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.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left.
34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?
38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You?
39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’
40 And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’
41 Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!
42 For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me.’
44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’
45 Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’
46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This parable ends the so-called Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24-25. Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with his disciples, responding to their questions about the future destruction of the Temple and the end of the age: “When will these things happen (the destruction of the Temple)? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3)? He concludes His teaching in Matthew 25 with an exhortation to watchfulness (the parable of the 10 virgins, Matt. 25:1-13); an encouragement to faithfulness (the parable of the talents, Matt. 25:14-30); and an assurance of righteous judgment (the parable of the sheep and goats, Matt. 25:31-46).
The central theme of this parable is that Christ will separate believers from unbelievers at His return.
The central character in this parable is Christ, who assures His disciples He will return one day with the holy angels and sit on the throne of His glory – “the glory of His judicial authority” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary). Jesus refers to Himself as a shepherd, who faithfully separates the sheep from the goats. Jesus knows who belongs to Him and who does not. “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me,” He says in John 10:27. There are many other references to God/Christ as the shepherd and to His followers as sheep (see Ps. 23:1, 80:1; Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31; John 10:11, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25, 5:4). In this parable, Jesus plainly teaches that a time of separation is coming when those who are of His flock will enjoy the benefits of His kingdom while those who have rejected Him will be rejected themselves.
It’s important to establish when this judgment takes place and who it involves as the sheep and goats. There is considerable disagreement over these two questions. Some commentators believe this parable is a general description of the final judgment of all mankind – a summary of both the judgment seat of Christ for believers (Rom. 14:10, 2 Cor. 5:10) and the great white throne judgment for unbelievers (Rev. 20:11-15), even though these judgments may be separated by a thousand years or more. Other scholars, however, believe this parable teaches a separate judgment for all those who survive the great tribulation and witness the return of Christ.
In the context of Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 24-25, and since there is no reference to resurrection, it appears Jesus will carry out this judgment in concert with His personal, physical and glorious return one day, and that the sheep and goats represent those who are alive at His return. Their treatment of “the least of these brothers of Mine” (Matt. 25:40) indicates the true condition of their hearts, either as believers in Christ or rejecters of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Next, it’s helpful to look more closely at some key words and phrases Jesus uses in this parable:
- Son of man. This is the name Jesus most frequently gives to Himself. “Some eighty times He thus designated Himself and this familiar title was a racial one as the representative Man” (Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible). Used also in the Old Testament, this term has Messianic meaning, and by using it liberally, Jesus is revealing not only His identity with man (John 1:14) but His identity as the Son of God.
- All the nations. The word “nations” also may be translated “Gentiles.” Herbert Lockyer points out that “when the plural is used in the Bible, it represents all the heathen or Gentile nations of the world as distinguished from the Jewish nation (All the Parables of the Bible). Others argue that the Jews are necessarily included here. Still others teach that this is a reference to representatives of all the sovereign nations of the world, which will be judged for their treatment of God’s people as all national boundaries are dissolved. It seems best in the context of this parable to see the nations/Gentiles as those individuals who are alive at the glorious appearing of Christ.
- Sheep and goats. These creatures often graze together, and it takes the trained eye of the shepherd to separate them at the time of shearing. Sheep symbolize mildness, simplicity, innocence – the qualities of one completely dependent upon the shepherd for protection and care. Clearly, these are believers. Goats naturally are quarrelsome, selfish and smelly – a stark contrast that highlights the profane and impure character of unbelievers.
- Right and left. “The right hand is the place of honour, and denotes the situation of those who are honoured, or those who are virtuous…. The left was the place of dishonour, denoting condemnation” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
- The King. This is the only time Jesus directly refers to Himself as King – and just three days before He is crucified as a common criminal.
- Brothers of mine. Some teach that these are the Jews, and eternal rewards await those who care for God’s chosen people, especially throughout the great tribulation. Others believe this is a reference to all believers. It would appear this phrase describes those who trust in Christ – at great personal cost – during the period between the rapture of the church and the glorious appearing of the King.
Now, let’s look more closely at what Jesus says to those who stand before Him in judgment. To those on His right, He says, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (v. 34). Believers often are called heirs of God and/or co-heirs with Christ in Scripture (see Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:6-7; Heb. 1:14). The kingdom of heaven has been “prepared” – designed, appointed – for believers from the beginning. This is no new plan; rather, it is the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan to bless His own.
What is the basis of this blessing for these people? “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me” (vv. 35-36). We know from Jesus’ own words that eternal life is received by faith and not by works (John 5:24). So what He seems to be saying is that the way the sheep treat God’s children demonstrates they truly know Him. “The surprise expressed is not at their being told that they acted from love to Christ, but that Christ Himself was the Personal Object of all their deeds” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).
