Cultural Images in Jesus Teaching
Jesus used various word pictures and ideas that were familiar to the people of his time in order to communicate effectively with both religious Jews and pagans.
The Bridegroom Image
For example, Jesus described his deep love for his followers in terms of a family community terms that his audience clearly understood.
He compared himself to a bridegroom who chose a bride (the church); who paid a price for her (his life on the cross); who had gone to prepare a place for her in his father’s house (heaven); and who would come again to take her home.
This metaphor was familiar to the people of Jesus’ day because a bridegroom customarily left his fiance to build a home and then returned to get her. Likewise, Jesus will one day return to take his followers to his home in heaven. Heaven will be like a joyous wedding reception, celebrating the love between the bride and the Bridegroom. (Matt. 22:1-2).
Jesus also used images from the theater, a popular venue in pagan lands, to explain his message. He frequently used the term hypocrite, a word that referred to actors. In one case, he encouraged people to avoid praying and fasting like actors, who put on exaggerated faces and performed for the audience’s applause (Matt. 6:5, 16).
On another occasion, Jesus used the image of stage actors to condemn some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Many of the Pharisees followed the law only for appearances sake, and Jesus pointed out their phoniness by comparing them to actors who performed for show (Matt. 23:23-28).
Drawing from the current events of his day, Jesus sometimes used stories about nobles and kings to describe God’s truths.
When telling the parable of the ten minas, for example, Jesus spoke of a man who went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and his subjects who hated him and sent a delegation to protest (Luke 19:12, 14). When the man returned from his journey, he killed all those who did not want him to be king.
This parable mirrored actual events that occurred during the reign of Herod Archelaus. While he visited Rome in an attempt to gain more power in Israel, a group of Jews revolted and sent a delegation to protest Archelaus reign. When he returned from Rome, Archelaus brutally killed the rebels and their families.
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