Parable of the Faithful and Wise Servant
Approximately one-third of the teachings personally conveyed by Jesus Christ as noted in the Gospels were in the form of parables. In the following passage He gave His reasons for using the parabolic form in teaching truth:
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:10-17)
Jesus Christ used parables to illustrate truth for the following reasons:
Parables are unlike allegories. While an allegory may be a story constructed without a basis in reality in order to convey truth, a parable is based on a known realm (reality). The truth to be learned was gained from transference from reality to the unknown. It becomes the hearer’s responsibility to properly understand what truth is being transferred from the reality of the parable that is told. When Christ used a parable, He expected the believer to understand the parable by making the necessary transference from it reality to the truth that He was seeking to convey.
It is interesting to note that of all the parables delivered after the Jewish leaders of the day registered their rejection of Christ as Messiah (Matthew 12), only two parables were interpreted by Christ—the parable of the sower and the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13). It is conjectured that He explained these two parables to set a pattern of interpretation for all His parables. The fact that He did not interpret His subsequent parables indicates that He fully expected His disciples to understand what He taught.
Certain principles should be followed in the interpretation of parables, as follows:
This parable is another “kingdom of heaven” parable, which follows the parable of the wedding guests (a.k.a. parable of the wedding feast, Matthew 22:1-14). Both parables were designed to teach the structure and administration of the coming millennial kingdom upon the earth. Whereas the first revealed the extraction of the “chosen” from the “called,” this parable reveals the extraction of the “faithful and wise” from the chosen.
It would be helpful for the reader to have a proper understanding of the three tenses of salvation, i.e., past tense pertaining to the salvation of a person’s spirit and which is immutable (unchangeable) and based solely on grace through faith in Christ, present tense pertaining to the salvation of a person’s soul (life as it relates to the millennial kingdom and which is mutable (changeable) and based on divine good works during this life, and future tense pertaining to the salvation of a person’s body at the Rapture. A review of these may be gained from the topical study entitled “Rule of Three,” which may be accessed from the topical section of studies at www.bibleone.net.
As previously mentioned, this parable of the faithful and wise servant is one of several parables that reveal the structure and rulership of the coming kingdom of heaven. The occasion for it is found in a preceding chapter (Matthew 21) in which Christ announced that the kingdom of heaven would be taken from Israel and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof (Matthew 21:43)—the believers (gentile and Jew) of the age of grace.
Three items of interest that must be considered, as follow:
But Israel didn’t and it became a nation set aside with only future earthly blessings given to them through the unconditional Abrahamic covenant. Individually they cold be saved and become a member of the Church, but as a nation they lost their right to the kingdom by rejecting Christ.
The Parable and Its Interpretation
Following the first parable on the structure and administration of the coming earthly kingdom, i.e., of the wedding guests/feast in chapter 22, Christ covered a number of topics queried by the Pharisees (22:15-22), the Sadducees (22:23-33), and a scribe/lawyer who was also a Pharisee (22:34-40). The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes were all religious leaders of the day.
The Sadducees were considered the conservatives in holding to older doctrines and regarding as supreme the temple sacrificial system. They opposed the Pharisees, and the main point of division was the understanding of the law. Both parties acknowledged the supremacy of the Torah, but the Sadducees held only to the written law while the Pharisees put the long development of traditions alongside the written law. (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Louis Goldberg, Th.D., Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL, Hendrickson Publishers, 2000)
[In the Old Testament] the scribe seemed to be a mere secretary to write a letter (Ezr 4:8), whereas at other times he was an inscriber of Scripture like Baruch (Jer 36:26, 32 cf. v. 4). Therefore, a scribe could take dictation, copy, study, interpret and teach Scripture (Jer 8:8-9).
During the time of Christ the scribes exerted a powerful religious influence as teachers, and because of their ability to make judicial decisions based on scriptural exegesis, occupied important positions in the Sanhedrin (Mt 16:21; 26:3). Paul’s use of the word “scribe” in 1 Cor 1:20 implies an expert in the law. Thus “lawyer” is an exact synonym for “scribe,” and the two terms are never found together. (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Earl B. Robinson, Hendrickson Publishers, 2000)
The Pharisees sought to trick Christ with a question pertaining to governmental/civil responsibility (specifically, the payment of taxes). The Sadducees inquired about relationships after the resurrection. The scribe/Pharisee also sought to test Christ by asking Him: “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus then posed a few mind-boggling questions to the Pharisees (22:41-46) pertaining to Himself and His relationship with King David, which He follows with a lengthy and scathing denunciation against the scribes and the Pharisees because of their hypocrisy (23:1-36).
Christ next expresses His lament for His chosen people of Israel and their continual rejection and murdering of God’s messengers and prophets. Because of this He states that they “shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’” (23:37-39).
Then Christ turns His attention to the events of the next two thousands years, portraying the prophecy of God’s judgment upon Israel; the destruction of the temple, the desolation of their land, the persecution of the Jews by all nations, and the coming great tribulation (24:1-28)—all which will lead up to His return to earth in power and great glory to set up His kingdom and establish justice on earth (24:29-31).
