Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE PARABLE OF THE POUNDS”

Luke 19.11-28

 

We look to Luke 19.11-28, a passage containing what is referred to as The Parable of the Pounds, presented by the Lord Jesus Christ on the occasion of Zacchaeus’ conversion.[1]

The purpose of the parable was to correct the mistaken idea of the immediate manifestation of the Kingdom. The disciples entertained a misconception related to the Master’s visit to the city of the King. In their belief that He should redeem Israel, they eagerly anticipated that in Jerusalem He would fulfill their desires, deliver the chosen people from Roman occupation, and usher in the Kingdom of David in all its ancient glory.[2] If you have arrived at Luke 19.11-28, I invite you to stand and read with me: 

11  And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.

12  He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.

13  And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.

14  But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.

15  And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.

16  Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.

17  And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.

18  And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.

19  And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.

20  And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:

21  For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.

22  And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:

23  Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?

24  And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.

25  (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)

26  For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.

27  But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

28  And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem. 

I would like to make a brief comparison of this and another parable that seems very similar at first glance. Turn to Matthew 25.14-30 and read with me: 

14  For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

15  And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

16  Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

17  And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

18  But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

19  After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

20  And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

21  His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

22  He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

23  His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

24  Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

25  And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

26  His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

27  Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

28  Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

29  For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

30  And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

It is important to understand that passages that seem similar in the Gospels are not always parallel passages. For example, though it seems as though three Gospel accounts record the Lord Jesus Christ calling Peter and the other fishermen to follow Him once, the reality is that the accounts are different, showing that our Lord actually called Peter and Andrew, James and John, three different times before they left all to follow Him. In like manner, the parable in Luke chapter 19, though similar to the one in Matthew 25.14-30, is not the same parable, for several reasons: First, the two parables were taught by our Lord Jesus at different times, the one in Luke clearly being taught in Zacchaeus’ house in Jericho before He went to Jerusalem for the last time, while the parable in Matthew 25 was not only taught after our Lord had arrived in Jerusalem, but the context reveals it was taught the night before He was crucified, as He led His disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane! Second, the parable in Luke was taught to a crowd of people, while the parable in Matthew was taught to the twelve alone. How large the crowd was, we are not told. However, being in the house of Zacchaeus it would almost certainly have included more than our Lord’s twelve apostles. Third, even the details of the two parables are different. In Luke chapter 19 the parable describes ten servants who are each given one pound, while the Matthew parable describes three servants getting five talents, two talents, and then one talent in turn. Even the lessons of the two parables are different. Luke’s parable shows different degrees of improvement with the same opportunity at the start, with Matthew’s parable showing equal faithfulness with differing degrees of advantage. Thus, despite their superficial similarities, the two parables are not the same regarding when the Lord taught them, to whom He taught them, as well as the content of what was being taught. What should be kept in mind is that both parables were taught near the end of our Lord’s personal instructions to His apostles and His crucifixion.

Rather than reading the entire parable again, I want to read to you J. Dwight Pentecost’s summary of this parable:[3] 

As Jesus and His disciples made their way toward Jerusalem, the Twelve were sure that Jesus was going there to receive a crown, to be acknowledged as a king, and to institute the millennial kingdom. Christ now told a parable in order to correct the misconception of the people, who “thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once” (v. 11). John the Baptist had preached that the kingdom of heaven was near (Matt. 3:2). Christ had preached the same message as He began His ministry (4:17). Christ during His ministry had offered Israel a kingdom that would be established if the nation would receive Him as Savior-Sovereign. But the nation had rejected Him and the kingdom had to be postponed. Christ had previously taught that the generation of His day would not see the kingdom (Luke 17:22) because the kingdom would be postponed indefinitely to some future time. The Lord’s words did not negate the concept of a genuine offer of the kingdom in His day, or deny the concept of a literal kingdom in a future day. Rather, this parable was designed to teach the truth concerning the postponement of the kingdom. This parable may have had its origin in a well-known incident in history. 

There is probably a hidden allusion in these words to Archelaus, the son of Herod, who went from Jericho to Rome to get a kingdom in Palestine from the Roman emperor Augustus and come back to it. This happened, back in the days when Jesus was yet a boy in Nazareth. Archelaus was followed by an embassy from Judea, appointed by the citizens who were tired of the adventurous Herod-dynasty, to ask that their country might be converted into a Roman province. The palace of Archelaus was in the neighborhood of Jericho, and this fact may explain the allusion to it, by way of illustration. Not all the details of the parable need fit into the historical event. 

