An Exposition of Luke 12:35-48
SOME of the instruction given by our Lord to His disciples while He was with them upon earth, may be regarded as limited to themselves and the immediate circumstances under which it was given. The greater portion, however, was addressed to them as the representatives of those “who should believe on Him through their word”; and, as such, it should appeal to us with as much force and directness as though the words had been spoken in our hearing by the Lord. Indeed, in not a few places we can readily perceive that the full significance of His teaching went beyond the comprehension of those to whom it was first given, and could not be completely understood until illuminated by the fuller light of later revelation. Without pausing to notice other examples, we need only consider the section which forms the text, in which our Lord spoke of the experience through which the Church was to pass during the interval between His going to the Father and His Return in glory; for the Apostles seem to have had more difficulty in understanding the character and duration of this interval than almost any other point. It was for this reason that the Lord, as we are told in the 19th of Luke, “added and spake a parable, because they thought that the Kingdom of God should immediately appear”, commencing with these words, “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return”; and as it obviously requires a long time to go to and return from a “far country”, we might have thought that there should have been no misconception with regard to His absence being a long one. How great their difficulty was, however, is clearly seen by the fact that the last question they asked the Lord before His Ascension was this, “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” They could not realize that a long interval must elapse before the Lord who was leaving them would return, and that during that interval much tribulation awaited His Church in the world; and doubtless it was not until fuller light was given, through the teaching of the Spirit after Pentecost, that their minds were open to grasp this.
The present text is, then, an example of instruction which neither was, nor perhaps could have been, fully understood when spoken—instruction, which was intended specially for the Church in its later generations. This is clearly shown by the words of a parallel passage,
“What I say unto you
I say unto all, Watch”
I say unto all, Watch”
by which we see that it was the wish of the Lord not only to place their hearts in a position of watchful expectancy towards His Return, but that He also desired the same character of expectancy to be found in each generation of His people up to the time of His Second Advent. The moral bearing of the anticipation of His Return, and the effect it was to produce upon the hearts and lives of believers, were to be the same throughout: all were to wait for their Lord from heaven with watchfulness as well as with expectancy, looking forward to His Return, and living under the power of that hope.
Let us now examine the text in detail. The train of thought it contains is not introduced abruptly, but grows out of the earlier matter of the discourse, especially the portion commencing with the 15th verse. The picture of the Rich Worldling, whose heart was set upon the acquisition of earthly goods, seems to be introduced to teach that the believer’s treasure is not here, and that we should seek, not wealth and prosperity in this life, as the nations of the world do, but rather the interests of that coming Kingdom which it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to His people. This gave occasion for the words of the 35th verse, “Let your loins be girded about and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord”. This also it is which gives us the key, at the very threshold of the subject, as to what is meant by watchful expectancy of the Lord’s Coming. Only if the hearts of His people were kept from the ensnaring influence of worldly things, and fully occupied with the interests of His Kingdom, could they be likened to men watching for their Lord’s Return. But all His professed servants would not be alike as to this, There would be some who would not be as faithful and wise stewards, watching over their Lord’s interests during His absence, and thus always ready to render account to Him at His Return, but who would say in their hearts, “My Lord delayeth His coming; I may please myself; eat and drink with the drunken, and live only for the present”; and it is to such that the description applies, “The Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for Him“. There is shown here, then, an essential difference between these two classes of persons, the Good Servants and the Evil Servants. The Good Servant watches over his Lord’s interests during His absence; and in this consists his watchfulness: the Evil Servant cares not for his Lord’s interests but only for his own pleasure and advantage; and in this consists his unwatchfulness. The first acts as though his Lord might return at any moment; the second, as though his Lord were to be absent for a long time. The essence of the teaching is here, Then, special attention must be devoted to verse 39, for these words, which are spoken to all, are clearly only intended for some; seeing that the thief comes not to those who are watching, but to those who are not watching for his approach: accordingly, the Lord’s Return is never likened in Scripture to the coming of a thief with regard to His true and faithful people, who look for His appearing (see Heb. 9:28), but only to those who do not expect Him. The words of the 41st verse show that Peter realized this difference, though he did not fully understand the matter; and the Lord’s reply (verse 42) is given in such a way as to make this meaning plain, though He does not answer the question of Peter directly. We can easily see that those to whom the warning of the 40th verse applies (“Be ye, therefore, ready also”, and, “When ye think not”) are not Good Servants, but Evil Servants, who say in their hearts, “Our Lord delayeth His coming”. It is not to the Good Servants, who are expecting His Return, that the Lord will come “at a day and hour when they think not”, but only to the Evil Servants, who look not for Him. In this lies the great and solemn importance of the words of the 40th verse; “be ye, therefore, ready also”. The exhortation seems to be intended, not for the good and watchful servants, but for the unwatchful ones; and they are shown that they have need to be prepared for the Advent, even as the others who are already prepared, and are awaiting it in watchful expectancy. See verses 40 and 46, and compare 1 Thessalonians 5:1-14.
