Is Jesus’ kingdom here, now? Is it exclusively future? Has He been crowned as King already, and is He patiently waiting to exercise His authority? If only there were a clear passage we could turn to which would shed some definitive light on this subject …
Actually, there is one. Jesus knew His own disciples were confused on this point (and we would be, too), so He gave us all a parable to set the record straight. That parable is in Luke 19:11-27.
Jesus has been headed to Jerusalem for a while now (Lk 9:51). He’s taken a wandering, meandering route through any number of towns and villages along the way, preaching the Gospel and proclaiming His coming Kingdom. Now, on the eve of the great event which all salvation history has been pointing towards, Christ prepares His disciples for what is coming; “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished!” (Lk 18:31).
The last days of Jesus’ journey are filled with irony.
- The proud Pharisee boasts of his own “righteousness,” while the tax collector is too ashamed to even glance up at the heavens. “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk 18:13).
- Disciples stop parents from bringing their children to see the Messiah, while Jesus rebukes them; “for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” (Lk 18:16).
- A wealthy Jewish man, well-versed in the Tanakh, seeks eternal life through works-righteousness and refuses to forsake his riches (his true god) and follow the Messiah (Lk 18:18-23), while a blind beggar recognizes Jesus as the Son of David, the promised Messiah, and professes faith (Lk 18:35-43).
- Next, Luke gives us the account of Zacchaeus, the repentant chief tax collector who believes in Him, and proves his sincerity by offering to reimburse those he wronged by 400%; far above the 120% required by the Mosaic Law (Lev 6:1-7). Of course, as Jesus dines with this reviled man, those outside snicker at his choice of companions (Lk 19:7). Surely, a real rabbi, a pious rabbi, wouldn’t associate with such cretins.
The Parable of the King from the Far Country
This brings us to this wonderful parable. Why did Jesus tell it? There’s no need to wonder; Luke tells us why:
As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately (Luke 19:11)
Jesus told the parable to set the record straight. Yes, indeed, He was near to Jerusalem. No, unfortunately, He wasn’t going to institute His promised kingdom now. Everything in this parable centers on this simple point. We read on:
He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Trade with these till I come,’ (Luke 19:12-13).
This nobleman is headed far, far away to “receive a kingdom.” Now, a kingdom is a political entity that exists in a physical location. The idea is not that the nobleman is going to take possession of an actual kingdom, stuff it into his backpack, and catch a 737 back home. Instead, the nobleman is going off to receive kingly power; to be crowned and appointed as king. Then, he’ll return to establish his rule by the authority he’s been given.
As the nobleman makes preparations to leave, he calls 10 slaves, gives them money, and orders them to invest and “trade with these till I come.” The nobleman expects the slaves to use these funds wisely, and to give an account of their activity when he returns as king.
Fair enough. But, all is not well …
But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us,’ (Luke 19:14).
His citizens don’t want him to be king. They hate the guy. They hate him so much they send a messenger hurrying after him, bearing a simple request. “We hate you. We don’t want you to be our king. Don’t come back.” If he never returned, it’d be fine with them.
When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading.
The first came before him, saying, “Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.” And he said to him, “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.”
And the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” And he said to him, “And you are to be over five cities,” (Luke 19:15-19).
The nobleman has received the kingdom (i.e. kingly power). He’s been crowned and appointed as King in the far country, and has returned to his dominion to exercise that power. There is a gap between (1) when he is crowned as king, and (2) when he exercises those powers.1 For example, James I of Scotland was appointed as king of the English throne on March 24, 1603. However, he wasn’t coronated in London to exercise that authority and fulfill that role until July 25, 1603 – a four-month gap. Was James still King of England during that period? Of course; he just hadn’t arrived to assume the responsibilities quite yet. Thus it is for our nobleman.
It’s clear the nobleman rewarded his slaves based on what they earned for him while he was abroad. Each slave received an outrageously lavish reward; governance over ten cities here, five cities there. The rewards are for faithfulness in discharging the task he’d left for them.
Then another came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.”
He said to him, “I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?” (Luke 19:20-23).
This other fellow, however, is another story. He fears the king. Doesn’t like the guy. He did nothing with the money; he wrapped it in a convenient napkin and hid it away. Why? The man retreated behind the bulwarks of pity, and claimed he was too terrified to act. Because he feared the king so much, he was paralyzed with indecision. If he invested the money, he risked losing it and incurring the king’s wrath. If he did nothing, he’d still incur the king’s wrath. Like a deer transfixed by the approaching headlights of a semi-truck, this man did nothing.
The nobleman is not pleased. If this man were really afraid of him, then he’d at least have done something with the money – why not put it into the bank? Hadn’t he proven his generosity to the other two slaves? No, this excuse (“I was afraid!”) is a smokescreen, a cloak for something else. The man was simply derelict in his duties, and his justification was pitiful and idiotic.
And he said to those who stood by, “Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.”
And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”
“I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away,” (Luke 19:24-26).
Enraged, the king demands the one pound be taken from the unfaithful slave and given to the one who’d earned ten. Astonished, some of the slaves protest. “But, that guy already has ten pounds!” Undaunted, the king explains that his faithful subjects will be rewarded, and the unfaithful will be left with no rewards and no special honor.
But, what about the great mass of citizens who told him to not come back?
But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me (Luke 19:27).
They die. In fact, the king commands his slaves to kill the rebels in his presence, as he watches.
Jesus is the nobleman. He’s returned to heaven, that far and distant country. There, He’s been appointed as King and crowned with glory and honor. In the meantime, He’s left us, His slaves, here to “trade” with the commodity He’s given us until He returns to assume the throne. That commodity is the Gospel. Jesus’ own citizens, the Jewish people, hated Him and told Him flat-out they didn’t want Him to return. In fact, they killed the Lord of glory.
And yet, He arose a victor from the dark domain, and He’ll return one day and live forever with His saints to reign. When He returns, He’ll examine what each of His slaves did for Him. Were they faithful to trade the Gospel? Or, like the disobedient slave, did they hide their treasure in a napkin and do nothing with it?
And, what of all those who rejected Him and His coming reign; whether Jew or Gentile? They’ll die. They’ll die, not because Jesus rejected them, but because they rejected Him.
Jesus has been crowned as King. He is King, right now. We’re all His citizens, whether we like it or not. He demands loyalty and allegiance from us, and that message is in the Gospel. His isn’t a kingdom of tyranny and despair, but of freedom from ourselves, liberation from Satan, and life everlasting as slaves for our Holy God. As we wait for Him to return from that far country and assume His throne, may we think and live as a kingdom of holy priests who love our Savior.
1 “The parable makes a significant distinction between receiving the kingdom and the later reckoning that is a product of its authoritative exercise. Kingdom reception precedes a later period where it is fully administered,” (Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, in BECNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996, 1535).