What are the 38 parables of Jesus and their lessons? Learn more in this easy to follow beginners guide.
Who does not love a good story? Whether it inspires us, makes us cry, teaches us, entertains, or causes us to ponder the deeper meanings of life, communicating through a story is an art that will never go away.
Perhaps that is why the film industry makes billions of dollars every year. They offer stories in a form that many enjoy. But there is a type of story that was used by the greatest teacher of all, Jesus.
He used what we call parables to speak to many of his listeners. We will take a look at the parables of Jesus, why he spoke using this method, and the hidden messages behind them.
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What are the Parables of Jesus?
Simply put, a parable is a story but it is a story with intention. It is used to illustrate one or more moral, spiritual, or instructive lessons.
It is a concise and illustrative narrative that uses human characters. And although a parable story may sound like something that actually happened in real life, it is made up or fictitious.
Types of Parables of Jesus
There are three different types of parables: similitude, parable, and exemplary:
Similitude parables are the shortest and usually use examples from everyday life that people can easily relate to. An example of a similitude is the parable of the Lost Coin.
Parables are longer than similitudes and talk about one-time events that, although fictitious, is still true to life. The Persistent Widow is a parable of this sort.
Exemplary parables are told more in a story form that explains a general principle and uses one example. One of the most well-known exemplary parables is of the Good Samaritan. Jesus used all three different ways of speaking in parables.
Why did Jesus Use Parables?
Parables were not a new concept when Jesus used them. In fact, they were a common form of teaching in the Jewish religion. Jesus, in response to his disciples’ question, explained to them in Matthew 10:13-17 why he spoke in parables.
Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
When Jesus spoke in parables, it was a way to separate those who truly believed in Jesus as the Messiah versus those whose hearts were hardened with unbelief. Matthew 13:34 also says that when he spoke to the crowd he would always use a parable.
How Many Parables Are in The Bible?
There are different answers to this question as sometimes categorizing a parable is subjective.
As some count a little over 100 parables in the Bible, others perceive more than 250. As far as the parables of Jesus which are found in the four synoptic Gospel books, there are over 30, with most agreeing on 38-39 different parables.
38 Parables of Jesus and Their Lessons
Although some of the same parables can be found in one of the four synoptic gospels, here are 38 of Jesus’ distinct parables that he taught the crowds who followed him and the Pharisees who questioned him. These parables are rich in spiritual meaning with many of them explained by Jesus to his disciples.
Parable of New Cloth and New Wineskins
(Matthew 9:16-17, Mark 2:21-22, Luke 5:36-38)
The meaning of not patching old and new cloth together and not putting new wine into old wineskins represents old religious rituals versus the new covenant of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Now that the Messiah had come, salvation is through faith alone, not through works or works plus faith. The Pharisees were self-righteous because of their ability to be very religious and this hardened their hearts to seeing and believing in the Savior. Is our faith in Christ alone, or are we trying to be “good enough” to get to Heaven?
Parable of Lamp on a Stand
(Matthew 5:14-16, Mark 4:21-22, Luke 8:16)
The lamp represents the Gospel message of hope. Everyone who has put their faith in Jesus carries this special light that is meant to be shared with others, not hidden or kept to themselves.
As God’s lamps, we become revealers of the hidden and secret things. Charles Spurgeon, a renowned preacher, once said, “The Bible is not the light of the world, it is the light of the Church. But the world does not read the Bible, the world reads Christians! You are the light of the world.”
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders
(Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:47-49)
The foundation of a house is crucial. If you do not build it on steady ground, it will eventually collapse. A firm faith not only involves believing in Jesus but obeying the words he has spoken.
There is a difference between those who hear Jesus’ words and act versus those who hear and do not act. Those who hear but disobey are considered foolish while those who hear and obey are considered wise. It is those who are doers of the Word who are blessed.
Parable of the Moneylender Forgives Unequal Debts
Those who have been forgiven much love much. Jesus was trying to help one of the Pharisees understand why the immoral woman kept kissing his feet and pouring expensive perfume on them.
Those who realize how much of a sinner they are will be more grateful for the forgiveness of Jesus than those who believe themselves to be righteous. Many times this gratitude will show itself through one’s actions.