In considering this subject, it is needful to point out that there are two great facts, neither of which was, nor could be, clearly grasped by the minds of the Apostles at the time the Lord spoke these words, but which have become developed in the subsequent history of the Church, and on which the teaching of the text turns. These are, first, that false profession would be introduced by the Evil One as a means of counter-working and neutralizing the testimony of the Church; and, second, that the Church itself, when thus corrupted, would become an unfaithful witness to her absent Lord. Both these facts underline the teaching of our section, and without a recognition of them an intelligent exposition of it would be impossible. We could not understand to whom the figure of the Evil Servant applied, nor what was meant by his “smiting his fellow servants and eating and drinking with the drunken”, unless we recognized in Scripture, and from the facts around us, what false profession has wrought in the Church, and how it has ruined her testimony.
The fact of False Profession
There are few things of deeper importance to the right understanding and application of Scripture than a recognition of the fact of false profession. It has been, and still is, the will of God, mysterious though this be, to permit the Enemy to introduce into the Church evil persons, clad in the garment of an untrue profession of the Name of Christ. The parable of the Wheat and Tares in Matthew 13, with the explanation the Lord Himself gives of its meaning in that chapter, shows this. The Lord, as the Sower, sowed good seed (“the good seed are the children of the Kingdom”) in “the field which is the world:” the Enemy, unable to prevent this sowing, came secretly by night and sowed tares over the wheat, and these tares are described as “the children of the Wicked One”. The wheat and the tares grow together side by side till the harvest, and so closely resemble one another that none can unerringly distinguish them except the Lord Himself. We cannot too carefully observe that the tares are not presented as emblems of any and every kind of wicked person: they represent wicked persons, but only such as wear the garment of false profession, for the Kingdom of Heaven is the symbol, in Matthew 13, not of the world, but of the Professing Church on earth. And does not the history of Christendom prove the truth of these predictions? Even before the Apostles died evil persons were found seeking to mingle with it on every side. The Epistles contain many references to such persons, and many cautions against them. It is of the deepest importance to see that the Scriptures recognize this fact (though recognition, be it noted, is not approval), and that the peculiar character of wickedness signified by the words “false profession” is distinguished by the Word of God from other forms of wickedness. In many cases the evil of false profession lies in this, that they who falsely “profess and call themselves Christians” do so for their own purpose and for their own advantage. They unite themselves with the Lord’s household, not that they may care for His interests, but that they may serve their own. Hence, the text before us recognizes such as Evil Servants—servants indeed, but evil servants-servants connected with the Lord’s household for a time, but destined to be everlastingly separated from it, and to have “their portion with the unbelievers” (verse 46).
