The Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO, USA
MAKING SENSE OF PARABLES
Each face has a history, and no doubt Jesus read each one
crowded before Him. Teaching from a seat in the boat, He had an
excellent vantage point to view the multitude. People had come
for various reasons to hear this controversial teacher who taught
with unrivalled authority. Many were curious, drawn by the size
of the crowd, to see what was going on. Others were present on a
mission, straining to hear this teacher speak heresy against the
Scriptures, insurrection against ruling authorities, or to twist
His teachings in such a way as to discredit Him.
Finally, there were those honestly searching. Perhaps they
thought, "This is the Promised One who will bring hope into the
world and usher in a new age of peace and happiness." To this
diverse crowd, Jesus spoke many things in parables. In fact, we
are told, He did not speak anything to them without using
parables (Mark 4:34).
Teaching with parables was a common method of instruction
during the time of Jesus. People then, like today, enjoyed
hearing good stories. Parables were an effective way of
proclaiming one's message in unforgettable fashion. Not only did
parables capture people's attention, they forced them to compare,
contrast, and categorize - in other words, to think. Jesus used
parables like others of His day; only He did it with unrivalled
ability. His parables were always fitting to the importance of
His ministry and message.
There was another reason Jesus used parables which should
not go unnoticed. The disciples approached Jesus and asked, "Why
do you speak to the people in parables?" Jesus' answer is
interesting! "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of
heaven has been given to you, but not to them" (Matthew 13:11,
NIV). To substantiate this, Jesus points to words in Deuteronomy
and Isaiah which are prophetic of the fact that many, though they
have eyes and ears, will be blind and deaf to His message. Jesus
uses parables both to reveal and to conceal His teachings. To
those who are listening for truth, the character and messages of
Jesus are made understandable through parables. To those whose
cares are not in time to truth and whose eyes are unaccustomed to
light, the messages and character of Jesus are concealed.
If the parables of Jesus were unclear to some of His
original audience (including His disciples at times), we should
not be surprised if we too struggle with their meanings. It may
be well for us to examine some of the characteristics of parables
if we are to make sense of them.
WHAT IS A PARABLE?
The word "parable" comes to us from a Greek word meaning
"setting beside or comparison." In the New Testament it has come
to identify an extended figure of speech with a central point of
comparison. Parables are not limited in Scripture to the
teachings of Jesus. There are several examples of parables in the
Old Testament, but Jesus was the Master Teller of parables.
Parables have much in common with one another, yet each is
unique. Parables draw from our earthly experience comparisons
which teach spiritual concepts. These concepts are wide ranging.
They reveal God's nature, teach the priority of the kingdom of
God, and demonstrate how we should treat our fellowman.
A significant distinction exists between a parable and
another extended figure of speech called an "allegory." This
distinction is important because it determines how we interpret
parables. While a parable has one central point of comparison, an
allegory has several points of comparison. In an allegory, each
detail may represent a different point of comparison. In a
parable, the details which surround the central point of
comparison are given to create a more vivid story rather than to
make additional comparisons.
Parables often include features related to good story-
telling techniques, such as contrast. Two sons are contrasted
(Matthew 21:28, Luke 15:11); two builders (Matthew 7:24-27);
foolish and wise virgins (Matthew 25:2); and a Pharisee and a
publican (Luke 18:10). These contrasts place a tension in the
story which catches our interest.
Another common story-telling technique is the use of three
items, examples, or individuals within the story. Three servants
are entrusted with responsibilities (Matthew 25:14,15); three
excuses are made to an invitation to dinner (Luke 14:18-20);
three types of poor soil and three types of good soil are
described (Matthew 13:3-8); and three travellers see a victim of
robbers on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:31-33). Two examples may
leave us unsure, four is tiresome, but three seems just right.
A third characteristic we find frequently in Jesus' parables
is the unexpected ending. At times His parables were meant to
shake and surprise the audience. Who is it who helps the victim
of robbers on the road to Jericho? Not the religious leaders but
the outcast Samaritan. When the "righteous" Pharisee and the
sinful publican leave the temple after their prayers, who goes
home justified? It is not the upright Pharisee but the hated
publican sinner. Who receives the highest wages from the owner of
the vineyard? Was it the men who worked all day in the heat? No!
