Parable of the Wicked and Righteous Servants
Matthew Lesson #159
April 16, 2017
“Father, we’re thankful for the fact that we have Your Word given to us that this is not man’s word about You. It is not a record of these writers’ spiritual experiences, but this is Your Word, Your truth breathed out through the writers of Scripture and oversaw what they wrote in such a way that it protected and guarded it from error, so that we can have confidence that this is Your truth. As our Lord prayed in the high priestly prayer in John 17 that we are sanctified by truth: Your Word is truth. It’s very clear that the word “truth” there means Your Word.
“Father, we pray that as we study today, that God the Holy Spirit would use what we study in the teaching of Your Word to challenge us that we might continue to press forward in our spiritual growth and to constantly be prepared, be watching, be looking, knowing that our Lord may return for us at the Rapture at any moment.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, Amen.”
Three times in the last three weeks I have been asked almost the identical question. The first time I was asked this question I was asked by a Jewish lady sitting across the table from me at dinner when I was in Washington DC for the AIPAC policy conference. Somewhere along the line someone else asked me this question, and then I got an e-mail from a member of the congregation yesterday asking the identical question.
I may be a little dense and slow, but I thought, well maybe the Lord is giving me some guidance here that I need to address this question. It’s not even a spiritual question but it’s what everyone comes up with. So before we look at the parable of the wicked and righteous servant in Matthew 24:45–51 we will address this question which is why do we observe Easter on this particular day and date of the year?
How do we choose the date when we observe Easter because it’s a floating holiday that is not on the same date every year?. It’s determined by what some people may think of as somewhat mystical or magical formula, but there’s a reason for it.
It also impacts on Christianity that there are different Christian traditions that observe Easter or Resurrection Day on different days. So here’s the question. Why do we observe Easter on different days between the Eastern Orthodox Church, so-called, and the Western Church which includes both Roman Catholic and Protestant churches?
Also, why is this date sometimes different in different years and sometimes not close at all to Passover? We need to start with the fact that we know Jesus was crucified at the same time the lambs were sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan, which is the first month in the Jewish calendar, and the fourth in their ritual calendar, ceremonial calendar.
At sundown on that day Jews would observe the Seder meal. Jesus is crucified on the 14th of Nisan, and then depending on when whether you think He was crucified on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, we know that it was two or three days later we have the resurrection. This goes back to a conflict in the early Church.
Here’s a new word for you. It’s called the quartodeciman controversy. Say that real fast two or three times. Those of you with a little Latin in your background have figured out that quarto means four and deciman means ten so this means fourteen. It has to do with a controversy over the 14th of the month.
Those of you who are sharp recognize the fact that I just talked about the fact that Jesus was crucified on the 14th of Nisan. In the early church, even up to approximately AD 200 sociological studies indicate that at least 50% of Christians by AD 200 were still ethnic Jews. Think about how many Jews were saved just on the day of Pentecost and the two weeks after that.
It’s probably six or eight years before the gospel really begins to go out to the Gentile communities. You realize that with this large number of Jewish Christians and the fact that Paul on his 1st, 2nd, and 3rd missionary journeys always went to a synagogue first means that the initial believers in each location were Jewish.
When they have children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so forth, they were still ethnic Jews even though they would believe in Yeshua as the Messiah. So in the Eastern part of the church where you had a larger Jewish population in the area of Judea, Galilee, and Turkey, over into the Mesopotamian area where Babylon is, there were still dominant Jewish influence.
They would want to remember the crucifixion of Christ on the 14th of Nisan and that evening instead of having a Seder meal they would have communion. Then two days later they would celebrate Easter. So in the Eastern churches they celebrated the date as opposed to the day of the week.
In the Western churches there was an emphasis on the Resurrection as opposed to the crucifixion so they observed the remembrance of the Resurrection on a Sunday morning which is when Christ rose from the dead and they did it on the first Sunday following the March full moon.
Now the problem that came up was that once every seven years you have a leap year in there. No you don’t because they were functioning on a Julian calendar at the time and you didn’t have leap years. They made other adjustments.
So once every seven years the 14th of Nisan landed on the same day that the Resurrection was celebrated. So half of Christians were remembering the crucifixion of Christ and the other half were celebrating His Resurrection. That was a little bit of a conflict.
The way this developed in the 2nd century was that you had a bishop named Polycarp who was the bishop of Sardis. Sardis is mentioned as one of the seven letters to the seven churches at the beginning of Revelation. Polycarp stands out in church history because he was personally mentored or discipled by the Apostle John. He argued that according to John when he died in Ephesus that they were to remember the crucifixion on the 14th of Nisan and then have communion that night.
