In this lesson we examine three parables which relate
prophecy concerning an individual Christian. Parables are often used to discuss
prophetic matters; these parables relate to prophecy as it affects each
individual Christian. We begin with the servants waiting for their master.
Luke 12:35-40 NASB "Be dressed in readiness, and keep
your lamps lit. (36) "Be like men who are waiting for their master when
he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door
to him when he comes and knocks. (37) "Blessed are those slaves whom the
master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will
gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and
wait on them. (38) "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the
third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. (39) "But be sure of
this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming,
he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. (40) "You too, be
ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect."
A Question of Tense
One scholar, commenting on the first sentence of this
section of scripture, said that it was in the “periphrastic perfect passive
imperative third plural of the verb.” This carries some truth to it, when you
puzzle it out:
Periphrastic – means that this sentence could have been reduced
to a single word. What word? “Watch!”
Perfect passive – it’s written in the passive voice. The content
is sufficiently sharp that it shines through that.
Imperative – it’s a command, not a suggestion.
Third plural – it’s not addressed to one person, or a group of
people individually, but to all of us as a group.
The older translations such as the King James begin this
passage with, "let your loins be girded." That's the example of
perfect passive; it's not quite as well translated in the newer translations.
But these four points remain; most importantly, this is a command addressed to
us as Christians in a group — the church.
A Jewish Christian reading these words would immediately
think of the Passover. You will recall that the first Passover was eaten while
the Jews were dressed, ready for a voyage. They were prepared to do God's
Preparation is something that most of us think of after we
failed to do it. Have you ever had that feeling? Many of us have been taught
that Christianity is a spontaneous and emotional response to a situation. We
have been taught that it is impossible to prepare. May I suggest an alternate
model? In the military, the service man is given instructions each day
concerning the "uniform of the day." There are several possibilities
for this uniform but they are prescribed from above. The Christian too has a
"uniform of the day." The Christian should be prepared to give, to
render assistance (remember the Good Samaritan?), to comfort those who be
comforting and indeed rejoice with those who are rejoicing. How do we do this?
Preparation is a lifestyle. If you carry a first aid kit in your
car, along with some elementary tools, you are prepared to deal with most of
what comes along. But don't forget the phone number of your insurance company.
Likewise, if you are likely to meet those in need, be like the Good Samaritan:
be prepared with first aid kit, transportation and the money. Make it a habit.
In a similar sense you should prepare yourself with a ready
defense of the gospel. You are a Christian; you can count on others challenging
the reasons for your faith. If you don't know why you believe, perhaps you
should find out. Do you really think they're going to be impressed with,
"he's real in my heart?"
Finally, equip yourself with hope. As a Christian you will live
forever after the resurrection of the dead. Keep that in your heart; it changes
your perspective on a lot of things.
Of course, your words alone are insufficient. The lamp in
this parable is used as it is in other parables to me your good deeds. Some
good deeds can be done in the manner of a stealth bomber, but most of them
stick out. Other people are going to see them — particularly if they are the
recipients of the deed. This is the usual interpretation of this passage.
However, to the Jew of this time there would be an echo. It
comes from Psalm 119:
Psalms 119:105 NASB
Your word is a
lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
That's how they'd see it; by keeping the lamp lit they would
mean the study of the Scriptures. This in no way contradicts previous interpretation
but adds to it nicely. There is a third use as well:
Matthew 6:22 NASB
"The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your
eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.
This is a little bit more difficult to understand. It
implies that you have a way of looking at things which clears up the confusion
of our world. Through your eyes, the world should make sense. Others may see it
as chaos; you see it as creation. This is the Christian view, and it is unique
among religions. We know the creator; we see his creation — and we know the
hope that he provides. Things look different when you know the right answers.
The parable ends as many prophetic ones do: with a warning
about the return of our Lord. We will go into this more in the next two
parables, but there are three things that you should get immediately:
First, his return will be unexpected. It will be a surprise to an
awful lot of people.
Second, he will bring with him salvation in the flesh at the
resurrection of the dead.
Third, he will bring with him the reward for each Christian.
Laborers in the Vineyard
Matthew 20:1-16 NASB "For the kingdom of heaven is like a
landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
(2) "When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he
sent them into his vineyard. (3) "And he went out about the third hour
and saw others standing idle in the market place; (4) and to those he said,
'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And so
they went. (5) "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour,
and did the same thing. (6) "And about the eleventh hour he went out and
found others standing around; and he *said to them, 'Why have you been standing
here idle all day long?' (7) "They *said to him, 'Because no one hired
us.' He *said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' (8) "When evening
came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and
pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.' (9)
"When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a
denarius. (10) "When those hired first came, they thought that they
would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. (11) "When
they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, (12) saying, 'These last
men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have
borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' (13) "But he
answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not
agree with me for a denarius? (14) 'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to
give to this last man the same as to you. (15) 'Is it not lawful for me to do
what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am
generous?' (16) "So the last shall be first, and the first last."
It is surprisingly rare to encounter a Christian who
understands the difference between what God can do and what God
do. We seek to have no hesitation about asking God anything that he can do, but
we are rather reluctant first ask the question what he will do. His view is
different than ours. That difference is what this parable is all about.
One of the difficulties of Christianity is that we are
finite, and God is not. We tend to lead our lives this way:
There is only so much to go around. We have limited resources; we
can only do so much.
We are responsible to God for what we do with those limited resources
— we must make wise use of them.
