There are many terms used in the New Testament to help us understand our relationship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. He is Father, Creator, Friend, Savior, Older Brother, Vine, Husbandman, Shepherd and Author of our salvation. Many, many other descriptive terms are used, and all of them show that our relationship with the Lord God is a many faceted one.
One term that Jesus often used in His teachings to help describe the relationship that people can have with Him, was that of servant (slave) or steward. In His stories, Jesus presented Himself as the master, king, nobleman or landowner who had servants. Though Jesus used several words for “servant”, in each case, the relationship was clearly a vertical one, with the servant subservient to the master above him. In these teachings, there emerges a basic truth, namely that it does make a great difference if the servant has been diligent in carrying out his master’s wishes or not. The Master expects that he will be faithful and diligent, and it is clear that he is accountable to his Master. This accountability means that reward awaits the good servant, and conversely, it will not be well for the careless, foolish servant. The Master will evaluate His servants carefully. He sees accurately and He cannot be deceived by the words or excuses of a servant.
There are a number of scripture passages that have Jesus and His servants as the subject and each presents some different truths of the future evaluation of these servants. But before looking at those chapters in the gospels, it is helpful to be clear on the New Testament concept of one who is a servant of Jesus Christ.
Getting the Servant Perspective – Luke 17:7-10
This is an important place to begin on the subject of being a servant. The New Testament instructs us that servants are purchased possessions (Grk. agorazo; exagorazo; Gal. 3:13; 4:5; 2 Pet. 2:1). The payment for our purchase was the blood of the Lamb of God (Rev. 5:9-10). Jesus found us in the slave market of sin, purchased us and took us out of that terrible place (Grk. lutrow; apolutrosis; Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7, 14; Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:6). All of these verses, and many more, teach that Jesus did indeed purchase us out of slavery, and it is expected that we will now serve Him, and not serve self and sin. We belong to Him now, and it is our reasonable service to serve Him well (Rom. 12:1-2). Paul instructed the Corinthians and the Romans that Christ set us free, but believers are to voluntarily submit to Him (Rom. 6:12-13; 1 Cor. 7:22-23). We are to be good slaves of Christ.
With these great truths in mind, Luke 17:7-10 has an important contribution to make. The Lord told this story to His apostles. In the story, a slave had been working hard all day out in the fields. Though he was tired, when he came back home, he did not have dinner and relax, but rather he served his master dinner. After the slave completed all his work, then he could eat. Jesus observed that the master did not thank him for all his labors nor did the master serve him dinner. In that culture, a slave’s duties and position were understood by all, and the slave was expected to completely fulfill those tasks. Therefore, masters did not thank slaves since they were just doing what slaves were bound to do.
For many raised in western culture, the master might seem harsh and uncaring. But the point that Jesus was making in the story was that a master is never obligated to his slave. The purchased slave cannot do anything which places the master into his debt. Never, never does the master become obligated to the slave simply because the slave did what he was required to do. This is a significant truth for all of us to grasp. We are to faithfully serve Christ, but our service does not obligate the Lord to keep us healthy or wealthy; it does not require Jesus to keep us from painful trials, significant setbacks or deep disappointments in life. Jesus is never indebted to us because we labored for Him. While this story does not, of course, give the complete picture of the believers’ relationship with his Lord, it is an important warning to those purchased by the Lord not to think that serving the Lord forces Him to keep us from trials and tribulations in this life. He does reward His servants. But this is not because He is required to but only because He is generous and gracious.
So, in Jesus’ various stories where praise and reward is given to faithful servants, the great grace and generosity of the Lord Jesus towards His purchased possessions is being emphasized. And it underscores how wonderful the master-servant relationship can be. He is not a harsh master, but one characterized by goodness and generosity. Certainly this is seen in His words found in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”.