He went over to the bishop of Rome. They didn’t have a pope at that time. Polycarp and the top official in Rome had a sit down. Very cordial. Very friendly. Each tried to convince the other of their view because in Rome they were celebrating Easter on a Sunday. Neither one convinced the other. Polycarp went home and died about a year or so later.
There were constant arguments about this. The next major events occurred about AD 190 when you have a different bishop in Rome. He’s a little more headstrong. His name is Victor. He attempted to impose his authority [remember he’s not a pope yet]. It’s the West trying to impose its will on the East and this eventually led to the split in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
He tried to impose Roman tradition on Polycrates who was the bishop in Ephesus. He was going to excommunicate the whole East. Anyone who observed on the 14th was excommunicated. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon, who incidentally was personally mentored and discipled by Polycarp, intervened and got him to back down.
About 135 years later at the Nicene Council it was brought up. This was one of the major decisions they came up with along with articulating the Trinity. They settled it in favor of Rome and then they came along and said they were going to excommunicate anyone who observes the 14th of Nisan.
There’s a hint of anti-Judaism here, not necessarily antisemitism because frankly you see the beginning of Replacement Theology in both East and West, which are generally anti-Semitic. This is really growing at this time but the West is more concerned with divorcing itself from any kind of Jewishness because of Judaism and Judaizers. That’s their motivation.
This is how Phillip Schaff and his History of the Christian Church articulates it relating to the Nicene Council. He said, “This council considered it unbecoming in Christians to follow the usage of the unbelieving and hostile Jews and ordained that Easter should always be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon succeeding the vernal equinox which was March 21and always after the Jewish Passover. If the full moon occurs on a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after. By this arrangement Easter may take place as early as March 22, or as late as April 25.”
However the West did not always adhere to that. That is the idea that it’s always the Sunday after Passover. No matter what the calendar says, it always has to follow the order of Passover first and then Easter. Last year, interestingly enough, because I got caught in the middle of it, Greek Orthodox, the Eastern Church, observed Easter on the first of May which was a Sunday.
Then Passover was a little more than a week earlier. Passover was on April 22 but in the Western Church Easter was observed on March 27, almost four weeks before Passover.
All of that came together as to one reason why the Eastern Church is split from the Western churches in the 11th century.
Now the second issue has to do with the calendar. The first issue was whether to observe the exact day, the 14th of Nisan and then Resurrection two days later or the day of the week, which would be in their view Friday for the crucifixion and Sunday for the Resurrection.
Coming out of Nice they made this decision that Easter would never fall before Passover. However, the Western Church didn’t do that.
The calendar change is the second problem. It resulted from problems in the Julian calendar. It came into effect with Julius Caesar in 45 BC. It didn’t accurately account for the length of days in a year. So there was a calendar creep and every few years things would shift a little bit.
By the time you get into the 16th century you have a ten-day difference that’s developed. As of today, there would be a thirteen-day difference. So they had to make an adjustment. Under Pope Gregory in 1582 the Gregorian calendar was put into effect. It was authorized to correct the problem.
However, not everyone in Europe got on board at the same time. It took the British Empire, the Anglican Church, 170 years before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. Other places adopted it at different levels. The Soviets, Russia, didn’t adopt it until 1918. So in Russia and Ukraine they still celebrate some dates a little bit off from the West.
They still celebrate what they call the old New Year in about the middle of January, January 13th according to the Julian calendar. The Eastern Church still uses the Julian calendar to determine some ritual dates and that creates this discrepancy.
Furthermore, for example, last year because the vernal equinox occurred in March and right away you had a full moon the Western Church celebrated Easter right after the full moon following the vernal equinox. Because that preceded Easter the Greek Orthodox Church didn’t celebrate Easter until after Passover. That came somewhat later.
The two dates sometimes coincide as they did this year, 2017. They coincide when the full moon following the equinox comes so late that it counts as the first full moon after 21 March in the Julian calendar as well as the Gregorian calendar.
That’s not a regular occurrence but it has happened more recently in recent years, 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2017. According to one website it will not occur again until 2034. So Eastern churches determine their dates differently based on these calendar issues.
That just has to do when they will observe ritual. It’s not doctrine but the important thing is that they all recognize that Christianity is grounded in a historical event that must be observed. It’s not something that happened off in Heaven somewhere or in some spiritual or mystical realm but it’s something that is grounded in space time history and was witnessed to by well over 500 people.
This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, “For I delivered to you [the Corinthian Church which he had left and they asked him some questions and one of them had to do with the resurrection] first of all, that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture.” Notice how he always puts the authority on the Scripture.
