In the first verse of the book of Revelation the apostle John claims that the purpose for the revelation given by the Lord Jesus was to show His bond-slaves things that would shortly take place. As we continue our journey together in the following passage we are going to investigate, Jesus is going to discuss two different types of slaves. Interestingly, they have similar roles.
MATTHEW Chapter 24
Vs. 45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?
Vs. 46 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.
Vs. 47 “Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
Vs. 48 “But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’
Vs. 49 and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards;
Vs. 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know.
Vs. 51 and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth. (NASB)
Verse 45 starts the last paragraph of chapter 24. I have provided all seven verses upfront to make it easier to ponder the context of the paragraph. The paragraph itself is basically a parable in which the first major character is a slave in charge of his lord’s household. In the Greek the word translated “household” denotes a “household of slaves”. I conceptualize it as being similar to a bunch of employees of their master, and one of them is the supervisor. But these are all slaves and one of them is the chief slave because of two qualities. Did you pick up on the two qualities highlighted in this parable? The answer is he was both faithful and sensible! In the Greek the word “sensible” denotes this slave as having practical wisdom; this one is savvy, he’s hip, he’s street smart, he is well balanced. We would conclude this slave has an abundance of common sense. Plus, he was declared faithful so the two qualities made him a good choice to be picked by the lord or the master who owned him to be in charge over the household.
What about the second major character in the parable? This slave was also in charge of of his lord’s “household of slaves” but is designated as an “evil slave”. This guy also has two qualities revealed in the story. The first is an anger management issue. We know this from the Greek word translated “beat”. It denotes: to strike a blow, usually in a fit of anger or violence. This dude has quite the violent temper. He attempts to intimidate, manipulate and control others using fear tactics.
What other quality fits the description of this evil slave? What is being implied in the description as one who eats and drinks with drunkards? We would characterize him as lacking self-discipline and being irresponsible! This slave gives the impression of being self-serving and self-gratifying. Recall the old adage that bad company corrupts good morals. Rather than taking care of the household, he is out and about, carousing.
Looking back at verse 45 we see this parable of the two slaves being used to raise a critical issue by Jesus. It is the issue of who! Who is the faithful and sensible slave? This first slave in charge of his lord’s slaves was competent in executing what important task? The answer is, giving the other slaves in his care their food at the proper time.
Before we look further into what this paragraph is illustrating let’s make sure we establish the context. We underwent an extensive journey to arrive at this last paragraph. I hope you have noticed how smooth the scriptural flow has been, that the paragraphs have all those links to each other and how sequential and relative the paragraphs were to the ones following. The paragraph starting in verse 45 is no exception. It follows the context of the chapter. Let me offer a quick capsulization of key statements and points for a proper perspective of this last paragraph. “See to it no one misleads you”; endure to the end; “Behold, I have told you in advance”; “do not believe”, “do not go”; do not believe the lies of those who would lure you out of hiding; learn, see, recognize, be on the alert; be sure, and be ready. These are admonitions given directly from our Lord that lead up to and give insight into what this parable is designed to accomplish.
Remember a parable was used as a teaching aid. Any interpretation of this parable that ignores the context of the chapter runs the risk of missing the intention Christ had in mind to reveal. Recall that one way of looking at Matthew 24 is it provides a list of conditions and important events that affect the Christ follower, the elect, saints. The original recipients of the Olivet Discourse were the disciples, the apostles, the soon to be founding fathers of the Church. They were among those that received the “Great Commission”–live and in person! Part of that commission was “teaching them (others) to observe all that I commanded you.”
Coming to the parable in verse 45 we find Jesus asking, who then is the faithful and sensible servant or slave put in charge of the other slaves, to give them their food at the proper time? When Jesus presented His parables He designed them to convey a spiritual point, a spiritual principle or truth. This method of instruction uses something obvious or apparent in the narrative to symbolize or represent something in the spiritual realm that was usually not so apparent. In this parable we need to see what the links are or what the symbolism is. Who would you say is being represented by the phrase “household of slaves”? I relate that to the body of believers or “the brethren”, or a congregation, perhaps comparable to what can be referred to as a local church. We are all called as slaves to Christ!
Who then does the slave put in charge of his fellow slaves represent? The answer I would suggest would be Overseers among the congregation of believers, those with positions of authority within a local church for example. And according to this parable the slave in charge had the big responsibility of giving the others their food at the proper time. What does the food represent or symbolize? I suggest it represents Bible doctrine or biblical principles…the Word of God.
Notice what else our Lord included in His parable, regarding this issue of “food”. Notice that the sensible slave in charge gave the food “at the proper time”. The term “proper time” comes from a form of the Greek word KAIROS, which we checked out earlier in our journey. While “proper time” is an excellent translation here in verse 45, we can gain a deeper appreciation by taking a closer look. Do you remember KAIROS emphasizes the quality of time rather than length of time. It is often translated as “season”, but there are two dynamics at play involving this word in verse 45. There are two sides of this word and both of them need to be considered as we investigate the intended message of this parable. On the front side of the word KAIRO (the actual word in the text) I would mention important nuances like “proper” time; “opportune” time; “due” time, appropriate time or even the “right” time. I would suggest it denotes a coordination or synchronization of sorts, something in keeping with the significance of the back half of the word. The back half of the word puts emphasis on the qualities, conditions, characteristics and events associated with the usage of the word in accordance with the particular context. Verse 46 assists in determining the context for this word. As we read the verse again we can see certain issues that are plainly implied. What is plainly implied as part of the parable? The answer would include that the master is away but will return sometime and will reward the faithful slave for giving his fellow slaves their food, at the proper time! The main characteristic, the main condition that KAIRO is emphasizing is the season during the master’s absence. However, just because the absence of the master is the center characteristic, the main condition emphasized within the context, that doesn’t preclude the existence of other qualities, characteristics, conditions or events during this particular “season”. I mention this as I feel it impacts the spiritual lesson this parable provides.
