This morning I would like to take a look at a parable that you are all probably familiar with, but one where much of the meaning gets lost by our modern thought and lack of cultural background. Most bible readers these days are quick to just accept their initial surface level reading, and end up missing much of what is actually being taught.
This is of course one of the root problems in the modern church; they take a real generic understanding, add to that they habit of ripping verses out of their context, and compile this error with ignoring audience relevance as well as the historical and cultural backgrounds to what they are reading. Once we start to see the cultural understanding of things, we can begin seeing much more and things start to make more sense in the whole scheme of things.
Before we jump into this parable, let me just go over some background information on parables as a review. First off, what exactly is a parable? Here are some technical definitions given by various sources:
…denotes a placing beside...It signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a view to comparison….It is generally used of a somewhat lengthy utterance or narrative drawn from nature or human circumstances, the object of which is to set forth a spiritual lesson. (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, pg. 830)
The Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period tells us parables are:
Instructional narrative, metaphors, or similies, which appear throughout Mediterranean and Egyptian literature of antiquity.
Important to the discussion today, is that this last definition refers to the fairly common place of the use of parable with ancient literature. Speaking in parables was more of a cultural practice back then that it is in our time, and for that reason, we may not grasp as much from them without a little work in understanding them.
Scholars and historians speak of two types of theologians; the conceptual and the metaphoric. A conceptual theologian is typically what we in the West have practiced for centuries – it is one who constructs theology from ideas held together by logic. Theologians like this tend to be more serious, abstract and write in a scholarly manner, making them harder to understand by the average person.
Paul works with both ideals and metaphors – but in the West we tend to emphasize his ideas and concepts, and push to the side his metaphors – thus making him out to be more of a conceptual theologian in our minds.
On the opposite side, most people view Yeshua as purely metaphoric – or as Kenneth Bailey put it – “a village rustic creating folktales for fisherman and farmers.” Yeshua’s primary way of teaching was through metaphor, simile, parable, and dramatic action, rather than through reasoning and logic.
For some people, this takes Yeshua out of the category of a serious theologian or philosopher, and puts him strictly in a category of being more like a dramatist or poet. They turn him into a man who gave lots of nice little teachings about love and good living, and not much about deep theology.
However, for those who have seriously examined his parables and metaphors more closely, have found that they are filled with serious theology. Much of this theology is easily missed due to our minds being filled with our own modern cultural thoughts which miss the application of what he is saying.
Metaphors are used to communicate ideas in a way that rational arguments are not always able to do. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, metaphors are like picture stories to help get points across. We sometimes use them today when we speak using stories and examples to get our point across.
A metaphor though, is not just an illustration of the idea, it is a form of theological discourse, and a parable is an extended metaphor that sets the scene for viewing things through a new worldview lens.
We tend to want to view these parables as a good launching point for a general idea being put across, but that is not really the proper way to view them, or not really the way they were viewed historically in that culture. I like the way Bailey states it:
The listener/reader of the parable is encouraged to examine the human predicament through the worldview created by the parable. The casing is all that remains after a shell is fired. Its only purpose is to drive the shell in the direction of the target. It is easy to think of a parable in the same way and understand it as a good way to “launch” an idea. Once the idea is “on its way” the parable can be disregarded. But this is not so. If the parable is a house in which the listened/reader is invited to take up residence, then that person is urged by the parable to look on the world through the windows of that residence. Such is the reality of the parables created by Jesus of Nazareth, a reality that causes a special problem. (Pg. 282)
He goes on to describe how - when it comes to the logic and reasoning as modern theologians do, the understanding of the theology involved requires a clear mind and a little hard work. However, for the theology presented by Yeshua, grasping what is being portrayed in his stories and dramatic events is not always grasped by contemporary readers, and to fully understand, requires knowledge of the culture of the storyteller.
So, we will never truly grasp the nature and implications of his sayings without having a grasp on the surrounding culture of which he spoke those things.
In order to truly unlock the truths in the parables, we must first consider a few necessary steps. First, we must realize that digging for the true meaning is necessary and important. Sure, anyone can read the Bible and be blessed by much of what is said; we may even receive blessing from a misapplied use of the stories and events we read. However, an ear better trained in the language and culture of the Bible will hear and understand much more from the text and its true intent.
