Jesus Speaking Figuratively

by John C. Westervelt

John records Jesus saying, "These things I have spoken to you in figurative language. A time is coming when I will speak no more to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father."

As people in surrounding territories heard about Jesus teaching and healing in Galilee, they came to follow after Him. Jesus went up the side of the mountain and began teaching His disciples the beatitudes and continued on a wide range of subjects.

Later in the day, just before coming down the mountain, Jesus told the people, "Do not judge lest you be judged. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brotherís eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

On another occasion, Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

I think Jesus enjoyed using figures of speech, in these cases a hyperbole (exaggeration for effect), to make His point, while keeping his audience smiling and alert.

Jesus used metaphors to hold the attention of a crowd saying, "Beware of false teachers who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are wolves and will tear you apart."

Another time Jesus was teaching His disciples and said, "If you have faith, and do not doubt, you can tell this mountain to move over into the ocean, and it will."

Jesus may have meant that the rocks of the mountain would be cast into the sea, or He may have been using a metaphor. If the latter, the mountain might be something in our lives that we feel is as hard to overcome as casting a mound of rocks into the water. Jesus encourages us to have faith to overcome our obstacles.

Jesus told the story about the farmer scattering grain across his field. Some fell on a hard path, some on thin soil, some among thorns, and some on good soil. The disciples asked Jesus to explain this metaphor. Jesus said that the farmer is anyone who brings Godís message to others and that some listeners accept it and some do not.

Jesus asked, "How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story shall I use to illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed. Though this is one of the smallest of seeds, yet it grows to become one of the largest of plants, with long branches where birds can build their nests and be sheltered."

Jesus doesnít explain this simile, but rather lets me imagine that life on earth and life in heaven are as different as the seed and the large plant.

Return to Table of Contents