#1 – The Returning King and His Ten Servants – Luke 19:11-27
(1) The setting of the story (18:35; 19:1, 11)
There is both a spiritual and a geographic setting for this parable of the nobleman/king and his ten servants. Geographically, Jesus told this story as He was entering Jericho. Normally, the place where a sermon was given was not that important, but in this case it is helpful to note the geography.
The palace of Herod the Great’ son, Archelaus, was there at Jericho and visible to the inhabitants of Jericho. In His story, Jesus spoke of the need that He had to go into a far-away country in order to receive ruling authority. This is what Archelaus had to do.1 Although he was given Herod the Great’s kingdom in Herod’s will, the truth was that it was Rome alone that gave ruling authority. So Archelaus had to journey to Rome to seek ruling authority from the senate and the emperor. But Archelaus was not the only one who headed for Rome, as certain Jews went there also to beg Rome not to let another of Herod’s family rule. They had had enough of the Herods and did not want Archelaus ruling them. But Rome granted Archelaus some ruling authority, though not as large a territory as his father had ruled over. When returning to Palestine, Archelaus rewarded his friends for their loyalty and dealt harshly with those “enemies” who did not want him to rule. This historic incident would have been well known to the inhabitants of Jericho, and Jesus’ story parallels that bit of history.
Second, the spiritual setting is that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem for the last time. Upon arriving there, He would, within the week, be arrested and crucified. His apostles sensed that this going up to Jerusalem would be unlike any other going up to Jerusalem. They felt that something would happen in the next few days, and they were thinking that somehow Jesus might bring in His messianic kingdom. This parable was told because that is what was on the mind of many of Jesus’ followers: “they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (19:11).
(2) The receiving of ruling authority (19:12)
As was true historically with Archelaus, Jesus needed to go to a far-away country (heaven), the seat of all authority in the universe, to receive authority to rule. The transfer of ruling authority from the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ is graphically seen in Daniel 7:13-14 and in Revelation 5:1-13. The authority to reign over the entire earth is the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant which will be granted to the Son (Psa. 2; Heb. 2:15). The authority will be given in heaven, but the exercising of that authority, as the story teaches, will take place on the earth when the King returns.
(3) The ten servants (19:13)
Since there would be some time involved between the giving of authority to the Son, and the actually exercising of that authority, the servants of the coming King are to do His business during the interim period. The nobleman gave each of the ten servants a mina in order to have something to work with while he was gone. It is difficult to put a mina into US dollars, but it may be around $7000; so it was not pocket change but neither was it a huge amount. They were to work with that until the nobleman returned as King.
(4) The enemies (19:14)
At this point, the listener was introduced to another group of people who are called the “enemies”. As with the Jews in Archelaus’ day, these clearly did not want this nobleman/king to reign over them and were not shy about letting that be known. These enemies are important in the story, though they are just briefly mentioned here and in the closing verse of the parable (19:27).
(5) The two certainties (19:15)
Two things will definitely happen: (1) the nobleman/king will return, and (2) he will return with authority to judge and rule. No time frame is given for the nobleman’s departure and return. He doesn’t say how long He will be gone, and it is not to be the focus of the servants anyway. Rather their focus is on doing the master’s business. But return He will. And when He comes back, He returns with a new authority. He comes, not as the carpenter of Nazareth, but as King of kings, at which time He will rule and He will judge both his servants and his enemies.
(6) The three servants (19:16-26)
The focus of the story was on what will take place when the King returns. As the Apostle Peter later instructed the church, judgment (evaluation) begins with God’s people and then moves on to the unbeliever (1 Pet. 4:17). The servants (believers) will be evaluated first, and then the enemies (unbelievers) will face the King.
Only three of the ten servants are specifically mentioned by the Lord, most likely because what happens to them would basically be repeated in His dealings with the remaining seven. The first servant appeared and the King was impressed with his diligent, faithful work. That servant had taken the one mina and made an additional ten minas, which apparently must have taken a lot of thought and effort on his part. The King was impressed. He noted that this servant had been faithful with that small amount of money, with the consequence that he would be rewarded with much greater privilege and opportunity. This servant would rule over ten cities in His kingdom. Furthermore, he heard the best word of all when the King said “well done, good slave” (19:17). The King was obviously well pleased with this servant’s work.
