Short Shot– The Absent Master Motif
Both the OT and the New tell the story of the .“Absent Master.” In the Tanakh, YHVH “left”, i.e. “Departed” from Israel, the ten northern tribes, when they apostatized and violated Torah:
For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, And like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away, and no one shall rescue. I will return again to My place Till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. (Hosea 5:14-15).
I think it is very clear that the “departure” and the “return” were not literal, visible, bodily departures and returns. Of course, what is so highly significant about this fact is that Hosea 6 and the promise there of the return, also contains the prophecy of the resurrection! So, if the departure and return were not literal, visible, physical events, is this not suggestive that the resurrection– which of course was signified by the literal, visible, physical resurrection of Jesus, was to likewise be of the same nature as the departure? In other words, the physical reality of Christ’s resurrection pointed to and signified the coming spiritual resurrection, the return of the Lord.
For the purpose of this “Short Shot,” I want to focus Matthew 25:14f and Matthew 21:33f, both of which posit The Absent Master Motif. Let’s look at Matthew 25:14-19 first:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
Notice the elements of the parable:
☛ The man travels to a “far country.”
☛ Before departing he bestows responsibility on his servants, by giving them “talents” to control.
☛ After “a long time” the man comes / returns (from erchoma– the Greek word elthe is a cognate. Hang onto that).
☛ The man demands a reckoning / judgment of what the servants did with the responsibilities given to them.
Sidebar: Futurists, including Amillennialists and Postmillennialists, insist that the return of the man in Matthew 25:14f must be referent to sometime, 2000 years beyond the time of Jesus. That is eisegesis examplified! There is not a hint in the text of such a “long time.” But when you have a presuppositional eschatology to hang onto, you have to make this kind of unsubstantiated claim. The man clearly returned in the same generation of the servants to whom he gave the talents, not 40 or 50, or 60 or ???? generations later!
Let me just say at this juncture, as a lead in to Matthew 21:33f, that if it can be demonstrated that Matthew 25:14f is not a prediction of a yet future coming of the Lord at the end of the current Christian age, then two things (at least) follow from that:
A. The Olivet Discourse is not a discussion of two comings of the Lord, i.e. in AD 70, and then the “end of time.”
B. If Matthew 25:14f anticipated the Lord’s coming in AD 70, then the rest of the NT eschatology is likewise focused on that event of AD 70, and that means that unless one can produce the proof that although Matthew 25:14f is in fact AD 70, but that there are other NT prophecies that DO predict the end of time. Now, theoretically, that is possible, but we have a right to demand powerful evidence and proof for such a claim.
And now, Matthew 21:33-43:
Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.
Look now at the consituent elements of this parable:
✦ The Master / Owner of the Vineyard “went into a far country” after preparing the Vineyard.
✦ He bestowed the responsibility of the Vineyard to the Vinedressers.
✦ After the preparation and planting: “Now when vintage-time drew near”- he sent his servants to gather the harvest.
✦ The servants were beaten.
✦ The Master sends his son in hopes that the vinedressers will honor him.
✦ Instead of honoring the Son, they kill him.
✦ Jesus asked the audience: “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, (this is elthe, the cognate of erchomai- from chapter 25)- “what will he do to those vinedressers?”
✦ The workers speak their own judgment: “They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
✦ The crowd recognized: “The chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.”
Indisputably, this parable foretold the coming AD 70 judgment on those who killed the prophets and who were about to kill Jesus. There is literally not a jot or tittle to suggest an application beyond that.
So, just like Matthew 25, we have:
✔ The Master who goes “into a far country.”
✔ He bestows responsibility on his servants.
✔ He returns to judge / reckon them according to their deeds.
The reader needs to realize that few– very few– commentators deny that in Matthew 21 Jesus was speaking of the coming judgment of Jerusalem, in vindication of the death of the prophets and Jesus. In fact, how anyone could claim to be doing serious exegesis– honoring the text– and deny this is, quite frankly, beyond me. Those religious leaders knew that Jesus was talking about THEM. Not some distant “future generation of chief priests and Pharisees.” No, they realized that Jesus was speaking of THEM. How much clearer could language be?
Attempts are made to avoid the direct parallelism between Matthew 21 and chapter 25, by noting that in the two chapters, we have different constituent elements, and some missing tenets. For instance, Matthew 21 speaks of the persecution of the saints, the death of the Son, and the Lord’s coming in vindication of that suffering. Of course, Matthew 25:14f says not a word about any of this. But does the fact that, these two texts focus on different aspects of the Lord’s coming demand that the two texts are speaking of two separate, distinct, disparate events separate in time of, so far, 2000 years? What is the hermeneutical justification for that claim?
The claim that missing words or different words in given contexts demands a change of subject and a different time is specious in the extreme, and those who make the claim do not- in truth – hold to that hermeneutic! Let me illustrate.
Acts 1:9f says not a word about Christ coming with the shout of the Arch Angel, the blowing of the Trumpet, the end of the age, the destruction of “heaven and earth,” the judgment of “the living and the dead, the resurrection of the dead, etc.. Not one word! But of course, other passages do speak of those things, e.g. 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4, 2 Peter 3, Revelation 21. Do commentators argue that since these words, terms and phrases are not found in Acts 1 but that they are found in these other texts, that this means that Acts 1 refers to a different coming of the Lord from that in these other texts? Absolutely not!
Note: in my formal public debate with Joel McDurmon in 2012, McDurmon made this “missing word / different word” argument. When I presented a chart, based on the previous paragraph immediately above, McDurmon went silent on the issue of different words / missing words! You can read that discussion in a book of that debate, or download the audio / video at a reduced price here.
The question is therefore, if missing words, different words, from text to text, in regard to Acts 1 and these other passages does not demand a change of subject, different times and events, where is the justification for claiming that since Matthew 21 and Matthew 25 contain different elements, that they must speak of different– radically different– times and events?
Thus, unless one can demonstrate, irrefutably, that Matthew 25:14f must speak of a radically different time and event from Matthew 21:33f this proves several things:
➔ It proves that the coming of the Lord of Matthew 25 was the Lord’s coming in AD 70– just like Matthew 21.
➔ This being true, it destroys, totally falsifies, the idea that the Olivet Discourse is divided into a discussion of two different comings of the Lord.
➔ Since Matthew 25 = Matthew 21 and thus, likewise = Matthew 24:29f, that means that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which is directly parallel, point by point, with Matthew 24:29f is also referent to the AD 70 coming of the Lord.
The fact that Matthew 25:14f is directly parallel with Matthew 21:33 is therefore, a fatal comparison that effectively refutes all futurist eschatologies.
For an in-depth analysis of the comparison between Matthew 24:29f with 1 Thessalonians 4, see my book, We Shall Meet Him In the Air: The Wedding of the King of kings.
In addition, I produced a series of YouTube videos on the subject of the Absent Master Motif. Here is a link to the video on Matthew 25 and Matthew 21. Be sure to watch!