In the parable a man of noble birth, and therefore eligible to rule, traveled to a distant country to have himself appointed king of a kingdom. He did not appoint himself but sought appointment by the one who had authority in the kingdom over which he expected to rule. Anticipating an extended absence while he received the appointment as a king, he called ten of his servants and entrusted to them a sum of money that represented approximately three months of wages. These men were made stewards of this large sum and held accountable for their use of it. While the one who had the right to rule was absent, he was rejected by those over whom He had been appointed as ruler. In spite of the rejection by his rightful subjects, the king did return. When he returned he asked his servants to give an account of their stewardship. The first servant reported that he had multiplied the sum of money entrusted to him ten times and for this he was commended and rewarded. He was given administrative responsibility over ten cities by the king. The second servant came and reported that his investment had been multiplied five times and he also was commended. He was given responsibility to administer five cities. Another servant came to give an account of his stewardship. He confessed that he feared both his master and the judgment into which his master might bring him; therefore he had been afraid to take any risk with his master’s money and had hidden it during his master’s absence. He returned what had been entrusted to him but with no increase. The master reproved this man and took the money entrusted to him and gave it to the one who had been faithful and increased his investment tenfold. The master then ordered the executions of all subjects who did not want him to be king (Luke 19:27).

Christ in this parable taught that He who has the right to rule would be absent from the place over which He was appointed to rule. Those over whom He has a right to rule would rebel against Him and reject Him. In His absence and during His time of rejection, there would be those who claim to be His disciples and they have a stewardship entrusted to them. He will hold them accountable for the discharge of that stewardship, and at His return He will call them to give an account. Those who have proven themselves to be good stewards by their faithfulness will be rewarded with positions of authority in the kingdom. But those who by their unfaithfulness have proved that they are not His stewards will be cut off from the kingdom. The nation Israel was appointed as the King’s stewards but proved to be unfaithful. Only those found faithful to Him from among the nation will be admitted at the King’s coming into His kingdom. 

Keeping in mind that our Lord taught this parable on the occasion of Zacchaeus’ conversion, let us now consider the passage piecemeal:[4] 

In Luke 19.11 we are given the reason our Lord taught the parable: 

11  And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. 

At this point, Charles Spurgeon comments, “He would turn their thoughts away from the thrones and glories, which they fondly expected, to the service and duty which really lay before them.”[5] 

In Luke 19.12 allusion is made by the Lord Jesus to Himself, encompassing both His departure from this earth to go to heaven and His second coming without direct reference to the Rapture: 

12  He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 

In Luke 19.13-14 we are told of the nobleman’s rejection during his absence: 

13  And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.

14  But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 

Is there a distinction to be made between the servants who are entrusted with assets and the citizens who hate the nobleman? The number ten shows us the Lord is not referring to the Apostles in this parable. 

Let me suggest that the servants be understood to be the Jewish leadership class and the citizens to be the Jewish people as a whole. What we are told of the citizen’s rejection of the nobleman’s rule parallels John 1.11: 

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” 

In Luke 19.15-27 we are told of the nobleman’s return and evaluation of his servants and citizens: 

15  And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.

16  Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.

17  And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.

18  And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.

19  And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.

20  And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:

21  For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.

22  And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:

23  Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?

24  And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.

25  (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)

26  For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.

27  But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. 

Verse 15 distinguishes between receiving the kingdom and returning to wield full administrative authority. How this parallels the Lord Jesus Christ’s experience, sitting at the right hand of the Father until His enemies be made His footstool.[6] Verses 16-17 show the commendation of the first servant for turning a tenfold profit of his master’s money. He is therefore commended and promoted. Verses 18-19 show us the commendation of the second servant for turning a fivefold profit for his master’s money, resulting in a promotion proportional to the promotion of the first servant. The third servant, however, is rebuked for being unfaithful with his master’s money, verse 20. His rationale for hiding the pound instead of investing it is in stark contrast to the first two servants, showing that he does not know his master, verse 21. Therefore, he is punished according to his own evaluation of his master, and his assets are given to the first servant, verses 22-24. Of course, the onlookers respond with shock, verse 25, but the king responds by stating the principle employed in his judgment, verse 26, followed by his command that those who rejected his rule be slain, verse 27.

This is serious business. The Lord Jesus Christ is not playing games. This is life and death, heaven and Hell, faithfulness which is shown by conduct versus disloyalty which is also demonstrated by behavior, with the judgment of both certain when the king returns. This episode in the life and lessons of the Lord Jesus Christ draws to a close with verse 28: 

“And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem.” 

