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:
Matt. 25:14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
Matt. 25:15 “To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
Matt. 25:16 “Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.
Matt. 25:17 “In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.
Matt. 25:18 “But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Matt. 25:19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
Matt. 25:20 “The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’
Matt. 25:21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Matt. 25:22 “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’
Matt. 25:23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Matt. 25:24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.
Matt. 25:25 ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
Matt. 25:26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.
Matt. 25:27 ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
Matt. 25:28 ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
Matt. 25:29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
Matt. 25:30 “Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
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:
Col. 3:23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,
Col. 3:24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
Col. 1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
Eph. 1:11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
Eph. 1:14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
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:
Matt. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
Matt. 6:20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
Matt. 6:21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
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:
Matt. 20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
Matt. 20:2 “When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Matt. 20:3 “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place;
Matt. 20:4 and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went.
Matt. 20:5 “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.
Matt. 20:6 “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’
Matt. 20:7 “They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
Matt. 20:8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’
Matt. 20:9 “When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.
Matt. 20:10 “When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.
Matt. 20:11 “When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner,
Matt. 20:12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’
Matt. 20:13 “But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?
Matt. 20:14 ‘Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.
Matt. 20:15 ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’
Matt. 20:16 “So the last shall be first, and the first last.”
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:
Luke 16:10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.
Luke 16:11 “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?
Luke 16:12 “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
Moving to Luke 19, Jesus teaches a similar parable yet with significant differences:
Luke 19:11 While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.
Luke 19:12 So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return.
Luke 19:13 “And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’
Luke 19:14 “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
Luke 19:15 “When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done.
Luke 19:16 “The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’
Luke 19:17 “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’
Luke 19:18 “The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’
Luke 19:19 “And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’
Luke 19:20 “Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief;
Luke 19:21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’
Luke 19:22 “He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow?
Luke 19:23 ‘Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’
Luke 19:24 “Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’
Luke 19:25 “And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’
Luke 19:26 “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
Luke 19:27 “But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”
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:
Rev. 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
1Cor. 6:2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?
Luke 22:28 “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials;
Luke 22:29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you
Luke 22:30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
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:
Rom. 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Our witness for Christ is accomplished through our good works as Jesus said:
Matt. 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
Matt. 5:15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Matt. 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
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:
Matt. 5:48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
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:
Luke 12:48 ...From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
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:
2Tim. 2:11 It is a trustworthy statement:
For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;
2Tim. 2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
2Tim. 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
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?