The Faithful and Sensible Slave
At Matthew 24:45-47 Jesus asked the question, 'Who is the faithful and sensible slave that the master has put in charge of his household to provide their food at the right times?' Then he went on to say that, this 'slave' would be 'blest if he's found doing so when his master arrives.' And the reward for providing for the Lord's household servants would be: 'He'll put him in charge of all that he owns.'
In Greek, this slave is described as 'pistos doulos kai phroinimos' (faithful slave and prudent). However, prudent is no longer a common word in American English, so we have chosen a synonym, 'sensible.'
When does this arrival of the Master happen╔ when does he find the 'faithful and sensible slave' (the 'doorkeeper' in Mark and the 'faithful house manager' in Luke) 'providing 'his household servants' their 'provisions?' Well, in all three Gospel accounts, his arrival is said to be 'at an hour that you don't think to be it.' In fact, at Mark 13:32, Jesus immediately precedes this prophecy of the faithful slave with the words, 'No one knows the day or the hour╔ not the messengers in heaven or the Son, just the Father.' So as you can see; the 'day and hour' that no one would know is when Jesus will arrive and appoint his slave (or slaves) over 'all that he owns.' And this appears to happen at his (Jesus') arrival (gr. elthon) to bring God's Kingdom to the earth, not his 'parousia,' which some teach is an earlier event. That this appointment comes after his arrival, is attested to in all three Gospel accounts.
Even the placement of this portion of the prophecy in Matthew's account – after the 'great time of difficulty' and after Jesus' coming – testifies that it happens after the previous things that he spoke of in Matthew 24. Notice that this is the time when he recognizes the faithfulness and sensibleness of this slave and appoints him over all his possessions. And although someone once put a chapter break immediately following this prophecy, the next two parables (of the ten virgins and of the three slaves) appear to be a continuation of this same description.
While it's a fact that many religions and their leaders have claimed to be this faithful slave down through the centuries, their claims seem to be at best boastful, because the Lord obviously hasn't arrived on the earth, since his sign has yet to be seen in the sky. You can see how all three texts show that this is when the slave is recognized and appointed, so it's not at some earlier date.
From the context of the verses, it appears as though this faithful slave represents those who have been appointed to take the lead in directing the Lord's household by providing them regular spiritual sustenance. And if they are deemed as having been faithful and sensible; then according to the two descriptions that follow, those who have kept 'their lamps lit' will be invited to the 'wedding banquet of the Lamb,' and that's where these faithful slaves will then be appointed over 'cities' and over all the Lord's 'possessions.'
Is it possible that when Jesus spoke of the faithful slaves, he was just talking about all faithful Christians? No, that doesn't appear to be the case, for the context of Jesus' words are self-explanatory. Notice that he says the slave is found providing 'his household' their 'food.' And the parallel account in Luke (which the majority of commentators agree is likely the most accurate) speaks of the slave as holding the position of 'house manager,' or, 'major domo'╔ the one that is over all the other faithful slaves. Therefore, this slave must represent those who are taking the lead in providing for the spiritual needs of other Christians.
Also notice that when Jesus was talking about the faithful and sensible slave (at Matthew 24:48-51), he mentioned another possible outcome FOR THAT SLAVE (or, FOR THOSE SLAVES) when the Master's arrival is later than expected. He went on to say: 'But, if that bad slave (gr. ho kakos doulos ekeinos, or, the bad slave that) should say in his heart, My master is late in arriving, and then he starts beating his fellow slaves and eating and drinking along with the drunks, the slave's master will arrive on a day and hour that he isn't expected, and he'll cut him down and assign him among the hypocrites╔ that's where he'll weep and grind his teeth'
So notice that this bad slave was once a faithful slave, but he becomes discouraged during a long wait for the Lord's arrival and falls into evil ways╔ 'He didn't come when we said he would.' So he starts 'beating' his fellow slaves by blaming them for expecting the earlier arrival of the Lord and by excommunicating or disfellowshipping any who might disagree with them and their false prophecies. History shows that this has truly happened (and continues to happen) to leaders of religious groups that have been expecting the coming of Jesus ('the Lord') through the centuries. For they've finally given up, allowed their 'lamps to go out,' and misused their position of authority to harm the faithful.
As you can see from Jesus' words; what constitutesan 'evil slave' is not the mistakes in his teachings, but his bad actions toward his fellow slaves.
