35 "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."
41 Peter asked, "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?"
42 The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
47 "The servant who knows the master's will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Not too long ago someone asked me about a debate that they were having with some friends. The friends were skeptics of the Bible and they were taking issue with some passages in the book of Isaiah that were typically viewed as passages that were prophecies of the Messiah. From time to time these types of debates will pop up with the skeptics arguing that the passages seem to be about things that would happen during Isaiah’s lifetime and, therefore, cannot be prophecies about Jesus as the Messiah. Christians will usually counter back that, of course, these passages are about the Messiah. They seem to point directly to aspects of Jesus’ life as well as the fact that the New Testament writers saw in those passages clear prophecies concerning Jesus. The case is settled in the mind of both sides. The problem is, and this may surprise you, neither of those two arguments are actually correct. In fact, they both are wrong and they both are right. It’s quite a riddle, actually. How can both be right?
The answer to this riddle lies in the fact that we must understand that God is a master teacher. He is always communicating with and teaching his people through different means. One of the most effective methods that God uses to teach is through experience. When we experience something we learn it a lot better and in a more lasting way than if we simply read about it. Virtually everything ancient Israel did as recorded in the Old Testament pointed to something about God and their relationship with him that needed to be learned. For instance, all of the festivals that Israel celebrated contained truths about thecoming Messiah that God wanted his people to learn in a very real and memorable way. It is no different with the majority of those prophecies in Isaiah, and the other books of the Old Testament. Things would be prophesied by Isaiah that would be fulfilled in an immediate way by some event during his lifetime. But that event, including the fulfillment of the prophecy were intended by God as a real-world example of what would happen when the Messiah came. Thus, the prophecy was both about the near-event fulfillment and the ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah. Both my friend and the other person in the previous mentioned case, you see, were partly correct.
I mention this principle because I believe it applies to passages like this, and several others in Luke. We tend to read this passage and assume that Jesus is talking about his return at the second coming and the final judgment at the time of the resurrection. This is certainly the majority view, but others would argue that this passage is all about events that would be fulfilled in Jesus’ lifetime. They would assert that Jesus was speaking of the national calamity that was quickly coming upon the nation of Israel if she refused, as a nation, to repent of her sins and continued to reject the Messiah. Just as with the Isaiah example, though, both arguments are partly correct. Jesus was, I believe speaking of the near-time events that would come upon the nation of Israel if they rejected the Messiah-shaped family that God had always promised and would now be available through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But that event would also stand as a testament and a teaching tool to point to that final judgment at the time of the resurrection for the enemies of God.
The disciples of Jesus needed to be constantly on their guard, that much was apparent. They were not on a pleasure cruise. Things would be coming at them hard and fast for the remainder of their lives as a result of their decision to follow Jesus. Whether it was the events that would swirl around them as Jesus marched straight into the jaws of death, the incredible events surrounding his resurrection, the amazing outpouring of the Spirit weeks after that resurrection, the constant advance of the gospel throughout the world and the accompanying persecution, or the national disaster that would strike the nation of Israel as God sent his final judgment on them as a nation in AD 70 through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Whatever the circumstances, the Christian family must always be ready and alert. Because we are to be a people that lives by the values of the age to come but we live in the present age, we must be constantly alert and thinking through each situation so that we don’t fall into conforming to the patterns of this age (cf. Rom. 12:2).
To make this point of the need to be constantly ready, Jesus used three common examples that would have been familiar to all of his listeners. The first was that of a servant who was eagerly waiting for the master to return from a banquet so that he could be let in immediately and find a house that was in the same order in which he left it. When the master does return and find that his servants were prepared for his presence, he will come with them and eat with and serve them, signifying that they were truly accepted by him. But is Jesus speaking of the disciples need to be ready when the soldiers come to take Jesus to his death, or when they are huddled together praying after his death, or many years later when it was clear that the judgment of God was about to be unleashed on Israel through the might of the Roman army, or was he talking about the coming resurrection one day? The answer to all of those would be “yes.: Whatever the situation, they must “be dressed and ready for service,” a phrase that was literally in the Greek, “gird up your loins” (which referred to a person who had wrapped up his clothes around his thighs and waist so that he could run or hurry) This meant to be in a constant state of readiness as Luke borrows language from Exodus 12:10 and thus continues the motif of identifying Jesus’ current mission, the new exodus, with that of the first Exodus.
As Jesus makes the point that the servants need to be ready, even when it seems darkest (see Romans 13:11-14 where Paul urges the Christian community to live as though it is already daytime even though the world is still in the darkness of the present age because the day is coming and we are a family that lives by reality of the coming day of the age to come), he switches images a bit to another familiar scene, that of a thief breaking into a house. Thieves operate on the element of surprise. If you knew when they were coming, they would not be very successful. Those who are not ready for the coming of the Son of Man will likewise not be very successful. Although Jesus has been speaking in terms that can be understood and applied to disciples in all times in all situations, this is a warning that obviously referred primarily to his present mission to warn Israel to repent, to join the family of God, and to avoid the coming day of judgment, the day of the Lord, that would descend at an unexpected time like a thief in the middle of the night. Yet, it is important to remember that this return of the Son of Man and the subsequent judgment of the nation that had rejected him, would be a foreshadowing, a teaching moment, that pointed to the final return of the Son of Man at the resurrection and the final judgment. Jesus’ people should always be ready, always be living like it is the day, despite how thick the darkness of night seems, because we know, not only that the day is surely coming, but that it can come at any moment.
Peter’s question then, was designed to make sense of what Jesus was saying. Was this warning for just his disciples or for everyone, including the nation of Israel? Interestingly, Jesus never directly answered that question. He instead did what he did so often, which was to describe his answer so as to redefine it. His warning, in other words, was for all who would act as a faithful and wise manager. God’s people were being put in charge of the kingdom and they needed to act as careful managers. They needed to act like that faithful servant who was careful about handling the master’s business and respected him enough that they did not mistreat the other servants that had not been put in a role of authority and responsibility.
If they do not, the consequences will be dire. Just as the servant that is not prepared for the coming of the master is dismembered and treated like any other outsider, so would God’s servant that did not act like God’s servant. This is a stark warning, one that we would probably like to ignore. Those who did not act as faithful members of God’s family would, during the coming judgment on Israel, find themselves being sucked up into that judgment in the same way that anyone who was an unbeliever in the Messiah’s family. This passage, though, holds deep relevance for us today. Each generation of God’s people must live as people of the day even though it is the middle of the night. It is our vocation to be the faithful and wise managers of God’s kingdom. To fall asleep during the night like everyone else would be to open us up to the very real possibility of not being ready when the master returns.
Are you ready for the bright light of the age to come? Even though it is night all around us and it is easy to get sleepy, this passage urges us to constantly be on guard, to be ready for whatever life may bring. Are you living as a readied servant or have you dosed off a bit lately? In what area do you need to wake up and get back to work, preparing for the return of the master?