Expectations

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he took some time to prepare his disciples for his departure “because they thought that the kingdom of God should appear immediately” (19:11). The Jews expected their “Messiah to appear in power and glory and to set up His earthly kingdom, defeating all their political and military enemies” (note on Luke 19:11). In spite of his repeated warnings, some of Jesus’ followers still didn’t realize he was about to be crucified. Rather than stating the truth plainly, Jesus once again used a parable to explain what was going to happen. He told them, “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:12-13). Jesus’ description of heaven as a “far country” suggested that he would be away for a long period of time. The fact that he would eventually return meant that there would be some type of continuation or follow up to his earthly ministry. In other words, Jesus’ resurrection was not the conclusion of his work on Earth. The ten servants were most likely representative of all who would serve Christ as ministers of the gospel until Jesus’ second coming, but this may have been a direct reference to the Jewish believers that would be given the responsibility of establishing Christianity among the Jews in Jerusalem.

In his parable, Jesus said the nobleman gave each of his ten servants a pound of silver and told them to “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). The Greek term translated occupy, pragmateuomai (prag-mat-yoo´-om-ahee) means “to busy oneself with that is to trade” (G4231), the implication being that the king’s servants were to be involved in business matters, making a living for themselves and earning a profit for their master. Although it may seem unusual for God’s work to be likened to a profitable business, Jesus was clearly telling his disciples that he expected them to be doing something while he was gone. Jesus went on to say, “And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received his kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading” (Luke 19:15). This part of Jesus’ parable could be a reference to the rapture, a moment in time that the Apostle Paul referred to as the sudden coming of the Lord, of which he said, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Sometime following this, there will be an event referred to as the judgment seat of Christ. At that time, Christians will be held accountable for their actions while they were alive on Earth (Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10).

In his parable of the pounds, Jesus gave examples of the type of rewards Christians can expect to receive at the judgment seat of Christ. He said, “Then came the first saying, Lord thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:16-17). The faithful servant’s reward was described as “authority over ten cities.” The ten cities most likely represented a spiritual jurisdiction equivalent to what we might think of today in the United States as a voting district. Even though Jesus will not be an elected official when he reigns on Earth, he will have a political system that he will use to govern the world. The purpose of the servant’s delegated authority might be to enforce spiritual laws that were identified and/or established during Jesus’ ministry e.g. “These things I command you, that ye love one another” (John 15:17). Although Christians will not receive punishment at the judgment seat of Christ, Jesus indicated there would be negative consequences for failing to produce revenue for his kingdom. He said, “And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou are an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow…And he said to them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds” (Luke 19:20-24).

Even though it wasn’t specifically stated, it could be assumed that by taking away of the wicked servant’s pound, the master was removing him from his position. This doesn’t mean that Christians can lose their salvation, but it does suggest that our position in God’s kingdom is dependent upon our obedience. The reason Jesus used money to represent the resources his disciples received from him may have been because he wanted them to realize that their spiritual gifts were valuable and he expected them to be used frequently to do his work. While he was in prison, Paul identified various motivations for preaching the gospel and said, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will” (Philippians 1:15). Paul went on to say, “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:18-21). In other words, Paul expected to be judged not just by Christ, but by Christ’s example, and he didn’t want to be ashamed when he was asked to account for the result of ministry.

Ambition

James and John were one of two sets of brothers that were included in Jesus’ twelve member exclusive team of evangelists. Jesus told these men, “in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). James and John were often singled out and given special privileges such as witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1) and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37). In his list of the twelve apostles, Mark said of these two men, “And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; (and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:). The name Boanerges could also be translated sons of commotion (G993), but in its original form, the word Jesus used stood for violent anger or rage (H7266). It is likely that James and John had a reputation for losing their tempers and may have been raised in a home where violence was used to discipline them.

One of the few incidents of conflict among Jesus’ twelve apostles is recorded in Mark 9:33-34 where it says, “And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.” James and John took this conflict one step farther when they approached Jesus and asked him to give them the seats next to his in his throne room (Mark 10:37). James and John’s ambition appeared to be driven by a desire to be equal with Jesus (Mark 10:38-39). Jesus told them, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup. and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, in not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23). The Greek word translated prepared, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad´-zo) means to prepare or make ready (G2090). Hetoimazo refers to those things which are ordained by God, such as future positions of authority.

