Examining Matthew 24, Part 11: The Parables from the Mount of Olives

by | May 8, 2020 | Examining Matthew 24 Series, Videos | 5 comments

Hello.  This is Part 11 of our Matthew 24 series.  From this point forward, we will be looking at parables, not prophecy. 

To review briefly: From Matthew 24:4 to 44, we have seen Jesus give us prophetic warnings and prophetic signs. 

The warnings consist of counsel not to be taken in by slick men claiming to be anointed prophets and telling us to take common occurrences like wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes as signs that Christ is about to appear. Throughout history, these men have popped up making such claims and without fail, their so-called signs have proven to be false.

He also warned his disciples about being misled by false claims concerning his return as king, to the effect that he’d come back in a hidden or invisible manner. 

Nevertheless, Jesus did give his Jewish disciples clear instructions about what constituted a true sign that would signal the time had come to follow his directions so that they could save themselves and their families from the desolation about to befall Jerusalem.

Further to that, he also spoke of another sign, a singular sign in the heavens that would mark his presence as King—a sign that would be visible to all, like lightning flashing across the sky.

Finally, in verses 36 to 44, he gave us warnings concerning his presence, emphasizing repeatedly that it would come unexpectedly and that our greatest concern should be remaining awake and alert.

After that, he changes his teaching tactic.  From verse 45 onward, he chooses to speak in parables—four parables to be exact.

  • The parable of the Faithful and Discreet Slave;
  • The parable of the Ten Virgins;
  • The parable of the Talents;
  • The parable of the Sheep and Goats.

These were all given in the context of his discourse on the Mount of Olives, and as such, all have a similar theme. 

Now you may have noticed that Matthew 24 concludes with the parable of the Faithful and Discreet Slave, while the other three parables are found in the next chapter. Okay, I have a small confession to make.  The Matthew 24 series actually includes Matthew 25. The reason for this is context.  You see, these chapter divisions were added long after the words Matthew penned in his gospel account.  What we have been reviewing in this series is what is commonly called The Olivet Discourse, because this was to be the last time Jesus spoke to his disciples while with them on the Mount of Olives.  That discourse includes the three parables found in chapter 25 of Matthew, and it would be a disservice not to include them in our study.

However, before going further, we need to clarify something.  Parables are not prophecies. Experience has shown us that when men treat them as prophecies, they have an agenda.  Let us be careful.

Parables are allegorical stories. An allegory is a story that is meant to explain a fundamental truth in a simple and obvious way.  The truth is typically a moral or spiritual one. The allegorical nature of a parable does make them very open to interpretation and the unwary can be taken in by clever intellectuals.  So remember this expression of our Lord:

 “At that time Jesus said in response: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes. Yes, O Father, because to do thus came to be the way approved by you.” (Matthew 11:25, 26 NWT)

God hides things in plain sight.  Those who pride themselves on their intellectual capacity cannot see the things of God.  But the children of God can.  This is not to say that a limited mental capacity is required to understand the things of God. Young children are very intelligent, but they are also trusting, open and humble.  At least in the early years, before they get to the age when they think they know all there is to know about everything. Right, parents?

So, let us beware of convoluted or complex interpretations of any parable.  If a child couldn’t get the sense of it, then it almost surely has been contrived by the mind of man. 

Jesus used parables was to explain abstract ideas in ways that make them real and understandable.  A parable takes something within our experience, within the context of our lives, and uses it to help us understand that which is often beyond us.  Paul quotes from Isaiah 40:13 when he asks rhetorically, “Who comprehends the mind of the LORD [Yahweh]” (NET Bible), but then he adds the reassurance: “But we have the mind of Christ”. (1 Corinthians 2:16)

How can we understand God’s love, mercy, joy, goodness, judgment, or his wrath before injustice?  It is through the mind of Christ that we can get to know these things.  Our Father gave us his only-begotten son who is “the reflection of his glory”, the “exact representation of his very being”, the image of the living God. (Hebrews 1:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4) From that which was present, tangible, and known—Jesus, the man—we came to understand that which is beyond us, God Almighty. 

Essentially, Jesus became the living embodiment of a parable.  He is God’s way of making himself known to us.  “Carefully concealed in [Jesus] are all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)

There is yet another reason for Jesus’ frequent use of parables.  They can help us to see things which we would otherwise be blind to, perhaps because of bias, indoctrination, or tradition.

Nathan used such a strategy when he had to courageously confront his King with a very unpleasant truth.  King David had taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite, then to cover up his adultery when she became pregnant, he arranged to have Uriah killed in battle.  Rather than confront him, Nathan told him a story.

“There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many sheep and cattle; but the poor man had nothing but one small female lamb, which he had bought. He cared for it, and it grew up together with him and his sons. It would eat from the little food he had and drink from his cup and sleep in his arms. It became as a daughter to him. Later a visitor came to the rich man, but he would not take any of his own sheep and cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.

At this David grew very angry against the man, and he said to Nathan: “As surely as Jehovah is living, the man who did this deserves to die! And he should pay for the lamb four times over, because he did this and showed no compassion.” (2 Samuel 12:1-6)

David was a man of great passion and a strong sense of justice. But he also had a big blind spot when it concerned his own wants and desires. 

“Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man! . . .” (2 Samuel 12:7)

That must have felt like a punch to the heart for David. 

That is how Nathan got David to see himself as God saw him. 

