Throughout His ministry, Jesus only spoke in parables (comparisons/similitudes) (Matthew 13:34), and the understanding of these parables (or the unveiling of these hidden meanings) was only given to the disciples who chose to come away with Jesus. The unveiled meaning was not given to the multitudes (Mark 4:34). According to Scripture and confirmed by the Early Church, the reason for the parables was to sift between those who really had eyes to see and ears to hear, yet not physical eyes and ears, but spiritual ones (Matthew 13:11-16). What most do not realize is that there is a deeper meaning throughout all of Scripture, not just the parables of Jesus.
According to the Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, ‘parables’ are defined as: “Hebrew ‘maashaal’, Greek ‘parabolee’, a placing side by side or comparing earthly truths, expressed, with heavenly truths to be understood.” (1) Fausset also states: “Jesus’ purpose in using parables is judicial, as well as didactic, to discriminate between the careless and the sincere.” (1) Furthermore, Fausset explains:
“The parable, which was to the carnal a veiling, to the receptive was a revealing of the truth, not immediate but progressive (Proverbs 4:18). They were a penalty era blessing according to the hearer’s state: a darkening to those who loved darkness; enshrining the truth (concerning Messiah’s spiritual kingdom so different from Jewish expectations) from the jeer of the scoffer, and leaving something to stimulate the careless afterward to think over. On the other hand, enlightening the diligent seeker, who asks what means this parable? and is led so to “understand all parables” (Mark 4:13; Matthew 15:17; Matthew 16:9; Matthew 16:11).” (1)
Through the parables, a righteous judgment is occurring between those who want to understand the hidden meaning of Scripture, and those who are fine with understanding the face-value and not going any deeper. Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14), so ultimately, the judgment is between those who want to know Jesus more deeply, or just stay on a surface level with Him.
The Early Church taught that all Scripture contained parables. Third-century Early Church Father, Methodius details how the Jews viewed scripture historically only, missing the foreshadowing of what was to come:
“Wherefore let it shame the Jews that they do not perceive the deep things of the Scriptures, thinking that nothing else than outward things are contained in the law and the prophets; for they, intent upon things earthly, have in greater esteem the riches of the world than the wealth which is of the soul. For since the Scriptures are in this way divided that some of them give the likeness of past events, some of them a type of the future, the miserable men, going back, deal with the figures of the future as if they were already things of the past. As in the instance of the immolation of the Lamb, the mystery of which they regard as solely in remembrance of the deliverance of their fathers from Egypt, when, although the first-born of Egypt were smitten, they themselves were preserved by marking the door-posts of their houses with blood. Nor do they understand that by it also the death of Christ is personified, by whose blood souls made safe and sealed shall be preserved from wrath in the burning of the world; whilst the first-born, the sons of Satan, shall be destroyed with an utter destruction by the avenging angels, who shall reverence the seal of the Blood impressed upon the former.” (2)
Using the example of the Jews, Methodius rebukes the type of understanding of the Jews, who only viewed the scripture in the literal sense and completely missed the parables throughout all scripture. They only saw the sacrifice of the lamb and blood being put on the doorpost of each home as a historical event (Exodus 12:13). They not only missed the prophetic understanding that the lamb was a foreshadow of the crucifixion of Jesus, but that only those souls sealed by the blood (the blood has a further hidden meaning in itself- we encourage you to go ahead and search it out) will be saved, and those who are not sealed by the blood will be destroyed.
Second-Century theologian and Early Church Father, Clement of Alexandria explains more on why scripture is parabolic:
For many reasons, then, the Scriptures hide the sense. First, that we may become inquisitive, and be ever on the watch for the discovery of the words of salvation. Then it was not suitable for all to understand, so that they might not receive harm in consequence of taking in another sense the things declared for salvation by the Holy Spirit. Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in the parables – preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is parabolic. . . But prophecy does not employ figurative forms in the expressions for the sake of beauty of diction. But from the fact that truth appertains not to all, it is veiled in manifold ways, causing the light to arise only on those who are initiated into knowledge, who seek the truth through love. (3)
Clement of Alexandria again confirms all of scripture is parabolic (has a hidden meaning). He states that the parables throughout Scripture are designed to make us curious and cause us to search out the Word, which is really us searching out and understanding Jesus (John 1:14). He explains that the understanding is unveiled to us by the Holy Spirit, but the unveiling depends on our desire and our faithfulness to the Word. Clement states we must be initiated into the deeper meaning of Scripture, and then mature in our understanding. The understanding of the parables is unfolded to us the more we seek, with a love for the truth. This aligns with Paul’s message to the brethren where he describes the son of perdition, or those who have defected from truth, because they did not have a love for the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).
As we have discussed, not only the New Testament, but all Scripture contains a hidden meaning. The hidden meanings are not just given out plainly to everyone, just as in Jesus’ ministry, they require searching out and faithfulness. Do we see Jesus being revealed throughout the whole Bible, or are we only reading the Word on a surface-level? Can we say we really know Jesus if we don’t see Him everywhere in Scripture? May this be the beginning of a deeper journey into the Word.
1. Fausset’s Bible Dictionary: ‘parable’
2. Methodius, Ten Virgins, Part 4, Discourse IX, Chap. I.
3. Clement, Stromata, Bk 6, Ch XV