This article was adapted from the Spring 2017 issue of The Gospel Project for Adults: Jesus the Storyteller. The Gospel Project takes adults, students, and kids on a chronological, Christ-centered journey through the storyline of Scripture. Preview four sessions free at gospelproject.com.
Jesus wanted to teach His followers what encountering His kingdom is like, so He told this story. A slave owed his king ten thousand talents, an amount so hyperbolic that the debt could never actually be paid. This amount would be more than a person could make in an entire lifetime. There is no hint in the story that the king is acting vengefully toward his slave. He is simply seeking to recoup as much of the debt as he can.
For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed ten thousand talents was brought before him. Since he did not have the money to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. At this, the servant fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything.’ Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.” —Matthew 18:23-27
How the king would legally compensate himself is quite foreign to us today. In the culture of Jesus’ day, the king would have a right to sell the person with an outstanding debt (along with all of his family) to pay back some of the debt. Any money earned during their slavery would go back immediately to the king, thus indenturing them for life (given the enormous amount owed).
This debt did not just affect the servant but his entire family and his family’s future. Likely generations would be enslaved because of what the man owed. Jesus painted a picture of a man so hopeless in debt that his only value to the king was to sell him, his family, and their possessions to repay only a small part of his debt. It was a dire situation.
The slave, in begging for his life and the lives of his wife and children, made an outrageous claim. He offered to repay the debt, but only if he could be given more time. Jesus did not say how much time had already passed, but it is reasonable to believe his money had been gone long enough and the debt needed to be settled.
When have you experienced a dire or stressful financial situation?
What emotions did you feel through that experience?
In a wonderful twist to the expected outcome, the king determined not to exact payment but to forgive the massive debt. No doubt Jesus’ audience would have been shocked. What just king cancels a debt, especially one of such an enormous amount? With merely a word, an indebted slave was released from his financial bondage and his entire family escaped the impending, lifelong, brutal punishment.
As the story relates to believers, which Jesus makes clear is the idea at its conclusion, we see a picture of God ruling a kingdom full of slaves that have committed countless transgressions against Him, accumulating a “debt” even more egregious than ten thousand talents. Even if we wanted to pay God back, the amount of the offense is too great to repay.
The obvious response, with or without time, would be for God to judge us for our debts. But God demonstrates His love to us by forgiving our debts (see Rom. 5:8). In this story we see a picture of God’s unmerited grace, for God helps the helpless by forgiving the ones in need of forgiveness.
How would you compare being forgiven of your sin debt before God with being forgiven of a large financial debt?
What effect has God’s compassion and forgiveness through Jesus Christ had upon you?
Excerpted from Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax, The Gospel Project: Jesus the Storyteller © 2017 Lifeway Press®. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®. Copyright 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.