Jesus taught in Luke 12:35-40:
"Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at any hour you do not expect."
After discussing the foolishness of amassing and trusting in earthly riches, and the wisdom of trusting in God and accumulating heavenly riches, Jesus moves on to a new theme--watchful service and its rewards.
He began by exhorting - "Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning." The long robes that were worn in that day had to be lifted up and girded (or bound) at the waist before the feet could step quickly (e.g., I Kings 18:46). Their lamps were also to be kept burning, like those of a group of servants waiting for the return of their master from a wedding at night (Luke 12:36).
In other words, they were to be alert and ready to do their duty for their Master in faithful watching and service. They needed to be prepared to open the door at His first knock (cf. Matt. 25:1-13). They were not only to be girded, ready for active service, but their lamps were to be burning, prepared for immediate use.
Jesus then stated in Luke 12:37 that if the servants are found to be faithful, the master will wait upon them as guests. This scenario is just the opposite of what one might expect. First, the master girds himself. Then, he has his servants sit down to eat. Finally, he serves them! The apostles had a foretaste of this honor on the evening of the last Passover under the Old Covenant (John 13:4,5). At the second coming of Christ, all of the faithful will be richly blessed as the Lord's servants. Since His ascension, the Lord has been "away" at the "wedding" (i.e., the wedding of the church to the Christ; cf. Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 21:9). When He returns, the "wedding feast" (i.e., heavenly bliss) will begin for the faithful servants!
Our Lord referred to the second and third watches in Luke 12:38. The second watch lasted from 9 P.M. to midnight and the third watch lasted from midnight to 3 A.M. The idea here is that one should always be ready for the Lord to come--no matter what the hour. One must not be overcome with spiritual "sleep" (i.e., negligence) before the bridegroom returns (I Thess. 5:6).
Jesus proceeds to use a second illustration concerning watchfulness. Some will view the second coming of Christ as they would their master returning whom they had either served faithfully or not. Others, however, will view His coming as they would a thief who comes in suddenly and deprives them of all that they have.
Our Lord drew a conclusion in Luke 12:40 - "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Because of the fact that no one knows when the Lord will return, we must always be ready for His arrival (cf. Matt. 24:36). This is a warning for all mankind for all time. The materialistically-minded man will not "be ready" because he does not look for the coming of the Lord. Instead, he focuses his energy and attention upon the things of this life.
Peter then inquired regarding Jesus' parable. Was this exhortation to be watchful intended for all people or only for disciples of Christ (cf. Luke 12:22)?
Jesus responded by saying:
"Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:42-48).
Although Jesus doesn't specifically answer Peter's question, His response is clearly directed to all people and not just the apostles. All humans are stewards in the sense that God has blessed each one of us and made us responsible to the level of our ability (cf. 12:47,48; Matt. 25:15). All have been blessed, to varying degrees, with gifts such as time, resources, talents, etc. (cf. James 1:17). Unfortunately, most humans choose to be poor stewards. They would rather serve themselves than the true Master. Some do this ignorantly and others intentionally (as the following verses explain).
The Lord asked in Luke 12:42 - "Who then is that faithful and wise steward...?" The answer is simple: the servant who is faithful and wise is the one whom the master, when he comes, "will find watching" (12:37). For a servant to "watch" and wait for his master's return indicates fidelity to his master and contentment with his role as a servant. Such a steward will be blessed with more responsibility when his master returns.
However, a foolish and unfaithful steward will deceive himself into thinking that the master will not return soon (cf. 12:45). Therefore, he becomes intoxicated and abuses the master's servants. Such a steward is evidently not content with the role he has been given and would rather rebel and do as he pleases. He is foolish in thinking his master won't learn of his sinful behavior.
Luke 12:46 declares - "The master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him." The faithful and wise servant won't be caught off guard when the master returns because he is always patiently watching. However, the unfaithful and foolish servant will be treated as one of the "unbelievers" since he is living like one (cf. Heb. 11:37). He misused the time and money that belonged to his master. He took advantage of the absence of his master and betrayed his trust. This steward undoubtedly "knew his master's will," but instead of fulfilling it and preparing himself, he did as he pleased. Such a servant will be "beaten with many stripes."
"But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few" (Luke 12:48). Those who are ignorant of God's will are not going to be swept into heaven because they didn't know any better. No, they will be held accountable and will be paid the wages of sin which they have earned (cf. Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Of course, their level of punishment will be less than the one who knew what was expected and failed to comply (cf. II Pet. 2:20-22). Thus, it can be concluded that although ignorance will be taken into consideration when God judges an individual, ignorance will not save anyone (cf. Rom. 1:16,17). This passage, more than any other in the Scriptures, teaches the notion of varying degrees of eternal punishment. There is no other reasonable explanation for the contrast between many stripes and few stripes. Every human being will be judged as an individual based upon his abilities, opportunities, and level of spiritual knowledge. Hell is going to be a place of utter anguish and misery. However, it would seem that those who know better but choose to live in sin will suffer the most in that wretched place.
"For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:48). It is true that ability plus opportunity implies responsibility. The greater the power and ability entrusted to an individual, the larger the service which the Lord will require of him. One who has the ability of "five talents" is required to use them faithfully. Likewise with the servant who is entrusted with only "one talent"--he must be faithful in using it for the Lord (cf. Matt. 25:14ff).
Dear friends, are you ready for the Master's return? Jesus is coming again. It's not a matter of if but when. It might be today or tomorrow. It might not be for another thousand years or more. But, ultimately, the timing of His return should be irrelevant to us. He will come again when the time is right. It is our duty to always be ready. Are you living as if the Lord might return at this very moment? Are you ready to meet Him in judgment? If we can help you prepare for that final day, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.