it is not necessary. I am not suggesting that all parables are as this one, only that it is clear that the first parable recorded in God’s Word is clear and to the point. Let us continue with the other parables in this context.
Balak convinces Balaam to go to another place and ask the Lord again what he should do. Verses 18-26 records the second parable of the Old Testament.
“And he took up his parable, and said, ‘Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor; God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent; hath He said, and shall He not do it: Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless; and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob; neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel: The Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them, God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: According to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, what hath God wrought! Behold the people shall rise up as the great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion; he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain’. And Balak said unto Balaam, ‘Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all”.
This parable makes the same point as the first parable, i.e Balaam can not and will not curse Israel. But in this parable we do indeed see a figure of speech, i.e. a simile. Dr. Bullinger, in his Appendix number six of the Companion Bible defines a simile as “a declaration that one thing resembles another”. It is different than a metaphor because a metaphor represents something else, where a simile resembles another. The word “as” in the phrase “as the great lion” makes this a simile rather than a metaphor. In this case Israel is said to resemble a lion. How does Israel resemble a lion? That is answered in the immediate context. In so far as a young lion will not lie down until it has conquered its prey, so too will Israel not rest until it has conquered its enemies.
Once again Balak convinces Balaam to go to another place in hopes of having him curse Israel, and it is then that the third parable is recorded in Num. 24:9 with the point of the parable given in verse 10.
“And he took up his parable, and said, ‘Balam the son of Beor hath said’, ‘And the man whose eyes are open hath said; he hath said, which heard the words of God, Which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters, He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt; He hath as it were the strength of an unicorn; he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee‘. (Vs. 10, the point of the parable) And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he smote his hands together; and Balak said unto Balaam, ‘I called thee to curse mine enemies, and behold thou hast altogether blessed them these three times”.
There are several similes used in this parable. Israel is said to resemble valleys, gardens, and trees. How are we to interpret these figures of speech that tell us of Israel? We should interpret them in light of the point of the parable. Let us determine the point of the parable first. This parable is one of several, all having the same point, i.e. Balaam will not curse those whom God has blessed. In the words of Balaam, “Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee”. In relation to that point we read how God has blessed Israel and the figures of speech are used to enhance that blessedness.
Having the point of the parable firmly in mind, it is not at all difficult to interpret the figures of speech. God has blessed Israel and given Her peace as found in the simile of a garden by a river. The various trees also point to different characteristics of Israel, the cedar, for example speaks of Her strength. Note also that the simile of a unicorn is used. This also tells us of Israel’s strength, “the strength of an unicorn”. The simile of a lion makes the same point.
What can we learn from the interpretation of this parable in terms of how to interpret all the parables of the Bible? We have learned again, the point of a parable will determine the meaning of the figures of speech used to enhance that point.
We come now to the fourth parable. In verses 14-19 we read, “And now, behold, I (Balaam) go unto my people (Israel); come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this People shall do to thy People in the latter days. And he took up his parable, and said, ‘Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said; he hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: I shall see Him, but not now; I shall behold Him, but not nigh: There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth, and Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city.” (Numbers 24:14-19).
Obviously, there is in this parable a reference to the end times and the Messiah, Jesus Christ. But we know that, not from the context, but by comparing scripture with scripture. For example, when we read in the parable of the “Star out of Jacob”, we know that it refers to Christ because we read in II Peter 1:19 of the “day star”, Who, as that context shows, is obviously Christ. And when we read in the parable of the “Scepter” we know that that too is in reference to Christ because we read in Ps. 2 that Christ, as ruler of the nations will hold the Scepter.
What we learn about interpreting the parables from this one is that by comparing scripture with scripture, we may learn of the more profound truths given in the parables.
Let us continue with Num. 24:20-24, “And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable, and said. ‘Amalek was the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever’. And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable and said, ‘Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock, Nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted, until Asshur shall carry thee away captive’. And he took up his parable, and said, ‘Alas, who shall live when God doeth this! And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim. And shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever'”. This parable is again, quite easily understood.
So let us summarize what we may learn from the study of these first parables in terms of how they may help us to interpret the New Testament parables. We have learned, 1) Sometimes a parable is very easily understood and needs no explanation or further comment. 2) Sometimes figures of speech are used, but the interpretation of those figures are based on the point and context of the parable. 3) One needs to interpret parables by comparing scripture with scripture.
THE PARABLE OF THE TREES
The ninth chapter of Judges describes the episode in which Abimelech went to the citizens of Shechem wanting to be be made king over them. In securing this position, Abimelech and his followers put to death all of Abimelech’s brothers except one. His brother Jotham had hidden himself and was the only brother not killed.
We read in verses 8-15 the record of Jotham’s parable. “The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, ‘Reign thou over us.’ But the olive tree said unto them, ‘Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come thou, and reign over us’. But the fig tree said unto them, ‘Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?’ Then said the trees unto the vine, ‘Come thou, and reign over us.’ and the vine said unto them, ‘Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?’ Then said all the trees unto the bramble, ‘Come thou, and reign over us.’ And the bramble said unto the trees, ‘If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon'”.
Indeed, figuratively speaking, the “cedars of Lebanon” were devoured as we read in verse 23, “Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech. And in verse 27 we read that they “cursed Abimelech”.
Every parable in the Bible has a specific point. Sometimes the point is given in the context and sometimes, especially when the point is quite obvious, the point is not expressly given, but is understood. Also, in some parables each item of the parable represents some thing or some one. But where the point is made without each item representing some one or some thing, some items do not represent anything or anyone.
Having said that, let us consider the context of this parable in order to determine what the point of the parable is. In my opinion, the point is quite obvious. The olive tree, the fig tree, the vine and the bramble represent a steady regression of grandness as each was asked to reign. Obviously, the bramble represents Abimelech, as it was he the men of Shechem made king over them. But it is not, in my opinion, necessary for the olive tree, or the fig tree or the vine to represent any thing in particular. Again the point of the parable is the regression from one to the other till they came to the weakest, i.e. the bramble.
We read in Ps. 78:2, “I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter dark sayings of old”. This tells us that this parable is one to which the reader must give special attention as the phrase “dark sayings” tells us that unlike the first parables of Balaam, the point is not obvious. Let us consider this parable.
Basically, it is a re-counting of how God has blessed Israel, and how they in turn had turned their backs on Him. The question is then, what is the point of this “dark saying”, and what can we learn of how to interpret “dark sayings”? I will not quote the entire Psalm, but I do believe that as we consider a few key verses, the point of this “dark saying” will become evident.
Verse 12, “Marvelous things did He in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan”. Verses 12-16 tell of some of those “marvelous things”. But we read in verse 17, “And they sinned yet more against Him by provoking the Most High in the wilderness”. In verse 21 we read of the consequences of their provocations, “Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel”.
Verses 23-31 tell of how the Lord took care of Israel as they wandered in the dessert. Then in verse 32 we read, “For all this they sinned still, and believed not for His wondrous works“.
The pattern of God’s goodness and Israel’s rejection of Him continues as we read in verse 34b, “And they returned and inquired early after God”. But verse 37 tells us, “For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant”. And then in verse 38 we read once again of God’s goodness, “But He being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not….”.
Verses 40-42 again recounts how Israel forgot the goodness of God in the wilderness. And in verses 43-55 we read again of God’s care of Israel, and in verse 56, “Yet they tempted and provoked the Most High God, and kept not His testimonies”. And in verse 59-60 we read again of God’s wrath “so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men”.
But the Psalm ends on a very positive note. “And He built His sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which He hath established for ever. He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: from following the ewes great with young He brought him to feed Jacob His people and Israel His inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands” (Ps. 78:69-72).
What is the point of this Psalm/parable? I think the most obvious point is that despite the fact that Israel had provoked God over and over again, He “remembered that they were but flesh” (verse 39) and forgave them. But does that point constitute a “dark saying”, i.e. one that is not easily understood? I believe that when we consider that this parable recounts the history of Israel from the point of view of actions and consequences, it does constitute a dark saying. That is to say, it is one thing for Israelites to know their history, but what this passage says in effect is that Israel has a tendency to forsake God, but He will not be angry with them forever. This is a lesson of which we in the 21st century are quite aware, but this parable was one of the first, if not the first, recounting of Israel’s history with that lesson in mind.
What can we learn from this parable in terms of how to interpret the parables of the New Testament? I believe that we should be aware of the fact that even though this is called a “dark saying”, it is nevertheless devoid of metaphors. Therefore, even though this parable may take some prayerful thought, it does not have a hidden meaning, (hidden in metaphors), it is given to be understood by any who read it with an open mind and an open heart. So “dark sayings” are not always hidden sayings, just those that require heartfelt study.
PROVERBS 26:7& 9
We have in these verses two parables. Proverbs 26:7, “the legs of the lame are not equal: So is a parable in the mouth of fools”. The point of the parable is obviously that it is clear when a parable is spoken by a fool. If we go from the obvious point to the preceding phrase, that phrase will become clear. The point of that phrase is that it is perfectly obvious when a lamb is lame from that fact of the legs being unequal. And so too is it obvious when a parable is spoken by a fool.
Verse 9 reads, “As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools”. Again, If we go from the obvious point to the preceding phrase, that phrase will become clear. The point of the parable is that the drunkard does not know when a thorn goes up into the hand, and the fool does not know that he does not understand a parable.
What we can learn from these two parables in terms of how to interpret New Testament parables is that the point of the parable may help determine the meaning of the phrase(s) that surround it, and visa versa
Chapter 17 of Ezekiel gives us a parable. I believe a structure will be exceedingly helpful.
- The parable given (vs. 2-8).
- The point of the parable (vs. 9-10)
A1. The explanation of the parable and consequences of the events described by the parable (vs. 11-21)
B1. A millennial prophecy based on the parable
Let us now consider the specifics. We read in Ezek. 17:2-8 the giving of the parable, “Son of man, put forth a riddle, ( a “dark saying” as in Ps. 78:2), and speak a parable unto the house of Israel: and say, ‘Thus saith the Lord God; ‘A great eagle with great wings, longwinged, full of feathers. which had divers colours, came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar: he cropped off the top of his young twigs, and carried it into a land of traffick; he set it in a city of merchants. He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field; he placed it by great waters, and set it as a willow tree. And it grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature, whose branches turned toward him, and the roots thereof were under him: so it became a vine, and brought forth branches, and shot forth springs. There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers: and, behold, this vine did bend her roots toward him, that he might water it by the furrows of her plantation. It was planted in a good soil by great waters, that it might bring forth branches, and that it might bear fruit, that it might be a goodly vine”.
The explanation of the parable is given in verses 12-15, “Say now to the rebellious house, ‘Know ye not what these things mean? tell them, Behold, the King of Babylon is come to Jerusalem, and hath taken the king thereof, and the princes thereof, and led them with him to Babylon; and hath taken of the king’s seed (II Kings 24:7), and made a covenant with him, (II Chron. 36:13) and hath taken an oath of him; he hath also taken the mighty of the land; that the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand. But he rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people”.
I believe that if we consider the point of this parable, it will help us to determine some of the metaphors that are not explained. The point of the parable is given in verses 9-10, where we read, “Say thou, ‘Thus saith the Lord God; Shall it prosper? shall He not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof, that it wither? it shall wither in all the leaves of her spring, even without great power or many people to pluck it up by the roots thereof. Yea, behold being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east wind toucheth it? it shall wither in the furrows where it grew”. Obviously, the point is that “it” even though planted in a “fruitful place”, became weak and without power. Even while God allowed “the mighty of the land” to be carried away into captivity so “that the kingdom might be base”, He still desired that it should “stand”. But the mighty of the land rebelled and broke the oath they had taken, so God made them weak.
We know from the explanation that the first eagle mentioned represents the King of Babylon. We read also in the explanation that some of Israel “rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt”.
Having considered the explanation and the point of the parable, we are now ready to discuss some of the other metaphors, not explained.
The first eagle, i.e. the King of Babylon, as given in the explanation of the parable, had many colours, which makes him important (as Joseph’s coat of many colours made him more important than his brothers). In other words, the “many colors” made him a very important person, which of course, the King of Babylon was.
We read that “there was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers”. We are not told in the explanation who this second great eagle represented, but given that we are told in the explanation that some of Israel sent ambassadors to Egypt and that the first eagle was a great king, we may conclude that so too the second eagle was also a great king. Further, I believe that we may conclude that the second eagle represented the King of Egypt. It is worth noting that the second eagle, i.e. the King of Egypt, did not have many colors, as he was not as important as the King of Babylon.
What do the phrases, “land of traffic” and “set in a city of merchants” mean? The explanation of the parable tells us that these metaphors represent Babylon.
The “top of the young twigs” represented the king of Israel. How do we know that? We are told in the parable that the young twig was carried into “the land of traffick”, i.e. Babylon. We read in the explanation of the parable that the king of Israel was taken to Babylon.
Who is represented by the metaphor “seed of the land”? The explanation refers to the king’s seed and also to the mighty of the land. That shows that there is a difference in the two. Also, the explanation centers on the king’s seed and the mighty of the land, which also shows that there is a difference. But most importantly, we read of that seed, which grew into a vine. An understanding of what the vine represents will tell us what the “seed of the land” represents, as it is the seed of the land that grew into the vine.
Who does the vine represent? We read that it “turned toward him” (the first eagle, i.e. the King of Babylon) and later turned toward the second eagle (the king of Egypt). The vine comes from the “seed of the land”, not the “top of the young twigs”. So the vine does not represent the king of Israel. Because the parable centers on the king’s seed and the noblemen, I believe we may conclude that the vine, in part, represents the noblemen of Israel. But we read in the explanation that “he”, i.e. the king’s seed rebelled. But yet we also are told that it was the vine that turned to the King of Egypt. We must conclude therefore, that both the king’s seed and the noblemen rebelled and turned to the King of Egypt.
The phrase telling us that the seed was planted “in a fruitful field” tells us that the king’s seed and noblemen of Israel were going to be well taken care of in Babylon, despite the fact that they were captives. That they should break their oath to the king of Babylon is therefore, all the more reprehensible.
Let us for the sake of clarity pull this all together. The first great eagle was the king of Babylon who carried away captive the king, the king’s seed, and the noblemen of Israel. These then, broke their oath and appealed to the King of Egypt, (the second great eagle) for military help against Babylon. What was so sinful about this was that aside from the fact that an oath was broken, that God Himself had determined that Israel would be punished by a 70 year captivity in Babylon, but the king’s seed and noblemen of Israel instead of accepting their punishment “turned towards” the King of Egypt in an effort to escape it. The point of the parable is that although the king’s seed and noblemen could have been well taken care of in Babylon, despite the fact that they were captives, God made them weak because of the rebellion that proved their unwillingness to accept the punishment for their wickedness.
Now let us consider the structure of the entire chapter, as I believe a great truth of God’s grace towards Israel will be seen from it. The “B” section, i.e. the point of the parable (vs. 9-10) corresponds to the “B1” section which has to do with Israel in the millennium. The corresponding “B” and “B1” sections are beautiful in their picture of God’s grace. Let me explain. The parable is a picture of Israel’s utter disgrace in captivity in Babylon, but the corresponding section is of Israel glorified in the millennium under the reign of Christ.
What have we learned about how to interpret the parables from this parable of Ezekiel 17? 1) The point of the parable was extremely helpful in determining what some of the metaphors that were not explicitly explained represented. 2) The explanation of the parable, while not explaining every metaphor, told us about whom the parable centered and from that, we were able to determine who was represented by some of the unexplained metaphors. In other words, the context was very important to a correct understanding.
EZEKIEL 20: 45-48
“Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, ‘Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field; and say to the forest of the south, hear the word of the Lord; thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree; the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein. And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.'” Then in verse 49 we read, “Then saith I, ‘Ah Lord God! they say of me, ‘Doth he not speak parables?'”. Given that Ezekiel was given a prophesy immediately followed by the comment about the people saying that he speaks parables, we may conclude that verses 45-48 was a parable.
