The parable of the absent householder or the waiting servants is a short parable in Mark 13. This parable comes at the end of a teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem. The context in which this parable lies is imperative to understanding its original meaning and intent. Let’s dig in to discover this parable.
In Mark 13, Jesus is giving answers to two questions the disciples had asked Jesus. Jesus had told them that not one stone of the temple would be left standing. In other words, the temple would be overthrown and destroyed. The disciples then asked Jesus two natural and important questions, “when will it happen and what will be the sign that it is about to happen?”. The disciples want to know when the temple will be destroyed and how they will know it is truly happening. Jesus then spends the rest of the chapter explaining to them the signs that the temple will be destroyed. In verses 32 and 33, Jesus also answers the question of “when”. His answer, “no one knows” (Mark 13:32). Jesus comes right out and tells them that He does not know, the angels don’t know, but only the Father knows. Because of this fact, Jesus tells them to “watch!” and be ready for that day because it will come when they least expect it. Therefore, Jesus gives them a little parable to explain what this is like.
Mark 13:34-37 contains the parable. It says:
“It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’””
Jesus says it is like a man who goes away and puts his servants in charge. The one at the door needs to keep watch because the owner would not want to come back all of a sudden and find the servants sleeping. They need to be ready when he comes back instead of sleeping which would mean they are not ready for his return.
For the historical context of this parable and it’s meaning, we need to look no further than the leaders of Israel. If we think of Israel as God’s house, (which was where the temple was which Jesus had just finished speaking about) and the leaders of Israel as the servants, we have a good picture of what’s going on here. Jesus has been announcing his arrival and kingdom and the leaders of Israel have rejected him. The owner has come back, and he has found his servants sleeping. They were not ready for his arrival and they were taken back when he did arrive at a time they did not expect. The leaders of Israel have failed at their duty. They were supposed to be keeping watch, awaiting for the owner to come back but instead, the owner came and they were sleeping.
The significance this parable has for us today can be taken different ways but the command that Jesus gives is beneficial to all. Jesus says to “Watch!”. Although Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple within the parameters of this parable, it can still be applied to us today. We can still watch for Jesus’ arrival and His second coming. Christ is coming a second time (John 14:3, Hebrews 9:28, 2 Thessalonians 2) and we should be ready and awaiting Him when He does come. Christ will return, but will he find us ready or not?