He’s Coming! Are You Ready?

A Study of Luke 12:35-48

This group of verses form not one, but two parables, with Peter’s question introducing the second one.

Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”  (Luke 12:41)

This is a crucial question because these two parables serve to illustrate two things.  First, Luke’s view of the Parousia, the Second Advent of Christ.  This event, which is yet to occur, will mean different things to different people, depending on whether Jesus was talking to “us,” that is to faithful believers, or “everyone,” or unbelievers.  And second, in a broader application, Luke gives Jesus’ view of how His followers should be living in light of His return.  Knowing that Jesus can return at any moment should be a powerful motivating factor in our service to Him.  If we truly believed in the immanent return of our  Lord, would we sit around wasting time?  Or would be make the most of every moment to share our faith, before it’s too late?

Two millennia after Jesus spoke these words, they still mean different things to different people.  What they mean to you will be determined by your spiritual state.

1.  Important Context

In order to understand Jesus’ teaching, the context needs to be noted.  In verses 13-21, Jesus told His disciples the parable of The Rich Fool, followed by a warning against undo worry and anxiety, which is a continuation of that parable’s teaching regarding the foolishness of depending on the things of this world.  It is the fool who does that; who has his heart and his mind set on the things of this earth.  The watchful servants of the Lord, in contrast, have their affections set on heavenly things.

That brings us to verses 35-48, which continues the contrast, this time the watchful and faithful servants are contrasted with the unfaithful servant.

Jesus is still  addressing His disciples, with the crowd in the background, and He is still concerned with His followers being too attached to material and temporal things. This is still a problem with believers to this day.  We are far too concerned about the “things of this world” and we put too great an emphasis on acquiring things.  In fact, our attitude about God’s blessings often belies this fact.  We equate His blessings with an abundance of “things,” possessions or money.  In fact, the Bible teaches that God’s blessings are quite different.  Consider this:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:10)

Do you consider persecution a blessing from the Lord?  Maybe the word “persecution” makes it difficult for you to answer that question.  How about “trials,” or “problems,” or “hard times?”  If you consider those things as blessings, then you understand the teachings of Jesus.

2.  The Watchful Servant, verses 35-40

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

If a follower of Jesus is too attached to this world, they won’t be ready for Christ’s return.  If we are to be ready for the Second Advent, then our treasure and our interest must be on things spiritual and things eternal.  As Childers has noted:

Strong attachment to the material would be the chain which would hold [the believer] down when the saints are taken up in the rapture.

(a)  Ready for service

In verses 35 and 36 the Greek hymeis, “you,” is emphatically used to show how the believer should differ from those who seek only the things of this world.  It is as though Jesus is emphasizing the differences between YOU as a believer, who should be faithfully serving the Lord, and OTHERS, who are not faithful.  There should be an obvious difference between the lives of the faithful and the lives of the unfaithful.  The overall theme of the entire passage is summarized in one word:  gregorountas, “watching.”  Faithful servants should be “watching.”

Jesus tells His followers to  “always be ready.”  In the time of Jesus, men wore long, flowing robes that could easily trip them up unless they were tucked into their belts.  The faithful servant must be ready for action; the faithful Christian is one who has removed all the hindrances to service.  The writer to the Hebrews said it this way:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  (Hebrews 12:1)

Twice in his epistles, Paul advised his readers to “redeem the time,” and he gave two reasons for doing so.  First, in Ephesians 5:16 believers are to make the most of their time on earth because “the days are evil.”  And second, in Colossians 4:15, we are to redeem the time and live lives that witness for Christ because those who don’t know Him need to see Him in us.  It’s hard to “redeem the time” and live for Christ when believers are continually being tripped up by their habitual sins.  And that’s why Jesus told His followers to watch for His return, but to be ready to serve Him in the meantime.

(b)  Always be prepared

In ancient Palestine, lamps were very simple and very practical.  It was a small, pitcher-shaped bowl with a wick, which had to be trimmed and the bowl filled with oil.  No oil, no light.  Jesus’ meaning here is also very simple.  As Christians, we must never allow our wicks to become charred or our oil supply to run out.  If those things happen, we would be as useless to Christ as a light that doesn’t work.  On the contrary, Christians  must be useful to Christ; alert and able to be used for His purposes.  Personal devotion–prayer and Bible reading, being a student of the things of God–and faithful service will keep the lamps burning  brightly.

Elsewhere, Jesus taught His followers this:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16)

(c)  Expecting the Second Coming

With verses 36-37, Jesus drives His point home:  His followers need to expect Him to return and need to be prepared to  serve Him if need be.  With robes gathered, ready for action, and with lights brightly burning in the darkness, the servants await the return of their master.  The watchful and faithful servants don’t nod off to sleep, no matter how late the master is.  Notice Jesus uses the word “immediately.”  This  is important because when the call to serve comes, the faithful follower of Jesus already has their wick trimmed.  They are prepared and ready to serve, nothing can hinder them.

How many followers of Jesus today can boast of that kind of preparedness?  If Jesus called you  today to do some work for Him, could you do it?  Do you know enough of your Bibles?  Do you even know what you believe?  Could you explain your faith to some desperate soul looking for answers?  If Christ called you to serve Him, would you have to  put Him off because certain things in your life take precedence over Him?  If so, you could hardly be called a faithful servant.

