Volume 7

An Absent Lord And The Expectation Of His Return

F. E. Raven

Page: 188

We must all have been struck by the way in which the Lord in this passage (chapter 24: 45 to 25: 30) turns away for the moment from the subject which was mainly before His mind, namely, the coming of the Son of man, and the judgment of the living nations, to bring out the ground and nature of the responsibility of those who confess Him as Lord during His absence.

The position was that in which the disciples were about to find themselves placed, and is that which we also occupy, and I have thought it might be profitable to dwell a little on our relations to an absent Lord, and the way we are affected by the expectation of His return.

Three parables are introduced into the passage -- first, of the servants in relation to the household; second, of the virgins in relation to the bridegroom; and, thirdly, the servants in regard to the substance entrusted to them. In every case the predominant thought is profession and responsibility, which the absence of the Lord serves to test, and which is dealt with on His coming.

And here it may be observed how much there is now on the earth, that, so to say, belongs to and is of deep interest to an absent Lord. We have three distinct thoughts in this way -- a household, rights (the bridegroom has the bride), and substance -- and the fact that He has rights and interests here secures His return.

But we may consider the passage a little in detail. The uncertainty of the moment of the Son of man's coming has made manifest the need of watching, and the Lord takes occasion to show the character which

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true watching would take. For a servant to say he is watching for the return of a master, and yet to be unconcerned as to that close to his hand which is of supreme interest to his master, would be manifestly inconsistent. The fact has to be recognised that the Master has a household here. Christ came to His own, and His own received Him not, but to as many as received Him, to them He gave title to take the place of the children of God. In the time that God hides His face from the house of Jacob -- and while Christ waits on Jehovah -- He says, Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah has given me. To have had the nation would have been more public glory; but the household lies closer to His heart, and the household is left here under the care, in a sense, of servants during the Master's absence. The apparent delay in His return gives opportunity to the servants to show whether they are seeking their master's interests, or doing their own will. On the one hand, faithfulness to the Master would be evidenced by the expectation of His return, and would be displayed in diligent care for the need of the household; on the other hand, the thought of delay in the Master's return would bring to light in the evil servant the spirit of domination and worldliness, smiting his fellow-servants and eating and drinking with the drunken. It may, I think, be said that in the servants is represented the spirit of the teaching body. The evil servant has found his embodiment in what has ruled in popery and the like -- wherever there is a constituted clerical body and practical unbelief in the coming of the Lord. On the other hand, those who in faith take the ground of being set to care for the household have to remember that the household will in large measure take its character from what is heard and seen in the teachers (their doctrine and manner of life) and that the teachers on their part prove by their conduct in the household whether they are faithful in heart, and

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really watching for the Master's return. The faithful and wise servant will not fail of his reward.

In what follows -- the parable of the virgins -- we have a similitude of the kingdom of the heavens, a picture of the state of things (in the sphere where the moral sway of heaven is owned) which would immediately precede the return of the bridegroom. As we have seen, the bridegroom presents to us one that has rights. The profession is that of virgins, who have gone forth from the world to meet the bridegroom. They recognise and testify of the rights of the bridegroom of which He is not yet in possession, and, as virgins, they hold themselves uncontaminated from the human spirit around. While the bridegroom tarried they all slumbered and slept. At the midnight cry all arose, shook themselves free from influences here and trimmed their lamps -- foolish as well as wise -- the wise having oil in their vessels, recognised the presence of the Spirit here and hence were in readiness. They were by the Spirit in real separation from the world. With the foolish it was imitation. We have through mercy been awakened to see that the Spirit is here to maintain a testimony for Christ in His absence, and in having part in the Spirit we are in readiness for the coming of the bridegroom. We have not to prepare. Wisdom is seen in the recognition of the presence of the Spirit, and consequent readiness; foolishness in the effort to be ready. Thus the testimony of the return of Christ has its answer in an awakening to the original profession of going forth, and in the recognition that having the Spirit we are ready.

Following the parable of the virgins we have presented to us another aspect of the state of things in the absence of Christ. A man going into a far country has called his own servants and distributed among them His substance according to their several ability. In the parable in @Luke:19, where each servant receives

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a pound, the thought appears to be that the servants are set up by the master with capital with which to trade in a sense to their own ultimate advantage. In Matthew I think the point is that the master of the servants distributes his substance (not in a burdensome way, but according to every man's several ability) to be used for his gain. The reward to those that are faithful is to enter into the joy of their Lord. The useless servant who had his own false estimate of his master's character neglected the talent entrusted to him, and is cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Thus the faithfulness of the servants is tested, and, as seen in the parables which have preceded, their conduct is evidently governed by the expectation or otherwise of their lord's return.