Those who worked all day received no more than those who worked
only one hour (Matthew 20:9-12). Which son is honored by his
father? The one who left home and squandered his inheritance, or
the one who responsibly stayed home and helped his father (Luke
15:2932)? You guessed it - the squanderer!
I wish to suggest some ideas I find helpful in interpreting
parables. These ideas will hopefully enable you to gain greater
understanding and greater confidence in your study of these
extended figures of speech. As stated earlier, you will find that
each parable is unique. Some are so simple it will seem a waste
of time to apply these suggestions to them. Try it anyway! Others
will seem so difficult that you may still be left uncertain about
the meaning. Don't be discouraged! I'm sure the disciples were
sometimes uncertain about the points Jesus made in the parables.
You're in good company.
1. After selecting a parable, study to acquaint yourself with its
action and details. Come to an understanding of the story. How do
the various parts of the story relate to one another? Try to
visualize the action and events which are described.
2. Second, find the one essential or central point of comparison,
known as the "parabolic point." This is the key lesson the
parable was designed to teach. At times it is found forthrightly
stated before, after, or within the parable. At times this point
is left unstated, and it is up to you to discover it. Perhaps it
may be discovered by looking at the context of the parable. To
whom was the parable spoken? What subject is being discussed
prior to and subsequent to the parable? Is there a key question
being asked which Jesus is using the parable to answer? It is
here that you must be careful concerning the details of the
story. Remember, you are looking for one main point of
comparison. The other details are not meant to be compared
unless the text itself makes the additional comparisons directly
for you. Once you have located the main point of comparison, try
to restate it in a concise way. Having pinpointed the parabolic
point, you have come a long way toward your objective of
interpreting the parable.
3. Next, try to determine what the parable meant to its original
audience. Who was the original audience? Why were they listening
to Jesus? Why did Jesus tell this parable at this particular
moment? The audiences' understanding of the parable may sometimes
be determined by their reaction to it. Did they react by leaving
or following? Were they angry, comforted, or puzzled? If the
parabolic point you discovered would not relate to Jesus'
original audience, perhaps you should reexamine its validity.
4. Finally, after determining what the parable meant to its
original audience, you should ask how it applies to you here and
now. Is there a similar situation in your life or in those around
you to which the parable speaks? If Jesus addressed the parable
to you would you be shocked, relieved, inspired, or sad? Here is
where Jesus' leaching is revealed directly to your life. Here is
where you will find greatest benefit.
Parable of the Lost Sheep
And he spoke this parable unto them, saying, What man of
you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth
not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go
after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath
found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when
he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and
neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; fort have
found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise
joy, shall be in heaven over one sinner that repented, more
than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no
repentance (Luke 15:3-7).
The first step in our interpretation is to familiarize
ourselves with the details of the story and to visualize it as it
is told. In this parable, we are told of a shepherd who has a
flock of one hundred sheep. One sheep is lost. So the shepherd
leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one lost sheep and
doesn't give up until he finds it. Upon finding the lost sheep,
the shepherd immediately rejoices. This is not enough though. He
calls his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him in
celebration. He celebrates not on account of the ninety-nine who
were never in doubt but for the one who was lost and in jeopardy.
A comparison with other translations may help us reach a
better understanding of the story. A good commentary may also
give insight into such things as the life of an ancient shepherd.
The second step is to find the central or parabolic point of
this story. There are several possibilities. Here are a few:
A. Christians should be as determined in their search for the
unsaved as was this shepherd searching for his lost sheep.
B. God always finds the lost souls He is looking for,just as this
shepherd was successful in finding his lost sheep.
C. Heaven rejoices over the repentant sinner like the shepherd
rejoiced over the lost sheep which was found.
Our task is made easier in this example by Jesus' statement
which follows the parable. The point Jesus brings out is not that
we should be more determined to seek the lost, although this is
surely true. Neither is it that God is always successful. The
central comparison is about rejoicing. The joy in heaven over the
repentant sinner is compared to the joy of this shepherd who
found his lost sheep. The parabolic point is clearly stated in
verse 7: "I say unto you, that likewise (i.e. just like the
shepherd's joy) joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that
The third step is to determine what this parable meant to
its original audience. We are told in the two verses preceding
the parable some valuable information.
Then drew near unto him [Jesus] all the publicans and
sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes
murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth
with them (Luke 15:1,2).