The stage is now set for the last phase of our Lord’s public ministry. Consider the designations in this parable before we make a closing application: 

First, THE NOBLEMAN 

There can be no doubt the Savior refers here to Himself, someone of a noble family and possessing rights to a kingdom. A common feature of our Lord’s teaching using parables was to use illustrations of Himself to draw both comparisons and contrasts to everyday life. Does He here imply that He has a right to occupy the throne, whereas wicked Herod the Great and his descendants were usurpers with no right to rule over the Jewish people? Perhaps.

Alternatively, there was a man named Archelaus, whose palace was at Jericho. Having gone to Rome, he left the interests of his kingdom to his servants with money to trade with while he was away. While he was gone, a deputation of fifty Jews was dispatched to him with a protest against his kingship, and they were so successful that Archelaus never received the coveted title of king. Laying hold on this incident the Lord Jesus applied it to Himself.

Correcting the error that He would immediately establish His Kingdom, He told those around Him that He was going away to receive a kingdom, and that those referred to in this parable would have the responsibility of caring for His interests while He was absent. On His return, He would reward all who had been faithful and deal drastically with all those rejecting His rule. He was the noblest Nobleman, who came of noble birth, of earth’s best blood. The Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the eternal and only-begotten Son of God, Matthew 1.1 and John 1.1.

As the Nobleman, our Lord went into the far country to receive a kingdom, that far country being heaven. On His ascension, He sat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1.3, and from there He exercises power.[7] Presently, His Kingdom is an invisible one and involves the execution of the great plan of redemption, translating those in sin’s bondage into His Kingdom of light and liberty, Colossians 1.13.

Immediately preceding His departure to the far country, which again is heaven, all power in heaven and on earth was granted to Him, Matthew 28.18-20, and He was formally invested with His present spiritual Kingdom, and the right to rule as the Supreme King in His coming visible Kingdom.[8] 

Next, THE SERVANTS 

Rich noblemen had a retinue of servants or bond-slaves among whom there were those who, because of their integrity and resourcefulness, could be trusted to care for their master’s interests in his absence. These privileged bondsmen might have been noblemen in their right but did not have their master’s rights of absolute ownership of property.

This parable speaks of ten servants, another ten as in The Parable of the Virgins. Ten being one of the perfect numbers of Scripture, suggesting the completion of the divine order, the figure as used here by our Lord likely represents not only the disciples of His time who were singled out for service during His earthly ministry, but all the saved whom He expects to serve Him faithfully until He returns, and also those in a position to serve who did not serve, described in verse 22 as “wicked servants.” Such would be those who claimed to be God’s people while completely mishandling His Gospel currency. 

Third, THE POUNDS 

The Nobleman distributed ten pounds to his ten servants, a pound apiece. The pound is taken from English currency at the time the King James Version was translated. In the parable of The Talents, the sums mentioned are far greater, each servant receiving according to his ability, and the amounts being far from equal. Here, each servant received an identical amount. The ten servants started out on an equal footing.

What do the pounds signify? Certainly not any natural or imparted gifts to trade with. During our Lord’s anticipated absence these pounds likely represent the Gospel with all its privileges conferred alike on all those saved by grace. The pound may be “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” Jude 3. This is our deposit on trust with which professing Christians are to trade until Christ returns.

With these “ten pounds,” the ten servants were to occupy until the Nobleman’s return. This particular word for “occupy,” occurring only here in the New Testament, means, “to do business with,” or to “gain by trading,” such as is seen in Ezekiel 27.9, 16, 21, 22. The Nobleman was the owner of the money, but the servants had to trade with it. But the end expected by the Nobleman was not so much “money-making as character-making,” as A. B. Bruce puts it, “the development in his servants of a hardihood of temper and a firmness of will which can be turned to good account when the obscure traders shall have been transformed into distinguished rulers.”

What are we doing with the pound? Are we using to the full all the privileges of the Gospel? Are we successful traders with eternal truths? Are we taking care of the King’s business while He is away? 

Fourth, THE CITIZENS 

As already mentioned, our Lord may have had in mind the familiar to His audience incident of Archelaus, the man the Jews rejected, and whose complaints to the Roman Emperor resulted in him being deposed and banished to Gaul, which is modern-day France. This feature of the parable revealed the animosity of the Jewish rulers and their determination to kill the Lord Christ.

