THE PARABLE OF THE POUNDS
I-Bing Cheng, M.D., M.A.
The kingdom of God exists in the present,
but is also in a state of expectant fulfillment. It is therefore ‘now’, but at
the same time ‘not yet’. Because the Jews struggled to understand this
two-stage view of the kingdom, Jesus told the parable of the pounds. He did
this by indirectly referring to events that had taken place more than thirty
years ago and which were still in the memory of His listeners. This passage
is found in Luke 19:11-27.
A stewardship parable
The parable begins with a man of noble birth who
was about to go to a far country to have himself appointed king. Before he
left, he gave some money to ten of his servants. The servants were given one
mina each and they were asked to do business for their master in his absence.
The sum is not a large one. One mina, or one pound, was equivalent to one
hundred drachmas, and one drachma was a laborer’s
wage for a day’s work. Thus each servant received about four month’s worth of
wages. Because the ruler’s plan was to come back, the servants knew that in
due course, they will have to give account of themselves.
Now, the people subject to the nobleman did not
like him. So they sent a delegation to oppose the confirmation of his
kingdom, saying, We do not want
this man to rule over us
(v. 14). It did not work. The nobleman got his kingdom and came back
called his servants to give an accounting for what they have done with the
mina they received from him. He anticipated that they had made some profits
with his money.
servant brought an encouraging report: He earned ten minas, ten times the
original amount. The master praised him for his diligence. He called him
‘good’, and he rewarded him by putting him in charge of ten cities. The
second servant also reported a significant gain: Five minas. He, too,
received a reward. He was placed in charge of five cities.
The third servant,
however, had no profit to report. He said, ‘Master, here is your money. I
kept it in a napkin’. Then he explained why he did that. ‘I was afraid of you
because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap
what you did not sow’.
was not happy. He rebuked the servant and told him that the money should have
been put in a bank while he was gone so that upon his return he could collect
it with interest. There were of course no banks in our sense of the term. In
Greek, the word ‘bank’ means ‘table’, i.e. the table of the money-lender.
According to Deuteronomy 23:19-20, money could be lent at interest to
Gentiles but not to fellow Israelites. He then passed judgment on the bad
servant. The money was taken from him and given to the one who earned ten
The parable ends with a note of frightening
severity. Those who rejected the nobleman and sent an embassy after him are
not forgotten. The master called them these enemies of mine (v. 27)
because they have set themselves in opposition to him. He had them appear in
his presence and then he ordered their execution.
The historical background
The story of this aspiring king would have rung
very loud bells with Jesus’ listeners because the son of Herod the Great, Archelaus, did almost exactly what the parable describes.
Herod the Great, the man who tried to eliminate the enfant
Jesus, died in 4 BC. In his will, he left his mini-kingdom to three of his
sons. He gave Judea and Samaria to his son Archelaus.
He also gave him the title of king. Of course, Archelaus
could not be king just because his father had appointed him to be king. In
the world of the Roman Empire, when a man was going to become king, he had to
go to Rome to receive the appointment. Herod the Great had followed this. Archelaus had to do the same. So Archelaus
traveled to Rome, a very long journey, to receive confirmation of his
position as king over Judea and Samaria.
The Jews hated Herod the Great because he was a
ruthless ruler. This was a person who, at the end of his life, rounded up
Jewish leaders with the order that at the moment of his death, they should
all be killed. He was afraid that when he died, there was going to be
celebration on the streets instead of mourning. So by killing the leaders, he
would force the Jews to mourn, even if the people were not doing it for him.
Such was the cruelty of Herod. And the Jews knew Archelaus
to be just as bad. So when Archelaus went off to
Rome, they sent a delegation to plead for him not to be made king. As a result,
the emperor gave him the authority to rule, but did not give him the title of
‘king’ until he proved himself worthy, which he never did. Within ten years,
he was removed from office because of his bad administration.
Verse 11 tells us the reason that motivated Jesus to
teach the parable of the pounds. Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He
was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear
immediately. Many people
in Israel still hoped for a political leader who would set up an earthly
kingdom and get rid of the Roman domination. Even the disciples had this in
mind. In Acts 1:6, after following Jesus for a few years, they still asked, Lord,
will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? Jesus taught the
parable of the pounds to correct this misconception of the kingdom of God.
its meaning, we have to be careful not to press all the details of the story
because it would lead, in some cases, to absurd conclusions. We will focus on
what most commentators agree.
