Watch and Be Ready For the Coming of the Lord

by Thomas W. Finley

Lesson Three: “You too, be ready” (Luke 12:35-48)

For the sake of space, I will not reproduce this long passage here in print, but will ask the reader to open his Bible to the passage. This passage may be broken down into two parts:

  1. Jesus’ admonition to be ready for His coming (vs. 35-40).
  2. The question to Jesus by His disciples about the parable (v.41), with His answer being in two parts:
    1. application to leaders or shepherds in the church (vs. 42-46)
    2. application to all believers in general (47-48).

In the first part, Jesus illustrates the need for readiness for His return. The slaves of the master are to be so eager for the master’s return that they are alert even late into the night (the second or third watch, covering 9:00 P. M. until 3 A. M.), ready to instantly open the door when the master returns. His return is the desire of their hearts and they are paying much expectant attention to the master’s return even as they go about their work. This description of the slaves longing, waiting for and looking for their master should have much to teach us. Is this our attitude towards the Lord’s return, or is His return just some doctrine to us? Does His imminent return grip our heart and our longings each day, or do we give it only a passing thought on occasion? We should check our heart in this matter and see where we are. The Lord promises here that there is a blessing upon the slave who is watching in this way for the master. The amazing promise also includes a picture of the Lord Himself serving those who so wait for Him (v. 37).

Verses 39 and 40 are crucial:

"But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect." (Lk. 12:39-40)

If the head of a house knew when a thief was coming, he would have been prepared, so as not to suffer a loss. Not only is there a blessing to gain in being prepared for Jesus’ coming, but there is also loss to be avoided by being prepared. Here Jesus warns us that we must be ready at all times in order to avoid loss because no one knows the exact hour of His coming.

God’s dealings with the shepherds and leaders

Right after this warning Peter asked Jesus: “Lord, are you addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” (v. 41) The Lord answered Peter by another parable. Verses 42-46 make it clear that Jesus intended this new story to apply to leaders or shepherds in the church, those who would be like household stewards taking care of feeding the household staff. Thus, in this parable he was speaking of the need to be ready as it applied to Peter and the apostles, and in principle to all leaders or shepherds in the church. A local overseer (or shepherd) is called God’s steward (Tit. 1:7). The steward, or leader, who is faithfully feeding the other slaves is shown to be blessed when Jesus returns, and is given more responsibility (vs. 43-44). This blessing of more responsibility would be a positive reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ, which would follow the rapture of the faithful steward. Verse 45, however, shows that this same steward can act wrongly and mistreat his fellow slaves (fellow believers) and focus on eating and drinking and getting drunk. These wrong actions are connected to a wrong inner attitude: “My master will be a long time in coming.” This means that once a leader loses sight of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus (which includes accountability for his believers) he can begin to mistreat fellow believers and be caught up in this world system (“getting drunk” pictures overindulgence in the pleasures and desires of this world).

What will happen to such a failed servant of God, one who thinks the Lord’s coming is delayed and begins to mistreat believers and live in self-indulgence? Verse 46 makes it clear that such a one is going to experience a severe judgment from God:

“the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers” (Lk. 12:46).

To “cut in pieces” is a figure of speech derived from an ancient method of punishment (“sawn in two,” Heb. 11:37). This figure of speech pictures a severe judgment by Christ upon a spiritual leader who has failed in this way. We do not know with certainty the exact nature of this future punishment. This punishment and the Lord’s assignment to a place with unbelievers are connected by the word “and.” This indicates that they are connected, but the severe punishment seems distinct from the placement with unbelievers. Being severely punished, as well as being assigned a place with the unbelievers, does not mean that a leader who fails in this way will go to hell for eternity, which would negate salvation by grace. However, the strong language of this warning indicates that God requires utter faithfulness in leaders who act as His stewards, and with such great responsibility the real possibility of severe punishment exists for failure (1 Cor. 4:1-5; Jas. 3:1). One strong possibility is that this punishment of being “cut in pieces” refers to a judgment of physical death. If these failed ones are killed by Christ when He suddenly comes, then they will be brought before His Judgment Seat and further judged by being placed with the unbelievers, here meaning outside of the glory of Christ’s coming millennial kingdom. More will be said about such millennial kingdom loss later.

On the other hand, if this judgment of being “cut in pieces” is something severe besides physical death, then we must consider an alternative understanding of being assigned a place with the unbelievers. Where will the unbelievers be when the Lord suddenly returns? They will be here on the earth to experience the time of great tribulation and many judgments upon the earth. In this alternative case this passage is warning us that those stewards of God who are alive at Christ’s return, and who have not been faithful, will not only be severely judged, but will also be left with the unbelievers here. Whether the severe judgment here of “cutting in pieces” is death, or something less, we must realize that God can render severe judgment now, before the Judgment Seat (Acts 5: 1-11; 1 Cor. 5:1-5; 11:28-32; Heb. 12:4-10). It is very possible that we may see more open judgment by God upon disobedient Christians at the end of this age, as there was in the early church (Acts. 5:1-11; ! Cor. 5:1-5; 11:28-32). A severe judgment from God awaits those leaders who are found unfaithful when Christ comes to take the overcoming saints. The severity of this warning of punishment should not be missed, and it should not be reduced to simply being a “rebuke.” It follows naturally that those leaders who have died in such a condition of failure before Christ returns will also receive severe judgment at the coming Judgment Seat of Christ.

The fact is this: today there are many preachers, teachers, and leaders among God’s people who are born again, but are not looking for the Lord’s return. Since He has not yet come in almost 2,000 years they feel that He is not likely to come soon, especially at any moment. In line with this, they have little concern about their accountability before Him. This lack of realization in turn causes them to be unwatchful as respects how they treat fellow believers, and it causes the love of this world to creep into their lives. They begin to feed on some of the same pleasures and desires as the unbelievers of the world. They may desire a more comfortable lifestyle instead of being willing to sacrifice all in order to be utterly faithful to God and to every truth of His word. The awful temptation of the “pride of life” can also influence preachers, causing them to seek fame through a wider “ministry” by adopting the world’s ways and methods. “For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:10). Let us not suppose that Demas left the faith. Nor let us think that he necessarily left being active in “ministry.” He only left Paul. Paul stood for the narrow way of the cross and lived in light of Christ’s coming in judgment (2 Tim. 4:1, 8). This was too strict for Demas. He wanted to live in a way that was not so narrow, leaving room for what pleased him.

God’s dealings with every believer

In the next two verses the Lord goes on to touch a general principle applying to every slave, every believer (not just “leaders”).

"And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Lk. 12:47-48)

In these two verses Jesus continued his teaching on being ready for the Lord’s return. He begins here by adding something, as noted by the word “and.” What He adds is a general principle applying to every “slave,” meaning every child of God, not just leaders. Also, this principle is not tied to potential dealings by the Lord solely to those alive at the time of Christ’s arrival. It will also apply to those many believers who have died over the centuries. Those who do not prepare for the Lord’s coming, or who do not act according to God’s known will, shall be disciplined with many lashes. There will be some slaves (believers) who do not know God’s will well, yet still violate it. For these, the discipline is less. Then follows the principle that for those who have been given much from the Lord (this may be in gifts, or enlightenment or assignments of responsibility), there will be a matching expectation of service. The “lashes” speak of a whipping given to a slave who did not carry out his duties. This discipline of “lashes” for a failed slave of the Lord is not literal, but gives us a real picture of God’s dealing in judgment upon those who do not do God’s will or carry out required responsibilities of service. What the actual “lashes” are is not known.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)