In contrast, Jesus says to those on His left, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (v. 41). The one who rejects Christ is “already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God” (John 3:18). “There is a remarkable difference between the manner in which the righteous shall be addressed, and the wicked. Christ will say to the one that the kingdom was prepared for them; to the other, that the fire was not prepared for them, but for another race of beings. They will inherit it because they have the same character as the devil, and therefore are fitted to the same place” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
What is the basis of this departure into eternal fire? “For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me” (vv. 42-43). As with the sheep, the goats’ destiny is not determined by works; rather, the works demonstrate the true condition of the heart. The unbeliever does not care for heirs of the kingdom because he has no regard for the King. And so, by his choice, the goat departs into eternal fire.
Our acts of kindness, especially toward those “who belong to the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), demonstrate our true nature as children of the King, and are received by Christ as if done for Him personally.
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables:
2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.
3 He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come.
4 Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet. ’
5 But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business.
6 And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them.
7 The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.
8 Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.
9 Therefore, go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’
10 So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests.
11 But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding.
12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
A similar parable is found in Luke 14:16-24.
Jesus has made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple complex, driving out those who are buying and selling. He has received the praise of children and cursed the barren fig tree. He has answered the Pharisees’ challenges to His authority and provided the parables of the two sons and the vineyard owner to illustrate the Jewish leaders’ hardness of heart. Stung by Jesus’ rebuke, they look for a way to arrest Him.
Now, as chapter 22 begins and Jesus’ crucifixion draws near, He remains in the Temple in the presence of the Pharisees and tells the parable of the wedding banquet.
The central theme of this parable is that Israel will be judged for its rejection of the Messiah. The kingdom of heaven has been opened to the Gentiles – a joyous event the Jews should have anticipated and celebrated as friends of the King and His Son, the Bridegroom. Yet, because the generation of Jews witnessing Messiah’s appearance has rejected Him, God’s wrath will fall. This prophecy is fulfilled in 70 A.D.
The central character in this parable is the king, who represents God the Father. He chooses the nation of Israel as His own special people, and invites them to the wedding of His Son through the prophets. Yet their hearts grow hard, and when the time comes for the Son of God to appear, they will not receive Him. Therefore, the Jews are set aside as the Gentiles are welcomed in.
The wedding banquet, in all likelihood, is an evening meal. In Jewish culture, two invitations are sent out. The first asks the guests to attend, and the second announces that all is ready and provides the time at which the guests are to arrive. In this story, the king offers a third invitation, but the invited guests respond by treating the king’s slaves cruelly – even killing them. There is little doubt that the banquet is a picture of the covenant fellowship between Christ (the king’s son) and the church (his bride) in the current age. The Jews under the old covenant are the invited guests, who disregard the Father’s invitation, treat His slaves (the prophets) cruelly, and despise His Son. There also is a sense in which this refers not only to Jews, but to all people and cultures that have closed their eyes to the light of the promised Messiah.
“The king was enraged,” according to verse 7, “so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.” This is Jesus’ prophecy of the judgment that would befall the nation of Israel in 70 A.D., when the Roman armies under Titus sacked Jerusalem, completely destroyed the Temple, killed more than one million Jews, and scattered the rest of the Jewish nation. Jesus also speaks of this terrible day in Matt. 24:1-2.
Now, the king directs his slaves to go “where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet” (v. 9). Luke adds the word “hedges” or “lanes” (Luke 14:23), “to point out the people to whom the apostles were sent, as either miserable vagabonds, or the most indigent poor, who were wandering about the country, or sitting by the sides of the ways and hedges, imploring relief. This verse points out the final rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary).
So the slaves fill the banquet hall with “everyone they found, both evil and good” (v. 10), a picture of the visible, or professing church. Scripture is abundantly clear that not everyone who claims the name of Jesus truly knows Him, despite appearances to the contrary (Matt. 7:21-23). In the same way, the church throughout this present, evil age will consist of professors and possessors – those who profess to know Christ and those who truly have His Spirit within them as the distinguishing mark of the true believer (Rom. 8:9).
Now, we come to the guest “who was not dressed for a wedding” (v.11). In ancient times, kings and princes provided fresh clothing to their guests. Normally these were long white robes. To refuse such gifts, or to appear at the banquet without them, was an expression of highest contempt. Albert Barnes comments in his Notes on the New Testament:
“This beautifully represents the conduct of the hypocrite in the church. A garment of salvation might be his, wrought by the hands of the Saviour, and dyed in his blood. But the hypocrite chooses the filthy rags of his own righteousness, and thus offers the highest contempt for that provided in the gospel. He is to blame, not for being invited; not for coming, if he would come – for he is freely invited; but for offering the highest contempt to the King of Zion, in presenting himself with all his filth and rags, and in refusing to be saved in the way provided in the gospel.”
