The "Little Flock" and the "Faithful Steward" Ė Who are They?

We have before us the Nazareneís encouragement at Luke 12:32, "Fear not, little flock, because the Father thought well enough of you to give you the Kingdom." Who, or what, is this "little flock"? Some would view it as the whole Church, the entire Body of Christ, or the total number of those finally saved into the heavenly Kingdom. So, we ask, who is this "little flock" according to the context of Luke 12:32?

The Context

The context for Luke 12:32 begins with the first verse of this chapter. Verse 1 describes the Nazarene about ready to speak to a crowd of thousands. However, the end of verse 1 makes it clear Jesus first directs his words to "his disciples," most likely the twelve apostles. For verse 4 has Jesus addressing them as "my friends." The Greek language includes numerous cases of the plural YOU as well as inferring the plural in many of the verbs. Is it fair to state that it seems, beginning with verse 1, and noting the many occurrences of the plural, that the Nazarene is speaking precisely to the apostles and not to the whole crowd of thousands?

This particular context continues until the break at verse 13 where Jesus appears interrupted by a certain man in the crowd. First, verse 14 has Jesus addressing this one man. Then, verse 15 has Jesus addressing "them" into verse 16. Who are "them"? It may be the entire audience of thousands for verse 22 has the Nazarene directing the words that follow to "his disciples." Is it fair to state that the immediate context of verse 32 is found to be precisely directed to "his disciples," that is, "his friends" or the apostles? At John 15:15 Jesus makes it clear to "his disciples" that they are his "friends." The Nazarene does not address the crowd of thousands in this manner.

Therefore, the context of verse 32 with its "little flock" is found between verses 22 and 40 before Peter himself asks the question: "Lord, are you saying this parable to us or to all?" Who would we understand the "us" to be? Would it not be the same as "his disciples" or "friends"? And, the "all," who would that be but the crowd of thousands? Later, verse 54 has the Nazarene turning his attention back to "all" or the whole crowd. Can there be any argument that "the little flock" is an affectionate diminutive for the small circle of his friends, much like saying, "my little group"? Upon careful reading does it seem obvious that the "little flock" is limited to that small circle of the Nazareneís apostolic disciples, the Twelve?

Little Flock, Fear not, What?

In the exact context of verse 32, Jesus had been teaching his apostles about being overly concerned regarding material necessities and the need to seek the Kingdom first. The subject is fear of insecurity about material things. In this regard, the Nazarene continues, after telling his apostles not to be fearful, "Sell your belongings and give charitable gifts" to the poor." (Verse 33) That would take great courage, indeed.

[NOTE: "Poor" would be inferred by the Nazareneís teachings elsewhere. See Luke 18:18-30. The New Jerusalem Bible has a footnote (d) on verse 33: "That riches are a danger and should be given away in alms is characteristic teaching of Luke 3:11; Luke 6:30; Luke 7:5; Luke 11:41; Luke 12:33, 34; Luke 14:13; Luke 16:9; Luke 18:22; Luke 19:8; Acts 9:36; Acts 10:2, 4, 31.]

Consequently, what other conclusion can one draw but that "the little flock," the apostles, was under direct commandment by the Nazarene to divest themselves of their belongings and to give the value of them to the poor? Whoever this "little flock" be it would have t disown all belongings and then give any cash value to the needy. This is consistent with Jesusí teaching elsewhere. It is also exactly what the apostles and early Christian disciples do as recorded in the first six chapters of the Book of Acts. (see Acts 1:12, 13; Acts 2:42-46; Acts 4:34-36; Acts 5:1-11; Acts 6:1-6) Paul himself declares this is the condition of the apostles some years later: "Down to this very hour we [apostles] continue to hunger and also to thirst and to be scantily clothed ... and to be homeless." (1 Corinthians 4:11)

There are modern religious organizations who lay exclusive claim to this designation "little flock." And yet their operating corporations own considerable real estate, high rise buildings, and many millions in possessions. Will Durant in writing about John Wyclif reports: "Now it is clear from Scripture that Christ intended His Apostles, their successors, and their ordained delegates to have no property. An church or priest that owns property is violating the Lordís commandment, is therefore in a state of sin, and consequently cannot validly administer the sacraments. The reform most needed in Church and clergy is their complete renunciation of worldly goods. ... Ideally everything should be held by the righteous in common. ... (Wyclif) denounced the friars for preaching poverty and accumulating collective wealth. ... The friars and monks should return to the full observance of their rules, avoiding all property or luxury. ... They should content themselves with food and clothing, and live on freely given alms." (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 6, The Reformation, pages 31-35)

The Faithful Steward?

The subject of the "little flock" raises a question about what Jesus goes on to describe as a "faithful steward." (Luke 12:42) After addressing the "little flock" of his twelve apostles, the Nazarene continues speaking to these disciples with the counsel to be like "slaves" waiting for the Masterís return (or, Parousia). (Luke 12:37) Note this is plural, "slaves," and not singular. Following this comes Peterís question about whether this warning is directed to just the disciples or to the whole crowd of thousands.

