The parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and the parable of the Minas in Luke 19 seem so similar, and yet many details don't line up. Are they teaching about the same thing or different things? Can you explain these parables?
(This article is part of our series on Eternal Rewards.)
Both the parable of the Talents and the parable of the Minas teach that believers (i.e., the slaves) are called to serve Christ (i.e., the master) in His absence, and upon His return, Jesus will reward us. As you observed, the parables are not identical, because they are teaching two different aspects of the Kingdom reward system.
First, in Matthew 25 we read:
In the parable, a master gives his slaves “talents" to steward during His absence. A talent in Jesus’ day was a measure of weight of about 130 lb or nearly 60 kg. A talent of silver was equal to 9 years salary for a laborer, so even a single talent represented considerable personal resources. In fact, our modern meaning of the word “talent” finds its origins in this parable.
The three slaves received differing amounts of wealth based on their ability. Evidently, the master recognized the abilities and limitations of each servant, so he assigned responsibility to each accordingly. Regardless of the degree of responsibility, each slave was expected to devote his full time and attention to managing the talent(s) he was given. Even the slave who received only one talent still had a significant responsibility in light of the high value of a talent. Therefore, all slaves must serve faithfully in the master's absence.
At the end of the parable, the master returns and evaluates each slave’s service seeking to know if the slave had been faithful in discharging his duty. The first slave doubled his five talents as did the slave given two talents, so both slaves received the same commendation from the master.
Even though the master assigned a different degree of responsibility to each slave, he did so understanding each slave’s ability, therefore when both slaves performed faithfully, the master awarded each slave equally. The master’s commendation to each slave in v.21 and v.23 was identical and emphasized each slave's faithful service rather than the magnitude of his achievement. Only the third slave received a rebuke for failing to provide faithful service to his master.
Based on these details, we see Jesus is describing a reward system for believers. Christ (i.e., our master) invites every believer (i.e., His slaves) to serve Him during His absence. A talent in the parable symbolizes a believer’s duty to serve the Lord faithfully in some important and challenging way, and the way we are called to serve the Lord will vary in keeping with our abilities.
Jesus calls some believers to assume greater burdens than others. Some believers must bear greater burdens in serving Christ’s (i.e., five talents), while other believers are asked to make fewer sacrifices in serving the Lord (i.e., two talents). Nevertheless, all believers are expected to demonstrate faithfulness so as to receive an equal inheritance.
A faithful servant's reward is a share of Christ's inheritance in the Kingdom. The Bible teaches explicitly that believers will receive a portion of Christ's inheritance on the Earth to enjoy during the 1,000-year Kingdom:
The parable is focused on Christ's inheritance as seen in v.14 by the way the parable opens speaking about the master’s “possessions." In fact, notice how each faithful slave was permitted to keep the additional talents he earned during the master's absence. In a sense, we can say the slaves stored up wealth for themselves by their faithful service to the master. Scripture commands the believer to do this very thing:
We store up treasure by faithfulness to our assigned duties in service to Christ, not the magnitude of our accomplishments. Christ may assign us lesser opportunities to serve Him, but our assignment does not limit our potential inheritance. For example, a pastor serving faithfully in a small church and a Christian mother serving faithfully in her home may be rewarded equally with the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther, assuming equal faithfulness.
In a related parable, Jesus addresses the criteria for assigning material reward in the Kingdom:
This parable in Matthew 20 confirms that faithful service earns a material reward in the Kingdom, and all believers who serve the Lord faithfully will receive an equal inheritance regardless of when we were “hired.” Even those assigned the least role to serve Christ (i.e., the one receiving only a single talent) are still expected to rise to the challenge and demonstrate faithfulness, and if they do they will receive an equal reward.
Finally, the third servant who produced no return received no reward at all. In the parable, Jesus says the slave was “afraid” of the master and “went away” after the master departed, which indicates the slave did not love the master nor did he wish to remain in the house serving him. When the master returns, he calls this slave “wicked” and “lazy.” The slave is sent to "outer darkness." In other words, the slave's faithlessness demonstrated he was truly no servant at all, which resulted in the master putting him out of the home.
The Bible teaches that without faith it is impossible to please God, and so this final slave was included in the parable to reinforce the necessity of faith before reward. The slave’s unwillingness to serve his master was proof that he was faithless. He was never truly a disciple, so he was sent to outer darkness, which pictures the disposition of unbelievers (i.e., hell).
In summary, Matthew’s parable teaches that faithfulness in service to Christ will determine our inheritance in the Kingdom. Believers may be assigned different opportunities to serve Christ, but faithful service will be rewarded equally. As Jesus said elsewhere:
Moving to Luke 19, Jesus teaches a similar parable yet with significant differences:
Here we find a story that's familiar in the broad outline, yet numerous details differ from the parable in Matthew. Let's focus on the differences in Luke's parable.
First, a master departs again with the intent to return. He leaves to receive a new kingdom. As the master goes, he leaves ten slaves behind commanding them to "do business" until he returns. The Greek word for "do business" (pragmateuomai) means to keep occupied, to busy oneself. So the slaves are expected simply to pursue everyday life, not some special project or task.