As the reader will see that from 21:1-7 there are several phrases that are repeated in that passage from the preceding passage. That tells us that the two passages are connected (unfortunately, the chapter division tends to make that connection difficult to see). Indeed, as we examine 21:1-7 we will see that those verses explain the parable. Let us first note the phrases in common that tell us that these two passages are connected. Note 20:46, “drop thy word toward the south”. And compare that with 21:2, “drop thy word toward the holy places“. This also tells us that “the south” means Jerusalem. Note also 20:47 the phrase, “all faces from the south to the north” and compare that with 21:4, “all flesh from the south to the north”.
Having determined that 21:1-7 is connected to 20:45-48 we are ready to determine the meaning of the parable. Actually the point and the explanation of the parable are one and the same. They are found in verses 2-5, “Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel. And say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth My sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore, shall My sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: That all flesh may know that I the Lord have drawn forth My sword out of his sheath it shall not return any more”. The point of the parable is made quite clearly here. The point is that Israel must know that it is the Lord who has punished them.
So what have we learned about how the Israelites interpreted the parables of the Old Testament? We have learned: 1) look to the near context for the explanation 2) sometimes the explanation and the point are given in the same passage.
“Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day. And utter a parable unto the rebellious house, and say unto them, ‘Thus saith the Lord God; Set on a pot, set it on, and also pour water into it: gather the pieces thereof into it, even every good piece, the thigh, and the shoulder; fill it with the choice bones. Take the choice of the flock, and burn also the bones under it, and make it boil well, and let them seethe the bones of it therein'” (Ezek. 24:2-5).
The next verses explain the metaphors and are quite clear as to the point of the parable. “Wherefore thus saith the Lord God: woe to the bloody city, to the pot whose scum is therein, and whose scum is not gone out of it! bring it out piece by piece; let no lot fall upon it: for her blood is in the midst of her; she set it upon the top of a rock; she poured it not upon the ground, to cover it with dust; that it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance; I have set her blood upon the top of a rock that it should not be covered’. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; ‘Woe to the bloody city! I will even make the pile for fire great. Heap on wood, kindle the fire, consume the flesh, and spice it well, and let the bones be burned. Then set it empty upon the coals thereof, that the brass of it may be hot, and may burn, and that the filthiness of it may be molten in it, that the scum of it may be consumed. She hath wearied herself with lies, and her great scum went not forth out of her; her scum shall be in the fire. In thy filthiness is lewdness, because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, thou shalt not be purged from the filthiness any more till I have caused My fury to rest upon thee”.
There are several metaphors in the parable that are not explained. For example, do the “pieces”, i.e. the “thigh and the shoulder” represent some one or some thing? Does the water that is poured into the pot represent some thing? In my opinion, the very fact that these are not explained is extremely important in terms of how to interpret the parables of the New Testament. That is to say, the point is made very clearly in this passage of Ezek. 24. I believe that guesses (as that is all that they could be) would more than likely detract from the point of the parable.
So, in my opinion, it is better to accept that some of the symbols used in the parables do not necessarily represent something. And that when the point is made perfectly clear even though not every metaphor was explained, it would be better to accept the point as it is made, rather than “make up” something that is not explained.
A SUMMARY OF WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED AS TO HOW TO INTERPRET THE PARABLES
1) The point of a parable will help determine the meaning of the figures of speech used to enhance that point.
2) Some parables require comparing scripture with scripture.
3) Sometimes a parable is easily understood and needs no further explanation.
4) Sometimes when the point is made perfectly clear, even though not every character in the parable was explained, it would be better to accept the point as it is made, rather than “make up” something that is not explained.
5) Sometimes the interpretation of figures of speech are based on the point together with the context of the parable.
6) Even though a parable may take some prayerful thought, it may not have a hidden meaning, (hidden in metaphors), it is given to be understood by any who read it with an open mind and an open heart. So “dark sayings” are not always hidden sayings, just those that require heartfelt study.
7) Look to the near context for the explanation of metaphors.
8) Sometimes the explanation and the point are given in the same passage.
9) Some of the symbols used in the parable do not always represent something.
THE PARABLES OF JESUS CHRIST
THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER (Matt. 13:3-8)
“And He spake many things unto them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, a sower went forth to sow and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth; and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold some thirtyfold”.
The explanation is given by the Lord Himself in verses 18-23, “Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful,. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty”.
Many have written that the seeds falling in various places represents various times the word was preached. But the explanation of the parable is given by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. I believe the explanation should stand as given and that nothing needs to be added. This belief is based on the study of the Old Testament parables. May I remind the reader that the New Testament parables were spoken to those who would have an understanding of the Old Testament parables, and our Lord knew, of course, their mindset, i.e. how they would interpret the parables.
THE PARABLE OF THE TARES (Matt. 13:24-30)
“Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, ‘The kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, ‘Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field: from whence then hath it tares:’ He said unto them, ‘An enemy hath done this’. The servants said unto him, ‘Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers. ‘Gather ye together first the tares, bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn'”.
The parable is explained by the Lord in verses 37-39. Verse 40 begins with the phrase “As therefore“. That tells us that He is giving the point of the parable. That is to say, Christ is telling how this parable is “like unto the kingdom of Heaven”. “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity: and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father….” (Matt. 13:40-43).
This parable describes that characteristic of the kingdom of Heaven of having in it only the righteous, the others are cast out. We may conclude from the point given that the tares represent the unrighteous and the wheat the righteous.
What is not explained in this context is what the metaphor “furnace of fire” represents. The consideration of that would take us too far off our basic subject, but I respectfully suggest that the paper on the kingdom of Heaven will answer the question of what it represents.
THE PARABLES OF THE MUSTARD SEED AND YEAST (Mat.. 13:31-33)
The parables of the mustard seed and of the yeast are not explained and give us further opportunity to apply what we have learned from the study of the Old Testament parables.
We read of these two parables in Matt. 13:31-33, “Another parable put He forth unto them saying, ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest among the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Another parable spake He unto them; ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened'”.
Before we discuss these parables, we must understand that our Lord spake in parables to hide the truth of them from the multitudes (see Matt. 13:11). But He did not intend to hide those truths from His disciples to whom He said, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matt. 13:16). In other words, those who approach them with open hearts and minds (and with some background of Old Testament parables) should be able to understand them.
The first thing we must see about the parables of the mustard seed and yeast is that they are both similes, “the kingdom of Heaven is like“. We must be absolutely clear on this. The truth of these parables convey something about the kingdom of Heaven. (The paper on this web-site The Kingdom Of Heaven will prove from Scripture that the kingdom of Heaven is Christ’s rule of Israel during the millennial reign. While it is true that Christ will reign over all the nations of the earth, the term “kingdom of Heaven” is used in the very narrow sense of His reign over Israel). The next thing that we should note is that both parables have the same point. As in the Old Testament parables, the point will help us determine the meaning of the symbols.
Let us discuss the parable of the mustard seed first. We must apply what we have learned from the Old Testament and discover the point before we determine the meaning of the symbols used to emphasize the point. What is the point of the parable? I believe it must be rather obvious because our Lord did not explain it. That is to say, our Lord did indeed want His disciples to understand the parables, but yet He did not explain these two parables. Why didn’t He? Because the point is so obvious as to not need explanation. What is the most obvious point of this parable? How can a mustard seed be like the kingdom of Heaven? The point of the parable is that like the mustard seed which grows from the smallest to the grandest, the kingdom of Heaven will grow from the smallest to the grandest.
Now that we have discovered the point, we are ready to discuss the symbols of the mustard seed and the yeast. But we must bear in mind that the symbols are used to enhance the point. The grain of mustard seed is a symbol for something small that grows into something grand. What about the birds, is that a metaphor, do they represent some thing or some one? In order to answer that question we must ask ourselves, “how is the point of the parable (which is that the kingdom of Heaven will grow from something very small to something grand) enhanced by a metaphor of birds. In point of fact, if we endeavor to have the birds represent some one or some thing, the point is not enhanced. That is to say, the point is already enhanced by having birds in the branches. That in itself speaks of the height and grandness of the growth of the mustard seed. In this case then, it is better to accept the birds as birds, rather than see them as metaphors, because the birds enhance the point of the parable.
