The Parables of Jesus

Summary: In many of his parables, Jesus started them by saying, “The kingdom of God is like” in order to help us better understand what heaven is like. There are three parables in particular that Jesus gave toward the end of his ministry that teach about salvation and we can obtain it. these are the parable of sower, 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.  

The most commonly held belief held by Christians is that we are saved by grace alone and not because of any works we do (Ephesians 2:8,9). Even though they may say that “works” are important and that we should seek to live our life according to the teachings of Jesus, yet they are quick to point out that our salvation is not dependent on anything we do or don’t do.

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 spoke to this very situation in his parable of the sower.

In this story, a sower went out and scattered seeds 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 Christ 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 word “fruit” in this parable is  understood to mean how faithful someone is in their 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 the lives of just 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 receive 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 as to their life with Jesus 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, if someone who has accepted Christ as their personal Savior and then lives a life of fornication, adultery, becomes effeminate or an abuser of themselves with mankind, or who steals, is covetous, or becomes a drunkard, tit’s said that hey will still go to heaven. Yet Paul says that anyone who commits any of these unrighteous works “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” These two 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. For example, 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. Then why should someone who lives an unrighteous life after accepting Jesus go to heaven?

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 how all the other members reacted positively to this sinful act.

Perhaps if we look at some of the other parables of Jesus we can find an answer to this problem. But to do that we have to understand what each element of the parable represents.

In many of his parables, Jesus started them by saying, “The kingdom of God is like….” and then he illustrated, through the use of a story, something about heaven. For example we read, “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” 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 any oil in their lamps and therefore didn’t have any light to join in the procession. They quickly ran off to get some, expecting that they would be back in time to meet the groom, but 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 because they hadn’t been properly prepared when Jesus came, he told them “Verily, I say unto you, I know you not” (Matthew 25:1-12).

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. 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 what they had done that had allowed them to go with the groom. But to understand why, lt’s take a closer look at this parable.

Here the bridegroom represents Christ, and the wedding feast represents 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 the parable of the ten virgins, they represent those who have not been unfaithful to Christ. More than this, all of them are excitedly waiting for him to come welcome them into his presence. In addition to this, all ten of them had been invited to go into  the wedding feast, which is symbolic of entering 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 they didn’t have any oil in their lamps, and were therefore not prepared to join the wedding procession, but why?

In this story we’re told, “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” (verses 5-6). Lamps are not needed during the daytime hours but only at night. As all ten virgins waited for the bridegroom to come, “they all slumbered and slept.” Clearly, by this time, it was already dark. In fact, it was “at midnight” when “there was a cry made, Behold the bridegroom cometh.” If the bridegroom was going to come at midnight, then the virgins were going to need something to light up or illuminate their way through the darkness.

Excitedly, all ten virgins started to light their lamps, but five of them had no oil to burn. Therefore, they had nothing to light their way. And why didn’t they have any oil? Perhaps they were expecting the bridegroom to come when the sun was still up, in which case, they wouldn’t need any oil for their lamps.

The oil in this parable can represent many different things, but what is clear is that it was something that they needed in order to go and be with Jesus. In fact, it was so important for them to have that they quickly hurried off to get it, in hoping to return with they needed before Christ arrived.

If all that is needed in order to be saved and enter into the presence of Jesus is just to believe in him, then the five foolish virgins in this parable would have had no reason to rush off to get more oil because they already possessed all that was necessary to be with him. Some have tried to say that the five foolish virgins were non-believers who suddenly realized that they lacked any 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.

There ae people who are “sunshine Christians,” meaning that when everything is going good, they have no need for spiritual light. These Christians follow Jesus because it’s easy for them to profess a faith in him, but when they face challenging, troublesome, or difficult times, they have no spiritual light of their own to guide them, and so they walk in darkness. Then, when they realized too late what they needed to face the darkness, they scrambled to get what others already have .

The question has been asked, why didn’t the five wise virgins share their oil with the five foolish virgins? The answer is that no one can give someone else the kind of faith in Christ that will sustain them through the hard times. Each one of us has to develop that kind of faith on our own.

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 because they hadn’t been properly prepared when Jesus 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. 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 what they had done that had allowed them to go with the groom.

The message of this parable is that those who have professed a belief in Jesus but have not done what is necessary to receive eternal life, will not be allowed to enter into heaven. The reason why is because they honored him with their lips, their hearts were far from him (Matthew 15:8).

In the next parable, the lord of the house is preparing to go on a journey but is planning to return at some future date. However, before he leaves, he entrusts his servants with a portion of his goods with the expectation that when he returns they will have increased his goods. Here, the lord represent Jesus who is going back to heaven but will someday return.

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 because that’s what a servant does.

The first two servants took what their master had given 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 they wee rewarded for what they had done. 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 anythin 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 even though he was an unprofitable servant, he was stripped of everything he had and was cast into “outer darkness [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

As we study all the teachings of Jesus we find this same message, which is that it is only those who faithfully serve Christ and do what he asks who 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