Parable of the Sower: Why People Don’t Understand

Many say Jesus used parables to make spiritual truths come alive, to make them clearer. But the parable of the sower helps show that wasn’t His purpose at all.

Imagine the scene:

“There’s a new guy in town. Some say He has performed some impressive healings of the blind and crippled. And sometimes He and His friends give away good food. I hear that how He preaches is very different from the other religious guys, the scribes and Pharisees.

“Let’s go over and check Him out. He’s over by the lake now.”

A story about a farmer (the parable of the sower)

“On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying:

“‘Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.

“‘And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’” (Matthew 13:1-9).

The parable of the sower meaning?

On that day, that’s what the multitude heard! A short story about a farmer planting seed on different types of soil and how productive each of the types of soil were. Today it is often called the parable of the sower.

But what was the point?

His disciples ask why He spoke in parables

Following Jesus Christ’s short message to the crowd, His disciples asked: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (verse 10).

No wonder! The disciples must have thought: If we didn’t understand, then the crowds probably didn’t learn a lot from that parable either.

Jesus’ response: “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (verse 11).

He went on to say that because the multitudes preferred spiritual ignorance to the truth, He would speak in a way that would make the meaning less clear to the majority of people. Read verses 12 through 17 (Matthew 13:12-13, 14-15, 16-17).

Jesus’ reply to the disciples revealed two surprising, often-overlooked truths. One is that God is actually not trying to save everybody now. This is not the only day of salvation. The second is that some few have been called specifically by God and given the true knowledge of God’s Kingdom now.

The parable of the sower explained

Then Jesus went on to explain to His chosen disciples the meaning of the parable of the sower. As you will see, it makes the same point:

“Therefore hear the parable of the sower:

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.

“Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

“But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

Satan does his best to prevent people from understanding God’s truth. He also works to trip up those who express interest or to crowd God’s message out of our lives.

Those who are being called to understand now must heed the parable of the sower as a warning of Satan’s tricks. The parable of the sower tells Christians to strive to be good soil, committed, persevering and fruitful. (For more on this, see “Journey: The Fruit of the Spirit.”)

But what about the many by the wayside who do not understand the message—yet?

The wayside: a spiritually blind, deceived world

The apostle John wrote that Satan has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9), including the religious world. Most people are content with the knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation.

They have worked out ways and beliefs that they are comfortable with, and they do not wish to be bothered with anything that challenges or contradicts their beliefs and way of life. “For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed” (Matthew 13:15).

That deception from Satan goes all the way back to our first parents, Adam and Eve. They chose to believe the serpent, Satan, rather than God. And that has been the pattern most of mankind has followed. God allowed it. He knew that many would want to try their own way before trying His way.

One of the big lessons of history is that man’s way isn’t working. In time, man will see that and be ready to try a new way, God’s way, which leads to a better physical life and ultimately eternal life.

Knowing that the more we know, the more we are accountable for (Luke 12:48), Jesus spoke less plainly to the multitudes. It was an act of mercy on His part. He would deal with them later.

All who have ever lived without comprehending the message Jesus brought will someday live again in a time when spiritual blindness will no longer be an obstacle to a full understanding of God’s truth. (Read more about this in our articles “Are Most People Eternally Lost?” and “What Happens to Those Who Died Without Hope?”)

Sowing seed on good ground: “Blessed are your eyes”

Those disciples, those followers of Christ, were able to understand. Their blindness had been removed.

“And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ He answered and said to them, ‘Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given’” (Matthew 13:10-11).

Jesus added, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (verses 16-17).

They were able to see what most couldn’t.

How about you? Does what you are reading on this site make sense to you? Are the things you are finding in the Bible making more sense now? If so, then it’s likely that God is removing some of the blindness from your eyes, as He did for those early disciples.How about you? Does what you are reading on this site make sense to you? Are the things you are finding in the Bible making more sense now? If so, then it’s likely that God is removing some of the blindness from your eyes, as He did for those early disciples.

As He has always done, He is selecting a few—out of the billions of people on earth today—to understand His marvelous plan of salvation earlier than the rest.

God must call first

“But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing [for now], whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

What was true then, is still true now. Most of mankind, “the whole world,” is spiritually blinded to the gospel Jesus Christ preached and that was also proclaimed by Paul and later servants of Christ.

That blindness remains until God intervenes in a person’s life to make it possible for him or her to grasp His truth. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). And again, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (verse 65).

Most people aren’t responding to God’s calling at this time (Matthew 22:14), but some few are invited by God the Father to become a part of the Church that Christ told His disciples He would build (Matthew 16:18). And if they respond to this invitation, then God will take away more of the veil of spiritual blindness.

“But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. … Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:14, 16). Read more about what the Bible says about this in our article “God Calling!

“Let him hear”

Jesus’ disciples had had the veil of blindness removed from their eyes and ears.

“And He said to them, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’” (Mark 4:9). And a few verses later He repeats this again, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (verse 23). A hearing ear is a divine gift, but one can decide whether to use that gift or not. We must choose to listen. We must pay attention to what God has for us to learn.

Then Jesus told them, “Take heed what you hear” (verse 24, emphasis added). Don’t listen to just anything someone tells you. There are false teachers. Adam and Eve should have listened closer to what God had told them. They should not have listened to the serpent. We should always check what someone is saying with what the Bible says. Be selective in what you read or listen to.

Luke shows that Jesus also said to be careful “how you hear” (Luke 8:18). We determine if, what and how we hear.

It’s important how we hear. We are to take seriously what God has written for us. But that is just the beginning. What value is knowledge if it is not put into practice? We are to be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

If you are beginning to understand these marvelous truths, then we say, “Blessed are your eyes,” for you are beginning to see and understand things most haven’t yet. We would be happy to help you as you travel the spiritual path toward God’s Kingdom. Learn more by embarking on our helpful biblical Journeys, starting with “Journey 1: Knowing God.”

About the Author

Bruce Gore

Bruce Gore

Bruce Gore served as a pastor for more than 50 years in the Church of God. He grew up in the South on a farm and met his wife to be at college in Pasadena, California. Bruce and Phyllis were married for more than 50 years before her death in 2019. They had four children and 14 grandchildren.

Read More

Continue Reading


Discern is published every two months and is available in digital and print versions. Choose your preferred format to start your subscription.

Print subscriptions available in U.S., Canada and Europe


Please choose your region:


Discern Article Series

Christ Versus Christianity
Walk as He Walked
Christianity in Progress
Wonders of God's Creation
Ask a Question