Although it does not mean we should sin more so we can be more thankful, it does mean that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will find their most satisfaction in the One who can give it.
Parable of the Rich Fool
Proverbs 18:11 says that the wealth of the rich is their fortified city. But even though money makes people feel secure, it cannot save them or protect them when their time on earth is finished.
Jesus says to guard our hearts against every kind of greed because life is not measured by how much we own. And because we do not know when our dying day will be, we are foolish if we choose to be rich in this world but neglect to cultivate a rich relationship with God which is what will truly matter for eternity.
Parable of The Watchful Servants
As Christians, we must always be ready for Jesus’ return even though we do not know the day or hour that he is coming. This is so that we will not get distracted by other things or become lazy in our faith.
We need to continually repent of our sins and be obedient to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit so that we will be spiritually prepared at all times. Because when Jesus does return, it will be too late to have done these things.
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Servants
This is another parable to show the importance of being ready for Jesus’ return and being faithful and obedient to the things that God has asked us to do. He has given each of us a certain amount of responsibility that we will be accountable for.
There is a reward for the believers who have done a good job and a punishment for those who have not. Our actions reveal what we truly believe and there is a clear distinction between the faithful and the unfaithful.
Parable of the Barren Fig Tree
In this parable, the man who planted the fig tree represents God, the gardener signifies Jesus, and the fig tree symbolizes the nation of Israel and people’s individual spiritual lives.
As Christians, we are expected to bear good fruit in our lives by keeping with the practice of repentance. God is patient with us, wanting everyone to come to salvation. But eventually, time will run out and His just judgment will come on those who were unfruitful.
Parable of the Sower and Four Types of Soil
(Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:3-20, Luke 8:5-15)
Jesus explains this parable as the seed being God’s Word and the different soils as the hearts of those who hear the Gospel and in which way they receive it. The farmer scattering the seed is anyone who shares the message of hope.
The seeds that fell on the footpath are those who hear the message, but the devil snatches it from their hearts and is prevented from being saved. The seed on the rocky soil are those who hear the message with joy, but because they do not have deep roots, they quickly fall away when trouble or temptation comes.
The seeds that fell among the thorns are those who seem to receive the message, but the cares and riches of this life crowd it out. The seeds that fell among fertile soil are those whose hearts are honest and good and receive, believe, and live out the message which produces a huge harvest. This is the heart that is needed to grow in our faith.
Parable of the Wheat and Weeds
(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
This parable explains what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Jesus is the sower that plants the good seeds in his field but Satan comes and tries to destroy the church by putting false teachers and believers to try to lead as much astray from the truth, symbolized by the weeds.
Because we sometimes cannot know for sure who are the true and false believers, Jesus tells us to wait until he sends his angels to separate those who truly belong to the Kingdom versus those who will be thrown into hell.
Parable of the Growing Seed
This is another parable that explains the Kingdom of God in which God’s message is the seed. As God’s Word is being sown, how and how much it grows within a person is a mystery.
But as soon as they are spiritually ready, they will come to the point of true salvation and fruitfulness. This is an encouragement to us to continue spreading the Gospel as we do not know what is happening within a person. Keep laboring for the Kingdom as you never know who will come to repentance one day.
Parable of the Mustard Seed
(Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19)
Although the mustard seed is the smallest seed, it will eventually grow to become one of the largest garden plants. The Kingdom of God started out small with Jesus and his 12 disciples, but it has and will continue to grow into a large kingdom that will spread across the world.
Like the birds who came and made nests in the branches of the mustard tree, anyone who is a part of the Kingdom will benefit. Zechariah 4:10 says to not despise humble beginnings because the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. We are not to underestimate the power of what the world sees as small starting points. Dive into the meaning and lessons we can learn from The Parable of the Mustard Seed.
Parable of the Yeast/Leaven
(Matthew 13:33, Luke 13:20-21)
A little yeast easily affects a large amount of dough. The Kingdom of Heaven may start out small, like the microscopic pieces of yeast, but once it is sent out into different parts and people groups of the world, the influence it produces is profound.
As yeast makes dough rise from within, so does God first change the heart of a person which in turn affects how a person outwardly lives. We cannot underestimate the small things that we do to advance God’s Kingdom because we never know how big God will make it grow to accomplish His purposes.
Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
The hidden treasure and pearl of great value both represent the immeasurable worth of the Kingdom of God and those whose eyes have been opened to it. Those who have been searching for the truth and have finally found it are willing to give up everything they have in order to follow the Way. Everything else in the world starts to have lesser significance compared to what they have found in Jesus.
Parable of the Fishing Net
Like the fishing net that was cast out and caught fish of every kind, the Gospel is sent all over the world and attracts many people to its message. But in the end times, God’s angels will come to sort out the good fish from the bad, or the ones who sincerely repent and believe in Jesus versus those who are unfaithful and fake. This is another end-times parable that encourages believers that there will be justice at the appointed time.
Parable of the Homeowner
Similar to how some houses contain treasures of new and old, are those who are the teachers of the law who enter God’s Kingdom. Religious teachers at that time had prestigious positions, but their self-righteousness blinded them from what God really desired.
In understanding and receiving the Gospel message, these teachers would be able to offer not just the principles of the new covenant but also build upon the knowledge of the Scriptures they already knew.
Parable of the Lost Sheep
(Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:3-7)
This parable reveals God’s heart for those who are His. No matter how many children God has He still values each and every one. When one of His sheep, or children, strays away from the path of life, He will take every effort to find the lost one and joyfully bring it back in His protection and care. If it were not for God’s Son Jesus who is the Good Shepherd and sacrificed his life for the forgiveness of our sins, we would stay in darkness forever.
Parable of the Master and His Servant
This is a rather humbling parable, but one that is necessary. The master represents God and his followers are the servants. A servant should not boast or expect certain privileges when simply obeying their master’s commands. When Christians do what they are supposed to do they are simply fulfilling their duties. Pride should not come in the way as a result of obedience.
Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor
When we realize how much we have been forgiven for, then we should be willing to extend the same forgiveness to others. The forgiveness we receive from God is incomparable to the forgiveness that humans can offer to each other.
It takes a humble heart and a realization that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory to be able to forgive others from your heart. Our debts that were forgiven through Christ’s blood can never be repaid or measured by any earthly standards.
Parable of the Good Samaritan
One of the most well-known parables, the Good Samaritan teaches us that we need to truly love others with our actions and not just with words. We also need to love those who are different from us, even our enemies. There is a difference between knowing the good you ought to do and then actually doing it. Hosea 6:6 says that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. It is a change in heart towards God and towards others that are evidence of a growing relationship in Christ.
Parable of A Friend in Need
Just like the person who kept knocking on his friend’s door to get what he needed, we are to be persistent in prayer to God who will eventually answer our prayers. This does not mean that He will give us everything we ask for. In context, Jesus says that our Heavenly Father will give us the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.
Our prayers need to reflect honor to God, repentance of sins, our daily needs to be met, the forgiveness of others, and protection from evil. God is the giver of all good things so we can trust that the prayers He does answer are ones where no sorrow is added to it.
Parable of the Lowest Seat at the Feast
(Luke 14: 7-11)
This parable shows how the Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. In this world, many people desire to be honored and recognized in front of others. But Jesus says that we need to humble ourselves and take on a position of being the least important. In God’s Kingdom, He will humble those who exalt themselves and exalt those who choose to humble themselves.
Parable of the Invitation to a Great Banquet
In this parable, God is the master, the servant are the prophets, and the banquet is the Kingdom of God. The ones who were first invited represent God’s chosen people, the Jews. But they continued to reject Jesus as the Messiah for no valid reason.
So the invitation for salvation through grace is extended to all, even the rejects of society and Gentiles, whom the Jewish people believed could not be saved. No matter how religious you are there is no partial salvation. Grace through faith in Jesus is the only way to enter God’s Kingdom.
Parable Counting the Cost
Jesus warns us that there is difficulty in discipleship. Many people follow Jesus for the benefits, but to become a disciple means to carry your cross daily. It is a turning away from your way and the world’s way to pursue His ways.
Those who follow Jesus for who he is instead of what he does will continue to persevere in the faith. Being faithful to God sometimes means we will lose relationships, worldly wealth, our own hopes and dreams, or even our own lives. Jesus openly and honestly tells us to consider these things before choosing to follow him.
