When it comes to the comings of Christ, the parables shed much light on why the Son of God came. Contrary to the prevailing evangelical notion, Jesus came for more than to simply save sinners. He came to a specific people, at a specific time, in a specific context, for a specific and dual-functioning purpose. That purpose was to bring judgment upon His enemies and salvation to His people, which can be demonstrated throughout the parables of Christ.
For instance, when Christ comes, He will identify two groups of people in His incarnation. One that will be prepared for judgment. And the other who will be prepared for His blessings. These two themes show up in the vast majority of parables and give us insight into Jesus’ conception of His incarnation.
For instance, in one parable you have the righteous man building his house upon the rock, while the wicked builds in hubris upon the sand (Luke 6:46-49). In that story, the righteous man survives the near-term calamity and experiences ongoing blessings while the wicked man undergoes sudden destruction when the storm appeared.
Truth from parables like these can be applied in spiritual and universal ways since all who build their life on Jesus Christ will be ultimately and eternally spared, whereas building on anything else will warrant eternal calamities forever. But, spiritualized interpretations often miss the poignant reality this would have conveyed to the original audience. Jesus is warning that a first-century storm is coming and only those who were with Him would survive it, which gained terrifying clarity in the events of AD 70.
This kind of dualism between the imminent doom of the wicked and the near blessing of the righteous is too overt to ignore. For instance, the sheep will be brought into blessing, whereas the goats will be set apart for destruction (Matthew 25:31-36). The wheat is to be stored in Christ’s heavenly barns while the tares will be thrown into the flames (Matthew 13:24-30). The branches that bear fruit will be pruned for greater fruitfulness, and all those who are fruitless will be burned for their worthlessness (John 15:1-11). The king will bring new guests into the joy of His wedding while sending his armies to destroy the ones who were found unworthy (Matthew 22:1-14). On and on we may go.
Clarifying Parabolic Time
Some of these parables helpfully add a clarifying element of time, which let us know more will be going on in the first century than a hyper-spiritual application can account for. In the spiritual application, the parables were written for me, my benefit, and concern the things going on in my world. Jesus’ parables, however, clearly address events that apply to His contemporaries and things that will be happening in their world even while we still find comfort and application in them as well.
For instance, Christ the master will go on a long journey. When He returns, He will bless the slave who is found doing what He commanded (Luke 12:35-44). But, to the one who is lazy, wicked, and evil, He will bring violence, death, and destruction (Luke 12:45-48). This happened in AD 70.
The temptation today is to read a multiple thousand-year gap into texts like these, supposing that its contents apply to us or some future generation. Beyond breaking the most basic rules of Biblical hermeneutics, this is not how the story world of a parable works. In the parable, a human master goes on a human journey that seemed especially long to his human servants. When he returned, those same servants were still alive. Some were rewarded for their faithfulness while their master was away. The others were punished and even killed for their wickedness.
Had the master in the story left on a two-thousand-year journey, both he and his slaves would have to be near immortal to survive until he returned, which cannot be Jesus’ point. But, if Jesus was preparing His disciples for the forty-year gap that existed between His ascension and judgment coming on Jerusalem in AD 70, the parable would make great sense. Jesus’ return would bring blessing to the ones who were committed to following Him. But, death and destruction for those who remained in their rebellion, such as the Jews.
One triad of parables makes this blessing / judgment coming of Christ undeniably clear. In Matthew 21-22, Jesus tells three successive parables, one right after the other, where one group will gain tremendous blessings and the other awful judgments. In the first, Jesus interprets the parable of the two sons, telling the Pharisees that the prostitutes and tax collectors will get into heaven ahead of them (Matthew 21:28-32). In the second, He interprets the parable of the landowner, warning the Jews that God’s kingdom will be taken away from them at His coming, and given to a people who will produce His fruit (Matthew 21:33-46). And in the third, Jesus reveals that the Jews were found unworthy to participate in His coming Kingdom so they are thrown out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:1-14).
In each of these parables, the coming of the Son of Man is accomplishing a dualistic purpose. For the elect, Jesus’ coming will usher them into all the salvific blessings and eschatological joys available in God’s newly inaugurated Kingdom, the Church. For those who reject Him, there will be suffering, weeping, gnashing teeth, and imminent destruction. To the Jews, this happened during their lives, when their city was set on fire, their temple was devoted to destruction, and the Old Covenant kingdom of shadows and types came to a sudden cataclysmic end.
The parables Jesus taught prepared the discerning disciple for this apocalyptic outcome.
The Prophets and Dual Purpose Comings
This same theme of salvation and judgment at the Messiah’s coming shows up in the prophetic writings as well. For instance, in Joel 2, God promises to blow a trumpet of war, empowering a Northern army to bring swift and awful judgment against the Jews of the first century (Joel 2:1-11). But, His coming will also provide a way of salvation for the elect who will repent (Joel 2:12-17). In case we doubt the first-century timing of this prophecy, Joel cites Pentecost, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as the sign that will identify when his prophecy will occur. Here again, we see that Messiah’s first-century coming will be good news for some and terrifying for others.