One of the more humbling experiences from my days in corporate life was being told that my reserved seat on a company jet was revoked at the last minute to make room for a late-arriving executive. Not to worry. I was offered the one remaining seat, located in the plane’s lavatory, where the toilet came equipped with a safety belt. Rather than cool my heels on the tarmac, I swallowed my pride and took my place on the aluminum throne.
It reminded me of Jesus’ parable rebuking those who reclined at the choicest seats at a wedding banquet. Even more, it brought to mind the future humiliation Jesus said would come to those boasting of a place in the kingdom of heaven, yet being cast out. Though the kingdom is open to all who receive Christ by faith, the day is coming when those who falsely stake their claim will be unceremoniously shown the door.
There are at least three types of people who will be cast out of the kingdom of heaven.
- If you Google “Royal Wedding,” you’ll come up with about 790 million search results — more than twice as many results as if you Google “Jesus.”
- Approximately 3 billion people watched the royal wedding, give or take 500 million, according to the New York Times.
- 22.7 million Americans tuned in, according to Nielsen, compared to an average of 24 million who watch “American Idol” each week.
- About 1,900 guests entered Westminster Abbey, including 40 invited heads of state. Not invited: the U.S. President and First Lady; Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife of Prince Andrew; and Joan Rivers.
- Estimated cost of the wedding varies widely, but most guesses come in at $16 million to $64 million; the cakes alone cost a cool $80,000.
- The negative impact on the British economy due to lost business because of a declared bank holiday: as much as $10 billion.
I share this trivia because it demonstrates our fascination with royalty — even in nations like the United States that shun the very concept of a monarchy. But our intense interest in such matters is nothing new. In the days of Jesus, the wedding of a king’s son was the focal point for one of the Messiah’s most telling parables about the kingdom of heaven.
This column was first published in Baptist Press following the release of The Kingdom According to Jesus.
The term “kingdom” has in many respects become archaic in 21st century lingo. Unless you’re talking taxonomy – the No. 1 context according to Google – or a theme park in Florida, the word “kingdom” conjures up images of ancient empires, epic quests and faded glory.
Even in the church, the most important – and perhaps least understood – kingdom of all is rooted in the ancient texts of Scripture: the kingdom of heaven, also called the kingdom of God, or, simply, the kingdom. Some find this an obsolete expression better suited to first-century believers than modern-day Christians navigating the Twitterverse.
But the kingdom of heaven is of exceptional relevance today, especially when we understand its meaning and explore its value.
Defined simply, the kingdom of heaven is God’s reign, or His authority to rule. The primary meaning of the Hebrew word malkuth and the Greek word basileia is the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king, according to George Eldon Ladd in The Gospel of the Kingdom. Certainly, a kingdom needs territory and people, but God’s kingdom first and foremost is His authority to rule them all.
Yes, the kingdom still matters today. Here’s why:
It matters to Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is the primary focus of Jesus’ teaching. Matthew records no fewer than 13 of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of heaven, in which He uses mustard seeds and bridesmaids to reveal the “mystery” of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11). The Jews are looking for a political and military Messiah based on their understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, but they miss the prophecies that point to the Suffering Servant. Jesus’ parables make it clear that the kingdom must first come without fanfare in the Lamb of God who, through His death, burial and resurrection, will take away the sin of the world. The kingdom will come in power and great glory one day when Jesus returns as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (see Rev. 19:11-16). The King of kings is still very much interested in His kingdom.
It matters to the church. The kingdom of heaven and the church are not the same, since Christ’s authority extends beyond New Testament believers. Yet the kingdom involves the church as God’s primary means of communicating and expanding His kingdom in this age. The apostle Paul preached the gospel of the kingdom, as the church is to do today so that many will enter in by faith. The kingdom is God’s conquest, through Jesus Christ, of His enemies: sin, Satan and death. This is the heart of the Gospel message the church is commissioned to proclaim.
It matters to Satan. In Matthew 12, Jesus confronts the religious leaders who accuse Him of casting out demons by Satan’s power. His response is revealing. “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. How can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house” (Matt. 12:28-29). Satan is the prince of his own rogue kingdom, a kingdom of darkness and bondage. In the incarnation, Jesus invades Satan’s kingdom, binding the “strong man” and plundering his goods by transporting lost sinners from Satan’s kingdom into God’s kingdom. Satan is defeated. His time is short. And when the kingdom comes in fullness with the glorious appearing of Jesus, Satan will be cast into hell, which was created for him (Matt. 25:41).
