Do You Appreciate the “Faithful and Discreet Slave”?
“WHO really is the faithful and discreet slave?” With that question, Jesus Christ introduced a parable, or an illustration, of prophetic importance. It is part of the “sign” he gave regarding the “conclusion of the system of things,” in which we are now living. (Matt. 24:3) After instructing his disciples to keep on the watch, Jesus said:
“Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”—Matt. 24:42-47.
Who is this “slave” and who are the “domestics”? What are the “belongings”? Such questions are not of mere academic interest. Properly identifying and cooperating with the “faithful and discreet slave” will mean great happiness and rich spiritual rewards.
“WHO REALLY IS THE FAITHFUL AND DISCREET SLAVE?”
Some state that the “slave” refers to Christian ministers, or their office of oversight, with responsibility to care for the spiritual needs of the congregation. The ‘master’s’ arrival is said to be either the second coming of Christ or the death of the individual minister. Thus it is held that the parable should motivate Christian ministers to care well for what is entrusted to them.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that this parable pertains to the one true congregation of Jesus Christ’s anointed followers. Beginning with Pentecost, 33 C.E., and continuing through the 19 centuries since then, this slavelike congregation has been feeding its members spiritually, doing so faithfully and discreetly. Especially has the identity of this “slave” become clear at the time of Christ’s return or presence. The “slave” is identifiable by its watchfulness and by the fact that it is faithfully and discreetly providing spiritual food as needed by all in the Christian congregation. Indeed, this “slave,” or spirit-anointed congregation, is the one approved channel representing God’s kingdom on earth in the “time of the end.” (Dan. 12:4) Witnesses of Jehovah understand that the “slave” is comprised of all anointed Christians as a group on earth at any given time during the 19 centuries since Pentecost. Accordingly, the “domestics” are these followers of Christ as individuals.
Some readers may feel that this is a rather sectarian view of matters. Or they may object to the idea that the “slave” and the “domestics” represent the same class, one as a composite body and the other as individuals. The objectors may argue that not all of Christ’s anointed disciples have a share in preparing the spiritual food, so that perhaps the “slave” pictures only the leading ones, and the “domestics” those they serve in the congregation.
There is no point in trying to force an interpretation of the parable. Self-deception is of no benefit and is spiritually damaging. Therefore, we must look to the Scriptures for an understanding. In doing this, what do we find? This “slave” is a servant of the Master Christ Jesus and his Father, Jehovah. (Compare Matthew 10:24, 25.) And a servant can be a collective group. In the past, the entire nation of Israel was Jehovah’s servant, or slave. He said to them: “You, O Israel, are my servant.” (Isa. 41:8, 9; 44:21) This one servant was composed of individuals, as Isaiah 43:10 shows in stating: “‘You are my witnesses [plural],’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘even my servant [singular] whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and have faith in me.’” These Israelites of ancient times were Jehovah’s “special property,” a “holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5, 6) Even though not every individual shared in administrating the nation’s affairs, all individuals made up the one people, God’s “servant.” Only a few shared in writing or copying the Holy Scriptures, yet the apostle Paul could say of the people of Israel: “They were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” (Rom. 3:1, 2) To these belonged the covenants, the Law and the promises. (Rom. 9:3-5) So the entire nation was Jehovah’s collective, or composite, “servant,” while it, at the same time, was made up of individuals, his “witnesses.”
When Jesus was on earth, he told Israel’s religious leaders: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits.” (Matt. 21:43) This “nation” producing Kingdom fruits must be the widespread true Christian congregation, concerning which Peter wrote: “You are . . . ‘a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one [God] that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. For you were once not a people, but are now God’s people.” (1 Pet. 2:9, 10) Such congregation is also called the “Israel of God” and “God’s household.” (Gal. 6:16; 1 Tim. 3:15) The individuals in the congregation are called “members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19) ‘Faithful stewardship’ among such household members involves the dispensing of spiritual truths, which constitute suitable “food” for believers. (1 Cor. 3:2-5; 4:1, 2) It is noteworthy that the “faithful and discreet slave” is called a “steward” at Luke 12:42-48.
