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The Key Lukan Passage on the Two Comings
It is a bold and somewhat subjective statement to make, but the Parable of the Pounds (or Ten Minas)1 in Luke 19:11-27 is perhaps the key passage in this Gospel, if not in all the Gospels, on the theology of the two comings of Messiah.2 Since I believe it to be so crucial, I will give it special attention. The parable is introduced as follows:
Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. (Luke 19:11)
The “things” to which verse 11 refers is the story of Zacchaeus and Christ announcing that salvation had come to the home of the tax-collector, and that even though he had sinned against his own people ”he also is a son of Abraham,” which is to say that, although Zacchaeus’s complicity with the ruling class put him beyond the pale as far as the Jewish religious leaders were concerned, through faith in Jesus he became an inheritor of the Abrahamic promise and a true Jew. This new parable is given a certain prominence by its introduction. Luke supplies two reasons for it: firstly, they were nearing Jerusalem, the city of the Great King (Psa. 48:2; Matt. 5:35). Jerusalem was where Christ would soon meet His death (Lk. 18:31-33).
The second reason for the parable is crucial to grasp if one is going to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The parable is in part given to disabuse in the disciples any notion of an immediate arrival of the Kingdom of God.
Several matters rise to the surface here: first, one should notice that the meaning of the Kingdom of God is best understood as the earthly covenanted realm over which the Messiah would reign. It is not a heavenly kingdom (as the parable itself will dispel). Second, this covenanted Kingdom upon the earth will appear, but not in the disciples near future. Third, Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die, not to bring in the Kingdom. Finally, those biblical interpretations which assert that Jesus became King and therefore that some form of the Kingdom of God was inaugurated at the first advent must do so in the face of Jesus’ own teaching here at the end of His ministry.3 This fourth point will need to be reemphasized once we leave the study of the Four Gospels and delve into the Acts and the Epistles.
The first three verses of the parable are as follows:
Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’” (Luke 19:12-14)
The “citizens” (politai) who reject Christ are of course, the Jews, the “faithless and perverse generation” of Luke 9:41. They do this because they hate Him. The Greek word is miseo, and refers here to the loathing and hostility towards the whole person not just his actions.4 This may seem a little strong since, if many of these people had been asked about their opinion of Jesus they may not have considered themselves that way. But the deep recesses of the heart are prone to be covered by self-deception. Such was the unequivocal impact of Jesus’ words and works, only a sustained dislike of Him would explain the attitude of the general populace to Him. It is true that often the Jewish leaders are characterized as holding enmity against Jesus, but the people, in all probability due to the influence of their leaders, did not want Jesus either.5
It is important to pay attention to the words which Jesus places in to the mouths of those who reject Him: “We will not have this man to reign over us.” The nobleman had not yet assumed the crown. Translating this image into the chronology of Jesus’ mission, this means that Jesus (again) was well aware that He was not going to rule when He came the first time. It is not that He did not have the right to rule – Luke 1 through 4 make that clear – but that even though He was Messiah the King He was also the Messiah who would be cut off on behalf of others (Dan. 9:26). The promised Davidic Kingdom could not be set up to flourish over the kind of incalcitrant opposition it would always encounter in the unyielding hearts of sinners. Sin and its effects must be dealt with. That is the job of the New covenant. And as we shall see, the New covenant requires Christ’s blood to inaugurate it. The parable does not contain an offer of the Kingdom via acceptance of the King because the hour is now late (this is Luke’s final parable before the end). The scene is set. Notwithstanding the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem which is shortly to come, Jesus is journeying to His death, and death will take Him; at least for a short time. This parable predicts Jesus’ then going to heaven (the “far country”) to receive a kingdom and then return.6 He has not returned yet! Therefore, He is not ruling yet. The Kingdom is Davidic, which is to say it is covenantal. The significance of it being covenantal is that its broad character is already hermeneutically defined. It cannot be what it wasn’t specified to be.
The Parable of the Pounds continues in verses 15-26 with a description of the three stewardships given by the nobleman to his servants and their reckoning “when he returned, having received the kingdom.” (Lk. 19:15). It takes me away from my purpose I this book to expound this part of the parable, but notice that the nobleman is now returned as king.
Having now dealt with his servants, the king turns to those who rejected him:
“But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’” (Luke 19:27)
Remembering that in a parable one thing can stand for another, the severity of the treatment of those who insisted they would not have the new king to reign over them should not be minimized. The OT depicts Yahweh coming in wrath upon His enemies (e.g., Isa. 2:19-21; 61:2; 63:1-6), and the NT will follow suit (e.g., 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Rev. 19:11-16). None of the king’s enemies enter his kingdom.
1 One mina was equivalent to about four month’s wages.
2 Surprisingly, this parable is given a relatively slight treatment by Darrell Bock in his classic commentary on Luke.
3 The similarity of this parable with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 24:14-30 has been the subject of much discussion. Three points should be made: 1. Jesus was an itinerant teacher, and it is unthinkable that He would only utter one parable at only one time. As N. T. Wright has said, “Is there a storyteller on record who told stories only once, and then in the least elaborate form possible?” – Jesus and the Victory of God, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996, 633-634 n. 83. 2. Matthew’s Parable of the Talents is not about the person of the rejected and returning king. 3. The fact that Jesus used similar parables to convey different teachings should alert us to the danger of too quickly equating comparable sayings of Jesus reported elsewhere.
4 H. Seebass, “miseo,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, General Editor, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, Vol. 1. 555.
5 The mention of a delegation sent after the nobleman recalls the Jewish delegation sent to Rome in A. D. 6 to implore Caesar not to allow the despised Archelaus to continue as ethnarch over Judea. See e.g., Craig A. Evans, Luke, 287.
6 The hearers of this parable were familiar with the concept of someone going away to receive a kingdom because the Caesars were known to dispense rule that way (e.g. Herod the Great and Herod Antipas. See Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity, 72-73, 113). However, when one comprehends John’s Prologue it is a bit odd that the exalted Son of God should have to leave the earth He had been given to receive the Kingdom. The strangeness of this is of course explained in the fact that He must first secure the victory over sin and death as the obedient Servant, even if that meant being despised, rejected, and crucified (cf. Heb. 12:1-2).
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.