Jesus tells this parable in the context of His prophecies about His future return and the signs that will precede it. An important emphasis of this teaching is on the fact that we do not know when He will return. Indeed, He tells His disciples that this is one fact of which they can be sure, when He says in verse 36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Thus, this parable deals with the time between Jesus’ ascension and return, a period in which His disciples will live with uncertainty as to the time of His return. The master in the parable, then, represents Jesus, and the servants represent those awaiting His return.
Introduction: Haddon Robinson illustrates the basic point of this parable well when he writes:
A teacher tells her young students, “Class, I’m going down the hall to the school office for a few minutes. I don’t expect to be away long. I’m sure there won’t be any trouble. I’m trusting you to work on your assignments while I’m gone.” Fifteen minutes pass, then 20, then 40. Suddenly the teacher returns. Dennis has just thrown an eraser at Carol, who is doing her math. Steven is standing on the teacher’s desk making faces. The students carrying out the teacher’s instructions are delighted at the teacher’s return, but Dennis and Steven wish she hadn’t come back at all.
Jesus is coming back! That stands as both a warning and a promise throughout the New Testament, as in today’s reading …. It’s good news or bad, depending on who hears it.
In church we sing songs like “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). On Sunday morning, the second coming of Christ sounds like great news. But during the rest of the week, are we as ready for His return? Jesus is coming back! It may be soon. It will be sudden. Is that good news or bad? It’s up to you. (Our Daily Bread, March 8, 2003)
Well, that is exactly what the parable before us today is all about – whether or not we will be ready for Jesus’ return. It tells us about a good servant who is ready and an evil servant who is not ready. So let’s take a look at 1) lessons to be learned from the good servant, and 2) lessons to be learned from the evil servant.
I. Lessons Learned From the Good Servant (vss. 45-47)
There are at least three lessons we can learn from the example of the good servant in this parable:
1. A Good Servant is Faithful
First, his faithfulness is seen in his wisely trusting that the master will return. We are told in verse 45 that he is a “wise servant,” and as such he knows to trust that the master will return. Why else would he take his responsibilities so seriously? Notice also the contrast later drawn between this servant and the evil servant, who apparently has some doubt about the master’s return when he says, “My master is delaying his coming” (vs. 48).
This also nicely fits the context of the parable, in which Jesus has promised the disciples He will return and has told them to look for it. For example:
NKJ Matthew 24:30-31 “hen the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
NKJ Matthew 24:42-44 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
But watching for Jesus’ return entails a life of obedience to Him, which leads to the next way in which the servant’s faithfulness is demonstrated.
Second, his faithfulness is seen in his commitment to the task his master has given him. We are told in verses 45b-46 that he was “made ruler over his [the master’s] household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.”
In contemplation of this parable, Klyne Snodgrass rightly speaks of both the patience and the impatience a believer must possess:
How can the church acknowledge both its own long history and its lively hope without looking silly? Both patience and impatience are legitimate and necessary responses. Given the NT emphasis that no one knows the time and the length of time that has passed, patience is required, for God’s timing and purposes never fit our agenda. Patience undergirds the faithful living which is the primary concern of this parable. The wise and faithful Christian is the one who understands the significance of the end and actively serves, whether the time is long or short. Impatience is called for as well. We should be impatient with those who assert they do know the time and draw eschatological charts. We should be as impatient with those who deny the importance of Jesus’ future vindication. Further, we should be impatient for the End to come, weary of evil and longing for the time when evil will be set aside and righteousness is established. Christian faith is always faith on tiptoe, looking to that day, and because of that day, living in accord with such anticipation. (Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 504)
This leads us to the next point.
2. A Good Servant is Ready for His Master’s Return
As we have seen in verse 46, Jesus says that the good servant is blessed because, when the master comes, he is found doing what he was told to do. Thus, the servant was ready to give an account of what he had done when the master appeared.
If Jesus were to come today, would you and I be found faithfully obeying what He has called us to do? I hope so, because we will have to give an account to Him of how we have lived!
And this leads us to the third point regarding the good servant.
3. A Good Servant is Rewarded
We are told of the good servant in verse 47 that “assuredly, I say to you that he [the master] will make him ruler over all his goods.”