While alive on earth, Jesus’ faithful apostles were especially responsible for providing spiritual teaching for the “household of God.” Appointed ‘shepherds’ of the “flock,” as well as others, also had similar responsibility. However, the apostle Peter shows that such stewardship of divine truths actually was committed to all the ‘chosen ones.’ Hence, each respective member of the congregation made a contribution to the building up of the body. (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Pet. 1:1, 2; 4:10, 11; 5:1-3) Thus we see a clear Scriptural basis for saying that all anointed followers of Christ Jesus make up God’s “servant,” with Jesus as its Master. Accordingly, that servant, or “slave,” as a collective body provides spiritual food for all the individuals of this congregation, which make up the household of “domestics.” These individually benefit as recipients of that food.—1 Cor. 12:12, 19-27; Heb. 3:5, 6; 5:11-14.
THE ‘FAITHFUL SLAVE’ DISAPPEARS FROM CLEAR VIEW
This clear identity of the “faithful and discreet slave” class was not to continue all through the centuries until the return of the Master with his kingly power. The apostles warned that a great apostasy would develop after their death and would continue until Christ’s presence. (2 Thess. 2:1-12; Acts 20:29, 30; 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:2, 3) Jesus also indicated this in his parable of the ‘wheat and the weeds.’ According to this illustration, fine seed, wheat, was planted in the world field. The “wheat” are “the sons of the kingdom,” or true anointed disciples of Jesus Christ. However, an “enemy” (the Devil) was represented as sowing “weeds” (“the sons of the wicked one,” or false Christians) among the “wheat,” and both were to grow together until the “harvest.”—Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43.
The apostasy developed with the bringing in of heathen philosophy and false doctrines. More and more, the apostate congregation became a part of this world, adopting its teachings, customs and attitudes. Jesus foretold that both the “wheat” and the “weeds” would grow together until the “harvest,” or “conclusion of the system of things,” when the “wheat” (true Christians) would be separated from the “weeds” (false Christians) and would let their spiritual light shine. (Matt. 13:30, 39-43) Thus the identity of the “faithful and discreet slave” class would not again become clear until the time for Christ Jesus to return.
At that time, Jesus’ faithful disciples would come into clear view. Their well-fed spiritual condition would harmonize with the prophecy of Daniel, which foretold that at the “time of the end” those having insight would shine like the stars, would enjoy increased Scriptural knowledge and understanding and would bring many to righteousness. (Dan. 12:3, 4, 9, 10) This indicates that the congregation of Christ’s anointed disciples, those having insight, would be watching for the Master’s return and be found faithfully providing spiritual food at the proper time when he returned.—Matt. 24:43-46.
THE ‘FAITHFUL SLAVE’ IDENTIFIED BY ITS ACTIVITY
Though the “weeds” dominated the world’s religious scene through the centuries, some “wheat” was active and spiritual food was provided for the “domestics.” By the early 1870’s there was a group of sincere Bible students sufficiently well fed spiritually to be in expectation of the Lord’s return and to realize the need for thorough study of the Scriptures so as to be prepared. Their unsectarian search of the Bible produced an abundance of knowledge.
During those years, the churches of Christendom were bound by the traditions, dogmas and ceremonies stemming from the great apostasy. They clung to such false doctrines as the Trinity, immortality of the soul and a burning hell. Also, they were part of this world. Skepticism as to the Bible was infiltrating their theological seminaries. Darwin’s theory of evolution was being pitted against the Bible’s creation account, applied psychology was rejecting the teaching of inherent sin and the need for a ransom, and the whole field of higher criticism was attacking the divine authorship and infallibility of the Scriptures.
Amid all of this, the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses then were known) were standing as strong advocates of Bible teaching. They held Scripturally that there is one Almighty God and Creator, Jehovah, and that Christ Jesus is his only-begotten Son and first creation, whom God sent to the earth to offer his life as a ransom for sinful humankind. They took up the fight to defend the entire Bible as God’s infallible, inspired Word and published the results of their Biblical study as “food at the proper time,” thus sharing this vital information with all desiring to be prepared for the Lord’s return. The Bible Students made known the true Christian teaching that the human soul is mortal and the hope for the dead is the resurrection. They pointed out that the purpose of Christ’s ransom is not only to pave the way for the 144,000 to be redeemed from the earth so as to be joint heirs with Christ in the heavens but also to give the rest of Adam’s offspring opportunity to gain everlasting life on earth during the 1,000-year Messianic Kingdom reign. Also, they proclaimed to the world that the end of “the appointed times of the nations” would come in 1914. (Luke 21:24) This faith-strengthening restoration of Bible truths and the urgings to wakefulness regarding the presence of Christ Jesus resulted in the gathering together and building up of a congregation of anointed disciples of Christ who displayed evidence of being well fed spiritually.
The “faithful and discreet slave” has abundant credentials. Following is a partial list of Scriptural and prophetic designations applying to or being represented in the remnant of Jesus Christ’s anointed followers since the notable year 1919:
(1) Noah’s wife, Gen. 7:7; (2) angels sent to Lot, Gen. 19:15; (3) Rebekah, Gen. 24:64; (4) Joseph and Benjamin, Gen. 45:14; (5) gleanings left behind, Lev. 19:9; (6) two spies to Rahab, Josh. 2:4; (7) Barak, Judg. 4:14; (8) Jephthah, Judg. 11:34; (9) Naomi and Ruth, Ruth 2:2; (10) David’s Israelite warriors, 2 Sam. 18:1; (11) Jehu, 2 Ki. 10:11, 15; (12) Mordecai and Esther, Esther 4:13; (13) Job, Job 42:10, 13; (14) King’s daughter, Ps. 45:13; (15) men of loving-kindness, Ps. 50:5; (16) intimate group, Ps. 89:7; (17) Shear-jashub, Isa. 7:3; (18) light of the nations, Isa. 60:3; (19) big trees of righteousness, Isa. 61:3; (20) ministers of our God, Isa. 61:6; (21) cluster preserved, Isa. 65:8; (22) servants called by another name, Isa. 65:15; (23) men trembling at God’s word, Isa. 66:5; (24) new nation born, Isa. 66:8; (25) Jeremiah, Jer. 1:10; (26) Jehovah’s people in the new covenant, Jer. 31:33; (27) enduring watchman, Ezek. 3:16-27; (28) man in linen, Ezek. 9:2; (29) cleansed people, Ezek. 36:29-32; (30) dwellers in center of earth, Ezek. 38:12; (31) the host of heaven, Dan. 8:10; (32) sanctuary restored (cleansed), Dan. 8:14; (33) they that are wise, Dan. 11:33; (34) the happy one who is keeping in expectation, Dan. 12:12; (35) all flesh receiving the spirit, Joel 2:28; (36) Jonah, Jon. 3:1-3; (37) apple of Jehovah’s eye, Zech. 2:8; (38) liberated remnant, Zech. 2:7; (39) a Jew, Zech. 8:23; (40) sons of Levi, Mal. 3:3; (41) wheat, Matt. 13:25; (42) sons of the kingdom, Matt. 13:38; (43) workers for the vineyard, Matt. 20:1; (44) those invited to marriage feast, Matt. 22:3-14; (45) chosen ones, Matt. 24:22; (46) eagles, Matt. 24:28; (47) faithful and discreet slave, Matt. 24:45; (48) discreet virgins, Matt. 25:2; (49) brothers of the king, Matt. 25:40; (50) little flock of sheep, Luke 12:32; (51) beggar Lazarus, Luke 16:20; (52) sheep in “this fold,” John 10:1-16; (53) branches of the vine, John 15:4; (54) royal palace of David, Acts 15:16; (55) heirs with Christ, Rom. 8:17; (56) the remnant, Rom. 11:5; (57) branches in the olive tree, Rom. 11:24; (58) holy ones or saints, 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 16:6; (59) temple, 1 Cor. 6:19; (60) new creation, 2 Cor. 5:17; (61) ambassadors for Christ, 2 Cor. 5:20; (62) congregation of God, Gal. 1:13; (63) part of Abraham’s seed, Gal. 3:29; (64) Israel of God, Gal. 6:16; (65) body of Christ, Eph. 1:22, 23; (66) soldiers of Christ Jesus, 2 Tim. 2:3; (67) house under Christ, Heb. 3:6; (68) holy priesthood, 1 Pet. 2:5; (69) holy nation, 1 Pet. 2:9; (70) association of brothers, 1 Pet. 2:17; (71) seven congregations, Rev. 1:20; (72) twenty-four persons of advanced age, Rev. 4:4; (73) spiritual Israel, Rev. 7:4; (74) locusts, Rev. 9:3; (75) two witnesses, Rev. 11:3; (76) two olive trees, Rev. 11:4; (77) seed of the woman, Rev. 12:17; (78) New Jerusalem, Rev. 21:2; (79) the bride of Christ, Rev. 22:17; 19:7; (80) Jehovah’s witnesses, Isa. 43:10.