It is apparent that the parable was directed to certain of
the Pharisees and scribes. We are also given indication of the
circumstances as to why Jesus told the parable. Jesus is coming
under attack from these religious leaders for being seen in bad
company. He has been visiting and eating with sinners and
publicans, and He had better not deny it! In telling the parable
of the lost sheep, Jesus turns the attack around. He is saying in
effect, "Look, God is rejoicing in response to repentant sinners.
You, Pharisees and scribes, should be rejoicing too, but instead
you are upsetting yourselves by complaining."
The fourth step is to apply and respond to this parable
ourselves. Have we not at times been fearful that an individual
with an especially sinful history will have a bad influence on
the church, even though he be converted? Have we not at times
been envious of repentant sinners who perhaps receive more
attention than we who have been faithful for so long? How do we
respond to the news that a sinner has repented? Are we skeptical?
Are we uneasy and fearful? Let us rather, like the rejoicing
shepherd, lift our voices in celebration and praise. If heaven
rejoices, shouldn't we?
The parables of Jesus teach heavenly concepts with down to
earth simplicity. Time spent in their study is a bargain, for
they reveal a wealth of wisdom to the wise. As Jesus finished a
series of parables to His disciples, He asked them if they
understood. They replied, "Yes, Lord." Jesus then tells them this
short parable: "Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe
which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, is like unto a
man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his
treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52).
The point of comparison here is between the householder with
his storeroom of treasures and a scholar of the Scriptures who
has been instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven. Both are to
share what they have, both old and new.
Let us study the parables of Christ that we may reply to the
Lord, "Yes, we understand." May we then share with others the
truths, both old and new, about God and His kingdom.
Scripture quotations were taken from the King James Version.
unless otherwise nosed
MAKING SENSE OF PROPHECY
"The future has a habit of suddenly and dramatically
becoming the present," Roger V. Babson once observed. We,
understandably, would like a glimpse of the future, to avoid it
"suddenly and dramatically" coming upon us. And with economic
crises, famine, epidemics, natural catastrophes, and nuclear war
looming on the horizon, it is little wonder that people have
turned, in ever increasing numbers, to the Bible for answers to
what lies ahead.
But of all biblical studies, prophecy unquestionably is the
most difficult to understand. In recent years, as the Bible has
attracted greater attention from the populace, Bible prophecy has
become a touchstone for a myriad of conflicting theories.
Hal Lindesy introduces his bestseller, "The Late Great
Planet Earth," with the statement, "This is a book about prophecy
- Bible prophecy. If you have no interest in the future, this
isn't for you." The statement is intended to hook the natural
curiosity of the reader. Well, who isn't curious about the
future? But how much does the Bible specifically tell us of the
Today, many popular writers of eschatology (the study of end
times) assert that one can read the Bible like a road map. Match
the prophetic symbols with the right face, date, and place, and
you will know exactly what will transpire in the near future. I
prefer to call this kind of biblical interpretation "pop
prophecy." Although widely accepted, it is not based on sound
principles of biblical interpretation and leads to serious
misunderstanding. The Bible does have much to say about the
future, but not according to the scenarios often described for
us. Much of Bible prophecy has, in fact, already been fulfilled.
(Ah, yes maybe so, but what most miss is that most Bible prophecy
is DUAL in aspect - a first fulfilment and an end-time
fulfilment. Sometimes the first fulfilment is the larger and the
more fulfilled and the second is smaller and less fulfilled, then
it can also be the other way around, and the latter fulfilment is
the greater and more detailed - Keith Hunt).
In this article, ten guidelines will be given to help make
sense of prophecy and avoid the dangers of erroneous methods of
interpretation. Within these guidelines, we will also seek to
interpret Matthew 24, an interesting but often misunderstood
l. MORE THAN ONE TYPE OF PROPHECY
It is important to recognize that two very different kinds
of prophetic writing actually exist. First, there is predictive
prophecy, that is, the foretelling of future events.
Surprisingly, this is not the most common type of prophecy
found in Scripture.
The most common type is that of forthtelling, in which a
prophet spoke forth with a "Thus saith the Lord," declaring to
the people the Word of God in terms of their relationship with
Him. Much of the material from Joshua to Second Kings and from
Isaiah to Malachi falls into this category. While prophecy does
contain predictive elements, its primary purpose is ethical,
calling on God's people to turn from evil and return to the terms
of God's covenant.
