Okay, so you’re a pragmatic person, and you need to know what practical difference all this stuff about the coming of the son of man makes for how we live our lives now? This post is for you. Jesus answered your question at the end of Matthew 24.
So what does the king want his servants to do now in anticipation of the whole world under his care? Here’s what he does (and does not) want us to do. This is what serving Christ looks like:
Matthew 24:45-51 (my translation, compare NIV)
45 Who could be the dependable and insightful servant whom the lord of the house appointed to provide food for them at the right time? 46 Blessed is the servant who is found doing that when his lord comes. 47 Truly I say to you that he will appoint him over all his affairs.
48 But what if a bad servant says in his heart, ‘My lord is preoccupied,’ 49 and he starts to beat his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with those who drink to excess? 50 The servant’s lord will come on a day he is not expecting, at a time he doesn’t know, 51 and he will dissect him and assign him a role with the play-actors, where there’s anguish and remorse.
How’s that for a description of church life? If the church is the community that gathers around the king, then this is what it looks like to honour the king and implement his kingship in the world.
Number 1: We must hold meetings on Sundays. No? He didn’t say that? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against meetings. Staff meetings can inspire, inform, support, and keep us on mission. But attending meetings is not the point of being on the king’s staff (his servants).
Number 2: We must get everyone converted and attending church. No? He didn’t say that? He calls us to implement his kingship, to make sure everyone in his care gets fed. He asks us to take the resources he provides and distribute them so that everybody gets what they need at the right time. Is that what your church mission statement says? There seems to be a gap between what we think we’re doing and what the king is looking for in his servants.
Maybe you’re thinking that provide food is a metaphor, that Jesus wasn’t talking about literal food? I’d agree that food isn’t our only need. We also need shelter and safety, a sense of communal justice and belonging, and so on. Sharing food invokes many of those images. Jesus meant more than food, but he did not mean less.
Food is our most basic need. If someone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? (1 John 3:17). Our father’s intentions for his children start not with platitudes and preaching but with actions, in reality.
Faithful servants are committed to the king’s mission: providing for his world. It’s an enormous task, and it can feel overwhelming. It’s something we can only do together, each of us making a difference in the little communities where we are present, until all the little communities are the kingdom of God.
Wise servants realize this isn’t so much about giving a hand-out as a hand-up. There were just a couple of times that Jesus provided food to thousands of people, but in everyday life people shared their food with him. He didn’t ask us to solve everybody’s problems. He asked us to facilitate the kind of community where everybody is cared for because we’re following his lead.
Bad servants don’t have his vision of being a servant to the servants. They think he’s preoccupied, so they use their position to benefit themselves. “We’re servants of the king,” they say, “so we have all his wealth at our disposal.” Epicurean culture is so seductive: living for pleasure, eating and drinking (and shopping) to excess.
Many of our sermons and podcasts appeal to this appetite. Promising that God will give me what I want is misleading. When we follow the advertising strategies of the world (offering personal benefits for buying our product), we mislead people into serving a different master (Matthew 6:24-34).
Serving self instead of serving Christ results is abusive behaviour. Preachers who constantly castigate their congregation are acting as control freaks (like Pharisees). Domestic violence and other forms of manipulation indicate we’re not serving each other at home. From global speakers like Ravi Zacharias to paedophile priests, abusive behaviour is about serving self rather than the leader appointed by God to manage his house.
We’ve been surprised how unjudgmental and empathetic Jesus is towards the world. He reserved his harshest words for his own staff, the people who misrepresent God in his world — both in Jerusalem (21:12 – 23:39) and in the church (24:48 – 25:46).
Maybe that’s why it hurts so deeply. What his servants do really does make a difference to the Master of God’s house.
But I’m not here to beat on my fellow-servants, or to squabble over details of how our Lord will work it out in the end. I’m just focusing on whose agenda we’re serving as we anticipate his kingship renewing the whole world.
Jesus is not preoccupied by something else, so let’s ensure we’re not either. He’s the Master of God’s house. He expects his servants to provide food for everyone at the right time.
Open Matthew 24:45-51.
What others are saying
Michael J. Gorman, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), 5:
The greatest form of hope in the Bible is for a new creation in which violence, suffering, tears, and death will be no more. We see this expressed in such lovely, inspiring texts as Isa 65:17–25 and Rev 21:1–22:5. Those who have this hope for a new creation and, more to the point, those who believe that this new creation has already been inaugurated by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, will begin to practice its vision in the present. Accordingly, the practice of hope is the practice of peace. This sort of practice may be referred to as anticipatory participation. Such participation, however, stems not only from hope about the future (a purely proleptic participation), but also from participation in the death of Jesus that makes such hope possible by creating peace.
Origen, Commentary on Matthew 62 (second century):
A great promise is extended to the Lord’s faithful and wise stewards. It is like the promise he made to those to whom he said, “Take authority over five cities” or “take authority over ten cities.” For to be made the head “over all his possessions” is nothing other than to be made an “heir of God and coheir with Christ” and to reign with Christ. The Father has given him everything he himself possesses, as Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The Son of the good Father who is given authority over all his Father’s possessions also shares this honour and glory with his faithful and wise stewards, so they also might be with Christ above every creature and authority. This is what he meant when he said, “Truly I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”
— Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 14-28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 212.