What are the parables of Jesus? Why did Jesus talk in stories? How many parables of Jesus are there?
It's true that it can often be difficult to understand the stories in the Bible because of the way they are written. And the Parable of Jesus are no different.
So, if you are wanting to understand them better, keep reading! We are going to give a simple explanation of each one to help you understand them better!
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What are the Parables of Jesus
A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) Jesus tells many stories, or parables, to teach spiritual truths.
It is important to keep in mind that these parables were told 2,000 years ago and to a group of people whose customs and lifestyles are different than ours today.
The stories were relatable to Jesus’s audience and while they are very relevant for us today, it takes a bit more decoding than it did in the days they were told.
How Many Parables of Jesus are There?
There is a bit of controversy over how many parables Jesus told. But, generally speaking, there are 38 main ones (that most agree on) and those are the ones we are going to focus on today.
Why Did Jesus Talk in Parables?
So, why would Jesus talk in parables? Why did he not just come right out and say what he wanted to say?
I can think of three reasons why Jesus talked in parables.
- To get the people’s attention. A good story always perks the interest of the listeners.
- The parables were relatable to the people. They understood the objects and situations of the story and therefore were more able to relate to Jesus’s message and the spiritual lessons he was imparting.
- He wanted to conceal the wisdom held in some of the parables. Jesus had two different audiences, those who wanted to know the truth and those who wanted to catch Jesus saying something contrary to their written law. Those who were truly seeking the truth would study and ponder the parables to find the wisdom in them. The parables were intended for this audience.
The Parables of Jesus and Their Lessons
As mentioned above, there are 38 parables of Jesus. Some of them repeat the same message, some of them have dozens of interpretations, and several of them are for a time yet to come. Here is a list of the 38 parables of Jesus along with a brief (and simple) explanation of each one.
Lamp on a Stand
The parable of the lamp on a stand is found in Mark 4:21-23 and Matthew 5:14-16. It teaches us to shine God’s light (our faith) boldly and brightly so it can light the way for non-believers to find their way to Christ.
Found three times in scripture, Matthew 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-29, and Luke 21:29-31, the parable of the fig tree teaches us to be aware of the times in which we live and prepare for Jesus’s return.
The parable of the mustard seed is found in Matthew 13:31-31, Mark 4:30-32, and Luke 13:18-19. Jesus teaches us that faith may begin small like the seed of a mustard plant, but that it grows and spreads.
The parable of the good Samaritan is probably one of the most well-known parables of Jesus. It is found in Luke 10:30-36 and is a reply to a man who was trying to justify himself. This parable teaches us who our neighbor is and to whom we are intended to show love and kindness to (spoiler alert: we are intended to show God’s love to everyone!).
Another well-known parable is that of the Prodigal son. Found in Luke 15:11-32, it tells the story of two brothers. The younger brother demands his inheritance early, runs off with it, and makes some poor decisions. The other brother remains with the father, working beside him. This story teaches us that God loves us no matter what poor choices we make in life and forgives us when we come back to Him.
Wheat and Weeds
The parable of the wheat and weeds is found in Matthew 13:24-30 and tells how satan’s seed is sown right alongside Jesus’s seed (Those who choose to follow God and those who choose not to follow God).
The parable of the Sower is found in Matthew 13. It teaches us that we are the ones who determine what kind of soil our hearts will be. We decide whether we will have a hard heart, a shallow heart, a crowded heart, or a receptive heart.
We can choose to be like fertile soil that embraces God and continues to grow stronger in our faith. Or we can be the other soils – so distracted by things of the world that prevent Jesus from growing stronger in our hearts.
New Cloth on an Old Coat/ New and Old Wine Skins
These two examples are found together in Matthew 9:16-17, Mark 2:21-22, and Luke 5:36-39. They teach us that we must change our lives when we follow Jesus.
The Wise and Foolish Builders
One of my favorite songs to sing with my kids is taken from this parable and is an important concept for us to ponder as adults. It is found in Luke 6:48-49 and Matthew 7:24-26. Jesus compares those who hear his words to two men who build houses.
