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Parables Podcast Series

Jesus and the Parables of the Prophets

Many of Jesus’ parables sound oddly similar to the parables of the prophets. This isn’t coincidence. Jesus saw himself as fulfilling the role of a prophet to Israel’s leaders. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the parables as part of Jesus’ prophetic role to Israel.
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Episode Details

March 23, 2020
74 min

Episode Details

March 23, 2020
74 min

Show Notes

QUOTE

Jesus is intentionally saying, “This moment that we are in is exactly like the moment that all of the prophets have been in.” God is sending a message to his people who have turned away from him. They think they’re just fine, and they don’t recognize that the prophetic word is speaking to them.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Jesus saw himself as bringing the story of Israel to its climax.
  • The parables of Jesus occupy the same space as the prophetic words of warning and promise to ancient Israel. Jesus knew that his message would be dismissed or opposed by many.
  • The parables reveal the nature of God’s Kingdom. To those who are open, the parables reveal the Kingdom. But to those who refuse to listen, the parables only conceal.

Fulfilling a Cosmic Story

In part one (0:00–8:45), Tim and Jon recap the first episode, explaining the purpose of parables. The parables are short, fictitious stories that Jesus tells in the Gospel accounts. Instead of being moralistic lessons that explain theology, the parables are tools that Jesus used to show how he was bringing the Kingdom of God.

Jesus sees his life as the culmination of a cosmic narrative. He understood the prophetic hope that God’s chosen yet unfaithful people would be made into God’s faithful covenant people. And Jesus claims to be creating this new community. The parables unpack the significance of Jesus’ claims.

The Parables of the Prophets

In part two (8:45–17:30), Tim and Jon talk about the similarities between the parables of Jesus and parables of the Hebrew prophets. The parables of Jesus echo this imagery and language. A classic example is Isaiah chapter five.

Isaiah 5:1-6
Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning his vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And he built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then he expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones.
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?
So now let me tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed,
But briars and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.”

This vineyard was given every chance for success. Isaiah invites the audience into the verdict before delivering the punchline.

Isaiah 5:7
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah his delightful plant.
Thus he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.

This is a parable that Jesus retells with his own additions. Jesus repeats and renews promises of judgment and hope while seeing himself as the one bringing the biblical story to its climax. The result is that most of Jesus’ parables are loaded with hyperlinks from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Parables of Warning

In part three (17:30–31:15), the guys talk about Jesus’ parables of warning. These parables all have a similar structure, which Tim shares from Craig Blomburg and his book Interpreting the Parables. Craig breaks the parables into three different structures based on the number of characters. In three character parables, there is always an authority figure as well as two subordinates who often contrast positive and negative characters. The closer Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the more he shares this kind of parable, addressing Israel’s leaders.

Tim shares next from Isaiah 6.

Isaiah 6:8-12
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
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.”
Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And he answered,
“Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,
The Lord has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.

These are prophetic words to people who have already rejected the prophetic word. Isaiah’s call was to tell the people of Israel that time was up.

Parables of Promise

In part four (31:15–41:50) Tim finishes off the parable of Isaiah 6, which closes on a note of hope through a short parable.

Isaiah 6:13
Yet there will be a tenth portion in it,
And it will again be subject to burning,
Like a terebinth or an oak
Whose stump remains when it is felled.
The holy seed is its stump.

Isaiah gets burned in God’s presence, and he becomes the symbol of a new kind of people. In the same way, God promises that Israel will be burned, but out of their destruction, a holy seed will remain. Tim then shares another key parable of hope from Isaiah 55.

Isaiah 55:10-13
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it give birth and sprout,
And providing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
It will not return to me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
For you will go out with joy
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will rise up,
And instead of the nettle the myrtle will rise up,
And it will be a memorial to the Lord,
For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”

This capstone passage in Isaiah points us to a new people in a new promised land. The imagery used in this passage is found throughout the parables of Jesus, especially the idea of God’s word as seed.

A Parable of Parables

In part five (41:50–61:45), Tim and Jon talk about Matthew 13, a metaparable.

Matthew 13:3-9
And he spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow seed; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

The condition of the soil determined the productivity of the fruit. The two things have to work in partnership to bring about a harvest. Later, the disciples come up and ask why Jesus isn’t being more clear.

Matthew 13:10-11
And the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”

Jesus shares the open secret (mystery) of the Kingdom to his disciples. Then Jesus refers to those who encountered him in chapters 11 and 12, most of whom were either apathetic or hostile.

Matthew 13:12-17
For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

“In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.’”

Jesus compares his role to the role of Isaiah in Isaiah 6. God is speaking to his people, yet most of them don’t pay attention. In this way, the parables serve a dual function. They invite people who are inquisitive and open to see the world in a fresh way. But for those who are set in their ways, the parables harden and estrange them from God’s message.

This portrait of Jesus is uncomfortable for some people. Jesus puts the initiative in the court of the listener to hear and respond for themselves. Jesus knew that his message was offensive and that it would stir up trouble. The parables veiled his message while also inviting people to consider it for themselves. The cryptic nature of Jesus’ parables is a feature, not a bug. Tim shares a quote from N. T. Wright.

“If someone had asked Jesus why he spoke so cryptically, he might well have replied with the famous and otherwise puzzling words from Isaiah 6, ‘So that they may look and look but never see, and hear and hear but never understand.’ If they were really to see and understand, there might be a riot. Those who have ears to hear will hear, and for the moment it is just as well that those who do not will not. Jesus’ Nazareth manifesto in Luke 4:16-30 was a bit too clear, perhaps, and it almost got him killed. If the prophet is not to perish away from Jerusalem, his subversive message must be clothed in disguise which only the seeing eye will penetrate. Jesus’ parables, then, are reworking and reappropriating Israel’s prophetic traditions… They are the ideal vehicle for the paradoxical and dangerous campaign that Jesus was undertaking, expressing the very heart of his message. The parables belong substantially within the specific period of his public career and ministry as a prophet announcing judgment and renewal for Israel.” (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 180-181.)

Summary

In part six (61:45–end), Tim and Jon summarize the episode so far.

First, Jesus’ parables are about the coming of God’s Kingdom. Second, the parables are about how he was bringing the story of Israel to its climax. What does that mean? It means that Jesus finds himself in the same role as Israel’s prophets, bringing God’s message to an audience that is mostly dismissive or obstinate. Yet these parables indirectly reveal to us the Kingdom that Jesus was bringing.

Additional Resources

  • Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables.
  • N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 180-181.

Show Music

  • Third Floor by Greyflood
  • Conversation by Broke in Summer
  • Educated Fool by Greyflood
  • Bloom by Kyle McEvoy and Stan Forebee

Produced by Dan Gummel.

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