The evangelical church nearly always portrays Jesus as the Good Shepherd who is kind and patient with his sheep and who gave himself for us on the cross. We have all been taught that Jesus is gentle and humble.
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We hardly ever hear that Jesus can be anything but meek. Is what we have been taught the whole picture of Jesus as found in the New Testament? In particular, does Scripture ever portray Jesus as someone very different—even as a hard master? Let us find out. It is important that the Church have a scriptural and balanced understanding of the one we claim to worship and serve. Otherwise, we could be in danger of following “another Jesus.”
The Parable of the Tenants
Matthew 21:33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
The vineyard represents Israel, and the landowner who rented out the vineyard to the Jews is God. At harvest time God demanded and expected to receive a share of the crops from the farmers.
35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
God expects from us his share of the crop at harvest time
We know that the Jews for the most part rejected Jesus Christ as their Messiah and had him killed. Eventually they were “brought to a wretched end” by God through the Roman General Titus who leveled Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The gospel was offered to “other tenants”—meaning to the gentiles. The point to be made here is that God also expects the gentile Church to give him his share of the crop at harvest time. Today the Church of Jesus Christ consists overwhelmingly of gentiles.
Here we are described metaphorically as tenants who have an agreement with God, the landowner. Our main occupation on earth is planting and cultivating our rented fields for the purpose of reaping a harvest. A share of the crop is to be given to our landowner—the God who owns everything. It is helpful to remind ourselves that nothing on earth actually belongs to us.
God rightfully demands a share of the crop at harvest time from us. The harvest time appears to be at hand. Have believers been fully informed and taught about what this means? Unfortunately, no. Most Christians only know that when they die or when Christ appears they will somehow be whisked into God’s presence where they will enjoy heavenly bliss forever and ever.
What is church today?
Church today is generally a place where Christians go for their once-a-week spiritual high or fix. They go to church to be recharged and to gain strength to survive for another week. They go to learn how to be happier and more successful in their lives on earth. Some go to church to “get blessed.” Perhaps they are touched by God there through some supernatural manifestation. Finally, some people go to church out of religious obligation or habit.
The above reasons—with the exception of the final one—are not necessarily poor reasons for going to church. Churches which are skilled at meeting such needs will grow in numerical size. People will eventually leave a church that does not meet their felt needs and find one which does. The astounding growth of some churches today is primarily the result of people transferring from another church which did not meet their needs.
But there is something amiss here. Is the job of the Church simply to meet people’s earthly needs? Is it not more important to train believers as tenants to plant and to cultivate the fields which God has rented to us? The Church has basically failed to teach us that one day there will be an accounting during which God will demand and expect from us “his share of the crop.” We have essentially failed to teach God’s people the paramount importance of planting and of reaping the harvest during these last days.
We are not to follow a “business model”
Because of our desire for numbers, we are getting quite good at meeting people’s needs in order to draw them to our church. We know how to give them what they want and what they need. This is not much different from a successful business which knows how to provide and market the products or services which consumers want and need.
However, we must realize that churches and businesses, despite current trends, are in the end very different in nature. A business must make a profit and hopefully grow. But the purpose of a church should not be simply to grow big in numbers and income. Ultimately, churches must prepare God’s people for the coming of the Lord—at which time there will be an accounting between the tenants and the Landowner.
Matthew 25:14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
The first two servants worked hard and wisely invested the property entrusted to them. They were able to give the master “his share of the crop.” He was pleased and rewarded them handsomely.
24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
Is the Lord really “a hard man”?
The third servant actually had some understanding of his master. The master had gone on a journey and entrusted his property to the servants. During the master’s absence they were to work hard investing the master’s wealth in order to earn profits for him. Upon his return, he would receive the profits from the servants’ labors—even though he himself had not done any work. He would harvest where he had not sown and gather where he had not scattered seed. In this sense he was “a hard man.” However, being that the talents were in fact the property of the master to begin with, the arrangement was completely justified and fair. Moreover, the fruitful servants were well rewarded for their labors. Let’s see how the master rewarded this third servant.
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 ”‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The master judged the third servant by his own words and gave him a hard sentence. He had the servant thrown outside into the darkness where he would suffer in weeping and gnashing his teeth. It is reasonable to conclude that part of this punishment was on account of his failure to secure for the master “his share of the crop”—profit earned from the one talent entrusted to him.
We have failed to teach God’s people
We have pointedly failed to warn believers about the possibility of this scenario befalling them in the age to come. Instead we invest most of our resources teaching them to be more personally successful and fulfilled on earth. To whom does this parable apply at this time, if not to servants of the Lord? We have generally failed to equip God’s people how to plant, how to cultivate, and how to harvest in order to give the Lord his share of the crop at the coming of the Son of Man.
Matthew 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
“Eating and drinking”
In the days just before the flood, the lost were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”—enjoying their lives according to the empty and sinful ways of the world. Then the flood came and took them all away. It will be like this at the soon appearing of Jesus Christ.
