(Lk. 12:44 ESV) 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
The faithful manager will be rewarded with greater responsibility. In an honor culture, this is a great reward. This is, of course, consistent with the Parable of Talents, in which the most profitable servants received the greatest reward.
I think the meaning of “all his possessions” is the inheritance all believers are promised. Several passages promise that the saved will reign over the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE) in the afterlife — together with Jesus. For instance,
(Rev. 5:9-10 ESV) 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
(Lk. 12:45-46 ESV) 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.
We are not surprised that the parable now tells us what happens if the manager is unfaithful. Jesus actually covers this in cases, that is, he breaks the possible outcomes down based on the behavior and heart of the manager, as we’ll see.
Intentional violation of known standards
The first case is what happens if the manager beats the other indentured servants and eats and drinks the farm’s produce for himself, rather than feeding the master’s family. In such a case, the manager will “cut him in pieces” and put him with the “unfaithful.” Yeesh.
“Beat” can refer to slapping the face or whipping with a lash — and the lash was, of course, a particularly cruel form of punishment — especially when it was one indentured servant punishing another. This was surely beyond the authority given to a mere indentured servant.
The only other use of “cut him in pieces” is from the account of Samuel, Saul, and the king of the Amalekites, Agag. The story concludes with God’s prophet, Samuel, taking a sword and cutting Agag in pieces. God instructed the Israelites to utterly destroy the Amalekites, as they were a particularly cruel and barbaric people.
The only other reference in Scripture to such violent dismemberment is Samuel’s hacking to pieces of the Amalakeite chieftain Agag (1 Sam 15:33). Like dichotomein, the Hebrew word describing this deed, shasaph, is a hapax legomenon, occurring only once in Scripture. It therefore seems unlikely to me that Jesus’ reference to this extreme punishment is a coincidence.
James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 381.
It seems likely that Jesus chose this word carefully, intending to convey that a leader within the Kingdom who abuses his power for his own good or who is cruel toward his charges is no better than the worst of the pagan leaders. Being a part of the master’s household in an honored position provides no protection. Indeed, it increases the penalties for a willful violation of the master’s will.
“Unfaithful” is often rendered “unbelievers” by other translations. The Greek is the same, because “faith” can refer both to simple belief and to faithfulness. Either way, Jesus is saying that this person is damned. There is a level of unfaithfulness that will cost a member of Jesus’ household his salvation.
Luke 12:47 — Knowing violation of known standards
(Lk. 12:47 ESV) 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.
In this case, the servant did not actively abuse the other servants or pilfer food and drink. Rather, he was simply a lazy manager, who didn’t do his job.
He is not cut to pieces, but he receives a “severe beating” — presumably something like 39 lashes.
Luke 12:48a — Violation of standards not known
(Lk. 12:48a ESV) 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.
Jesus is less concrete with these examples, as it’s hard to imagine a manager of a master’s household who doesn’t know what his duties are. But suppose the manager was only partly instructed, perhaps due to the fault of his predecessor in office. What happens if he breaks the master’s instructions not knowing about the instructions?
To our initial surprise, Jesus says he’ll get a beating, but only a light beating. Why any beating at all if he’s innocent? Well, anyone who takes on a job is responsible to learn what that job involves. The nature of the job and title and the needs of the family and estate define what needs to be done even if you’ve received not one word of instruction.
(Lk. 12:48b ESV) Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
Here’s the principle. The apostles (and other Kingdom leaders) will be entrusted with the care of the Kingdom. This is not a position of privilege, but of responsibility. And the apostles, who’ve been with Jesus three years, know the expectations better than anyone and so will be subject to severe penalties if they fail in their responsibilities.
That seems a rather harsh thing to tell your friends, but Judas was among the 12 at the time. And Peter was headed for a crisis of faith himself, when he would deny Jesus three times. The others would flee Jesus at the crucifixion. Sometimes it’s necessary to teach the hard lesson.
One tempting interpretation is that the cruel manager is the only one who is damned. After all, he is the only one that Jesus says will be counted among the unbelievers/unfaithful.
But if the managers in the second and third cases are saved, despite their culpability, what is the punishment? What are the “light beating” and “severe beating”? Well, if they wind up in heaven with God, it sure sounds like the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Augustine made this very argument in favor of Purgatory.
That can’t be right, for innumerable reasons. I mean, Purgatory didn’t enter the church’s teachings until centuries later.
Eternal conscious torment?
The traditional reading among Protestants is that the first manager, the cruel one, goes to hell to suffer eternal conscious torment. But the text says he’s cut to pieces in the same way that Samuel killed King Agag. This means dead, in a very painful way, not living forever to be tortured forever.
Protestants struggle with the next two cases. They aren’t said to be damned, but they are said to be punished and with differing severity. The traditional understanding of hell keeps all the damned in perpetual conscious torment, which doesn’t easily convert to varying degrees of punishment.
Under the Torah, intentional sin was unforgivable and resulted in being “cut off,” meaning either execution or exclusion from the camp — being left to fend for oneself in the wilderness as the Israelite camp was being led by God to the Promised Land. However, unintentional sin could be forgiven through the Levitical sacrificial system.
Therefore, it would seem that the sins of the second and third manager could be forgiven provided the proper sacrifice was made. But in Jesus’ parable, they aren’t forgiven. They are punished justly — exactly the opposite of forgiveness.
[to be continued]