Now let us turn our attention to the parable of the yeast. I’m sure we have all heard that yeast is a figure used in the Bible for sin, and that a woman is often used to represent sin, both of which are quite true. But if we say that the yeast represents sin then we have a contradiction between this parable and the reality of what the kingdom of Heaven will be. That is to say, the kingdom of Heaven will be a kingdom of righteousness (please see the above mentioned paper on the kingdom of Heaven). But if yeast represents sin, then the kingdom of heaven will not be righteous, but sinful. (“The kingdom of Heaven is like leaven….”).
Let us apply what we learned from the study of the Old Testament parables and determine the point of this parable and then go from there. Again, the point must be obvious, or Christ would have explained it. What is the most obvious point? It is that the kingdom of Heaven will grow, that is what yeast is used for. Again, as we consider Matt. 13:43 we will see that the yeast cannot be a metaphor for sin. That verse reads, “Then shall the righteousness shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father”. The parable of the yeast is a simile of the kingdom of heaven (which, as the context of Matt. 13:43 will show is the same as the “kingdom of their Father” i.e. a different title to express a different aspect of the kingdom of Heaven). The yeast cannot be a metaphor for sin, because there will be no sin in the kingdom of Heaven.
My point is that, as we learned from our study of Old Testament parables, not every element in a parable represents something. Only if a representation enhances the point of the parable would we conclude that an element represents something. In order to avoid the contradiction that yeast represents sin, but the kingdom of Heaven will be righteous, I suggest that in this parable, the yeast and the woman represent nothing. The point is not only not enhanced by having them represent something, it creates a contradiction.
THE PARABLES OF THE HIDDEN TREASURE AND THE PEARL (Matt. 13:44-46)
“And again, the kingdom of Heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it”.
There is a striking similarity as to the point of these two parables that I hope is made more clear by the highlighting of some of the phrases of each. In each parable something of such great value was found that the person who found it was willing to give up everything to gain it. And each is a simile for the kingdom of Heaven (“the kingdom of Heaven is like“). In what way are these two parables like the kingdom of Heaven? In other words, what is the point of the parables? Once again, the point is obvious which is demonstrated by the fact that Christ did not explain it. The most obvious point is that the kingdom of Heaven is so very precious, as to warrant giving up everything one has in order to enter into it. May I respectfully remind the reader that one of the lessons we learned from the study of the Old Testament parables was that some were so very obvious that we should trust what we read because they need no other explanation.
THE PARABLE OF THE NET (Matt. 13:47-48)
“Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away“. The explanation is once again given by the Lord. “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13: 49-50).
The point here is that the kingdom of Heaven is like a kingdom that is totally devoid of unrighteousness.
THE PARABLE OF THE LOST SHEEP (Matt. 18:12-14)
“How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father Which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish”.
When we read the phrase “even so” we understand the Lord is giving us the the point of the parable. And the explanation is once again, as in the Old Testament parables, made clear by the point. In this case, they are one and the same, i.e. “it is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish”.
THE PARABLE OF THE UNMERCIFUL SERVANT (Matt. 18:21-35)
“Then came Peter to Him, and said, ‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him: till seven times’? Jesus saith unto him, ‘I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of Heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him saying,’ lord have patience with me, and I will pay thee all’. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me that thou owest’. But his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all’. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him said unto him, ‘O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee’? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses”.
We learned in the study of the Old Testament parables that some were quite obvious in their point. This is one of those that are also quite obvious. It comes as an answer to Peter’s question “how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” The point is made by Christ at the end of the parable, “So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses”.
Once again the parable is introduced by the phrase, “the kingdom of Heaven is likened”, in other words, the parable gives us a description of what the kingdom of Heaven will be like. In this case, it will be filled with those who are forgiving from the heart.
THE PARABLES OF THE WORKERS IN THE VINEYARD (Matt. 20:1-16)
“For the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. And said unto them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you’. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth hour and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, ‘Why stand ye here all the day idle?’ They say unto him, ‘Because no man hath hired us;’ He said unto them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive’. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, ‘Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first’; and when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. and when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, ‘These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us which have borne the burden and heat of the day’. But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that is thine, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own’? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?'”
And here we come to the point of the parable given by the Lord. “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen“. For the meaning of this point we must go back to the question as recorded in Matt. 19:27-30, “Then answered Peter, and said unto Him,’Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon the twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters. or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first”.
I believe that we may have three points in this parable. Certainly one point is that the lowly who give up something for Christ’s sake will be more blessed in the kingdom of Heaven than the “rich” who do not. But I believe another point might be found in the statement of the parable, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”
The third point is made with the phrase “many are called but few are chosen”. Consider that the parable comes as an answer to Peter’s question, “we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?’ I believe that we may conclude that in this parable and in this context the many who are called are Israel, and the few that are chosen are the twelve disciples.
Shall we attempt to say that those who came at the different times represent different groups? Why would we do that? It doesn’t enhance the point one bit. As we have learned in our study of the Old Testament parables, the point is often very clear and to try to assign more to the point than is there, is adding to the Scriptures what is not needed.
How does this parable describe the kingdom of Heaven? Evidently, the kingdom of Heaven will be a place where the meek receive glory and honor, and those who had sought honor will be meek.
THE PARABLE OF THE TWO SONS (Matthew 21:28-30)
“….A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘ I will not:’ But afterward he repented and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir’: and went not.”
The point is made after a question is asked “Whether of them twain did the will of his father?” They (the chief priest and elders vs. 23), say unto him, ‘The first’. And then the point of the parable is given. “Jesus saith unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him'”.
In this parable, unlike the parable of the workers in the vineyard, it is helpful to understand who the two sons represent. As in the Old Testament parables, if we first determine the point, the representation of the two sons will be obvious. The point is that “That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you”. Who does Jesus mean by the pronoun “you”? It is obvious from the fact that Jesus is addressing this parable to the “chief priests and elders of the People” (see vs. 23) that the pronoun “you” in the phrase “go into the kingdom of God before you” that the second son represents them, i.e. the chief priests and elders of the People.
The publicans and harlots are represented by the first son, who, like the publicans and harlots, were certainly not totally without fault, but, in the end, did do the will of the father. The second son represents the chief and elders ( the only other group in this context) who had not done the will of the father.
We have interpreted this parable, as we did some of the Old Testament parables, by first determining the point and considering the context, in this case in order to determine to whom the parable was being addressed.
THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS (Matthew 21:33-39)
“Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son saying, ‘They will reverence my son’. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance’. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him“.
After relating this parable Christ asked, “When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh what will he do unto those husbandmen?”. And they answered, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons” (vs. 41-41). The point of this parable is then given by Jesus Who “saith unto them, ‘Did ye never read in the scriptures, ‘The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’ Therefore say I unto you, ‘The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever It shall fall, It will grind him to powder'” (vs.42-44). The next verse tells us quite specifically to whom this parable was addressed, “And when the chief priests and Pharisees had hear His parable, they perceived that He spake of them”.
Let us not fall into the temptation of deciding who the characters of the parable represent before we determine the point of the parable as given by our Lord. We can tell the point by the word “therefore”. “Therefore, …….the kingdom shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever It shall fall, It will grind him to powder'”
Let us proceed from what we know to what we do not yet know. We know that “the Stone” is Jesus Christ. We may conclude from the fact that because the Stone was rejected and the son of the parable was rejected, the son represents Jesus Christ. We also know from the immediate context that when Christ said that the kingdom was taken from “you” He was speaking of the chief priests and Pharisees. So the husbandmen represent the chief priests and Pharisees, from whom “the kingdom will be taken”. We also know that because Matthew’s Gospel centers on Christ as King of Israel (please see the paper on the Kingdom of Heaven for the Scriptural evidence of that statement), and because the nation that “brings forth fruits” are believers, that that nation is believing Israel. So we know that the kingdom will be taken from the chief priests and Pharisees and will be given to the believers of Israel.