A second servant stood before the King and he reported that the mina given him had been used to make an additional five minas. The King rewarded him by giving that servant five cities in His kingdom to rule over. While this second servant did indeed put forth effort, he did not work as hard as the first. The result was his reward was not as great, which does point out rather clearly that not everyone will be the same in the future kingdom. And it should also be noted that the King does not commend this second servant with a “well done good slave.” Jesus was never careless with the words He used in His stories, so there must be some significance to this absence of praise. But it certainly shows that the “well done” is not something given to every servant.
Most time in the parable is spent on the third servant who did nothing with the mina given to him, but to hide it away. He made excuses for his behavior. His explanation perhaps sounded good as he talked to himself, but it did sound so very hollow when articulated before the King. It is obvious to all (except probably the third servant) that basically he was lazy, and that he did not take his responsibilities seriously. It is also pretty clear that he did not know the character of the King, and verbally he revealed his badly deficient view of the King. A proper fear and respect for the King would have motivated him to work (Heb. 12:28-29; 1 Pet. 1:17). This he did not have. Rather the third servant really resembled Esau who, according to Hebrews 12:16-17, sacrificed future blessing for present comfort and convenience; a completely foolish approach to life, which it seems too many believers are presently following.
An important point to observe is that while the third servant received nothing, he did remain a servant. He was declared by the King to be a “worthless” slave, which would be a terrible word to hear from the King. The servant also lost the one mina that he was originally given, as Jesus said: “even that what he does have will be taken away.” What a terrible experience it was be for that unfaithful slave. But there is nothing in Jesus’ story to indicate that the status of the third servant changed. He was still a servant though he was neither praised nor rewarded. And all this apparently was going to have some impact on him in the kingdom that was being established. He lost out but he did not lose a place in the kingdom itself.
(7) The fate of the enemies (19:27)
After the King’s ten servants were evaluated and rewarded (or not), the King turned His attention to those who were His enemies. These had not wished to be ruled over by the King, and He will now grant them their wish. Using a strong adversative (“but”), the King has these executed, which is a picture of final, decisive punishment and not annihilation. Time had run out for these people.
The enemies of the King are included in this story in order to: (1) distinguish between believers (servant) and non-believers (enemies); and (2) to warn unbelievers that there are cut off times for entering the kingdom.
(8) The key points of the story
1. The king is going to return with great power and authority to rule, and His authority will be on this earth. It is at His return that judgment takes place.
2. Since they have been purchased by the King, servants of the king will be the first ones to be evaluated (cf. Rev. 22:12).
3. Not all servants in the coming kingdom will be the same. There appears to be significant differences among the servants of Christ in the kingdom period.
4. Unbelievers are again warned that the King’s patience does have a point where it is exhausted so these need to accept the King while there is time.
#2 – The Traveling Landowner and His Three Servants – Matthew 25:14-30
This parable is often confused with the previous one in Luke 19, but it is given at a different time for a different purpose. This parable of the three servants was given about a week after Luke 19, and it is part of Jesus’ six applications that are part of His prophetic discourse, commonly called the “Olivet Discourse”.
(1) The story of the three servants
This story begins by letting the listener know that a traveling business man was going on a trip of unknown length, and he gave “talents” to three of his servants. The verse just before this story (Matt. 25:13) was a warning from Jesus that His people needed to be on the alert at all times because they just did not know when He was going to return. This parable also suggests that maybe the trip might keep the man away for quite a while; which is hinted at when the text says that “after a long time” he returned home (25:19).
This parable also differs from the one in Luke 19 in that the three servants are not given equal amounts to work with. The owner gave the first servant five talents; the second servant two talents; and the third servant one talent. And he did so because he knew that some had more abilities than others (25:15). So this parable does not focus on equal opportunity, as in Luke 19, but rather in individual responsibility. And, it does answer the concern that some people have, as to whether some believers are more gifted than others. The answer is “yes” they are, but they are also more accountable.
