I once heard someone say that parables are the best way to teach, because Jesus used them.  Of course this makes no sense because parables are very difficult to understand unless explained.

Jesus said this when the disciples asked why he was speaking in riddles through so many metaphors:

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. (Matthew 13:10-13)

So the question is why would Jesus purposefully keep much of his teaching secret through parables? Why would he want some not to see and not to hear?

  • 1
    Two possible observations - not sure how valid they are: a: it would have been very hard for anyone to challenge what he was saying, b: leaving things vague and open to interpretation makes it easy for people to no along with things, even if they haven't figured out what they might mean yet Jun 25, 2012 at 15:04
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    @MarcGravell - I copied an answer of yours on a C# question today (cheers). I do not want to provide a spoiler as I hope someone else will answer this but, two things to observe at tracing an answer. One, Jesus did not come to teach but die, so he was always controlling the political landscape (i.e. manipulating his enemies) Two, he started speaking in parables only after those who quite early on planned to kill him. The more their opposition grew, the less he allowed them to understand. For those who 'could hear' his message, He often explained in private.
    – Mike
    Jun 25, 2012 at 15:19
  • Is he not teaching it in the parables? Jesus used the parables as a pedagogical device. He's not hiding his teaching in the parables, he's revealing his teaching in them. He is not covering, but uncovering. That's why he says, "whoever has ears, let him hear."
    – Andrew
    May 25, 2015 at 6:32

6 Answers 6


It's interesting that Jesus often ends the telling of a parable with the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8) During Jesus' life and ministry, much of Jesus' teaching was, indeed, veiled, but only to those who did not have ears to hear. Perhaps those who really wanted to follow Jesus would either contemplate the parables until they understood them, or as happened to Peter, God would reveal the meaning of the parables to those who had ears to hear. The scoffers would not be force fed with the teachings of Jesus, but could cast them away. As C.S. Lewis noted, God cannot ravage--He can only woo.

The Meaning of Parables was veiled only for a short time

It is really important to note, however, that this veiling only occurred during the three years of Jesus' ministry. Immediately after the resurrection, the proclamation of Jesus as the risen Lord went out to all people, not veiled in parables, but in clear teaching. In fact, the more difficult parables that were explained in private to the disciples are now accessible to all people. In fact, the disciples who freely recorded the meanings in the gospels also likely publicly proclaimed the meaning to all people then as well.

Many for whom the parables had been veiled likely came to faith in Jesus later

On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to the thousands of Jews who had gathered for the feast. It is quite reasonable to assert that many of these had been among those that had heard the parables of Jesus and had not understood them, and then rejected Jesus and called for His execution. Peter lays this charge against them as he speaks. However, we are informed that 3,000 of these people became followers of Jesus on that day alone.


So, the fullness of the Gospel was veiled for a short time. Some people's hearts were hardened, and Jesus did not overwhelm them to the point of thwarting their own free will to reject them. Others were perhaps not ready at that time, but did accept Jesus later. Whatever the reason, the veiling was for a very short time, as today there is no "secret knowledge" in Christianity. Anyone can read the parables and the explanations given to Jesus' disciples in private. Indeed, the reader is invited into the most exclusive moments in the life of Jesus.

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    – (answer accepted) I like the fact that you argued after Pentecost the gospel was no longer under a veil. Clearly teaching was not Christ's first ambition. Also, those who we not able to hear, may have been further hardened into rage and murder, when the veil was removed. The parable seemed to call for a bit of a blind decision signifying faith over understanding which mojo seems to touch on. Both answer good but I must accept this one. Cheers.
    – Mike
    Jun 26, 2012 at 4:46
  • God wants you to put some effort too. It can't just be given to you on a platter...
    – user29418
    Oct 11, 2016 at 8:14

Wisdom is for the Humble

Psalm 138:6 (NASB)
For though the LORD is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, But the haughty He knows from afar.

Proverbs 3:34 (NASB)
Though He scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted.
(quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5)

Matthew 11:24-30 (NASB)
At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants."

God does not seem to be especially disposed to the intelligent (any more than he is to the athletic, beautiful, charismatic, etc.), and so we often see a theme in the Bible that wisdom is not something to be attained without first humbling ourselves before God who gives wisdom. It seems a reasonable implication that wisdom is not something that can be wholly attained by study or genius apart from the desire to understand.

Since God desires for people willing to choose to seek him, he frequently gives understanding only after obedience. It is only when we demonstrate (to ourselves, primarily) with our actions that we trust him that we begin to understand.

A similar example of God doing this is found in Isaiah 6.

Isaiah 6:9-10 (NASB)
He said, "Go, and tell this people : 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive ; Keep on looking, but do not understand.' "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed."

Believing is Seeing

Why hide understanding from people? In the US (and probably elsewhere), we have a proverb: "Seeing is believing." In God's eyes, it appears that the illogical converse is more true: "Believing is seeing."