To avoid doing the work required to get this understanding, the modern church tends to “indigenize” them – figuring the first century people thought and acted much like we do today, and we interpret based on modern understandings. We look at these stories as just little ditties that have a universal appeal to all men for whatever they can get from them. This makes the understanding of the Bible to be more of a relative book of teachings that varies from person to person, with no absolute meaning. I believe this type of mentality is one of the main causes of all of the disagreements, debates, and divisions in the church that leads to a new church on every corner that cannot get along with the church down the street.
We read stories like that of the prodigal son, and we see a rebellious teen, a jealous brother, and a loving father, and we just take the nice story as application for what we can. However, we totally miss the fact that in the Middle Eastern culture where this story was taking place, for a son to ask for his inheritance while the father was still alive, was equal to telling the father you wished he would just drop dead. This greatly heightens the loving response of the father in the story, who normally should have gotten mad and cast the son out of the house.
Secondly, in order to get a better understanding, we need to realize the historical nature of the Word of God. The Bible is truly the Word of God, but it is also to be seen as the Word of God spoken through real people in real historical settings. Ignoring the historicity of it will mean missing the original intent and audience relevance. It is interesting how most people remember and apply the historical settings of other literature we read, but ignore it when it comes to the Bible.
Thirdly, we must seek to find the meanings in the parables that are legitimate, and not seek to stretch the boundaries of the metaphor too far. In other words, we cannot over examine every jot and title of a story looking for meanings and parallels in everything it says. This again is where audience relevance comes in – for we cannot force a meaning or understanding into the story that would have been totally alien to the original audience.
People throughout the centuries have found interpretations within the stories of Yeshua that have enforced their own views and ideas, ideas like Marxism, Existentialism, etc. – but that would have been totally foreign to anything Yeshua ever intended or thought to convey to his audience.
So, in essence, I think Bailey put it best when he summarized by saying:
Simply stated, our task is to stand at the back of the audience around Jesus and listen to what he is saying to them. Only through that discipline can we discover what he is saying to any age, including our own. (Pg. 283)
Look with me please at Mat 13:10 where we are told why Yeshua chose to speak in parables, or as the literal translation puts it, similes:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matt 13:10-17 ESV)
So, we can see from Jesus own words that he was intentionally speaking in such a manner that made it more difficult to understand, because the main target audience he came to speak to, were already pretty much blind and deaf to the truth. And he was instead coming to those who were given the ears to hear, that the plans of God would be fulfilled through them instead.
Now, I would like to turn some attention on one particular parable to look at in a little more detail to see what kind of things get missed at first reading. Look with me at Luke chapter 19, starting with verse 11:
And while they are hearing these things, having added he spake a simile, because of his being nigh to Jerusalem, and of their thinking that the reign of God is about presently to be made manifest.
He said therefore, ‘A certain man of birth went on to a far country, to take to himself a kingdom, and to return, and having called ten servants of his own, he gave to them ten pounds, and said unto them, Do business — till I come; and his citizens were hating him, and did send an embassy after him, saying, We do not wish this one to reign over us.
‘And it came to pass, on his coming back, having taken the kingdom, that he commanded these servants to be called to him, to whom he gave the money, that he might know what any one had done in business.
‘And the first came near, saying, Sir, thy pound did gain ten pounds; and he said to him, Well done, good servant, because in a very little thou didst become faithful, be having authority over ten cities.
‘And the second came, saying, Sir, thy pound made five pounds; and he said also to this one, And thou, become thou over five cities.
‘And another came, saying, Sir, lo, thy pound, that I had lying away in a napkin; for I was afraid of thee, because thou art an austere man; thou takest up what thou didst not lay down, and reapest what thou didst not sow.
‘And he saith to him, Out of thy mouth I will judge thee, evil servant: thou knewest that I am an austere man, taking up what I did not lay down, and reaping what I did not sow! and wherefore didst thou not give my money to the bank, and I, having come, with interest might have received it?
‘And to those standing by he said, Take from him the pound, and give to him having the ten pounds — (and they said to him, Sir, he hath ten pounds) — for I say to you, that to every one having shall be given, and from him not having, also what he hath shall be taken from him, but those my enemies, who did not wish me to reign over them, bring hither and slay before me.’ (Luke 19:11-27 YLT)
I am sure most everyone is somewhat familiar with this parable, but I wish to look at it just a little deeper than surface level and to use it to give an example of how cultural background can alter the story a bit.
