Note: In our previous examination of the Parable of the Budding Fig Tree, we saw that the disciples asked our Lord Jesus about the time when the destruction of Jerusalem would occur. We also saw that He gave them a two-part answer. The first part of His answer dealt primarily with the coming destruction of Jerusalem within the lifetime of that generation, but the second part of His answer dealt with His second coming. The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree was intended to go with the first part of Jesus’ answer about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. The Parable of the Doorkeeper, however, which we will examine today, was intended to go with the second part of Jesus’ answer about His second coming.
Introduction: The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian believers about the great mystery of the incarnation in this way:
NKJ Philippians 2:5-8 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Paul later explicitly referred to the incarnation of Jesus Christ as a mystery:
NKJ 1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God [θεὸς, NU = ὃς, He] was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.
Today we are going to encounter one of the mysterious things about the incarnation of the Son of God, namely the mysterious way in which He was limited in His full humanity as our Messiah and Savior, yet remained fully God at the same time. For example, last week we saw how Jesus assumed His own complete divinity when He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (vs. 31). Yet in the very next line He also assumes His own complete humanity when He speaks of the limitations of His knowledge in His role as our Messiah. We will see this as we examine 1) the context of the parable, 2) the communication of the parable, and 3) the application of the parable.
I. The Context the Parable
We find the context of the parable in verses 32-33.
NKJ Mark 13:32 But [δέ, here with strong adversative force meaning on the contrary] of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son [i.e. the Son of Man, vs. 26], but only the Father. [See also Matt. 24:36, which does not include the words οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, nor the Son.]
When Jesus spoke of “that day and hour,” He was referring to the timing of His second coming about which He had spoken in the second part of His answer to the disciples in verses 24-27. We know He cannot be referring to the first part of His answer about the coming destruction of Jerusalem because He expected them to understand when that was going to happen based on the signs He had given them.
This further confirms the fact the previous parable – the Parable of the Budding Fig Tree – was intended to go with Jesus’ teaching about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, since it was about recognizing the signs that would help one know when it was to occur. But the parable He is introducing here – the Parable of the Doorkeeper – is about not knowing when one’s master will return. In fact, this is why Jesus introduces the Parable of the Doorkeeper by stating that “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Jesus also hints at the second part of His earlier answer to the disciples’ question when He stresses that not even “the Son” knows when it will happen. This is a reference to His previous mention of Himself as “the Son of Man” in verse 26:
NKJ Mark 13:26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
In addition, Jesus mentions “the angels” again, just as He had spoken of them in verse 27:
NKJ Mark 13:27 And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
We have, then, clear contextual reasons for understanding that Jesus was referring here to the timing of His second coming in the distant future, about which He Himself, in His capacity as the Son of Man, did not even know. So, if He wasn’t thus made privy to the Father’s timing, we must think that we shall be! And we must be content with not knowing. As a matter of fact, as J. P. Lange wrote in his commentary on this verse, “What Christ may not know, what angels cannot know, Christians should not wish to know” (Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical, e-Sword).
But why is it so important to our Lord Jesus that we get this point? Why is He so emphatic in asserting that “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”? I think the reason that Jesus is so intent on getting this point across is because of the great danger of deception about which He has warned the disciples in the immediately preceding context:
NKJ Mark 13:5-6 And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed [βλέπω, NASB = See to it] that no one deceives [πλανάω] you. 6 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive [πλανάω] many.”
NKJ Mark 13:21-23 Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or, “Look, He is there!” do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive [ἀποπλανάω], if possible, even the elect. 23 But take heed [βλέπω]; see, I have told you all things beforehand.
These warnings were given with respect to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, at which time Jesus says that many false christs would arise. But apparently such deception would not stop in those days but would continue throughout the time we await His return. Thus Jesus wants to us to know that no one who claims to be the Christ should be believed because, as He has already made clear, when He Himself actually does return, no one will be able to miss it! Let’s recall again what He said:
NKJ Mark 13:24-27 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
So, Jesus is especially concerned that we understand both the true nature of His return and the fact that the precise timing of His return is not something anyone can know. And He wants us to be aware of these things so that we will not be deceived and led astray, which is why He immediately go on to issue yet another warning to “take heed.”
