11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’” – Luke 19:11-27 ESV
It’s amazing how quickly we can turn this parable into nothing more than a lesson on stewardship. In doing so, we make it all about us, while at the same time, missing the main point of Jesus’ message. Context is essential to understanding what Jesus is saying with this parable. He has just completed His encounter with Zacchaeus, the chief collector, who has shown through his repentant response to Jesus’ words that he has come to believe Him to be the Messiah. Jesus stunned the crowd when He proclaimed the following words over this notorious sinner.
“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 ESV
For Jesus, Zacchaeus was the perfect example of those He had come to save. This man was a sinner and everyone knew it, including himself. And he had been willing to confess his sin and take whatever steps were necessary to display “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Zacchaeus had been willing to make restitution by returning the money he had stolen from his fellow citizens of Jericho. Unlike the rich, young ruler, Zacchaeus was ready to give up his vast wealth in order to follow Jesus.
The other important point of context that gets easily overlooked concerns the timing of this encounter. Luke indicates reminds his readers that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. This brief stopover in Jericho provided a temporary delay in Jesus’ inevitable and unavoidable mission objective. And there were others in the crowd who knew that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and were anxious that He arrive “because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11 ESV). Luke does not identify who these individuals were, but it is safe to assume that the 12 disciples were among them. These men had become convinced that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), and were anxious for Him set up His kingdom in Jerusalem so that they might rule alongside Him. It was this enthusiastic but misguided expectation on the part of the disciples that led Jesus to tell this parable.
…he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away. – Luke 18:11 NLT
Don’t miss all the references to kings, kingdoms, rule, and reign in this parable. They reveal the primary point that Jesus was trying to make. Jesus began His parable by stating, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return” (Luke 18:12 NLT). This translation provides a much more accurate understanding of what Jesus actually said. The ESV states that the nobleman went “to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” The key to understanding what Jesus is saying is the word, “kingdom.” When we read that word we think of a place or a realm. And while the Greek word, basileia, can also carry that meaning, it most often is used to refer to royal power, kingship, dominion, and rule. It has less to do with a realm than the right to rule. Notice that the nobleman went somewhere to receive his official designation as the king. He left where he was in order to go and receive His royal commission. But he always planned to return.
In this parable, the nobleman leaves his servants behind so that he might go and return as their king. The land in which they live already belongs to the nobleman, but upon his return, he will be more than their master. He will be their king. It is obvious that the nobleman represents Jesus, and He is attempting to inform His disciples that there will be a delay in the coming of the kingdom. He must leave and then return. But when He comes back, He will do so with all the power and authority of the King. And it will be at that time He sets up His earthly kingdom.
But according to the parable, all those who serve the nobleman were to stay behind and faithfully “engage in business” on his behalf until he returned. In other words, they were to serve as the faithful stewards of his domain until such time that he came back with the full right to rule as their king. The nobleman called ten of his faithful servants and awarded them with “ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone’” (Luke 19:13 NLT). He left them in charge and delegated his resources to them so that they might invest them wisely in the management of his estate.
But while the nobleman was gone, those who lived in his land “sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king’” (Luke 19:14 NLT). These people had heard the reason for his departure and were unwilling for him to return as their king. Whatever coronation he was going to receive would be unacceptable to them. Not only were they unwilling to accept him as their king, but it seems they also rejected the idea of him returning at all.
But the nobleman did return and with the full right to rule over these people as their king. Yet, the first people he called were those ten servants to whom he had entrusted his silver. And this is the part of the story we tend to focus on.
“After he was crowned king, he returned and called in the servants to whom he had given the money. He wanted to find out what their profits were.” – Luke 19:15 NLT
The new king calls for his servants and asks them to give a report of their actions during his absence. He wanted to see if they had been trustworthy and proven themselves to be good stewards of all that he had entrusted to their care. The first three servants to report are meant to represent the rest. One has proven himself faithful and highly industrious, by having taken the ten minas entrusted to his care and producing a ten-fold return to his master. He receives a hearty commendation and reward for his service. The second servant also proved faithful, having produced a five-fold return on his original ten pieces of silver. He too is rewarded for his efforts. But the third servant has done nothing with that which the master entrusted to him. He didn’t squander or lose it. He simply refused to do anything with it at all. Motivated by apathy and fear, the servant hid the treasure and was therefore unable to present the master any return on his investment. This servant, rather than receiving a reward, was given a stern rebuke from his master and king.
“‘You wicked servant!’ the king roared. ‘Your own words condemn you. If you knew that I’m a hard man who takes what isn’t mine and harvests crops I didn’t plant, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’” – Luke 19:22-23 NLT
This man had a distorted view of his master and yet, even that had not motivated him to do the right thing. If he truly feared the master, he would have done more with what he had been given. But it seems that he really never thought his master would return. He lived with a sense of false security, thinking that the master’s long absence would become a permanent one. So, rather than invest what he had been given, he simply hid it. He never thought he would have to give an account for his actions. But he was wrong. The master did return and he did so backed by the full authority given to him as the king.
While it is easy to focus on the rewards and the discipline portrayed in this parable, the real point is the return of the king. And that seems to be what Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. He knows they are expecting Him to set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. He is fully aware that they are expecting their rewards now. But He wants them to understand that there will be a delay in the establishment of His earthly kingdom. He will be leaving them soon and returning to His Father’s side in heaven. And in His absence, they will be expected to use the gifts He gives them to conduct business on His behalf. They will receive the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ departure and, as a result, the spiritual gifts He makes possible. And Jesus will expect them to use those gifts wisely, investing them on His behalf and producing an abundance of fruit for the kingdom. The apostle Paul reminds us of the expectation placed on each of those who call themselves disciples of Christ and children of God.
For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:10-11 NLT
Jesus ends the parable by telling His disciples, “to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Luke 19:26 NLT). They will get their reward. But it will not be until the King returns to set up His earthly Kingdom. Their job is to stay faithful, hopeful, and fully committed to serving the King until the time comes for Him to return. And then Jesus a stern warning to all those who refuse to honor Him as their Messiah and who will still reject Him as their King at His return.
“And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.” – Luke 19:28 NLT
Rejecting Jesus as King does nothing to diminish His power, rule, or reign. He will return and, when He does, all those who have denied His deity and sovereignty will receive their just reward.
“…and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given.” – Luke 19:26 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.