Jesus Revealing the Secrets of God’s Kingdom

In the Old Testament there are indications there would come a man in line with the seed of king David who would come to liberate the world and end the curse of God made in the Garden of Eden.

In several books of the Book of books, the Bible, there are indication that at one time there shall come a kingdom where there would be no evil, no jealousy or envy, no hate, but peace even between man and animal.

The Jewish Nazarene master teacher Jesus on his walks throughout the country told many parables or little stories by which he wanted to make things clear and give a lesson of things to come.

“And he taught them many things in parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,” (Mr 4:2 GenevaBible)

“33 And with many such parables he preached the word unto them, as they were able to hear it. 34 And without parables spake he nothing unto them: but he expounded all things to his disciples apart.” (Mr 4:33-34 GenevaBible)

Wherever he came, people could hear him speaking in parables unto the multitudes; and without a parable spake he nothing unto them, hat it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,

I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world. {Matthew 13:34-35}

“I will open my mouth in a parable: I will declare high sentences of old.” (Ps 78:2 GenevaBible)

From time immemorial there was talk of that man from the lineage of David, and now there was that preacher from Nazareth, who was born in the city of David (Bethlehem). As sent from God, Jesus now spoke in such a way that people could hear and think how he fitted into the picture of the previous sayings by the prophets.

Christ had chosen for him twelve disciples to whom he told that the secret of the kingdom of God was been given to them.

“And he said unto them, To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things be done in parables,” (Mr 4:11 GenevaBible)

Those who wish to be disciples of Jesus are expected to understand the parables of Jesus the way Jesus and his biographers meant them to be understood. It would be unwise to think those stories are just stories for the sake of entertaining those around the storyteller Jesus.

Jesus did not invent the genre of parable.

Nathan speaks a parable to David in 2 Samuel 12:1–4, Ezekiel tells a parable in Ezekiel 17:2–10, and a few more are scattered across the Old Testament. We have records of three Rabbinic parables dating from before the time of Jesus and more than fifteen hundred after him.

Peter Krol writes

A commonality between the parables of Scripture and those of the rabbis is that these stories were not mere illustrations for the sake of instructional color. While they did make teaching points more vivid, they did so by telling and retelling the story of God’s people. {The Parables of Jesus: Revealing the Secrets of God’s Kingdom}

Whilst the rabbis spoke to their own members of the synagogue or to the Judaic people, Jesus went outside the synagogue talking to Jews and non-Jews or gentiles. All who wanted to listen to him were welcome and could hear him clearly telling those stories, of which most of them were about preparing oneself for a time to come and a kingdom to come.

Jesus brought several illustrations or parables that especially bore on God’s Messianic kingdom and therefore might well be called Kingdom illustrations or parables. We hear about a kingdom of God but also about a Kingdom being with them and a Kingdom of heaven as well as a Kingdom on earth. At times these kingdoms were introduced with the words,

The kingdom of the heavens is like,”


“With what are we to liken the kingdom of God?”


“With what shall I compare the kingdom of God?”


“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a draw net cast into the sea, that gathereth of all kinds of things.” (Mt 13:47 GenevaBible)

“He said moreover, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?” (Mr 4:30 GenevaBible)

“And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God?” (Lu 13:20 GenevaBible)

When we search the New Testament we can find about thirty illustrations or parables. though not everybody agrees with the number of parables, that number or how you want to call those illustrations, really does not matter. Peter Krol writes

While some parables are clearly labeled as “parables” (e.g., Matt 13:3), many are not. Therefore, there is some dispute as to what counts as a parable.

For example, the ESV Study Bible lists twenty-five parables of Jesus, while the Faithlife Study Bible lists thirty-nine and the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels lists forty-six. All of those lists claim there are no parables in the Gospel of John, but C. H. Dodd and A. M. Hunter claim that, though the word “parable” never occurs, ten parables may still be identified in that Gospel.

According to the thirteenth chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus once gave a series of seven Kingdom illustrations in close connection with one another. We should remember that the most important reason for his telling such short stories is to persuade people to enter the kingdom of which he speaks.

One of the well-known ones is the illustration of the sower. Many also do known the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the mustard grain, the leaven hid in the batch of dough, the treasure hid in the field, the pearl of high value and the dragnet. (Matt. 13:1-50) Also the Gospel writer Luke introduces the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in a different way, and says:

“17 And when he said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: but all the people rejoiced at all the excellent things, that were done by him.

18  Then said he,

What is the kingdom of God like? or whereto shall I compare it?

19 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew, and waxed a great tree, and the fowls of the heaven made nests in the branches thereof.