NKJ Mark 13:33 Take heed [βλέπω], watch [ἀγρυπνέω, NASB = keep on alert] and pray [προσεύχομαι; NU leaves out καὶ προσεύχεσθε, and pray]; for you do not know when the time is.
Now, if you have an NASB, NIV, or ESV, you will have noticed that your Bible does does not include the third command to pray, and you will probably find a textual note that says that this command is not included in all of the Greek manuscripts of Mark. This is why there is a difference between my version and yours. But, as usual, the difference isn’t really as great as it might at first seem, since we know from the parallel account of Jesus’ teaching that He did command the disciples not only to watch but also to pray as they watched:
NKJ Luke 21:36 “Watch [ἀγρυπνέω] therefore, and pray [δέομαι] always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
So, we can have no doubt that, in the mind of our Lord Jesus, for us to remain watchful is also to remain prayerful, especially in light of the constant attempts there will be to deceive us. So, with this context in mind, we will now turn our attention to the parable itself.
II. The Communication of the Parable
We find the communication of the parable in verse 34.
NKJ Mark 13:34 It is like [ὡς] a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch [γρηγορέω].
Only Mark records this parable for us, and, although we don’t know the precise reason he chose to include it, it would seem that his decision to do so was due to the special application of the parable to a special kind of watching as we await our Lord’s return.
As is clear from the preceding context, this parable is intended to represent the fact that Jesus would be going away for a time, after which He would return. It also indicates that there may be a significant delay in our Lord’s return, since the master of the house is pictured as going to “a far country.” In the meantime he gives his servants work to do, along with the authority to accomplish the work. But the doorkeeper in the parable is given a particular kind of work to do. The doorkeeper is commanded to “watch.” So, although the doorkeeper himself is simply another of the master’s servants, he is nevertheless called upon to fulfill a special role. What we know of the role of doorkeepers in the first century also leads us to this conclusion. For example, as the IVP Bible Background Commentary states that:
Slaves held many different roles, but the doorkeeper’s role was a prominent one, because he held the master’s keys, kept out unwanted visitors and checked other slaves leaving the premises. But with the relative prestige of the doorkeeper’s position (some were married to freedwomen) came great responsibility as well. (e-Sword)
Thus a doorkeeper had an important role that involved not just watching out for the master’s return but also involved the security of the master’s property and servants. It would seem, then, that the doorkeeper in the parable represents the special role that Jesus’ disciples would have in protecting the Church as each believer goes about the work he or she has been called to do. This special role would later be taken up by the elders in the churches after the these disciples had all died. The author of Hebrews, for example, speaks of this role when he writes:
NKJ Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out [ἀγρυπνέω] for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
Such was the role Jesus’ disciples were given. But, as we shall see in Jesus’ application of the parable, He will expand His command to include all believers, indicating that we must all take part in this role to some degree. This brings us, then, to our third point.
III. The Application of the Parable
We find Jesus’ application of the parable in verses 35-37.
NKJ Mark 13:35-36 Watch [γρηγορέω] therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming – in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning – 36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.
Here Jesus continues the metaphor, in which “the master of the house” clearly represents Himself, and He has in mind the period of time that will elapse between His ascension and His second coming.
He also stresses for the third time our ignorance of the Father’s timing. He has previously asserted that, “of that day and hour no one knows” (vs. 32). Then He said, “you do not know when the time is” (vs. 33). And now He says, “you do not know when the master of the house is coming” (vs. 35).
