Today’s reading can cause a lot of heartache if it were the only passage we had about Jesus’ return. For those of us who firmly believe that once we are saved, it can also cause some upset stomachs as we try to work through it. For those that believe that we can lose our salvation, it causes some jubilation, not that they want anyone to lose his salvation, but it seems to prove that one can lose his salvation. That’s why so many people have heartache over these verses. They toil trying to make sure they don’t fail to meet God’s expectations and never know for sure that they are accepted by God.
To properly address this, we have to understand who Jesus was addressing. It was Peter, however, the way Jesus started, it is clear that the servants can be anyone whom God has appointed to take care of others, even a seemingly wise and faithful manager. Jesus is either talking about believers or those who appear to be believers. I could argue that just because the servant is wise and faithful, it doesn’t mean he really believes. There are enough examples of scoundrels in the church and even wolves in sheep’s clothes throughout history. Yet, we see the master set this first servant over all his household. If I wanted to get real weird, I could say this person really represents the Pope because Catholics believe that the Pope is head over all the church regardless of what Protestants think. However, if that were true then this passage is only applicable to one person in the world and Scripture doesn’t leave us that option. This could apply to the pastor of any church, or even the leader of a small Bible study. It applies to anyone who is responsible for teaching and training others in the way of the Lord. I’m assuming that is what Jesus means when he says the servant is supposed to be giving the other servants their portion of food at the proper time. This is not necessarily a requirement to be a believer. Even ungodly government officials could be wise and trustworthy. God uses them as he sees fit.
This chief steward begins to abuse those under him because he thinks his master isn’t coming back soon. That simply reveals that his man’s heart doesn’t belong to the Lord. To understand that Jesus never knew this person, just look at what he says to others who claim to belong to him. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus tells those who were even doing some good things in Jesus’ name that he didn’t know them because they didn’t do the Father’s will. When Jesus comes back there will be many who think they have been doing God’s will but have failed and will be thrown into hell (Matt 25:41-43).
This steward knew what was required of him. He knew that his behavior had to line up with a heart that has been cleansed by Jesus’ blood, but he simply could not have had a pure heart if he abused his fellow servants, the people that Jesus bought with his blood. So his part is with the unfaithful, just like those in Matthew 25:41-43.
What about those other servants? The ones that knew the master’s will and get a severe beating. Or those who were ignorant and only got a small beating? Are they saved? I don’t think so. They are just like many people in the world who have heard about Jesus and rejected him. Or they may be like those who have never heard but still lived sinful lives. After all, we all have sinned (Rom 3:23) and we all deserve eternal death (Rom 6:23). Their different punishments appear to line up with what Jesus told about the towns that rejected him. It would be more tolerable in the judgment for Sodom than those who saw his miracle and rejected him (Matt 10:15, 11:21-24).
I can’t see that these servants who are beaten are true believers. The final reason is simply because we have the promise that we will not suffer God’s wrath. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess 5:9-10).