It’s what the Scripture says. It’s not history. It’s not tradition. It’s what the Scripture says. So he’s referring at this time to the Old Testament because there’s no New Testament. According to the Scripture is especially Isaiah 53 which teaches that the Messiah would pay for the sins of the world.
He says, “I delivered what I heard according to the Scripture that Christ died for our sins and then He was buried and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” That was indicated in the event with Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
Paul goes on, “And that He was seen by Cephas …” This didn’t happen in a vacuum. Cephas actually was Peter’s Aramaic name. “He was seen by Cephas and then by the twelve [minus Judas]; After that, He was seen by over 500 brethren at once of whom the greater part remain to the present.”
He’s saying, “You don’t believe me?” How many witnesses does it take to confirm something in a court of law? Two. That goes back to the Mosaic Law. Two witnesses.
Now Paul is saying there are over 500 eye witnesses to the Resurrection. If you don’t believe me, go talk to them. Many of them are still alive and you can get their first-hand witness.
He adds, “But some have fallen asleep. After that he was seen by James [the half-brother of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ], then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also as by one born out of due time.”
That is our basis. How do we know Christ rose from the dead? Because the Bible tells us so. It’s not just that we believe it just in a vacuum but there is also confirmatory evidence that this is true from the eye witness accounts and from the fact that it changed their lives.
When Christ was crucified they fled in fear. They denied who Jesus was. They denied having anything to do with Him and yet after the Resurrection, you see especially in the transformed Peter, there is tremendous courage and the willingness to die. All but one died for the message of Resurrection.
They knew it was true because of their own eyewitness. Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 15:14–15, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.” He’s saying to the rationalist that if no one can rise from the dead then Christ isn’t risen, then “our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” In other words, we’re just wasting our time. Let’s go home and have a party on Saturday and sleep late.
This reminds me of another story of a pastor who didn’t show up on Easter morning. After the music, he still hadn’t shown up so the deacon said, “Well, we better send two or three guys to wake him up and see what’s going on. Maybe he’s ill. Maybe he’s sick.”
So they went to the house and knocked on the door and he came in his robe and with his coffee and his morning paper. They said, “Pastor, how come you’re not at church?”
He said, “Well, everyone always sleeps late and I always hear that. They sleep late on Sunday and they have their coffee and read the paper. I thought I’d give it a try. It’s really nice. I don’t have to be anywhere. I just sit here and I’m enjoying myself.”
They asked him, “Won’t you come to church?”
He answered, “No, I’m having too good a time.” They went back and told the church what had happened. The next Sunday there was standing room only in the church.”
The Resurrection changes lives because Christ is risen.
Turn to Matthew 24 and let’s look at a few things.
First of all, we want or remember the context. I keep talking about the context here because it is so important. If we misunderstand—and many do—the context of Matthew 24 and 25, then the result is that we will misinterpret what is being taught here and what is being said. So we have to keep remembering these key things.
Second, we need to be reminded of what we looked at last time in terms of the meaning and the significance of the parable of the fig tree.
Third, as we look at this parable of the righteous and the wicked servant in Matthew 24:45-51, we need to determine who the key players are: who’s the master, who are the servants.
Fourth, we see that there is a massive failure here. What is the failure? We need to understand the dynamics of that failure.
Fifth, understand the judgment that occurs that is announced in verse 51 which says that the wicked servant be cut in two and have his portion with the hypocrites, and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Lot of controversy related to this, so we have to go back and review the context.
Jesus is talking to His disciples. In Matthew 23, He has announced seven—one textual issue, maybe eight—judgments on the Pharisees and the scribes for being hypocrites. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” That’s in the immediate context, that same day just that morning.
Before Jesus left the temple, He walks across to the Mount of Olives, and on the way He points to the beautiful buildings in this rebuilt Herodian temple, and He says that a judgment is coming and no stone will be left on top of another. And the disciples are flabbergasted.
He’s talking about the Jewish temple. He’s talking about a judgment that is going to come on Israel and on Jerusalem. The context is judgment. I can’t beat that horse enough. The context is judgment. The context is not rescue—that’s Rapture—the context is judgment.
The disciples are in shock over this because this is the eighth wonder of the ancient world. It’s like, “how can this happen?” So they want to know basically two things: When will this be? That’s not addressed in Matthew, but it is addressed in Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse.
The second thing is what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?
Now the word there that is translated “coming” is the Greek word PAROUSIA, which is not a technical term for the Rapture; it is a general term for someone who arrives or comes–for Jesus’ coming.
It may in some passages refer to the Rapture, but it also has that idea of presence. How will we know when you are going to present Yourself as the king and bring in Your Kingdom?