It matters to creation. The apostle Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now” (Rom. 8:22). Since Adam’s fall, the creation has been under a curse. But the curse will be lifted (Rev. 22:3) when the kingdom comes in fullness, when this sinful and fallen world is purged of sin (2 Peter 3:10-13). The new heavens and earth will no longer bear the weight of sin. And the pinnacle of God’s creation – human beings – will be perfected with glorified bodies that are fit for eternal worship and service unto God.
It matters to you. In the end, you will spend eternity in one of two places: the kingdom, or outer darkness. Where you spend eternity is determined, not by some future balancing of the scales, but in how you answer the question today that Jesus asked in Matt. 16:15: “Who do you say that I am?” In the end, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10), but not everyone will enter the kingdom. Make no mistake: Many will be denied entrance. But they will go into outer darkness of their own choosing because, as the characters in Jesus’ parable of the 10 minas say, “We don’t want this man to rule over us” (Luke 19:14).
While man-made kingdoms come and go, the kingdom of heaven stands forever. It has Christ as King, believers as subjects, redemption as its mission, and the universe as its realm.
11 As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away.
12 Therefore He said: “A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return.
13 He called 10 of his slaves, gave them 10 minas, and told them, ‘Engage in business until I come back.’
14 But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us!’
15 At his return, having received the authority to be king, he summoned those slaves he had given the money to so he could find out how much they had made in business.
16 The first came forward and said, ‘Master, your mina has earned 10 more minas.’
17 ‘Well done, good slave!’ he told him. ‘Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, have authority over 10 towns.’
18 The second came and said, ‘Master, your mina has made five minas.’
19 So he said to him, ‘You will be over five towns.’
20 And another came and said, ‘Master, here is your mina. I have kept it hidden away in a cloth
21 because I was afraid of you, for you’re a tough man: you collect what you didn’t deposit and reap what you didn’t sow.’
22 He told him, ‘I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave! [If] you knew I was a tough man, collecting what I didn’t deposit and reaping what I didn’t sow,
23 why didn’t you put my money in the bank? And when I returned, I would have collected it with interest!’
24 So he said to those standing there, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has 10 minas.’
25 But they said to him, ‘Master, he has 10 minas.’
26 ‘I tell you, that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from the one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away.
27 But bring here these enemies of mine, who did not want me to rule over them, and slaughter them in my presence.’”
A similar parable appears in Matt. 25:14-30. Yet these parables differ in several respects. The parable in Matthew is spoken after Jesus enters Jerusalem; the parable in Luke, while He is on His way there. The parable in Matthew is delivered on the Mount of Olives; the parable in Luke, in the home of Zacchaeus. Finally, the parable in Matthew is delivered to teach Jesus’ followers the necessity of improving the talents committed to them; the parable in Luke, primarily to correct the false notion that the kingdom of heaven would immediately appear.
Jesus is passing through Jericho and has dined in the home of Zacchaeus, chief of the tax collectors, amidst grumblings from onlookers that “He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man” (v.7). Upon Zacchaeus’ declaration of repentance, Jesus announces that salvation has come to his home, consistent with His words to the chief priests and elders in Matt. 21:31 that “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!” Now, with the crowds listening and thinking that “the kingdom of God (is) going to appear right away” (v.11), Jesus tells the parable of the 10 minas.
The central theme of this parable is that the kingdom of heaven will come in its fullness at a later time. Jesus’ followers “thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away” (v. 11). His parable corrects that shortsighted view. At the same time, the central theme feeds two other truths: first, the Jews would be judged for their rejection of the Messiah; and second, the King would hold His servants accountable for their stewardship.
The day is coming when all believers must “stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10 KJV). At that time, “each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). The apostle Paul writes that this judgment is like a fire that refines good works and consumes dead works (see 1 Cor. 3:11-15). For faithful believers who wisely use all that God has entrusted to them while He is in “a far country,” they will receive rewards, referred to throughout the New Testament as “crowns” (see 1 Cor. 9:25; Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Rev. 2:10).
The central character in this parable is the nobleman, who leaves the country to receive authority to be king and then returns. This clearly represents Christ, who tells His disciples He must “go away” (John 16:7) but promises to return (John 14:3). Like the nobleman who is “hated” by his subjects, who send a delegation after him saying, “We don’t want this man to rule over us” (v. 14), Jesus is “despised and rejected by men” (Isa. 53:3). Further, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Jesus gives His listeners a clear message that the kingdom cannot come in its fullness until He completes the work of salvation and goes to His Father in heaven, returning one day “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).
An interesting side note is that in Judea in Jesus’ day, the Roman emperor had to formally recognize the right of a prince or king to rule. To acquire this authority, the prince or king had to travel to Rome. Archelaus, a son of Herod the Great, went to Rome to obtain a confirmation of the title his father had left him. Previously, his father had done the same thing to secure the aid ofAntony. Agrippa the younger, grandson of Herod the Great, also went to Rome to obtain the favor of Tiberius and to be confirmed in his government. So Jesus’ listeners clearly understood the concept of traveling to a far country to receive authority to be king.
The slaves are the followers of Christ, who expect to be made princes, judges and rulers at once if the kingdom comes in its fullness as Jesus enters Jerusalem. The apostles have dreamed of sitting next to Jesus in His kingdom, sharing His authority. But Jesus instead tells them they are slaves with much work to do. The number of slaves summoned – 10 – does not appear to have any special significance, much as the number of virgins in the parable of the 10 virgins does not reveal any profound truth other than that was the minimum number of people required to hold synagogue, have a wedding, etc.
The Hebrew maneh, or Greek mina, translated “pound” in some versions, is a measure of weight equal to about 1.25 pounds. When used in a monetary sense, it is about $34 in silver or $510 in gold by 1915 standards (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). A marginal note in the New American Standard Bible says one mina is equal to about 100 days’ wages. In any case, the nobleman tells his slaves to “engage in business” or put the money to work until he returns. “The pounds here denote the talents which God has given to his servants on earth to improve, and for which they must give an account in the day of judgment” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
The “subjects” symbolize the nation of Israel, and particularly the Jewish religious leaders, who have rejected Jesus as Messiah. They are fully aware that Archelaus had gone to Rome to obtain from Augustus a confirmation of his title to reign over the portion of Judea left to him by his father, Herod the Great. The Jews, opposing him, sent an embassy of 50 to Rome to ask Augustus to deny the title, but they failed. While Jesus is in no way of the same character as Archelaus, He is letting the Jewish leaders know that they have even less chance of successfully petitioning the Heavenly Father against Him than they had petitioning Augustus against Archelaus. Verse 27 may be seen as a dual prophecy in which Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora in 70 A.D., as well as the final judgment of unbelievers before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
The rewards granted by the returning king should not necessarily be applied literally to the believer’s reward at the judgment seat of Christ. Faithful believers may or may not be given cities to rule over. The point is that our reward in heaven will be in proportion to our faithfulness in improving our talents on earth.
The response of the third slave, who was entrusted with one mina, calls for a closer look. He wraps his mina in a cloth, or napkin, trying to convince his master that he has taken great care of it. Many gifted people guard their abilities but never employ them in the work of the kingdom and thus will be in a similar situation at the final judgment. Next, notice how the slave thought of his master – as someone to be feared, tough and demanding. In fact, the word translated “tough” or “austere” is commonly applied to unripe fruit and means sour, unpleasant, or harsh. Further, his reference to his master as one who collects what he doesn’t deposit (v. 21) is used to describe a man who finds what has been lost by another and keeps it himself. “All this is designed to show the sinner’s view of God. He regards him as unjust, demanding more than man has power to render, and more, therefore, than God has a right to demand” (Barnes Notes on the New Testament).
The master tells the slave, “I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave” (v. 22). Even though the master is neither unjust nor austere, the slave’s supposing that he is should have spurred him to be obedient to the master’s command. A sinner’s mischaracterization of God does not excuse him or her of accountability on the day of reckoning.
Finally, the master orders that the mina be taken away from the unfaithful slave and given to the one who earned 10 minas. Some are surprised at this and object, “Master, he has 10 minas” (v. 25). But the master’s response illustrates a kingdom truth: To every person who is faithful and improves what God gives him or her, God will give that person more. As for the evil slave, it is interesting to note that he is not slaughtered with the rebelling subjects (v. 27). Perhaps instead Jesus is telling us what Paul writes about in 1 Cor. 3:11-15, in which the believer who fails to build upon the foundation of Christ escapes the judgment, “yet it will be like an escape through fire.”
One day all believers will “stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10 KJV) and give an account of our stewardship. That judgment will not determine where we spend eternity, but how. We will have to give an answer for how we employed our time, talents, spiritual gifts, relationships, material possessions – all that Christ has entrusted to us while He has gone into heaven, preparing His return as King of kings and Lord of lords.