Once again, the focus of Jesus’ story is on what takes place when the man returns home from his trip. The first servant, who had received five talents, had been able to double that to ten talents. The second servant, who had received just two talents, had also doubled his to four talents. The point is that both had been equally faithful, even though ten is greater than four. One of the points of this story is that the key to rewarding is simply being faithful, even though the first servant was likely more “famous” than the second and “produced” more. It is noteworthy that 25:21 and 25:23, which give the man’s praise, are identical. Each of these servants received the identical reward from the master. They both were commended with the wonderful “well done, good and faithful slave”. And both were told that they were going to be given new, significant privileges and responsibilities. And both were invited to “begin experiencing” the master’s joy. This joy is not something previously experienced. We can only imagine what this will look like in the future kingdom where this joy will be manifested. Joy is a condition of pure delight, and is presented as one of the great marks of the messianic age (Heb. 1:9; 12:2; Psa. 16:11; Isa. 35:10; 51:11; 61:7). These two servants would be ushered into a new level and experience of joy in their lives.
Like Luke 19, most space is devoted to the third servant. He is like the third servant in the parable of the nobleman/king, who was lazy, irresponsible and clearly did not really know the character of his master. But, the fate of this third servant is dramatically different here in this parable. He is not seen as retaining his status as part of the master’s household, but rather is cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30). This does not sound good and does not bode well for the third servant. It is very much like the fate of the “enemies” in the Luke 19.
(2) The context of this story
This third servant has been a significant interpretive challenge for Bible students. Is he saved, or is he unsaved? Was he once saved and is he now lost? Was he a believer who loses out on rewards in the kingdom? Much has been written about this and many ideas have been set forth. Unfortunately, this brief chapter simply cannot deal with all the viewpoints. But it is the viewpoint of this writer that the third servant is unsaved, and that his fate is that of an unsaved person, even though he is called a “servant.” As is often the case, the context is extremely significant.
1. The understanding of “you” in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse
This parable is part of the Olivet Discourse where Jesus was answering the questions of His disciples related to the future of the nation of Israel. Jesus, in answering them, speaks of Israel, not the church and not of the gentiles. The key is the word “you” that is found in Matthew 23 through 25. Beginning in Matthew 23:33, and continuing on through chapter 25, He used the word “you” which refers to Israel, and always Israel. Sometimes “you” refers to the nation generally; sometimes it is a past generation in Israel and sometimes a future generation; sometimes Israel is represented by the Pharisees and other religious leaders and sometimes by the apostles. But “you” contextually is always focused on Israel. And so, when Jesus gave the six concluding parables for the purpose of application, He is still focused on the disciples’ concern; that of Israel’s future. So the primary application, including the present parable in Matthew 25:14, is on Israel. There is nothing in the text which shifts the subject to gentiles or the church. So, the three servants would in some way represent the people of Israel.