Remember in about 43 or 44 days, as Jesus prepares to ascend to heaven in Acts 1, what’s the question they asked Him? “Lord, is it now that You are going to bring in Your Kingdom?” It’s all about the Kingdom.
Matthew is presenting Jesus as the king, and we have the message of John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When Jesus began to preach, it was, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When he sent out the disciples to the House of Judah and the House of Israel and forbade them to go to the house of the Gentiles, He said, “This is your message, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
It’s all about the Kingdom: the coming promised Messianic Kingdom that was postponed because of the rejection of Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah by the Pharisees.
That means that with a few notable exceptions, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, the Pharisees as a whole were not believers. They did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. This sets us up with the context that Jesus is talking about answering this question related to His coming to establish the Kingdom, not as coming to rescue the Church at the Rapture, but to establish His Kingdom.
The questions is, “what’s the sign of Your coming?” If you look at verse 30, you see that Jesus says specifically what the sign is: the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven. I believe that that is this brilliant flash of light that will penetrate the absolute darkness that occurs at this point, described as the “Day of the Lord” when the sun is darkened, the moon won’t give its light. There’s this impenetrable darkness on the face of the earth and it is pierced with this blinding flash of light that’s the sign that just behind it is coming the Messiah, the king who will establish His Kingdom upon the earth.
The sign is that brilliant flash of light, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. He’s coming to establish His Kingdom.
We know this occurs at the end of the seven-year-period of Daniel’s 70th week, the Tribulation Period, as He comes to defeat the armies of the Antichrist and to destroy his armies, to defeat Satan, and to bring judgment on rebellious man who is described as the earth dwellers in the Book of Revelation.
So there are some key things to remember.
First of all, this is Jewish background. As I’ve been emphasizing, Jesus is not talking about the church or the Church Age, He’s talking about what’s going to happen to the temple, and that is specifically tied to God’s plan for Israel in history. He has a plan for Israel, it’s not over with, Israel will eventually be restored to the land, and Jesus will establish that Jewish Davidic Kingdom on the earth.
Second, all the events that are described in Matthew 24:4-31 in this chapter take place between the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week and the end of the 70th week. They all occur within the Tribulation. The wars and rumors of wars, the earthquakes, the pestilences here are great universal signs.
As a sign, they’re not the same as the wars and earthquakes and diseases and everything that we have today. Those aren’t signs: they have been going on since the fall of Adam. What happens here, Jesus says these are related specifically to this one sign of His coming.
All of those events take place, and Jesus said in verse 33, as I pointed out in the previous two weeks, “You also when you see all these things.” What are the “these things?” The wars, the rumors of wars, the earthquakes, the pestilence—all those things—the abomination of desolation, the persecution of Israel. When you see these things, you will know that the end is near. It’s at the doors. So there is indication that you can see when it’s near, when it is proximate.
We don’t know if the Rapture’s near—that can happen at any moment. But this is talking about something that’s giving a sign where you can know that it is near. Again we’re not talking about the Rapture. And He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation”—He’s not talking about the generation from His time, He’s talking about the generation that is within that seven year period who sees these things going on. He’s talking to the Tribulation generation of believers.
Starting in that section—Matthew 24:32-35, which I looked at last week and the week before—it opens an excursus: that is sort of a parenthesis addressing that generation of Israel that lives during the Tribulation to warn them. This excursus actually continues on till the end of the chapter: He is addressing that generation.
This informs them that they need to watch and be prepared because they don’t know the day or the hour when He will return.
The fourth thing to remember is that generation is warned that they can only know that the time is near, and they cannot know the day or the hour.
Well, you say, “Wait a minute! We have a pretty good timeline back there in Daniel 9. You spent a lot of time talking about that. We know that it’s seven years.” Yes, but the countdown begins when the antichrist signs the treaty with Israel. How many of us know when anyone signed any treaty. It might be reported in the news, but generally we don’t know the precise day or hour that a treaty is signed. So they don’t know when the stopwatch began.
Secondly, with all the chaos that occurs, I don’t imagine they’re pulling out their Day-Timers or have their iCalendar all figured out, and they can access it. Because they haven’t had a battery work in their iPhone since about the second day of the Tribulation after the seal judgments began. So it can be really easy to lose track.
They will know generally, seems like seven years is almost up, so they are to watch. They have these things that are going on, they’ve seen this, and so Matthew 24:36 says they know it’s near, “but of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”
Jesus in His humanity—in the incarnate humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ—has not been given this information to be able to disclose. So that is sealed off; only the Father knows.
