The Parable of the Beaten Servants (Luke 12:35-48)

There are only two ways you can respond to Jesus; positively, in faith, or negatively, with unbelief. Consequently, it makes sense to speak of people dividing themselves into two groups: sheep and goats, wheat and weeds, good fish and bad fish.

But sometimes Jesus spoke of three or even four groups. Think of the parable of the sower where there were four types of soil. Or the parable of the master who returned home to three types of servant in Luke 12. Here they are:

  1. The faithful and wise servant (v.42) who makes his master happy and is put in charge of all his property
  2. The abusive servant (v.45) who beats others, gets drunk, and is cut into pieces and beaten with many blows
  3. The ignorant servant (v.48) who does something but it’s the wrong thing and receives a few blows

Since many Christians identify themselves as servants of the Master, this parable is troubling. Is Jesus saying he’s going to beat some of us? Is he going to cut some of us into pieces?!

The wrong way to read this story is to conclude that there are degrees of judgment and that God will punish you in accordance with the badness of your behavior. You may have heard that God beats or scourges his children as a sign of his love, but that’s not true. Jesus never beat anyone.

The key to unlocking this parable is found in the last line:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)

Who has been given much?

It’s a mistake to insist that a parable has to make a single point. Jesus was a genius story-teller who could use one story to communicate multiple messages to multiple audiences. His words are timeless. There were truths Jesus wanted to communicate to Jews then and there are truths he wants to communicate to us now.

So who is Jesus referring to in this parable? Who has been given much?

Let’s stick with the first-century context and say Jesus was referring to the Jews. The Jews had been given the promises of the Patriarchs, the Law of Moses, and all the Old Testament prophecies regarding his arrival. In contrast with the Gentiles, the Jews had the inside track when it came to receiving the grace of God. Jesus said the master comes and serves his servants (v.37), which describes how Jesus came as the Servant-King (Matt. 20:28).

With that in mind, let us consider the three servants in the story.

1. The faithful and wise servants are those who were watching for Jesus and received him when he came. Just as the master gives these servants all his possessions (v.44), Jesus conferred on them (and us) a kingdom and makes us co-heirs with him of all things (Luke 22:29, Rom. 8:17).

2. The abusive servants are those like the Pharisees and legal experts who use the law (a.k.a. the “much” that they had received) to abuse and beat people. Jesus said the Pharisees killed, crucified, and flogged his servants (Matt. 23:34). They murdered Stephen (Acts 7), beat Paul (Acts 23:2), and would’ve stoned an adulterous woman if Jesus hadn’t intervened. But their greatest abuse was they turned people away from God (Matt. 23:13).

3. The ignorant servants are those who, like Saul, are trying to be good and do the right thing, but their faithless religion is based on “ignorance and unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13).

Who was cut to pieces?

In the story the master cuts the abusive servants to pieces. This describes what Jesus did to the Pharisees with his tongue on several occasions (eg: Matt 23). He tore strips off them with his harsh words because they kept people from God. The religious leaders saw themselves as “God’s men” but Jesus said, “You are the devil’s men” (John 8:44).

In the story the master assigns the abusive servants a place with the unbelievers (or hypocrites – see Matt. 12:49), much like Jesus did with the Pharisees when he called them “sons of hell” (Mt 23:15). He gave them a wake-up call which was an act of mercy. Only a hard truth can crack a hard heart.

What are the heavy beatings?

The abusive servant is lazy and “will be beaten with many blows,” or “thoroughly thrashed” to quote the Message Bible. Conversely, the misguided but hard-working servant is “beaten with few blows.”

Some commentators say Jesus is talking about stewardship (which he sort of is), giving you the impression that if you’re not a good steward he’ll beat you (which he definitely won’t).

Others use this passage to promote performance-based Christianity. They say it’s better to do something for Jesus – even the wrong thing – because a few blows are better than many blows. Both interpretations miss grace.

Remember, the good things that the servants have been entrusted with are the law and the prophets. Those who have the law but don’t keep the law – the lazy servants – are beaten with many blows.

Who is beating them? The law!

Jesus said the Pharisees didn’t practice what they preached (Matt. 23:3-4). They were lazy law-keepers and they knew it. Their own consciences would’ve condemned them as lawbreakers and this is probably why many of them were miserable jerks.

Paul described the law as the ministry that condemns and brings death (2 Cor. 3:7-9). But it is not the law that kills, but sin which is inflamed by the law (Rom. 7:9).

One of the greatest lies we have been sold is that sin is pleasurable. Sin is pain upon pain. Sin will destroy your health, your marriage, your family, your career, and then it will destroy you.

We see the fruit of sin in the lives of the religious leaders. Some of them were murderous thugs and killers of women. They stole from the poor and devoured widow’s houses. These abusive servants were themselves victims of sin’s abuse.

The “many blows” is a reference to the destructive power of sin. Sin hurts everyone but is especially potent towards those living under the law. The law amplifies sin’s destructive power (1 Cor. 15:56). Live under the law and you will be beaten again and again. You’ll be as wretched and miserable as a Pharisee.