And what has been
The character of
False Professing Christianity
False Professing Christianity
throughout this dispensation? Has it not corresponded to the figure of the Evil Servant? The religion of Christ has been made, by those who have falsely professed it, a stepping-stone to their own advantage; to place and power, wealth and honour in the world: and, as is natural, such persons having ever been worldly in their spirit, have also been worldly in their associations and pleasures. To use the figurative words of the parable, they have “eaten and drunk with the drunken”, and been ready to “smite their fellow servants” whose ways were a rebuke to them. Moreover, as a worldly spirit is the exact opposite of a heavenly one, the prospect of the Lord’s return and the hope of those heavenly blessings which will then be brought in all fulness to His people, have had no place in their hearts. How could this be? These are they “whose god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things”. They are the enemies of the Cross of Christ, while professing to be its friends. Their worldliness of life and carnality of spirit, are the exact opposite of that watchful expectancy of the Lord’s Return portrayed in this parable. The unwatchfulness of the false Professor consists in his alliance with earthly interests and earthly pleasures; and, conversely, the watchfulness of the true Christian consists in his separateness from these things, and his pilgrim-like waiting for the glory of the coming Kingdom.
The Corruption of
the Professing Church
the Professing Church
Let us now glance at the corruption of the Church. This may be said to have begun when “the Children of the Wicked One” were admitted among the Children of Light, for if the mingling of darkness with light be allowed, it invariably leads to the prevalence of the darkness. Good may be dragged down to the level of evil, but evil can never rise to the level of good: hence, the reproach, “What communion hath light with darkness, or what concord hath Christ with Belial?” The adulteration of the Church’s fellowship with the servants of Satan clothed in the garments of light led, therefore, to the adulteration of Christian Truth with the doctrines and principles of Satan. Even in the Apostle Paul’s day there were many, he said (and he obviously refers to persons making a Christian profession), who “adulterated the Word of God” for their own purposes. The history of the Professing Church has been, throughout its course, the sorrowful witness of such adulteration and its results. It can be seen, for example, in the writing of the ancient Fathers, who often differ from one another, and from the Inspired Scriptures of God.  It is so at the present hour amongst the divided ranks of all sections of the Professing Church. There is no truth which is not denied by some, if not by many; and even amongst those of whom it may be believed that their profession is genuine, and their souls enlightened with the pure radiance of the Gospel, there are yet numberless differences of greater or less gravity concerning many portions of Revealed Truth. Adulteration has led to corruption everywhere; and the corruption of doctrine has resulted, as it necessarily must, in unholiness, and fellowship with the world. If to be linked with worldly men in their pleasures and pursuits is a “shame” to the children of God, then it may be truly, though sorrowfully said, that there are many who “glory in their shame, who mind earthly things”; for it is now widely, almost universally accepted, that Christians should not be separated from the world, as the Apostles taught the Church of their day to be, but that they should aim to be allied with it in business and pleasure, in politics and social alliances, seeking not to accentuate, but rather to obliterate as far as possible the essential distinction of light and darkness. But what is the inevitable consequence? Do not the worldling and the infidel heap scorn upon the very name of Christian? Does not Science proudly question every fundamental truth concerning God and His Word? Are not scoffers asking whether Christianity, so-called, is not a failure? And who are those who stand forth as deniers of many of the foundation-principals of Revealed Truth; of the Inspiration and Authority of the Word of God; of the truth of its holy doctrines, and of its prophetic predictions—are not these, often, professed leaders and teachers of the various sections of the so-called Church? Iniquity has indeed abounded, and the love of many has grown cold. As we look upon this picture we can easily realize, if our consciences are alive to the eternal distinction between truth and falsehood, holiness and sin, the significance of the prophetic words of our Lord in the text. The “Evil Servants” are many; they are “eating and drinking” in association with a Christ-rejecting, pleasure-loving world; and when the “Good Servants raise their voices in testimony against such ungodliness, and send forth the solemn warning, “The Coming of the Lord draweth nigh”, they are scorned and smitten by none more than by persons who professedly bear the Christian name!