He uses this parable of the fig tree, “Now learn the parable of the fig tree.” You can tell that when you start seeing the little buds develop and the leaves start to come out that summer is near, and it’s not long before the fruit’s coming. And so in same way, you can figure out that it’s getting pretty close. One of the things that get pointed out in Matthew 24:36: He makes the point that “of this day and hour no one knows.” You just know that it is coming: it’s near.
If you look down to verse 42—you can even underline verse 36 and verse 42 and connect them together because—verse 42 says, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour.” So verse 42 repeats the idea of verse 36.
In artillery they call this bracketing. In literature it’s an inclusio. That means you state something at the beginning and state it at the end, and that shows that this is a tied-together integral unit.
The word there, GREGOREO, means to watch, to be alert, to be awake, to focus on something. This is used not only in this immediate passage, in Matthew 24:42-43, but it used again in Matthew 25:13 at the end of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.
We will come back and talk about that later, but what I’m pointing out is that the vocabulary here is important. They are to watch; they are to be prepared. That language is picked up in the subsequent parables to show that all of this is a unity that the warning that is given in the parable of the fig tree is to say “you know it’s near, you need to watch and be prepared. Now I’m going to give you three parables,” and the key idea in each of these three parables is that there’s somebody who watched and was prepared and somebody who didn’t watch and wasn’t prepared.
Just as the illustrations here of judgment in Matthew 24:40-41 deal with two groups of people: believers and unbelievers. And trust me, nobody thinks that these are two groups of believers. Everybody agrees that this involves a group of unbelievers and a group of believers.
There’s some, though, that misidentify those taken as those who were taken in the Rapture, which doesn’t make sense because contextually we’re talking about, Israel not the Church, and contextually we’re talking about judgment not rescue.
They are to watch; they are to be prepared. Each parable that comes up focuses on somebody, some group, that isn’t prepared. So in between here we see, as I pointed out last time, this comparison with the days of Noah.
Matthew 24:37, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” In “coming of the Son of Man,” “Son of Man” is Second Coming terminology. The “Son of Man” is a term related to His humanity. It comes out of Daniel 7 when the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days—God the Father—and is given the Kingdom. Then He immediately goes to the earth to establish His kingdom. The term “Son of Man” tells us again: it indicates it’s not Rapture, it is Second Coming.
The two groups that are mentioned in Matthew 24:40-41, “Then two men will be in the field. One will be taken and the other left.” You have two groups: two men in the field. One will be taken. That’s not taken in the Rapture, that’s taken in judgment. Just as at the time of Noah, those who were outside the ark died; they were taken in judgment. Those on the ark survived to establish a new civilization after the flood.
Two men: one’s taken in judgment, the other’s left behind. That represents the Tribulation believers who survive to the end, who will go into the Millennial Kingdom to repopulate the earth during the kingdom.
“Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left.” Once again, the one taken is taken in judgment. The one left is the one who lives and survives and goes into the Millennial Kingdom. They’re told once again to watch.
The theme here of the parable is to know that the coming is near, to watch, to be prepared. Those that are judged, which will relate also to the wicked servant mentioned in Matthew 24:50, “The master of that servant will come on a day.” Notice it’s a day; later, it also mentions hour. “…will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of.”
It’s not just Daniel’s timetable of 1,230 days, but down to the hour. So they are to watch.
The other thing that comes up in here that’s important is Matthew 24:43. I just touched on this briefly last time. I want to say a couple more things about 43 and 44 before we get into the parable.
But Jesus says, “But know this.” Important word: we are to know, which means we are to understand this. This is written so that we can understand it. Some people get to passages like this in the Bible go, “Well, it could be this, it could be that, it could be a third thing, but be warm, be filled. Bless you my son. Let’s close in prayer.”
That’s not how God revealed things. We may disagree as to what it means, but it means something, it is not ambiguous. It may be unclear to us, but God intended it to be communicated, and I find that scholars who bail out on the meaning of something are really blasphemous. They’re saying, “Well, God just didn’t make it clear enough.”
I may make the mistake of misinterpreting it, but at least I don’t make the mistake of saying God is ambiguous. God knows how to communicate to us. He created us in His image and likeness, so that we can understand it. If there’s a problem, it’s a problem on our end, not a problem on God’s end. So I’m not going to make the mistake of blaming God for being ambiguous. I may be wrong, but at least I’m not going to be blasphemous.
Matthew 24:43, “But know this,” Jesus said, “that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would’ve watched”.—there’s our word again: watch—“he would’ve watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.”
The imagery here is of a homeowner—a man who runs the household and is in charge of the security of the house. He’s trying to take care of the house, and if he knew when the thief would come, then he would be prepared at that time and at that moment, but he has no idea. So he has to keep the alarm systems going, he has to stay awake, he has to keep his weapons at hand all the time because he knows that when the security is breached, he’s only going to have seconds to respond and react.