But there is a wider application. His enemies are all those who willingly reject His claims and refuse to accept His sovereignty. The Jews were His kinsmen, the One they had been waiting for for centuries, the seed of Abraham, and the Son of David. They hated Him, plotted His death, and continued their hatred of Him by persecuting His servants after His ascension. Those Jewish rulers would recognize no king but Caesar.[9]

Following the Rapture, during the Great Tribulation, multitudes of Jews and Gentiles alike will cast off all divine restraints, according to Second Thessalonians 2.1-10.[10] The final manifestation of rebellion against His claims will be at the end of His millennial reign with terrible results to the rebels. This final judgment will be executed on all His enemies, Revelation 20.11.

All adversaries are to be punished. How many there are, all around us, who will not have this Man to reign over them. Both men and governments will not acknowledge Christ’s sovereign rights. But He is patient amid all antagonism to His claims, and when He returns to earth to establish His Kingdom, all rebels will ultimately be severely dealt with. 

Finally, THE RETURNING AND REWARDING LORD 

What a pleasant transition it is from rebels to good and faithful servants! Our Lord emphasized the fact of His return in verse 15: 

“when he was returned, having received the kingdom.” 

All kingly rights have been granted Christ by the Father, and when He returns to earth, having already received authority for His Kingdom, He will establish it among men on earth: 

“Thine is the Kingdom.” 

In the rule of such a Kingdom, the King must have trusted servants to assist Him in the government and control of all things. Do we not have the promise that if we suffer for Him now, we are to reign with Him?

The Nobleman commanded his servants to appear before him to give an account of what they gained through trading with the deposit during his absence. There is a suggestive thought in the phrase, “that he might know.” Our Heavenly Nobleman as the Omniscient One knows all things. The lesson here is that our conduct as servants and citizens alike must be made known before others when He comes to reward and punish.

The first servant with all humility said, “Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.” Note, he did not say I have gained ten pounds, but “thy pound hath gained ten pounds.” The pound, the Gospel of the Grace of God, has within itself the power of increase. The servant, however, fulfilled his responsibility and traded with the pound. He used the Gospel currency. Buying up every opportunity, he increased his deposit tenfold and was made a ruler of ten cities; full fidelity brought with it fuller responsibility.

The second servant had not been so diligent and ambitious. His pound brought a return of five. His success was partial, yet increased responsibility became his as the ruler of five cities. Greater responsibilities were proportioned to the fidelity and capacity of the servants. Do we realize the necessity of preparing ourselves for coming, greater responsibilities in the Kingdom? The Lord we serve notices both the quantity and the quality of what is done for Him.[11]

The third servant could not report any gain. He hid his pound in a handkerchief. Asked why he had not traded with his pound, he confessed to an entirely wrong conception of his lord. Out of his mouth, he was condemned, and his pound was taken from him and given to the servant who had been most successful. Having failed to increase his deposit, he lost any further opportunity of serving the lord. One writer says of this servant, he was guilty of “the sin of omission.” “Here is where good people often err gravely, for there is a sin in not doing.” Churches are full of those guilty of this sin. They seem to have no desire to serve the Savior. They have the pound to trade, but it is buried in a napkin. That he is described as a “wicked servant” suggests he is lost.

There is an ominous silence as to the other seven servants, each of whom had received a pound with which to trade. Only three are singled out as representatives of classes.[12] The rest are passed over. Whether they were successful or did nothing with their deposit, we are not told. An ancient commentator said, “There is no word as to the others, who, like prodigal debtors, had wasted what they had received.” May we be found faithful, true to the trust the Master left us! Then when He returns His “Well done!” will be ours! 

Could a clearer picture be described of both our privileges and our responsibilities to use the Gospel currency committed to our charge? May God work in your life and mine to serve our absent Lord until He returns to us and for us. As our Lord challenged His audience some eight days before His crucifixion, may we be challenged a week and a half before Easter to make use of the Gospel currency given to us with which to witness to others.

__________

[1] Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963), page 306.

[2] Ibid.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works Of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pages 366-368.

[4] Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963), page 306.

[5] Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon Devotional Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[6] Hebrews 1.13

[7] Ephesians 1.17, 20-22; Philippians 2.9-11

[8] Daniel 7.18, 22, 27; Hebrews 12.28

[9] John 19.21; Acts 17.7

[10] Psalm 2.2; Revelation 13.5-6

[11] Luke 19.15; I Corinthians 3.13; Romans 16.12

[12] Luke 14.18-20

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