The New Testament also has this aspect of prophecy in mind:
"But he who prophesies speaks exhortation and comfort to men" (1
(It certainly does have the important element of wanting to turn
people to serve God, but the fact still remains that a very large
part of prophecy is a foretelling of what will happen IF the
people to whom the prophecy is directed DO NOT turn to serve the
living God - Keith Hunt).
2. GENERAL VERSES SPECIFIC
When dealing with predictive prophecy, remember that most of
it has a general rather than specific character. As Bernard Raman
succinctly remarks. "It is an infallible role of prophetic
interpretation that the prophecy became fully clear only after it
has been fulfilled" (emphasis mine).
(I've heard this argument time and again, but it is not true.
Prophecy was given so people could understand BEFORE it happened,
what was GOING to happen, otherwise the prophetic message was a
waste of time, and basically then meant nothing in understanding
for those to whom the prophecy was directed. What on earth is the
good of giving a prophetic message to people who cannot
understand what it is all about, what is going to happen to them,
IF they do not repent and turn to serve the true God. Prophecy in
the MAIN is to tell forth BEFORE it happens what WILL happen to a
person or persons or nation, if they do not mend their ways and
serve righteousness and not sin and wickedness. The prophet also
gives forth a specific event or events to happen, as the prophet
Agabus did for Paul in Acts 21:10-11. The idea that prophecy
cannot be understood until AFTER is has happened, is a lame duck
in the main, and is given by some who themselves are not able to
understand prophecy - Keith Hunt).
As a good illustration, the book of Daniel, written hundreds
of years before Christ, speaks of a coming "abomination of
desolation" (9:27). But Daniel's original audience, unprepared
for such question - begging expressions, could only speculate
about the specific fulfillment of this passage.
(It is true that some few prophecies were not to be understood in
the time of the one called by God to write down the prophecy, but
in Daniel's case we are told that some of his prophetic writings
were to be closed up till the time of the end, THEN they would
become understandable. Most prophecies were not of this type,
only SOME relatively few were closed up until the time of the end
- Keith Hunt).
Jesus, however, placed this event's fulfillment in His very
own generation (Matthew 23:36; 24:34). As events later proved,
Rome would be responsible for the desolation, the year A.D. 70,
and Titus being "the prince" who would destroy both city and
sanctuary (Daniel 9:26).....
(Partly true, there was a first type fulfilment in 70 A.D. BUT
there will be a GREATER END-TIME fulfilment. I've covered in-
depth all of this prophecy of Daniel 9 and Matthew 24 on this
Website. You can find all of this and much more under the
"Prophecy" section - Keith Hunt).
"Therefore, when you see the 'abomination of desolation,'
spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place"
(whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are
in Judea flee to the mountains "(Matthew 24:15,16).
"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know
that its desolation is near.... For these are the days of
vengeance, that all things which are written may be
fulfilled. ... For there will be great distress in the land
and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge
of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And
Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of
the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:20-24).
(This prophecy CAN BE UNDERSTOOD - the time of the end has NOW
come upon this earth, and Jesus' Olivet Prophecy is FOR TODAY,
and Daniel's closed up prophecies are NOW no longer closed, but
now open for all to see. The prophecies of Daniel, Matthew 24,
Revelation, are opened for you on this Website - Keith Hunt).
3. ALREADY FULFILLED?
Save yourself a lot of embarrassment. Don't apply all
predictive prophecy to the 20th century and dismiss its
"Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let
him who is on the housetop not comedown to take anything out
of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to
get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to
those with nursing babies in those days! And pray that your
flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath" (Matthew
I recall some years ago a number of Christians - including
ministers - moving out of the cities and into the country because
of the above passage. But those told to "flee to the mountains"
were those "who are in Judea" in the first century Palestine, not
those nineteen centuries later in the United States.
(There was a relatively minor fulfilment of this prophecy in 70
A.D. BUT as I clearly show in studies on this Website, the MAIN
and LARGE fulfilment of this prophecy is for the time of the
BEGINNING of the last THREE and a HALF years of this age, and
indeed it will apply to those living in Judea and in Jerusalem -
4. EMPATHIZE WITH THE ORIGINAL HEARERS
A critical question to ask - and we seldom do - is: How must
the passage have been understood by those living during the time
the prophecy was given? Take into account the original audience,
their social and political world. When Jesus gave His Olivet
Discourse, He wasn't just blurting out words into the air; He was
engaged in a dialogue with His followers, answering specific
questions of utmost concern to them and their immediate future.