While interpreting this parable it should be fairly obvious that the “master” represents whom? The answer is the Lord Jesus Christ. The period of time between His ascension into heaven and the PAROUSIA is often referred to as what age? The answer is the Church Age- during which there will be substantial variations in qualities, conditions, circumstances and events. Taken as a whole, the entire council of God’s Word is designed to provide the Christ follower with spiritual resources to handle any contingency in life-regardless of variety, whether it be prosperity, divine discipline, undeserved suffering, blessing or adversity-whatever! However it is the ministry of the pastor-teacher to provide the local church congregation with what we might call “timely messages”. How often have you heard a message from a pastor that seemed to speak directly to you because of a particular situation you were going through or related to your efforts to council or minister to someone else…or any of a number of reasons? One of my favorite pastors used to say that good Bible teaching has a way of “scratching where it itches”! If you can relate to what I’m discussing then you can appreciate the intention of the usage of the Greek word KAIRO in this verse. That’s the beauty of a particular word’s nuance and understanding the role it plays in the Word of God.
Now let’s take another quick look at the other major character in the parable–the evil slave. The first slave served his master. What about this guy? Who is he serving? Its not his master. The answer is he serves himself. And in so doing he imitates the ungodly, he participates in the activities of the wicked. That’s the implication in the parable when Jesus said the slave ate and drank with the drunkards. He was a participant with them, he had the same mind-set of the “worldly” or “natural” person under domination of the lusts of the old sin nature. The first slave imitated his master. He did what the master would do if the master was handling that responsibility himself. What is the significance of the evil slave’s association with drunkards? I feel it deals partially with the issue of control. Drunkards are known to engage in irrational thinking and behavior. A drunkard’s thinking, perception and priorities are distorted and impaired. Experience shows us that when it comes to actions and behavior the drunkard is engrossed in the present moment and totally oblivious to any potential negative consequences. I am once again reminded of one of my favorite sayings: “If you want to know what life is all about, I can tell you in three words: volition, volition, volition: making freewill decisions and experiencing the consequences of those decisions.” The drunkard experiences negative consequences that in one way or another often affect all those associated with him.
Verse 48 provides the self justification, perhaps the motive used by the evil slave for serving his own desires instead of the desires of the master. What is the motive, the self justification that sways his thought process? The answer is his conclusion that the master is not returning for a long time. He is saying “It doesn’t matter. I can kick back and do my own thing. I’ll worry about my responsibilities, later!”
Interestingly the word “time” in verse 48 is a form of the Greek word CHRONOS. Do you remember from our former encounter with this word what CHRONOS focuses on? It emphasizes length of time, duration of time. This slave has no concern for the qualities, the conditions, the circumstances or the events associated with the season of time of the master’s absence. As he contemplates the situation, he excitingly concludes that he has lots of time and he conveniently ignores the fact that, as the head slave, he is accountable. Then, when the master returns unexpectedly, and reviews the account of what transpired during his absence, suddenly the evil slave discovers that he is out of time! And while the faithful slave gains everything when the master returns, the evil slave loses everything.
I see something significant about the judgment and disciplinary action taken against the evil slave. There are two parts or aspects involved. Do you spot what I see in verse 51? What is the first disciplinary action taken? The answer is, he is cut in pieces! It is a physical judgment, a physical destruction illustrating an attitude of utter contempt. What is the second part or aspect? The answer is, he is assigned a place with the wicked, the hypocrites, the fake, imitators, the faux, look-a-likes, impostors. This is important as it provides us with an example of yet another link! It follows the same pattern we see repeated throughout the scriptures; the testing and evaluation process, followed by God rescuing, saving, delivering and rewarding His people, followed by the punishment, judgment and physical destruction of the wicked.
Do you see it that way? Does it fit without forcing? Are we discovering the truth of God’s Word or do you suspect I am manipulating the study to make the scriptures seem to support a particular theological position? This parable does not highlight the timing of the return of Christ but rather the need to be diligent in carrying out our responsibilities during the Master’s absence, especially those in authoritative positions over others.
Let’s look at a couple other features of the punishment associated with the place of the hypocrites. Jesus said, “weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth.” Weeping is a common, natural response to great sorrow or troubling emotional stimulation. Gnashing of teeth often occurs in situations of intense physical pain. It should be quite sobering that both inflictions are eternal afflictions experienced by those assigned a place with the hypocrites. May I be bold enough to ask the reader to search your soul to make sure there is a genuine, eternal, saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? Let us not fool ourselves into believing superb acting will win us favor with Almighty God. He is the Omniscient One. He always sees the truth within the heart of a man, whether good or evil, and He alone is the Righteous Judge. My prayer is no one reading this will remain a hypocrite, an imitation Christian but rather, all would come to repentance and embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior!
Can you believe it? We have finished our journey through Matthew chapter 24! While the Olivet Discourse continues on through chapter 25 there is a break in the action between the two chapters which I will take advantage of in order to take you on another important side journey; this time to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church. It’s a great study and you won’t be disappointed.