WORTHY OF THE KINGDOM

by Thomas W. Finley


Chapter 8-1 (contd.)

THE JUDGMENT UPON THE HOUSEHOLD SLAVES

Now we come to the matter of specific negative judgments rendered to the believer at the Bema. I have already mentioned Kingdom exclusion and its correlative term, “outer darkness”. Beyond Kingdom exclusion, certain varying chastisements are possible for the disobedient believer. One of the clearest and most forthright passages concerning these chastisements is in Luke Chapter Twelve.

35 “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. 36 And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. 38 Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 And 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. 40 You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

41 And Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 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. 47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Lk. 12:35-48).

In verse 41 Peter had inquired to whom the Lord intended to apply His parable concerning being “dressed in readiness” (Lk. 12:35-40). This parable speaks of the disciple’s need to be prepared for the Lord’s sudden return. It is important to note the story that Jesus used for the lesson. The parable involves slaves who are waiting for their master’s return. The Lord said that those slaves who were on the alert and ready for the master’s return would be blessed.

To whom, then, Peter asked in verse 41, is this matter of readiness for the master’s return addressed? In His answer, Jesus spoke of the “faithful and sensible steward” whom the master has put in charge of “his servants”. Jesus is talking about the servants of His household. We see, therefore, that Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question (v.41) picks up the same theme as the parable Jesus had just spoken: the readiness of the household slaves for their master’s return.

In verses 42-46, Jesus is addressing those in charge of the household service, that is, the leaders among the servants. So, Jesus intended this portion of His answer to apply to Peter and other leaders. After dealing with the leaders, I believe verses 47 and 48 (beginning with “And that slave . . . ) declare a general principle applying to all the servants of the household. Surely Christ’s word to be ready for His return is intended for every believer, for every “slave” in His service. So Jesus, in His reply to Peter, indicates that His word concerning readiness applies to all of the slaves of His household, but He has a particular word to the leaders concerning this matter. This is because leadership always carries a unique responsibility (Heb. 13:17).

In studying this portion of God’s Word, we should first recognize that in the New Testament God only considers believers as His slaves. Only those who belong to Him does He entrust with service to Him. Some stewards He puts “in charge” of His household service. If these leaders faithfully feed the flock (Lk. 12:42), then they will be blessed when the Lord comes and will be given great responsibility (vs. 43-44). Note, however, that verse 45 begins “but if that slave”. This indicates that the same slave (a leader) can either faithfully feed the flock or mistreat the flock. A second slave, a “false” slave, is not introduced. It is the same slave, but with a different attitude. This slave is now seen as thinking his master’s return is delayed (Jesus’ coming again) and begins to mistreat his “fellow slaves” (Matt. 24:49). Also, he starts to eat and get drunk. This signifies his indulgence in the pleasures of this world.

Luke 12:46 graphically tells what will happen to such a leader. The Lord’s return will catch him by surprise, and Christ’s judgment upon him will be to “cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” I cannot explain to you what all of this means specifically. Please note that the word translated “unbelievers” very possibly instead means “unfaithful” here (see RV and AMP). It seems a mistake to reduce the obvious severity of the Lord’s language (“cut him in pieces”--literally, cut in two) to something like a strong rebuke. I do believe the Lord’s words indicate severe chastisement. If God inflicts judgmental sickness and death in this age (1 Cor. 11:28-32), then He can inflict genuine and significant chastisement upon His return. Some have attempted to explore the exact meaning and details of the Lord’s judgments here, but I will not attempt to do so. The “cutting in two” may indeed be literal, but it does not have to be since the beating in verse 45 is most probably not literal.[1]

Continuing on to verses 47 and 48, we see the Lord’s pronouncements upon any slaves in His service, which are in relation to knowing and doing His will. The slave who knows the Lord’s will and is disobedient receives “many lashes”. It seems doubtful that these “lashes” are literal, but since a whipping is the illustration of the story, then the reality must also be “painful”.

Also, just as “ignorance of the law” is no excuse in the human court, so ignorance of God’s will is no reason for escape from chastisement in the heavenly court. The slave who is disobedient due to ignorance receives a few lashes. Why will Christ discipline the disobedient? He tells us at the end of verse 48: it is a matter of stewardship and responsibility. Slaves are responsible to their master to carry out their duties. At the Bema, Christ’s believers are judged under the status of “slaves” (servants), not “sons”.

Once again we see that preparation for the Lord’s coming judgment is related to obedience to His will. Leaders must be obedient in their calling. Additionally, every Christian is responsible to know and do God’s will. This word should be a real warning to us. We should be those slaves of our Lord who study God’s Word and listen for His voice so that we may know His will. Then, by His grace, we should live by faith and be a doer of the Word, not a hearer only.

