This parable has traditionally been known as the Parable of the Pounds. A mina at that time was wages for three months for the average laborer. This parable is similar to the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30. Jesus spoke these parables on two different occasions, as two distinctly different parables. Arndt rightly notes that perhaps we ought to call this parable an allegory because it contains numerous points of comparison.
This verse compels us to say that this parable, or allegory, was spoken on the occasion when Jesus was in the house of Zacchaeus. "They" are the disciples and, very likely, a number of pilgrims who were attending Jesus on His final journey to Jerusalem. The tense of the verb "were listening' inclines us to believe that the events of the preceding paragraph were still lingering in the minds of the disciples.
Why did Jesus speak this parable? Because He was near Jerusalem and therefore the disciples were of the opinion that the Kingdom of God was about to appear. Plainly these disciples were anticipating a kingdom which would come with observation, see Luke 17:20, a physical, earthly kingdom of the sort anticipated by the millennialists.
Jesus' parable makes two points:
a) The Kingdom is of a sort different from what they were anticipating;
b) The second coming of Christ was not to be immediate.
The verse begins with a non-translated Greek word which means "therefore." It means "in view of their faulty understanding of the Kingdom.'
It is quite obvious that Jesus means Himself by the word "nobleman." To go into a distant land implies His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Our versions are about equally divided in translating either "to become a king" or "to receive for Himself a Kingdom." In either case, Jesus is speaking of His session at God's right hand, His human nature now enjoying the full use of all the attributes of His divine nature.
"Then to return" means "to return in glory."
Lenski: At once the parable corrects the false ideas of the disciples.
Arndt: It is of the utmost importance for the understanding of the parable that the meaning of this verse is apprehended.
Both Arndt and Marshall stress the fact that Jesus is using a timely illustration. When Herod the Great died, Archelaus went to Rome to be made king of Judea and Samaria, according to Herod's will. The Jews strongly objected but the Emperor did what Herod had willed. It is all but absolutely certain that Jesus is referring to this incident.
By the way, this verse alone, besides many other items, distinguishes this parable from the one in Matthew.
The ten slaves denote the disciples immediately but also apply to all Christians. Some consider the number ten significant here, denoting completeness. Perhaps that is right but need not be pressed. He gave each one a mina, which we have described above. Note that he gave each one the same amount. We agree with Lenski here that the equal gift of a mina to each slave here represents the Word and Sacraments.
He told them: "Do business while I'm gone, or until I come." Jesus is speaking about the era between the Ascension and the Parousia. It is a time of hard work, not a millennial, glorious reign. What Jesus says here involves the theology of the cross, not the theology of glory.
Lenski: Christ left all his spiritual wealth in the hands of his disciples . . . . It is an equal sum for each slave . . . It is the Word with its power that brings the increase.
Marshall: The small sum involved shows that a test of faithfulness if being given.
Exactly. What will count on Judgment Day is whether or not we have been faithful to Him with His Word.
Verse 13 occurred before the nobleman went on his journey. This verse occurred immediately after he left. "His subjects" is variously translated "his citizens, countrymen, subjects, compatriots, men of his own country." it applies first to the Jews and then also the Gentiles who rejected Him. They are distinct from the disciples. They said: "We don't want this fellow to begin reigning over us." The tone is derogatory.
Kretzmann: They declared a state of open revolt against Him.
This despite His nobility.
Three things happened: "after He had received His Kingship, when He returned, He commanded, etc." He had told them, in verse 13, to use His money until He returned. The revolt of His fellow-citizens did not deter Him in the least from His objective, to test the faithfulness of His servants. The rejection of Jesus by many people in no way hinders His second coming for judgment. "He commanded these slaves to be summoned." First "to whom He had given the money." And then "in order that He might determine what they had gained."
In verses 16, 18, and 20 we have individual slaves approaching. All must come. No one will be excused on that great day. Our versions are about equally divided in translating "Sir, Lord, and Master." Both faithful and unfaithful must acknowledge Him as their superior.
The first two do so joyfully. He says "YOUR mina has gained ten mina more." He gives all credit to what the Lord had given him. His gain is 1000%. What a gain! And what humility! This man must have been very faithful.
"Well done," he addresses him as "beneficial slave." He is not good in his own right. He is good in the sense of faithful. This slave had been very faithful. He goes on to say: "Because you have proved to be faithful in a very little, be having authority over ten cities." A tremendous contrast.
Marshall: This is disproportionate reward, which brings out the principle, 'faithful in little, great reward.'
