The main teaching tool employed by Jesus was the parable—literally, something "cast alongside." A parable was a story or illustration used alongside a primary teaching to illustrate the teaching in familiar language.
Jesus' primary teaching—the message He began proclaiming via words and works—was the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven in Matthew's gospel where the phrase occurs 31 times). A concentrated set of Jesus' parables about the kingdom of heaven is found in Matthew 13:1-52. The key word used to introduce seven of these parables is "like"—a simile occurring in the phrase, "The kingdom of heaven is like . . ." (Matthew 13: 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52).
Uniquely, the first of the eight parables is not introduced with "like," making it different from the others (the parable of the sower, soils, and seed—Matthew 13:1-23). In Mark's version of this parable, Jesus' suggests that it is the key to understanding the other seven: "Do you not understand this parable [of the sower, soils, and seed]? How then will you understand all the parables [concerning the kingdom]?" (Mark 4:13).
This first parable in Matthew has to do with how the truths of the kingdom of God are received (or not received). If the heart is not ready, like well-prepared soil, then the seed of the kingdom message will bear no fruit. Once that principle is understood, the parables of the kingdom can be received profitably.
The seven remaining parables each illustrate a different dimension of God's kingdom. They reveal how counterfeit seeds are sown (verses 24-30, 36-43), how the kingdom grows (verses 31-32), how the kingdom spreads (verses 33-35), the value of the kingdom (two parables, verses 44-46), the separating nature of the kingdom (verses 47-50), and the surprises of the kingdom (verse 52).
Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven in parables in order to discover those who were hungry for truth and were equipped with spiritual discernment (verses 10-17).Back to Matthew