Title: The purpose of parables and the mystery kingdom
Scriptures to Read: Matthew 13:1-3a, 10-17, 34-35; Mark 4:1-2, 10-12, 34; Luke 8:9-10
On that day Jesus teaches in parables
Matthew begins, “on that day”. What day? On the very same day that the rejection occurred. On the day the unpardonable sin was committed. On that day, verse 3 says: “He spoke many things to them in parables.” So his parabolic method of teaching begins with the rejection of the Messiahship of Jesus. And it begins as a result of the unpardonable sin.
The disciples’ question and Jesus answer
How did the disciples respond to the fact that Jesus was now teaching the crowds using parables? They ask Him, “why do you speak to them in parables?” What does this question show us? It shows us that the disciples were not accustomed to Him teaching in this manner. In His answer Jesus gives three main reasons for teaching in parables.
1. The first purpose of His parables is to illustrate truth to the disciples– The content of the truth is “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”, which we will discuss in detail shortly.
2. The second purpose is to conceal truth from those who have rejected Him– In rejecting His Messiahship the leaders of Israel rejected the light that they had. And if one rejects the light that he has, he will not be given any more light.
3. The third reason was to fulfill prophecy– Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 and declared that in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would speak to the Jewish people in such a way that they would not understand. Matthew repeats this point in verses 34-35 where he emphasizes that Jesus “did not speak to them without a parable”, and quoted from Psalm 78:2, which foretold that the Messiah would end up speaking in parables.
These, then, are the three purposes of His parabolic method of teaching: to give more light and understanding to the disciples; to hide that light from the unbelieving crowd; and to fulfil prophecy thereby proving His Messiahship. Mark adds, at the end of verse 34 of his account, that “He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.” This indicates that even the disciples didn’t understand the parables, but afterwards, when He is alone with them, He explained the meaning of the parables to them, because for them the purpose is to illustrate the truth.
The content of the parables: The Kingdom of heaven or God
Matthew 13:11: To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Mark 4:11: To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God. Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God in His parables. Those two terms are synonymous. Matthew uses the term “kingdom of heaven”, because he is writing his gospel to Jews, and they are sensitive to using the name of God vainly. They would try to avoid using the term when they were writing or speaking and tended to use the term only in the synagogue or other religious meetings. In place of saying “God”, they would say “the name” or “heaven”. However, Mark wrote to Romans, and Luke wrote to Greeks, who did not have these sensitivities, and therefore they used the expression, “the kingdom of God.”
Mystery: Something revealed for the first time
Now, what did He mean by the word “mystery”? The term “mystery” is not used in the New Testament in the same way as we use it in English. In English we use it for something we don’t yet have an answer for – something we don’t yet have a solution for. Matthew 13:17: “For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Matthew 13:35: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” In verse 17, Jesus says that the things He is revealing to the disciples are things that many prophets and righteous men desired to see and hear, but it was not shown to them or spoken to them. And in verse 35 Matthew points out that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy by uttering things hidden since the foundation of the world. So the content that Jesus was speaking in the parables and which He describes as mysteries are things that were not revealed until He spoke of them. Which means that they were not revealed in the Old Testament. We can define the word “mystery” as something not revealed in the Old Testament but revealed for the first time in the New Testament.
This can also be seen in Ephesians 3:1-10 and Colossians 1:25-27, where Paul speaks of “the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things, and the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” Paul uses the word in the same way that Jesus used it. To repeat the definition: A mystery is something that was not revealed in the Old Testament, but is revealed for the first time in the New Testament.
The mystery kingdom
Now Jesus tells His disciples that it has been granted to them to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, and His parables are explaining this mystery to them. The word “kingdom” refers to the rule of a king; so the kingdom of God may be defined as God’s rule. It is the sphere over which the sovereign God rules. And when we look at what the Scriptures reveal about the rule of God, or the kingdom of God, we find that there are actually five different facets of God’s Kingdom Program. Four of them were already known in the Old Testament times, and the fifth facet is the mystery that Jesus reveals in His parables. These parables describe the Mystery Kingdom. It can be described by the word “Christendom” and means people anywhere in the world who claim loyalty to Jesus, both false and true loyalty – not so much Christianity, but Christendom, derived from the words Christ and kingdom. It describes conditions on this earth while the King is absent from the earth and is in heaven. It began with Israel’s rejection of the Messiahship of Yeshua and will end with Israel’s acceptance of the Messiahship of Yeshua.