He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

Mark 4:11-12

Any reader of the gospels will inevitably ask the question, “Why did Jesus teach in parables?” as the gospels themselves are filled with Jesus’ teachings wrapped in that literary format.

Jesus taught in parables to serve as an effort barrier to distinguish between those who were just fans of his and those who really wanted to commit their lives to follow Him.

Let me explain.

It says here in Mark 4 that parables are a form of secret to hide people from seeing the kingdom of God. For someone offering life and life eternal, it seems strange that he would have a gate to limit people from understanding him fully.

What gives?

The answer, believe it or not, lies not far from this verse from above.

If you remember, the introduction to parables is Jesus’ parable about the four soils. He talks about the different types of soils, the seed, and what happens with the fruit that comes from each of those soils. He finishes that parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

At that point, I’m sure the crowd is baffled and confused. What are the soils? What are the seeds? Who are the birds? What is good soil?

These are all questions that contribute to the secret or the mystery of parables.

But, as we will find out, what was a mystery is not a mystery anymore!

It says immediately after that parable: “And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.”

As we know, Jesus then spends the time to explain the meaning of the parables. The soils are the people’s hearts. The seed is the word of God. And we have the opportunity to garden our hearts such that it grows very fruitfully.

What’s Jesus trying to say about why did Jesus teach in parables? In another way to ask it is “What’s the difference between a parable that remains a secret to someone and one that doesn’t?”

Simple: they asked.

And when they asked, Jesus answered.

You see, when the people heard the parable originally, Jesus was filtering out two types of people. One are the people who would not recognize that what he was saying was life, conclude that what he was saying was foolishness, and then decide to walk away.

The other group of people, however, even though they couldn’t fully understand it, did what anyone with a real sense of interest would do–they asked. They searched. They hungered.

You can see that they actually followed Jesus to further ask him, “What did the parable mean?” To which Jesus gave the explanation freely!

And herein we find the point of parables and the answer to the question “Why did Jesus teach in parables?”:

A parable is simply a story that Jesus uses to distinguish between people who are actually hungry for God and from those who who are just on the periphery on the outside looking in.

For the one who said, “Do not throw your pearls to pigs,” Jesus is filtering his target audience, ensuring that when he speaks precious words from heaven, they wouldn’t be scoffed at by the masses who are not even remotely looking for God. He is in the business, like the parables suggests, of looking for people who are going to bear fruit twenty fold, fifty fold, yes…a hundred fold!

How about you?

What kind of person are you? Are you on the periphery about God content with where you are?

Or would you be found among the company that followed Jesus, asked honest questions, and are searching for him in earnestness.

I tell you the truth, the latter will be found in the kingdom of God. The former will found on the outside wishing they were inside, but missed this crucial decision point.

Interested in learning more about parables and growing your love for God? Hop over to the Pursuit of God section for more powerful teachings.

Interested in my favorite book on discipleship? Check out The Cost of Discipleship.