One builds on the rock (Jesus and his teachings) and the other builds on the sand (the world). We learn that the man who builds his house on the rock is strong, but the man who builds his house on the sand will find his house washed away.
The Money Lender and Unequal Debts
This parable is found in Luke 7:41-43 and teaches us that Jesus forgives all of our sins both major and minor.
The Rich Fool
The parable of the rich fool is about a man who finds contentment and security in earthly riches and is found in Luke 12:16-21. It teaches us to not put our security in earthly riches because we do not know what tomorrow holds.
The Wise and Foolish Servants
Don’t you love how Jesus often contrasted people in his stories? This parable is no exception.
The parable of the wise and foolish servants is found in Luke 12:42-48 and Matthew 24:45-50 and teaches us to be faithful and to stand strong in the faith while we wait for Jesus to return.
Woman and the Yeast
This parable is only one verse long and found once. In Matthew 13:33 Jesus tells us about a woman who puts yeast into her bread dough. It is found right after the parable of mustard seed and is also about how faith (and the church) spreads and grows.
Pearl and Hidden Treasure
The parable of the pearl and hidden treasure helps us to understand the true value of our salvation. It is found In Matthew 13:44-46
Jesus compares salvation to a hidden treasure. Salvation is more valuable than anything this earth can give us and that forsaking all to obtain it is worth it.
Parable of the Net
This parable is found in Matthew 13:47-50 and teaches us that in the end there will be a separation of the righteous and the evil. The righteous will go to heaven and the evil will go to hell.
The Lost Sheep
The parable of the lost sheep is a favorite because it shows Jesus as a loving shepherd. It is found in Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:4-7 and teaches us that Jesus will go through great lengths to find his children and bring them to salvation.
The Master and His Servant
Found in Luke 17:7-10, this parable talks about the role of a servant. As followers of Christ, we should have a humble heart willing to do his will without seeking recognition or advancement.
The Unmerciful Servant
Found in Matthew 18:21-34, the parable of the unmerciful servant tells a story about a man who was forgiven a large debt. One would think he would be grateful and extend that same forgiveness to the man who owed him a debt. He does not and his end is not pleasant. This parable is an important command to forgive as we have been forgiven.
A Friend at Midnight
The parable of a friend coming at midnight and asking for bread teaches us that we need persistence when we pray. It is found in Luke 11:5-8.
Lowest Seat at the Feast
Found in Luke 14:7-14, this parable tells about taking the lower seat when invited to a feast rather than wanting to be important and take a better seat. Jesus is trying to teach humility.
Invitation to a Great Banquet
In Luke 14:16-24, Jesus tells a parable about a great feast. Several people are invited and give excuses about not being able to attend. The servants are then instructed to go out and invite everyone to the feast. This is Jesus’s way of teaching that salvation is an invitation to everyone.
The Cost of Discipleship
Found in Luke 14:25-33 Jesus talks about the cost of following him. He talks about “counting the cost” and how a man who wants to build something first sits down and figures the cost to see if he can afford it. The same is true of a king. He decides if he has the needed amount of soldiers to go into battle. The same is true for those who decide to follow Jesus. We need to decide if we are willing to put in what is needed.
The Lost Coin
Found in Luke 15:8-10, the parable of the lost coin is about a woman who loses a coin. She cleans her entire house looking for it and rejoices when she finds it. The parable describes the joy in heaven when a sinner comes to salvation.
The Unjust Steward
The unjust steward is found in Luke 16:1-8 and speaks of the business transactions of a steward and his boss. It is intended to teach us to be wise stewards, not only with our money, but everything God has given us.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Found in Luke 16:19-31, is the story of a rich man and a poor beggar. This parable teaches us that how we live our life here on earth has a direct influence in how we live in the afterlife.