(-) The nobleman
represents Jesus. Like this ruler, Jesus would go away to a distant country
(heaven) and would be gone for an undetermined period of time. This means
that the kingdom was not going to come until He himself went away to receive
the kingdom and then came back. There will be a time interval between His
presence with the disciples and the time when He will fully bring His kingdom
to realization. This return is what Christians call the Second Coming.
There is another
point that we can draw from the historical background. We saw that the
authority in Palestine was not derived locally. The final authority was with
the emperor of Rome. The Lord Jesus is saying in this parable, ‘I’m going
away to the Father to receive the kingdom’. By this, He implies that all the
affairs on earth are not controlled by the kings of the earth. The
fundamental place of authority regarding the events in this world is in
heaven with God, the King of kings. That is where everything is decided. This
means that whatever is done on earth is going to be accountable in heaven.
Herod could be called to account at anytime by the Roman emperor. Archelaus was actually dismissed by Rome because he did
not rule properly. In the same way, every human being is ultimately
accountable to God. He is the Supreme Emperor who has the authority over all
the things of the earth.
(-) The minas
The nobleman put
his business affair into the hands of the servants while he was gone. Jesus
illustrated this with money, i.e. the minas given to the servants. So the
minas represent responsibilities undertaken by the believers because
of their association with Jesus. They are given responsibilities to handle.
When the master
said, Do business till I come, he expected them to make money in his
absence. On his return, he will evaluate the results. The Greek word for ‘do
business’ (pragmateuomai) is a word of
diligent action. It is from the root word meaning ‘to walk, to set in motion
and to continue in motion’. As Christians wait for their King to come back,
they are to carry out their responsibilities diligently, effectively and
profitably, using all God has given them to look after.
The point is
that every disciple is given gifts and opportunities of service. No one can
say that since he does not have this ability or that ability, thus he cannot
serve the Lord. In the story, all the servants received one mina each, and
each servant was held accountable for the money he had. Likewise, everyone
who follows Jesus has been entrusted with gifts and is given opportunities to
put these gifts to work. Each is expected to make the most of the various
avenues of service.
(-) The rebel
In the same
way that the Jews hated Archelaus and protested his
appointment as king, the citizens in the parable sent a delegation to protest
the king’s coming rule. They did not want him to rule over them.
The citizens and
their actions represent Israel’s rejection of Christ. For after all, Jesus
has come to be a king to the Jews (Matthew 27:11) but the Jews rejected Him.
In John 1:11, we read that He (Jesus) came to His own, and those
who were His own (the citizens/the Jews) did not receive Him.
This can also
apply to the unbeliever who refuses to acknowledge Christ and surrender his
life to the rule of Christ. The citizens of the world do not let Jesus rule
over them. They want to control their own lives, do their own things as they
This is the
group of people that was identified as the king’s enemies at the end of the
story and which was slaughtered. V. 27: But bring here those enemies of
mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.
Those who reject Jesus will, in the end, be put to death, i.e. they will be
judged and separated from God eternally.
(-) The rewards
There is to be a
day of accounting for all believers. It will arrive when the Lord returns.
Every servant will then be called to report on what he has done with the
gifts Christ had given him.
In the parable,
two classes of servants are described: Those who are faithful and those who
are not faithful. The two faithful servants have made ten and five minas more
respectively, and they were rewarded in proportion to their profits with rule
over ten and five cities. The noble man said to the first servant, Well
done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be
in authority over ten cities. And to the second one, he said, And you
are to be over five cities.
not of course the purpose of the servants. The dominant idea is that of
testing. Notice these words. Because you have been faithful in a very
little thing, be in authority over ten cities. This statement parallels
Jesus’ words in Luke 16:10: He who is faithful in a very little thing is
faithful also in much. Jesus implied that we are all being tested in
little things. The servants were being tested with a mina to see if they
could be trusted with responsibilities. And if they prove themselves
faithful, they will have bigger responsibilities later.
