Why Did Jesus Use Paradoxes?

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What is a Biblical paradox? Why do they exist? What do they accomplish? Why did Jesus use them to preach the gospel?

A paradox contains at least two parts that seem incapable of being true at the same time. Although the parts may seem contradictory on the surface, a closer study reveals otherwise. Biblical paradoxes, though they also appear intrinsically contradictory, nevertheless always reveal spiritual truths through the comparison of their parts.

Jesus used paradoxes, along with other literary devices in Scripture such as symbolism, allegories and parables, as one of the many ways to manifest God's character, will and promises to humans.

Why do they exist?

The Eternal has allowed the devil, since the time of Adam, to heavily influence humanity as a god (John 12:31, 2Corinthians 4:3 - 4, Ephesians 2:1). Satan, who is a perfectly evil and the quintessential liar (John 8:44), has systematically deceived humans by constantly promoting his own perverted beliefs and self-centered goals. He has performed his job so well that the Bible makes plain that he and unconverted humans think an awful lot alike (Mark 8:33)!

Biblical paradoxes exist as a teaching tool to reveal righteous and eternal principles. Many times, they contrast human values, influenced by the devil, with those upheld by God. Several of them given by Jesus also educate mankind on the coming Kingdom and the qualities required to enter and excel in it.

Waterfall by Escher which shows paradox of perspective.
Waterfall by Escher showing
a paradox of perspective

Listed below are some of the most profound paradoxes uttered by Jesus during his ministry.

Saving life by losing it

For whoever desires to save his life shall lose it; but whoever will lose his life for My sake and for the gospel's, he shall save it. (Mark 8:35, HBFV throughout).

And the one who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. The one who has found his life shall lose it; and the one who has lost his life for My sake shall find it. (Matthew 10:38 - 39).

The one who loves his life shall lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world shall keep it unto eternal life. (John 12:25, see also Matthew 24:9 - 13).

According to Jesus, how can a person save their life by losing it? The phrase "to save one's life" refers to living with self-centered objectives and goals. This Biblical paradox is solved by understanding that to lose one's life means living with the goal of humble service and striving to selflessly love our fellow man (Romans 13:8, Galatians 5:14). This includes even loving and blessing those who hate us (Matthew 5:44 - 45). God promises to save us forever, through the resurrection of the dead, if we live according to his ways in this life.

Salvation through endurance

Then shall they deliver you up to affliction, and shall kill you; and you shall be hated by all nations for My name's sake . . . But the one who endures to the end, that one shall be saved. (Matthew 24:9, 13).

How can enduring unto death bring life? The phrase "enduring to the end" means living as a true Christian, even if it entails suffering afflictions, to the end of life. God promises that a person who dies in the faith, whether or not their demise was caused by others, will live again!

How can the last be first?

And after sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35).

Then Jesus called them to Him and said to them, "You know that those who are counted worthy to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them.

"But it shall not be this way among you; rather, whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant; And whoever desires to be first among you shall be the bondslave of all." (Mark 10:42 - 44).

How can a person be great if they are the least? How can they be the first if they are the last? These Biblical paradoxes reveal that God's definition of "great" is vastly different from what the world promotes. His character is based on humility, selfless service and seeking the best for others out of perfect love. He will someday exalt all those who have such traits in abundance!

A lighter burden

Come to Me, all you who labor and are overly burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28 - 30).

How can a person's burden become lighter by taking on yet another one? In this paradox Jesus does not offer to release us from all trials and troubles immediately. If we, however, learn from him and have faith then, over time, our heavy burden is transformed into the light one he possesses!

Do the dead bury themselves?

And another of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:21 - 22).

How can those who are dead bury the newly deceased? Jesus, in this Biblical paradox, stresses that this follower's highest priority ought to be hearing his words and following him. In this context the disciple need not concern himself with burying his father, as those back home who are still spiritually dead (unrepentant or dead in their sins, Ephesians 2:1, 5, Colossians 2:13) can handle burying those who have physically perished.

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