If your father was like mine, he would give you a job to do while he was away. He would say, “Your mom and I will be gone this evening, but when I come back, I want to see this kitchen ‘spic and span’ [whatever that meant].” In order to be ready for the return of my father, I had to be diligent with my time. On some occasions, the volume of work demanded that I begin work right away.
Would I dare delay in starting the work? I might think, “Maybe I’ll wait a few hours, and then I’ll get the work done.” The danger in delaying is that if I hadn’t finished by the time that my father returned, I would face the consequences of my disobedience.
The Necessity of Being Ready
In Luke 12:35–48, Jesus tells His disciples that they must continually work while He is away. He is returning at a time that they do not know (v. 36). He uses two metaphors to convey the urgency of the task to be ready: a metaphor of a master going to a wedding, and a metaphor of a thief. In verses 36–38, Jesus uses the metaphor of a master going to a wedding feast. Wedding parties in the Ancient Near East would go on for days, and there was no telling when the wedding attendants would come home. The reality is that the master could come in the second watch of the night (i.e., between 10 p.m and 2 a.m.) or the third watch (i.e., between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.) (v. 38). The timing of the Lord’s return is similar. His servants don’t know whether it is going to be in three days from now or in three centuries.
The second metaphor is a thief (vv. 39–40). The timing of Christ’s arrival is like the timing of a thief’s arrival at your house: they both will arrive without immediate warning. This makes sense, right? A thief does not telegraph when he is coming to rob your house. You don’t get a postcard in the mail that reads, “Don’t forget that on November 20 I will be coming to your house to steal your money, your TV, and your jewelry.” You don’t get a courtesy call from a thief, like you do from your dentist: “We just wanted to remind you that the robbery will take place at 11:30 p.m. tomorrow night.” Why not? What would happen if a thief told you when he was coming? You would prepare, but likely only a few hours before he came.
The point of these metaphors is not that Jesus is trying to trick us regarding His return. Rather, He is teaching us to have a proper mind-set while He is away. We don’t know when the master will return from the wedding feast. We don’t know when the thief will come to our house; therefore, we must always be ready. And that is the point. Because we don’t know when Jesus will return, we must always be ready.
The Meaning of Being Ready
What does it mean to “be ready”? A few chapters earlier, Jesus had told His disciples that He would be killed and then raised to life. But the disciples did not understand what He was talking about, and they were afraid to ask Him (9:22, 44–45). Here, in chapter 12, Jesus again tells them that He is going away. His expectation is given clearly in verse 35: “Be dressed in readiness.” The KJV translates it more literally, “Let your loins be girded about.” This translation gives us a better sense of what being ready looks like. In those days, men would wear a cloak and would need to move it out of the way in order to work. In our day, men in India do something very similar with their mundus (i.e., skirts). When it is time to work, they tie it up to their waist. And this is the idea that Jesus is conveying. His disciples must be ready. To be ready is to be faithfully working for Christ. There is no time for casualness or time-wasting. There is no time for delay. The Master is coming. We must be working.
In part 2, I will give two motivations for faithful service.
Jacob Elwart is associate pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church, Allen Park, Mich. This article was first posted to the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and is reposted here by permission.