Workers in the Vineyard
Found in Matthew 20:1-16 is a story of a vineyard owner who goes out and looks for workers. He hires at various times throughout the day, promising each worker the same wage.
At the end of the day, some grumbling is heard by the workers that were hired in the morning and worked many hours but receive the same wage as those who worked only a few.
This parable teaches us that God provides the same gift to all of those who choose to follow Him no matter what time during their life they come to Him.
The Persistent Widow
The persistent widow teaches us to pray with perseverance even when we don’t see the results of our prayers immediately. This parable is found in Luke 18:1-8.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Found in Luke 18:10-14, the parable contrasts two men as they pray. One is arrogant and the other humble. I don’t think I need to tell you that Jesus wishes for us to be like the humble one.
Parable of the 10 Minas
In Luke 19:11-27, Jesus tells the story of a wealthy businessman who travels to another country. Before going, he entrusts money to several of his employees. Each employee does something different with the money, some to the favor of their boss and others not so much. This parable instructs us to take what God has given us and use it to His glory.
Parable of the Two Sons
In Matthew 21:28-32 is a parable of two sons. One tells his father that he will do what he is told, but doesn’t. The second son tells his father no, but changes his mind and does what his father asked. This story is pointed at hypocrites.
Wicked Tenants (Vinedressers)
This parable is found three times in the gospels: Matthew 21:33-44, Mark 12:1-11, and Luke 20:9-16. It tells the story of a man who plants a vineyard. He hires men to look after it and goes out of town. He sends servants to check on the progress of the vineyard and his employees beat them up and send them back.
Next, he sends his son, thinking his employees would respect him. Unfortunately, they see this as an opportunity and kill the son. In the end, the man comes and kills the wicked employees and gives the vineyard to others.
This parable tells the story of the Jewish people. God gives them of his goodness (the vineyard) but they are not faithful. He sends prophets to warn them and instruct them, but they do not listen. He sends His son, Jesus, but they kill him. The Gentiles now receive the promise of the long-awaited Messiah.
The Wedding Feast
Found in Matthew 22:1-13, this parable is similar to the parable of the invitation to the banquet. Ite tells the story of a wedding feast and those who are invited do not come. The father of the groom sends his servants out to invite everyone they meet. This parable tells about Israel rejecting Jesus as their Messiah and how this opens salvation to the gentiles.
The Wise and Foolish Virgins
Matthew 25:1-13 tells the story of ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. This story teaches us that there are two kinds of Christians, those who are actively following Christ and those who are not actively following Christ. The foolish virgins are not happy by the end of the story.
Parable of the Talents
Similar to the parable of the minas is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. It tells the story of a businessman who travels to another country leaving his business in the hands of his employees. Two are faithful and deal wisely with his business and one is foolish and does not aid his employer at all.
Jesus is teaching us to be faithful with what He has given us and use it to His glory.
The Sheep and the Goats
Matthew 25:31-46 tells us about a judgment that is to come at the end of days. Jesus will divide his faithful children from those who were not faithful, the goats on one side and the sheep on the other. (spoiler alert: you do NOT want to be a goat!).
The Sheep and the Shepherd
In John 10:1-18, Jesus talks about being the good shepherd and taking care of his sheep. It is a beautiful story of how he calls his children and cares for them, giving his life for them and protecting them. This parable illustrates the blessings of a life devoted to Christ.
This parable is a call to action to remain faithful and watchful for Jesus’s return. It is found in Mark 13:32-37 and Luke 12:35-40.
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Understanding the Parables of Jesus
While most of what we read in the Bible is written by different people, these 38 Parables of Jesus were written by Him. They are the words of Jesus, straight from His mouth!
I love reading the parables because they offer correlations that help us to make better sense of what He is trying to teach us through them. This helps us to better apply the lessons to our own lives.
The best part about the parables of Jesus is that we can read them a dozen times and be able to relate to them in different ways. The Bible is the living word of God.
Which parable speaks to you where you are in your life right now? Which one do you want to dig into and learn more about? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!