20 And again he said,

Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God?

21 It is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of flour, till all was leavened.” (Lu 13:17-21 GenevaBible)

Those stories might not have been clear for many. Sometimes the apostles also asked for more information on the story their master told. Jesus’s disciples ask this very question:

“Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matt 13:10).

Jesus answered their question, but in a way that was sometimes wildly misunderstood.

To grasp his two answers, we must grapple with the two Old Testament texts quoted by Matthew (13:10ff) and echoed by Mark (4:10ff).

writes Peter Krol.

Reason 1: To expose idolatry

Jesus first responds by informing the disciples that they have been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (Matt 13:11), while those who don’t have functioning ears or eyes (Matt 13:13) have not. Such failure of the senses fulfills what Isaiah spoke about in chapter 6 of his book of prophecy (Matt 13:14–15).

“14 So in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which prophecy saith, By hearing, ye shall hear, and shall not understand, and seeing, ye shall see, and shall not perceive. 15 For this people’s heart is waxed fat, and their ears are dull of hearing, and with their eyes they have winked, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts, and should return, that I might heal them.” (Mt 13:14-15 GenevaBible)

This begs a serious question:

Why do the senses of some (the disciples) function as they ought, while the senses of others (many in the crowds) do not?

Some might answer that Jesus himself caused this state of affairs. He spoke in parables in order to confuse people or to make them blind. Mark’s version of the dialogue might appear to support this idea, since Jesus says straight out that

“for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive’” (Mark 4:11–12).

But to draw this conclusion is to misunderstand Isaiah. The book of Isaiah, including the call to ministry in chapter 6, uses sensory-malfunction language not to describe divine reprobation or foreordination to judgment but to describe the consequences of idolatry. (See Isa 42:17–20; 43:8–10; 44:9, 18–20, for some of the clearest examples.)

That terminology of seeing but not perceiving in Isaiah 6 reaches even further back into the Psalms, where those who have unseeing eyes and unhearing ears are the blind and deaf idols (Pss 115:4–8, 135:15–18). And “those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them” (cf. Pss 115:8, 135:18).

So when God commissions Isaiah to go and preach to the people of Israel, he is not sending Isaiah to preach in order to confuse them. God sends Isaiah to preach in order to clear things up! To expose the people’s becoming as senseless as the idols they worship, so they might in fact come to their senses and begin to see and hear the truth of God.

God wants to heal and restore his people; this is why he sends them prophets (Hos 11:1–9). The problem with Israel is neither intentional hardening on God’s part nor confusing ministry on Isaiah’s part, but the people’s unwillingness to see and hear God’s compassion spoken through the prophet. (Jesus models similar compassion in Luke 13:34.)

For further study on this topic, I commend G. K. Beale’s masterpiece of biblical theology, We Become What We Worship. Regarding the passage Jesus quotes to explain his use of parables, Beale concludes:

Isaiah 6:9–10 is a just judgment from God, not a capricious happening out of the divine blue. He is punishing them by means of their own sin. It is just as in eternity, when God says to those who have rejected him and his people throughout their lives, “You did not want to spend your life in fellowship with me and my people on this earth. All right, I will give you what you wanted on this earth for eternity: separation from God and his people.” … The idols have physical eyes and ears, but they could not see or hear … And so God commands Israel through Isaiah to become like the idols, and that is their judgment … Israel will be judged by being made spiritually insensitive like the idols they worship.3

Matthew 13 and Mark 4 both quote Isaiah 6 to spotlight the fulfillment of this prophetic task in Jesus’s ministry. The context of Isaiah, with the backdrop of the Psalms, explains the “so that” in Mark 4:11–12. To paraphrase:

“You have been given the secret of the kingdom, but those outside get parables, so that I may complete Isaiah’s ministry of exposing their spiritual insensitivity by handing them over to their blind and deaf idols.”

Through the parables, then, Jesus exposes the idolatry of God’s people even more fully and effectively than did the prophets of old. And that leads us to the second reason for the parables.

Reason 2: To clarify the story

The narrator of Matthew claims that Jesus’s parables fulfilled not only the ministry of Isaiah, but also the prophecy of Psalm 78.

Jesus said nothing to the crowds without a parable

“to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world’” (Matt 13:34–35, quoting Ps 78:2).

Psalm 78 recounts at length the story of the Jewish people, which the prophet wishes to be told to coming generations (Ps 78:1–4).

  • According to this true story, God established the law to help them be less stubborn than their ancestors (Ps 78:5–8).
  • But they constantly turned back and sinned still more (Ps 78:9-20). Though angry, God continued to show compassion (Ps 78:21–31).
  • Yet they continued to sin again and again (Ps 78:32–58), to the point where God had to devastate them (Ps 78:59–66).
  • Despite their sin and his judgment, he chose one tribe—one man—to shepherd them forever (Ps 78:67–72).

Just as Psalm 78 did long ago, Jesus’s parables now also clarify the story of God’s people.

It is not a story of the greatness and glory of Israel, possessors of the Law and temple, antagonists to Rome and inheritors of eternal life. It is a story of God’s compassion for a severely wayward people. A people who won’t listen. A people who won’t obey. A people who want to be like their idols. A people who need a righteous king.

While Mark doesn’t invoke Psalm 78, he makes the same point through another parable:

“Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest” (Mark 4:21–22).

According to both Matthew and Mark, Jesus spoke in parables not to confuse people but to illuminate and clarify the story of God’s covenant with Israel.

We ought not be surprised, then, that some parables provoked not confusion but unambiguous outrage (Mark 12:12).

“Then they went about to take him, but they feared the people: for they perceived that he spake that parable against them: therefore they left him, and went their way.” (Mr 12:12 GenevaBible)

N. T. Wright clarifies how this works:

the parables followed well-known Jewish lines. … They seem designed, within the worldview of the Jewish village population of the time, as tools to break open the prevailing worldview and replace it with one that was closely related but significantly adjusted at every point. … Jesus was articulating a new way of understanding the fulfillment of Israel’s hope. {N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 5th ed. (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 1997), 175–76.}

For this reason, claims Wright:

The parables are not simply information about the kingdom, but are part of the means of bringing it to birth. … They do not merely give people something to think about. They invite people into the new world that is being created, and warn of dire consequences if the invitation is refused. Jesus’ telling of these stories is one of the key ways in which the kingdom breaks in upon Israel, redefining itself as it does so. {Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 176.}

In this way, the parables are part of the very means through which Jesus brings God’s kingdom. The parables demand that hearers confess their sin, discard their idols, and pledge allegiance to the true king standing before them. Those with functioning eyes and ears will do so.

Can you see why he expected his disciples to understand the parables? Failure to understand these stories about God’s kingdom is tantamount to a failure to participate in that kingdom.



How can we prepare for the Kingdom of God

Preparing for the Kingdom


Additional reading

  1. Nazarene Commentary Matthew 4:12-17 – Galilee Saw A Great Light
  2. Matthew 7:13-23 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: The True Disciple #5 Matthew 7:28-29 – The Crowd’s Reaction
  3. Matthew 9:27-31 – What others are saying about the blind men recognising the son of David
  4. Matthew 13 – Parables on Kingdom mysteries
  5. Matthew 13:1-9 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Parable: the Soil and the Seed
  6. Matthew 13:10-15 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Why Speak in Parables?
  7. Matthew 13:34-35 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Manner of Teaching Foretold
  8. Matthew 21:10-11 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Who Is This?
  9. Matthew 21:10-11 Who Is This? – a Question still posed today #1
  10. Forgiveness a command given for our well-being
  11. Matthew 21:33-41 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Parable of the Vineyard
  12. Matthew 21:45-46 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Religious Leadership Fearful
  13. Left in the dark or being in the dark seeing light
  14. Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 25
  15. Mark 1 – Additional Bible Students notes on Mark 1:9-11 – An Approved Son Baptized
  16. Mark 3 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Mark 3:20-30 – Accusations of Everlasting Sin
  17. Mark 4 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Mark 4:1-9 – Teaching in Parables
  18. Mark 4 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Mark 4:10-13 – How Will You Understand?
  19. Mark 4 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Mark 4:33-34 – Public Parables, Private Teachings
  20. Light and Salt – Parables of Influence
  21. Memorizing wonderfully 28 The one teaching about the Kingdom
  22. Memorizing wonderfully 51 Acts 2:22-38 Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God
  23. About A Life of Jesus (By Brother Melva Purkis)
  24. Jesus the Storyteller 3 Reflections of/ on Jesus’ ministry
  25. Today’s Thought “The whole earth is full of his glory” (May 16)
  26. Looking into the Future
  27. Sign of the Times and the Last Days #1 The Son of man revealing
  28. Sign of the Times and the Last Days #3 Coming events revealed in the prophetic writings
  29. Kingdom of God what will it be like
  30. Blindness in the Christian world

One thought on “Jesus Revealing the Secrets of God’s Kingdom

  1. Pingback: 4 mistakes when reading the parables of Jesus | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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