First off, many scholars tie this story in to contemporary events, one of which even happened right around the time of the birth of Yeshua, so was still somewhat of a recent happening even thirty years later.
In the political environment of the time, the scenario was somewhat common, where a would-be ruler had to travel to the main city to receive his new position of authority. While he was gone, it was not uncommon for the citizens to rebel and cause trouble in his kingdom. Sometimes this may even lead to an abuse of those who were under his power and were left behind to keep things in order.
In 40 BC, Herod the Great made such a journey to
Unfortunately, there was opposition to his being
the ruler, and when he arrived at
he found that some of his own family members had filed rival claims to the
throne. Also, on top of that, about fifty Jewish rulers had come from
So, his return took longer than expected, but in the end he was given the kingship, as Caesar wanted to give him the chance to prove himself. Of course, when he returned with the power, he rounded up those who had opposed him, and executed swift punishment against them.
So, with this little bit of historical background, we should be able to see how much more relevant this parable was to those that heard it. For us, most modern readers may tend to use our own capitalist cultural eyes to view this parable as an issue of money, investments and returns, when in fact, it is more talking about faith and public witness.
The political climate back in the day was quite turbulent, and at a time when there was a change of power, those loyal servants to the one coming into power may have it tough when their leader is away. Would they stand up and continue to openly profess allegiance, and do “business” in the name of their soon to be ruler, or would they hide and keep quiet until he returns in power and is there to protect them? That is more of what is being spoken of here.
First off, let’s back up just a little to see what kind of starts this whole parable. They had just left the house of Zacchaeus, where Yeshua stated
“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.” (v 9-10)
This would have set off eschatological and apocalyptic red flags in the minds of the Apostles, for if salvation had come to someone like a tax collector, then surely it was there for the nation. Plus with Passover being near, this was the perfect timing – and he was speaking clear kingdom talk in their minds. We know this because of their response in the next verse:
…because of his being nigh to Jerusalem, and of their thinking that the reign of God is about presently to be made manifest. (v 11)
So, salvation has come, Passover is near, they are heading to the center of their world, Jerusalem, so surely the arrival of the kingdom in all its glory is right around the corner. But, Yeshua throws a wrench in their thoughts by showing them that there will be a bit of time before the fullness of the kingdom.
As we stand in hindsight, it is clear who the parties of the parable are, and the general idea of the story, but again, with the cultural understanding, we are able to see it a bit more clearly for what it is.
As the nobleman is about to leave to receive the kingdom, he distributes gifts to his followers; this is in affect saying to them, be faithful while I am gone, and promote my good name to those around you. It is easy to be bold while the leader is there, but when gone, and they are encircled with the enemies, how will they conduct themselves?
After giving them the gifts, he tells them to “Do business — till I come.” Now the word used for “till” is the little used Greek expression en ho, and some scholars state that this literally means “in which.” While it can legitimately be translated as “until” as it often is, and as we see here in the YLT, it is also another option to read it as a causative, meaning it is producing something – so we could see it as “Do business because I come [back].”
By turning this phrase en ho into the time reference – until – it becomes more of a command to go do business in the short time they have, and make as much profit as they can. Yet if this is the case in this parable, then why upon returning does he commend them for their faithfulness - and not their successfulness in much profit?
Well done, good servant, because in a very little thou didst become faithful, be having authority over ten cities. (v 17)
So, it is probably better to read this phrase as more of a causative, meaning he is telling them to do business in a situation in which he is coming back. So, in essence, he is telling them to stand firm and boldly proclaim his business, for he is coming back to examine their faithfulness in it.
Are the servants willing to take the risk of openly declaring allegiance and loyalty to the soon to be king, during his absence, in a place and time where many surrounding them oppose the new king’s rule, and threaten the safety of the servants?
A real life situation similar to this is told in Bailey’s book, and I find worth relaying to you:
It has been my privilege to
teach short courses for the Lutheran Church of Latvia. While I was at the
This is the thrust of the discussion in this parable – will they be bold and public about being his servants, using their resources – doing his business – unafraid of the enemies, and confident in the future of his future?
Here is another reason I enjoy using the Young’s Literal translation. When the king returns home, he:
…commanded these servants to be called to him, to whom he gave the money, that he might know what any one had done in business. (v 15)
He wanted to know how they had conducted business, or how much business was conducted. Other translations, like the ESV state it as:
…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.