This promotion definitely comes as a reward to the good servant for his faithfulness and fits nicely with Jesus teaching elsewhere regarding rewards. For example:
NKJ Matthew 5:10-12 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
NKJ Matthew 16:24-27 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
The good servant is the one who looks for a heavenly reward from his Master, the Lord Jesus. And for him the comforts and delights of this world pale by comparison. Thus, he will always focus his life on faithful obedience to what Jesus has called him to do.
II. Lessons Learned From the Evil Servant (vss. 48-51)
There are at least three lessons we can learn from the example of the evil servant in this parable, and these contrast with the three lessons we learned from the good servant.
1. An Evil Servant is Faithless
First, his faithlessness is seen in his lack of trust that the master will return. Notice in verse 48 that the evil servant “says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming.’” And in verse 50 we see that he is “not looking for” his master’s return at all!
Second, his faithlessness is seen is his lack of commitment to the task his master has given him. Not only does he not properly look after those entrusted to his care, he mistreats them terribly! In verse 49 we are told that he “begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards.” This description depicts a life of carelessness about the master’s priorities, which most notably concerns the care of one’s fellow servants. He is like the person who claims to love the Lord, but who does not love his brother. As the Apostle John warns us, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
In other words, such a person is a hypocrite, which is exactly what Jesus tells us about this evil servant in verse 51, when He says that the evil servant will have “his portion with the hypocrites.” This, then, is a person who claims to be a true servant of the master, but in reality he is not, and his manner of life has demonstrated it!
2. An Evil Servant is Unprepared for His Master’s return
This is clearly seen is verse 50, where Jesus tells us that “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of.”
Now, remember that the good servant didn’t know when the master would return either, but he was ready when the master came because he was ready all the time. In contrast, this evil servant is never ready!
But what makes this so bad is not just that he is evil in his treatment of others – as we have already seen – but also that he will get what is coming to him, as we will see next.
3. An Evil Servant is Punished
This is what verse 51 is all about. There we read that the master of that servant “will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
But what precisely does this mean? There are at least three aspects of this punishment that we need to consider.
First, when Jesus says that the master will “cut him in two,” He is using graphic imagery to describe the terrible punishment such a wicked servant deserves. He must be speaking figuratively because it is highly unlikely that a master in first century Palestine would actually have done such a thing to one of his servants. In addition, it is hard to conceive of why a master would bother to assign a servant a place with the hypocrites if he has already literally been chopped up. And this leads to the next thing we should notice.
Second, when Jesus says that the master will “appoint him his portion with the hypocrites,” we have here an instance where the language of final judgment intrudes into the parable, for the parable in context definitely refers to a judgment that will take place after Jesus returns. That such hypocrites are in reality unbelievers can be seen in several other references Jesus makes to hypocrites in this Gospel. For example:
Earlier in Matthew: NKJ Matthew 15:7-9 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Later in Matthew: NKJ Matthew 23:13, 15 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in … 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Third, when Jesus says that there shall be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων), He is using a phrase that he typically uses to speak of the excruciating physical and emotional torment of the final judgment, which He clearly has in mind in this passage. [Note: On this phrase, see also Matt. 8:12 (Luke 13:28); 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30.]
Thus, Jesus warns those who claim to be His disciples that the truth of that claim will be seen in their faithfulness and obedience to Him as they await His return. And the truth of who they really are – even if it is not apparent now – will be made quite clear in the judgment that will occur when He returns. And this judgment will be terrible indeed!
Conclusion: The July 30, 2000 entry of Our Daily Bread drives home the importance of this parable’s teaching:
Jesus never told His followers how to calculate the day of His return. Rather, He emphasized that our main priority is to make sure we’re ready for Him, and that we are occupied in His service when He comes (vv.45-46).
A woman who lived by this teaching was shopping in a small country store. Several young people were just standing around doing nothing. Knowing she was a Christian, they began ridiculing her. “We hear you’re expecting Jesus to come back,” they jeered. “That’s right,” she replied brightly. “Do you really believe He’s coming?” they asked. “Absolutely,” she answered. They said, “Well, you’d better hurry home and get ready. He might be on the way!” Facing them, she said, “I don’t have to get ready—I keep ready!”
Are you ready for the arrival of God’s Son? Will you be glad to see Jesus when He returns? If not, get ready now. Without delay, turn away from your sin and trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Then keep ready by walking in His will every day.