Therefore, any who would wish to be found as 'faithful slaves' must be very careful not to become discouraged if the Lord's arrival is later than they may have taught or expected. They must stay awake and be found watching (even if that means sounding an occasional false alarm) when the Master actually arrives. And they must be found supplying solid 'spiritual food' to Jesus' household at that time. In addition, they must always deal very lovingly with their 'fellow slaves' to be found 'faithful' and to be put in charge of everything that the Master owns╔ not beating the other slaves over whom they have been in put charge.
In Mark 13 we find the same account as in Matthew 24, 25, but with slightly different words and in an abbreviated form. Here Jesus says (Mark 13:32-37): 'Yet, no one knows the day or the hour╔ not the messengers in heaven or the Son, just the Father. So stay awake and keep watching, because you don't know the time when he will arrive! It's like a man who (before leaving his house and traveling abroad) instructed each of his slaves to just go on doing their jobs╔ but he commanded his doorkeeper to stay awake! So, this is why you must stay awake, for you don't know when the Master of the house will be returning╔ whether it's in the evening, at midnight, at rooster crowing, or early in the morning. When he suddenly arrives, make sure that he doesn't find you sleeping. And what I'm saying to you, I'm saying to everyone: Stay awake!'
The point that Jesus was making here, is that those who are in charge of his slaves should always be alert, watching for his arrival, and never allow themselves to fall asleep to this responsibility. In addition, Jesus' final words on this subject, 'What I'm saying to you, I'm saying to everyone,' indicate that although the 'watchmen' or 'door keepers' have the primary responsibility of staying awake, each of his fellow slaves share in that responsibility.
By the way; the Greek word that is translated as doorkeeper here is thyroro, from the words thyra (door) and ouros (keeper). This is the same word that Jesus used at John 10:3, where he spoke of himself as the 'doorkeeper of the sheep.' So, Jesus is also a faithful and sensible slave.
It is interesting to note once again, the time when the slave is identified and when he receives his reward. For in the account at Luke 12:40,
we read that Jesus said: 'So you must also be ready, for the Son of Man will arrive at a time that you consider unlikely.' Then he goes on to say at Luke 12:42-44:
'Who is the faithful house steward╔
The sensible one, assigned by his lord,
To be in charge of his faithful friends,
And provide them their meals at the right times?
This slave will be blest, if he's found doing that,
When his master arrives!
I tell you the truth╔
He'll put him in charge of all that he owns!'
In Greek, this person is described as ho pistos oikonomos ho phronimos, or, the faithful house steward, the sensible. Note that these words are found in a different setting than they are in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, for Luke puts Jesus speaking them at a different time than what is found in Matthew and Mark. However, Luke claims that the things he wrote in his Gospel were put in a chronological order, whereas Matthew was obviously following a theme of thought, and Mark seems to have just quoted (loosely, with a variation of descriptions) from Matthew's account. So we don't know if Jesus gave the same illustration on more than one occasion, or if the words in Matthew (and Mark) were just written out of chronological order. However, they all appear to be quoting Jesus' same illustration or parable.
And notice that in Luke's account, more is added to Jesus' prophecy. At Luke 12:47, 48, he is recorded as saying:
'So the slave who knows what his master expects,
And doesn't prepare or do what he wants,
Will be lashed with a whip many times.
But the one who fails to understand,
And does things for which he deserves to be whipped,
Will be beaten with [just a] few [strokes].
For from those to whom much is given,
Much is also expected.
And of the one who's been put in charge over much,
Much is also required.'
These additional words of Jesus emphasize the need for the 'house managers' to continue providing nourishing spiritual food of the deeper things of God's Word, not just 'Sunday sermons' on 'repenting over bad deeds, having faith in God, or learning about baptisms, [spiritual] appointments, the resurrection of the dead, or the judgments on this age' (Hebrews 6:1, 2)╔ the 'milk' of the Word of God.
Another question that is raised in the latter part of Luke's account is: Who are those 'who don't understand' and what will their outcome be? We will likely have to await future events to unravel the full meaning of this prophecy.