Jesus told his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). The word Jesus used that is translated prepare in this verse is also hetoimazo. The Greek word translated place, topos suggests that Jesus is building his kingdom based on our prayers or requests for occupancy in a particular spot that might be available (G5117). In this sense, you could say that Jesus is currently taking reservations and assigning spots to believers inside his Father’s house. James and John’s request may not have been all that unreasonable, but it was determined that their ambition to be seated next to Jesus was not at his discretion. Jesus revealed that the top spots in his kingdom were reserved for God’s elect and said, “whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Greek word translated minister in the phrase “let him be your minister” (Matthew 20:26) is diakonos (dee-ak´-on-os). Diakonos refers to “an attendant that is (generally) a waiter (at a table or in other menial duties)” (G1249). This term is used specifically in reference to a Christian teacher or pastor who is technically supposed to be a deacon or deaconess. Jesus identified himself as a minister and stated the purpose of his service was to “give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In other words, the job Jesus was assigned by his Father was to die for the sins of the world. This was the position God prepared for him and the reason Jesus would be located at the head of the table or in the top spot in God’s eternal kingdom. When Jesus asked James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22), he may have been asking them if they were willing to make the same kind of sacrifice that he was expected to. When they responded, “We are able” (Matthew 20:22) James and John were basically volunteering to become martyrs.

Everlasting life

Jesus told his twelve apostles they would sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel when his eternal kingdom was established (Matthew 19:28) and then he added, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29). The Greek words translated everlasting life, aionios (ahee-o´-nee-os) zoe (dzo-ay´) referred to an endless existence similar to that of God. The implication being that an association with Christ entitles you to share in the inheritance he will receive from his heavenly Father.

Jesus used a parable of a worker in a vineyard to explain the reward that would be given to faithful servants of God. He said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-2). Jesus also talked about a future harvest in the context of non-Jewish believers receiving salvation. He said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36).

Jesus’ reference to the reaper receiving wages (John 4:36) suggested that preaching the gospel was a type of work that would be rewarded in heaven. The persecution of the early church made it very difficult for those that wanted to share their faith with others to do so publicly. All of the twelve apostles were tortured and/or killed because they refused to denounce their belief in Christ. Even the Apostle Paul was killed because of his commitment to preach the gospel. In his parable, Jesus said the labourers that were hired first murmured against the goodman of the house because he rewarded everyone equally. They said “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day” (Matthew 20:12).

Jesus responded to the issue that was brought up about bearing the burden of the work by stating “Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto the last, even as unto thee” (Matthew 20:14). The Greek term translated last, eschatos (es´-khat-os) may refer to the lowest person in rank or the farthest from a place or time (G2078). Believers today are far away in time from the events that took place when Jesus was alive on Earth and therefore much more reliant on faith to accept him as their savior. On the other hand, we could be very close to the events that will take place when Jesus returns and have a much greater sense than ever of our need for salvation from this world. Jesus said, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16). By this, I believe Jesus meant that only the believers far removed from the actual events of his death and resurrection would be able to appreciate his sacrifice and be willing to give up everything in order to inherit everlasting life.

The guest list

Jesus used the illustration of a wedding reception to teach the religious leaders he was dining with a lesson about God’s seating chart in heaven. Jesus noticed how everyone at the dinner party he was attending acted like they were VIPs (Luke 14:7). They all thought they deserved the best seats in the house. Rather than seeking out a place of honor, Jesus told these men they should sit in the seat farthest away from the wedding party and let their host decide whether or not they should be moved to a better location (Luke 14:10). The point Jesus was making was that the host knows best where each person belongs on the seating chart. Jesus said, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

Jesus realized he was a popular person and wasn’t trying to discourage these men from trying to get to know him. The thing Jesus wanted them to understand was that God wasn’t impressed with the positions these religious leaders held or their good reputations in the community. The thing that mattered most to him was their sincere desire to follow Jesus’ example. Speaking directly to the host of the dinner party, Jesus said:

When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus made it clear that recompense or the repayment of an act of kindness isn’t a bad thing for us to strive for, but he wanted us to be aware that God doesn’t reward what he considers to be normal social behavior. Jesus’ reference to the resurrection of the just may have been the one that takes place just before his thousand year reign on Earth (Revelation 20:4-6). The judgment Jesus depicted in Matthew 25:31-46 showed that “rewards in the kingdom of heaven are given to those who serve without thought of reward” and there is no hint of merit here, for God gives out of grace, not debt (note on Matthew 25:34-40). Jesus said of the just:

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was a hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee a hungred and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink: when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? or when saw we thee sick, or in prison and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:34-40)