2. The Unique place of Israel in God’s plans and purposes
The nation of Israel is absolutely unique among the nations of the world. They, and they alone, are in a covenant relationship with the Lord.2 This is not true of the Italians, the Chinese or even Americans. Uniquely, every single Israelite is included in the Abrahamic Covenant whether they are saved or unsaved. Even an unsaved Israelites was a “covenant man.” Was this not the great problem that both Jesus and John the Baptist had to deal with? It was convincing the people of their day that they had to be born again in order to enter the messianic kingdom. The belief of Jesus’ day, as the rabbis taught it, was that no descendant of Abraham (aside from an apostate) could be lost.3
But being Jewish was not enough, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus (John 3). When Jesus referred to Israelites as “sons of the kingdom”, He was focusing on the fact that the messianic kingdom belonged to the Jews by right of inheritance that came through the Abrahamic Covenant. Nicodemus understood that, but did not understand that Jews did not have a free pass into the messianic kingdom. Entrance into Messiah’s kingdom was not automatic, but they had to be born again, by which He was teaching that covenant people can be unsaved. In Jesus’ powerful talk about “fathers” in John 8, He acknowledged that the leaders of Israel did indeed have Abraham as their physical father, but declared that their spiritual father was the Devil (John 8:37, 44). Jesus also spoke about the fate of the “sons of the kingdom” in such a way that they are viewed as unbelievers who will experience fiery punishment (note Matt. 13:41-42; 8:12). In Revelation, the Apostle John twice called the Jews, the “synagogue of Satan”, which echoes Jesus’ evaluation of the Jews in John 8. Paul, in Romans 9:6 said that “they are not all Israel who are descendant from Israel.” He stated that the Jews were people of great privilege, since they were in a covenant relationship with God and had unique blessings from Him (Rom. 3:1-2; 6:1-5). Yet, the majority in Israel were unbelievers. And this concept is seen time and again in the New Testament; where there are Israelites who believe and Israelites who do not believe, even though all were part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Dwight Pentecost correctly states: “apart from faith in Christ none of Abraham’s physical descendants could have a part in the kingdom. Those who heard the kingdom offer and then rejected the person of the King thereby excluded themselves from the kingdom.”4
3. Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” includes all Israelites
The concept of “servant” does not require that a servant is a believer. The concept of “servant” has an important place in the Old Testament, particularly in Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” section. Most Bible students know that Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” gives wonderful truth about the Person of Jesus, particularly truth related to Him being the sin-bearer for all. But less known is that the nation of Israel is called “My servant” (Isa. 41:8; Exo. 19:5-6).5 As God’s servant, Israel was to represent Him before the spiritually blind gentiles who followed after idols. They were to serve Him by being a light to the gentiles. They were responsible to the Lord, and they would be accountable to Him. But Israel became just as blind spiritually as the gentiles and was also declared to be deaf. They were seen as an unbelieving nation, though they were called “servant.” God declared: “Hear you deaf! And look, you blind that you might see. Who is blind but My servant, or so deaf as My messenger whom I send?” (Isa. 42:18-19). This clearly cannot refer to Jesus, but it certainly does tell us that national Israel was observed as spiritually blind. However, the day will come, the Lord states, when God will revive His servant Israel and will redeem them (Isa. 44:1-2, 21). Israel is unmistakably viewed as an unbelieving servant of the Lord. The third servant fits into this category.
4. “Outer darkness”, “wailing and gnashing of teeth” refers to the unsaved
The fate of the third servant is to be cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” These were common Jewish images which spoke of the fate of the unrighteous.6 This same imagery is used by Matthew elsewhere as he recorded the words of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 8:10-12; 13:41-42, 49-50; 22:13; also Luke 13:28). All are in agreement that the verses in Matthew 13 and Luke 13 refer to unsaved people. And there is no compelling reason to assume different in the other four passages. It would be strange and confusing if Jesus used the same term to refer to the fate of unbelievers and then applied them to a believer.
“Outer darkness” are words normally associated with the fate of unbelievers. The word “outer” points to a realm where unbelievers are, as in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 where they are described as “outsiders” (Note also Rev. 22:15 and Col. 4:5). In the Scriptures, light is often contrasted with “darkness”; and darkness is regularly associated with hell, the unsaved and Satan (e.g. Jude 1:13; 2 Pet. 2:17; Col. 1:12-13). Darkness is just not associated with the fate of believers.
The master is said to “cast” or “throw” the servant into the outer darkness. The word “cast” (Grk. ballow) often speaks of a forcible act, something that is not passive or gentle.7 Jesus often used ballow to speak about throwing something; such as throwing into gehenna (Matt. 5:29), throwing into prison (Matt. 18:30) and throwing on a sickbed (Rev. 2:22). It is simply difficult to line up these words with actions taken by the Lord Jesus against those who have placed their trust in Him, and who are part of His “bride”, the church. These words are saying that the third servant is removed, excluded from, the messianic kingdom. It would be strange of the Lord to use these words to talk about His own believing servants without some clear explanations. These words point to the third servant being an unbeliever.