Here is what we do not know from the context. Who do the first servants sent out represent? Who do the other servants represent? Let us approach these questions from the standpoint of the fact that the representations must enhance the point of the parable. Is the point enhanced by assigning a representation of either group of servants sent out? No. The point is that the husbandsmen treated them “miserably”. That fact is not enhanced by assigning a group that they represent. I suggest therefore, that as we learned in the study of the Old Testament parables, not everything mentioned in a parable necessarily represents something else, but is simply used to enhance the point of the parable . In point of fact these servants cannot be the disciples of the Gospel and Acts periods, as is suggested by many, because, unlike the parable, with the exception of John the Baptist, they were not killed until after Christ’s death. Again, as we learned in the Old Testament study, it is better to accept the point as it is given and not attempt to assign representations where they are not explained and do not enhance the point of the parable.
THE PARABLE OF THE WEDDING BANQUET (Matthew 22:1-13)
“And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, ‘Tell them which are bidden, ‘Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my farlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage’. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to the farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways and as many as ye shall find bid to the marriage.’ So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth’. For many are called, but few are chosen”.
(A note to the reader: I realize that most interpret this parable to say that God represented by the king in this parable, sent His armies to destroy Jerusalem, and that was accomplished at 70 AD by the Roman army. But we read in Ezek. 5:9, “And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like.…..”. This verse tells us that after the destruction by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar, God will not destroy Jerusalem again. Unless one is willing to say that God broke that promise one must conclude that God did not send His armies in 70 AD to destroy Jerusalem. I point this out so that the reader may come to this parable with an open mind as to its interpretation.)
First, we must bear in mind that whatever the point of the parable is, it is like the kingdom of Heaven in some way. Secondly, in order to understand who are the many and who are called in the context of this particular parable, we must understand: 1) what does the wedding feast represent?; 2) who are represented by “them which are bidden”?, 3) whose army was sent?, and 4) to what city were they sent to destroy?, 5) who are those bidden from the highways,? 6) who does the man without the wedding garment represent?. There is no explanation of the parable and neither the context or the point answers these questions. We must therefore learn from the study of the Old Testament, and answer these questions by comparing scripture with scripture.
1) What does the wedding feast represent? Matthew 9:14-15 tells us Who the bridegroom is, “Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but Thy disciples fast not?’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from thee, and then shall they fast'”. It is clear that the Bridegroom is Christ. which means, of course, the wedding of the parable represents the wedding of Christ.
2) Who are represented by “them which are bidden”, but did not come? Obviously, they are the unbelievers of Israel.
3) Whose army was sent,? We read in Joel 2:11, “And the Lord shall utter His voice before His army: for His camp is very great: for He is strong that executeth His word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible…..”. Note this verse speaks of “His army”, i.e. God’s army. Compare that to Matt. 22:7b, “the king sent forth his armies“. Note also that “His armies” will march in the day of the Lord. So we have “his armies” of Matt. 22 being God’s armies of Joel 2. By comparing scripture with scripture we have answered our question, whose army was sent? We also have learned when His army will be sent, i.e. in the day of the Lord.
4) To what city will “His army” be sent to destroy? Joel two does not tell us of a particular city that will be destroyed by “His army”, but Rev. 18 does tell us of a city that will be destroyed by God in the day of the Lord, which is when the army of Joel two will be sent. Rev. 18:2, “Babylon the great is fallen…..”. And in verse 8 of that chapter we read, “….she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her”. Rev. 18:20 is also helpful, “Rejoice over her, thou heaven and ye holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her“. Isn’t that what the king will send his army to do, i.e. to avenge the murders of those who were sent to call the guests to the wedding? Verse 24 reiterates, “and in her (Babylon) was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth”. Also Rev. 19: 2, “….for He hath……..avenged the blood of His servants at her hand”. Rev. 19:7 even connects the destruction of Babylon with the wedding parable of Matt. 22, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come…..”. By comparing scripture with scripture we have learned that the king’s army of Matthew 22 is “His army” of Joel two. And that that army will march in the day of the Lord during which time Babylon will be destroyed.
5) Who are those bidden from the highways? To know when the ones of the highways will be bidden is crucial in understanding who they are. In verse 7 the king sends out his army. In verse 8 we read, “Then saith he to his servants, “the wedding is ready….”. They were sent after the destruction of the “murderers” and the burning of their city, i.e. after the day of the Lord when Babylon will be destroyed.
One of the events connected with the return of Christ, when His wedding will be ready, is the gathering of Israel. The gathering of Israel is prophesied several times in the Old Testament, but let us consider Ezek. 20:34, “I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered”. Note Israel will be gathered from the nations. I believe it is these nations that the parable refers to as the “highways” to which the servants of Matt. 22:9-10 will be sent. That these servants were sent to the nations to gather Israel is in keeping with the fact that this parable is one of those that teach things concerning the kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom of Heaven is Christ’s rule of Israel in the millennium. (For the Scriptural evidence of that statement please see the paper on this web-site The Kingdom of Heaven.) It is also in keeping with the fact that Matthew is the most Israel centered of the four Gospels and this parable is recorded only in Matthew’s Gospel.
I suggest therefore that those who were gathered from the highways after the city was destroyed, represent the scattered of Israel who will be gathered at the time that the wedding feast will be ready, i.e. at the second coming of Christ.
6) Who does the man without the wedding garment represent?. He obviously represents those gathered from the highways who were found unworthy to attend the wedding feast. Ezek.20:38 reads, “And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me……they shall not enter into the land of Israel…..”. As the paper on this web-site about kingdom of Heaven will prove, there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” outside the land of Israel in the millennial reign. This is where we are told the unworthy guests will be cast (see Matt. 22:13).
I believe that in order to fully appreciate the point of this parable, (i.e. “for many are called, but few are chosen”) we must understand what has been presented above. As the reader has seen, every question posed has been answered from Scripture. But we have left some of the “characters” of this parable unaccounted for. For example, we have not addressed the question of who the servants were that were sent forth. Some say that they represent those sent out in the Gospel period, and the later ones in the Acts period. First of all, there is no Scriptural evidence of that. That is to say, other than John the Baptist, there is no Scriptural account of any of the disciples being killed or ill-treated in the Gospel period. But more importantly, who they represent does not in any way influence the point of the parable. I suggest therefore, we do not assign them any representation because if we do, we may or may not be correct. As we learned in the study of the Old Testament parables, not every particular in every parable necessarily represents some thing or some one. Where Scripture is silent, so too, in my opinion, should we. Better silence than error.
We are now ready to determine who is meant by “the many that are called” and “the few that are chosen”. If we are to answer that question from the context, (as I believe we should) we must conclude that in this parable and in this context, the gathered of Israel from all the nations to which they had been scattered are those who are called. And the righteous of that group, who will be allowed entrance into the kingdom of Heaven are those who are chosen.
In what way is this parable like the kingdom of Heaven? It is like the kingdom of Heaven in that only the righteous will be allowed entrance into it so that righteousness shall “shine forth as the sun” (Matt. 13:42).
THE PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE (Matthew 24:32-33)
“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.”
The disciples had asked in verse 3, “what shall be the signs of Thy coming and of the end of the age”. The point of the parable is that just as the sign of summer being near is the leaves on the fig tree, so too all the things Christ told the disciples in the entire chapter are signs that the end of the age is near.
THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS (Matthew 25:1-12)
“Then shall the kingdom of Heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him,’ Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, ‘Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, ‘lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered and said, ‘Verily I say unto, I know you not.'”.
The point of the parable is given in the next verse, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh”. Obviously, when considering the point of the parable we must conclude that the wise virgins represent those who will be ready for the Lord’s return, and the foolish virgins represent those who will not be ready. Now the question is: what does it mean to be ready for Christ’s return?