Jesus definitely did not want us to miss this point, did He!? He wanted us to know with certainty that we cannot know when He will return! But He also didn’t want us to misunderstand the implications of this lack of knowledge. It should not lead to apathy but rather to awareness of our responsibility. It should not lead to endless speculation about the future but rather to striving to live as we ought to live as we await His return. As David Guzik put it:
Some people have the idea, “We don’t know when Jesus is coming, so it doesn’t really matter.” Others have the idea, “We don’t know when Jesus is coming, so we have to find out and set a date.” The right response is, “I don’t know when Jesus is coming so I have to be alert, eager, and ready for His coming.”(Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword)
Recall also that Jesus had previously said that we cannot know “of that day and hour” (vs. 32). In this parable, however, He uses the Roman system of dividing the night into four watches rather than the Jewish method of dividing the nigh into three watches (William Lane, NICNT, e-Sword). This was no doubt due to His intention that His words be clearly understood by all His future hearers.
In keeping with the imagery of the parable, Jesus’ warning is to watch, “lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.” This refers, of course, to the idea that someone might be sleeping when he ought not to be sleeping. In other words, just as the doorkeeper should not fall asleep when he ought to be awake, alert, and watchful, even so the disciples should not fail to be watchful when they are expected to be, namely during the time in which we await our Lord’s return.
But, as I mentioned earlier, Jesus expands the application of the parable regarding watchfulness beyond the disciples to all believers, as we see in the last verse.
NKJ Mark 13:37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch [γρηγορέω]!
So, although the disciples have a special obligation not only to watch for Jesus’ return but also to watch out for the Church, even so we all have the same obligation not only to watch for Jesus’ return but to watch out for our fellow believers. To be sure, the disciples had a special obligation in this regard, as do the elders who now lead the churches, to protect the people of God from the errors and deceptions that we face every day, but this does not mean that we do not all share some responsibility to be watchful in this way. For example, such a responsibility was later emphasized by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians:
NKJ Ephesians 4:11-16 And He [Jesus] Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head– Christ– 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Then, later in the same epistle, when speaking about the nature of spiritual warfare, Paul wrote:
NKJ Ephesians 6:17-18 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful [ἀγρυπνέω] to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints ….
Thus we see that we all have a role to play in watching out for the welfare of the Church as we await our Lord’s return. And this role involves knowing of the Word of God, speaking the truth of His Word in love to one another, and being constant in prayer for one another as we look for His return.
Conclusion: As I conclude our examination of this parable, I would like to share the application of Ray Stedman, who describes the teaching of the Parable of the Doorkeeper this way:
Now, what is he to watch for? Is he to watch for the master’s return? That is the way this is usually interpreted. But that is not it [I would say that is not all of it], for he is to start watching as soon as the master leaves. They know he will not be back right away. What then is he to watch for? He is to watch lest somebody deceive them and gain entrance into the house, and wreck and ruin and rob all they have. So Jesus’ word is, “Be alert; don’t go to sleep; watch! There are temptations and pressures which will assault you, to make you think that it is all a lie, to make you give up and stop living like a Christian, stop walking in faith, stop believing the truth of God. Watch out for that. And, in the meantime, do your work. Don’t let anything turn you aside. Don’t let anything derail you from being what God wants you to be in this day and age.” This is the way you watch. We are not to be looking up into the sky all the time, waiting for his coming. That will happen when he is ready. We are to watch that we are not deceived.
I have been disturbed, as many of you have been, at how many Christians of late seem to have fallen away. I look back across thirty years of ministry and I see men whom I would have sworn were solid, tremendously committed, faithful, Bible-teaching Christians, but who are now denying their faith and have turned aside. And on every side, seemingly, this increases – people falling off into immorality and iniquity, turning away from their faith, saying, in effect, they no longer believe the Lord or the Bible. It is this our Lord is warning against.
Therefore he says we are to keep awake. Do not believe all the secular voices that tell us the world will go on forever as it is now. Don’t believe the other voices which tell us there is no God, so we can live as we please, or that if God exists, he will never judge us. Don’t believe the voices which whisper to us constantly and try to turn us away from our faith. With one sharp, arresting, ringing word of command, Jesus ends his message: “Watch!” (Online sermon entitled Watch!)
May God grant us all grace to be faithful both in watching for our Lord’s return and in watching out for one another.