Parable of the Watchful Servants: Mark 13:32-37; Luke 12:35-40
Jesus tells the parable of the watchful servants to illustrate the importance of being ready for his return. The context surrounding this parable of the watchful servants is different in Mark and Luke, indicating that Jesus told this short parable on more than one occasion.
In the context of Mark 13, Jesus has just told the Parable of the Fig Tree.
In the context of Luke 12, Jesus has been reassuring his disciples that God cares about us and not to worry. Jesus then follows this parable of the watchful servants with the Parable of the Faithful and Wise Servant.
However, despite the different contexts, the message of this parable stays consistent.
Jesus says that we are to keep awake and be ready for his return, because he will return at an unexpected time. "Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly." (Mark 13:35-36)
Jesus also says that those who stay awake and alert will be blessed, because they will be ready when he returns. "Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes...But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." (Luke 12: 37-40)
Staying awake and being alert are idioms frequently used in the Bible to indicate readiness for God's salvation, and essentially mean: repent, stop sinning, and obey God. These phrases are used in opposition to being asleep or being unprepared, which means living sinfully.
Additional idioms that are used to mean the same are: put on new clothes (as opposed to being naked or having on filthy clothes), being alive (versus being dead), and being rich (versus being poor), as follows:
The message of this parable of the watchful servants is very clear: be ready for Jesus' return because he will come when it is least expected. We are urged to be ready by repenting of sin, and obeying God.
"Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you." (Revelation 3:3) Jesus is contrasting obeying and repenting with being asleep (not obeying and living in sin).
"Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels." (Revelation 3:4-5)
Having soiled clothes is connected here to being sinful, while being dressed in white/clean robes is connected to their name not being blotted out by Jesus from the book of life. Jesus tells "believers" in this passage that they risk having their names removed from the book of life if they do not stop sinning, which connects our actions to our belief.
As Jesus says, no one knows when he will return. "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come." (Mark 13:32-33) Therefore, while we wait, we are expected to be in right-standing with God, having repented of our sin and walking in obedience to him, so that we are ready when Jesus arrives unexpectedly.
Jesus continues to illustrate his point in Luke 12 by telling the Parable of the Faithful and Wise Servant.
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