“Who Really Is the Faithful Steward, the Discreet One?”
“Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one, whom his master will appoint over his body of attendants?”—Luke 12:42.
1. How old is the question that is before us, and what do those not finding the answer fail to get?
THE question is now more than 1,900 years old. Many hundreds of thousands today believe they have found the answer. Those not finding the answer are failing to get benefits that affect their eternal future. The question is this: “Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one, whom his master will appoint over his body of attendants to keep giving them their measure of food supplies at the proper time?”—Luke 12:42.
2. (a) When was the question first raised, and by whom? (b) To whom should the question appeal, and why?
2 The question was first raised in the Middle Eastern land of Israel. The time was in the year 32 of our Common Era, between the Israelite celebration of tabernacles in the autumn and the festival of the dedication of their rebuilt temple at Jerusalem in the early winter. The man raising the question has become a controversial figure worldwide. His name is Jesus Christ. His question ought therefore to have special appeal to Christendom, as she speaks of him as “Lord” and claims to be full of his disciples.
3, 4. (a) Jesus’ listeners were interested in what, and so over what did he tell them not to have fear? (b) What two illustrations did Jesus give respecting the need for them to keep on the watch?
3 According to the Bible account, the searching question was raised in answer to another question and was directed to persons who were interested in the greatest government ever to be established over the earth, the kingdom of the Creator of heaven and earth, “the kingdom of God.” That is why Jesus Christ said beforehand to his Israelite listeners: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom. Sell the things belonging to you and give gifts of mercy. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, a never-failing treasure in the heavens, where a thief does not get near nor moth consumes. For where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also.
4 “Let your loins be girded and your lamps be burning, and you yourselves be like men waiting for their master when he returns from the marriage, so that at his arriving and knocking they may at once open to him. Happy are those slaves whom the master on arriving finds watching! Truly I say to you, He will gird himself and make them recline at the table and will come alongside and minister to them. And if he arrives in the second watch, even if in the third, and finds them thus, happy are they! But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief would come, he would have kept watching and not have let his house be broken into. You also, keep ready, because at an hour that you do not think likely the Son of man is coming.”—Luke 12:32-40.
5. (a) What did Peter call Jesus’ words of exhortation, and so how would Jesus reply be classified? (b) Peter’s question as to the application of Jesus’ words raises what question as to how Jesus’ words in reply apply?
5 What the Lord Jesus Christ there said the apostle Peter called a “parable,” for Luke’s account goes on to say: “Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable [parabolé] for us or for all?’” (Luke 12:41, Revised Standard Version and other translations) So, logically, what Jesus said in reply would be considered a parable, which would picture or illustrate certain realities to come in the future. That is, Jesus’ reply in Luke 12:42-44 would form part of the parable of the “faithful and wise steward.” (RSV) As we now examine the parable, we should keep in mind Peter’s question, which carries over in its application to this follow-up parable, namely, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” (Luke 12:41, New International Version; The Living Bible) We ask, therefore, Does this parable of the “steward” apply to a class, an “us” class, the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, or to everyone then listening to Jesus and, today, to every individual reading Jesus’ parable, regardless of his religious connections inside or outside Christendom? Is the parable a class affair or an individual one?
6. With what parable did Jesus reply to Peter’s question?
6 Jesus did not directly answer Peter’s question concerning the preceding “parable,” but offered another parable in reply, saying: “Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one, whom his master will appoint over his body of attendants to keep giving them their measure of food supplies at the proper time? Happy is that slave, if his master on arriving finds him doing so! I tell you truthfully, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”—Luke 12:42-44, New World Translation.
7. Whom does the steward’s “master” picture, and so what attitude should those involved with that “master” maintain during “the conclusion of the system of things”?