With His second coming in mind, which is clearly a two-fold event in prophecy pertaining to (1) the rapture of the Church in the air followed by the tribulation judgment upon the earth and (2) His second advent to earth, He then propounds the parable of the fig tree. It may be noted that the parables of Christ are not for Israel to understand, since Israel does not have the assistance of the Holy Spirit as the result of its rejection of Christ (Matthew 13:10-17); but they are for the church to both understand and apply.
Starting at Matthew 24:32, Christ puts forth two major signs of the “last days” that will precede and foretell the imminent rapture of the Church. The first is the “parable of the fig tree” (vss. 32-35), which teaches that national Israel will return to their God-given land and which historically began in April 1948; and the second is the “sign of Noah” (vss. 36-39), which speaks of the wickedness that existed in Noah’s day (Genesis 6:5, 13; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3), the fact that the world will not take God’s impending judgment seriously (2 Peter 3:2, 4), and the shocking surprise when the event takes place (vs. 39).
Then immediately preceding the parable of the faithful and wise servant, Christ cautions believers to be prepared for His return by revealing that when it occurs there will be a great separation of the saved from the lost upon the earth (vss. 40, 41) and that continual “watching” is necessary since (1) they will not know “what hour [their] Lord is coming” (vs. 42), (2) any reasonable home owner would be ready if he knew when a thief was going to break into his house, and (3) the coming of the Son of Man will be at an unexpected time (vs. 44).
The Parable and Its Interpretation
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, “My master is delaying his coming,” and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The parable is a continuance on Christ’s readiness theme that he introduced in verses 42 through 44 and His prior parable on the structure and administration of the millennial kingdom regarding the wedding guests/feast (Matthew 22:1-14). In the parable of the wedding guests/feast the focus was on the chosen, those who were selected out of the “called.” In this parable the focus is on the faithful and wise, which are those that are selected out of the chosen (Revelation 17:14b).
Some expositors see a division of two ranks among those that are selected out of the chosen, the highest rank being those that are faithful and wise and the next highest rank being those that are good and faithful (as seen in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30). This writer is not prepared to make such an assertion; although, it is entirely possible. If so, this parable refers to the highest rank of those who will reign along with Christ and most likely will carry the title of “bride of Christ,” along with those who are good and faithful that will rule just under them.
The parable begins with a question: “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?” By it Christ outlines the essential character of those who will occupy the highest rank in and during His millennial reign upon earth, the kingdom of heaven.
But it must be reiterated that Christ is speaking privately to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, and His remarks are not to those who are eternally lost (Matthew 24:3, 4). Here in this parable He is outlining the structure and administration of His coming reign upon the earth—the millennial kingdom. In this case He is defining the Bride of Christ who will reign alongside of Him during that time.
The two characteristics of the children of God (saved individuals) who will occupy this lofty position alongside of Christ during the kingdom of heaven are as follow:
They will be believers who have been truly faithful in their comportment since their salvation and until their physical death or their rapture, whichever comes first. The word translated faithful is the Greek word pistos and comes from the root Greek word peitho, which means “worthy of belief, trust, or confidence.” It speaks of a person who is trustworthy and consistent in the performance of his duty to God and to others.
It is important to realize that God’s grace-gift of “spirit” salvation and His grace-provision of “soul” life that is provided for all to receive and experience is based on faith, which entails a mutual confidence or trust between God and man. Mankind can only be spiritually saved (appropriate eternal life) through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any self-effort (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
He may also live or walk in Christ, but only in the same manner, i.e., trusting Christ to live through him and apart from any self-effort (Colossians 2:6). And when he fails, as all of God’s children will do (1 John 1:8), he only needs to name or own up to his sin. God then instantly forgives such sin and cleanses him completely, which reestablishes the control (filling) of the Holy Spirit’s influence in his life (1 John 1:9; Ephesians 5:18). Whereas “spirit salvation” is “positional” and “final” and speaks to the believer’s just and eternal standing before God; “soul salvation” (also known as the “sanctified process”) is experiential and continues in a state of flux during life, which speaks to a believer’s state as a child before God his Father. The first is obtained solely by faith; the second is empowered by faith but must include divine (not human) good works.
The apostle Paul had the key. He spoke elegantly and lucidly regarding the faithful Christian life when in Galatians 2:20 he said:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
The word translated “faith” in Paul’s expression of the faithful Christian life also comes from the Greek root word peitho, which only emphasizes that God’s gift of life, both its inception and its eternal continuance stems from a deep and abiding trust in Him and His Word.
The Old Testament conveyed the same message:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5, 6)
They will be believers who will be wise in their comportment since their salvation and until their physical death or their rapture, whichever comes first. The word “wise” here is the Greek word phronimos, which comes from the Greek root word phroneo meaning “to think or have a mindset.” The activity represented by this word involves the “soul” (a person’s will, affections, and conscience); a word that always refers to a person’s “life.”