“Wailing and gnashing of teeth” is a phrase used by Matthew, but also by Luke as he describes the intense anger of the religious leaders who stoned Stephen (Acts 7:54). Louw and Nida say that this is an “expression of an emotion such as anger or of pain and suffering.” And they note this is an idiom “to express and manifest intense anger; to be furious.”8 This phrase has consistently been viewed by Christian expositors as giving the fate and reaction of one who is an unbeliever. And, it may be that the unbeliever will react with hatred as well as pain when they are sentenced; perhaps, much like the reaction of the unbelievers under the judgment of God during the final judgments of the bowls (Rev. 16:9, 11, 21).
5. Other interpretations of the third servant
There are those that have proposed that this third servant is believer and the story is looking at the fate of a sinning believer who will end up in eternal punishment. Those theologies which teach that salvation can be lost see support for their position in these passages. But if one holds to the eternal security of the believer in Christ, then this is not a credible interpretation. It is simply beyond the scope of this chapter to deal with that subject. It is discussed elsewhere.9 Believers are eternally secure.
Others who believe in eternal security relegate the third servant to the “professed believer” category. It seems that could possibly apply only if they recognize that the third servant contextually is referring to Israelites, sons of the kingdom/covenant, who see themselves as covenant men but are unregenerate.
Still others who hold to eternal security view the third servant as representing believers who suffer terrible loss at the judgment seat.10 They do not see this as the loss of salvation but exclusion from the messianic kingdom and/or their reaction to the loss of rewards. But that position fails to give adequate recognition to the context of Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse” in interpreting the parable. Furthermore, this view that sees exclusion from the messianic kingdom (the wedding feast) has a very difficult time explaining the absence of people making up the “bride of Christ” from her own wedding feast. Jesus and the “bride” were married in heaven in Revelation 19:7-8 and this is followed by the wedding feast on the earth. Marriage is to unite two, and it is quite strange that almost immediately after the marriage there is going to be the exclusion of many for some 1,000 years.
It seems far better, because of context, to see the third servant as an unbelieving Israelite, of which there were many in the days of Christ and the Apostles.
(3) The key points of the story
1. The basis of rewarding is faithfulness to what the master has given and not the sheer amount produced on earth. Equal faithfulness brings equal reward.
2. Believers are very different in what has been given to them. Some have greater gifts, greater resources and greater opportunities.
3. The fate of the unbeliever (including unbelieving covenant people) will have terrible, painful, eternal consequences.
#3-The Master and His Faithful Servant and His Evil Servant – Matthew 24:45-51
(1) The Story.
This parable is also part of the Lord’s prophetic “Olivet Discourse.” Attention is particularly given to the need to be alert and be watching for the Lord’s return. This is an emphasis that the Lord underscored in the Olivet Discourse. Jesus warned people that becoming lethargic spiritually and living selfishly is an ever present danger. Using the example of the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39), He pointed out that in spite of clear evidence that was presented to those people, they did not give heed and paid the terrible price for their indifference to the things of God.
Here, in this parable, two servants received the focus. One servant was faithful to his master. Furthermore, he was said to be wise in the way he lived, no doubt “making the most of his time” because he understood the times he lived in (Eph. 5:16). He not only did all that the master instructed him to do, but he was vigilant in looking for his master’s return. When the master came, this servant was greatly rewarded.