Secondly, the unit of weight in this parable has changed from a talent to a mina. In Jesus’ day one mina was equal to 1/60th of a talent, so a mina represented considerably less value than a talent. Once again, the relatively modest payment to each slave is consistent with the master's charge to "do business."
Thirdly, every slave received the same number of minas. No slave was given an advantage in this assignment since all had the equal task of doing business.
Fourth, when the master returned he assigned rewards proportional to each slave's performance. Those who accomplished more with their minas received a proportionally greater reward.
Finally and most significantly, the form of the reward was not more wealth but authority over cities. Since the master had received a new kingdom, he needed men to assist him in ruling this new territory, so he assigned responsibility in the new kingdom according to each slave's performance in everyday matters. The slaves who went about everyday business more effectively were deemed worthy of greater responsibility in managing the new kingdom.
These differences in Luke's parable lead us to conclude that Jesus was teaching on a second kind of Kingdom reward system. While Matthew’s parable taught how believers receive material wealth in the Kingdom, Luke’s parable teaches how the Lord will assign believers responsibility to rule in the Kingdom.
Scripture teaches that in addition to receiving an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom, believers may also receive a place of ruling in Christ’s Kingdom government:
According to Luke 19, the Lord will use different criteria for assigning responsibility than for assigning wealth. What are the criteria for receiving responsibility in the Kingdom? Our first clue is the prominent repetition of the number ten in this parable. For example, the master initially calls ten slaves (though only three are judged), and each slave received ten minas.
The number ten in scripture signifies testimony or witness, indicating this parable is focused on a believer's testimony not his degree of service. Further reinforcing this conclusion, the slaves were told to do business, which means pursue everyday activities. A believer's good testimony is not a special work or short-term task. Rather, we are called to live our entire life as a daily testimony to our faith, as Paul says:
Our witness for Christ is accomplished through our good works as Jesus said:
The "good works" Jesus mentions in Matthew 5:16 are the works of sanctification, of shining our light before men, and when Paul says a believer must present his body as a living sacrifice to the Lord, he is speaking of crucifying the passions of our flesh and walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:24). Those who pursue sanctification in this way are producing good works and a good testimony. Those who live in their flesh are grieving the Holy Spirit and failing to produce a good testimony.
Just as every slave began with an equal number of minas, so every believer has an equal opportunity to yield a good testimony. The Lord does not “handicap” one believer over another in the call to be sanctified. Though our life's circumstances, spiritual gifts and mission may vary. Nevertheless every believer receives the same Spirit, has access to the same word of God and therefore must answer the same call to godliness. As Jesus said:
The test is whether we will obey this command as we do business on earth? The believer who yields a good testimony in this life is demonstrating to Christ he is worthy to be entrusted with greater responsibility in the Kingdom. Therefore, a believer's testimony of godliness will determine his or her ruling position in the Kingdom.
This judgment is proportional: a believer with a better testimony will be awarded a greater opportunity to serve in the Kingdom, while a believer with a poorer testimony will receive a lesser degree of authority in the Kingdom. Those believers who obey the Spirit in seeking sanctification by the washing of the water with the word (see Eph 5:26-27) will receive a reward of authority proportional to their obedience. Conversely, those who squander their opportunities to seek a good testimony will receive less opportunity to serve Christ in the Kingdom.
The Lord awards authority proportional to the quality of a believer's testimony, because spiritual maturity is an essential factor in competent spiritual leadership, therefore who better to receive greater authority in the Kingdom than the one who has achieved greater spiritual maturity during the present world? As Jesus said:
In the case of the slave who produced no results with his minas, the master’s judgment is a denial of reward just as it was in Matthew, but unlike in Matthew 25, this slave is not consigned to outer darkness. This distinction reflects how every believer has eternal security regardless of the degree of our sanctification. Faith is required for salvation but a good testimony is not. A believer with a poor testimony who fails to pursue sanctification will still saved by their faith and cannot be denied the Kingdom, as Paul says:
The Lord cannot deny Himself (i.e., His promises to the believer), so the Lord remains faithful. Nevertheless, a believer who denies Christ a testimony of sanctification will be denied an opportunity to reign with Christ in the kingdom, as Paul says in 2Tim 2:12.
It’s worth noting that Luke’s parable still includes the example of an unbeliever though the unbeliever in Luke's parable is called an "enemy," not a slave. This distinction makes sense, since Luke's parable isn’t focused on faithfulness but rather a testimony, and discussions of testimonies are only relevant for believers.
To summarize the differences between the two parables, faithful service leads to equal Inheritance (the talents), while better testimony leads to greater authority (the minas). Our inheritance in the Kingdom will be determined by what we do for Christ, while our authority in the Kingdom will be determined by who we become in Christ.
To get up to speed on this important area of Biblical truth, please read the following series of articles:
7. What will our rewards in the Kingdom be?