See, they make it sound more like he is asking how much money was gained by doing the business, making it again appear to be about business practices that lead to profit and not simply about doing the business faithfully itself.
The term used here is diepragmateusanto, and this is the only appearance of it in the Greek Scriptures. The primary meaning of it is “how much business was transacted,” though some do list it as “how much has been gained by trading” as we see in many modern translations.
From the second century onward though, the Syriac and Coptic versions of the text have all consistently chosen the first meaning, as have most Arabic versions. It may sound minor, but the difference is pretty critical.
Is the master concerned with profit, or open loyalty during his absence? The primary meaning tends to lean towards the suggested view that the master was asking about the latter – obedience and faithfulness during uncertain times.
This same idea of being faithful publically is what we see throughout the Scriptures time and time again:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt 5:16 ESV)
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 10:32-33 & Luk 12:8-9 ESV)
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 7:21 ESV)
Faithfulness in doing and proclaiming before men was the desire of the day. The disciples were being told of tough times coming after his departure, and were being instructed that they must remain faithful – even to the death.
Now, when we look back at this parable, we can see the main characters to be Yeshua, who is the one going away to receive a kingdom and return, and then there are those servants who he left behind and commissioned to work in his absence. The disciples assumed the Kingdom was to come fully real soon, but he in turns tells this story of a going away for a time, and a return that was to happen first.
Not too long afterwards, we see the enemies who will “not have this man to rule over” them. It is they who have blood on their hands for the torture and crucifixion of Yeshua. Three days later, he rises from the grave, and ascends to the Father, then returns to their presence for a time. And within a short amount of time, the disciples hit him up with the questions again:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:6-7 ESV)
Maybe they assumed that since he had left and returned (though after a very brief time), that NOW was the time for the fullness of the Kingdom. He again tells them that is not the case. His leaving to “receive the Kingdom” was to take place at his ascension that soon followed.
He instead tells them in the next verse:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (v. 8)
So, here he is, leaving to receive his Kingdom in all of its fullness, and he bestowed upon them many various gifts to do business with until he returns, just like in the parable.
Before moving on though, I want to bring to your attention a little point that should be fairly obvious to most, but is glossed over by most, due to presuppositions on the timing of events. I’d like to set this up by reading a couple sections from a recently released – 2009 – commentary on Luke. This section is in response to the initial Apostles question in Luke where they asked if the time was now for the Kingdom:
It is easy to see why people would make this mistake. The more they heard what Jesus said and saw what Jesus could do, the more certain some people became that he was the promised King. Jesus was healing the blind; he was saving sinners, including the kind of rich people who almost never repent; he was preaching the
kingdom of God. Soon the gathering masses would sweep him right up to Jerusalem in a frenzy of messianic expectancy. It was almost Palm Sunday, when people would shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). Is it any wonder that they thought the kingdom of God was coming right away?
This all backs up everything I have said before, and we can see why there may have been some confusion for the disciples about the events to come soon. He continues:
At the same time, it is easy to see why Jesus was careful to correct their false expectations. The kingdom had come, but it had not yet come in the fullness of its final glory. Jesus still needed to suffer and die on the cross. He still needed to rise from the dead and ascend to heaven. Perhaps most importantly, he still needed to do his gospel work among the nations through the church. The kingdom had come, in one sense, but in another sense it would not come until Jesus came again.
All good stuff and I can agree with his comments in all of this. However, the very next paragraph is where he seems to ignore a key point of the parable. He states:
Some Bible scholars seem troubled by the fact that although the New Testament says that Jesus is coming soon, he still hasn’t come.
Uh – YEAH! That is a big issue. If he implied he is coming soon – and he did – then a non-occurrence of that would and should be an issue. BUT WAIT! There’s more. He continues:
Thus they treat the delay of the kingdom as some sort of biblical problem. But this certainly wasn’t a problem for Jesus, who knew there would be a gap between the present and future reality of the kingdom of God. This was an important aspect of his teaching about the kingdom. Even before he died and rose again, Jesus prepared his disciples for his long absence by telling them that there would be a delay between the departure and his return.