Wisdom from God is to be prized above all earthly gain (Proverbs 3:13, 14; 8:11) and can only be appropriated by the study and comprehension of God’s Word. This is the message conveyed to Timothy by the apostle Paul:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15)
The consumption of (study and belief in) God’s Word, which is the meaning of “eating the flesh of Christ”—the Bread of Life—as metaphorically portrayed by Christ in John 6:48-58, was a concept the Jews could not understand. Only by achieving a full and detailed knowledge of God’s Word can a believer gain true divine wisdom, which is centered exclusively in and on the Son of God:
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24b)
Which He [Christ] made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence.
In whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)
But the faithful and wise servant (believer) not only must gain divine wisdom through the consumption of God’s Word, he must also share it with others. This is made quite plain in the parable by the words: “whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season.” This is in fact the clarification of the believer’s mission while here on earth, which is expressed by what is known as the “Great Commission,” as follows:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:19, 20)
It is unfortunate that this “mission statement” by Christ to all His followers is often misunderstood. It certainly involves the bringing of the lost to a salvation experience by faith alone in Christ alone, thereby establishing them as children of God; but, it does not stop there! Believers are to make disciples of those who are saved! They are to teach them all things that Christ has commanded. This aspect of their mission is critical and binding!
Christ defines a disciple in and by His vine-metaphor in John 15:1-8, in which he explains that believers should go beyond mere salvation by “abiding” in (i.e., drawing divine power from) Him (Colossians 2:6; Galatians 2:20) so that they may produce truly divine good works, which then establishes them as His disciples. Later in the chapter He designates them also as His friends.
Here again in this portion of John most often the passage is interpreted within the framework of being “lost or saved,” which is not the case. It is speaking only about living the Christian life in the only manner that will please God.
Its application to making disciples as in the “Great Commission” is important. The faithful and wise servant, the believer who will be included in the company who will be known as the Bride of Christ and who will reign alongside of Christ in the millennial kingdom. These will be those who not only consumed the “solid food” (“meat;” not just the “milk”) of God’s Word (Hebrews 5:12, 14) but actively shared it with other believers in order that they too could become fortified and productive in the creation of divine good works.
Gary T. Whipple in his book entitled Shock & Surprise Beyond the Rapture has the following cogent remarks regarding this subject as it relates to ministers of God’s Word:
It seems that most modern day pastors are trained in the seminaries to become “professional” ministers, and as such never have much of an interest in learning the Word of God. So, it is here, just before the coming of the Lord, that Jesus is looking for faithful and wise pastors and Bible teachers who are able to give” meat,” whom He can place over His households. Whom will He find and appoint as a faithful steward (Luke 12:42)? The professional, twentieth century pastor will not qualify. He only knows “milk.” In fact, he doesn’t even seem to know that we are living in the “due season,” which is the time just before the return of the Lord. It is no wonder that our Lord puts this in a question form. Who is wise? Who is faithful? Who will give meat?
Christ then states in verse 46 that at the master’s [read Christ] return and He finds the steward who is faithful and wise, the one who teaches the “meat” (solid food) of His Word, He will make him “ruler over all his goods.” Luke records this as “ruler over all that He has” (Luke 12:44).
In Luke’s gospel, we read that the “wise and faithful” are called “stewards.” Contrary to the popular use of this word in the modern church, people who give their time and money are not known scripturally as stewards, even though they have been faithful in what God has told them to do. The word “steward” in the Greek is “oikonomos,” which means a house-distributor, manage or overseer of the “mysteries” of God, i.e. to faithfully distribute to God’s household, the mysteries or “meat” of the Word (kingdom truths) of God (1 Cor. 4:1). Along with this, the scriptures record that it is required that a steward be “faithful” in this task (1 Cor. 4:2). (Shock & Surprise Beyond the Rapture by Gary T. Whipple, Th.M., Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 2003)
And finally Christ explains what will happen to the believer who is designated as “evil” and who not only fails to rise to the heights of the faithful and wise, but who in fact becomes completely carnal in his Christian life and testimony. The word translated “evil” comes from the Greek word kakos, which is best translated “worthless externally.” When used of a soldier it meant one who was “cowardly.” Overall it is one who is “bad in heart, conduct, and character.”
Unfortunately there are ample passages of Scripture that clearly indicate that believers (Christians) can succumb to a carnal state, even to the point of denying their faith. When this occurs God brings forth discipline, as a Father toward His children. And the severity of this discipline may take on varying degrees, even to the point of premature physical death.
And should the child of God continue in this condition up until the coming of Christ, he will certainly appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10) and he will be subject to loss of rewards (the meaning of “cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites”—1 Corinthians 3:10-15) and tremendous anguish (the meaning of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”).
The expression “weeping and gnashing of teeth” has no application to eternal hell (lake of fire). Although this is often assumed by many commentators, there is no support for this application in Scripture. It was a common Jewish expression signifying immense grief. And this condition for the carnal servant will prevail throughout the millennial reign of Christ upon earth, only to eventually be removed at its end (Revelation 21:4).
This parable is not meant to portray the saved from the lost. It has everything to do with the believer’s conduct while here on earth. It defines who will achieve the highest state of rulership beside Christ during the millennial kingdom—the faithful and wise.