The Parables of Jesus

Summary: In many of his parables, Jesus started them by saying, “This is what the kingdom of God is like” in order to illustrate how things are done in heaven. In chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew, we read of three parables Jesus gave to help us better understand what heaven is like. These are the parable of the wise and unwise servant, the parable of the ten virgins, and the parable of the talents. This article takes a closer look at these and other parables of Jesus to see what they teach us about being saved in the kingdom of God.  

In many of his parables, Jesus started them by saying, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.” In other words, he was trying to illustrate through the use of a story how things are done in heaven. In chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew, we read of three parables Jesus gave to help us better understand what heaven is like.

Beginning in 24:45 we read, “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. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellow servants, 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.”

In chapter 25 Jesus tells the story of the ten virgins. Five of them were wise because they had oil in their lamps and five were foolish because they didn’t have any oil. All ten of them were waiting for the bridegroom to come but when it was announced that he was on his way, the foolish virgins suddenly realized they didn’t have enough oil needed to join in the procession so they quickly ran off to get some, expecting that they would be back in time to meet the groom. However, by the time they got back, the groom and his guests were already locked in the party room. The five foolish virgins knocked on the door “saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily, I say unto you, I know you not” (verses 1-12).

Jesus then followed this parable by telling another one of a man who left on a journey but gave one of his servants five talents, another two talents, and another one talent. When he returned some time later and asked for an accounting of what they had done with what had been entrusted to them, the first and the second servants showed that they had doubled what had been given them, but the third servant only had just the one talent that had been given him. The master of the house was furious him, took everything that belonged to him “And cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (verses 14-30).

Each of these parables were intended to teach us something about what heaven is like and what kind of people go there, but unfortunately Jesus didn’t give us the precise interpretation of these three parables, therefore as Christians we need to search for their intended meaning. especially as they pertain our salvation.

In the Protestant world the plan of salvation they teach is that we are saved by grace alone and not by any works that we do (Ephesians 2:8,9). It is taught that although “works” are important and that we should seek to live our life as Christ expects, yet our salvation is not dependent on anything we do or don’t do. Because of this belief, it is said that our works, or lack of them, have no effect on determining whether or not we get into heaven.

If it is true that our salvation is not dependent on what we do but only on our willingness to confess Jesus as our Savior, then it logically follows that once we have accepted Jesus into our life that there is nothing we can do to lose our salvation. This idea is summed up in the saying, “Once saved, always saved.” And if this is a true doctrine, then we should see it clearly illustrated in the parables that Jesus taught.

However, there have been a fair number of people who have come forward and accepted Christ and invited him into their life, who have backslid in their commitment and returned to their former ways of living. Jesus illustrated this in his parable of the sower where he explained that a sower scattered seed and “some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them. 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 other fell into goo ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundred fold, some sixtyfold, some thirty fold” (Matthew 13:4-8).

Later, the disciples of Jesus came to him asking what did this parable mean and he explained, “When anyone 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 endureth 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” (verse 19-23).

In this parable “the seed” represents the word of God and the sower is the person who goes about spreading the word of God to others. The parable then goes on to illustrate four ways that people respond to the gospel when they hear it.

Some people who hear the gospel immediately reject it. They are illustrated by the seed that fell by the wayside where the birds came and ate them before they had a chance to sprout. The “birds” represent “the wicked one” who convinces the hearer to reject God’s message of salvation.

The second group of people are likened to the seed that fell on “stony places.” These are people who receive the word of God “with joy” and it took root in their hearts, and for a time they remained in the faith, but their roots were not very deep, meaning that their commitment to Christ wasn’t very strong. Then, when they had to endure a little heat, or ridicule, or persecution for their beliefs, or they were faced with some hard times, their faith in Christ withered, and they fell away from believing in him.

There are many people today who fall into this category, who say they believe in Christ, and who go to church occasionally, but who live their life the way the rest of the world does. There are those who go to church frequently, listen to a sermon each Sunday, and then go back to their homes without being affected by anything they heard. There are those who used to be faithful church goers but because of hard times, have lost faith in God’s promises, complaining that if there is a God, why would he let them, or someone they love, suffer?

This group also includes those who abandoned their original belief in Chris to follow after someone who preaches a different gospel message. There are churches who preach the gospel of prosperity or positive thinking, or of healing, but who say nothing about sin, or about keeping God’s commandments, or living a morally clean life. There are churches who teach that there is nothing wrong with living a homosexual lifestyle and who even ordain gay and lesbian people to their ministry, and many of these churches have a large congregation of followers.

