Summary: Jesus used the Parables of The Talents and The Pounds to teach His followers of the Kingdom of God - of its Coming, postponed in all its fulness until His Return, but in the meantime, Waiting and Working for it, and Accountability for what we do for it.
When Jesus walked the highways and byways of the land of Israel preaching the coming Kingdom of God he caused quite a stir. The religious establishment were generally suspicious and increasingly hostile to His message. His reception by what were known as the ‘common people’ was quite different. He was a breath of fresh air. Apart from John the Baptist whose ministry was quickly cut off by King Herod, there hadn’t been a prophet for several hundred years. Very quickly, Jesus got a reputation for bringing new hope to a people who were fed up with years of Roman oppression and the uncaring attitude of their spiritual leaders.
The crowds who followed Jesus thought a new and exciting era was about to dawn. In their enthusiasm for the promised Kingdom just over the horizon, they were often selective in believing what Jesus was saying. The result was that they mislead themselves as to the nature and timing of the coming Kingdom. Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem raised expectations of an immediate climax, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom.
Jesus could read the minds of His followers. They expected the Kingdom to come when He entered the capital. He recognised what the trouble was and He introduced corrective teaching to counter the error. He did this by telling several parables to make it clear that He wasn’t about to begin His reign as Messiah immediately. He was going away and would later return to reign. These parables are known as “The Talents” recorded by Matthew (25:14-30) and “The Pounds” by Luke (19:11-27), both very well known. They have common features but there’s no reason why He shouldn’t have used the same story-line on more than on occasion, to make slightly different points.
The basic plot of “The Talents” is that each of three servants was given a different sum of money. Each clearly knew what was expected of him while the master was away, but was free to use his own initiative. The first two increased the value of what had been entrusted to them and when the master returned he strongly commended their actions, reliable characters and diligent work. The third servant, however, was too lazy or afraid to risk loss and so achieved nothing, to his master’s great displeasure.
The parable of “The Pounds” differs in that each servant is given the same resource to deploy until his master returns from a distant country. Again, two of the servants acted as faithful stewards, using their resources effectively to extend the kingdom. But the third servant was of the same breed as in the first story and had done nothing with the assets entrusted to him and was punished accordingly. Jesus clearly defines the role of master and servant in His Kingdom. We are duty bound to obey His orders. Christians have been “bought at a price” (1 Cor 6:20). We have no claims upon God by any natural right. He is sovereign over our lives.
What can we learn from these fascinating stories? In the first place they teach the:
COMING OF THE KINGDOM
The central theme of Jesus’ preaching was the “kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God”. Both have the same meaning and it would seem that the terms were used by the Gospel writers according to whether they were addressed to the Jews as was Matthew’s, or to non-Jews by Luke. If you look at a concordance you’ll find scores of references to “the Kingdom”.
It’s an interesting question as to when it would arrive: was it at the time when Jesus was on Earth, or in the future? In fact it’s clearly both. It was present in Jesus Himself when He in the synagogue at Nazareth He read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor … freedom for the prisoners … recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18,19). In Him the great future has already beginning.
Luke tells us that Jesus told the parable of “The Pounds” because “the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once” (19:11). The story was founded on fact. At the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C., his son Archelaus, like the nobleman in the parable, had to undertake a journey to Rome for his succession to be ratified by Caesar. A petition was raised against him and it took a long time to sort things out before he returned in kingly power. In the parable, the nobleman’s servants were told “to work … until I come back.”
This tells us of the future aspect of the Kingdom. It was yet to appear in its fullness at the Lord’s Second Coming when history as we know it will come to an end. But one thing is sure: God’s Kingdom will come. It began in Israel but will embrace all nations and fill all ages until the end of the world. The Coming of the Kingdom was certain but Jesus was insistent on telling His followers about: