“Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his lord hath set over his household, to give them their food in due season?” (Matthew 24:45 RV).
by James Parkinson
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The question of whether “the faithful and wise servant” is an individual Christian or a group of Christians is not easily answered from Matthew 24 alone, but Luke 12 elaborates.
We might expect Jesus to repeat important teachings several times in his ministry. Luke might give us the first time Jesus spoke of the faithful and wise servant, while Matthew writes topically and may cite the last time Jesus spoke of it.
Matthew 24 concludes with accounts of “the faithful and wise 1servant” and “that evil 1servant.” The timing is apparently between “the Son of man cometh” (24:44) and the “ten virgins who “went forth to meet the bridegroom” (25:1), which places it somewhere during “the last day” of the Gospel Age. The Matthew account is not necessarily clear whether the two
servants are two individuals or two groups.
The Luke 12:35-48 account elaborates. Again, the time setting is that of “men looking for their lord, when he shall return from
the marriage feast.” But counter to the usual human custom of servants serving their master, during Christ’s Second Presence, He serves the servants. Then, after Peter’s question, Jesus
speaks of the faithful and wise steward/servant, followed by a description of that evil servant. Finally, a distinction is made between a servant who knew what was right but did wrong and a servant who went wrong in ignorance; both are to be punished, but unequally.
Luke distinguishes servants (plural) from the servant (singular). The servants are served by their Lord, while the Lord also uses the faithful and wise servant to assist in serving. Thus, a distinction is implied between a group of servants and an individual servant. (Perhaps it is as when Jesus fed the five thousand but used the twelve in serving.)
Practical lessons may be drawn from the two diverse servants. But the specific characteristics may suggest more.
Is there a Possible Historical Fit?
To fulfill prophecy, the facts must fit. If there is a plausible fit of history to this prophecy, it could not be identified before Christ’s return (Luke 12:36). But it should be possible to see
it during His Second Presence.
The lord comes to the watching servants and then feeds them, so the time setting of the prophecy is during the last of the seven days of the Gospel Age. Although Christ’s second
coming and resulting presence would not be confidently known ahead of time (Luke 12:40), the watching servants were variously looking to 1843 or 1844 (William Miller), 1847 (Joseph Wolff), 1868 (William C. Thurman), 1873 (Nelson H. Barbour and Jonas Wendell), among a few others. Perhaps not until the Jews began returning to Palestine/Israel (October 1878) was there concrete evidence that Christ’s parousia had begun (whether then or
around 1873-1875, when the Long Depression, failed Balkan crop harvest and Christian Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, percolated into the Jewish Return). One may infer that since then our Lord has been serving food in due season to his watching servants.
A candidate for the faithful and wise servant would be Charles Taze Russell. By 1872 he had come to believe in Christ’s ransom sacrifice for all, in restitution for the world, and rejected the mysterious trinity concept of God. He was re-baptized, as an adult, probably in 1874, and elected pastor of the Allegheny group in 1876. In 1877 he expected Israel would soon begin
to return. He began the Watch Tower magazine in July, 1879, and published the six volumes of “Studies in the Scriptures” in 1886-1904, with circulation in the millions — and in several dozen languages. He led a clean Christian life, was a total-abstainer from alcohol, and was merciful to those who condemned him.9 He was eventually elected pastor of 1,200 ecclesias, with perhaps 20,000 adherents worldwide. International Bible Students everywhere looked to him for direction in the harvest work.
Thus, he was already active in the 1870s, spread a harmonization of the Bible internationally, and directed the witness work worldwide.
However, when Pastor Russell died in 1916 another man seized authority from the Watch Tower Board of Directors, claimed Christ’s Return had been delayed until 1914, expelled Bible Students who failed to support him, centralized authority in himself, and freely imbibed alcohol. Those whom he disfellowshipped now concluded that the Lord was calling them to come out of Babylon #2, that they be not partakers of these sins. Of those who remained in, some knew better but others did not; yet both had lost the freedom of the Lord’s spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Thus might one see a fulfillment of this prophecy of the faithful and wise servant, and look for “food in due season.” And if not Pastor Charles Taze Russell, then who?
(1) Gk. bondservant And in verses 24:46,48,50.
(2) Or, severely scourge him,
(3) Gk. bondservants,
(4) So p75א *copach sys,c (ite) arm. But B(אa
579 1241 33 and the majority of lesser Gk. mss., vg geo
add have watched, and
(5) Gk. digged through.
(6) Or, the faithful steward, the wise man whom etc.
(7) Gk. bondservant, And in verses 12:45, 46, 47.
(8) Or, severely scourge him,
(9) This writer was acquainted with about a hundred Bible Students who personally knew Pastor Russell and spoke of the honorable and self-sacrificing life he led.