What are the light beatings?

Some say the light beatings are a reference to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. He makes you feel a little pain so that you don’t feel the bigger pain of sin. I disagree. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of grace, not the spirit of pain. Jesus called him the Comforter not the Tormenter. For sure, God responds when we sin, but not with beatings.

So what are the few blows dished out to the misguided servant?

They are the regrets that come when the servant realizes his hard work is for naught and he has done nothing to please his master.

Think of Paul referring to himself as “the chief of sinners” because he persecuted the church. Think of the Jews who were cut to the heart when they heard the gospel (Acts 2:36). Think of the godly sorrow we experience when we realize we have messed up.

The blows or regrets of the misguided are few if we repent, but the blows of the stubborn are many because they refuse to change and so remain under the dominion of sin.

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century

The punch-line of this story is not that you will be judged according to your knowledge of sin or your productivity. The point of the story is this:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. (Luke 12:48)

What is the “much” that has been given? In the first century it was the law and the prophets which pointed to the coming Messiah. But for us the “much” is something greater. It is Jesus himself.

And what is the “much” that will be demanded from you? It is not your good behavior or your results for these are nothing in comparison with what you have been given. You have been given Much therefore Much is required.

God has given you all grace in his Son Jesus. So what does he expect to see in you? The answer is in the question.

The Much that will be demanded is the Much that has been given. It is nothing less than Jesus himself, because nothing less than him will do.


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33 Comments on The Parable of the Beaten Servants (Luke 12:35-48)

  1. Terry Bennett // July 9, 2014 at 2:35 am // Reply

    The last two post were dynamite as always. Thank you so very much for taking time to simplify the scriptures so we can better grasp the truth and depth of Abba’s love and grace towards us. You are loved much brother. TB

  2. John Buta // July 9, 2014 at 3:08 am // Reply

    I like the way you wrapped that up at the end! It seemed like a discouraging verse before this article, kind of like how our “righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and scribes”, and you brought it back to Jesus :-)…thank you!
    The “first coming” context was amazing as well, never thought of that 🙂
    Have a good day man….and a good day to everyone else as well!

    • In Matthew 21 31/32 it seems to me that Pharisees still enter the kingdom of God
      31 Which of those two did the will of his father?” They said unto Him, “The first.” Jesus said unto them, “Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you.KJV
      And in the concordant literal version
      31 Which of the two does the will of the father?” They are saying, “The first.” Jesus is saying to them, “Verily, I am saying to you that the tribute collectors and the prostitutes are preceding you into the kingdom of God.

      Before you or preceding you means Pharisees will still go I. Only after these other people , it does not say they won’t be entering .

      • John Buta // July 11, 2014 at 9:54 am //

        That’s a really interesting point. You reminded me of Romans 11 actually, where Paul is warning the Gentiles that they shouldn’t be feeling all superior just because they’ve been grafted into the Tree now, and Israel have been broken off. But rather, they should remember it was by faith that they were included, and that Israel, the natural branches, will much more readily be grafted back into place if they believe.
        Like the verses you mentioned, i love that Jesus is constantly turning the tables on who gets included, and who we think of as part of the “in-crowd”

  3. Amazing!! Just amazing. Such a simple and deep lesson, yet so misunderstood, commonly. It really hit the sport. Thank you for this, Paul.

  4. “So what does he expect to see in you? The answer is in the question. The Much that will be demanded is the Much that has been given. It is nothing less than Jesus himself, because nothing less than him will do.”

    Mind. Blown. =D

  5. What must make Him even more pleased is when He sees you seeing the Son in yourself.

  6. The enemy may take a chance and beat a kings servant, but he will be reluctant to beat his son.The Son,s greatest threat will come from his own brothers. It has always been this way.

  7. This is great Paul. amazing and owesome!! I have never understood the truth and simplicity of the Gospel like this before. your indeed a blessing to me. Keep it moving. We need more of the revelation of Jesus. He is the “much” expected from us and nothing less!! phew!

  8. David Young // July 10, 2014 at 2:44 am // Reply

    Thank you Paul for bringing much clarity to obscure verses that seemingly negate Grace, causing many of us to doubt our right standing. ( who we are in Christ )

  9. A condemned heart sees condemnation. Even life looks like death through its’ lens. But grace and truth came and made all things new. Thank you, Jesus!

  10. creativegirl7 // July 10, 2014 at 5:07 am // Reply

    Yes I agree – mind blowing after all the wrong
    interpretations. Yes, simple, because the gospel is simple,
    and the whole bible is about Jesus and his coming
    to save man. It all points to Him. It’s basically not about us!
    Paul, I pray The Lord continue to use you to bless you and keep you in his grace, as you reveal to so many people the truth, the simplicity of the gospel message. Amen

  11. excellent post! i totally agree that its the law that ad-ministers the beatings – it is after all, the ministry of death…

  12. Well done paul, i get it now.
    But I am still confused about this;

    For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his servants and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, and another he gave two, and to another he gave one; to every man according to his several ability. (mat 25:14-15)

    Please I need someone to shed more light on this chapter, what does that talent stands for? And if you read down, did the master ask them to cast away the lazy servant into an everlasting fire, where their would be crying and torment?
    This verse is throughly getting me confused for now

    • I actually have a lot to say about this parable, as it is one that seems hard to reconcile with grace. I just need to find the time to write my thoughts down.