  • +1 for focusing on the nature of faith (Proverbs 3:5-6). Cheers.
    – Mike
    Jun 26, 2012 at 4:48
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    @Mike, I would like to stress that faith is not "blind," but rather faith that God is who he says he is, based on the created world around us and what he has done in the past.
    – mojo
    Jun 26, 2012 at 11:47
  • Faith is certain knowledge and truth but it also blind when we have to trust it without fully seeing its end. This is what Abraham was commended for, he left not knowing where he was going. This is blind faith from a positive position. (Heb 11:8) But this is just semantics, I knew what you intend and also agree. Cheers
    – Mike
    Jun 26, 2012 at 14:22

I perceive a few reasons why Christ taught in parables:

  1. As someone elsewhere said, the people didn't understand that the primary mission of the Messiah was to "save people from their sins." They had been taught by the scribes and Pharisees that when the Messiah would come, He would not only deliver them from all their enemies but would also set up a physical kingdom on earth. No truer were the words of Christ than when He rebuked the teachers of the law for "shutting up heaven" and "taking away the keys (of knowledge)" so that the people would be blind as they were towards the Messiah.

  2. Since the people were already blinded by the labyrinth of false teaching, Christ had to get them to ask questions about God's kingdom (which is one of the signs of a heart that loves learning and wants to understand the things of God.) That's why Christ's teachings are so important; they weren't just nice stories but were tools in aiding people and helping them think about God's kingdom. However, in teaching from the parables, Christ also demonstrated what His own mission was and how it would work out in the long term.

  3. The religious leaders didn't like that way of teaching because it got people to question where their authority came from which is why they tried so many different times to discredit Jesus and make him look bad to everyone. What the people didn't understand was that Christ's mission was TWO-FOLD; to save them from their sins and THEN at His SECOND COMING set up His physical kingdom on earth. The scribes and pharisees however loved their money and their material gain more than the things of God so they started teaching the people that when the Messiah would come, He would usher in a brand new political and religious kingdom not unlike Solomon's or King David's

On a side note, it is very interesting to note that God had warned the children of Israel about taking a king when they had demanded one from Prophet Samuel.

  • Hi welcome to the site. I recommend reading the FAQ is you have not yet. To keep these stackexchange sites from becoming just more internet slop, there are some useful disciplines that are followed and for a newcomer it often a small learning curve. I think you had a couple thoughtful observations ;)
    – Mike
    May 24, 2015 at 15:04

Even though the answers by both Narnian and Mojo, completely and accurately answer your question. I felt it necessary to add some more elaboration to what they said.

We must take into account the fact that we now understand that the Messiah referred to Jesus Christ as the son of God. Before Jesus death and resurrection, the Jewish nation was expecting a military type leader who would oust the Roman government and Israel would again become the great nation that it had been under both David and Solomon. A large portion of the Jewish population still expects that military leader who will make Israel a great nation as it once was.

let's take into consideration some of the things which Jesus said and compare that to the expectations of the Jewish people at the time.

Matthew 5:17 and 18 KJV Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

And Jesus said this right after he had finished giving the sermon on the Mount. Today we know and understand what this meant because we know that Jesus died on the cross and rose on the third day. However, the people listening to this sermon on the Mount did not have this knowledge so how do you expect that they might have received what Jesus said?

Remember that Jesus told his disciples, that the common people were not given to understand what he was saying but that they were. Consider this verse:

Matthew 16:17 KJV And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

We now have the New Testament with which to help us understand the Old Testament but it was not so for the people of Jesus day. All they had was essentially the Pentateuch, (or the writings of Moses) and the prophets. Today we understand Daniel chapter 7 because of our knowledge of Jesus Christ and because of the explanations in the book of Revelation, how hard would it be to understand Daniel chapter 7 if we did not have those to go by.


Psalm 78 is cross-referenced by Matthew 13:35 (in my study Bible).

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.

2 I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—

3 things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.

4 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.

5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,

6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.

7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

8 They would not be like their ancestors— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.

Note the ironic inversion. The people to whom the Psalmist is addressing his poem were supposed to teach their children God's ways using parables to make the sense clear, so that their children would not be proud and rebellious like their ancestors. They failed. Jesus is now teaching adults who act like rebellious children, whose own parents failed to teach them correctly, using parables that they cannot understand.

In doing this, Jesus is obeying what is prophesied in Scripture. It said to teach children using parables, and so he did. What the people found difficult to swallow was that Jesus was reinterpreting all the Old Testament as being one big parable - the entire sacrificial system was merely a parable about the coming Messiah who would be the lamb slain for their sins. Not only did parables have hidden meanings that they could not follow, but the certainties of how to interpret their history and laws were being called into question.

In the end, Jesus must use parables, because nothing about God can be understood without some sort of analogy, he is not like us.


Lord Jesus did that only what Father the God told to do.John 5:19. Lord Jesus wants the people to have understand on truth through ONLY the revelation of Father instead faith coming from miracle.

Faith should be coming from Father's revelation. 2 Corinthians 5:6, John 14:9.

Lord Jesus was well aware of His Father's will and did it accordingly. John 5.19. Father will is that people must understand the truth ONLY through His Spiritual revelation in their heart instead of understand the truth through great miracles or talking plainly. John 6:44,65. To understand the truth we must have grace of Father within us john 6:37 otherwise noone come to Lord Jesus or understand the truth. Luke 24:45, Matthew 16:17 The truth is Jesus Christ.

Thanks to Mojo, Bye and Narnian.

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