Foundational Framework 59: Living a Worthy Life Part 3

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The concept of rewards in the coming kingdom of heaven can be found on almost every other page in the New Testament. However, there are many who do not value this doctrine as an essential segment of their theological understanding. That is to say, this doctrine is considered insignificant in the grand scheme of God’s plan for the ages. But a careful reading of the New Testament will prove this notion to be false, and almost embarrassing that it would be discarded or discredited as nominal in any way.

The doctrine of rewards finds great significance in one’s theological understanding because it allows for grace to remain grace without any inclusion of works. One of the greatest arguments against those who promote a “grace gospel” is that this “grace” is too free because it requires nothing of the individual needing salvation except that they believe the Gospel. These opponents would state that unless an expected result is required, such as a submission of one’s life, the repentance of all of their sins, or the desire to give up all that they have is present, they are not truly saved.

The tension that is created between grace and works often manifests itself in contradictions. For example, A.W. Pink writes, “If it be true that no attempt to imitate Christ can obtain a sinner’s acceptance with God, it is equally true that the emulating of Him is imperatively necessary and absolutely essential in order to the saints’ preservation and final salvation.”[1] This could be understood as saying “you can’t do anything to be saved, but in order to be truly saved you must do something.” The Gospel is not about what the sinner does, but what the sinner needs.

A sinner is saved by the grace of God alone, who was not obligated to supply a solution to our sin problem. From out of His profound love, the Creator God sent His only Son to die as a substitute for our sin, which paid the enormous penalty that we had incurred as sinners and made the perfect righteousness of God available to all who believe (have faith) in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. It is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone that one is saved, receiving all that he or she was lacking. This includes the complete forgiveness of all sin, a wholly new Life, relief of all guilt and shame, reconciliation and full acceptance with his or her Creator, the perfect righteousness of God credited to them, and eternal life that is guaranteed beyond this present existence which can never be lost.

The doctrine of rewards extinguishes the tension between faith and works. While one is saved by faith alone, there are consequences for how the believer lives in light of what he or she understands from the Scriptures. Every child of God is responsible for conducting their lives according to the truth of God’s Word. When they are faithful in what the Lord has asked of them, they receive a reward (1 Cor 3:14). But if they are unfaithful, whatever “good works” that they may have thought that they had will be burned up and the believer will suffer loss (1 Cor 3:15). Thus, there is a very real and serious consequence for believers who live unfaithfully to the Lord, but it does not infringe upon or impugn His unconditional acceptance of them in Christ Jesus.

The opportunity to earn rewards is something that is wholeheartedly condoned by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 6:1, 17-18, 20; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:35). But the doctrine of rewards is not a personal “padding of the wallet” in the kingdom, for self-servitude will not be rewarded (Matt 6:2, 5). Rewards are to be done in service to the Lord Jesus Christ with “His name’s sake” as the heart’s motivator. The Christian Life is a responsibility to be stewarded, not a stage to be applauded. Many have believed that receiving a reward is only possible by an extreme act of obedience, but Jesus tells us that “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). Simply caring for those who are serving Christ earns one a reward.

We can clearly see that the Christian Life is one of faithful stewardship in light of the teachings of Scripture. Thankfully, Jesus taught on this subject in order to reorient much of the wrong thinking that may have been present among the Jewish people, and even His disciples, in the first century. While Luke 19:11-27 is similar to the parable taught in Matthew 25:14-30, the surrounding context of Luke 19 calls for this teaching to stand on its own merit.  

Luke 19:11-27. The parable that Jesus taught in Luke 19:11-27 follows His interactions with Zaccheus in 19:1-10. However, this parable may be slightly connected with Zaccheus’ situation in that he may have been present when this parable was taught, and Jesus’ use of the “mina” would have been something that he could have directly related to considering his background as a tax collector. Whether these connections are legitimate or not, Luke supplies us with a two-fold reasoning for why Jesus was teaching this parable. First, Jesus was “near Jerusalem” (19:11b) which is a detail that finds its significance later in the chapter when His “triumphal entry” takes place (19:28-40). This first point must be pondered because of the events that surround it.

Jesus’ entry into the city was anything but “triumphal.” For Jesus, this was a time of great grief and sorrow. While His disciples were rejoicing and shouting as the Son of Man passed by the Mount of Olives just outside of the city (19:37-38), Jesus began weeping at the sight of Jerusalem (19:41). The message of the disciples was “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (19:38), Jesus’ words capture the rejection of the Jewish people, the postponement of the kingdom of heaven on Earth, and the judgment that awaited the Jews because of their rebellion (19:42-44). Jesus knew what could have been had Israel accepted her Promised Messiah, but the leaders had spoken for the people (Matt 12:24), and though His miracles testified that the kingdom of God had come upon them (Matt 12:28), they rejected their Christ, which plunged the Jewish people into a “partial hardening” (Rom 11:25b), having the truth hidden from their eyes because of their unbelief (Luke 19:42b; Matt 13:10-17).

