Two Rewards for Faith
Luke 12:36 speaks of God’s servants (or “slaves”) being ready when the Bridegroom returns from the wedding feast. It is plain that these servants—part of the Groom’s household—had not been invited to the wedding itself. Instead, they were instructed to await His return. This shows that not all believers will attend the wedding feast.
In Luke 12:41 Peter asked Jesus to explain Himself:
41 And Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?”
Two Kinds of Believers in God’s Household
We are not told how much understanding Peter had of this “parable.” Jesus then gave him an explanation of its meaning, showing two kinds of slaves. Luke 12:42-44 says,
42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
In other words, “faithful and sensible” slaves will be “put in charge of his servants” and also be put “in charge of all his possessions.” In other words, they will be given authority to rule as the manager of the household. An example of such a steward was Eliezer of Damascus, who was Abraham’s steward (Gen. 15:2). His faithfulness is recorded in the biblical record.
There are also other slaves in the Bridegroom’s household who are less faithful in carrying out the will of their Master. Luke 12:45, 46 speaks of them, saying,
45 But if that slave says in his heart, “My master will be a long time in coming,” and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces [cut him off, or “fire him”], and assign him a place [his part or portion] with the unbelievers.
The NASB translators obviously did not understand what Jesus was saying, thinking that these unfaithful slaves would be cut into pieces and then assigned a place (hell?) with the unbelievers. The KJV is more accurate: “will cut him in sunder and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”
The Emphatic Dialott is even better: “will cut him off, and will appoint his portion with the unbelievers.”
The idea being conveyed is not being cut in half or into pieces in a physical manner, but the provision in the law where a disobedient Israelite might be “cut off from among his people” (Exodus 12:15; Lev. 7:20, 27; 17:4). In other words, they were to be separated from the congregation, either temporarily or permanently.
Those cut off in this manner were “fired” from their household jobs and sent away—in this case, sent out among the unbelievers. In normal life, such people would be of no further interest to the master of their former house. Such people would simply try to find another employer.
Flogging by the Fiery Law
This parable has broader implications, because it applies to the final judgment of God at the Great White Throne. For this reason, Jesus then speaks of the judgment in terms of knowledge and levels of accountability. Luke 12:47, 48 says,
47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
The law in Deut. 25:1-3 allows up to forty lashes, “but no more, lest… your brother be degraded in your eyes.” The rabbis later determined how many lashes were appropriate for various sins. Lightfoot tells us that the penalty was four lashes for eating unclean seafood (“potitha”). To eat a hornet required six lashes [Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. III, p. 136].
So we see that unfaithful slaves in God’s household might be sent out from the household and receive judgment at the Great White Throne. Calvinists do not like this passage, believing that “once saved, always saved.” But if they understood the law, they would see that this does not really contradict this belief. The purpose of the law is to bring correction, not destruction. Even forty lashes is not eternal torment.
These lashes are the judgment of the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2, KJV), but it is not administered as a literal fire. Forty lashes may feel like one’s back is burning, but it is only a metaphoric fire. When the law is administered to the world at the Great White Throne, Daniel 7:10 pictures it as “a river of flow” flowing out from the flaming throne and the burning wheels (Dan. 7:9).
So in Luke 12:49, 50 Jesus also pictures this flogging as a fire, saying,
49 I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!
Jesus was not looking forward to casting people into an eternal torment of fire. Yet He did look forward to the day when every knee would bow and every tongue would confess Him as Lord (Isaiah 45:23-25; Phil. 2:9-11). This will occur at the Great White Throne, where also the judgments of God will be administered, not only upon those who had not believed during the time on earth, but also the unfaithful believers who will receive their portion with the unbelievers.
Paul speaks of this in 1 Cor. 3:12-17, where the apostle speaks of those who had laid Christ as the foundation of their faith, but whose works were not done by faith. Their disobedient works will be burned in the fire of God, as verse 15 says,
15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul clearly tells us here that such believers will suffer loss, but they “shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” In other words, the Master will appoint them their portion with the unbelievers—that is, at the same time that the unbelievers are judged.
It is interesting that Paul then continues in the same passage with a reference to the ten virgins awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom. Recall that five were wise, and five were foolish. Paul comments on the wisdom of God and how it differs from the wisdom of men in 1 Cor. 3:18-20,
18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.”
Thus, Paul enlarges on the wise and foolish virgins, showing that the wisdom of God is not like the wisdom of men. What God calls wisdom, men call absurd, such as the idea that a crucified Messiah could save the world.
A Broader Application
Keep in mind that in Jesus’ wedding parables, there are two distinct scenarios where people were to wait for the coming of the Bridegroom. In Matthew 25:1-13 there were ten virgins awaiting His arrival for the wedding. They had all been invited to the wedding, but some were prepared, but others were not.
Yet the parable in Luke 12:36 was about those who were not invited to the wedding and yet were part of the Groom’s household of faith. Even in that scenario, the implication was that some of them might not be ready when the Groom returned with His Bride after the wedding. Hence, in both cases, there were some who were ready, and others not.
Jesus answers Peter’s question in two ways. On the surface, the explanation is all about the faithful and unfaithful slaves in God’s household who await the master’s return from the wedding feast. By this view, none of the slaves attended the wedding feast, but some were found faithful, while others abused the slaves under their authority.
But it is quickly apparent that Jesus’ explanation went far beyond that simple scenario, for it ends with the Great White Throne. It shows that some of the Master’s household will receive “a flogging,” and that this will occur at the same time that “the unbelievers” are judged (vs. 46).
When viewed from this broader perspective, it is plain that Jesus was distinguishing many types of people: (1) believers from unbelievers; (2) faithful believers from the abusive believers; (3) those given authority from those without authority, both now and in the coming Kingdom.
In other words, the principle is here established that faithful believers are given authority over others. Revelation 20:6 says that those of the first resurrection “will reign with Him for a thousand years.” This is confirmed in Revelation 5:10,
10 And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.
In order to reign, one must have people to reign over. Authority is meaningless without people in subjection to such authority. Will they reign over men in hell? Obviously not. They reign over people on earth. Those who are raised in the “first resurrection” are given authority, but this is a very limited resurrection, for Rev. 20:5 says,
5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
This is not the same resurrection that Jesus described in John 5:28, 29, where He said,
28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
This is, in fact, the general resurrection of the dead mentioned in Rev. 20:11-13, when God calls forth all of humanity to stand before the Great White Throne.
So we see that there are two resurrections, the first for the rulers and the second for the rest of humanity, including both believers and unbelievers. In the first resurrection, the overcomers will be given authority for the Tabernacles Age, commonly known as the Millennium. In the second resurrection, at the end of the thousand years, all will be raised for judgment. The believers will be “saved yet so as through fire,” receiving few or many stripes according to their works, and then receive “life” (i.e., immortality).
The unbelievers will be sentenced to a longer judgment by the “fiery law,” and will be ruled over by the overcomers. The overcomers will be responsible to manifest the love of Christ to them and to show them by example the godly way of life. Having proven themselves during their prior life by giving the people “rations at the proper time” (Luke 12:42), they have qualified to do the same in the Age to come.