The answer to that question is found in Matt. 24:42-51 which is the passage that immediately precedes this parable of the ten virgins. Verse 42 comes after Christ’s discourse which answered the question of the disciples, “what shall be the sign of Thy coming” (Matt. 24:3). We read in verse 42, “Watch therefore”, and in verse 44, “be ye also ready”. That readiness is explained in verses 45-51, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season: Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. …….he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, ‘the lord delayeth his coming’; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”
What does it mean to be ready for the return of the Lord, or in the words of the parable, to have sufficient oil? It means to be found doing those things that show in one’s life that he believes in His return both to reward those who look for Him, and to punish those who do not.
The parable is like the kingdom of Heaven in that only those who prove their readiness for the Lord’s return by how they live their lives will enter into the kingdom.
THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (MATTHEW 25:14-30)
“For the kingdom of Heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise, he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying ‘Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more’. His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the lord‘. He also that had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.’ His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the lord.’ Then he which had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, that thou hast that is thine’. His lord answered and said unto him ‘Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents'”.
The point of the parable is recorded in the following verses: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but for him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth'”. Again, the parable is introduced with the words, “For the kingdom of Heaven is as…..”. In what way does the situation described in the parable like the kingdom of Heaven? I believe the parable describes those who will and those who will not be allowed into the kingdom. Those who will not be allowed are those who did not respect the “talents” given them, or the one from whom they received the talents, enough to handle it in a way pleasing to their master. It is imperative therefore, that we understand what the “talents” represent.
This parable, like the parable of the ten virgins, comes in the context of Christ’s discourse on the signs of His coming. As we compare Luke 12:37-49 which has the same theme, i.e. being prepared for the Lord’s return, we will begin to see what the “talents” represent.
We read in Luke 12:37, “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching”. And verses 39-40 reads, “And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not”.
Having determined that Luke 12 and Matt. 25:14-30 are both based on the subject of being ready for the Lord’s return, by looking at Luke 12 we may have a better understanding of what the “talents” in the parable of Matt. 25 represent. We read in Luke 12:47-48, “And the servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required….”.
Let us try to pull this all together. The parable of the talents recorded in Matt. 25 comes in the context of the coming of the Lord. The surrounding context of Matt. 24 and the corresponding passage of Luke 12 tell us that if one knows the Lord is returning and lives as if he did not know, he will be more severely punished than those who did not know of His return. Let us return to the “talents” once again.
I believe the various number of “talents” of the parable represent the degree of knowledge and/or the degree of readiness as shown by one’s life, of the coming of the Lord. “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but for him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath”. Those who know of the Lord’s return and live as if they are expecting it, are those with the five talents. Those who have less knowledge but live according to the knowledge they have (are expecting His return and live accordingly) are the ones with the two talents. Those who have very little knowledge of His return and live as if they do not expect it are represented by the one with one talent .
Having determined what the “talents” represent, let us come back to the point of the parable. As quoted above the point is given as, “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but for him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth'”. Those who showed by their life that they respected the knowledge they had of their “lord’s” return, were allowed entrance into the kingdom of Heaven. Those who did not, were not allowed entrance into the kingdom of Heaven.
THE PARABLE OF THE GROWING SEED (Mark 4:26-29)
“And He said, ‘Thus is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come'”.
There is no clue either in the preceding context or in the parable itself as to what the point of this parable might be. But the parable of the mustard seed immediately follows it. We read in verse 11 that the disciples were meant to understand the parables, and yet this one was not explained. I believe therefore, that the point of this parable is related to the point of the parable told immediately afterwards, i.e. the parable of the mustard seed.
As discussed in the section above on the parable of the mustard seed, I believe that the most obvious point of that parable is that the kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed in that like the mustard seed which grows from the smallest to the grandest, the kingdom of Heaven will grow from the smallest to the grandest.
Also, bearing in mind that because there is no explanation of this parable, I think we may conclude that those familiar with the Old Testament, which of course the disciples were, may have known what this parable meant. We read in Is. 61:11, “For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations”.
Therefore, I believe that the growing seed is like the kingdom of God in that the seed of the parable represents the “righteousness and praise” that will “spring forth before all the nations”. That is one of the points of this parable as taken from Scripture.
To what does the phrase, ” immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come” refer? I believe that this refers to the same event as is recorded in our Lord’s explanation of the parable of the seeds. Matt. 13:39-40 reads, “…..the harvest is the end of the age….as therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this age.” That is the other point of this parable, i.e. righteousness and praise will spring forth in the kingdom of God because only the righteous will be allowed entrance into it.
Much has been written as to the various stages of the kingdom of God as represented by the blade, the ear and the full corn such as the Gospel period and the Acts period. But do those representations add to the point of the parable? I think not. In point of fact, there is no Scriptural evidence to prove that the kingdom of Heaven will begin until the Lord’s return (please see the paper on the terms used of God’s kingdom for the Scriptural evidence that the term “kingdom of God” is often used of the kingdom of Heaven). Therefore, once again, if we confine ourselves to the point and to comparing scripture with scripture we will not be led astray.
THE PARABLE OF THE RICH FOOL (Luke 12:16-20)
“And He spake a parable unto them, ‘The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?’ And he said, ‘This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said unto him, ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?’
The point of the parable is found in the next verses, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. And He said unto His disciples, ‘Therefore I say unto you, ‘Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment”. After expounding on that thought we read in verse 31, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you”. That is the point of this parable as given by Christ.
A PARABLE CONCERNING THE COMING OF THE LORD (Luke 12:35-41)
“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also; for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.’ Then Peter said unto him, ‘Lord speakest Thou this parable unto us, or even to all?” (Note that Peter does call this a parable.)
The point of this parable was discussed above in the parable of the talents of Matt. 25:14-30. The point is the same in both parables. It is put most succinctly in verses 42-43, “And the Lord said, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.”
THE PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE IN THE VINEYARD (Luke 13:6-9)
“He spake also this parable; ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?’ And he answering said unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9).
Does this parable tell us of the setting aside of Israel? I believe that the context will help answer that question.
To begin, let us determine to whom Christ was speaking when He spoke this parable. If He was speaking to the leaders of Israel that would be an indication that the fig tree in the parable represented the nation of Israel. We have to go all the way back to Luke11:37-54 in order to determine to whom the parable was spoken. We read, for example, in verse 43, “Woe unto you Pharisees”, and in verse 44, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees“. So in these verses it is clear that Christ was speaking to the leaders of Israel.
But then in Luke 12:1 we read, “In the meantime, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people”. The phrase, “in the meantime” implies a different audience. And in the following verse “He began to say unto His disciples“. Then in 12:13 we read, “And one of the company said unto Him……and He said unto him”, i.e. one of the company. In verse 22 we read, “And He said unto His disciples…“. And in 12:54 we read, “And He said also unto the people....”. Then in 13:1 we read, “there were present at that season some that told Him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled….”.
There is no question that when Christ spoke the parable of the fig tree He was speaking not to the leaders of Israel but to His disciples and to the people. This certainly does suggest, absent any Scriptural evidence to the contrary, that the fig tree does not represent Israel. Let us continue in the context for further clues as to whether the fig tree of the parable represents Israel.
In verses 1-3 Christ made the point that those who Pilate killed in Galilee were not worse sinners than other Galileans. And in verses 4-5 He made the point that those who died in an accident in Jerusalem were not worse sinners than the others of Jerusalem. In both passages Christ ended by saying, “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (see verse 3 and verse 5). Given that Christ was speaking of and to individual people about their repentance, I believe that this context also points to the following parable as being addressed to individuals rather than to the nation as a whole.
As we have seen, the Lord’s point in verses 1-5 is that they must repent before they die. In fact, given that the ones who died did so unexpectedly, i.e. through murder and an accident, I believe we may take that one step further and conclude that Christ was saying that they might die at any time, i.e. the time may be short.
So Christ spoke the parable of the fig tree to His disciples and to the people. And His point in the verses immediately preceding the parable was that they must repent while there is still time to do so.
Let us also consider the fact that Christ does not give an explanation of this parable. As we learned in considering the parables of the Old Testament, when an explanation is not given, it is because the meaning is obvious or must be understood from other scriptures. In point of fact, because the disciples (and certainly not the crowds) did not understand that Christ would be crucified (see Luke Luke 18:31-34) they would not have understood that Christ had in mind the first three years of the Acts period. And, because there is no Scriptural reference made to the Acts period, they would not have been able to compare Scripture with Scripture to come to the understanding that the three years of the parable was speaking of three years of the Acts period.
