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Jesus' Parable is Based on Real History

This past Sunday (April 30), we looked at Jesus’ parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27). I made a comment about how this parable is a little different than the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), which is much more familiar to us. In fact, I do not remember ever hearing a sermon preached on the parable of the ten minas while I was growing up in the church. Many people look at these two parables and say that Jesus told one similar parable, and the New Testament writers (Matthew and Luke) changed the details to fit their contexts and audiences. I would disagree with this. Even though these two parables are similar in some of their details, these two parables are just that, two different parables told by Jesus at two different times. But the thing that I find interesting about the parable of the ten minas, is that this parable is based upon a historical event. I love history and enjoy learning about different historical events, whether that is American history or ancient history. I want to share with you the historical event that Jesus uses for the parable of the ten minas.

But before we get to the actual historical event, we need to realize that this makes sense for Jesus to use historical events and everyday experiences to teach people about God and the Kingdom of God. Part of studying the parables of Jesus is to put ourselves into the proverbial shoes of Jesus’ first century audience. Jesus used images that people in first century were familiar with so that He could teach them about God and about the Kingdom of God. By definition, a parable is an everyday picture or story that usually teaches one spiritual truth. When we look at Jesus’ parables, we must realize that not every single detail in the parable means something. Yes, there are a few of Jesus’ parables that do not follow this definition (i.e., Parable of the Sower) but typically Jesus’ parables teach one truth.

When we look at the parable of the ten minas, we see Jesus coming to Jerusalem and He will be welcomed as King (Luke 19:28-44). But the Jews believed that Jesus would enter Jerusalem, overthrow the Romans, and set up His kingdom (making Israel free again). But in Luke 19:11, Jesus tells the crowds a parable to help correct their wrong understandings about the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not entering Jerusalem to save the Israelites from the Romans; Jesus is entering to save them from their sins.

In Luke 19:12 we read, “… A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” When Jesus’ audience heard those opening words of this parable, they all thought of how Herod Antipas and Archelaus became rulers over the nation of Israel around 4 BC. King Herod died in 4 BC. Before he dies, he changes his will for a third time, naming Archelaus as King and Archelaus’ brothers Antipas and Philip as tetrarchs. Archelaus makes it his first priority to travel to Rome after his father’s death to secure the emperor’s confirmation. Antipas also left to go to Rome to try and convince the emperor that he should become King and not his brother Archelaus because according to Herod’s second will, he was supposed to be appointed successor to the throne. In addition to Antipas and Archelaus heading to Rome, there were other family members who also went to Rome to express a strong desire to the emperor to not appoint Archelaus as King. All these people showed up in Rome and Caesar Augustus had to figure out who would be the next king.

Caesar Augustus listened to both sides, but he did not want to make an immediate decision, so he dismissed everyone without issuing a final judgment. After several months of waiting, an embassy from the Jews arrived in Rome with the purpose of going before Augustus and trying to convince him of not appointing Archelaus or Antipas as king. Again, if we go back to Jesus’ parable, this is one of the things that happened to this “man of noble birth” (Luke 19:14). Also, around the same time the Jewish embassy arrived in Rome, King Herod’s third son, Philip, arrived in Rome to support Archelaus’ claims to be the next king.

Finally, after a few days hearing from all sides, Caesar Augustus makes his decision. Archelaus receives the title of ethnarch, not king, and rules over the territories of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. Antipas receives the title of tetrarch and rules over the territories of Galilee and Perea. Philip, the third brother, also receives the title of tetrarch and rules over the districts of Batanea, Trachonitis, Auranitis. King Herod’s territory was divided into three territories with one of his sons ruling each territory.

When we understand this history, we now can understand the parable of the ten minas better. This is what Jesus’ audience already knew. So, when Jesus starts the parable, they immediately would have thought about these historical events. And just as the sons of Herod had to go to Rome to become king, Jesus is going to leave as well. He then will return and will judge. Those who put their faith and trust in him will be judged by their faithfulness. Jesus will call believers to Himself and say, “what have you been doing while I have been away.” Those who have not put their faith and trust in Him will be destroyed just as those who did not want this “noble man” in Jesus’ parable to be king (Luke 19:27). Are we being good servants while our King, Jesus, is away?

To learn more about what it means to be a good servant of Jesus, I would encourage you read Romans 12:1-2, 1 John 2:28-3:10 and Ephesians 4:1-5:20 or click here ( to watch or listen to last week’s message.

You can find the entire historical event about King Herod’s sons for yourself in the works of the Jewish historian named Josephus.

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