Notice again that the five wise virgins of Matthew 25 were only identified as such and rewarded after the Lord arrived. And they are thereafter invited to attend the Lord's wedding banquet, because they are spiritually awake and ready! So, notice that they are invited after the master has taken his bride. The fact that the virgins are not the bride is confirmed in the Aramaic targums of Matthew's text, which say that the bridegroom arrives with his bride. This outcome (of being invited inside the banquet) is quite different from that of the five 'virgins' who were less prepared (and note that they weren't killed; they just weren't allowed to enter the wedding banquet).
It is interesting that this sequence of events in Jesus' parable is exactly the same as what happened in an ancient Jewish wedding. First the groom would go to the bride's home to accept her from her family (which is the wedding), then the marriage was consummated. And thereafter, they both would travel to meet their friends who came to celebrate the union at the wedding banquet. So notice that the banquet is not the wedding, and the virgins who were invited in Jesus' parable were not the bride!
Notice how Psalm 45:13-16 prophesied this event:
'The king's daughter is glorious within,
And she's wrapped in clothes embroidered with gold.
Then, all the virgins who follow her train,
(Those closest to her) will be carried to you.
They'll be carried in, giving praises in joy,
And led to the king's Most Holy Place.
In place of your fathers, sons will be born,
And you'll appoint them as rulers over the lands.'
Also note the similarities in Jesus' words that lead up to another (parallel) account╔ the one of the faithful slave, as found at Luke 12:35, 36. It says there: 'Therefore, wrap on your sashes and light up your lamps, then act like men who are awaiting their master's return from his wedding banquet, so that when he arrives and starts knocking, you can open [the doors] to him right away.'
As you can see, this is almost the same description as Jesus' parable of the virgins. But in this account, both the taking of the bride and the wedding banquet have already occurred, and the slaves in this case must be found watching not when he is 'near,' but at his arrival (gr. elthon).
Thereafter, verse 37 goes on to say,
'Blest are those slaves who are watching,
When their master arrives!
For I tell you this as the truth;
He will put on his apron,
And make them recline at the table;
Then, he will come there and serve them!
The clear indication from all of these illustrations, is that those virgins or slaves that are rewarded for being 'faithful' and 'sensible' are the ones who have stayed spiritually awake and looking for the Lord's arrival. But those 'virgins' that just 'don't care' have stopped looking, and waiting.
So, no person or group of people can really claim to be this 'faithful and sensible slave' until they are proclaimed such by the Lord Jesus╔ which happens after his arrival to bring God's Kingdom to the earth, which hasn't happened yet!
There are also striking similarities between the story of the ten virgins and the account found at Revelation 19:7-9, which says: 'Let's rejoice, shout in joy, and glorify him, because it's time for the Lamb's wedding! His bride has prepared herself and she has been found as worthy to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen. This fine linen represents the righteous actions of the Holy Ones. Then he told me, Write this: Those who are invited to the Lamb's wedding banquet are blest.'
So, notice that these blest ones (like the virgins in Matthew 25) are not the bride╔ they are just invited guests at 'the wedding banquet of the Lamb.' And they appear to be the same as the virgins or faithful slaves of Jesus' parable.
Just think about it╔ If you were invited to a wedding banquet, would you assume that you were the bride?
So, where will this 'wedding banquet be held? That is a good question. For the account in Revelation gives us the impression that this is to be a heavenly event and Paul described the faithful as being resurrected and meeting the Lord 'in the air' and 'in the clouds' (earth's atmosphere?) at 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. So is this meeting the same as attending the Lord's wedding banquet? And if so, then is it to be held in the heavenly presence of God, or somewhere here in earth's atmosphere, or on the earth? We simply don't know, because there aren't enough details in the Bible's accounts to give a firm answer. But notice the events in the last of the three parables of Jesus concerning the 'Faithful slaves' of Matthew 24 and 25.
Notice that in the parable about the three slaves who were entrusted with the master's belongings after he went away, we read at Matthew 25:21 that the Master told the first slave: 'Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things, so I will appoint you over many╔ enjoy the favor of your master!'
In this parable, you can see that there were three slaves, and two of them have been faithful in taking care of the (spiritual) treasures that the Lord had entrusted to them, while the third did nothing with it. Also notice that the first two slaves were rewarded upon the Lord's 'return' (gr. erchetai), and that their reward was being appointed over earthly cities. So although their invitation to the Lord's wedding banquet could be heavenly (or possibly, high in earth's atmosphere), the area of their rule appears to be earthly.
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