True Expectancy of the Lord’s Return
In view of what has now been said, let us consider what is represented in the text as true expectancy of the Lord’s Return, and its opposite. Our Lord’s teaching sets before us, in parabolic form, two classes of servants; the Good and the Evil; the Faithful and the Unfaithful. The faithful servants are those who are watchful, guarding and promoting their Master’s interests in the world; the Evil Servants are those who neglect these interests, and use the advantages which accrue to them from their connection with His household, for their own pleasure and profit. The Good Servants are described as living lives regulated by watchful expectancy of their Lord’s Return; the Evil Servants are represented as those to whom that Return furnishes no motives for the present regulation of their spirit and conduct. The parable does not tell us that the Lord had told His servants when He would return—that is not its object—this instruction is furnished in other portions of Scripture. What the parable represents is, that the Good Servants, who are living and laboring every day as though their Lord’s Return were imminent, are those who furnish an example of what the true expectancy of hope is, for to them it would make no difference if their absent Lord came at morn, at noon, or night: they are always ready. But the Evil Servant is always unready. He has practically forgotten the fact that his Master will return: this has ceased to be an influence in his life. His attention is taken up with his own pleasure and advantage, and he is living as though the present were to continue for ever. It is those who need the warning, “be ye also ready”. The good servants are ready. They live as those who are prepared each day for their Lord’s Return: the words of merciful admonition, “be ye also ready”, have special regard, therefore, to those who are not ready; that is, to the Evil Servants. Great care should be taken to distinguish this, for upon it turns the whole teaching of the parable; and it is owing to its not having been discerned, that the mistake has been fallen into by many, of supposing the object of the passage is to teach us to expect the Lord’s Return at any moment of any day of our lives. Now the parable furnishes us with no information respecting those predicted events which must occur before the Lord’s Return can take place. It is not common in parables to find more than one truth made prominent; and what the one truth is which this parable makes prominent has already been shown. The other teaching is found elsewhere. It would be unreasonble, therefore, and unintelligent, to suppose that this parable deals with all questions relating to the Lord’s Return, when its teaching is obviously intended to emphasize only one, namely in what true expectancy consists.
Warning for the Unready
And now let us give attention to a point of great interest and moral value in connection with Peter’s enquiry, recorded in the 41st verse, and the Lord’s reply. In response to this question, “Speakest Thou this parable unto us, or even to all?” the Lord might undoubtedly have replied, if it had so pleased Him, that the warnings of the parable were intended only for the unready, that is, for the Evil Servants of His future household. Why did He not do so? Why did He choose to put His reply into parabolic form, leaving it to be determined by inference to whom it referred? Can we doubt that it was because He desired to excite in His disciples’ hearts that working of conscience, that exercise of self-examination, which would lead each to discern to which of these two classes of servants he belonged? The Lord could have said whom He meant, but it is profitable for us that He has left the reply to be given by the conscience of each. So, too, was it, when, at the Last Supper, He said to His disciples, “One of you shall betray Me”. The Lord could easily have said that one was Judas. Why, then, did He speak in general terms—in words which troubled the hearts of all His true disciples, and caused them to “look one upon another, doubting of whom He spake?” Can we stand in doubt of the reason? It was well for them that each heart should test itself with the question, “Do I so little love my Lord as to be capable of betraying Him?” So is it in our text. It is for each of us to ask himself, “Am I ready, or am I not ready? Am I waiting, or am I not waiting, for My Lord’s Return?” and then to answer this question by searching the Scripture with an awakened heart and an exercised conscience, each inquiring whether he, as a good servant, is living only for his Master’s glory and the promotion of His interests; whether he is living each hour under the Master’s eye, and in the light of that coming day of glory when He shall return; or whether, as an evil servant, he is leading a life of self-seeking and self-gratification, and saying in his heart, as no good servant would say, “My Lord delayeth His Coming, and so I may live as I please”.
