Parables of the Kingdom

Kingdom Parables

Matthew 13:10–17 (NLT)
10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets* of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,
For they look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.
14 This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
‘When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
15 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’*
16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.
In Matt. 13, we have another collection of Jesus’ teaching.  The focus of the teaching here is on Parables of the Kingdom.  The question that Jesus is answering in these passages is “How will you respond to the Kingdom of Heaven?”
The term first appears in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2).   The expression is typical religious language of Judaism.  It is found only in Matthew’s Gospel (33 times).  The “Kingdom of Heaven” is interchangeable with the expression “Kingdom of God,” which is found in the other Gospels.  Matthew’s use of Kingdom of Heaven reflects the Hebrew expression malkut samayim, found in Jewish literature.  The reverence which the Jews felt for the name of God (Yahweh) led them to be hesitant to even inadvertently express the name of God.  Heaven was one of the typical expressions for the name of God.

V. 1 orients us to the type of teaching that Jesus used.  “He told many stories in the form of parables.”  The Greek word for parable (parabole) translates the Hebrew mashal.  Mashal describes many kinds of sayings from proverbs to illustrations to allegories.
Jesus speaks privately to the disciples and tells them that the reason he teaches in parables.  (vv. 10-17) He is revealing to them the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The teaching that the apostles received was different than Jesus’ preaching to the crowds.  He is preparing them for the mission of leading His ministry after He returns to Heaven.  (v. 11)
“The Parable of the Sower” appears in all the synoptic Gospels (Mark 4:1-12; Luke 10:23-24) In modern literary terms, “The Parable of the Sower” is more like an allegory.  The interpretation by Jesus is given privately to the disciples (vv. 18-23).  This interpretation gave rise to the allegorizing form of biblical interpretation.  Early Christian commentators sought to find a deeper moral, theological, and spiritual meaning behind almost ever text in the Bible.  But not every parable is an allegory, and clearly we should not try to find allegorical meanings behind the straightforward narratives of the Gospel, for example, or the teaching of Paul, for example.  Modern biblical interpretation has rejected allegorizing method of interpretation.
Since the work of C. H. Dodd (1884-1973), the focus of the 20th century was on the historical setting of the parables as a key to understand the details of the parables and the context of Jesus’ original preaching about the Kingdom of God.  The grammatical-historical method has dominated modern approaches to interpretation.
The weakness of the historical approach is that it tended to reduce parables to pious moralisms, while ignoring the artistic elements and psychological features of the parables.  There is a dynamic tension between the text and the interpreter.  The reader, just as the original hearers of the parable, is brought to a moment of truth most effectively when the Holy Spirit confronts him or her with the parable as Jesus intended it for his hearers.

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