7 No one will question that the “master” of the faithful steward pictures the teller of the parable himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the parable that raised Peter’s question Jesus pictured himself as being a bridegroom, who, because of the marriage festivities, returns home at an uncertain hour of the night or early morning. (Luke 12:35-40) Certainly, then, those involved in the fulfillment of Jesus’ parable should keep on the watch, especially during the “conclusion of the system of things.”—Matt. 24:3.
8. Since when has Jesus Christ been “master” over a “body of attendants,” and how does Revelation 7:1-8 describe them?
8 In the case of the parable of the steward, the master has a “body of attendants,” of which the steward himself is one. This matches the fact that the teller of the parable, the Lord Jesus Christ, has a household in a spiritual sense. To that effect it is written, in Hebrews 3:4-6: “He that constructed all things is God. And Moses as an attendant was faithful in all the house of that One as a testimony of the things that were to be spoken afterwards, but Christ was faithful as a Son over the house of that One.” The prophet Moses was over the house of the 12 tribes of Israel at the start of that nation. Jesus Christ, as the Greater Moses, has been over the house of spiritual Israel from the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E. down till now. Revelation 7:1-8 reveals that the “house” is made up of 144,000 spiritual Israelites, divided into 12 tribes of 12,000 each. This is a “house” made up of spiritual sons of God, like their Head Jesus Christ himself. These collectively compose the “little flock,” to whom, as Jesus said, Jehovah God the heavenly Father has approved of giving the celestial kingdom.—Deut. 18:15-18; Luke 12:32; Acts 3:19-23.
9. If it is argued that the “steward” pictures an individual Christian man, one appointed in the first century C.E., what difficulty is encountered as to fixing a definite time of the master’s arrival?
9 So the 144,000 spiritual sons of God make up the “body of attendants” over which the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, appoints the “steward” of the parable. The identity of that parabolic “steward” (oikonómos, Greek; so·khenʹ, Hebrew—Delitsch translation) is still a matter of controversy among many professed Christians. If we say that the “steward” pictures an individual Christian man, we run into insurmountable difficulties. For example, the parable indicates that the steward’s master goes away on some journey and, after an indefinite absence, comes back home at an unspecified hour. In the first century C.E. a definite hour could not be fixed, for then mankind did not have modern conveniences such as telephones, radio communication and the means of speedy travel with fixed time schedules.
10. What difficulty arises as to the age length of any individual Christian man at the time of the ‘master’s’ arrival?
10 According to Jesus’ words, the “steward” was appointed over the “body of attendants” before his master left on his journey. Accordingly, since the steward’s master pictured the Lord Jesus Christ, his “steward” was appointed before his departure by his ascension back to heaven 10 days before the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 33 C.E. The “steward” was to be alive and faithful at his appointed responsibility at the time of his master’s return. It has now been 19 centuries since the Lord Jesus Christ departed for his heavenly Father’s home. Hence, if anyone argues that the parabolic “steward” pictures an individual Christian man in the true Christian congregation, how could he still be alive today after having been appointed by Jesus Christ in 33 of our first century C.E.? No man has ever lived for that long, not even the famous Methuselah.—Gen. 5:27.
11. So, instead of an individual Christian man, the “steward” pictures what, and what Scriptural support is there for this view?
11 Reason, backed up by similar Scriptural examples, makes it clear that the “steward” (oikonómos) pictures a class, a collective body, corresponding to a juristic person, a legal person like a corporation that is recognized by the law of the land. For instance, Jehovah God called the entire nation of ancient Israel “my servant whom I have chosen.” (Isa. 43:10) In like manner, the “steward” pictures the “little flock” of spiritual Israelites, the full body of dedicated, baptized disciples of the “master,” Jesus Christ, who have been begotten by God’s spirit to the heavenly inheritance with their “master,” the glorified Jesus. This composite “steward” was alive and available for being appointed by the departing Master, and a remnant of that “steward” class is on earth today and proving faithful to the Master Jesus Christ. Since each member is faithful and discreet, the whole class is also.