The second reason given for Jesus teaching this parable was that “they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (19:11c). This would explain the joyful celebration of the disciples in 19:37-38. As one reads through this parable, it becomes very clear that the kingdom will come at a later time, and that the “nobleman” must go away to receive this kingdom and then come again, now having possession of it, in order to establish it in the country from which he left. This justifies Jesus’ sorrow in Luke 19:41b-44, seeing that the Jews did not “recognize the time of your visitation” by the Messiah (19:44). Unbelief has postponed the kingdom. Instead, the Jewish people will be disciplined for their unbelief (19:44b). Thus, Jesus’ parable will serve to dispel the notion that the kingdom was to appear at His entry into the city of Jerusalem.

Starting in 19:12, Jesus speaks of a nobleman who travels to a “distant country” for the purpose of receiving a kingdom “for himself.” After receiving this kingdom, the nobleman would then return. The details here must be carefully noted, especially in light of the current-day belief that the kingdom of heaven is “already” here in a spiritual form, but “not yet” here in a physical form. Theissen notes, “Consistency of interpretation demands that we hold, not only that the nobleman must return in person, but also that he will set up his kingdom in the country from which he departed. In other words, we must insist that Christ is not now sitting on the throne of David in heaven and ruling over his people on earth from that sphere, but that He receives the kingdom in heaven, returns to earth, and then sets up the kingdom on the earth.”[2]

Having a general understanding of what Scripture tells us about the Messiah and the promise of His future return to establish His Kingdom, it is not hard to connect the dots and see that Jesus is this nobleman, the “distant country” would be during the interadvent age between His ascension and return when Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56), preparing a place for all believers (John 14:2-3) while making intercession for the saints (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). Before Jesus Christ returns to the Earth, He will have received the kingdom of heaven and His return will mark the establishment of that kingdom on Earth.

What is interesting about this parable is that its contents were not hard to relate to by those in the audience, considering that the successor to Herod had done the same thing. Robertson explains, “Apparently this parable has the historical basis of Archelaus who actually went from Jerusalem to Rome on this very errand to get a kingdom in Palestine and to come back to it. This happened while Jesus was a boy in Nazareth and it was a matter of common knowledge.”[3] As we will see in 19:14, the “citizens” did not want the nobleman to rule over them, just as it was with the Jews and their response to Archelaus assuming command. While Jesus is not speaking of Archelaus, the concept would be familiar to those living in the first century.

Luke 19:13 shows the nobleman calling ten of his slaves (“servants”) together before he leaves with each one being entrusted with a must “mina.” A mina is “a Greek monetary unit worth one hundred denarii.”[4] A “denarii” (also known in some cases as a “drachma”) is the equivalent of 100 days wages. With this, he gives them specific instructions: “Do business with this until I come back” (19:13b). Hodges explains, “Here lay the central point of the parable. The interadvent period which the parable proclaimed could be used to advantage. It was a time for investment. More than that, it was a time for investment directly related to the coming kingdom of God. Therefore, Zacchaeus needed to hear the parable at this crucial moment in his life. But so did everyone else in the audience as well.”[5] This speaks to the stewardship of the nobleman’s resources, which he entrusted to his slaves with the expectation that they would be faithful with what was entrusted to them.

This “principled story-telling” has a vital application for us today. While our Master is away receiving the kingdom, we His servants are to be engaged in His business with His resources while He is away. We are to be faithful and wise with what He has entrusted to us, keeping in mind that it is ultimately His and that there will be a day in which He will return and settle accounts with His servants, receiving unto Himself the return that was earned while He was away.

In Luke 19:14 we have the introduction of a group of people whom Jesus has not mentioned yet, the “citizens.” This group is said to have hated the nobleman, raising a protest against His rulership over them through a “delegation.” No doubt the citizens are the Jewish people and the “delegation” would be the Pharisees who were leading the charge against their Messiah in verbalizing the nation’s anti-belief (Matt 12:24). For the time being, the citizens are placed in the background of the parable while Jesus explains the events surrounding the nobleman’s return (Luke 19:15).

The timing of this event is precise, with Jesus noting that the man had received the kingdom. This comment places this moment after Jesus has assumed the right to reign, but before He has brought His servants to account at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:11-15; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 19:6-10). The nobleman is ready to inquire of his servants regarding the business that they conducted while he was away and the return that they had received with the money that he had entrusted to them.

