In the parable of the Pounds, Jesus taught that Christians should work while awaiting His kingdom, according to the talents and resources God grants them.
Description of the Context
This parable was spoken by Jesus during His encounter with Zacchaeus in Jericho. Because Jericho is near Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers expected Him to immediately enter into His kingdom, according to their understanding of prophecy. Jesus, wanting to prepare the disciples for their commission after His death, spoke this parable before going up from Jericho to Jerusalem.
Summary of the Parable
This parable concerns a nobleman gone on a long journey to receive a kingdom. Before his trip, he entrusts his money to ten of his servants, to reap a profit; each of the ten servants receives an equal share. However, after the king’s departure, seven of his servants send after him to affirm that they hate him and take no responsibility for the entrusted money. On his return, the king inquires from the three other servants. The first servant earned ten times his starting capital, and is accordingly awarded governance over ten cities; the second servant earned five times his capital, and is awarded five cities; but the third servant, having only hidden the money, loses his entire capital, which the king gives to the first servant—he being the best businessman. Then, the king orders that his seven other servants be executed for their rebellion.
Explanation of the Parable
When Jesus told the parable of the pounds, the Jews were dominated by the Romans. They therefore looked towards a time when the promised Messiah would come to deliver them; yet, many Jews did not recognize Jesus Christ as the One who was promised. This is made obvious in many biblical remarks, including Paul’s address to the Jews of Rome, to whom he affirms, “for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” (Acts 28:20) Paul was specifying that the Messiah, Jesus, was the hope of Israel, but that they did not believe in Him, because they expected the Messiah to come as a strong deliverer and prince to the nation. Instead, Jesus came as a suffering servant. Peter echoes this thought, preaching, “let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36) In their eagerness for the promised kingdom, the Jews had missed the fact that the “Messiah [shall] be cut off, but not for himself,” (Daniel 9:26) and that “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) The expected immediacy of Israel’s deliverance is reflected in the disciples’ question to Jesus: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Even when Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples remained looking up, expecting His return. They would only leave when admonished by the angels, who proclaimed, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) The same concern that is manifested in the angels’ words for the disciples is displayed in Jesus’ parable of the Pounds. He wanted the disciples to work with all their ability until the kingdom they hoped for came. He did not desire that they worry and wait for Israel’s kingdom only, because His goal was “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
The parable begins with a prince travelling to a faraway land with the goal of receiving a kingdom. In ancient times, nobles were appointed by a king as governors over certain territories. Occasionally, a noble would be called up to the king to be appointed governor. Edersheim states that the parable likely references an event which happened “after the death of Herod the Great, when his son Archaelaus hastened to Rome to obtain confirmation of his father’s will, while a Jewish deputation followed to oppose his appointment—an act of rebellion which Archaelaus afterwards avenged in the blood of his enemies” (Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, 795). In the parable, this noble is an image of Christ, because after His ministry on earth, Jesus went to His father “to prepare a place,” (John 14:2) and will come back to reward Christians with it. As the noble received his kingdom to rule over, so did Christ. (Revelations 2:27)
Before his departure, the nobleman called ten of his servants, and gave to each one pound. Each servant was to do business with this allocated fund, so the nobleman’s money could earn a profit while he was gone. This represents all Christians during Christ’s ascent to heaven—the time of grace towards the gentiles. More specifically, Lockyer claims that “these pounds represent the Gospel with all its privileges conferred alike on all those saved by grace” (Lockyer, All the Parables, 307), and that their monetary value was not as important as their character-building goal (Lockyer, 308). Christians are encouraged to remain “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” knowing that our labor is not vain (I Corinthians 15:58). Like the ten servants, who received an equal share of money, all disciples of Jesus have been given the gift of salvation. In serving the Lord, Christians build their relationship with Him, and improve their character by fulfilling their calling. All Christians begin with the same Gospel gift, but what they do with it causes it to fructify in different amounts.
During nobleman’s departure, three servants were faithful, but the rest hated after him because they would not have him rule. In the parable, the disobedient servants are not specifically mentioned as being “the seven disobedient others,” but more generally as the nobleman’s “citizens.” This reflects the fact that although salvation is available to all men, “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The Lord has made salvation available to all, but many hate Him and will not make salvation profit, either for them, or for the kingdom.
When the nobleman came back, now in power of his kingdom, he called back his servants to obtain his money’s worth. This represents the fact that one day, the Lord Jesus will again possess the earth, and Israel, and the kingdom of His people, and will judge his people according to the fruits they brought forth in their lifetime: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (II Corinthians 5:10) In this judgment, Christians will not be judged for their sins, but according to their performance—like an athlete is either awarded a high score, or is marked off for a bad showing. In so recording his servant’s success, the king found that his first servant made a tenfold profit. The king congratulated him, and awarded him authority over ten cities for being “faithful in a very little.” This indicates that a Christian working towards his heavenly reward should consider his work to be “very little” as compared to the size of his remuneration. In fact, the king had abundant resources, and this scheme was only a test for his servants, to whom he was willing to award much more if they were faithful. After auditing the first servant, the king found that the second servant had earned a five-fold profit. Fairly, he awards him authority over five cities. Bruce observes that although the second servant did very well, he did not receive praise: “he had not done what he could, but only half of what was possible, taking the first servant’s work as the measure of possibility” (Bruce, Training of the Twelve, 273). That is a stern remark, but nevertheless a reminder to do one’s best, lest one’s efforts be only average. The king then tested the third servant, and found him to have hidden his pound out of fear. The king dealt severely with this man, rebuking him openly, and giving his pound to he who had earned ten. The third servant represents Christians who hide their light under the bush, produce no worthy works, and are therefore saved by the skin of their teeth. The Bible notes that “[i]f any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15) There is here a clear sense of failure on the third servant’s part, because his fear was an excuse for laziness. God tells Christians, “[t]hou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19-20) Jesus, by comparing the rewards of the three servants, emphasizes the importance of working with a maximal zeal. When Christians stand before God, they will not regret to have worked hard for the kingdom of God. As the disciples would later understand, the rewards of working for God were at any time far greater than the privilege of being part of the restored Messianic kingdom.
Application of the Main Idea
This parable is for me a challenge against laziness in being a Christian. To become educated and obtain a job is not comparable to God’s rewards for me. To be very busy with day-to-day tasks is also a path to becoming like the third servant, who hid his treasure, without making it effective. I do not want my rewards to be given to another, but I want work of my own to be recognized by the Lord in my favor.
Bruce, Alexander B. The Training of the Twelve. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1971.
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: New Updated Edition. USA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2004.
Lockyer, Herbert. All the Parables of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1963.
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