Summary: Living for the kingdom. Waiting, listening, watching for Jesus' return.
THE MASTER WHO SERVES
Jesus has reassured His disciples that they are of more value to God than many sparrows, and that the very hairs of their head are numbered (Luke 12:6-7). He has also taught us, through the parable of the rich fool, to value the things of God more than the things of this transient life (Luke 12:21). This life, after all, consists in more than merely material things (Luke 12:23).
Jesus reminds His “little flock” that “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). The imperative of Luke 12:33, rightly understood, becomes a marker of where our heart lies (Luke 12:34). We must hold the things of this earth with a loose hand, and prioritise our lives in such a way as to give precedence to the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 12:31).
Another way of maintaining our present possession of the kingdom is to have an eye to the future: to what is about to happen (Luke 12:35). The allusion takes us back, first of all, to the first Passover, when the children of Israel had to eat the Passover in haste, dressed and ready to go (Exodus 12:11). But the lit lamps point us forward to the five wise virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), and the return of Jesus (Luke 12:36-38).
This little parable is calling us to an active readiness. First, we are cast as men waiting for their Lord, listening for the knock on the door that announces His return from a wedding (Luke 12:36). Second, we are cast as slaves already in possession of a present blessing, watching for His coming, and surprised to be waited upon by Him (Luke 12:37-38).
There are several layers of application for this parable. At the end of His message to the lukewarm church of Laodicea, Jesus paints the endearing picture of Himself standing at the door and knocking, with the promise that ‘if any man will hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with Me’ (Revelation 3:20). This speaks to each individual’s need to open his or her heart to receive Jesus.
The motif of ‘the returning Lord’ anticipates the nobleman who went to receive a kingdom, and to return (Luke 19:12). This points us to the whereabouts of Jesus in this interim period between the two Advents: He has gone to the Father to receive the kingdom (cf. 1 Peter 3:22). From thence He shall return, with power and great glory (Luke 21:27).
The extended beatitude of Luke 12:37-38 points us to the present blessedness of those who are in Christ Jesus. It is because we are blessed that we keep watch, not the other way round. The seeming reward of being served by the Master is a reward of grace, not of merit.
The heart of the parable is found in the picture of the Master tucking his garments into his belt and serving his slaves. The parable took on an almost sacramental significance in John 13:4-5, when Jesus laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel to wash the disciples’ feet. ‘Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many’ (cf. Mark 10:45).
Jesus is present with us wherever two or three are gathered together in His name (Matthew 18:20). He is manifest to us whenever we participate in the Lord’s Supper. But what is ultimately being anticipated in the parable of the Master who serves is the return of Jesus (Luke 12:40).
Finally, after the positive encouragement of the parable of the serving Master, we have a negative illustration (Luke 12:39). Paul and Peter both refer to the day of the Lord as coming ‘like a thief’ (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Jesus elsewhere uses the expression to call to repentance (Revelation 3:3) - and to pronounce a benediction (Revelation 16:15).