That’s the analogy: if you know when it’s going to happen, then you’re going to be prepared. That’s the whole theme of watching that is introduced by the parable of the fig tree. My point is the parable of the fig tree sets the stage for everything that follows through the end of Chapter 25.
It’s not a conclusion to what is said before the parable of the fig tree. There are some that take that view, but that will cause a massive misinterpretation of the second half where you are trying to apply the rest of this to Church Age believers. Similarities there are, but remember similarities don’t mean identical, that things are the same.
We have this imagery, and it relates to the thief. Now, this idea of the thief—that Jesus is going to come like a thief in the night—runs through a lot of people’s popular understanding of prophecy, and they think often that this refers to the Rapture, and that is just not true at all.
There is a very popular song that was written and sung by a Jesus rock musician in the early 70s named Larry Norman who, after he read “Late Great Planet Earth.” took these verses and applied them to the Rapture. So a lot of people thought that these are Rapture verses.
The thief imagery relates only to the Second Coming of Christ. It’s only used seven times in the New Testament, as I’ve got on the board: Matthew 24:43, Luke 12:39, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4. 1 Thessalonians 4 is talking about the Rapture, but 1Thessalonians 5 is talking about the “Day of the Lord,” “that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night”—to the unbeliever.
The surprise of the thief coming is always related to the unbeliever who’s been suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, who doesn’t believe he is going to be accountable for his sin, and suddenly, Boom! There is the Lord and he is going to be judged.
That’s the imagery. The thief imagery always relates to the unbeliever and relates to the surprise that comes when he’s going to be held accountable in judgment before the Lord.
You have these seven references, and in each case it describes the sudden, unexpected arrival of divine judgment. It’s not talking about rescue and the Rapture. It’s talking about the Second Coming.
Tommy Ice has written about this. He says, “The thief in the night imagery never applies to the Rapture. Such language usually is descriptive of unbelievers in God’s wrath or judgment related to the Tribulation or Second Coming. The picture painted by a thief in the night shows it is the unbeliever who was caught off guard since he never really believes God is actually going to judge in history.” That is a very clear statement.
One of the passages where that’s used, as I pointed out last time, is in Revelation 16:15, Jesus says to the generation at the end of the series of bowl judgments, at the time of the seventh bowl judgment, just before the battle of Armageddon, He warns them to keep watching because they don’t know the day or the hour. He says, “Behold, I’m coming as a thief”—directly goes back to this passage—“Blessed is he who watches”—same word that we have here—“and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”
There are some similarities here between some things that are said in the seven letters to the seven churches, but similarity doesn’t mean there’re the same thing. We, as Church Age believers, need to live our life is if Jesus is coming back at any moment, so we too need to watch.
We too need to be alert because at any moment Jesus can come back and we’re taken to be with the Lord, or we could die. Either way it applies. But that doesn’t mean that that’s what this is talking about. The context here is Second Coming.
So Jesus concludes in verse 44, “Therefore you also”—notice that: “you also.” Who’s the first group? I believe the first group implied here is probably the Church. The generation at the Second Coming also needs to be ready, so—“therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Actually, I recognize that “you also” there refers contextually to just like Noah and his family were ready, you also need to be ready, but I think it has an implication for the Church Age.
“Therefore you also be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour”—notice the tighter time word, not day—“at an hour you do not expect.”
This is one of the words that’s used here—GREGOREO earlier, HETOIMOS here: “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” It’s picked up and used again in the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25:10, “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.”
So that parable clearly relates back to this particular statement.
We looked at the things to remember: the meaning and significance of the fig tree is to be ready because you know it’s near, you can’t know the day or the hour, you know it’s near.
Who are the key people? Who is the master? Who are the servants?
Jesus begins the parable Matthew 24:45, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?”
Now let me read the rest of it, so you get the whole parable; it’s short. He goes on to say, Matthew 24:46-47, “Blessed is the servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing”—that is carrying out his responsibilities. “Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.”
There is going to be a reward for the obedient one. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Bema seat. Similarity is not same: just means it’s similar.
Matthew 24:48-50, “But if the 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 when 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.”
We need to ask the question, “Who are these indicated here?”
The master is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah, who is about to leave on a journey. After the crucifixion and resurrection He will ascend to heaven and He’s going to be gone for a while. This is the master who is going to give responsibility to spiritual leaders.
