In our last essay we studied 12:13-34. In this essay we are studying 12:35-59, which is part three of Jesus’ discourse with the disciples and crowds. At this point in his discourse, Jesus shifts his focus once again. In the first part of the discourse, he dealt with greed (12:1-21); and in the second part he dealt with anxiety or worry (12:22-34). Now in the third part he deals with spiritual preparation for his own second coming with a series of parables.
The first parable contains two pictures in verses 35-36. The first picture is seen in the first phrase, “Be dressed for action.” That phrase literally reads, “Let your loins be girded.” In that culture, to gird one’s loins meant to tuck the ends of long robe everyone wore into the belt so that one would be ready to walk or work. So it does mean to be ready for action; but we need the picture of the tucked in robe in order to completely understand what he meant.
The second picture is that of servants or slaves waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. The question is whether or not they have kept their lamps lit and are alert and ready to let him into the house when he arrives.
In verses 37-38 Jesus calls those servants who stay alert and keep their lamps lit blessed. And to reward their loyalty, the master will sit them down and serve them a meal. This parable would have mystified the disciples apart from some understanding that Jesus was teaching about the second coming, no master in Jesus’ day actually would have done that. But Jesus was teaching about the second coming. Those believers who are expecting him to return and are prepared for his return, even if delayed through the night, will be rewarded. The important issue here is that of delay. We must not be discouraged by the delay of the second coming. At the same time, we must remain prepared for it.
Whereas the first parable emphasized a possible delay of the second coming, the second (vv. 39-40) suggests that its arrival will be sudden and unexpected. As a thief comes when the owner of a house is not expecting him, so Christ will come when most are not expecting him.
In verse 41 Peter asks Jesus a question, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us or for everyone?” That was an important question, and Jesus replies with another parable that is aimed at leaders, that is, at servants who are placed in charge of other servants. Once again the emphasis is on loyalty. Verses 43-44 tell us that the slave, the leader, who remains faithful and prudent, will be blessed. Indeed he will be given greater responsibilities. The idea is that the temporary authority he had been given will be made permanent.
Next, in verses 45-48, Jesus points out that not every servant remains faithful and prudent. As you see, a servant leader, instead of being faithful and prudent, may choose to yield to his sinful nature and not be faithful to the master. He may take the attitude that the master isn’t coming back for a long time. And so he begins to do whatever he wants to do. He abuses the slaves under his authority and lives it up at the master’s expense, including getting drunk, which was not acceptable in that culture.
Then Jesus says in verse 46 that the unfaithful servant’s master will return at an unexpected time and will severely punish him. He will “cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.” Scholars generally believe that Jesus intended the expression cutting in pieces to be metaphorical. This kind of brutality was occasionally done in ancient times, but it is unlikely that Jesus meant it literally. The statement that the unfaithful servant would be put with the unfaithful after the cutting suggests to some interpreters that Jesus had in mind a scourging prior to putting the servant in prison. What is certain is that the servant would be severely punished.
In verses 47-48 Jesus adds a twist to his teaching. Whereas verses 42-46 are concerned with faithfulness and unfaithfulness, in these verses he speaks of greater or lesser knowledge of God’s will (v. 47) and of greater or lesser responsibility (v. 48b). Those leaders like the Twelve and others, who have greater knowledge of God’s will and are assigned greater responsibilities, will be under a stricter judgment. You may recall that the apostle James made this point in regard to teachers of the Word in James 3:1. It reads, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters. For you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
Coming back to our verses here in Luke, Jesus declares that those who know what the Master (capital “M”) wants and fails to do it will be severely judged. On the other hand, those who do wrong things, but who don’t know what they are doing will be lightly punished. Jesus tops off the teaching with the last sentence in verses 48: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
In verses 49-53 Jesus emotionally speaks about how he personally will cause division. Jesus begins this section by expressing a longing for the fulfillment of two things: the fire that he came to kindle on the earth and a coming baptism that was causing him great stress. Historically there have been two interpretations of the fire: the fire of the Holy Spirit and the fire of judgment. Based on what Jesus says next, it is more likely the fire of judgment.
The baptism refers not to his water baptism, which had taken place some time earlier, but to the baptism of his coming suffering and death. It is interesting to learn that Jesus experienced stress, or distress, about this matter during his teaching and preaching ministry. As we know that stress came to a head in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he died on the cross.
The words in 12:51-53 may seem strange to some. After all, every Christmas, in connection with Jesus’ birth, we talk about peace on earth and good will toward men. Indeed we call Jesus the Prince of Peace. But Jesus’ message was consistent. Although he offered peace to people who were open to it, the overall result of his ministry was not peace, but division. He illustrates with a family of five, father, mother, son, daughter, and the son’s wife.
In 12:54-56 Jesus turns to the crowds once again. Jesus chastises the crowds for not being able to discern the times. Indeed he accuses them of hypocrisy. He reminds them that they can tell when it is going to rain and when the scorching heat is coming. In other words, they can read the weather. But they are not able to read the times. That is, they fail to discern the actions of God. The implication is that they should be able to do it. Therefore, it is unwillingness rather than inability that is the issue.
Finally, in verses 57-59, Jesus closes the section with a parable. In verse 57 he asks them why they don’t judge for themselves what is right. Again the implication is that they can do it. They just don’t.
The parable put the hearers in a situation that actually could have happened to them. If someone would threaten to take them to court over a debt, the wise thing to do would have been to settle the debt before getting to court, because one could not predict what a magistrate might do. The magistrate could throw them into debtor’s prison until the debt was paid, which would have made their situation worse than if they had settled the debt. Jesus’ point was that they should get right with God before the judgment, because the result of the judgment could be much worse if they did not. They could end up in hell.