The moral bearing of intervening events upon
the Hope of the Lord’s Coming
the Hope of the Lord’s Coming
And now let me add a word or two upon a point which is not indeed included in the parabolic instruction of our text, but which can with advantage be studied along with its teaching—I mean the moral bearing of intervening events upon the Hope of the Lord’s Coming. Is it true that the hope of the Lord’s Coming is so presented in Scripture by our Lord and His Apostles, that its power upon heart and life would be invalidated if the occurrence of any event were to be expected first? Did our Lord, or did His Apostles, at any time teach that the hope of His Coming could only hear rightly upon the heart if nothing were expected to occur previously, and, in fact, that His Coming could be a hope only to those who expected it as an imminent event which might occur on any day, or at any hour of their lives? There are many who think so; and they commonly refer to this passage in support of their views. Now it has been pointed out that this parable does not, like some other Scriptures (for example, the 24th chapter of Matthew, at the close of which there is a parable exceedingly similar, indeed directly identical, with that of our text), speak of events, the fulfillment of which was to precede the Return of the Lord. This is not, however, because there are no such events, nor because the Scripture does not distinctly predict their occurrence, but because it was not the object of the Lord in this parable to deal with that aspect of the subject. In the 24th chapter of Matthew, various events are predicted whose fulfillment must precede the Return of the Lord, such as the Gospel being preached for a witness among all nations; the standing of the Abomination of Desolation in the Holy Place; a Tribulation of unequalled severity; and then we are told that “immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . shall the sign of the Son of Man be seen, coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”. Furthermore, in that chapter, the occurrence of these events is likened to the putting forth of its leaves by the fig-tree, whose budding shows that summer is nigh; and the instruction is given—”When ye, therefore, see these things begin to come to pass, know that it (that is, the Lord’s Coming) is nigh, even at the doors”. And then follows the parable of the faithful and evil servants, which corresponds so exactly with that of our text, that we cannot but believe it is the same, although related in a different connection. From this we see that the prediction of events, whose fulfillment is to precede the Lord’s Coming, does not destroy, or even impair, the moral bearing of the hope connected with that Coming. That hope depends for its power, not upon its imminence nor upon even the nearness of its realization, but upon its character and certainty; and the prospect also, which it presents of the glorious realities of the future which shall then be brought to us. The essence of our hope consists in this, that when the Lord shall come and receive us to Himself, we shall be like Him, and we shall be with Him for ever. “Every man that hath this hope founded upon Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure”. Faith, love, and the patience of hope bring the light of that coming day of glory into the midst of the gloom and the conflicts of the present; and as we realize “the grace that is to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ”, apart from any question of time or date, our hearts are strengthened and sanctified in the midst of surrounding sorrow and evil.
But, alas, there are those who say: “If you look for intervening events you are not looking for the Lord. If you expect that Antichrist shall first come, and the Apostasy shall first take place, you are ‘waiting for Antichrist’, not Christ; expecting the Apostasy, not the glory”. Some who have held this view have even said, though surely with an equal want of thoughtfulness and Christian charity, that to teach that the Coming of the Lord cannot take place until after the fulfillment of intervening events, is to say, like the Evil Servant, “My Lord delayeth His Coming”. But is this so? To expect a thing is by no means the same as to hope for it, for hope necessarily is the combination of the elements of desire and expectation. It is a very simple thing to say that we should, according to the teaching of the Word of God, expect that Antichrist shall come and the Apostasy be developed before the Return of the Lord, but we certainly do not desire these things. We may expect Antichrist, but we do not desire his coming! It is the Coming of our Lord to which our hearts look onward with that combination of desire and expectation which constitutes soul-comforting, soul-sanctifying hope. “We wait for the Son of God from heaven”, not by expecting that He may return at any moment, or any day, or even at any near date; but in the exercise of a hope which, when strengthened by the Spirit of God, so brings the joy of that coming Day of Glory with holy power into our souls, as to lift us out of the present and bring us anticipatively to that glorious future, thus exercising an all-transforming influence upon our lives.
In conclusion, let me remind you of the closing words of Scripture. Our Lord and Bridegroom has said “Surely I come quickly”. May our hearts have grace, intelligently, affectionately, and reverently to respond “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus”. May our souls so abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost, as to be able daily to leap over the dark interval that lies between us and that coming Day of Glory and may that hope be so realized by faith, that we may be like one of whom it is written, that “he endured as seeing Him who is invisible”. May faith in our souls be the “confidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”; and may it work out that “patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” which shall both comfort and sanctify us in every hour of our waiting days.
 “We have seen, in surveying the writings of the Fathers of the first three centuries, that they were not, in general, judicious or accurate students of Scripture; that most of them have given interpretations of important Scriptural statements which no man now receives; that many of them have erred and have contradicted themselves and each other, in stating doctrines, etc.”—Cunningham’s “Historical Theology“. Vol. 1, p. 175.