Parable of the Lost Coin
The religious leaders during Jesus’ time were more concerned with outer purity than inner holiness. They believed that only an elite group of people would be saved and everyone else they considered sinners had no hope for salvation.
God’s heart is for none to perish and the idea that salvation is available for both the Jew and Gentile angered many religious leaders. God still loves and cares for the lost who are living in darkness and joyously pursues them in order to bring them to repentance and a restored relationship with Him.
Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son
Like the parable of the lost coin, this is another illustration of God’s everlasting love for us as His children. The younger son represents a believer who has strayed away from the faith and the older brother represents those who have been committed to following God but develop a self-righteous attitude.
Those who have been faithful to God may look down on those who have been unfaithful. But when there is true repentance, God lovingly welcomes His wayward children home no matter what sins they have committed.
Parable of the Shrewd Manager
Jesus compares the cleverness of unbelievers with believers and says that those of this world are more intelligent with their resources than those who are the children of the light.
He encourages his disciples to use their worldly wealth to benefit others and to make friends so that in their time of need they will be welcomed by those they were generous with. It is also an encouragement to learn to be a good steward of the resources that God has given us. One way is to invest in people rather than things.
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus
This parable teaches us two things: how we live and treat others here on earth affects how we spend eternity, and everyone has been given a fair chance to repent and believe. While the rich man lived in comfort on earth and ignored the cries of the less fortunate, he was sent to live in discomfort for eternity.
And while Lazarus lived in extreme discomfort and suffering on earth, he was carried by the angels to live a life of comfort for eternity. What our life looks like now will not determine what our life will look like after we die.
Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Early and Late
Our heavenly rewards are not determined by how long or how hard we have been serving God, but rather by what God decides to give each person. Those who have been Christian for a short amount of time may receive more blessings from God than those who have been serving longer.
We are to avoid being jealous of God’s kindness to other believers even if we feel like they do not deserve it because one day we will all get to experience the greatest gift of all which is eternal life.
Parable of the Persistent Widow and Crooked Judge
Jesus is encouraging his disciples to continue praying and never give up. If an unjust judge gives justice based on a widow’s persistent asking, how much more so will a good God give justice to those who ask Him for it?
It is so easy to stop praying and lose faith when we do not see an immediate answer. But the life of a true disciple includes faithful prayer about everything. Upon Jesus’ return, it will be interesting to see how many will still have the faith to continue praying.
Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector
Self-righteousness falsely builds up the one who has it but breaks down everyone else around them. Both the Pharisee and tax collector (sinner) prayed to God, but in their prayers, the Pharisee exalted himself while the sinner humbled himself.
And although the Pharisee felt like he was the one right with God, it was the sinner who was the justified one. If the only standard we use for holiness, righteousness, and goodness is Jesus, then we will guard our hearts from glorifying ourselves and scorning others.
Parable of Two Sons, One Obeys and One Does Not
The religious leaders during Jesus’ time is the son who said they would go out to work in the vineyard but did not go. Because of their self-righteousness, they believed they were being obedient to God when in actuality they were not by their unbelief in Jesus as the Messiah.
On the other hand, the son who refused to work, but later did, are the sinners who repented and believed in Jesus, doing what God desires. Knowing what God wants and actually doing it is called obedience and it is what pleases Him most.
Parable of Vineyard/Wicked Tenants
(Matthew 21:33-44, Mark 12:1-11, Luke 20:9-18)
There are six symbolic characters in this parable: 1) the landowner is God, 2) the vineyard is Israel, 3) the son is Jesus, 4) the landowner’s servants are the prophets, 5) the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, and 6) the other tenants after the original farmers are the Gentiles.
God sent prophets to speak to His people about their lack of obedience in order to save them. But as they rejected and murdered His prophets, they even rejected and killed His Son Jesus. Obedience to God by repentance and faith in Jesus is God’s will and God’s way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Parable of an Invitation to a Wedding Banquet
The king represents God who is inviting everyone, firstly His chosen people the Israelites, to enter into and enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven through His Son Jesus Christ. But even though many were invited, they refused to come, or believe in Jesus.
The one guest who was thrown out for not wearing the appropriate garments are those who try to enter the Kingdom through self-righteousness versus the righteousness of Christ. Although the Gospel, or invitation for eternal life, is preached throughout the world, not many will choose to receive and believe it.
