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When Jesus discusses the cost of discipleship in Luke, who are the two kings at war and what do they symbolize?

Most of us are familiar with John 3:16 and its promise of salvation and eternal life for all who believe in Christ.

However, in Luke 14:27-33 there seems to be an implied distinction drawn between mere believers in Christ and the disciples of Christ.

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

He makes it very clear that in order to be a disciple of Christ we must renounce the world, love God more than our family and our own life, and take up our cross, or in other words lay down our lives as Paul and many others have done so readily. These are high callings and surely not all who believe in Christ will measure up to these expectations. So there must be a distinction then between mere believers and disciples. Christ bids us assess whether we're really able to go the distance and lay down our lives and such before becoming a disciple of His. And as we all know even Peter faltered at such a demand to take up his cross… even when he swore that he would not deny the Christ… and he did it three times.

So if we “sit down to count the cost” and then choose not to be a disciple then Christ it seems that He is likening us to the king who "sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace" from the other king. But who is the second king that opposes us? In other words… who are we asking for terms of peace from? If we choose to be a disciple then we are obviously warring against the second king and choosing to go to war with him. However, if we choose not to be a disciple then we are choosing not to war against that second king and we are asking him for terms of peace to avoid war… which implies that we are willing to meet some of his terms for peace.

So who is the second king? I think in this parable the second king could possibly be God / the Trinity. We say to God… “I am not able to go the distance… please forgive me and have mercy on me for not being more dedicated to following in Christ’s footsteps.” But if we are warring against the second king, as is indicated in the parable, then why would we be warring against God if we choose to heed the call of discipleship? That doesn’t seem logical. It doesn’t add up. So is the second king perhaps some other spiritual force such as Satan or the powers of the world?

In the call to discipleship, God calls us to be a soldier for god against Satan or the powers of the world and we either heed the call or do not. So then according to this parable if we “count the cost” of our “tower” or the cost of our potential discipleship and decide that we cannot carry the burden then we must seek peace from that which we would otherwise be warring against. So is choosing not to be a disciple some kind of betrayal against God? If we plead with that which opposes God for terms of peace then are we asking the enemy for mercy? What are the second king’s terms for peace? Who are we raising the white flag to? It would appear based on the promise of John 3:16 that God still gives a grand reward to anyone who believes in Christ though.

Additionally, it could be interesting, when considering the high cost of discipleship, Christ’s message that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light.”

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  • Hi there and welcome to BH-Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please be sure to take the site tour and read our code of conduct. Thanks! Sep 11 at 12:55
  • It simply means that faith alone is dead without works. Faith in him implies giving up our lives if necessary. This teaching is repeated throughout his parables with great detail, and also in James epistles and all other epistles of the NT.
    – Michael16
    Sep 11 at 17:16
  • All believers are disciples. There aren't 'half-hearted believers' and 'keen disciples'. We must all strive to enter in the strait gate and pursue the narrow way. Else we will be lost.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 11 at 19:48
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Luke chapter 14 starts this account at verse 25 where we see that Jesus is addressing great multitudes who were following after him. He began by warning them that if they really wanted to follow him, they must love him more than they did their own flesh and blood. Would-be-disciples must be prepared to even forfeit their own lives in order to keep following Jesus. They must be prepared to bear the shame that cross-bearers were viewed with back then. Reproach would come, along with mocking and contempt, just as Jesus experienced when he literally had to endure his own cross of shame.

Now comes the illustration of someone planning to build a tower, needing to count the cost before embarking on the project; then the illustration of weighing up whether to go to war, or not, before engaging in battle. And it is the latter illustration you ask about. You seem to think that the first fictitious king symbolizes people who decide to become a disciple of Christ (the King of God's Kingdom). But this gives you a problem with grasping who the second fictitious king symbolizes. You feel it must be Satan, but then we'd be pleading for mercy from God's enemy. You come to this viewpoint by thinking the second illustration must be joined to the first, the two being actually one and the same illustration. Therein lies your problem. Take the two illustrations separately, one giving one lesson, and the other teaching something different (though also related to the matter of becoming a disciple of Christ.) Here is what an old saint explained about the parable of the two kings:

"When we undertake to be Christ's disciples we are like a man that goes to war, and therefore must consider the hazard of it, and the difficulties that are to be encountered. A king that declares war against a neighbouring prince considers whether he has strength wherewith to make his part good, and, if not, he will lay aside his thoughts of war.