(d)  A hint

In verse 38, Jesus gives us a hint about His Second Coming.  The ancient Jews had divided the night into three segments, or watches.  By the time of Jesus and the Roman occupation, a fourth watch was added.  Jesus is teaching here that the later the hour of the lord’s return, the more would be his appreciation at finding his servants faithfully waiting for him.  The “second and third watches,” as referenced in the parable, correspond to the middle of the night, when staying awake and alert would be the most difficult.

There is a hint here; Christ’s Second Coming is delayed, and that delay appears to be a means of testing the faithfulness of His followers (Childers).  But the test has a purpose, which is clear in the KJV:

And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.

Christians who remain faithfully watching, waiting, and serving will be “blessed.”  The Lord’s return may seem long in coming, but if we hold on to what the Bible teaches about His glorious appearing, we will be blessed.

(e)  A change of imagery and emphasis

Jesus changes His imagery from servants to burglars in verses 39-40, and His emphasis  shifts from the household servants to the master of the house.  But the point remains essentially the same.  When will He return?  Jesus states that just as the master of the house has no way of knowing if and when his home may be burgled, so also believers cannot know their Lord will return, but they should always be ready for Him to return and be prepared in their hearts and minds.  When we least expect Him return, he will.  When the home owner thinks his home is impervious to burglars, that’s when it will be broken into.

The solution to both the homeowner and the faithful servants is simply this:  Always be ready.  Childers concludes:

Thus the very secrecy of His coming is an added incentive to a perpetual high level of discipleship.

3.  A helpful contrast, verses 42-48

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Peter, who usually spoke out loud what his friends were thinking, asked this question in verse 41:

“Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

Was this teaching for “us” only?  Or for “everyone?” Of course, the answer is “us,”  that is, the disciples and for followers of Jesus.   And Jesus, as was His habit, answered Peter’s question with question, designed to point to an answer.  Usually, Jesus’ teaching is for those “who  have ears to hear,” but in the instance, the teaching is for followers of Jesus only.  Some scholars rightly see here a very special responsibility for pastors and church leaders, and this is likely true, but the when the parable is boiled down, its teaching the importance of faithfulness in doing the will of the master.  Once again, there is a blessing for those who have the proper attitude as they await the return of the Lord: a willingness to render active service in the interest of the Kingdom of God.

How we await our Lord’s return is intimately connected to how we live our lives.  Consider what Paul said in Philippians 3:20,

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

That means that we look forward with great anticipation for Christ’s return.  We are not to be like the nervous and frightened Thessalonians:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.  (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2)

Nor are we to be like lukewarm Laodiceans in Revelation 3:14-22,

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Rather, we should be like this church:

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.  (Revelation 2:9-10)

Just as in the parable of the master, who upon his return rewards his faithful servant, so also Jesus at His glorious coming will reward His faithful servants.

Verse 45 provides a contrast, after having revealed what will happen to the faithful servant, Jesus now shows us what will happen to the unfaithful one.  However, as is sometimes the case with the teachings of Jesus, there is  more going on than meets the eye of the casual reader.  For, in reality, the two servants, the faithful and the unfaithful, are one and the same. The contrast may also serve as a warning.  Note verse 45:

But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk.

In the parable, “the” servant is “that” servant, but something has happened to him.  He has said something “to himself,” or “in his heart.”   Very often, it is what a man thinks to himself that is more telling that what he says out loud.  In the parable, this servant appeared so faithful throughout the night, but as the night wore on, in the secret precincts of his heart, he is losing faith.

This faithful looking servant is, in fact, wicked, a sadist, who would beat up others just for the fun  of it.  In the midst of his drunken revelry, the master of the house returns!  Imagine the shock in seeing this trusted servant now behaving so badly.  How will this servant be treated:

He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

This once-faithful servant, who been blessed so  much for his faithfulness in the past, has taken advantage of His master, and abused the trust placed in him, and he will be punished accordingly.

The meaning of Jesus is stark and painful.  Unbelievers have no place in the household of the Master.  And an unfaithful, unstable servant will find his place with the unbelievers, if he is found wanting when the Master returns.


Some believers find such teaching harsh.  They don’t see a loving  God and they would rather misinterpret Scripture and misrepresent God to make this teaching more palatable.  However, that is a dangerous thing do to.  Verses 47 and 48 show the Master, not cruel, but just and reasonable.

“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

In light of these last two verses, there are six brief points to remember:

  • The master is Jesus Christ;
  • The unstable servant who is punished so severely knew his master’s will but did not obey it;
  • Upon the master’s return, some will be punished severely, others lightly.  This teaches us that there are degrees of glory in the New Heaven and Earth, but also degrees of suffering in Hell.
  • Different gifts bring different responsibilities; and blessings are commensurate with  knowledge and opportunity.
  • The whole parable, from beginning to end, make it abundantly clear the the talents God has given man must be used, that time is short and it  must be redeemed, and opportunities to serve God seized upon immediately.  No Christian has the right to be lazy and no Christian has the right to live only for himself.  A true and faithful Christian will live for others and for God (1 Cor. 9:22; 10:31)
(c)  2008 WitzEnd

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