You may have heard of the school of eschatology (study of the end times) that describes itself as “pan-millennialism.” Not pre-, post-, or a-, but pan-. It’s the belief that “it will all pan out in the end.” Pan-millennialism believes that Jesus will return: it just doesn’t concern itself too much with the details. Like the man who said. “I’m on the reception committee, not the planning committee.”
Jesus’ story about the man who went away to be made king is a story about what it means to wait for his return: what it means to live now while waiting for then.
For several chapters in Luke, Jesus has been heading resolutely towards Jerusalem.
In chapter 9, at the mountain of transfiguration, the talk was about his death (Luke calls it his exodus) that was to happen in Jerusalem. At the end of that chapter we read that Jesus made up his mind to go to Jerusalem. He knew what was going to happen to him there and he made up his mind that that is where he was going to go.
The disciples were slow to understand this. In chapter 18, Jesus told them that he was going to Jerusalem where he would be killed and would rise again. The prophets had talked about what would happen, but the disciples had no idea what he meant.
Nor, it seems, did the crowds that followed Jesus have much of a clue about what was going to take place in Jerusalem. In fact it seems that for them, the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem, the greater was the sense of anticipation that the Kingdom of God was going to arrive. And what a great moment that would be. Hadn’t Jesus just told that corrupt little tax collector, Zacchaeus, that salvation had come to his house? Could it be that salvation was about to come to the whole of the city? Is that why they were headed to Jerusalem?
The answer was no. Or at least, not yet. Certainly not in the way the people were expecting.
To calm their expectations, Jesus told this story. The Kingdom will come. Jesus will be king when he returns. But it is not just yet. His followers will have to learn hot to live now while waiting for then.
One of the interesting things about this parable is the way Jesus seems to have used an incident from recent local history in order to make his own point. When Herod the Great died (he was the one who panicked when the wise men came looking for a king when Jesus was born) he was succeeded by his son, Archelaus. Before Archelaus assumed the role of ruler, he went to Rome to seek the authorisation of Caesar. In Rome, he was opposed by his brother, Antipas, and by a number of the Jews who were afraid of him. Caesar granted him the authority to rule (technically his title was ethnarch, rather than king). Once he was in place, he took revenge on those who had opposed him. Eventually Caesar went back on his decision and Archelaus was removed.
There are certainly some parallels between these events and the story that Jesus told to teach his followers how to wait for his return.
In the story there are three kinds of people who respond to the king in three different ways.
- There were faithful servants who made good use of what their master entrusted to them, investing it well and advancing their master’s interests.
- There was an unfaithful servant with a bad attitude to his master. He took what had been entrusted and hid it in a handkerchief.
- There were citizens who refused to accept the rule of the king and who had to face his judgment.