The 2001 Commentaries

The Faithful and Sensible Slave

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Jesus’ Question

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 is the Slave Appointed?

When does the return or 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 comes after Jesus’ arrival (gr. elthon) to bring God’s Kingdom to the earth, and that’s when the slave (or slaves) are recognized as good or evil, and when the ‘faithful and sensible’ ones are are given their appointment.
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 the slave receives his appointment and commendation after the things that are spoken of in the previous verses of Matthew 24 have happened.

Then, though 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 of the faithful slave.

Who Really Is ‘the Faithful and Sensible Slave?’

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 to recognize them as such, since his sign has yet to be seen in the heavens or sky. You can see how all three texts (in Matthew, Mark, and Luke) show that this sign is to be seen first.

Then from the context of the verses that follow, it becomes clear that there isn’t just one faithful slave that has been appointed to take the lead in providing for the Lord’s household, but several. For according to the next two descriptions, those slaves (‘virgins’) that have kept ‘their lamps lit’ will then be invited to the ‘wedding banquet of the Lamb,’ and those slaves that have invested their Lord’s ‘coins’ wisely will thereafter be appointed over ‘cities’ (all of their Lord’s ‘possessions’).

So 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 in the first portion of the parable, he says that 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 the Lord’s household. Therefore, this slave must represent those that are taking the lead in providing for the spiritual needs of other Christians.

The ‘Bad’ or ‘Evil’ Slave

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 they 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 that became discouraged during a long wait for the Lord’s arrival, and he becomes impatient and falls into evil ways. For he starts ‘beating’ his fellow slaves.
How does he do this?
Possibly by blaming them (not himself) for expecting the earlier arrival of the Lord, and by taking action against (‘beating’) any that may have questioned his false prophecies. And history does in fact show that this has been done by leaders of religious groups that have preached the coming of Jesus (‘the Lord’) through the centuries, but have 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 constitutes an ‘evil slave’ is not the mistakes in his teachings and his expecting the arrival of the Lord, but his bad actions toward his fellow slaves when the Lord’s arrival seems to have been later than he preached, prophesied, and expected.

Therefore, any that 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. Rather, they must continue to stay awake so as to be found watching (even if that means sounding an occasional false alarm) when the Master actually arrives. And during this time, they must be found supplying solid ‘spiritual food’ to Jesus’ household. In addition, they must always deal very lovingly with their ‘fellow slaves’ so as to be found ‘faithful’ and to be put in charge of everything that the Master owns… they must never be found beating the other slaves over which they have been in put charge.

The ‘Doorkeeper’ of Mark’s Prophecy

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 that 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, though ‘the Lord,’ is also the faithful and sensible slave of his Father.

The Faithful, Sensible, House Manager of Luke’s Account

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 over his faithful friends,
And to provide their meals at the right times?
Such a 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 that 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 that 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 that’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 to provide 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 ‘that don’t understand’ and what will their outcome be?
Well, there are too many of these, but perhaps there is still some hope for them.

The Ten Virgins

Notice again that the five wise virgins of Matthew 25 were only identified as such and rewarded after the Lord had arrived. And they were thereafter invited to attend the Lord’s wedding banquet because they had proven themselves spiritually awake and ready!

Also notice that they were invited inside the wedding banquet after the master had arrived with 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 only makes sense because, this is why they were waiting for him… because he had gone to take his bride!

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 that came to celebrate the union at the wedding banquet. So, the banquet is not the wedding, and the virgins that were invited in Jesus’ parable were not the bride!

Notice how Psalm 45:13-16 was prophetic of this event. For we read there:
‘The king’s daughter is glorious within,
And she’s wrapped in clothes embroidered with gold.
Then, all the virgins that 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.’

So you can see that, as in the parables of Jesus in Matthew 25; there is first a mention of ‘virgins’ being invited to a wedding banquet, and this is followed by the description of people being appointed as rulers.

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 that 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 this:
Blest are those slaves that 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 that have stayed spiritually awake and kept looking for the Lord’s arrival. But those ‘virgins’ that just ‘don’t care’ have left themselves spiritually ill-prepared for their Lord’s arrival.

So, no person or group of people can really claim to be this ‘faithful and sensible slave’ (though some have) until they have been proclaimed as such by the Lord Jesus, which will happen after his arrival to bring God’s Kingdom to the earth… and this hasn’t happened yet! However, there are arrogant ‘Christian’ religious leaders who, despite what the scriptures say, have already claimed such a recognition or appointment, which they have then used as their ‘Divine Right’ to beat any fellow slave that may question the purity of the spiritual food that such ones are providing. And by making such a claim, they are proving themselves to be the ‘evil slaves’ of which Jesus spoke.

Similarities to Revelation

Note that there are also striking similarities between the story of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 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 that 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.

Where Will the Wedding Banquet and the Recognition of the Faithful Slaves be Held?

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. Also, 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.

Therefore we should ask:
Is this meeting with the Lord ‘in the air’ 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. However, notice the events that were described as happening in the last of the three parables, as found in Matthew 25.

The Three Slaves

This parable tells us of three slaves that were entrusted with the master’s ‘coins’ just before he went away on a long journey to be appointed as king. Then on his return, we read at Matthew 25:21 that the Master said to the first slave that had gained interest on the coins with which he had been entrusted: ‘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!’

Also notice how Luke quoted Jesus’ same words slightly differently, at Luke 19:17:

‘And [the king] said this in reply:
Well-done, my good [faithful] slave!
Since you have proved faithful in small things,
I’ll appoint you over ten cities

So in this parable, you can see that there were three slaves, and two of them were found 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 though their invitation to the Lord’s wedding banquet as ‘virgins’ could indicate that they will be taken to heaven (or at least to a place high in earth’s atmosphere), the area that they will rule appears to be earthly.

Finally, to see how Jesus’ following words could well be a continuation of his description of faithful and evil slaves, see the linked document, ‘The Sheep and the Goats.’

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