While there are ten slaves that were given one mina each (19:13), we have only three that are brought to account, with each demonstrating a different level of return with what they were entrusted. With the first slave, we find that he was able to make an investment that gave a 1,000% return! The nobleman commends this servant, saying “Well done, good slave” (19:17a). This slave’s faithfulness over the small amount that he had been given was then greatly rewarded by the nobleman who set the slave over ten cities in his kingdom (19:17b).

The second slave comes before the nobleman and presents a 500% return (19:18) to which the master replies by granting this servant rulership over five cities (19:19). One cannot help but to notice that the public commendation of “Well done, good slave” is absent from this scenario. This slave, who earned half the return that the first slave earned, does not get the privilege of hearing these words from the nobleman’s mouth.

At this point, it should be clear that those who are faithful in this life, being about his Master’s business until He comes to bring us all to Himself (John 14:2-3) will receive rewards and reigning responsibilities that are much greater in magnitude than what we were entrusted with while on Earth. Thiessen cites Godet in explaining this: “In Luke the one point in question is to settle the position of the servants in the economy of glory which is opening, and consequently to determine the proportion of faithfulness displayed during the time of labor and probation which has just closed.”[6] Christ desires to share the regal responsibilities of His kingdom with His companions, but they must be faithful stewards who have proven themselves. One would not in clear conscience entrust their estate to a slothful and wayward child, for the outcome of such unbridled wealth in the hands of an irresponsible soul would be guaranteed devastation. Though related by blood, and though greatly loved, they would not be worthy of possessing such an opportunity. Their life’s record has shown them to be unworthy.

What is the “mina” in the life of the one who is a disciple of Christ? There are many who have considered the “sharing of the Gospel” as the focus of what has been entrusted to the slave and that “doing business” (19:13b) would be evangelism, but we must conclude that this is not the only way that one can be faithful to that which God has entrusted to us. Believers have a responsibility to love one another (John 13:34-35), forgive one another (Eph 4:32), build up one another in love (Eph 4:15-16) and encourage one another daily (Heb 3:13). While there is so much more that would be considered in the realm of Christian faithfulness, the point is clear that the believer in Christ is not just a missionary to the world, but is also a minister to the Body of Christ. The first two accounts show that diligence and faithfulness should be the attitudes of all who would hope to reign alongside Jesus Christ in His coming kingdom.

In Luke 19:20, a third servant approaches the nobleman but his response is entirely different than that of the first two slaves. Coming before the master, the third slave returns the exact same mina that was entrusted to him before the nobleman left to receive his kingdom. The slave reveals that he had hid it away in a handkerchief. The third slave then divulges the reason for his negligence in not “doing business” with the nobleman’s mina, citing “fear” of the nobleman “because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow” (Luke 19:21b). The word “exacting” is the Greek word austēros meaning “harsh, rough, rigid,”[7] which has led to the transliteration of “austere” in the KJV.

The charge is that the third slave did not want to risk losing what he had been given because he understood the nobleman to be harsh and rigid, taking those things which are not his and plundering the goods of others others for personal gain. Having returned the same mina that he had been given, the thought may have been “Well, at least I didn’t lose it!”

At this point, a few questions need to be answered.

First, has there been anything in the telling of this parable that would lead one to believe that the nobleman was a short-tempered tyrant who plundered the goods of others?               No.

Second, throughout this parable have we not seen that the nobleman’s actions are in direct relation to that which the Lord Jesus will do in leaving to receive a kingdom for Himself and then returning again to establish it at the place from whence He left?          Yes.

Would we conclude that the Lord Jesus Christ is a short-tempered tyrant who plundered the goods of others?       I don’t think so either.

In fact, what we see is that the third slave’s description of the nobleman is completely off base from who he really was. What we find out when listening to the third slave’s explanation is that he did not know his master very well at all and proceeded to live his life on a false presumption of his master that kept him from experiencing great things when his master returned. This is a tragic result! Being ignorant of his master’s character, the slave lived in fear, complacency, and slothfulness. Had he known his master more intimately, he would have served him with joy knowing that “He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). Again, Godet (as quoted by Thiessen) has captured the third slave’s situation with clarity noting that he is a “believer who has not found the state of grace offered by Jesus so brilliant as he hoped,—a legal Christian, who has not tasted grace, and knows nothing of the Gospel but its severe morality.”[8]

The nobleman responds to this excuse by calling the man a “worthless slave” (19:22a), which is probably better translated as a “wicked” or “evil slave.” While one may be quick to conclude that the declaration that this slave is “worthless/evil/wicked” would communicate that he was obviously “unsaved,” our attention must be drawn to the fact that this slave was as much a part of the nobleman’s house as the other two who were brought to account for the business that they had done. Not only that, but this third slave was also entrusted with the same amount as the other two. This remark against the slave is the conclusion that the nobleman makes due to his inactivity and unfounded excuses for slothfulness. Simply put, he did not know his master intimately, and because of this his assumed misrepresentation of his master’ character caused him to do nothing with what he was given.

