Feb 6 2013 - Matthew 24:29-51 – The faithful and wise servant
Let me return for a moment to the theme of yesterday’s notes. In this chapter Jesus is answering a double question raised by the disciples, “When will the Temple be destroyed?” and “What will be the signs of Jesus’ return and the end of the age?” In the minds of the disciples these were one question and in Jesus answer it is not easy to separate the two themes.
Nevertheless, Jesus is concerned both to give his followers clear signs of when the former is about to occur so that they might ‘flee to the mountains’ and escape destruction, while warning them against the folly of seeking to predict the latter. The parable of the fig tree may be intended as part of the warning concerning the fall of Jerusalem with its conclusion, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34), while the reminder concerning the days of Noah – beginning with the words “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (v. 36) – is a warning concerning the return of Christ.
The chapter concludes with a parable Jesus told concerning two servants. Each is put in charge of his master's household while the master is away. The first is a faithful and wise servant who takes good care of the household in his master's absence and is duly rewarded on the master's return. The second is a wicked servant who mistreats his fellow servants and uses his master's food and drink to live it up with his friends. When the master returns unexpectedly, the wickedness of the servant is discovered and he is punished severely. This is one of a series of parables that Jesus tells, all of which teach the necessity of being ready for the coming of the Lord.
There is some discussion about the original context and meaning of these parables. We, quite naturally, read them as exhortations to be ready for the return of Christ; we need to be about the Master's business so that we may not be ashamed when he appears. Some, however, have argued that when Jesus told these parables he was not speaking of his second coming but his first. They are parables concerning Israel's unreadiness for the coming of the Lord – "Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple... But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?" (Malachi 3:1-2).
Whatever the original context and lesson of these parables, they spoke to Matthew's readers as they speak to us of the need to be ready for the return of our Lord. As we noticed yesterday, Jesus said that the gospel of the kingdom must be preached throughout the whole world (24:12). Matthew ends his gospel with Jesus' commission to his disciples to make disciples of the nations (28:18-20). All authority belongs to him, and with that authority he has entrusted us with his kingdom project. We have work to do and need to be about the Master’s business. The unreadiness of Israel at the coming of the Messiah acts as an additional prompt to us to be faithful and active in the work that the Master has entrusted to us: "You ... must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (24:44).
Lord Jesus, I find it easy to get preoccupied in the busyness of daily life and to lose my zeal for the work of the kingdom. Stir me up by your Spirit to pray for the day of your coming. Keep me from becoming too comfortable with this present age and its passing fashions. Rather, may I continually long for and work towards the day when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
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