12. What was the purpose in appointing the “steward” over the “body of attendants,” and do the facts show whether this purpose has been carried out by the “steward” class?
12 In the parable the “steward” was appointed over his master’s “body of attendants” in order “to keep giving them their measure of food supplies at the proper time.” (Luke 12:42) Through the composite “steward” class this purpose has been fulfilled down till now. During the first century C.E. that was the case, during the days of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ down to the death of the last surviving apostle, John, who made his final contributions to the Holy Scriptures about the year 98 C.E. (John 21:20-23) Now, during this “conclusion of the system of things” that began in the catastrophic year of 1914, it would especially be “the proper time” for the due “measure of food supplies” to be distributed to the “body of attendants,” and it has proved to be so. The remnant of the “steward” class has proved faithful in that respect.—Matt. 24:3-14.
13. The Lord Jesus Christ returned with what in view respecting the “steward” class, and what had this class been doing till then?
13 This coincides with the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ entered into the Kingdom power with his heavenly Father at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 and thus finally got what he went away for. (Luke 19:12) He could thus return invisibly in spiritual form, with the holding of an accounting with his “steward” in view. Till this accounting the distributing of the “measure of food supplies at the proper time” had been no small task. But the members of the “steward” class have worked together in distributing the spiritual “food supplies” to one another progressively as Jehovah God called others to become heirs of the Kingdom, members of the “little flock.”
APPOINTED “OVER ALL HIS BELONGINGS”
14. Why was it to be a happy time for the “steward” when his master returned and found him doing his duty as a slave?
14 In his parable of the faithful and discreet “steward,” the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, spoke of him as a “slave” and said: “Happy is that slave, if his master on arriving finds him doing so!” Why? Says Jesus: “I tell you truthfully, He will appoint him over all his belongings.”—Luke 12:43, 44.
15. Why would the ‘steward’s’ being appointed over all his master’s “belongings” be a happifying experience for him?
15 This means that, as a reward for showing himself faithful and discreet and keeping constantly awake in expectation of his master’s return, the “slave” is given greater responsibility as a “steward.” This was possible. Why so? Because the master had successfully gained something by his journey and came back with more than what he had when he departed. His “belongings” had been enhanced, and thus there was more over which to appoint his faithful “steward.” His being continued in the office of “steward” would signify serving in a larger capacity. His master himself had returned in a larger capacity than that in which he had found himself when he went away on his certain mission. In this modern-day fulfillment of the parable this has been true with respect to the remnant of the “steward” class and his Master, the glorified Jesus Christ.
16. What words of Jesus, spoken shortly after the parable, indicate that he was giving the parable of the “steward” in a fiery time?
16 How, though, can we confirm that this has been the proper time for the remnant of the “steward” class to be appointed over the enlarged “belongings,” or interests, of the Master? Well, several verses after the parable, Jesus said: “I came to start a fire on the earth, and what more is there for me to wish if it has already been lighted?” (Luke 12:49) This figurative language was in line with what John the Baptizer had foretold concerning Jesus just a few months beforehand. Among other things, John said: “That one will baptize you people with holy spirit and with fire. His winnowing shovel [for separating the grain from the chaff] is in his hand, and he will completely clean up his threshing floor, and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with fire that cannot be put out.”—Matt. 3:11, 12.
17. Who of Jesus’ day were to go through a fiery experience, with what catastrophe as a climax?
17 Those prophetic words indicate that the fiery end of the Jewish system of things was due. Like chaff, the non-Christianized Jews would go through a fiery experience. This would end up with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews from Palestine worldwide. The Roman legions saw to this in 70 C.E.
18, 19. (a) In Jesus’ prophecy on the “sign” of the “conclusion of the system of things,” what illustration did he give that corresponds with the parable of the “steward”? (b) Did the members of that class prove faithful and discreet during the conclusion of the Jewish system in Palestine, and how has the remnant of that class been doing during this “conclusion of the system of things”?
