What does Luke 12:45 mean?
ESV: But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,
NIV: But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk.
NASB: But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will take a long time to come,’ and he begins to beat the other slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk;
CSB: But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and starts to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,
NLT: But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk?
KJV: But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken;
NKJV: But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk,
Verse Commentary:
When the master of a house goes away, good servants will keep lights on and stay prepared for his return, no matter how late he arrives. This illustration teaches how Jesus' followers should remain diligent in their responsibilities while they await His return and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God (Luke 12:35–40). Jesus wants His followers to understand that they will not know when He will return, so they need to remain watchful. Peter, however, seems to hear that Jesus is comparing the disciples to servants. In Peter's mind, there surely must be some differentiation between the Twelve and the "ordinary" people crowding around them (Luke 12:1, 41).

Jesus allows that within servanthood some will be leaders, but leaders carry even more responsibility: they must make sure the believers in their care are fed properly. Sometimes, this is literal, like in the early church (Acts 6:1–6). Most of the time, this refers to providing the "bread of life": the truth about Jesus (John 6:35).

Now, Jesus describes a bad church leader. They grow tired of waiting for their master to return. They begin to think they are the master, and therefore entitled to the choice things in the house. They eat the master's food, drink his wine, and beat his servants. They don't realize the master will return unexpectedly. Because these "leaders" know what they are supposed to do and refuse to do it, they will be punished harshly (Luke 12:46–47).

Jesus' description is strikingly similar to God's description of the Jewish religious leaders in Ezekiel 34. These "shepherds" feed themselves instead of their "sheep," take what they want, refuse to heal the wounded, and abandon the lost. As a result, the sheep scatter, easy prey for wolves and lions (Ezekiel 34:1–6). God promises to rescue the sheep and "set up over them one shepherd, [his] servant David, and he shall feed them" (Ezekiel 34:23). This "David" is Jesus. The disciples are the fellow workers Jesus delegates to feed His sheep (1 Corinthians 3:9; John 21:15–17).
Verse Context:
Luke 12:41–48 records Peter asking if Jesus' exhortation to serve Him with integrity when He leaves applies to the whole jostling crowd (Luke 12:1) or just to Jesus' disciples. Jesus replies that the disciples will be held to even higher standards. They are the servants He places in authority over His followers—other servants. If the disciples abuse these other servants, they will be punished. Matthew 24:45–51 covers the same parable but probably at a different time.
Chapter Summary:
Jesus teaches the disciples about proper priorities. This includes recognizing that God knows all things, even secrets. Believers should honor God more than they fear death, or than they worry about things like food and clothes. Christians are to remain ready for Christ's return, even as faith separates those who believe from those who do not. These ideas revolve around the central theme of verse 34: that a person's heart reflects what they value most.
Chapter Context:
Luke 12:1—13:9 compares the world with the kingdom of God. Jesus has condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Luke 11:14–54). He now instructs His disciples to reject the fame and security that Pharisees crave, and hold lightly to their lives, wealth, security, and even family. He then warns the crowd to be wise about their relationships with other people and with God. The next two units each include a miracle and teaching on God's kingdom and salvation (Luke 13:10—15:32). Then the final section in the "travelogue" repeats that three-unit pattern (Luke 16:1—19:27) before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem.
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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