I believe that’s the idea of the slaves. Now He’s talking about not Church Age leaders, but the spiritual leaders of Israel. The term “slaves,” DOULOS, can also be translated “servant,” and what we find in the Old Testament is that a number of people in Israel are described as God’s servant.
There are prophets that are described as God’s servants. You have Isaiah who is indicated as “My servant,” the prophets are all His servants. Passages like Isaiah 20:3 indicate Isaiah as His servant. In Isaiah 22:20 He says, “Eliakim is My servant.” David is identified as God’s servant in Isaiah 37:35. All of those are leaders within Israel, so this is a term that really relates to understanding Israel.
When we get to the parable of the talents and the servants there: the same thing’s going to apply. Servant is a term not for believers. See there are some that come along and say, “See, since they’re both slaves, and later on in the New Testament it talks about Church Age believers as being slaves of Jesus, servants of Jesus, Paul says that I am a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ, that therefore both of these categories are believers.” That completely rejects and ignores the Jewish context here.
The term “servant” has a rich heritage in the Old Testament, and aside from leaders being identified as God’s servant, Israel is called “My servant.” In Isaiah 41:8 we read, “But, you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen.” Also seen in Isaiah 41:9, Isaiah 44:2, and Isaiah 45:4 and many other places in Isaiah as well.
Of course we have the Messiah spoken of as “God’s servant” in Isaiah chapter 53, and throughout the latter part of Isaiah, we have the reference to the Messiah as God’s servant.
When we understand this—that the servant represents leadership in Israel—then that gives this a different twist. He is not talking about every believer, He is talking about Jewish leaders in the Tribulation period.
We have two groups; “the faithful and wise” refer to the good leaders, the good shepherds. Remember that Ezekiel condemns the evil shepherds who are misleading and abusing Israel in the Old Testament. The same thing happens here: the evil servants represent the Pharisees and the evil shepherds. In the Tribulation Period there is going to be one group who understands who the Messiah is, they’re believers, and they are going to wisely and faithfully shepherd God’s people. There’s another group that is going to abuse them.
Slides 25, 26
Matthew 24:45, we read, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant.” This indicates by the Greek grammar—it’s a Granville Sharp rule—that the two adjectives are seen together, synonymous—faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?”
He’s reliable, he’s trustworthy, and he’s wise. Notice “over the household,” the household is Israel. That’s the context: not the world, not the church, but Israel.
Further, He says that this one ruler is made a ruler over the household, so that indicates that this parable is about those who are leaders, not the everyday believer, not the average Jewish believer in the Tribulation, but the rulers, their spiritual leaders. They are to feed them. That’s spiritual sustenance, not just physical feeding, but is the spiritual feeding.
This is in contrast to the whole chapter of Matthew 23, where Jesus just really rakes the Pharisees over the coals. He says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
What we see is the one who is faithful is called blessed, which means he’s fortunate. He benefits especially from the grace of God, Matthew 24:46, “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.”
Why? Because he will be given additional rewards in Matthew 24:47. I believe this is the judgment of surviving Jewish believers at the end of the Tribulation Period. It is not the judgment seat of Christ.
Now, sadly, there’s a big division among so-called free grace advocates and in the free grace movement and Grace Evangelical Society. More and more are taking the view that not only does the Rapture occur, back in verse 36, but if that’s the Rapture, then we’re now justified in making these parables all about Church Age believers at the judgment seat of Christ, and so the conclusion is that everybody here is talking about believers.
The contrast isn’t between believers and unbelievers, the contrast is between spiritual and carnal believers. That is horrible, that is distracting and deceiving to most believers.
This interpretation has zero to do with the free grace gospel, but it has a lot to do with poor exegesis, poor methodology, and the desire on the part of many to read their theology everywhere they can possibly ram, cram, and jam it into the Scripture.
There is a judgment for Tribulation believers who survive, and that’s at the end of the Tribulation period.
What’s the failure? The failure comes with the wicked servant, the evil servant, Matthew 24:48-50.
“But if that evil servant says in his heart.” So this is a mental attitude sin. This is what he’s thinking: ‘Wow! You know, he’s delaying his coming.’
Of course you and I can have the same kind of thinking today related to the Rapture. He has delaying His coming, I’m just going to live my life the way I want to. But this is talking about the context within the Tribulation. ‘My Master is delaying his coming.’”
The evil servant is not a believer. This is the unbelieving Jewish leader who is abusing his responsibility and the Jewish people because of his failure. He’s like the evil shepherds in Ezekiel.
Matthew 24:49, “and begins to beat his fellow servants.” He is an abusive leader, He’s punishing them. “…and to eat and drink with the drunkards.” The drunkards relate to those who are unbelieving Gentiles. He eats and drinks with the drunkards, the unbelieving Gentiles. He is in league with the Antichrist.
