Luke 12:31-40

Rich Fool and Watchful Servant
"The Rich Fool and Watchful Servant" by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube.


Note that we have included verse 31 which also speaks about the Kingdom of God. We make a point of this because some higher critics say that the word "Kingdom" in verse 32 is purely eschatological, not referring to the present time. That can't be. Of course, it will be consummated in heaven, but is not limited to the future.

Note how often the second plural "you" is used in these verses, ten times, and in verb forms (without the pronoun) six times. And the reflexive "yourselves" is used in verse 33. In other words, Jesus addresses "you" seventeen times. It is a very personal message of Gospel and Law.

In verses 22-29 Jesus had warned the disciples about the sin of worry and anxiety. In verse 30 He shows them the difference in attitude between the unregenerate and the regenerate. Now comes a directive in verse 31 and, in verse 32, a beautiful promise.

Luke 12:31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

"But" denotes a strong contrast. "Seek" means "set your heart on." "Kingdom" means the gracious rule and reign of God, in Christ, through the Gospel. The Gospel offers and gives us the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of everlasting life.

"And" means "and then." "These things" refer back to food and drink in verse 29.

Luther: And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The Kingdom ours remaineth.

Of course, verse 31 does in no way induce laziness but is a rich assurance of being provided with all physical, bodily, and temporal necessities if we will but set our hearts on the everlasting, spiritual gifts of the Kingdom.

Luke 12:32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

This verse is without parallel in the other Gospels. "Do not be afraid," how often God says this to fearful sinners in both Testaments! And He always gives the reason immediately why they should not fear.

"Little flock," the Christian Church, the believers. In all ages of history the Church is a little flock compared to the general population. "Little" is diminutive, a tender term, showing His great love for the flock.

"For" is "because." This gives the reason for the prohibition. Now we see why Jesus could say in verse 31 that believers should "set their hearts on" the Kingdom.

"To give you" is in the aorist tense and denotes election from eternity. It is the everlasting gracious will of God in Christ. "Kingdom" should not be limited to the kingdom of glory, though it includes it.

Because of God's gracious eternal good pleasure I now have all that Christ by His active and passive obedience won for me.

Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

This verse, and the next, refers to sanctification, our daily living. Look at Galatians 5:13. The Gospel gives me freedom from the guilt and power of sin, the power of Satan, and the fear of death. In that sense I am free.

But now I am bound to obey the law, in which sense I am a servant. These verses show me how to live. They do not condemn the ownership of private property. The do not induce poverty. They are figurative language for: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," the very opposite of the rich fool in verse 16:21. The Christian uses property not only in self-interest but also for others, without making himself a pauper, a burden to others.

This does not mean that the gift of the Kingdom lacks something, as if we have to help God, but rather than, in our stewardship of earthly goods, our minds are constantly on the gift of God's kingdom.

The Christian must constantly examine his own conduct. Look at Galatians 6:4.

Everlasting life is the Christian's treasure. "A treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted," That will never be used up in heaven." "Never-failing wealth in heaven." Of course this all points ahead to heaven, to everlasting life, but it belongs to the Christian already now.

Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This verse is axiomatic, understood by all cultures. The words do not denote place but rather logical sequence. A man cherishes most what he loves most. Heart and treasure go together. Jesus is saying: "Show me a man's treasure and I will show you where his heart, his inner-most being, is." These words are for our self-examination.

Luke 12:35 "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,

This verse begins an illustration that runs to verse 38 and contains a command and a promise.

The ancients wore long, flowing robes. When they were working or travelling they put the hem of the robe in the rope or belt around their waist, denoting readiness and that is the point here.

"And your lamps burning" lends force to the illustration which takes place at night, also denoting readiness.

Luke 12:36 like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.

The use of the word "Master" causes us to start thinking of the application in verse 37. The point is the indefiniteness of time. These people are carefully watching and waiting.

Luke 12:37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.