I can fully agree with the statements here, as Jesus did clearly teach of a gap – a period of absence – before his return. The problem is, he is missing the connection in the parable, and even missing his own very clear point - that Jesus did prepare his disciples for this absence. His disciples – the ones standing their listening to him – they were prepared for a long gap – to them, before they would see him return as in the parable.
Think back to the parable. The future king prepared to leave, and he gave ten specific servants money to do business with. He left for a time and returned. Who did he return to meet with? The same ten servants or their distant relatives?
Obviously it was to the exact same people with whom he had given the gifts to begin with. The gap between the leaving and returning was short enough that he was returning to the same people he had given the money to, and it is them to whom he asks to give an account.
Now, before any one screams about it, I understand that we cannot force a strict literalism into a parable. But in this case, it needs no forcing to make the point at all, not in light of the many other things the disciples were told would take place. What did Yeshua himself tell his disciples would happen while he was gone?
…and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matt 10:22 ESV)
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (Matt 24:9 ESV)
Well, that seems to fit pretty nicely in the view of the parable as I have mentioned. What else did he promise to those who suffer during his absence?
And every one that hath left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life. (Matt 19:29 ESV)
There is another slight tie in to the parable - those who are faithful to the king shall be given more?
What else did he tell those people standing there, about how much work they would be performing before his return?
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matt 10:23 ESV)
And the final point on this – to who did he say would be there to see him return with the promised Kingdom?:
Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Mark 16:28 ESV)
So, we can plainly deduce from all of this, that just like in the parable, the future King (Yeshua), gave gifts to his servants (gifts of the spirit to his disciples), and told them to work in his name faithfully until he returned, a returning which would be during the very lifetime of those who he gave the gifts, just like in the parable.
So, I see no real need to force something onto the parable that has not already been plainly linked there by Yeshua himself, however most scholars miss this key point in the parable story and gospels in general.
The very last line in that paragraph I quoted from the commentary sums up the whole problem that result from his missing these points:
Therefore, we find ourselves in the interim between the already and the not yet, between what is now and what is to come. (Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary: Luke Vol. 2, Pg. 317.)
As so - we all commonly hear from this very pulpit, even as recently as last week, the commentator has misunderstood one major point. What has this commentator forgotten? WHAT TIME IT IS!
This parable and all of the associated words of Yeshua about it are dealing with a specific time and specific event in the near future of his hearers.
Another popular commentator gets around this in a totally different manner, but is able to at least keep those same people included in a round about way:
So Jesus commands his disciples to “improve” their talents; to make the most of them; to increase their capability of doing good, and to do it “until” he comes to call us hence, by death, to meet him. (Albert Barnes, Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testament)
So while he at least keeps some of it applicable to those who he originally told it to, now the second meeting of the servants is to occur after their death. How this conclusion can be perceived from the parable is beyond me. It of course comes from a presupposition that the event spoken of in this parable, the return of the king in his kingdom, has in fact not yet taken place even to this day.
While we may glean from this parable an idea of being faithful servants to the Kingdom in our own life, it is a great error when we see ourselves as working for a still future Kingdom, rather than within a currently acquired one. This type of teaching is what has crippled the church from doing the work it should have been doing all along.
Instead of acknowledging and taking the power of the kingdom now, and setting about to do our masters work under his now reigning authority, the church in general has cowered behind their doors, not challenging the culture around us, not standing boldly in the king’s name and power, and instead teaches that Satan is “king” and still in control, and they must await a future coming in power that will rescue them from it all.
For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, this parable clearly teaches us about an event to start and finish within the span of one lifetime, and would begin soon - within the life of those listening. It speaks of the soon to come time when Yeshua would ascend to the right hand of the Father to receive the fullness of the Kingdom:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."' Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Act 2:32-36 ESV)
It speaks of the time when he would send his servants out with the gifts of power to work at spreading the message of the kingdom:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mat 28:18-20 ESV)
And they could expect that he would return within their lifetimes, within that generation, to be revealed in the fullness of the Kingdom, as we saw above in the verses from Matthew and elsewhere. Over and over he spoke of the soon coming judgment and end of the age to occur within their lifetime – more verses and parables than I have time to deal with now – and that he would return to those enemies of God who heard him, and he would destroy them and their whole system – which as we know, occurred in AD 70 when the holy Temple was demolished.