In short, given that the parable was given to Christ’s disciples and the crowd, not to the leaders of Israel, and there was no explanation given of the parable, I believe we may conclude that the parable tells us that Christ was dissatisfied with the lack of fruit during His earthly ministry, but that He was willing to allow more time so that all who would repent would do so that they not perish.
This may seem like a very simplistic meaning to a parable to which many have attributed great dispensational importance, but it is taken from the immediate context and is in keeping with the context.
THE PARABLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST (Luke 14:7-10)
“And He put forth a parable to those which were bidden when He marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them; ‘When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, ‘Give this man place;’ and thou begin with shame to take the lower room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, ‘Friend, go ye higher’: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.'”. In the next verse Christ gives us the point of this parable, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Because the point is given, and to assign representations would not add to the point in the least, in my opinion, we should let the point as given stand by itself as the explanation of the meaning of the parable.
THE PARABLE OF THE GREAT BANQUET (LUKE 14:16-23)
‘Then said He unto him, ‘A certain man made a great supper, and bade many; and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, ‘Come; for all things are now ready.’ And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them; I pray thee have me excused’, And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’, So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind’. and the servant said, ‘Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room’. And the lord said unto the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in that my house may be filled. for I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.”.
Once again the point of the parable is given in the next verses, “And there went great multitudes with Him: and He turned and said unto them, ‘If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple'”.
Do the ones with various excuses to not come represent particular people? If they did, would the point be made more emphatically? I think not. To be sure, in terms of application, we might consider the various excuses offered. But in terms of interpretation the excuses have no real bearing on the point. The point is very clear, saying that certain characters in the parable represent particular persons or groups does not add to the point in any way. Therefore, I suggest we allow Scripture to speak for itself and not add something that may not be true to no purpose.
THE FIVE PARABLES OF LUKE CHAPTERS 15-16
The five parables of Luke chapters 15-16 are connected in two ways. 1) They are told at the same time, and 2) they are told with the Pharisees in mind. I believe that as we consider these parables the second point will become evident.
We read in Luke 15:1-2, “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.'” The note in the Companion Bible on the word translated “murmured” reads, “The word implies subdued threatening”. The next verse (verse 3) begins the parable of the lost sheep.
THE PARABLE OF THE LOST SHEEP (LUKE 15:3-6)
“And He spake this parable unto them, saying, ‘What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.'” The point of the parable is stated in the next verse, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance‘”.
This parable is, in some ways, like the parable of the lost sheep recorded in Matt. 18:12-14, but it differs in some aspects. It is in those aspects that we find a slightly different point in the parable.
But first, I think it would be helpful in considering the point of the parable to consider the circumstances of why it was told, as I believe it will help our understanding of this, as well as all five parables in these chapters, more completely. As we saw in verses 1-2 the Pharisees were “murmuring” against Christ because He had been receiving publicans and sinners. Evidently, we may conclude from their reaction that the Pharisees considered the publicans and sinners to be unworthy of hearing the truth. Therefore, I believe we may conclude that the one lost sheep represents the publicans and sinners.
Did the 99 sheep represent anyone? I believe they did because the contrast is made between them and the one that was found. That is to say, the contrast is made between the one lost sheep, who represented the publicans and sinners and those who were not lost, but were indeed “just and had no need of repentance”. But who were the ” just persons”, which had “no need of repentance”? Were there any who did not need to repent? In fact, the Pharisees saw themselves as those who did not need to repent. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector recorded in Luke 18:9-13 tells us specifically of the Pharisees’ opinion of their own self-righteousness, “He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others”. But, of course Christ knew that they did need to repent, so why did He imply in the parable that they did not need to repent?
I believe that Christ was using the figure of speech, irony, to make His point more emphatically, which is the purpose of a figure of speech. Irony, according to Webster’s dictionary is “a sort of …ridicule, the intended implication of which is the opposite of the literal sense of the words”. We use irony when we say, for example “I love this bitter, cold weather”, when we really mean that we hate this bitter, cold weather.
It is good to keep in mind that irony as a figure of speech emphasizes the negativity of the statement being expressed in the positive.
Let us consider other scriptures wherein we see the use of irony. Consider for example, I Kings 18 where we read of Elijah who went about to prove that Baal was not God, i.e. that Jehovah was the only true God. We read in verses 25-26, “and Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.’ And they took the bullock….and they dressed it and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying ‘O Baal, hear us. ‘ But there was no voice, nor any that answered…..”. Then in verse 27 Elijah made a statement that can only be irony, “Elijah mocked them, and said, ‘Cry aloud; for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked.'” Elijah knew very well that Baal was none of those things, that Baal was no god at all. This is irony.
Consider also Judges 10:14 where God uses irony when the Lord says, “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen, let them save you when you are in trouble”. God obviously knew that there were no other gods beside Him to save them. He said the very opposite of what was literally intended, i.e irony.
So too, when Christ implied that the 99 sheep needed no repentance He was saying the opposite of what was literally intended with the use of irony, because everyone is in need or repentance. He spoke in that manner to make the point even more clear, that the Pharisees (who the 99 sheep represented) did need to repent.
I am suggesting therefore, that there are really two points in this parable, one given and the other implied. The one given is the rejoicing over one sinner being saved. In that respect it is much the same point as the parable of Matt. 18:12-14. The one implied by the use of irony is that the Pharisees, who did not consider themselves in need of “being found” due to their own sense of righteousness, did indeed need to repent.
Just a word about other characters in this parable. For example, does the “the man” or the “friends and neighbors” he calls to rejoice with him represent someone? If we said the “man” represented Christ, we would have to allow that Christ rejoiced more over a Publican or sinner being found than He did over a Pharisee. I don’t believe that would be true, as God desired that all come to Him. I believe the point of having the “friends and neighbors” in the parable points up the fact that most men, unlike the Pharisees, would find cause for rejoicing over the finding of the lost. As we will see in the next parable, the “friends and neighbors” are replaced by “the angels of God” and makes the same point in regard to them.
THE PARABLE OF THE LOST COIN (LUKE 15:8-9)
“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? and when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost'”. The point of the parable is given in the next verse. “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth”.
Obviously, the point of this parable is the same as the points of the previous parable. The lost coin represents the Publicans and sinners. The rejoicing over the found coin, emphasizes the fact that God and His angels, unlike the Pharisees, consider each Publican and each sinner important enough to rejoice over their “being found”. In this case we may conclude that the friends the woman called represent the “angels of God” as that does emphasize the point that God, unlike the Pharisees, considers each lost person found, a matter of rejoicing.
So once again there is a stated point of the joy over having found the lost, and the implied criticism of the Pharisees and their uncaring attitude towards the “found”.
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (LUKE 15:11-32)
“And He said,’A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, ‘give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.’ And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in the land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants”. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son’. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, ‘Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.’ And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, ‘Lo these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends; but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.’ And he said unto him ‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found”.
Because there is no explanation given, I believe we may conclude that the points of this parable are the same as the two preceding ones, i.e. 1) there is great rejoicing over each lost person that is found and 2) it is meant as a ridicule of the Pharisees. Let us consider those two points as they are given in this parable.
The first point is obvious. The younger son represents the publicans and sinners who repent and return to plead their Father’s forgiveness. But note just how low this son had sunk. “Swine”, were, of course forbidden by the law of Moses and were held in great contempt. The older son obviously represents the Pharisees, who considered themselves above the publican and sinner in every way. But it is the younger son, who had fallen into disgrace that was welcomed, and the older son representing the Pharisees are seen as resenting the younger being welcomed home. The older son declares his own righteousness, just as the Pharisees had their righteousness. Here again, it is clear that the Pharisees were not righteousness and their being represented as such was irony that made the point quite clearly.