Lenski: The King of kings will elevate all his disciples to kingship to reign with him, 2 Timothy 2:12. This is what the crown means, of which the Scriptures speak so often, as in 2 Timothy 4:8 and in Revelation 2:10 and 3:11.
Kretzmann: The lord rewarded him far beyond his hopes and deserts . . . It was a gracious reward of faithfulness.
The ten cities are figurative language for the wondrous glory of everlasting life. No human language is able to express the realities.
This man, as the first one, gives the Master's mina all the credit. This man differs from the first one in that his mina gained only give. Here this parable is similar to the parable of the talents. There are differences among the faithful of the Lord. Some accomplish more than others. Though they received one mina each, the Word and Sacraments, the results were not the same. The Master does not chide the second man for less results.
Does this verse teach us that there will be degrees of glory in heaven? Some do not think so. Lenski does not say much about it. Kretzmann does not mention it. Arndt says: "There will be degrees of glory." But then says.
Does this being placed over ten cities and over five cities point to actual positions of distinction, honor, and authority in the eternal kingdom, or is it merely elaboration required by the parable? Perhaps the latter.
We shall not press the matter in either direction. The glories of everlasting life are too much for human tongue to describe. The gracious reward of being placed over five cities is enough to tell us that we have something very wonderful to look forward to.
Verses 20-21 describe this third man who is representative of the unfaithful, the hypocrites in the visible Christian Church. "Another" means "the one who was different." We assume that the unmentioned seven were like the first two.
Like the others he says "Sir." But in an altogether different spirit. He kept the mina hidden in a handkerchief. In other words, he did not use it at all.
Arndt: He is a type of the nominal disciple of Christ who is satisfied with being called a follower of Jesus and who does not love his Savior and in gratitude try to serve Him with his gifts.
This verse betrays the attitude of this man toward himself and his master. He lacks courage and conviction in himself and for his master has no love or respect. In fact, he considers his master dishonest. He feared his master, not with a godly fear but with a wicked fear. Why? The master was austere. In what sense? He supposedly took what was not rightfully his.
Kretzmann: With whining voice he attempted to excuse his failure. His excuse contained an accusation against the master. He had been afraid because he was such an exacting employer. Besides, he took things which he had not laid down, and harvested where he had not sowed. The servant had, from the start, despaired of pleasing the master, since he was afraid of an exorbitant demand for profit. This was a feeble and unjust accusation, merely calculated to cover over the servant's laziness.
Marshall: The master proposes to judge the servant by what he himself has just said.
Arndt: The excuse of the man gets to be the basis of his condemnation.
Kretzmann: The useless servant was condemned by his own words.
Not only was he lazy. He also lied and falsely accused the master. "You knew" means "you knew without anyone telling you."
Lenski: It by no means follows that the slave was justified in laying away the capital entrusted to him.
Arndt: If his own sense of duty had not made him bestir himself in the king's service, then at least the fear of the king's sternness should have done it. He has shown himself indifferent. Evidently he was lying.
Marshall: The master is willing to adopt the character given him by the slave. Even on that basis the slave stand self-condemned; he is even more to be condemned if his estimate of the master is false.
The bystanders are servants of the king. In application very likely the angels of the Lord are meant. The unfaithful slave loses everything he has and the faithful slave is rewarded even more. The bystanders say: "Lord, he already has ten."
Marshall: The attitude is one of legalism, working in terms of strict reward and disliking the idea of a bonus.
Lenski: It still surprises us to hear that this mina is bestowed on the slave who already has a gain of ten minas. . . . Our minds are not yet fully brought into harmony with Christ. . . . To be deprived of the Word, the fountain of life and salvation, is to sink into darkness and death forever.
That is a frightening thought. May this never happen to us!
The words "I tell you" always denote the voice of authority in the New Testament. But who is meant here? is it Christ or the Master in the parable? Very likely it is the Master because it is clear that verse 27 is spoken by the Master, the king of the parable or allegory. The thought of this verse is found frequently in the teaching of Jesus. Arndt feels that the words of verse 26 are the word of Jesus. In either case, finally the thought is that of Jesus.
Note that the one mina is added not to the original mina which was given to the man but to the ten which he had gained. The Lord in His mercy rewards gain with further gain but punishes idleness with total loss. This is a principle of His teaching.
"Personal enemies" are those "who refused to have as their king" the master of the parable. The attendants are likely meant to picture the angels. The Lord's judgment is severe but just. Jesus was speaking about His enemies then, the Jews, but surely includes all unbelievers of all ages who refuse to use the gift which He gave them, the Word and Sacraments.
The destruction of Jerusalem was the beginning of this judgment. It continues throughout New Testament history in various ways. And it will be brought to a climax on Judgment Day.