That the third slave’s description is a solid misrepresentation of the nobleman’s character can be seen in the master’s response in Luke 19:22b, which is posed in the form of a question: “Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow?” It is as if the nobleman is responding by saying, “is this who you really think that I am?” He then reasons with the third slave that if this was the presumption by which he was operating, “why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest” (Luke 19:23)? The least that this man could have done was invest it at the lowest level possible so that even the smallest amount of interest would have been gained. However, he did not. This tells us that either the man was lying in his reasonings with the nobleman and was actually lethargic and slothful, not caring about the responsibility entrusted to him, nor in serving his master, or that his unfounded mischaracterization of his master had paralyzed him from making the least of wise decisions that would secure gain for the nobleman.

Regardless of the reason, his mina was confiscated and given to the most profitable slave (19:24). The “bystanders” (19:24a) are astonished at this act, seeing that the first slave already has ten minas. The nobleman explains that those who “have” will be given more, and those that have not will lose even those things that they have (19:26). The failure of the third slave to be diligent in his responsibilities has led him to a moment of shame before his master. One cannot help but to reflect on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:15 which state, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Finishing this parable, the nobleman speaks of his “enemies” (Luke 19:27) and clarifies their identity as those “who did not want me to reign over them,” speaking of the “citizens” in Luke 19:14. As identified earlier, this is (by and large) the nation of Israel who had rejected their Messiah, leading to a postponement of the kingdom of heaven. These enemies are brought before the nobleman and slaughtered for their rejection of him. This should not be surprising, considering that much is said in the Old Testament regarding the judgment that will befall the Jews because of their rejection of God and which occurs right before the establishment of the kingdom on Earth (Jer 30:4-9; Ezek 20:33-38).

On a broader scale, Jesus’ return will bring about the slaughter of all who have rejected Him as can be clearly seen in Revelation 19:15-21. We are told that Jesus will “strike down the nations” (Rev 19:15), that the birds will gorge themselves on the flesh of kings and mighty men who had rebelled against Messiah (Rev 19:17-19), and that the rest “were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him” (Rev 19:21). All who reject Christ and are rebellious of His reign over them will be put to death. These are unbelievers who will be judged at the Great White Throne judgment (Rev 20:11-15).

However, the servants/slaves are wholly different than the “citizens/enemies” in this parable, with Jesus drawing the necessary distinctions. This is most notable in that the servants are judged first (representative of the Judgment Seat of Christ) and the “citizens/enemies” are judged later (representative of the Great White Throne judgment). To sum up the eternal destinies of the parties involved in this parable, Wilkin writes, “Good servants will rule with Christ fully. Half-hearted servants will rule with Him in a more limited way. Wicked servants won’t rule with Christ at all, though they will be with Him forever. Unbelievers will experience the second death and will spend eternity in the lake of fire.”[9]

With the third slave’s misunderstanding of his master, we could conclude that the more that you are intimately acquainted with Jesus, the more that you will faithfully serve Him with joy, knowing that He desires to reward you richly for the service that you have rendered (Rev 22:12). This third servant, having full rights and equal responsibility within the house of the master, was declared “wicked” because of his sloth and negligence. Therefore, he suffered loss, for even what he thought he had was taken away.

The application is clear.

The Lord Jesus Christ has entrusted His work to His people. While He is away receiving the kingdom for Himself, we are to be doing business: loving one another, praying, studying His holy Word, living His holy Word, forgiving one another, encouraging one another, structuring our lives to be led in holiness and faithfulness to wherever He may lead us, and making disciples of all nations.

Thiessen commissions us writing, “Let us also ‘carry on business’ till He come, in order that we may hear His ‘well done,’ and receive a reward when He comes!”[10]

How will your conversation with the Master go when He returns and settles accounts?

[1] Arthur Walkington Pink, Eternal Security (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2005), p. 75.

[2] Henry Clarence Thiessen, “The Parable of the Nobleman and the Earthly Kingdom (Luke 19:11-27),” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol 91 (1934): 184.

[3] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Lk 19:12.

[4] Louw and Nida, p. 62.

[5] Zane C. Hodges, A Free Grace Primer: The Hungry Inherit, The Gospel Under Siege, Grace in Eclipse, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2011), p. 335.

[6] Thiessen, “The Parable of the Nobleman”: 188.

[7] Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 84.

[8] Thiessen, “The Parable of the Nobleman”: 190.

[9] Robert N. Wilkin, “Two Judgments and Four Types of People (Luke 19:11–27),” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 25, no. 48 (2012): 20.

[10] Ibid.