Plain Teachings, Parables and Prophecy
Plain teachings are those things Jesus directly taught that are intended to awaken and arouse the spirit in man, and move them to love and fine works. (Hebrews 10:24) The content of the Sermon on the Mount is an example of plain teachings. Plain teachings have no hidden meanings. They are totally aboveboard, clear and unambiguous. Plain teachings appeal to the mind. They impart knowledge. They are logical, reasonable, practical and usable. Here are examples of plain teachings:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
– Matthew 7:1
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”
– Matthew 23:8-9
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
– John 14:6
Parables are teaching tools designed to enhance the plain teachings and stimulate spiritual growth by imparting better understanding. Parables appeal to the deeper mind, often referred to as “the heart.” They convey meaning by illustrations and hypothetical situations, usually situations that could occur in a listener’s daily activities. Plain teachings and parables go hand in hand. Parables explain how to use plain teachings. We might call plain teachings the short form teachings and parables the long form. Parables are open-ended and allow for continued growth in value and meaning. Hence, our perceptive powers are trained and we gain insight and forethought, but not foresight. Here are examples of parables:
“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”
– Matthew 13:31-33
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
– Matthew 24:45-47
Prophecies are proclamations about things that can or will occur in the future as a result of how one responds to plain teachings. Prophecies impart foresight, but not necessarily foreknowledge. This is because prophecies come in two forms: (1) literal; and (2) hidden.
Literal prophecies are straightforward and open. They do not require deciphering or interpreting. They unambiguously set forth the who, what, when, where, why and sometimes even the how of future events. The prophecy of Jonah about the destruction of Nineveh is an example of a literal prophecy. Another example of literal prophecy are the prophecies given by Jesus concerning the destruction of Jerusalem as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus unambiguously foretold who – Jerusalem; what – destruction; when – within the generation; why – faithlessness; how – by the disgusting thing spoken of by Daniel. The how is the only thing that was relatively obscured.
Hidden prophecies are given ‘in signs and symbols.’ Their meanings are intentionally obscured so that those reading the prophecy will not know precisely what is going to happen until the day of fulfillment arrives. The giver of hidden prophecies intentionally obscures them. They are not puzzles that are meant to be solved, they are hidden so that the meaning does not become evident until the time of its fulfillment. Thus, they are tools designed to keep us awake and alert.
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”
– Revelation 1:3
By peering into prophecy with an open mind, our anticipation remains keen. But the clamor to finalize interpretations is an effort that works against mankind because once we crystalize their meaning, our minds are shut and the hidden prophecies can no longer serve their intended purpose. Some of the prophecies in the book of Revelation are hidden such as the identification of the beasts, the meaning of the bowls of anger, and the timing of the events. In fact, to add to the suspense, the book indicates that some of the events may have already happened by the time, or during the time, John wrote them:
“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”
– Revelation 1:19
Our generation is not the first to interpret the book of Revelation. Generations before us and generations before them have been intently peering into the book. Such peering serves a valuable purpose as long as we keep the interpretations fluid and open to the ever changing activities and understanding of man. We have seen all too well what happens when crystalized interpretations are not fulfilled as expected.
In review, plain teachings are the things we should know in order to please God. Parables provide ways to apply and understand the plain teachings. And prophecies provide foresight as to the outcome of how one applies the plain teachings.
Now that we are clear on the distinction between plain teachings, parables and prophecy, the next question is priority. Which of the three – plain teachings, parables or prophecy – have the greatest weight and which has the lesser when it comes to salvation?
It should be obvious that, of the three, the plain teachings would have the greatest importance since these are the direct teachings of the Master, Christ Jesus. Plain teachings are the straightforward instructions on how to please God. Parables are helpful, but not necessary for if we did not have them, we would still know what to do. And if we apply the plain teachings, we know that whatever prophecies are ahead of us, we will always be on the favorable side of events because we will have done the things that please God.