When it comes to giving things away (like money), we have our
standards. We are much more willing to give to those who are deserving than those
we think are cheating the system.
We project ourselves on God; we assume he has the same problem.
But he doesn't.
The Infinite God
We might well begin by pointing out that this parable has
reference to salvation, not reward. The distinction is clear throughout the
Scripture; the evil tax collector who repents on the last day of his life gets
the same salvation that the devout Christian of 80 years would get. Our finite
minds sometimes have difficulty with that. We need to understand God's point of
view. For that, we need to make a side trip into mathematics.
If you ask most people what infinity means, they will tell
you it's a real big number. It is actually quite different from that. A real
big number is finite; infinity is, well, infinite. Let's look at how this
works. Let's suppose that you have a hotel with an infinite number of rooms.
All of those rooms are occupied, when a new guest arrives. How do you handle
the situation? You simply move the person in room number one to room number
two, number two and number three and so on. Since numbers go on infinitely this
is not a problem.
But suppose that you now have an infinite number of new
guests. Again, the problem is easy to solve. You move the guest in room one
into room two, room two into room four and so on. There are an infinite number
of even numbers, so your existing guests will fit in even numbered rooms. We
also have an infinite number of odd numbers, so your new guests will occupy
Simplicity itself, right?
God's grace is infinite. It comes from his own character,
and he is infinite. Grace is his free gift, not something we have earned. He is
therefore infinitely able to be generous with us. Christ points out in this
parable at some of us will have a problem with this. But, as he argues here,
it's God's decision to be generous. It is not ours to complain about. All of us
will receive the free gift of salvation, whether we worked 80 years in the
church or 80 days.
Matthew 25:14-30 NASB "For it is just like a man about to go on a
journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
(15) "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one,
each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. (16)
"Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded
with them, and gained five more talents. (17) "In the same manner the
one who had received the two talents gained two more. (18) "But he who
received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his
master's money. (19) "Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came
and *settled accounts with them. (20) "The one who had received the five
talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted
five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.' (21) "His
master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with
a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of
your master.' (22) "Also the one who had received the two talents came
up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two
more talents.' (23) "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and
faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge
of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' (24) "And the one also
who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a
hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no
seed. (25) 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the
ground. See, you have what is yours.' (26) "But his master answered and
said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow
and gather where I scattered no seed. (27) 'Then you ought to have put my
money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with
interest. (28) 'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the
one who has the ten talents.' (29) "For to everyone who has, more shall
be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have,
even what he does have shall be taken away. (30) "Throw out the
worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping
and gnashing of teeth.
Risk and Faith
Most Christians do not think of gambling as a professional
occupation. That attitude sometimes extends into our thoughts about risk. Most
of us want to avoid risk is much as possible; we want a sure thing. The
difficulty for the Christian is simply this: faith requires risk. It is in the
very nature of faith but you must take a risk. That's why you often hear of
"a leap of faith." Faith requires trust; that trust always involves
the risk that it will fail. If you are going to play the game, there must be
the possibility that you will lose.
Why is this intrinsic to faith? It's because faith looks
forward, towards the future. Since we don't know the future in all detail,
there is a risk that we will be handling it wrong. There is a reason the
bookies don't accept bets on yesterday's horse races. Do you now see that the
leap of faith is inevitable? It cannot be otherwise; or it's not faith.
Risk is the other side of hope. Hope is a Christian virtue;
we are commanded to have it. At the return of our Lord our hope will be
satisfied, but in the meanwhile we live in hope — which means we live in risk.
Since risk is inevitable to the faith, and must be
accompanied by hope, to fail to take the risk presented to you is indeed be
sinful. It is to say to Christ that you're not really sure that he exists or
that he will save, but he does return you'd like to be on the correct side.
Risk doesn't work that way. So it is with the master this parable condemns his
servant for doing nothing.
He calls him wicked. The word in the Greek does not mean you evil
intrinsically, but rather implies an evil effect. It's a consequence, not a
character. So it is that we can think ourselves being good people, frugally
tucking away in the ground that which God has given us, and discover our
unrighteousness only when our Master returns.
He calls him lazy. The word itself implies someone who is lagging
behind; a straggler, in other words. No doubt the servant had good intentions;
he was going to fight the good fight – someday. But he's a straggler and never
quite gets to the front lines.
This is a sin of omission. If God gives you something, he intends
for you to use it and will hold you accountable for what you do with it.
Do you see now, the fear of risk in the faith is the
equivalent of evil to which God. For many of us, as for this man, this is
generated by our fear of responsibility. We often hear single women complain
that men are afraid of the "C" word — commitment. You might give some
thought to that; most scholars don't think of this parable as having anything
to do with marriage. But it's just possible they are wrong.
Entrusted with Little
One of the points often overlooked about this parable is the
fact that the master entrusted the servant with only one talent. Evidently he
knew the man and his character; he felt he had to leave him something, but it
will take too much a risk on a man like this. He knew that he was risk averse,
not inclined to take any chances with it. So he gave him the minimum risk he
could. If things went totally wrong, the master would be out only one talent.
His hope was that he would be able to complement the servant on having done
something with the talent.
When it comes to reward, the actual specifics of the award
will vary greatly. But you will hear either "well done, good and faithful
servant" or the simple word, "worthless." You are in complete
control of this result. The key is to take heed what your Lord has given you,
and act accordingly.