THE PARABLE OF THE UNJUST STEWARD (LUKE 16:1-9)
“And He said also unto His disciples, ‘There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. and he called him, and said unto him, ‘How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him and said unto the first, ‘How much owest thou unto my lord?’ And he said, ‘An hundred measures of oil.’ And he said unto him, ‘Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.’ Then said he to another, ‘And how much owest thou?’ And he said, ‘An hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said unto him, ‘Take thy bill, and write fourscore.’ And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, ‘Make you yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations.'”
We must consider a few things about this parable if we are to understand it correctly. Christ refers to the steward as “unjust” in verse 8. But in verse 9 He tells His disciples to do exactly what the “unjust steward” had done,i.e. “Make for yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness that, when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations.'” How is it possible that Christ would tell His disciples to do as the unjust servant had done? Obviously, it is not possible. This is a case of irony. But what was the point, why did Christ tell this particular parable?
The point of the parable is recorded in verses 10-13, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” Verse 14 is especially helpful, “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things; and they derided Him“.
Note also that the parable contrasts the “children of this world” with “the children of light” and proclaims the former were more wise than the latter. No one can think that the children of this world are more wise in any way than the children of the light. Again, this is pure irony.
Let us pull all this together. We have seen in the three preceding parables that Christ was very critical of the Pharisees in that they saw themselves as being so much better than other men. In the parable of the unjust steward, Christ attacked their monetary dealings. Our Lord was obviously not telling His disciples to do as the unjust steward had done, He was making the point by using the figure of speech irony that the Pharisees were covetous and were unjust in their financial dealings . So too, Christ was not saying that the children of this world are more wise than the children of light. The entire parable is a criticism (employing the use of irony) of the Pharisees.
It is also worthy of note that not every character in the parable represents someone else. For example, the point is not made any clearer if we attempt to assign a representation to the various debtors. This is in keeping with what we learned of the study of the Old Testament parables.
Once again there is a stated point, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much”. But the implied point is the irony accusing the Pharisees of being unjust in their monetary dealings.
THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS (LUKE 16:19-31)
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. and beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.’ Then he said, ‘I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham saith unto him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ and he said, ‘Nay, father Abraham; but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.’ And he said unto him, ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.'”
What is the point of this parable? It is found in the next verse, “Then said He unto the disciples, ‘It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea than that he should offend one of these little ones.'” Of what offences is Christ speaking? We must answer that from the context and especially from the point of the parable.
As we have seen in all the parables discussed above from Luke chapters 15-16, each one is at least in part a criticism of the Pharisees in the form of irony. Note Luke 16:14 which comes between the parable of the unjust steward and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, that the Pharisees are still very much in the picture, “and the Pharisees also who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided Him”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word translated “derided” is, “were turning up their noses at”.
How is this parable a criticism of the Pharisees? To answer this question let us look again at some of the particulars of the parable. Note for example that Lazarus’ body was “carried by the angels”. But there is nothing in God’s Word of anyone’s body being carried by angels. Note also that the body was carried to “Abraham’s bosom”. There is absolutely nothing in God’s Word, apart from this verse, about “Abraham’s bosom”. Note that there is conversation in hades. But we read in Ps. 31:17 says, “…let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave”. Ps. 115:17 reads, “It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to silence”. For the rich man to be speaking in hades absolutely contradicts God’s Word.
Note also that the reason given the rich man for his present circumstance as contrasted with Lazarus’ is that “thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented”. Salvation is not given to the poor because they are poor, or withheld from the rich because they are rich. Again, this is not the teaching of God’s Word.
We have learned that some of the statements made in this parable contradict what the Word of God says about death and about salvation. It is obvious therefore, that the entire parable is similar to the other parables of the immediate context in that it is irony aimed at the Pharisees. In this case, it is aimed at the teachings of the Pharisees. The Pharisees taught all the untruths given in this parable. As we consider that fact, I believe that the point is more clear as given in 17:1, that the offences are the offences to the truth of God’s Word.
Let us consider Rom. 9:33 which uses the same Greek word as does Luke 17:1, “Behold I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offence”. And Rom. 11:9 also uses the same word but it is translated “stumbling block”. That verse reads, “And David said, ‘Let there be a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock..”. So the “offence” of Luke 17 is a stumbling stone or stumblingblock. What is the stumblingblock in Luke 17:1-2? It is the false teachings of the Pharisees concerning death.
The point of this parable is not to teach what happens at death. It is to point out the false teachings of the Pharisees and that they would not recognize the falseness of them even if one were to rise from the dead.
THE PARABLE OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW (LUKE 18:1-5)
“And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, ‘There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him saying, ‘Avenge me of mine adversary.’ And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me,'”
There are two points, both of which are given quite explicitly. We read in verse 1, “to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint”. But there is also that which Christ said after the parable, which is the second point, “and the Lord said, “shall not God avenge His own elect…” (verse 6). It should be noted that this parable concerns a very specific prayer, i.e. vengeance.
Further, let us put this parable in its proper dispensational setting. We read in Rev. 6:9-11, “And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held; And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long O Lord, holy and true dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?’ and white robes were given unto every one of them…”. The “white robes” tell us that those crying for vengeance are the martyrs of the tribulation. Note also that just as the woman in the parable prayed for vengeance so too the martyrs of the tribulation (“His own elect”) prayed for vengeance.
In my opinion, it is not required to say that either the woman or the judge represent any particular group other than the obvious. The points of the parable are not enhanced by doing so.
THE PARABLE OF THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR (LUKE 18:9-13)
“And He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess: And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner'”.
The point is given in the next verse, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
THE PARABLE OF THE TEN POUNDS (LUKE 19:11-27)
“And as they heard these things, He added and spake a parable, because He was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, ‘A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, ‘Occupy till I come.’ But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.‘ And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, ‘Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.’ And he said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good servant; because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.’ and the second came, saying, ‘Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.’ and he said likewise to him, ‘Be thou also over five cities.’ And another came, saying, ‘Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin; for I feared thee, because thou are an austere man: thou takest up that thou layest not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.’ And he saith unto him, ‘Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow; Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?’ And he said unto them that stood by, ‘Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.'(And they said unto him, ‘Lord, he hath ten pounds.’)”
Again, the point is given in the next verses, “For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”.
The reference to the rejection of Christ is clear in the phrase, “We will not have this man to reign over us”. So, in one sense this parable is a prophecy of the crucifixion of Christ. The judgments recorded in the parable were meted out after the “nobleman” had received his kingdom, i.e. after the return of Christ.
What do the pounds represent? We read of a similar parable in Matt. 25:14-30, i.e. the parable of the talents. By noting the context surrounding that parable and by comparing it with a similar passage in Luke we concluded that, in that parable the talents represented the knowledge of and/or the readiness for the Lord’s second coming. This parable comes in a similar context. In Luke 19:28 after speaking this parable, Christ went up towards Jerusalem for His entrance into that city. So, like the parable of the talents in Matt. 25 He was approaching the end of His ministry. Note also that the judgments would be meted out after the Lord returns.
Because there is nothing in the context or in the parable itself that tells us what the “pounds” represent, I believe that it is more than likely that they represent the same thing that the talents in the similar parable represent, i.e. the knowledge and/or the readiness of the Lord’s second coming.
I believe that if we consider a few basic concepts in terms of how to interpret the parables of Jesus Christ, we may come to them with a greater sense of confidence as to how they are meant to be understood.
1) If we understand the mind set of first century Jews, to whom the parables of Christ were spoken, we have a better idea as to how to approach the parables of the New Testament. The way to understand that mind set is, of course, by studying the Old Testament parables. The lessons to be learned about how those first century Jews approached the parables are given at the end of the section on the Old Testament parables and I will not list them again, but I encourage the reader to consider them again at their leisure.
2) In considering the parables of Jesus Christ, one must determine the point of the parable first. Once the point is established it will become clear what or who the characters in the parables represent. In assigning a representation to a character in the parable it must enhance the point. If it does not, it is not meant to be a representation.
3) The point is almost always given in the context of the parable. Where there is no point given, one should assume the most logical one from the parable itself or from other scriptures.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond, please e-mail me at: email@example.com