Matthew 24:1-3 describes the setting of this passage:
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His
disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the
temple. And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these
things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one some shall be left
here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Now as He
sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him
privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And
what will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the
The disciples asked Jesus two questions concerning, one, the
destruction of the temple and, two, His return at the end of the
age. Following the logical flow of the succeeding verses, it
becomes obvious that Jesus is answering His disciples' first
question - the destruction of the Temple:
(No, the logical flow is that Jesus answers BOTH questions with
what follows. The fact is that the Temple, and "not one stone
being left upon another" was NOT fulfilled in 70 A.D. for the
Wailing Wall standing in Jerusalem today was PART of the Temple
of Jesus' day. There is yet a FINAL fulfilment at the end of this
age to take place. Matthew 24 (Luke 21; Mark 13) is MAINLY for
the very end of this age, the last three and one half years of
this age - Keith Hunt).
And Jesus answered and said to them, "Take heed that no one
deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, I am
the Christ, and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars
and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all
these things must come to pass, but the end is nor yet. For
nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against
kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and
earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning
of sorrows Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and
kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's
sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one
another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets
will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will
abound the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures
to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:415).
In Great Prophecies of the Bible, Ralph Woodrow points out
that the period between the death of Christ and the destruction
of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 witnessed numerous deceivers, wars,
rumors of war, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various
places. It was a time when the Pax Romana experienced great
upheaval; four emperors met with violent deaths within the space
of 18 months.
(I have all the books of Ralph Woodrow and while he has SOME
correct understanding of parts of prophetic passages, he is quite
frankly "out to lunch" and "way off in left field" on his
understanding of Matthew 24. Hence those in the Church of God,
Seventh Day, Denver, who side with him here on Matthew 24, will
never understand what Jesus was teaching in this prophetic
passage - Keith Hunt).
Our English translation obscures a subtle distinction found
in the Greek text of Matthew. The Greek word translated "end" in
verse 3 differs from that found in verses 6 and 13. The Greek
word for "end" in verse 3 is "sunteleia," which means
"consummation" (a reference to our Lord's second coming). The
"end" in the latter two verses speaks of the "end" (Greek telos)
of the Jewish economy and the destruction of the temple in the
first century. The persecution mentioned in verses 9 and 10 is a
reference to the martyrdom that most of the apostles would suffer
prior to A.D.70. The disciples enduring "to the end" (Greek
telos) "shall be saved," that is, shall survive the "great
tribulation" of A.D.70.
(Not so. The difference with using two Greek words means
absolutely nothing. We often use in our speech in one sentence or
paragraph, two different words that have the same basic meaning.
It is a type of a figure of speech so boring repetition is
The context of Matthew 24 is the ONE and same CONTEXT throughout
the whole chapter - the COMING OF CHRIST and the time of the
GREAT TRIBULATION leading up to Jesus' return, which tribulation
STARTS with the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21) and one stone
of the Temple not being left on another stone, which must yet be
fulfilled with the destruction of the WAILING WALL, when
Jerusalem, at the beginning of the last 42 months, or 1260 days,
or three and one half years, will be DESTROYED, which Matthew 24
and Luke 21 and Mark 13 and the book of Revelation (in certain
chapters) is all about - Keith Hunt).
5. RECOGNIZE SPECIAL LITERARY TECHNIQUES
Look for rhetorical or literary devices that the author may
use. Consider the use of hyperbole as found in Matthew 24:14, 21,
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the
world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end
[Greek telos] will come.... For then there will be great
tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the
world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless
those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved but for
the elect's sake those days will be shortened.
Hyperbole is a figure of speech that employs exaggeration to
emphasize a point. In verse 14, the references to "all the world"
and "all the nations" both refer to the Roman Empire.....
(While you should possibly look for literary techniques, there is
NO "hyperbole" used in Matthew 24. The Gospel will be proclaimed
to the WHOLE world BY AN ANGEL that is sent out to do JUST THAT
as clearly recorded in Revelation 14:6. This is indeed just
before the return of Jesus as the context of Revelation 14, 15
and 16 make plain. The Church of God, Seventh Day writer is way
off base here - Keith Hunt).
PROPHECY UNDERSTANDING - TO BE CONTINUED