Parable of Signs of the Future From a Fig Tree
(Matthew 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-29, Luke 21:29-31)
This is an eschatological parable with Jesus warning his disciples that just as a fig tree begins to bud and sprout because summer is near, so is his second coming when the signs of the end times begin to appear.
We are encouraged to keep watch, know God’s Word, and stay obedient because although there will be indications of Jesus’ return we still do not know exactly when that will be.
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins
The bridegroom is Jesus, the virgins are the people of his church, and the oil lighting the lamps represent being ready for his return by obedience and righteous living through the Holy Spirit.
What we are doing when Jesus returns is not the issue, but how our relationship with God at that time is. Those who did not have enough oil were not given more time to get some. Once Jesus returns for his bride, the Church, there are no second chances to repent of sins.
Parable of Three Servants Given Talents
(Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-27)
This was a warning to the people of Israel to repent and believe in Jesus before he returns, but it is also a universal statement to all believers that God has given us certain responsibilities and material wealth that we are to be good stewards of in order to continue advancing His Kingdom.
The most valuable resource He has given us is His Word. Those who are afraid to share God’s message with others are like the servant who buried the money. Because of disobedience, wickedness, and laziness, he was thrown into eternal darkness.
Parable of Sheep and Goats Will be Separated
At the final judgment, Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats, or those who were true believers versus those who were false converts. The true followers showed evidence of their salvation by showing compassion and generosity to those in need while the false converts refused to help the needy. While it is not by works that we are saved, doing good for God’s glory is a by-product of the grace and mercy received by Jesus.
List of Parables and Their Meanings PDF
If you are looking for a list of parables of Jesus to do a personal study, here is a quick list of all the parables of Jesus mentioned above. Feel free to jot them down and use a website like Bible Gateway to look up the verses or copy into a word document and print to study them later.
Parable of New Cloth and New Wineskins – (Matthew 9:16-17, Mark 2:21-22, Luke 5:36-38)
Parable of Lamp on a Stand (Matthew 5:14-16, Mark 4:21-22, Luke 8:16)
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:47-49)
Parable of the Moneylender Forgives Unequal Debts (Luke 7:41-43)
Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21)
Parable of The Watchful Servants (Luke 12:35-40)
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Servants (Luke 12:42-48)
Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)
Parable of the Sower and Four Types of Soil (Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:3-20, Luke 8:5-15)
Parable of the Wheat and Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)
Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)
Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19)
Parable of the Yeast/Leaven (Matthew 13:33, Luke 13:20-21)
Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl (Matthew 13:44-46)
Parable of the Fishing Net (Matthew 13:47-50)
Parable of the Homeowner (Matthew 13:52)
Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:3-7)
Parable of the Master and His Servant (Luke 17:7-10)
Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor (Matthew 18:23-31)
Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)
Parable of A Friend in Need (Luke 11:5-8)
Parable of the Lowest Seat at the Feast (Luke 14: 7-11)
Parable of the Invitation to a Great Banquet (Luke 14:16-24)
Parable Counting the Cost (Luke 14:28-33)
Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10)
Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son (Luke 15:11-32)
Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-9)
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Early and Late (Matthew 20:1-16)
Parable of the Persistent Widow and Crooked Judge (Luke 18:2-8)
Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14)
Parable of Two Sons, One Obeys and One Does Not (Matthew 21:28-32)
Parable of Vineyard/Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-44, Mark 12:1-11, Luke 20:9-18)
Parable of an Invitation to a Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:2-14)
Parable of Signs of the Future From a Fig Tree (Matthew 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-29, Luke 21:29-31)
Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
Parable of Three Servants Given Talents (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-27)
Parable of Sheep and Goats Will be Separated (Matthew 25:31-46)
Famous Parables of Jesus
Jesus used parables to try to explain the deeper spiritual truths of salvation, to warn us, and to explain the Kingdom of God so that those who had ears to hear would be given more knowledge and insight and those who had hardened hearts towards him would have judgment against them.
These parables used over 2,000 years ago still speak to our hearts even though some of the examples used are not as relevant today. We can learn from Jesus as one of the greatest orators on how to speak and share God’s Word by knowing what your listeners need to hear versus what they want to.