18 Thirty-seven years before burning up the symbolic “chaff” with unquenchable “fire” in 70 C.E., Jesus Christ gave his prophecy setting out the “sign” of the fiery “conclusion of the system of things” worldwide as well as the sign of his invisible “presence” in the spirit. Well along in the body of that prophecy he referred to a “faithful and discreet slave” who would be at work on the earth when the world system of things neared its end. Jesus’ remarks concerning this “slave” are very much like those concerning the “faithful steward, the discreet one.” Plainly they apply to the same class, but the term “steward” is specific as to the type of work that the “slave” does.
19 Note Jesus’ description: “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. 24:45-47) Members of the “faithful and discreet slave” class, the “steward” class, served diligently up to the end of the Jewish system of things in 70 C.E. The remaining members of the “slave” class, the “steward” class, have been proving themselves faithful and discreet during the modern-day “conclusion of the system of things” since the year 1914 C.E.
20. Those making up the remnant of the “steward” class today are identifiable because of lining up with what words of Jesus before he ascended from the Mount of Olives back to heaven?
20 The remnant of the “steward” class is easily identifiable today, for they line up with what Jesus, the Master, said to those who would form the original part of the “steward” class. Just before ascending from the Mount of Olives back to heaven, Jesus said to them: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In being witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ those Jewish disciples had to be at the same time witnesses of his God and Father, Jehovah. They never ceased to be Jehovah’s witnesses!
21. By natural birth those Jewish disciples were whose witnesses, and when did they become the original members of the composite “steward”?
21 Those Jewish disciples had to be witnesses of Jehovah, for by birth they belonged to the nation to whose forefathers God had said: “‘You are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘even my servant whom I have chosen, . . . So you are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I am God.’” (Isa. 43:10-12) Thus those Jewish witnesses of Jehovah were now to become witnesses also of his Son Jesus Christ. On the day of Pentecost, 10 days after his ascension back to heaven, they were baptized with the holy spirit and were in this way appointed by their glorified Master Jesus Christ to be over his “body of attendants,” to give them spiritual food. That is how they became the first or original members of the composite “steward.” They gave a fine start to this class.
22. The “steward” class is specially a people for whose name, and how was this fact emphasized at a special meeting in Jerusalem sometime after 36 C.E.?
22 This “steward” class is a people for Jehovah’s name. This fact was emphasized some time after the year 36 C.E., at a special meeting of the apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem congregation. There James, the half brother of Jesus Christ, said: “Symeon [that is, the apostle Simon Peter] has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations [the uncircumcised Gentiles] to take out of them a people for his name.”—Acts 15:1-14.
23. In this “conclusion of the system of things” the remnant of the “steward” class cannot dodge being witnesses of whom and having called upon them whose name?
23 Such non-Jews became part of the first-century “steward” class. As a result, this class was the anointed people for God’s name, which name is Jehovah. God’s name, Jehovah, was called upon them. They could not dodge being his witnesses. This also must be true of the anointed remnant of the “steward” class today, when the “sign” visible since 1914 indicates that the returned master of the “steward” class is present and that “the conclusion of the system of things” is about to reach its climax at Har–Magedon.—Matt. 24:3.
In reviewing this article on “The Faithful Steward,” how would you answer these questions?—
▪ Who is the “master” of Jesus’ parable of the “faithful steward”?
▪ Who is the “faithful steward”?
▪ Who is the “body of attendants”?
▪ At Hebrews 3:6, what is the “house” over which Christ is put?
▪ Why cannot the “faithful steward” be an individual person?
▪ Is the “faithful steward” the same as “the faithful and discreet slave”?
▪ What activity is the “faithful steward” class spearheading that makes it possible to identify this class today?
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“Then Peter said: ‘Lord, are you saying this illustration to us or also to all?’ And the Lord said: ‘Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one?’”—Luke 12:41, 42a.