Parables are powerful tools in the hands of a skillful teacher and there has never been any more skillful than our Lord Jesus.

There are many truths that we do not wish to see, yet we must see them if we are to gain God’s approval.  A good parable can remove the blinders from our eyes by helping us to arrive at the correct conclusion on our own, as Nathan did with King David.

The impressive thing about Jesus’ parables is that they sprang into being fully developed on the spur of the moment, often in response to a confrontational challenge or even a carefully prepared trick question.  Take for example the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Luke tells us: “But wanting to prove himself righteous, the man said to Jesus: “Who really is my neighbor?”  (Luke 10:29)

To a Jew, his neighbor had to be another Jew.  Certainly not a Roman or a Greek. They were men of the world, Pagans.  As for the Samaritans, they were like apostates to the Jews. They were descended from Abraham, but they worshiped in the mountain, not in the Temple.  Yet, by the end of the parable, Jesus got this self-righteous Jew to admit that someone he viewed as an apostate was the most neighbourly of the lot.  Such is the power of a parable.

However, that power only works if we let it work.  James tells us:

“However, become doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, this one is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, and he goes away and immediately forgets what sort of person he is.” (James 1:22-24)

Let’s demonstrate why it is possible for us to deceive ourselves with false reasoning and not see ourselves as we truly are. Let’s start by putting the parable of the Good Samaritan into a modern setting, one with relevance to us.

In the parable an Israelite is attacked and left for dead.  If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, that would correspond to a common congregation publisher.  Now along comes a priest who passes by on the far side of the road.  That might correspond to a congregation elder.  Next, a Levite does the same.  We could say a Bethelite or a pioneer in modern parlance.  Then a Samaritan sees the man and renders aid.  That could correspond to someone whom the Witnesses view as an apostate, or someone who has turned in a letter of disassociation. 

If you know of situations from your own experience that fit this scenario, please share them in the comment section of this video.  I know of many.

The point Jesus is making is that what makes a person a good neighbour is the quality of mercy. 

However, if we don’t think on these things, we can miss the point and deceive ourselves with false reasoning.  Here is one application the Organization makes of this parable:

“While we conscientiously try to practice holiness, we should not appear to be superior and self-righteous, especially when dealing with unbelieving family members. Our kind Christian conduct should at least help them to see that we are different in a positive way, that we do know how to show love and compassion, even as did the good Samaritan of Jesus’ illustration.—Luke 10:30-37.” (w96 8/1 p. 18 par. 11)

Fine words. When Witnesses look themselves in the mirror, this is what they see. (This is what I saw when I was an elder.)  But then they go off into the real world, they forget what sort of person they really are.  They treat unbelieving family members, particularly if they used to be Witnesses, worse than any stranger.  We saw from the court transcripts in the 2015 Australia Royal Commission that they would totally shun a victim of child sexual abuse because she resigned from the congregation that continued to support her abuser.  I know from my own life experience that this attitude is universal among Witnesses, ingrained through repeated indoctrination from publications and the convention platform.

Here is another application of the parable of the Good Samaritan which they make:

“The situation was no different when Jesus was on earth. The religious leaders showed a complete lack of concern for the poor and needy. The religious leaders were described as “money lovers” who ‘devoured the houses of the widows’ and who were more concerned about keeping their traditions than caring for the aged and the needy. (Luke 16:14; 20:47; Matthew 15:5, 6) It is of interest that in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite on seeing an injured man walked past him on the opposite side of the road rather than turn aside to help him.—Luke 10:30-37.”  (w06 5/1 p. 4)

From this, you might think that Witness are different from these “religious leaders” they speak of.  Words come so easy.  But deeds shout a different message. 

When I served as the coordinator of the body of elders some years ago, I tried to organize a charitable contribution though the congregation for some needy ones.  However, the Circuit Overseer told me that officially we do not do that.  Even though they had an official congregation arrangement in the first century for providing for the needy, Witness elders are constrained from following that pattern. (1 Timothy 5:9) Why would a legally registered charity have a policy to squash organized charitable works? 

Jesus said: “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:2 NLT)

Let’s repeat their standard: “The religious leaders showed a complete lack of concern for the poor and needy. The religious leaders were described as “money lovers” who ‘devoured the houses of the widows’” (w06 5/1 p. 4)

Now consider these illustrations from recent Watchtower publications:

Contrast that with the reality of men living in luxury, sporting outrageously expensive jewelry and buying large quantities of expensive Scotch.

The lesson for us is never to read a parable and overlook its application.  The first person we should measure by the lesson from the parable is ourselves. 

To sum up, Jesus used parables:

  • to hide truth from the unworthy, but reveal it to the faithful.
  • to overcome bias, indoctrination and traditional thought.
  • to reveal things that people were blind to.
  • to teach a moral lesson.

Finally, we must bear in mind that parables are not prophecies.  I will demonstrate the importance of realizing that in the next video.  Our goal in the upcoming videos will be to look at each of the final four parables the Lord spoke of in the Olivet Discourse and see how each one applies to us individually. Let us not miss their meaning so that we do not suffer an adverse fate.

Thank you for your time.  You can check out the description of this video for a link to the transcript as well as links to all the Beroean Pickets library of videos.  See also the Spanish YouTube channel called “Los Bereanos.”  Also, if you like this presentation, please click the Subscribe button to be notified of each video release.

 

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.

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