These would-be servants of God had ignored the work they were supposed to do, and in the end would be cast out and destroyed. These false servants – the Pharisees, priests, scribes and other Jewish leaders of the time, were all given the same oracles of God, and should have been gaining returns for centuries using these gifts of God. Instead, they hoarded them, wrapping them up in a napkin as it were, and built a system which only favored their nation and tribes - and that reign of abuse was quickly coming to an end.
This napkin, or handkerchief as some translate it, is seen by some scholars as no ordinary wrapping, but as the piece of cloth that wraps the face in the burial of a dead body. Like we remember from the scene with the raising of Lazarus:
And these things saying, with a loud voice he cried out, `Lazarus, come forth;' and he who died came forth, being bound feet and hands with grave-clothes, and his visage with a napkin was bound about (Joh 11:43-44 YLT)
As well as that found in the tomb of Yeshua:
Simon Peter, therefore, cometh, following him, and he entered into the tomb, and beholdeth the linen clothes lying, and the napkin that was upon his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but apart, having been folded up, in one place; (Joh 20:6-7 YLT)
The Jews had in fact turned the ways of God – ways that were to be a blessing to all of the nations – into a dead religion filled with nothing but burden and fear.
So, we find that at the Lord’s return, it would be a day of judgment to determine which of the servants truly had advanced the Kingdom in his absence. The major separating factor of the judgment is between those who were faithful and those who were not. Faithfulness, not necessarily the amount of return - that is the key.
Those who were faithful would receive more, in proportion to their faithfulness; those who were not faithful, would have what they were given, taken away from them. This is pretty much the same thing said earlier in Luke:
Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. (Luke 8:18 ESV)
This is the tail end of the verses condemning the covering of the lamp rather than putting it on a lamp stand to be seen. The Jews had taken the light from God and kept it hid, rather than taking it to the world to see and believe. So, they were to be judged, and what they had been given, would be taken away and given to the faithful.
As it turns out, these disobedience “servants” are also part of the group who would not have this man to be King over them. They would capture him and turn him over to the authorities for torture and execution. When Pilate wrote the sign “King of the Jews” and hung it on the cross, the Jews quickly told him to not do it:
So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but rather, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" (Joh 19:21 ESV)
So, they just wanted the sign to say that this man claimed to be their king, but they would not acknowledge him as so. Instead, they denied him and plainly stated “we have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15).
These enemies screamed against Yeshua, and said "His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt 27:25), and upon his return, would be destroyed before him for all the blood that was on them.
Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,' so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. (Luk 11:49-51 ESV)
THAT generation – the one being address by these words – they would be judged and condemned for their actions, and be utterly destroyed and cast out of any part of the kingdom they thought they had.
Now, all of this was being told to the disciples, because as they approached Jerusalem, and thought the Kingdom was coming immediately yet Yeshua was correcting them, and letting them know of things to happen first, and teaching them the ways of the Kingdom, so they would be better prepared for the work to come.
Because there is a vast difference in the cultures between those first century hearers and us, it is of utmost importance that we study to understand the audience relevance in all things. Sadly, so many modern “scholars” and “theologians” who write commentaries and books on these subjects do not seem to understand this, and so we continue to see out of context and misapplied readings of these things.
For us, the Kingdom fullness is on our side – we are in the age to come spoken of in the first century. For us, we are to go forth spreading it into every nook and cranny of the globe, spreading the peace, love and redemption that were brought unto mankind through the work of the heavenly Father and his Son.
We are to go forth in confidence of his victory in all things, and the strength he provides to all of his servants to accomplish his desires. We are his hands and feet to a world that needs answers. As a church, we are not to sit idly by and make our existence here comfortable, and hide away in our big churches and huge ministries, just awaiting a rescue from this world. No, we are to take a stand, and work to spread the kingdom to cover the world as the waters cover the seas.
We should look to stand boldly for the truth in a similar manner as that of the disciples in Acts 4 when they were commanded not to preach Yeshua any longer:
Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, "'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Act 4:24-30)
We look around and see that the kings of the earth still set themselves against the Lord and his anointed. We see the attacks on every side.
But, the Lord is still here – he is still sovereign – he is still able to overcome all that those false kings and rulers try to bring against his people. If his people would stop being dormant, if they would get active in obeying the Lord, and stop hiding their light and faith under a bushel, then we will begin to see a turn for the better; if not, then we will continue to receive and deserve the judgment that continues to fall around us.
May the Lord bless us and keep us in out endeavors. Amen