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Parables: The Kingdom of God
Why did Jesus teach using stories?
A parable is a story where one thing is used to illustrate another and they often have an unusual character or a surprising action. Jesus taught using parables to encourage people to think and respond and often used parables when people asked him a question. The word parable comes from the greek, parabole and means comparison. Different people were in conflict with Jesus, especially the religious leaders of the day. Jesus often responded to their criticisms with a story.
The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.' Matthew 13:10-11.
Jesus used a number of parables to illustrate the nature of God's Kingdom; one of the most famous is that of the mustard seed. Here the Kingdom is likened to the smallest of seeds that will eventually grow into the greatest of trees where the birds of the air can take shelter. The idea is that the Kingdom of God is growing - it starts as a small seed both in the lives of believers and in the wider world and grows bigger.
The illustration of the birds roosting in the tree points to the fact that all people from all backgrounds are welcomed into the kingdom. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God could be seen through his life and teachings. People who followed his teachings would also be part of the Kingdom and bringing it to earth.
Jesus taught that the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God would be a time of peace and blessing on earth when evil would be judged and suffering would stop. Many people would have understood this as, at the time, many Jews longed for a new age when Israel would be free from Roman occupation. Many Jews were expecting God to send a saviour who would make the Jewish nation into an even greater kingdom, just as it had been under King David in the Old Testament.
Today people believe that the Kingdom of God was present in Jesus during his time on earth, plus is still present through the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians. They believe that the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God is still to come when Jesus returns.