The third group of people Jesus mentions are those who were choked by thorns, which he says represents “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” These are people who accept Christ as their Savior and may have been faithful in their belief of him for a season but then money, job, fame, power, or other things of the world became more important to them than following Christ.

According to studies and statistics, divorce and adultery among professing Christians is at the same level as it is for those who don’t believe in Christ. Just because someone has sincerely accepted Jesus into their life doesn’t prevent them from falling prey to having an extramarital affair or from being seduced by fame, money, power, or being bribed. There have been several popular gospel singers who felt they could be more successful in using their talents by conforming their music to that of the secular world. Jesus describes these kinds of people as being “unfruitful.”

The last group of people that Jesus mentions in this parable are those who have not only heard the word and understood it, but who have “also bearth fruit.” But even among this group, not everyone is the same because some brought forth a hundredfold worth of fruit, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold.

The exact meaning of the word “fruit” in this parable is open to interpretation but it generally is accepted to signify a person’s commitment to serving Christ. For example, Billy Graham spent his entire adult life dedicating himself to preaching the word of God all over the world, bringing untold hundreds of thousands of people to Christ. As such, it could accurately be said that he produced a hundredfold worth of fruit. There are other ministers who labor diligently and faithfully in their service to God but who only minister to a small congregation. They can be likened to those who produce sixtyfold or thirtyfold. And then there are the many countless, ordinary believers in Christ whose lives of faithfulness to God has had a positive effect on just the lives of the people around them.

There are some Protestant faiths who teach that our reward in heaven will be based on our works. In other words, those who have served the Lord more faithfully in this life will received a greater reward in heaven than those whose Christian life hasn’t been as fruitful. Although this sounds quite reasonable, yet people are often at a loss to explain exactly what those rewards are, especially with an answer that is scripturally based. But if that is true, then what is the reward of those who have not produced any fruit, such as those who dried up when tribulation, persecution, and hardships came along, or who were choked by the cares of the world? What kind of a life do the unfruitful live in heaven if they are not entitled to any reward?

The apostle Paul wrote, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9).

However, according to the doctrine of once saved, always saved, if someone who has accepted Christ as their personal Savior and then commits fornication, adultery, becomes effeminate or an abuser of themselves with mankind, or who steals, is covetous, or becomes a drunkard, they will still go to heaven. Yet Paul says that anyone who commits any of these unrighteous works “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Both of these beliefs about salvation contradict one another, so which one is correct?

Some people say that Paul is not talking about Christians but about the way nonbelievers in Christ behave, but the most basic belief among all Christians is that unless someone accepts Christ as their Savior and Redeemer, they are going to hell, no matter how good a life they might have led. Christians do not believe that someone who follows the teachings of Buddha, or Muhammad, or any other religious leader will go to heaven, and yet many of these people live very chaste and honorable lives,

However, when Paul made this statement, he wasn’t talking about non-believers. He was specifically addressing his remarks to the saints, or Christians, who were living in Corinth, and was commenting on an incident of immorality concerning one of their members and the positive reaction the rest of them had to this sinful act.

Perhaps the parables of Jesus that are found in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew can help us solve this dilemma. But since Jesus didn’t give us the interpretation of these three parables, we have to examine them more closely in order to determine their meaning, and the key to doing this is to decided what each element of the parable represents.

It is clear that the groom or master in each of these three parables is symbolic of Jesus, but who are the others?

In the first parable it reads, “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.” A servant is someone who does the bidding of his master. If Jesus is the master in this parable, then those who claim to serve God, or who are willing to do his bidding, are represented by the “faithful and wise servant.”

Some may say that the servant spoken of here is one “whom his lord hath made ruler over his household,” which might seem to be referring to a pastor or minister, and not the ordinary, average believer in Christ. But even if we take this interpretation, the parable tells us that when the master of the household returns he will bless that servant who has been faithful, or doing well with what was entrusted to them. That clearly infers that such a servant has to have been found doing something that was praiseworthy, and that’s the definition of work.

