BE READY FOR ACCOUNTABILITY AT THE RETURN OF JESUS CHRIST
How were people in Noah’s day so unprepared for the cataclysmic flood despite so many years of prophetic warning? Jesus had plenty to say on the topic of readiness and alertness and accountability as they relate to His Second Coming. If the religious leaders failed so miserably to properly discern the times while Jesus was present with them in His three year ministry on earth, how much more likely will they be to miss out on His Second Coming? Jesus wants to exhort His leading disciples to focus on what has eternal value rather than seeking after the temporary worldly pursuits of the Gentiles. They need to take their stewardship seriously and perform the will of their Master even though His return date is certain but undefined.
I. (:35-48) ACCOUNTABILITY (REWARDS OR RETRIBUTION) BASED ON READINESS FOR THE LORD’S RETURN
A. (:35-40) 2 Illustrations Exhorting Readiness for the Lord’s Return
1. (:35-38) Servants Alert for the Return of Their Master from a Wedding Feast
a. (:35-36) Description of Readiness
“Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And 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.”
Deffinbaugh: I see three distinct characteristics of the “good waiter” as described by our Lord:
(1) Preparation—“be dressed ready … ”
(2) Maintenance—“keep your lamps burning”
(3) Expectation—“[and be] like men waiting for their master”
Steven Cole: “let your loins be girded.” In that day, everyone wore long robes which were a hindrance if you needed to move quickly or freely. If a person planned to run or work, he would tuck his robe into a sash around his waist so that it would not interfere with his movements. The verb here indicates a state of perpetual readiness for action.
MacArthur: Jesus is saying you…you have to live realizing that the end is near. It can happen at any time. You want to be in My kingdom, you have to have a heavenly perspective. You’ve got to be more concerned about the fear of God than the fear of man. You have to confess Christ, trust in the Holy Spirit, be rich toward God, seek His kingdom and look for His coming. Anticipation of the Second Coming is motivation. Everything is not just going to go along the way it always has. There’s going to be an invasion in this world. There’s going to be an invasion from outer space in this world. There’s going to be an invasion of the Lord Jesus Christ in final judgment. And the Bible describes it in the most horrific terms.
J. Ligon Duncan: Stay dressed for action; be ready to spring into action. It’s not a word about trying to divine when exactly He’s coming. It’s about whether you’re living in readiness to serve Him. He even uses the language of being dressed to serve of Himself later on. Be dressed to serve — it’s talking about an attitude that pervades the way that you approach life, that you’re always ready to be serving the purposes of Jesus in this world.
b. (:37-38) Need for Readiness – Timing of Master’s Return is Unknown
“Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall 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. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”
Surprising role reversal in that the master ends up serving up a feast to the servants
Donald Miller: Since the full coming of the Kingdom is in the future, two things are essential to those who are looking for it. Its delay demands continuing hope, and the absolute uncertainty of the time of its arrival requires constant vigilance. . .The fact that the blessedness consists in sitting at table and being served by their master when he comes, indicates clearly that Jesus is speaking of himself (22:27). The final reward of watchful waiting is fellowship with him. Lest the delay in his coming should lull his followers into sloth, and divert their gaze to lesser things, they must remember that he will come as unexpectedly as a thief in the night (vss. 39-40; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 16:15). Unremitting vigilance, therefore, is necessary.
2. (:39-40) Homeowner Alert for the Attack of a Thief
a. (:39) Description of Readiness
“And 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.”
b. (:40) Need For Readiness – Timing of Christ’s Return is Unknown
“You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”
MacArthur: 4 metaphors relating to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ: Clothing, lamps, servants, and a thief
B. (:41-48) Accountability Described
1. (:41) Scope of Accountability = Believers and Non-believers
“And Peter said, ‘Lord, are You addressing this parable to us,
or to everyone else as well?’”
Jesus does not choose to directly answer Peter; instead He gives His teaching on Rewards and Retribution and Accountability. Certainly there is a special focus on spiritual leaders – both the apostles who are in the faithful category and the Pharisees and scribes who are in the unfaithful category; but by extension these principles apply to everybody
MacArthur: Everybody is in this somewhere, believers and non-believers. The believers are pictured by the faithful and the unbelievers are pictured by the unfaithful. And that becomes self-evident and is the only answer the Lord really needs to give to Peter. Two categories; that’s it, you’re in one or the other.
2. (:42-44) Reward for Faithfulness/Alertness
“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?’
Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
3. (:45-46) Retribution for Unfaithfulness
“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;”
“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, and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”
MacArthur: Well just who might Jesus be talking about here?” Well anybody really, but particularly this had real application to the Pharisees and the religious leaders, who instead of feeding people fleeced them, who instead of helping people with their needs wouldn’t lift a finger to help anybody but indulged themselves endlessly. Jesus says this is a foolish way to live because if you live…and this is defiant. If you live in this kind of disregard for the commands of God and the call of the gospel, if you live this kind of sinful life, the master, verse 46, will come on a day when that slave doesn’t expect it and at an hour he doesn’t know. And what will he do? He’ll cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. That’s dichotomeō, from which we get the word “dichotomy,” to cut in pieces. Pretty dramatic, wouldn’t you say? That’s pretty severe.
