Matthew's central discourse section (13:1-52) contains seven or eight parables depicting the present character of the kingdom until the end; his final discourse section contains a roughly equal number of end-time kingdom parables (24:32-25:46). As in Mark, Jesus' parables of the kingdom's present state explain why his kingdom comes first in a hidden way and why Israel's leaders reject him (compare F. Bruce 1972a:69; Ladd 1963). These parables dramatically reinforce that Jesus' first coming was coercive neither militarily nor intellectually (11:25-27); he came as the meek burden bearer (11:28-30), and only the meek could recognize and follow him (11:25, 28).
That the parables address his people's acceptance or rejection of the kingdom message follows from the context: Jesus speaks parables that same day that he has confronted Pharisaic opposition (12:24-45) and offered a culturally offensive statement about his family (12:46-50). The parables section closes immediately with an account of Jesus' rejection by his hometown (13:53-58), so that rejection by his own frames his kingdom parables (compare 10:21, 34-37). This likewise implies that true disciples-those who follow the kingdom message-must be prepared to pay the ultimate price for doing so (13:20-22, 44-46).
Because modern readers often misunderstand parables, it is important to provide some brief comments about their character. Most of Jesus' parables were stories designed to illustrate a particular point or points, something like sermon illustrations today (except sometimes without the accompanying sermon that would clarify the illustration!). We should not read too much into parables; often some details of the parables merely are necessary to make a good story. Nevertheless, parables provide one creative way to explain Jesus' central point or points.
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