To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand the Parables of the Kingdom
In my last post, we learned about the parable of the four soils. In this post, Yeshua explains why He speaks in parables.
“Then the talmidim came and asked Yeshua, ‘Why are you speaking to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘Because it has been given to you to know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it has not been given to them. For anyone who has something will be given more, so that He will have plenty; but from anyone who has nothing, even what He does have will be taken away. Here is why I speak to them in parables: they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding. That is, in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Yesha‘yahu which says, ‘You will keep on hearing but never understand, and keep on seeing but never perceive, because the heart of this people has become dull – with their ears they barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, so as not to see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and do t’shuvah, so that I could heal them.’ But you, how blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear! Yes indeed! I tell you that many a prophet and many a tzaddik longed to see the things you are seeing but did not see them, and to hear the things you are hearing but did not hear them.’” ~ Matthew 13:10-17
Yeshua Explains Why He Speaks in Parables
When Yeshua got away from the crowd and was alone with His true followers (the twelve emissaries and the larger group of Believers from whom the Twelve had been chosen), a more intimate question-and-answer period followed. Perhaps these close followers did not want to reveal their ignorance about Yeshua’s words in front of the entire crowd. More likely, they were noticing that many people in the crowd were not understanding Yeshua’s message. So, when they were alone with Yeshua, His followers asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables, in stories that seemed to confuse His listeners and obscure the message.
Remember the purpose for using parables was to get people to think.
Yeshua revealed that understanding the truth of the Gospel comes as a gift of God to those He has chosen. The you to whom Yeshua spoke was the group of His true followers, including the twelve emissaries and others who believed in him. God had given them a special gift. That this knowledge is given reveals that both grace and judgment are God’s prerogative. God had given this knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven to the emissaries as a permanent possession, a distinguishing mark of apostleship. They understood, though only partially, the secret that God’s kingdom had arrived among them in the person of Yeshua. Those who have not been given this knowledge are those who willfully reject the Gospel message. When speaking in parables, Yeshua was not hiding truth from sincere seekers, because those who were receptive to spiritual truth understood the illustrations. To others they were only stories without meaning. This allowed Yeshua to give spiritual food to those who hungered for it while preventing His enemies from trapping Him sooner than they might otherwise have done. The word translated secrets can also be translated as “mysteries.” In this context, they are the secrets of the kingdom given to the emissaries through Yeshua’s teaching.
To those who have the knowledge given by God (13:11), God will give even more knowledge and understanding so that they will have plenty. In contrast are those who have nothing – no knowledge or understanding from God (as explained in 13:11). From these people, even what they have will be taken away.
You might ask, how can people “have nothing” yet lose what they have? Yeshua’s words meant that those who had rejected Him and His message had no knowledge and therefore would lose their privileged status. Those who had nothing were the religious leaders and the vast majority of the people. They thought they were privileged and secure as God’s chosen people, but they might lose that position if the continued to refuse to believe in Yeshua as the Messiah. They would never understand the secret because they would not come to God for the answer. Choosing not to believe in Yeshua as their Messiah, they would not be able to understand the kingdom. This phrase means that we are responsible to use well what we have. When people reject Yeshua, their hardness of heart drives away or renders useless even the little understanding they had.
Here Is Why I Speak to Them In Parables
The parable of the sower accurately pictured the people’s reaction to all of Yeshua’s parables. Yeshua would not explain them to the people; rather, He would answer questions about His parables with other parables because they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding. While the parables may have been intended to be a means of God’s judgment on unbelievers, they also could not penetrate the hard soil of unbelief already characterizing unbelievers’ hearts. This was originally given as a prophecy for Isaiah’s own day about how His fellow Israeli would receive God’s messages through him. Yeshua witnessed the same reaction to His words. These unbelievers had already rejected Yeshua; no amount of explaining or talking would make any difference. The soil of their heart was hard; the seed of the word would not grow; the parables would be nothing more than strange stories to them. Yeshua was not hiding truth from sincere seekers because those who were receptive to spiritual truth understood the illustrations. To the path, thorn patch, or rocky soil people, the parables were only stories without meaning. The parables allowed Yeshua to give spiritual food to those who hungered for it; but for the others, Isaiah’s prophecy explained their situation.
God told Yesha‘yahu that people would listen without understanding and look without perceiving (Isaiah 6:9-10); Yeshua witnessed the same reaction to His teaching. By quoting from the prophet Yesha‘yahu, Yeshua was explaining to this inner group of followers that the crowd resembled the Israelis about whom Isaiah had written. God had told Yesha‘yahu that the people would listen but not learn from His message because their hearts had hardened beyond repentance. Yet God still sent Yesha‘yahu with the message because even though the nation itself would not repent and would reap judgment, some individuals would listen. Yeshua came to the Israeli hundreds of years after Yesha‘yahu, but the scenario was the same. Most would not repent because their hearts were hardened; but a few would listen, turn from their sins, and believe. The deafness to the message did not mean that the message was false or that the messenger was somehow at fault.
Neither Yesha‘yahu’s nor Yeshua’s audiences were denied the opportunity to turn or repent and receive healing (forgiveness). Instead, refusing to listen would mean inability to perceive and understand anything Yeshua had to say. The P’rushim had already accused Yeshua of being in league with Satan (12:24). Such an accusation revealed their stubborn blindness and their refusal to believe. Yeshua used these words from Isaiah to refer directly to the P’rushim’ accusation. The verbs are singular, meaning that they would not be forgiven of their sin of blasphemy. No matter how much they saw of Yeshua’s miracles or heard of His teaching, they never would be able to understand because they had deliberately chosen to reject. So Yeshua was saying that this hardness was, in effect, divine judgment.
The images of seeing and hearing refer to knowledge of God’s revelation. The contrast with Matthew 13:13 is striking – Yeshua spoke to them (that is, the crowds at large) in parables because they refused to understand. However, the talmidim (you) were blessed because they wanted to understand (even if they didn’t always completely understand). The same division between the unbelieving and believing was recorded in 11:25-26, “At that time Yeshua said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.’” The talmidim were blessed above the people in the crowd because they were seeing and hearing what the prophets had foretold. God gave them spiritual enlightenment to understand and accept the person and the message of Yeshua.
The kingdom of God was a mystery to the prophets of the Tanakh because, though they wrote about it, they did not understand it (as Sha’ul explains in Romans 16:25-26). The Believers who knew Yeshua personally received spiritual insight that illuminated the mystery so that it was no longer a mystery to them. In these words, Yeshua was explaining that He was the fulfillment of the prophecies given and heard by the prophets and righteous people of Old Testament days. Peter later wrote: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Messiah in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the Gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Peter 1:10-12)
In my next post, we will listen to Yeshua’s words as He explains what He meant in the Parable of the four soils.