Jesus often taught with word pictures and stories. His word pictures were not literal, but they were true. Metaphors are one of the literary devices used in scripture. You’ll recall that metaphors say something like X = Y. Jesus said, I am the gate (John 10). Well, He is not a physical gate that opens a fenced-in area. Instead, Jesus is speaking metaphorically.
Here are a few of my favorite metaphors for the Word of God —
- Hebrews 4: a 2-edged sword able to judge my motivations
- James 1: a mirror revealing my true self
- 1 Peter 1: a seed that reproduces true life
- 1 Peter 2: the milk needed to nourish the soul
- Psalm 119: the light I need for my pathway
The Gospel authors share some of the metaphors Jesus used to illustrate truths. In this study of the Gospels, I want to share a few of those metaphors.
Metaphors Describing Disciples
SALT: Matthew 5:13 (NIV): You are the salt of the earth.
Salt is necessary for life. According to Harvard Health, our bodies contain about 250 grams of salt or the equivalent of three or four salt shakers (Harvard Health, 2010). As Christians, we are necessary in our culture – we add a significant element. Because we are salt, we need to permeate the culture, the arts, education, social organizations, and the government. We unleash the kingdom wherever we are!
FISHERMEN: Mark 1:17 (ESV): Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
While this phrase is not written in the typical metaphorical pattern, the disciples would not cast lines or nets to capture people. Instead, Jesus used a descriptor they understood, but I wonder if our childhood Bible song might portray the wrong idea. Jesus did not call the disciples to be shepherds or to bring in the sheaves. Instead, Jesus called them to catch fish – fish die when caught! Being fishers of men implies judgment, transformation, and new creation.
GOOD SOIL: Luke 8:15 (TLB): But the good soil represents honest, good-hearted people. They listen to God’s words, cling to them, and steadily spread them to others who soon believe.
The parable of the sower and the seed is a familiar one. Disciples, Christ-followers, are described as good soil. That means it has been tilled, and amended, is rich with nutrients, is free from pests and weeds, and has good water infiltration (think: Living Water!) The good soil hears the Word, retains it, and produces fruit!
BRANCHES: John 15:5 (NIV): I am the vine; you are the branches.
The vineyard, vines, or branches are rich with meaning from the Old Testament. For example, the Psalmist writes, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land.” Israel was God’s garden of delight, His vineyard. Of course, we know that vineyard yielded only bad fruit according to Isaiah 5. As Gentiles, we are the grafted-in branches. The vine and branches signify the important concept of abiding. Abiding means to be nourished, fed, supported, and attached to Jesus.
Metaphors Describing Jesus
GROOM: Matthew 9:15 (NIV): Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
Israel was described as God’s betrothed in the prophets. So when Jesus refers to Himself as the bridegroom, He alludes to being God, and fulfilling prophecy, a joy-filled fulfillment! Paul picks up on this metaphor in Ephesians 5, describing the church as the bride of Christ.
SHEPHERD: Mark 6:34 (NIV): When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
There are more common verses that tell us Jesus is our Shepherd. But I planned to share one metaphor from each of the gospels …
It’s interesting in this verse, that Jesus’s first inclination as the people’s shepherd was to teach them. I love this about our shepherd; in His compassion, He wants us to understand the truth. May we have listening ears ready to hear and heed!
HEN: Luke 13:34 (NIV) Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
The word picture of a hen is a rare use of a female image of Jesus, representing his compassion and how He would nurture and protect His people. Jesus might be remembering the Psalmist who tells us of God’s protection under His wings. “Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers, will protect you under His great wings; His faithfulness will form a shield around you, a rock-solid wall to protect you. (Psalm 91:4 The Voice)
TEMPLE: John 2:19 (NIV) Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
Obviously, when Jesus made this statement He was not speaking about the literal temple that took years to build. He’s telling His accusers that His body is the temple which John explains to us a few verses later. And like Jesus, we, also, are being built together as His people – living stones – forming a spiritual temple.
The So What
Word pictures help us visualize meaning and relate better to the message. Jesus was a master wordsmith. All the figurative language He used was meant to draw us to Himself. As Rebecca Mclaughlin says, metaphors are used to woo our hearts – to draw us to the Savior!
Father, You who love us enough
To woo us, You write beautiful
Word pictures, metaphors, to draw
Us to You, to capture our hearts.
Would you open our eyes, ears, and
Hearts to Your message –
Cause us to seek You first,
And to love You more!
Harvard Health. (2010, October 1). Salt and your health, Part I: The sodium connection. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/salt-and-your-health#:~:text=The%20average%20adult’s%20body%20contains,tears%20to%20semen%20and%20urine