      The problem is the Bible is so rich with fantastic insights into grace. At present I have 60 half-finished posts in the pipeline! I’m not exaggerating.

      • Hey Paul, I have been reading the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, too, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this. It seems like the master in this story is the evil one!

  13. Earl Hendricks // March 19, 2015 at 3:24 am // Reply

    Once again you have helped to enlighten me on God’s amazing grace. Thank you and much love to you my brother!

  14. Thank you, Here is wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas n a Happy New Year!

  15. Praise and Glory to The Father through Christ Jesus.

  16. This parable is like the parable of the 10 virgins. Born again believers are not included here because we are one with the Lord. As He is so are we in this world.

  17. Susan Ann Minor // June 3, 2018 at 12:33 pm // Reply

    I am so greatful you answered all my questions because I’m read this a long ways back years and it brought me to think but when we go to heaven and or judge 4 the things we should have done and didn’t do that puts the jewels in our crown I Rewards always thought after I have read this Womack Lee get the crown but yet will be punished 4 things we had done and things we didn’t do I’m so thankful you answered that because now I can have a calm spirit instead of wondering if I’m messing up all the time to know he gives me Grace and forgiveness it’s a wonderful wonderful thing Jesus to me really is everything my family threw me out when I was 24th and here I am 57 and so I know rejection in the worst rejection I could ever have is to be rejected by Jesus but I gave my heart to him April 19th 1997 and was baptized April 21st 1997 I appreciate everything you our blessing and you get blessings every day God bless .
    Love yall Susan Minor

  18. Could someone help clarify a few questions I have on this one. It talks about the abusive servant also eating and drinking too much. How does that fit in? My mind goes to the fact that they are enjoying life too much or relaxing too much but that cant be right. It seems like it cant be referring to the pharisees if its talking about drunkards and gluttony. My version also says “blessed is that servant when his master comes back finds in fiathful discharge of these duties.” I dont know but it sounds a lot like work hard for the lord and dont relax and eat/drink or you will be thrown into hell. Now in the light of grace i know this cant be right.

    • Hey there Jenny 🙂

      If it’s eating and drinking your concerned about then you’re in good company! Rewind 5 chapters and that’s exactly how Jesus comes 😀

      If you’re mind is taking you to a place where you’re worried or fearful about being chucked into hell for not carrying out your duties, then maybe think about Johns words in his letter, where perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment.
      Dont be afraid. Jesus took all the punishment.
      Off the back of that it’s helpful to remember the 1st century context Jesus was speaking in, as Paul outlines above, and the relevance of this message to that audience before you start picking bits out and applying them directly to you.

      I hope that’s a start for you Jenny 🙂

  19. Thanks for your time! That helps a lot. Very typical of me to pluck out verses and apply them to myself. I will slow it down and focus on the context and reminders you gave me. Thanks again John 🙂

  20. Thank you paul for your post. Some questions come to my mind when I read your post. you have said the coming implies both 1st and second coming. My question is who are the abusive servants in his second coming? who are those who are not ready as a thief arrives in his second coming? I have understood your point in his first coming


  21. Hmm. 2000 years after the great commission 1.8 billion Muslims still haven’t heard while in many countries some have heard numerous times.Jeus said go and the vast majority stay. Even financially 1% of church missions money goes to reaching Muslims. This seems like servants disobeying on a level unimaginable even by pharisitical standards. Is materialism the new drunkeness? We aren’t feeding the world the Gospel. Rather we convince ourselves that ONLY 25% in our town go to church so it’s a mission field when in Muslim lands .01% may be believers.

  22. Jesus spoke of 4 soils. Most Christians think in terms of only two. 3 of the 4 soils accepted the Gospel but Of those three 1 dies out completely while the next live on but of those two only one produces fruit. I think the vast majority of believers are content to live as the stunted plant/weed ridden soil. Happy to have accepted Christ but not giving all up for the sake of comfort and status. James says to wail and mourn. Jesus says to repent or I will spit you out. I believe in Grace but grace and love produces surrender not an anything goes cultural Christianity.

  23. Who says that’s negative?

  24. John Wilson // July 2, 2019 at 9:35 pm // Reply

    The context suggests these stories are warnings for the people with the law to be ready for the unexpected appearance of the Messiah. For example, verse 56 says they don’t know how to interpret this present time. Verse 58 says those relying on the law to acquit them miss the opportunity to make peace while on their way to see the judge. The gospel took the people in charge of administering and interpreting the law by surprise, as they had expected the previous situation to continue indefinitely.

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