GEHENNA

There is another series of verses that also constitutes a serious warning of possible future judgment upon disobedient believers. These we may call “Gehenna truths”, because of their reference to a place termed Gehenna. I expect that almost every reader will be shocked at the idea that a judgment involving Gehenna could apply to a believer. This in not a novel interpretation, however, originated by this writer. There are several other Christian teachers that I know of who have endorsed this truth (see the endnote).[2] Gehenna is a valley situated outside of Jerusalem. G. H. Pember describes this place in his commentary on the penalties outlined in Matthew 5:22, where Gehenna is referenced:

Again, in regard to the penalties--in ordinary language, “the Judgment” and “the Council” were names given to the local Jewish Courts, which had cognizance of minor offenses, and to the Supreme Court, or Sanhedrim, at Jerusalem, respectively; while the Hell of Fire--literally, the Fiery Valley of Hinnom--indicated a prerogative of the Sanhedrim, by which they were able to order that the body of an executed criminal should be conveyed to the Valley of Hinnom, and there be cast, amid the sewage of the city and every kind of offal and corruption, into one of the numerous fires which were kept ceaselessly burning for the purpose of consuming the filth.[3]

Gehenna, a fiery valley, is a picture (an illustration) of a future severe judgment. It seems unlikely to me that this judgment is literally carried out in the Valley of Hnnom, but only God knows for certain the actual circumstances of this judgment. We must take the picture with gravity and fear of God.

The Greek word Gehenna has its derivation from the Hebrew term Ge-Hinnom, which literally means the “valley of Hinnom.” The term is derived from the Hebrew words gay (Strong’s #1516) and Hinnom (Strong’s #2011). Unfortunately, many English versions, but not all, translate this term into the English word “hell.” This is a grave mistake in translation, since the average English reader understands hell as a place of eternal punishment for the lost. This mistranslation can easily lead the reader to a wrong exegesis of the passages containing this word.

The translators should have simply translated the word as Gehenna, or the “valley of Hinnom”, since it is a geographical place. While it is true that the Jews of Jesus’ time understood Gehenna to be a place of future punishment for certain persons, it is not true that this judgment was necessarily understood by them to apply strictly to the “lost” (as opposed to God’s people), or that it would be eternal in duration. In the Old Testament, God used this place as a judgment only upon His people, not the nations (Jer. 7:30-33). The Biblical identity of “hell”, the place which the Bible definitely describes as the final, eternal destiny of the lost, would be the “lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:15)

The question arises, however: Is Gehenna equivalent to the “lake of fire” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10,14,15; 21:8)? In answering this question, the first obvious observation is: If these places are identical why would the New Testament use two different terms? We should also note that all of the New Testament Gehenna verses are directed toward God’s people, either toward the disciples (believers), or toward the Jews. The “lake of fire” verses are directed toward unbelievers. Believers can be “cast into” Gehenna (Mk. 9:47). However, the Bible never explicitly says believers can be “cast into” the lake of fire. The Scripture does definitely indicate that unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41--cf. Rev. 20:10; 12-15).

It is important to note that rabbinical thought at Christ’s time identified the judgment of Gehenna with a punishment upon sinners. In his classic work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim describes for us the teachings on Gehenna in the two schools of Jewish theology that were existent in Christ’s day.[4] Both schools considered Gehenna as a place of punishment. This thought was probably derived from an eschatological (end-time) extension of Jeremiah’s prophecy on Gehenna (Jer. 7:30-31), or from the judgments of Gehenna that were placed upon certain dead criminals by the Sanhedrin. Both schools viewed Gehenna as a place for certain classes of sinners (including the Jews), with one class suffering temporal punishment there and another class suffering eternal punishment.

Therefore, when Jesus spoke of the future punishment of Gehenna, this would not have been a new theological thought to His audience. Also, the minds of the hearers were conditioned to consider that such a punishment could be temporary or eternal in nature. With such a range of possibilities presented for Gehenna by the Rabbis, we must look to Jesus’ usage of the term and to Scripture to truly understand the term.

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)

[1] For one view of the literalness of such judgments, see: Gary T. Whipple, Shock and Surprise Beyond the Rapture (Hayesville, N. C.: Schoettle Publishing Co. Inc., 1992), pp. 176-177.

[2] Noted below are seven Christian teachers who endorse this truth:

Robert Govett, Reward According to Works (Hayesville, NC: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1984), article entitled “Will All Believers Enter the Millennial Kingdom?”, pp. 20-21.

G. H. Lang, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Miami Springs: Conley & Schoettle Publishing Co., 1985), pp. 180-186.

Witness Lee, Life-Study of Matthew (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1985), pp. 230-232.

Watchman Nee, The Gospel of God (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1990), Vol. III, pp. 441-462.

D. M. Panton, The Judgment Seat of Christ (Hayesville, NC: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1993), pp. 76-77.

G. H. Pember, The Great Prophecies of the Centuries Concerning the Church (Miami Springs: Conley and Schoettle Publishing Co. Inc., 1984), pp. 105-116.

Gary T. Whipple, Shock and Surprise Beyond the Rapture (Hayesville, NC: Schoettle Publishing Co. Inc., 1992), pp. 145-161, 171-175.

[3] G. H. Pember, The Great Prophecies of the Centuries Concerning the Church (Miami Springs: Conley and Schoettle Publishing Co. Inc., 1984), p. 93.

[4] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah., 1883. (Reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), Vol. II, pp. 440; 792-793.