When I read Luke 12:35-48, sub-headed in the ESV as You Must Be Ready, the passage inevitably disturbs me. Jesus was speaking to His disciples and relating a parable that reflected directly upon His return from heaven. The parable deals with the master who has gone away for his wedding feast and the servants who remain waiting for him to return home. In the telling, it raises several questions.
The first question is who is the master, and who are the servants? Jesus specifically answers that in Luke 12:40 in referring to the Son of Man; He is speaking of Himself. But who are the servants? Before we get to that, a more basic reference must be addressed. The master has gone away and is now coming back. He was at his wedding feast; upon having celebrated that, he returns home. What is the wedding feast? Is it a relevant reference here? Where is home?
From the presumably parallel passage in Matthew 22, it appears that this aspect of the wedding feast is key. The master has gotten married and has enjoyed the marriage celebration. With all that done, he makes his way to his place of residence. The servants then are those who are part of his household where he dwells; they are not people outside his house, i.e. strangers, in any way.
Are these servants the people of Israel or believers in the church? Why does the text tell us several times about their need to be awake, alert, and waiting?
Bible experts, certainly more versed than me, point to this parable as referring to when Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation. He has consummated His wedding with the Bride – the church – and is now returning with her to His native land of Israel for the final reckoning that will occur during the White Throne Judgment; where sheep and goats are separated, with some given over to glory and others to eternal damnation.
I see all that and some of the context makes sense to me, but not all. If the wedding celebration is indeed the same one as described in Matthew 22, then it is certainly the final accounting of those in Israel. But, here’s what disturbs me about this – of which, I could be totally off base: Why does Jesus stress the need to be alert and expectant for His return? During the Tribulation will those Jews who have become believers – the servants – grow bored, fall asleep, or turn to violence against others? It seems as if all of these would be expecting the Messiah’s return because of how deeply the Holy Spirit has convicted them. In this telling of the parable relating to the end of the Tribulation, how is it that the time of Jesus coming back is unknown, unexpected, like the thief in the night? Wouldn’t you think by this time that Jewish converts would be on the edge of their seats waiting for their King?
Now I get it; applying this parable to the church has a problem. If the wedding feast is key, then the church has already been taken from earth in the Rapture and enjoyed seven years with Jesus as His Bride. But, let’s set the wedding feast aside for just a moment and consider this parable as relating to the church.
Elsewhere in Scripture, church age believers (“brothers”) are told to be ready for the Lord to come as a thief in the night (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-9). This is for good reason. The Rapture of the church is described in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 as an imminent event; it could happen at any time, just as the timing of a thief entering a house in the dead of night is unexpected. What I’m saying is that the language in this passage in Luke has many earmarks of applying to the pre-Tribulation Rapture as to when it seemingly occurs.:
Luke 12:37: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.”
Luke 12:40: “You also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Luke 12:43: “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”
Luke 12:46: “And the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.”
Is it only me who sees this as more Rapture-like than that of the 2nd Coming at the end of the Tribulation when the timing of Jesus’ return can effectively be calculated and known?
The other disturbing descriptions deal with those servants – again, presumably, believers as opposed to Israelites? – who aren’t alert, waiting, watchful, and eagerly expectant for Jesus’ return. The ones who are ready are blessed, as Luke 12:43 above notes. They get the rewards because their master is exceptionally pleased with them.
If we’re talking about the church, then those who are asleep, i.e. those who don’t study Bible prophecy or ignore it, would fall into the unfaithful category. When Jesus comes and they are oblivious to the concept that He will return in an imminent way, don’t care, or are backslidden and acting carnally, the consequences are extreme. The final phrase of Luke 12:46 reads:
“… and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.”
This is someone who should have been faithful, but wasn’t.
Look at the final verses in Luke 12:47-48:
“And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”
Here, we have a servant who knows what is coming, but neglects it, and a servant who was ignorant, thus didn’t know. The one who has the knowledge but refuses to act on it is treated more harshly than the one who never learned in the first place.
Haven’t we in the church been given much? Shouldn’t more be required of us since we have the entire Word of God with all the prophetic warnings? Weren’t we entrusted with this precious gift? It just seems like at this point in time, for this to refer to Israel is problematic. In the past, yes; God showed them extensively who He is. But Israelites today, by and large, are simply not tuned into an expectant waiting for Messiah.
For me, another question arises with the next passage with the sub-head: Not Peace, but Division in Luke 12:49-53:
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
This certainly deals with how people throughout the world receive Jesus. In every strata of society, in every nation on earth, there will be those who follow Jesus and those who reject Him. The church is supposed to be unified, but nobody can say that it is in any real respect, given the denominational and doctrinal differences. Is there conflict between churches and believers because of this where families are actually divided? Could Jesus’ statement here also be a reflection of Christianity? I can tell you as a pre-Tribulation Rapture believer and teacher, there have been multiple times when post-Tribbers have verbally attacked me. They’ve called my pre-Trib belief satanic, with it being a doctrine of demons. Believe me, as a small fish in this pond, I’m not the only one so attacked. Others who are quite prominent in the pre-Trib belief community have been pummeled by those who for some reason cannot stomach the thought of a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Is there a connection between this description of division with the earlier passage we considered? Could the servants in Jesus’ parable be among those whom He said would be divided? If the unfaithful servants are actually part of the church, i.e. believers, isn’t the punishment for their not being ready for the Rapture a disturbing thought? How might it be possible that Jesus would cut them into pieces and put them with the unfaithful?
Listen, I don’t know the answers to some of these concerns I’ve raised. The one thing I do know is that we should heed what Jesus tells us to do in Luke 21:28:
“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
If we do this, then none of us – whether church or Israel, pre-Trib or post-Trib Rapture believers – will have anything to worry about. If we keep our eyes on the Lord and expect Him imminently, all will be good.