The king confronts the guest in verse 12: “Friend [companion is a better term], how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” The man is speechless — “muzzled, or gagged,” according to Adam Clarke’s Commentary. Just as the guest is silenced by his own conscience, the unbeliever will stand before God one day “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). As a result, the king orders his guest to be bound hand and foot and thrown into “the outer darkness,” away from the fellowship of the wedding party, perhaps even into a dungeon. In a similar way, Christ will cast unbelievers out of His kingdom into everlasting punishment on the day they are summoned before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15; see also Matt. 7:21-3; 8:12; 25:30).
“It will aggravate their misery, that … they shall see all this plenty with their eyes, but shall not taste of it,” writes Matthew Henry. “Hell is utter darkness, it is darkness out of heaven, the land of light; or it is extreme darkness, darkness to the last degree, without the least ray or spark of light, or hope of it, like that of Egypt; darkness which might be felt … Hypocrites go by the light of the gospel itself down to utter darkness; and hell will be hell indeed to such, a condemnation more intolerable; there shall be weeping, and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew Henry Unabridged).
Finally we come to the phrase Jesus uses often in the Gospels, “For many are invited [called], but few are chosen” (v. 14). This is an allusion to the Roman method of raising an army. All men are mustered, but only those fit for duty are chosen to serve. Many are invited to the wedding feast, but most ignore the invitation, make light of it, find themselves otherwise engaged in worldly matters, abuse the King’s messengers, or show up in the filthy rags of their own righteousness; a comparatively small number enter the kingdom through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13-14).
To enter the fellowship of the King we must make sure we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ – true possessors of the Holy Spirit and not merely professors of the faith.
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among them.
3 “I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.
6 But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!
7 Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes.
8 If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire.
9 And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire!”
(See also Mark 9:33-50 and Luke 9:46-50)
Jesus has been transfigured before Peter, James and John. These three disciples emerge as the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, with Peter declaring Jesus Messiah (Matt. 16:16) and John being called “the one Jesus loved” (John 13:23). As Jesus and His disciples approach Capernaum, the disciples bicker about their place in the kingdom, which they still expect to be an imminent and earthly one. Knowing their hearts, Jesus asks, “What were you arguing about on the way” (Mark 9:33)? So they ask plainly, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:1)?
The central theme of this parable is that humility is highly valued in the kingdom of heaven. As the disciples struggle to understand the “mysteries” of the kingdom – especially that the kingdom is both a present reality and a future hope – they wonder about their role in it. Some would seek to sit at Jesus’ right hand or left hand in the kingdom (Matt. 20:20-28), while others would desire to call fire down from heaven on those who refuse to welcome Jesus (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus calls a child and uses him to illustrate that such arrogant thinking has no place in the kingdom. Everyone must enter the kingdom as a child – humble, trusting, with no personal agenda – and once in the kingdom, no one should see himself or herself as more important than another. The entire value system of the kingdom of heaven is in stark contrast with that of Satan’s kingdom and of this present evil age.
The child is the central character in this parable. Jesus calls a young boy and says “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). The word “converted” means changed or turned. It means to turn from one habit of life, or set of opinions, to another. Despite Jesus’ teaching in previous parables, the disciples still seem to think the kingdom of heaven is coming imminently as an earthly kingdom. As a result, they jockey for positions in the king’s cabinet. Jesus tells them they must turn from their wrong thinking about the kingdom and set aside their sinful ambition and pride.
In what way are the disciples to become like children? “Children are, to a great extent, destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness. They are characteristically humble and teachable. By requiring the disciples to be like them, he did not intend to express any opinion about the native moral character of children, but simply that in these respects they should become like them. They should lay aside their ambitious views, and pride, and be willing to occupy their proper station – a very lowly one” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
When Jesus says “whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me” (Matt. 18:5) and “whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones …” (v. 6), He likely is referring not only to children but to new believers, who are humble and teachable, and who need spiritual nurturing. The apostle John refers to Christians as “children” or “little children” (1 John 2:1, 12, 18, 28).
In this teaching, Jesus addresses several facets of the kingdom: 1) entrance into the kingdom; 2) kingdom values; and 3) kingdom stewardship.
1) Entrance into the kingdom. Jesus says “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Entrance into the kingdom is by the new birth (John 3:3, 5), also known as regeneration, which is the work of the Holy Spirit imparting new life to the one who was “dead in … trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). No believer may take credit for the new birth but receives it with childlike wonder and gratitude. In the same vein, no one may enter the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13) through arrogance or ambition; rather, eternal life is received in gracious humility. In light of these truths, and the disciples’ boastful wrangling, Jesus challenges His followers to live like true citizens of the kingdom.
2) Kingdom values. Next, Jesus says, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). The things God values and the things people value are different. The values of the kingdom of Satan – summed up in 1 John 2:15-17 as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle” – have no place in the kingdom of heaven and will be done away with in the end. It is wise for children of the kingdom to value what pleases the King.
3) Kingdom stewardship. Jesus, who has given His disciples the keys to the kingdom, warns them to be good stewards of it: “And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me. But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me – it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6). Millstones commonly are disc-shaped stones, two feet in diameter by six inches deep, used to grind grain. These millstones are turned by hand, but larger millstones are turned by mules. Binding millstones to people and casting them in the sea was one form of capital punishment practiced by the Greeks, Syrians and Romans. It would be better to die in this way and escape everlasting consequences, Jesus says, than to keep another out of the kingdom or to neglect or mistreat the children of the kingdom. This is why Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees they will receive greater damnation – because they not only refuse to enter the kingdom but strive to keep others out (Matt. 23:13).
Finally, Jesus tells His disciples to beware of “offenses” – things that produce sin: “If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away … if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away …” (Matt. 18:8-9). He is not teaching self mutilation, nor is He saying that in the resurrection some will have glorified bodies without hands, feet or eyes. Rather, Jesus is teaching the flip side of the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price. While the kingdom is of inestimable value, the things of this world may keep us from entering in. As Richard Glover, quoted in All the Parables of the Bible, puts it, “The hand of ambitious rudeness should be cut off; the eye of ambitious coveting should be plucked out; the foot of ambitious willfulness should be cut off.”
Matthew Henry provides further context: “Considering the cunning and malice of Satan, and the weakness and depravity of men’s hearts, it is not possible but that there should be offences. God permits them for wise and holy ends, that those who are sincere, and those who are not, may be made known. Being told before, that there will be seducers, tempters, persecutors, and bad examples, let us stand on our guard. We must, as far as lawfully we may, part with what we cannot keep without being entangled by it in sin.”
Jesus calls believers “children of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:38 KJV) while the New Testament writers stress that we are adopted sons and daughters of God. As such, we are of most value to the kingdom when we trust God to provide our needs and serve Him in simple, childlike faith. Pride has no place in the kingdom of heaven; Christ will abide no competitors to His sovereign Lordship.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” “Yes,” they told Him.
52 “Therefore,” He said to them, “every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who brings out of his storeroom what is new and what is old.”
53 When Jesus had finished these parables, He left there.
Jesus is still in Peter’s house, having earlier dismissed the crowds at the shore. He explains to His disciples the parable of the wheat and tares; offers two parables that illustrate the priceless value of the kingdom of heaven; launches into the parable of the dragnet, also known as the parable of the good and bad fish; and finally gives the parable of the storeroom – the last of eight parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. Keep in mind how Jesus ties these parables together to deepen His disciples’ understanding of the “mystery” of the kingdom of heaven:
- The parable of the sower illustrates that the kingdom can be resisted. The Messiah the Jewish leaders are looking for – political and military – will indeed come one day in power and great glory, but first He must come humbly as the Lamb of God. Many will resist, reject or oppose Him.
- The parable of the wheat and tares teaches that throughout this present, evil age, believers and unbelievers will live side-by-side, to be separated and judged one day.
- The parables of the mustard seed and leaven show that the kingdom already has come – but quietly, almost imperceptibly.
- The parables of the hidden treasure and priceless pearl demonstrate that the kingdom is of immeasurable value.
- The parable of the dragnet teaches the blunt truth that those outside the kingdom will be separated eternally from God in hell.
- Now, the parable of the storeroom makes it clear that those who understand the kingdom are to share its good news liberally.
The central theme of this parable is that the gospel of the kingdom is to be shared liberally. Jesus teaches His disciples the “mystery” of the kingdom – a more complete understanding of the Old Testament prophecies about the kingdom of heaven and their fulfillment in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – and in turn they are to take these “old” and “new” treasures and teach them to others.
The Life Application Bible comments:
Anyone who understands God’s real purpose in the law as revealed in the Old Testament has a real treasure. The Old Testament points the way to Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus always upheld its authority and relevance. But there is a double benefit to those who understand Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven. This was a new treasure that Jesus was revealing. Both the old and new teaching give practical guidelines for faith and for living in the world. The religious leaders, however, were trapped in the old and blind to the new. They were looking for a future kingdom preceded by judgment. Jesus, however, taught that the kingdom was now and the judgment was future. The religious leaders were looking for a physical and temporal kingdom (via military rebellion and physical rule), but they were blind to the spiritual significance of the kingdom that Christ brought.
Adam Clarke sheds even more light on this theme in his Commentary: “No man can properly understand the Old Testament but through the medium of the New, nor can the New be so forcibly or successfully applied to the conscience of a sinner as through the medium of the Old. The law is still a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ – by it is the knowledge of sin, and, without it, there can be no conviction – where it ends, the Gospel begins, as by the Gospel alone is salvation from sin.”
The landowner is the central character in this parable. Experienced and wise, he has stored up an abundance from previous harvests to complement the fresh meat, fruits and vegetables his land now produces, and he makes these available to all those entrusted to his care. Even more, the other things he owns are secure and dedicated for sharing with those who come under his roof. Jesus says “every student of Scripture instructed in the kingdom of heaven” is like this landowner, taking the riches of the Old Testament and adding to them Christ’s teaching on the “mystery” of the kingdom, thus “correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Adam Clark comments:
A small degree of knowledge is not sufficient for a preacher of the Gospel. The sacred writings should be his treasure, and he should properly understand them. His knowledge does not consist in being furnished with a great variety of human learning … (but) in being well instructed in the things concerning the kingdom of heaven, and the art of conducting men thither. Again, it is not enough for a man to have these advantages in possession: he must bring them forth, and distribute them abroad. A good pastor will not, like a miser, keep these things to himself to please his fancy; nor, like a merchant, traffic with them, to enrich himself; but, like a bountiful father or householder, distribute them with a liberal though judicious hand, for the comfort and support of the whole heavenly family.
Jesus commends His disciples as scribes (KJV) or students of scripture (HCSB) instructed in the kingdom of heaven. They are learning so that they might teach. Ezra, who prepared his heart to teach in Israel, is called a “scribe skilled in the law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6, 10), and Jesus’ followers are to be like Ezra in knowledge and passion regarding the “old” and “new” treasures.
At the time of Ezra and probably for some time after, the priests served a dual role as scholars, but over the course of time this changed. As the Law grew in importance, its study and interpretation became a lifework by itself. So a new class of scholars arose, the scribes, who were not priests but who devoted themselves to the comprehensive study of the first five books of the Bible. During the Hellenistic period, the priests, especially the wealthier ones, were strongly influenced by Hellenism and turned their attention to pagan culture. This aroused opposition by the scribes so that by the time of Christ, the scribes formed a distinct profession and held undisputed authority over the thoughts of the people. In the New Testament the scribes are called “students of Scripture,” “experts in the law” and “teachers of the law” (see Matt. 13:52, 22:35; Luke 5:17, 7:30, 10:25, 11:45, 14:3; Acts 5:34).
The “storeroom” also is known as the “treasury” or “place of deposit.” It is a place not only for money, but for anything necessary for the comfort of the family. The Hebrew word ostar means depository, cellar, garner, store or treasure-house, so it protects and preserves anything of value (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). For the disciple of Jesus, the storeroom is the human heart – more specifically, the mind set on “what is above” (Col. 3:2) and the spirit yielded to Christ. Like the psalmist, believers are to treasure God’s Word in their hearts so they will not sin (Psalm 119:11). But even more, they are to understand the deeper truths of Scripture so they may “contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
Matthew Henry writes: “The instruction of a gospel minister must be in the kingdom of heaven, that is it about which his business lies. A man may be a great philosopher and politician, and yet if not instructed to the kingdom of heaven, he will make but a bad minister.”
The treasures “new” and “old” are, of course, are the understanding of the mystery of the kingdom of heaven in the context of the Old Testament. Jesus asked His disciples if they “understood all these things,” to which they replied, “Yes” (Matt. 13:51). It is then that Jesus called them students of Scripture (scribes), likened them to landowners and challenged them to reach deeply into their storeroom of understanding and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. “Christ himself received that he might give; so must we, and we shall have more. In bringing forth, things new and old do best together; old truths, but new methods and expressions, especially new affections” (Matthew Henry Unabridged).
“Christ for three years gave instructions to the apostles; and they who preach should be able to understand the gospel; to defend it; and to communicate its truth to others. Human learning alone is indeed of no value to a minister; but all learning that will enable him better to understand the Bible, and to communicate its truths, is valuable, and should, if possible, be gained. A minister should be like the father of a family: distributing to the church as it needs; and out of his treasures bringing forth truth to confirm the feeble, enlighten the ignorant, and guide those in danger of straying away” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).