"It will be good" is similar to the word "blessed" used often in the beatitudes. It denotes the state and condition of the redeemed, of the regenerate. It denotes the humble, repentant believing Christian.

"Master" here is the Lord Jesus Christ.

The responsible believer is constantly looking forward to the second coming of his Lord and living his life in keeping with this idea. The second part of verse 37 reminds us of John 13:4; Mark 10:45; and Luke 22:27. Those who faithfully girded their loins in this life will see Him gird Himself, invite them to partake of His everlasting feast and will take the initiative in serving Him.

"I tell you the truth," He affirms this wonderful truth with words which denote the divine authority of the God-man. Not only did He serve them in the state of humiliation by suffering and dying for them, but He will also serve them forever in heaven. What a promise! What that will be like we do not now know but we shall know when we see Him even as He is.

Luke 12:38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.

The Romans divided the night into four watches: 6-9, 9-12; 12-3; 3-6. The Jews divided it into three watches: 6-10; 10-2; 2-6. Commentators are almost unanimous in saying that the Jewish reckoning of watches is here used.

Why does Jesus not mention the first watch?

Lenski: As far as the reality is concerned, the imagery of the watches intimates only one thing, the complete uncertainty regarding the actual time of the Lord's return. . . . He may come at any moment, and our readiness must be constant.

The nuptials, the wedding feast, is going on now in heaven.

Note how often the return and coming of the Lord are mentioned; twice in 36, twice in 37; once in 38, and once in 40. And note the repetition of the word "find," 37 and 38. The proper, alert use of the things of this life is not loss but rather gain, blessedness.

Luke 12:39 But understand 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 know," or "And be sure of this." In verses 35-38 Jesus used the illustration of a master returning from a wedding feast. In 39 the illustration changes to that of a thief. What they have in common is that the time of the Lord's return is completely unknown.

The previous illustration amounts to a promise. Verse 39 is a warning.

We have a condition contrary to fact. Both the first part and the second part are in past time: "If he had . . . he would have."

The thief's coming is totally unexpected. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; 16:15. That is the sole point of comparison. If the master of the house had known, he would have stayed awake. The point is constant alertness.

Luke 12:40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

"Likewise" constantly be ready. "Ready" gathers in one word all that has been said from verse 22, to be free of anxiety and worry, to be setting one's heart on the Kingdom of God, to be fearless and courageous, to be an unselfish steward of earthly possessions, to be awaiting His second coming at all times.

"Because" gives the reason. Note that Christ is called "the Son of man" here. The Savior will appear as man. He will come at a moment when even those who are ready do not expect Him. This is law and causes the responsible believer seriously to examine himself.

Stoeckhardt: In these last months of His earthly journey the Lord devoted much time to teaching His disciples. The closer to the end, the more frequent was His teaching concerning the future destiny of His disciples, and of His coming on the Final Day.
Ylvisaker: The greater portion of this discourse, 12:22-40, is found in the Sermon on the Mount. It is apparent even here that Jesus, as the Teacher, has repeated truths which deserved a special emphasis. The admonition is directed to the disciples and presupposes faith.

Some scholars feel that Jesus' words about His second coming would have been incomprehensible to His hearers at this point in His earthly life and they therefore they were produced by the earthly church, not actually spoken by Jesus. Form this has arisen the idea that Luke is a rewriting of Mark and a document called "Q" in the interest of the "delayed parousia" idea. Marshall has examined all of this literature and concludes:

Marshall: On the whole it is most probably that they were originally addressed to the disciples to encourage them to live in the light of the parousia.

One wishes that he were more definite that to say "it is most probably" but at least he is reasserting that Jesus actually spoke these words. Likewise Morris rejects the ideas of the "redaction" critics. It is sure, of course, that at times the disciples did not fully understand. Look for example at John 14:1-6, but after the Pentecost, as He Himself predicted, all would become clear.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Gospel Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 35-37. Used with permission.

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