The Parable of the Nobleman
While Jesus was fellowshipping with Zaccheus, He told the disciples that “salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). Jesus’ name (Yeshua) means “salvation,” and so the disciples readily understood the double meaning of this statement. No doubt there was some discussion that followed, and some thought that Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem would see “salvation” come to the House of Judah as well.
In other words, Zaccheus’ acceptance of Christ as the Messiah appears to foreshadow a greater acceptance of Yeshua as the Messiah when He would arrive in Jerusalem. So He told a parable that is recorded only by Luke, who probably heard it directly from Zaccheus himself.
Jesus told a similar parable later that is recorded in Matt. 25:14-30, developing the theme to a greater extent than what was revealed in Jericho. We read in Luke 19:11,
11 And while they were listening to these things, He went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.
There were two things motivating Jesus to tell this parable. First, “because He was near Jerusalem,” and secondly, “they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” Jericho was an easy day’s walk from Jerusalem, so the long teaching trip south through Decapolis and Perea was nearly concluded. In spite of the fact that Jesus had told them earlier (Luke 18:31-33) that He was to die and be raised again, the disciples still did not comprehend that He would be rejected and that the Kingdom would have to wait for a later time.
This, then, was Jesus’ motive for telling them a parable that showed how He (the Nobleman) would have to go to a “distant country” and then return before they would see the Kingdom fully come.
12 He said therefore, “A certain nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return.”
During the time that Rome controlled Judea and its neighbors, it was customary for a man claiming the throne to make the trip to Rome and receive an official mandate to rule. He then returned with the backing of Rome, and this discouraged any rivals from attempting to overthrow him.
So also, Jesus said, He would have to go to heaven to obtain the dominion mandate before returning to earth to rule the Kingdom. The main impediment to His earthly rule was the fact that the “seven times” mandate given to the beast kingdoms in Daniel 7 had not yet expired. In Jesus’ first appearance, He was bound by the divine plan to submit to Rome, rather than to overthrow it and replace Caesar.
In fact, the “little horn” extension of Rome was still beyond the horizon of history at that time, so Jesus understood that although He was the Heir of all things, the time of His rule was still distant.
If Jesus had ended His parable with verse 12, it would have been sufficient to establish that their present trip to Jerusalem would not result in the manifestation of His Kingdom. But Jesus then went on to show how His disciples would be rewarded when He returned from the “distant country,” that is, from heaven.
Luke 19:13 says,
13 And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas, and said to them, “Do business with this until I come back.”
A mina was a monetary unit that weighed about 16 ounces, or one pound, and was the equivalent of 100 drachmas. The word itself has a Latin origin and is not to be confused with the Hebrew maneh that is seen in the Old Testament. A maneh was 100 shekels in weight (1 Kings 10:17), just over 50 ounces.
Although a mina and a maneh had different weights, both words are factors in the prophecy. First, the word maneh literally means “portion,” as used in Ezekiel 45:12, which says, “fifteen shekels shall be your maneh.” Secondly, the word mina means “to appoint, mark out, count.”
So in the parable, each of the nobleman’s servants received differing “portions” that were “appointed” to them. The nobleman then “went on his journey” (Matt. 25:15), only to find that he was opposed by the “citizens” of his own country. Luke 19:14 says,
14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us.”
In that the nobleman in the parable represented Jesus Himself, the “citizens” were obviously the people of Judea, as represented by the religious leaders. These citizens did not want Jesus to be recognized by the God of heaven. They requested to be given another messiah-king. No reason is given here for their objection, nor was it necessary to form part of the parable, since the conflict was self-evident throughout the gospels.
Luke 19:15 continues,
15 And it came about that when he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him in order that he might know what business they had done.
The nobleman’s journey was successful, for we read that he received the kingdom. Conversely, then, the delegation that had opposed him were unsuccessful in their appeal for an alternate messiah-king. The nobleman then returned after the case was decided.
Rewards for Productive Slaves
The first thing the nobleman did was to deal with his slaves who had been given the various amounts of money (minas). As Jesus says in Rev. 22:12,
12 Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
The reward was proportionate to the fruitfulness of their business investments. Luke 19:16-19 says,
16 And the first appeared, saying, “Master, your mina has made ten minas more.” 17 And he said to him, “Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, be in authority over ten cities.” 18 And the second came, saying, “Your mina, master, has made five minas.” 19 And he said to him also, “And you are to be over five cities.”
In Luke’s account, ten slaves get ten minas—that is, one mina apiece. Later, in Matthew’s account the slaves receive differing amounts, not minas but talents, which is a far greater amount. One slave was given five talents, another two, and another just one. This alteration did not change the root idea behind the rewards, for in each case they were rewarded in direct proportion to their productivity.