The second servant developed the dangerous viewpoint that the “master is not coming for a long time” (24:48). The result of this terrible miscalculation was the abandonment of any sense of accountability to the master. The second slave abused his authority and lived a self-indulgent life. He was both unwise and unfaithful. Much to his horror, the master suddenly showed up one day, catching him totally off guard. He never dreamed that the master would return on that particularly day. He was so wrong. He was brought to account, and the consequences were not pleasant. His fate was basically the same as the third servant in the previously studied parable. Though the language here includes the graphic “being cut into pieces”, the idea of a fatal end is declared. The fate of this servant needs to be interpreted in the same way as the third servant in the previous parable. It has there been argued that the text of the Olivet Discourse is focused on Israel and these unfaithful servants are unbelievers.
(2) The key points of the story.
1. A faithful believer is wise in the way he does life, and wisdom includes alertly looking and waiting for his master to return.
2. Assuming that today will not be the day the master returns stimulates bad behaviors of all kinds in a person, as is taught in 1 John 3:28-3:3.
#4 – Being Ready or Not for the Master’s Return – Luke 12:35-38, 42-48
(1) The Story
This story has some similarities to previous ones. In this parable, the master has gone to attend a wedding feast. It is not known if he will return between 9pm and midnight, or if he will get back in the early hours of the morning, perhaps around 3am. It any case, the servants are to be anticipating their master’s return and be ready to open the door for him. They are not to be caught off guard by his sudden appearance at the door. The alert servant, who is there on duty when the master returns, will be greatly honored.
A few verses later, Jesus continues to speak about servants. Again, when the master returns home and finds his servant waiting for him and faithfully discharging his duties, the master will reward him with increased privilege and opportunity. Conversely, the servant who gets it in his mind that the master is going to be gone for quite a while, and will not be soon returning, goes down a different path. When he stopped thinking that the master could come at any time, he suffered an ethical and moral collapse which led to evil behavior. When the master returns (as He always does) the servant will be “cut in pieces” which is a picture of final, severe judgment; and then he is sent to the place where unbelievers are confined.
The story does not end with the punishing of the evil slave, but Jesus goes on to talk about the basis of their accountability and the consequences. He points out, as He does in other places, that greater revelation brings greater responsibility. He notes that a servant who did understand the master’s will and chose not to do it, will experience a more severe discipline. However, if there was clearly a level of ignorance with the slave then the discipline will be considerably less. It is assumed here that all servants have a general understanding of what the master’s standards and commands are, and so, total ignorance is not the case.
(2) The key points of the story
1. There is significant reward given to servants who are looking for the master’s return (note 2 Tim. 4:8) and who are faithfully doing the master’s will.
2. There will differing levels of punishment or rewarding based on how much was known of the Master’s will, which is revealed in His Word.
Some Final Thoughts Concerning Jesus and His Servants
The seriousness of this subject for the believer ought to be obvious. One wonders, however, if many believers today give any thoughtful consideration to the Lord’s return and our immediate evaluation at Christ’s Judgment Seat after that return (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12). The sheer number of these recorded stories, and other teachings as well, indicates that this was an important subject in Jesus’ thinking.
These parables tell believers that we, as purchases possessions of the Lord Jesus Christ, are to daily be about the Master’s business; it is, after all, our reasonable service. We are to labor, keeping one eye towards heaven from where our Savior will come (Phil. 3:11-21) and by so doing keep a better focus on our tasks here on earth. When He appears, as He certainly will, He will start with His servants and reward them (or not) depending primarily on their faithfulness and on whether their lives were regulated by a knowledge of the Master’s will (which is revealed in the Scriptures). Not all believers are going to be the same in the forever kingdom of God.
- Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to St.Luke (Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1964), 438.
- Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006) 35-78.
- Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 180.
- Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 191.
- Victor Buksbazen, The Prophet Isaiah, (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 2012), 336-349.
- R.T.France, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 156. L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology IV (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1964), 430-431.
- Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), 74; Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press).130.
- Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), I. 254, 762.
- Paul Benware, The Believers Payday, Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 199-209.
- Hal M. Haller, Matthew in the Grace New Testament Commentary, (Denton, TX, 2010), 117, 120. Joseph Dillow, Reign of the Servant Kings, (Hayesville, NC: 1993), 351.