…42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
We should teach God’s people that the Lord has assigned to each of us a specific task to perform— “it’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch” (Mark 13:34). We must urge the Lord’s people to be faithful and fruitful in performing their tasks so that when Christ returns, he will find them doing their jobs. They will be well rewarded in the age to come. The Lord is most gracious and generous to faithful disciples.
But there will be servants among us who “eat and drink”
48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We must warn God’s people not “to eat and drink with drunkards.” This was precisely what the people of Noah’s day were doing when the flood came. They were enjoying their lives according to the ways of the world. Christians who are living like unbelievers—even though they attend church faithfully and even tithe—will not be ready for the Lord’s return. They will be assigned a place with the unbelievers where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 12:46). The Church is obligated to issue this sober warning to God’s people.
What is the meaning of “the harvest” for us as tenants?
What tasks has the Lord assigned to us? Obviously we have each been given different callings and gifts. However, every believer is called to have some part in sharing the gospel to the lost as part of the Great Commission.
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
The very first parable at the beginning of this study, the Parable of the Tenants, also involved a harvest. The landowner demanded a share of the crop from the tenants at harvest time. In Luke 10 here the Lord is referring to the harvest field of precious souls which have been and are to be reaped and brought into the kingdom of God before his second coming. These souls are “his share of the crop” which he demands and expects from us.
What will he do if we fail to deliver to him his share of the crop, if we continually fail to complete the Great Commission, even after 2,000 years? As he did to the Jews when they rejected Jesus, will he take the vineyard away from us and rent it to other tenants who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time? Will he raise up a faithful remnant who will make the Great Commission its highest priority? Will he be displeased with a Church which is now “eating and drinking” with the world and not performing her assigned task of planting and reaping the harvest?
Most of us do not emphasize the primary task of the Church
The Great Commission is the primary task of the Church. Yet most of us leaders do not focus on the Great Commission, but rather on meeting the various needs of the flock. The hope is that by meeting people’s needs, the lost will come to the church and eventually into the kingdom of God. But such an approach to evangelizing the lost has clearly failed. Those who do come to our meetings, as pointed out earlier, are mostly Christians who were dissatisfied with their previous churches and have now come to us for greener grass. As for the lost, they are generally not interested in coming to church. Clearly we will not fulfill the Great Commission simply by preaching the gospel to the choir at church services.
Some churches do send out or support home and foreign missionaries in the harvest field, and for that we are very grateful to the Lord. But more often than not it is just an afterthought and obligation not to be neglected, especially during the summer months when the kids are on vacation and need to be kept busy. And so we send them on a mission trip to Mexico to paint an orphanage or for some other worthy project. But our actual primary focus—the “real” job at hand—is on growing our local church and growing it big, God willing. Size generally means success in the eyes of the Christian community as well as the world. It feels great to be considered successful in the eyes of man.
Pastoring a growing church is of course not necessarily wrong. The key question is: is our growing church the Lord’s blessing for our sincere and scriptural obedience to the Great Commission? Or is it the result of giving people what they want to hear and the skillful tickling of their itching ears?
We must repent of our disobedience. We must remember what the Lord does to those who fail to give him his share of the crop and who fail to perform their assigned tasks. We must remember that two thousand years ago our meek Savior gave his life for us through immeasurable suffering on the cross in order that we might have the gift of eternal life. What should happen after we believe on him? He will graciously teach and enable us to obey his commands and to bear fruit for him. In thankfulness to him for what he has done for us, we will labor in his harvest field and reap precious souls for the kingdom of God. We will give him his share of the crop when he returns.
Yes, in a sense Jesus is “a hard man.” He has earned that right by his obedience unto death on a cross for our sake.
What are our wages for laboring in the Lord’s harvest field?
John 4:35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Above are the words of Jesus himself. Verse 36 is most interesting. It speaks of even now the reaper drawing his wages for his labor. What are those wages? It has to do with eternal life: “even now he harvests the crop for eternal life.” In light of this revelation, it is reasonable to ask whether or not working in the Lord’s harvest field is in fact optional for a believer. We are not saying that every believer must be a frontline missionary like Peter or Paul. But it is highly arguable that every believer should have some part, according to the talents given him, as a laborer in the Lord’s harvest field.
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
If we are a true disciple of Jesus Christ, we will bear much fruit for him as his share of the crop. If we do not bear fruit, like a dead branch we will be thrown into the fire and burned. We will of course have nothing—no share of the crop—to give him when he returns.
Yes, Jesus is the gentle and humble Savior who gave himself for us. Therefore when he returns in his Father’s glory, he must be given what is due him—the harvest of disciples who will serve his kingdom and reign with him in the age to come.
The Great Commission
Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
A final word
Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
Jesus did not say that he would give to everyone according to what he has believed, but according to what he has done. True saving faith in Jesus Christ will result in obedience to his commands. And his final command before he left for heaven was for us to preach the gospel to all creation and to make disciples of all nations. When he returns, he will demand and expect from us his share of the crop—the fruit of the harvest. This will in part determine our eternal reward from him.