Steven Cole: I believe that these frightening words especially apply to unfaithful spiritual leaders who have used their office for their own advantage. They usually teach false doctrine because they want to dodge their sin, which is exposed by God’s Word. They use religion to promote their own greed and immorality. Jesus pronounces this most severe judgment on them because they have taken that which should have benefited people eternally and used it to destroy them. Their final punishment shows that they never truly repented of their own sins and submitted their lives to the Master.
4. (:47-48) Degrees of Accountability
a. (:47-48a) Based on Level of Knowledge
“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, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few.”
b. (:48b) General Principle: Greater Privilege Means Greater Accountability
“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.”
Donald Miller: The judgment of leaders will be correspondingly heavy, since more is required of them because of their privileged position (vss. 47-48; James 3:1).
J. Ligon Duncan: But this passage is not just for the disciples and it’s not just for pastors and elders. It is for all of us, and you see that at the very end of the passage. Look at verse 48. Half way through verse 48 Jesus says this, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Jesus is establishing a principle there and now we see why He didn’t answer Peter’s question directly because Jesus was both speaking to the disciples and for all. In other words, He had a specific message in these stories for His disciples and all those other pastor/elders who were going to be given the charge to shepherd the flock of God. And that message was — I want you to be ready, and this is the way I want you to be ready — feed My sheep; make sure they get the pure milk of the Word; make sure they are fed with the rich meat of the Word of God; protect them from the wolves; shepherd their souls; while the world is only caring about what they can get out of those sheep, you be concerned to serve those sheep and to help those sheep and to build them up and encourage them in their time of need. That’s what Jesus was saying to the disciples. That’s what Jesus was saying to pastors and elders, but He was also speaking for us all. And the “for us all” is this — “to whom much is given, much is required.”
John Phillips: has an interesting interpretation of the judgments described in Lk 12:46-48 – there is the matter of his sentence (Lk 12:46-48). Three types of servants are in view here. The first type is the false servant: “The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” This servant is no servant at all. Whatever profession of faith the man might have made is annulled by his behavior. The Lord numbers him among the unbelievers. Judas was just such a man. The second type is the forgetful servant: “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes” (Lk 12:47). Here is a man who is well schooled in the things of God. He knows what is expected of him. Nevertheless, he wastes his time and talents and ignores God’s will for his life. Instead of laying up treasure in heaven, he fritters away his life. He will be “beaten with many stripes.” Sometimes those stripes come in this life as God chastises him for his neglect. At other times, God withholds judgment here because He intends to deal with it over there. This brings into view the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). “[He] shall be beaten with many stripes.” He will suffer blow after blow, as it were, as the various affairs of his life are weighed and found wanting and are cast into the fire as wood, hay, and stubble. Finally, the third type is the feeble servant: “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” No excuse will be accepted at the judgment seat for poor performance, but allowance will be made for ignorance. The principle that the Lord lays down is simple: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Lk 12:48b). In other words, the Lord’s requirements are similar to those required by a human employer.
II. (:49-53) ACCOUNTABILITY BASED ON THE DIVISION THAT CHRIST CREATES
A. (:49-50) Mission Statement — Two Images of Christ’s Divisive Mission on the Cross – Painful Anticipation
1. (:49) Casting Fire on the Earth – Bringing the Offense of the Cross as a Dividing Point
“I have come to cast fire upon the earth;
and how I wish it were already kindled!”
We might like to think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace … but here He presents Himself in a different light – as one bringing the fire of strife and division upon the earth – the opposite of peace. This is a fire related to His work on the Cross. This requires that all men respond to Him either in faith and acceptance or unbelief and rejection. He will come in His Second Coming to unleash a different form of fire = the fire of judgment.
Lenski – [ties vv. 49 and 50 directly together as I am doing here] –
The two exclamatory statements are due to the intense feeling with which they were uttered . . . The two statements about the fire and the baptism are worded alike, which should have help in the translation. . . [baptism clearly] describes the passion and the death of Jesus. And it thus brings out what the fire and its moment of kindling are, namely this death on the cross. It is the offense of the cross that has set the world ablaze, that has started the division and the strife. . .
The figures are opposites: fire – baptism (water). It is the height of paradox to have a baptism kindle a fire, and yet this is not strange at all in the realities. Christ’s death on the cross kindled the fire of the offense of the cross.
Geldenhuys: Fire has a twofold effect – it destroys what is combustible and purifies and refines non-combustible objects. The Saviour here utters His deep longing that His work of salvation shall be completed, so that His beneficial works may through the power of the Holy Ghost enter into the lives of mankind in full measure – to the undoing and destruction of evil and to the purification and refining of the faithful. . .
Fire here is the spiritual power exercised by the Lord through His Word and Spirit on the strength of His completed work of redemption – to the undoing of those who reject Him and to the refining of those who believe in Him.
2. (:50) Undergoing Painful Baptism — Creating a Divide by Way of the Cross – Suffering for Sin
“But I have a baptism to undergo,
and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!”