Then we’re told in Matthew 24:50, “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him at an hour that he is not aware of.” What’s the problem? He’s not watching, he’s not prepared. Why? Because he’s not listening to Jesus; he’s not a believer.
What’s going to happen to him? What happens to him is described in the next verse.
What is the judgment? The judgment is harsh. Now let me give you another warning. Within the GES movement, if you take this as believers, and one’s carnal and one’s spiritual, then there’s a warning here that if you’re a carnal believer, then there’s going to be a punishment at the judgment seat of Christ.
But if you read 1 Corinthians 3, which talks about the judgment seat of Christ; that our works will be judged; that we build our lives with various building materials: gold, silver, precious stones. That’s the work that’s produced by God the Holy Spirit in us when walking by the Spirit.
Then wood, hay and straw; and that, as it were, God is going to reveal by fire, the gold, silver, and precious stones. Notice it’s not talking in context of God’s revealing the wood, hay, and straw. The focus of the judgment seat of Christ is not to reveal our failures, but our successes.
The only reason there’s going to be a negative—and 1 John 2:28 warns that it’s possible that we will be ashamed at His coming—and that’s because everything gets burned up. There’s no gold, silver, or precious stones. There’s no penalty assigned. There is an absence of reward, but there’s not punishment.
That’s not what some free grace people teach: they say that what we have here is that the believer who is a failure will be cut in two and his destiny will be with the hypocrites. The Arminian is going to say he lost his salvation, but the free grace person is saying, “No, he is going to have some kind of temporary punishment. It would be in the extreme form. He’s going to be excluded from the kingdom. He is going to be in a place of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. He’s going to go through this horrible time of judgment.”
That is heresy! That is one reason I don’t have anything to do with GES anymore. I think they are dead wrong in this. This is misleading, and they’ve demonstrated some bad exegesis. The word “hypocrites” never ever refers to a believer in Matthew. It always refers to the false religious leaders, specifically, the Pharisees.
It is mentioned in Matthew 6:2, 5, and 16. This is the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus is contrasting the righteousness that should characterize the believer versus the fake righteousness of the Pharisees. There’s always this contrast there and they’re described as hypocrites, in Matthew 6:2, 5, 16; and in Matthew 7:5.
Later in Matthew 15:7, He refers to the Pharisees as hypocrites, and then seven times, maybe eight, in Matthew 23, He says, “Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites!” and announces seven, maybe eight judgments on the Pharisees as unbelievers. And that just happened! So why, on the basis of the usage of this word, would anybody think that this is talking about carnal believers. It is absolutely beyond me.
We have to be warned. I know some of you read their literature, some of you are familiar with them, and this is becoming much more popular. One of the reasons I’ve taken so long going through this is we have to correct these errors, and my job as a pastor is to protect the sheep from the wolves, and sometimes you have wolves wearing sheep’s clothing. I appreciate a lot of other studies that some of these men have done, but in this particular area, I believe they are dead wrong.
There is a warning though—and that’s what this warning is all about—to the Tribulation Jewish believers to watch out. They have to watch, they have to be prepared. Don’t be deceived by those who say, “Look the Messiah is here; or there, the Messiah is there.”
But you can watch for His coming, be alert. Those who are abusing the Jewish people in terms of the leadership in the Tribulation are following in the pattern of the Pharisees, and they will come under severe divine judgment.
The only way anyone can escape eternal judgment is by faith in Christ. That’s what the resurrection of Christ is all about. It’s God’s approval of Jesus’ death on the cross. He paid the penalty for our sins, and we have eternal life with no fear of this kind of punishment at all ever for the person who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to learn of these things, to be warned of some of the misinterpretations that cause confusion and distraction for many, many believers, but also to recognize that there are patterns through history: there’s a pattern in the Church Age that we are to look and watch, be ready for the return of Christ at the Rapture at any moment. And this pattern will be true as well, in the Tribulation for Tribulation believers.
For us the application is to make sure that we are prepared spiritually by virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ: that we have trusted in Him. And once we believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, we have eternal life. He paid it all. He completely paid for every sin. No sin that will surprise you, no sin that was left out.
In your omniscience, you did not drop a single one to the ground, but they all were paid for by Christ on the cross, so all that is left is for us to trust in Him. There is nothing we can do that’s too great for your grace.
Father, we pray that You will challenge us with what we studied today, that we might live our lives in light of the coming of Christ at the Rapture. Not like those in the Tribulation, understanding that difference, but that we too must also live in light of His coming at the Rapture.
We pray this in Christ’s Name, Amen.”