Here we see that
God will grant believers positions of authority over others in the future
kingdom. Elsewhere in the Bible, we read that they will reign with Christ over
the world (Revelation 20:6) and they will even rule over angels (1Corinthians
6:3). The people who are going to rule God’s universe in the coming world
order must be faithful. These are the people that God is looking for and will
reward with the privilege of greater service in the consummation. And it is
apparent from this parable that the areas of responsibility will be based
upon how trustworthy they have proven themselves to be during their life on
This rulership over different number of cities has a very
sobering implication. And it is this. Our experiences in heaven will not be
the same for all of us. While all true believers will be with Christ, not all
of them will have the same position of authority in heaven. Some will get a
more prominent role in the kingdom to come. Some will have less
responsibility. All of this is presently being forged in the crucible of this
life. And faithfulness is the determining factor. What I do now in this life
with what God has given me will affect my participation in the exercise of
the kingdom’s authority in the next life.
will be rewarded but unfaithfulness will be judged. In fact, this parable
should be viewed more as a warning since so much of the story is focused on
the unfaithful third servant. Out of sixteen verses, five deal specifically
with that servant (vv. 20, 21, 22, 23, 24).
servant was unfaithful because he did nothing with his mina. He simply placed
it in a cloth. He explained that he was so paralyzed by his fear of the
master that he could not act. This is how he described him. You take up
what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow (v. 21).
These are proverbial expressions for making gain through other people’s
efforts. Perhaps the servant’s fear was based on his belief that he would
incur severe punishment should he make a poor investment and lose his money.
excuse became the ground for the master’s condemnation. He is told that the
stern image that he has of the master, far from being an excuse for
inactivity, should rather have motivated him to do something. The very least
he could have done was to put the money on deposit with a bank. It would have
produced a more modest return than that achieved by the other servants, but
at least, he would have had something to offer a master who expected
dividends. It would have involved the very minimum of effort on his part and
would have exposed him to minimal financial risks. But even that, he did not
The master then
passed judgment on the third servant. Speaking to those present, he said, Take
the mina away from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas (v.
24). Jesus gave the principle behind that action. To everyone who
has shall more be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he
does have shall be taken away (v. 26). Every man who is faithful
and improves what God gives him, shall receive much more. The man whose lack shows that, like the third servant, he has
made no use of his opportunities, will lose what little he has.
God is prepared
to accept what is actually a minimum return on his investment, or even a
failure, if there has been some sort of effort to advance His kingdom.
What He will not accept, though, is passivity. He will reprimand the person
who says he will serve God but does not make the necessary effort. He is
harsh to those who are spiritually lazy. In the Christian life we do not
stand still. Genuine faith is active. It makes maximum use of talents and
opportunities, and enthusiastically pursues God’s mission in the world.
Who then is the
third servant? Like the others, this third servant referred to the nobleman
as ‘lord’, signifying the nature of his allegiance and obligation to him. He
is related to God in that he is associated with the community of faith and
has responsibility in it. He is a person who professes faith in Christ. He is
a church member. But by his own attitude, he shows that he has no real
relationship with Him. This attitude is reflected in an absence of action to
advance His kingdom. He may think that he knows the Lord, but in reality he
does not know Him at all and certainly shows no trust in Him. Such a person
is left with nothing at the judgment.
There are many
resemblances between this story and the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.
Some even see them as variants of one original. In both versions, the
faithful servants increased significantly their original holdings. In both
stories, the bad servant earns nothing, is condemned for not at least banking
his coin, and has his coin taken away and given to the faithful servant who
has earned the most. Actually, the wording of Matthew 25:29 is almost
identical to Luke’s.
25:29. For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even
what he does have shall be taken away.
Luke 19:26. I tell you, that to everyone who has shall more be given, but
from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
We notice that
the strongest point of parallelism between the two parables is the
description of the third servant. In this view, the fate of the third servant
in Luke is associated with the judgment of the third slave in Matthew, who is
cast into outer darkness to experience weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew
25:30). This, to me, is more serious than the loss of rewards. It has to do
with a state of banishment from the presence of the Lord.
Stewardship is the responsibility of all who are related
to Christ. The parable of the pounds teaches that the Lord will be gone for
some time and that on His return, He will assess
people’s faithfulness to Him. Three different groups of people are mentioned.
Those who were faithful will be rewarded generously. Those who did not do
Christ’s work will be sent to outer darkness. Those who refused to recognize
Jesus’ kingship will receive severe judgment. When the Lord comes back, which
category each person falls into will be decided and revealed.