Note. [1] The state of a Christian in this world is a military state. Is not the Christian life a warfare? ... [2] We ought to consider whether we can endure the hardness which a good soldier of Jesus Christ must expect and count upon, before we enlist ourselves under Christ's banner; whether we are able to encounter the forces of hell and earth, which come against us twenty thousand strong. [3] Of the two it is better to make the best terms we can with the world than pretend to renounce it and afterwards, when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, to return to it [the world]. That young man that could not find in his heart to part with his possessions for Christ did better to go away from Christianity sorrowing than to have staid with him dissembling. [Luke 18:18-23]

"...Those that persist in sin make war against God, the most unnatural, unjustifiable war; they rebel against their lawful sovereign, whose government is perfectly just and good. Secondly, The proudest and most daring sinner is no equal match for God; the disproportion of strength is much greater than that here supposed between ten thousand and twenty thousand. "Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" [1 Cor. 10:22] In consideration of this, it is our interest to make peace with him. We need not send to desire conditions of peace; they are offered to us..." (Matthew Henry's Commentary, p 1495 third column to p 1496 first column, top)

The scriptures are clear that it is a false hope to attain to the resurrection of life with Christ without taking up the cross and denying the flesh. Henry makes that point. Tragically, many people who like to associate with the religion of Christianity and with Christians, suppose that they can take liberties with God's gracious terms of peace, agreeing verbally, but never committing themselves utterly to following Christ, no matter if that costs them their family, their living, or their lives. Many seem to think there are two 'kinds' of Christians; the saintly, devoted ones, and those who do the best they can to appear to be Christ-like, when they don't even belong to Christ to begin with. 'Two-tier Christianity' is the lie of the Harlot Babylon and the deceit of the Beast.

Therefore, stop and think. This isn't a game. It's life, or death. And realise, too, that parables are not to be worked out to the nth degree. They contain principles, not meticulous symbolisms in every detail!

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  • "You seem to think that the first fictitious king symbolizes people who decide to become a disciple of Christ (the King of God's Kingdom)." It would be more accurate to say i think the first king is someone who decides either to become a disciple or not. "this gives you a problem with grasping who the second fictitious king symbolizes. You feel it must be Satan, but then we'd be pleading for mercy from God's enemy. " If choosing not to war against the second king is equivocal to choosing not to be christ's disciple then perhaps it can be compared to siding with the enemy Sep 15 at 14:27
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OP: So if we “sit down to count the cost” and then choose not to be a disciple then Christ it seems that He is likening us to the king who "sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace" from the other king.

This is not true. You cannot put a straight jacket on a parable.

Luke 14:

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king.

The 2nd king is anything that competes for your resources, time, money, family, friends, etc.

Won’t he first sit down and considers whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?

Is he willing to give everything that he has to oppose the 2nd king? Will he win if he does?

32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

If he can't win, then don't start the war.

33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

You have to be willing to give everything that you've got to be Jesus' disciple.

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  • The word "or" here in no way necessarily indicates that he's bringing up an alternate topic. For example, I can say "You can call a dog a dog OR you can call it a K9." The topic remains the same in both cases. I would argue that the language used in these two successive parallels indicates that the subject has not changed. There is no emphasis to indicate otherwise. If you believe it is in alternate topic I would be curious to know in what way these two parallels differ in terms of the subject matter. Sep 15 at 14:03
  • Where did I say that the topic/subject has changed?
    – Tony Chan
    Sep 15 at 14:34
  • From your answer: "The "Or" suggests Jesus begins a related but alternate topic". My response: "The word "or" here in no way necessarily indicates that he's bringing up an alternate topic. For example..." Sep 16 at 12:47
  • Point taken. I deleted the offending lines. Thanks :)
    – Tony Chan
    Sep 16 at 13:45
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31Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth ambassadors, and desireth conditions of peace.
Luke 14:31-32 (KJV)

The king going to make war is the one who would be a disciple of Jesus, and as a disciple of Jesus, the world, the flesh and/or the devil are the kings against whom he would be called to make war.

Now, what would compel a king to fight against a foe who has twice his strength?

44And the Philistine said to David,
Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.
45Then said David to the Philistine,
Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. 46This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.

1 Samuel 17:44-46 (KJV)

Those who reckon God as their principal source of strength will engage in the war with only a sling and a stone, those who don't cannot but desire conditions of peace with the world, the flesh and/or the devil.

Regarding the yoke and burden of Jesus being light:

12And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: 13And they lifted up their voices, and said,
Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14And when he saw them, he said unto them,
Go show yourselves unto the priests.
And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
17And Jesus answering said,
Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
19And he said unto him,
Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Luke 17:12-19 (KJV)

The only thing that God requires is that we advertise his goodness -- the grace and mercy he has extended to us.

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