The Unproductive Slave
The main point of interest is the one who was unproductive or unfruitful in his use of his portion. In both parables the slave who received just one mina or talent hid it in the ground and did not increase it through investment. Jesus devotes the most attention to this unproductive slave. Luke 19:20, 21 says,
20 And another came, saying, “Master, behold your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.”
In Matt. 25:24, 25 we read of a similar outcome,
24 And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.”
In the first parable, the unproductive servant is said to have hidden his mina in a handerchief. In the second he hid the talent in the ground.
In both parables, the man did not really know his master. He thought his master was a cruel thief, as many rich men were in those days. The problem was not that the nobleman was “an exacting man” or “a hard man.” The problem was that the slave had a wrong perception of his master. In fact, his perception agreed with the citizens of the country who had sent the delegation asking for another king. The accusation was that the nobleman was cruel and was also a thief—perhaps by taxing the people beyond the lawful amount.
Luke uses the term austeros, translated “exacting.” It means “harsh, stringent, rough, rigid, austere.” Matthew uses the term skleros, “harsh, stern, hard, rigid.” The words convey the same character. In both parables, the nobleman was accused of reaping fields that others had sown. The perception of this slave was that his master was no different from so many earthly kings, who raise taxes beyond the lawful ten percent tithe and did not respect the property rights of others.
These parables give us the basic accusation against Christ, wherein they claimed that Jesus would not be a benevolent king, but a harsh and unjust one. His righteous demands were unreasonable, they said, and the people did not agree with His ideas of justice or His interpretation of the law. They claimed that His rule would not benefit them.
This entire conflict takes us back to the story of David’s conflict with Absalom. In 2 Sam. 15:2-4 Absalom turned the people’s hearts against his father David.
2 And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way to the gate [where court cases were heard]; and it happened that when any man had a suit to come to the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And he would say, “Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.” 3 Then Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but no man listens to you on the part of the king.” 4 Moreover, Absalom would say, “Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land, then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me, and I would give him justice.
In other words, Absalom accused his father of not dispensing justice to the people. In this way, as verse 6 says, “Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” This was how he was able to gain support to usurp David’s throne with the help of Ahithophel, David’s counselor and friend (2 Sam. 15:12).
All of this was repeated in the New Testament story, where Jesus played the role of David, Absalom’s role was played by the religious leaders, and Ahithophel’s part was played by Judas.
The parable of the nobleman showed not only the rewards given to the servants, but also the opposition of the citizens. In that the unproductive slave accused the nobleman of being unjust, we see in this the accusation of Absalom against his own father. In effect, Absalom was saying that under the reign of David there was no justice in the land.
Jesus’ answer to the unproductive slave is found in Luke 19:22, 23,
22 He said to him, “By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know [i.e., Did you really believe] that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Then why did you not put the money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?”
Jesus was not condoning interest on money, for that was a violation of the law (Exodus 22:25; Lev. 25:36, 37). The law defines interest as theft. Jesus was saying, in effect: If you really believed that I was a thief, then why did you not steal for me by putting the money into the bank and collecting interest on it?
Luke 19:24-26 continues,
24 And he said to the bystanders, “Take the mina away from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.” 25 And they said to him, “Master, he has ten minas already.” 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.
In other words, the productive slaves will be rewarded the most, not because they have the greatest need, but because they can be entrusted to be the most productive. If this were merely a parable comparing their levels of poverty, a different verdict might have been given. But this has to do with building the Kingdom and increasing its resources. The main resources of the Kingdom are people, so increasing minas is primarily about multiplying the people of the Kingdom, thereby increasing the household of faith.
In Matt. 25:30 Jesus changed the verdict, saying,
30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This was the slave who agreed with the nobleman’s adversaries. It shows that such slaves will lose their citizenship in the Kingdom of Light and will have to live outside of its borders in “the outer darkness.” This is not a picture of “hell,” as so many have been taught. The borders of the Kingdom will expand over time as the great “stone” grows to fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:35). That means the Kingdom will not immediately cover the entire earth, and wherever men rule apart from Christ, there is the “outer darkness.”
It is only at the end of the thousand years that the Kingdom fills the whole earth, and the general resurrection of ALL the dead will take place.
The Verdict against the Citizens
The parable then gives a brief verdict against those citizens who had opposed the nobleman’s right to rule. Luke 19:27 says,
27 But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.
Matthew omits this verdict in the later version of the parable. These “enemies” are the “citizens” who had “sent a delegation after him,” demanding that God should give them a different messiah-king. The final verdict is to bring those people back to the place of the crime and “slay them in my presence.”
This implies that the Judean opposition would leave that area and be dispersed to other parts of the world. Hence, they would need to be regathered there—to Jerusalem—not for their good, but for the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and Judea itself, according to the prophecy in Jer. 19:11.
This also correlates with the return of David, when he overthrew Absalom the usurper. Absalom too was killed (2 Sam. 18:15). This shows us that the usurpers of Christ’s throne will not rule with Him in the Kingdom, as so many have taught.