Steven Cole: Almost all commentators agree that when Jesus speaks of the baptism He has to undergo, He is referring to the cross, where He would be immersed under the flood of God’s wrath against sin. While as the eternal Son of God, Jesus came to this earth for the purpose of going to the cross to redeem sinners, yet as being fully human, the thought of the cross deeply distressed Him. The agony of the cross for Jesus was not only the physical suffering, as terrible as that was. The worst agony of the cross was the reality of the sinless One becoming the sin-bearer. “He [God] made Him who knew no sin [Christ] to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). . .
You would think that every person would be quick to embrace the cross of Christ. But the Bible shows that while many receive Christ and find mercy, many others reject God’s offer because it offends their pride. They don’t want to admit that they are sinners deserving God’s wrath. They don’t want to admit that they can do nothing to atone for their own sins. So the cross becomes a stumbling block to them. And, it leads to division between them and those who accept God’s mercy, even to the dividing of close family members:
B. (:51-53) Impact Statement — Causing Division Within Families – Bringing Strife
1. (:51) Surprising Mission
“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth?
I tell you, no, but rather division;”
Lenski: This contrast shows that “peace” is meant in the sense of harmony and an undisturbed condition.
Geldenhuys: Christ is indeed the Prince of Peace (Isa. Ix. 5) who came not only to bring peace into the heart of every believer but also to bring peace to its fullest extent among the whole of mankind. This will, however, only become a full reality after His second coming; that is to say, on the new earth. Until then the strife between good and evil will continue without a pause.
2. (:52-53) Strife Within Households
a. (:52) Defined by Numbers
“for from now on five members in one household will be divided,
three against two, and two against three.”
b. (:53) Defined by Relationships
“They will be divided, father against son, and son against father;
mother against daughter, and daughter against mother;
mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Hendriksen: The entrance of Christ into this world divides in two, splits apart, cleaves asunder, and in so doing turns one person against another. Faith not only creates division between one race and another, one people and another, one church and another; it even brings about division in the family, in fact often the sharpest division of all.
III. (:54-59) ACCOUNTABILITY BASED ON DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES AND PREPARING ACCORDINGLY
A. (:54-56) Discerning the Signs of the Times
1. (:54-55) Two Illustrations
“And He was also saying to the multitudes,”
a. (:54) Cloud From the West
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say,
‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out.’”
b. (:55) South Wind Blowing
“And when you see a south wind blowing, you say,
‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way.”
Steven Cole: In Israel, a cloud from the west came from the Mediterranean Sea and thus brought rain. A south wind came in off the Sinai desert and thus meant a hot day. Jesus then calls them hypocrites because they are able to discern the weather, but they fail to discern the significance of Jesus’ presence in their midst.
2. (:56) Arguing From the Lesser to the Greater
“You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?”
Every day they analyze the weather patterns – relatively unimportant and superficial in the grand scheme of things; they should pay much more attention to grasping the significance of the presence of the Promised Messiah in their midst; not that they should know the specifics of the date and time of the Return of Christ; but they should demonstrate appropriate readiness and accountability – especially when the Messiah is standing right before them; If they can’t discern the significance of this present moment, they have no chance being prepared for His uncertain return
MacArthur: There’s no way to escape it. “How,” He says, “in the world can you make conclusions with minimal evidence that are accurate and not make the conclusion that is inescapable about this? Why will you not sit down and analyze it? Why will you not discern it?” They wouldn’t. They didn’t want to know who He was. They wanted to accept their preconception. Why? Because He attacked their religious system. He stomped on their self-righteousness. It wasn’t that they didn’t want a kingdom; sure they wanted a kingdom. It wasn’t that they didn’t want salvation; they wanted salvation. It wasn’t that they didn’t want forgiveness and eternal life. They want all that. It wasn’t the cure they hated; it was the diagnosis they resented.
B. (:57-59) Preparing Accordingly
1. (:57) Judge the Right Thing
“And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right?”
Lenski: God was giving them the clear truth so that under its influence and its power they could of themselves decide the right thing to do, namely to believe in his grace and to flee from the wrath to come since the heavens of their time were full of the signs of both. Why did they not judge the right thing?
2. (:58-59) Settle All Accounts While There Is Still Time
“For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there make an effort to settle with him, in order that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison.”
“I say to you, you shall not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent.”
Steven Cole: Illustration: During a training session for soldiers who were about to make their first parachute jump, the sergeant explained how to open the reserve chute if the main chute didn’t open. A private nervously raised his hand and asked, “Sergeant, if my main chute doesn’t open, how long do I have to pull my reserve?”
The sergeant looked directly into the young private’s eyes and replied earnestly, “The rest of your life, soldier. The rest of your life.” (In Reader’s Digest, February, 1982.)
If you have not trusted in Christ as your only hope for forgiveness on the day of judgment, you are like that soldier plunging toward earth. Either you accept Jesus as your sin bearer and you are reconciled to God; or, you will come into God’s court of justice and pay your own debt, which is eternal separation from Him. How long do you have to get on Jesus’ side? The answer is, the rest of your life! Jesus has drawn the line. Will you trust Him now before it is too late?