But the parable goes on to say that when the master returns if he finds that his servant has not been faithful, that he has become a drunkard, or has abused the power entrusted to him, the master “shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

If we say that we can’t lose our salvation once we’ve been saved, then we would have to say, in order to make this parable agree with that belief, that those servants of God – whoever they may be – who are unfaithful and unwise, and have not done what was expected of them, will still go to heaven but be sent to a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Yet, the Bible describes heaven as a place where there is never ending happiness, therefore it seems clear that unfaithful servants don’t go to heaven. And the statement that they shall be cut asunder seems to strongly imply that they will be cut out or cut off from being with God.

Some may say that this is illustrating the fate of unfaithful servants before they get to heaven. In other words, people who are not faithful in their service and commitment to God will first be punished and then, afterwards, be admitted into heaven. The problem with this explanation is that it doesn’t fit this parable because that’s not what this parable says or even implies.

Furthermore, what this parable does say is that the unfaithful and unwise servant will be appointed their “portion with the hypocrites.” I’m not aware of any biblical verse or Protestant teaching that says hypocrites will be allowed into heaven. Which brings us to the next parable of the ten virgins. In this story, the bridegroom is representative of Christ, and the wedding feast is representative of the feast that awaits us in heaven. But who are the virgins?

A virgin is someone who has kept themselves morally pure as they wait for the day they can give themselves to their husband. In this parable the virgins represent those who have been faithful in their belief  of Christ and are excitedly waiting for him to come welcome them into his presence, and this would include all ten virgins. More importantly, all ten of them had been invited to go into heaven with Jesus. Clearly, all of them were believers in Christ.

But when it was announced that Christ was coming, five of the virgins suddenly realized that they didn’t have enough oil and weren’t prepared to go into heaven. It is obvious that they needed to have oil, but what does the oil represent? There have been many different explanations to this question, but what is clear is that it was something that they needed to possess in order to go and be with Christ. In fact, it was so important for them to have this commodity that they quickly hurried off to get it, in hopes of returning with the needed item before Christ arrived.

If all that is needed in order to be saved is just to believe in Christ, then the five foolish virgins would have had no reason to rush off to get more oil because they already possessed all that was necessary to be with Jesus. Some have tried to say that the five foolish virgins were non-believers who suddenly realized that they lacked enough faith in Christ, but if that was true then they wouldn’t have been among the invited guests who were anxiously waiting for the groom to arrive.

By the time the foolish virgins returned they discovered that Christ had already come and had taken his guests into heaven. They then knocked on the door asking to come in but Jesus refused to let them enter. In fact, because they hadn’t been properly prepared when he came, he told them that he didn’t know them. They weren’t just let into the bad part of heaven where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, but rather they weren’t allowed into any part of heaven. That certainly doesn’t illustrate the principle of once saved, always saved. And notice that those who were let in were those who had done what was expected of them. They had plenty of oil in their lamps, therefore it was their works that had allowed them to go with the groom.

In the next parable, the master of the house who is preparing to go on a journey is representative of Christ, who went to heaven for a season but is planning to return at some future date. But before he leaves he entrusts his servants with a portion of his goods with the expectation that when he returns he wants to see an increase in his goods.

As we saw earlier, a servant is someone who obeys their master, and as servants of Christ, we willingly choose to submit ourselves to God’s commands. As Jesus taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15), therefore, those who claim to love Jesus also have committed themselves to doing whatever he asks of them because that’s what a servant does.

The first two servants took what their master gave them and increased it, which involved them putting forth some sort of effort to accomplish some kind of work. Because of this, Jesus described them as being “good and, faithful” servants and rewarded them for their good works by making them a ruler over many things. However, the Lord described the third servant’s actions as being slothful and unprofitable.

This servant hadn’t squandered away or misappropriated or lost his master’s property. He still had it to give back, but he hadn’t increased it. Although this servant hadn’t done anything terribly wrong, yet he hadn’t done any work to be praised for. And it was precisely because he hadn’t done any work in building up his master’s wealth that he wasn’t worthy to be called a faithful or a wise servant.

However, instead of this servant being allowed to remain with his master because he hadn’t done any work, he was stripped of everything he had, which was then given to someone else, and he was cast into “outer darkness [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

That doesn’t sound like any part of heaven the Bible talks about, but it does sound like the kind of place that unbelievers will inherit. This parable doesn’t seem to illustrate that no matter what we do, we will still go to heaven. It certainly doesn’t illustrate the principle that once we are saved there is nothing we can do to lose our salvation.

As we study all the teachings of Jesus we find this same message, which is that it is only those who faithfully serve Christ will inherit the kingdom of God, and this message is found in all of the parables of Jesus.


Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation