Studies On Christ’s Olivet Discourse -- Part 11

Studies On Christ’s Olivet Discourse
(Part 11)

Frederick A. Tatford

Dr. Frederick A. Tatford of East Sussex, England, is President of the Prophetic Witness Movement International. This is his eleventh study in his extended series on Christ’s Olivet Discourse.

The Talents And The Pounds

Continuing the subject of conduct and attitude during His absence from this world, our Lord related another parable, stressing the need for fidelity during that period (Matt. 25:14-30). Luke records a somewhat similar parable (Luke 19:11-17), but places it before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the previous Sunday and states that it was uttered because the Lord was near Jordan and the crowds thought the kingdom was about to be introduced. It is possible that the Master did, in fact, utter one parable on the Sunday and the other the following Tuesday, but they are so often confused with one another that both ought possibly to be considered in the context of the Olivet Discourse — of which one at least was certainly a part.

The Talents

The record in Matthew states that a man was going on a journey. Before setting out, he summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them during his absence. He distributed considerable sums of money to them with which to trade until his return: the amount was different in each case and was determined by the master’s assessment of the individual’s ability. Only three examples were quoted by the evangelist. To one servant the master gave five talents (the equivalent of a year’s wages for 75 labourers), to another he gave two talents (a year’s wages for 30 men), and to another only one talent (still a large amount, however, and equal to a year’s wages for 15 men). The servants were evidently given instructions regarding the manner in which the money was to be used.

The first immediately went and traded with the five talents entrusted to him, and by his zeal and acumen he gained another five talents. The second, using his two talents, acquired another two. Both had shown zealousness on behalf of their master. Unlike them, the third servant evaded all risk and responsibility and saved himself from any effort; he took his one talent and buried it in the ground.

After a long time the master returned home and then required an account of the servants. The first reported that, by his industry, he had produced another five talents. The second similarly reported that, with the use of his two talents, he had obtained two more. Both received precisely the same commendation from their master. “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Although the amounts entrusted to them were different, each within the limits of his capacity had demonstrated his zeal and determination to serve his master well and each had produced a hundred percent return on the money entrusted to him.

The Lord was obviously indicating that, in the day of final reckoning, He would take account of the varying capacity of His servants and of the abilities or talents divinely bestowed upon them. From the one to whom much had been entrusted, much would be expected. From the one to whom less had been given, correspondingly less would be expected. The parable is often applied to the Christian and the basis of Christ’s evaluation of his life and service, but the primary reference, of course, was to the loyal servant of God in a future day, whose life will be directed by the desire to be accepted of the Messiah at His coming.

When the third servant was asked for his account of his stewardship, he frankly admitted that he had buried the talent entrusted to him, but was now able to restore it intact. Then he committed the crowning act of folly by defending himself by an impertinent attack upon the character of his master. He claimed that he knew him to be a hard man and inferentially unreasonable, reaping where he had not sown and gathering where he had not even winnowed. It was a virtual accusation of dishonesty and the master’s reaction was a natural one. “You wicked and slothful servant,” he said. If the servant believed his estimate of his master to be correct he ought to have been all the more concerned to produce something. The man could have invested the money with the bankers and it could then have been returned to its owner with a least the accrued interest instead of being entirely unproductive.

The talent was, therefore, taken from him and given to the servant who had ten talents, and Christ enunciated the principle that, to everyone who has (presumably because of his industry), will more be given and he will have abundance, but that, from the one who, because of his slothfulness, has not, will be taken even what he has. Even today the one who neglects to use the abilities divinely entrusted to him is equally culpable of disloyalty. But those of a future day will have to give account to their Messiah for their failure.

According to the parable, the worthless servant was cast out into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gashing of teeth. He clearly did not believe his master was coming back. When the Son of Man returns, He will set up His earthly tribunal to judge the living peoples as He intimated immediately afterwards, but first of all He will judge the nation of Israel (Ezek. 20:37, 38; 34:17, 20), and the unfaithful will be rejected as unsuitable for His kingdom.

The Pounds

The Lucan record uses the example of a nobleman who journeyed into a far country to receive a kingdom, purposing then to return. Before his departure he summoned ten of his servants and delivered to each of them the sum of one pound (the equivalent of three months’ wages for a labourer) and instructed them to trade with it until his return.

When he returned, having received the kingdom, he once more called his servants together to render an account of the results of their trading. The first reported that his pound had produced another ten. The delighted master commended him for his faithfulness in a very little and rewarded him with authority over ten cities (presumably in the kingdom over which he had just become ruler). The second servant reported that his pound had produced another five and for his industry was rewarded with authority over five cities. The reward was related to the product in each case and the one who produced a greater return on his master’s investment received a proportionately greater reward. Thus will it be when the Messiah establishes His kingdom on earth. The faithful Jew will receive reward and authority corresponding with the value of his life and work for God.

One servant, however, returned his pound with the statement that he had kept it wrapped up in a napkin (or sweat cloth). His defence, like that of his counterpart in Matthew 25, was that he knew his master was a severe man, taking up what he did not lay down and reaping what he did not sow. He was condemned as a wicked servant, convicted out of his own mouth. He had concluded that his master would be unjust whatever he did, yet he could have deposited the money with the bankers, where it would at least have attracted interest which his master could have received on his return. His pound was taken from him and handed to the servant with ten pounds, and the same comment was made by our Lord as in Matthew 25:29. Christ was outlining once more the principles of judgment at the coming of the Son of Man.

The parable went farther, however. During the master’s absence to secure his kingdom, the citizens, who hated him, sent an embassy after him, declaring that they did not want him to reign over them. Their efforts were fruitless but, at his return, he had them brought before him and put to death. Many expositors see in the story a reflection of Israel’s attitude to their Messiah. They had rejected Him as their King and delivered Him up to the Gentiles to crucify. One .day He will return to take up His rule as King but, even at the post-ascension appeals to repentance (Acts 2 and 3), when “the times of refreshing” might have come and the kingdom might even yet have been theirs, the nation still rejected the offer. They did not want “this man to reign over us.”

The parable was almost undoubtedly based upon the history of Herod’s son, Archelaus. It was his father’s intention that he should rule over part of his father’s kingdom, but it was necessary for this to be ratified by Rome. Archelaus accordingly left for Rome to secure the approval of the emperor. A deputation of Jews followed him to dispute his claim, but he eventually returned with the imperial appointment as ruler over half his father’s kingdom. And on his return, he dealt suitably with those who had sought to rob him of his inheritance. The disciples to whom our Lord spoke would have been fully aware of the historical facts and would have realized the significance of His parable.