Jesus' Use of Illustrations
Jesus was the master teacher. With unrivaled skill He enabled hearers to latch on to great spiritual truths while using the simplest language. (It is an eye-opening experience to read modern theological works alongside the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ teaching!)
One of the most effective techniques Jesus used was drawing parallels with everyday things and events.
Jesus earliest disciples were fishermen. As Jesus walked by on the shore of the Sea of Galilee He called to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-22).
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water from Jacob’s well, Jesus spoke to her about water that would forever quench thirst. While she did not immediately understand the figure, it sufficiently piqued her interest to engage in a lengthier conversation which resulted in coming to believe in Jesus (John 4:1-29). The apostles often argued about which of them was the greatest. On one such occasion Jesus called a child to come to Him, then said to the disciples, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).
Jesus depicted His relationship to His disciples as that of a vine to its branches. The branches must abide in the vine and bear fruit. Apart from Him disciples can do nothing, and if they do not bear fruit they are burned up in the fire (John 15:1ff). Some think this illustration was suggested by the cup they had just shared. It is also possible that at this point they had left the upper room, were making their way to the garden of Gethsemane, and passed by a vine (note John 14:31b).
Jesus took many lessons from shepherding and farming, two common occupations in Palestine. His parables sometimes drew from everyday occurrences such as telling your children to get to work (Matthew 20:28-32) or losing a coin (Luke 15:8-10) or baking bread (Matthew 13:33).
Jesus’ genius was in seeing the parallel between a point He wished to make and a readily available “prop” or event, one that added color and clarity to the lesson. That is harder than it might seem!
Those of us who teach need to emulate the master teacher. Keep it simple!