Consistent with what went before, the Nazarene asks a rhetorical question, not answering Peter directly. Jesus asks, "Who, really, is the faithful steward whom the Master appoints over his household attendants to give them their measure of grain at the appointed time?" (Luke 12:42) First, would we understand this as an injunction to what Peter calls the "all" of the thousands gathered? It does not appear likely. Would it be more appropriate to assume this Nazarene question is directed more toward the "us" of Peterís question? If this be the case, then the "faithful steward" would be those "disciples" or apostles, that "little flock" of the Nazareneís "friends," the Twelve.

Some time later in the Gospel account Jesus repeats this question in a different format with the context of the sign of his Parousia or Presence. (Matthew 24:45) The understanding of who "the faithful and discreet slave" really is would be explained more thoroughly in he early use of the same parable. (Luke 12:35-48)

That the apostles are "the faithful steward" is the same conclusion reached by the New Jerusalem Bible in footnote (f) on this subject: "A steward with authority over other servants; Jesus, therefore, is speaking of the apostles (the "us" of Peterís question)."

The subject here is the "faithful stewardís" feeding of the Masterís attendants with "grain" at the appropriate season. Interestingly, just as we behold the apostles selling all and giving to the needy, we find this same group, or "little flock," in charge of the literal food supplies in Acts chapters 2 through 6. So, quite literally, the "little flock" of Jesusí apostles obey his instructions to "feed" the Masterís other attendants.

Some have interpreted this "feeding" to be of a spiritual kind, and as pleasant as this idea is, there is nothing in the parable which indicates such a spiritual feeding. Also, the actual fulfillment shown in the Acts of the Apostles would demonstrate a quite literal reaction to Jesusí instructions.

The Therapeutae

There is an interesting historical note concerning these "attendants" of Jesusí parable. The Greek of Luke 12:42 for the word "body of attendants" is therapeias, or literally "therapists [curing staff]." In the first century the Jewish philosopher Philo of Judea wrote in his work The Contemplative Life an account about a Christian commune of ascetics in Alexandria, North Africa. Eusebeias of the Third Century reports on these observations: "Then (Philo) says that they are called Therapeutae and their women Therapeutrides, and goes on to explain this title. It was conferred either because like doctors they rid the souls of those who come to them from moral sickness and so cure and heal them, or in view of their pure and single service and worship of God. Whether (Philo) invented the designation and applied it to them, fitting a suitable name their mode of life, or whether there were actually called this from the very start, because the title Christian was not yet in general use, need not be discussed now.

"This much is certain. he lays special emphasis on their renunciation of property, saying that when they embark on the philosophic life they hand over their possessions to their relations, then, having renounced all worldly interest, they go outside the walls and make their homes on lonely farms and plantations well aware that association with men of different ideas is unprofitable and harmful. That, apparently, was the practice of the Christians of that time, who with eager and ardent faith disciplined themselves to emulate the prophetic way of life. Similarly, in the canonical Acts of the Apostles it is stated that all the disciples of the apostles sold their possessions and belongings and shared them out among the others in accordance with individual needs, so that no one was in want among them. ... The best men in each region set out as colonists for a highly suitable spot, regarding it as the homeland of the Therapeutae." (For more details see The History of the Church by Eusebeias, pages 89-93)

Individual Application

Since the Nazareneís question is rhetorical, it is also possible that the answer to Jesusí question is to be found in any individual Christian who beholds the physical need of a fellow member of the Household of Faith and thus responding in a manner similar to Barnabas in Acts 4:36, 37. Thus, Barnabas, and others like him, would be the answer to the Nazareneís question. Such a person would, in fact, really be "a faithful and wise steward" found feeding his fellows. This would be in complete harmony with that physical caring demonstrated in the parable of the sheep and goats of Matthew 25:31-46.

Any Nazarene Saints interested in being identified as a "sheep" ought to spend long moments meditating on that positive action taken by the true sheep in Jesusí parable. Note also, that the "goats" are so for their failure to act, not evil deeds. (James 1:26, 27; 4:17)

It would appear that the "little flock" is limited to those early twelve apostles of the Nazarene. This tiny group of Jesusí friends also acted as a composite "faithful and wise steward" over the Masterís household staff of "attendants." The whole body of attendants, or Christian saints, is not the "faithful and discreet slave" as a group. In the first century case, this appears limited to that "little flock" of the Nazareneís apostles. No where in the Christian Bible is the word "steward" or "slave" used of the composite Body of Christ as a whole. Paul does apply the word personally to himself as an individual at 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2.

Any later Christian persons who would turn out to be faithful slaves alert to the Masterís return would have to demonstrate this by feeding, literally and spiritually, their fellows as the "attendants" of Christ. This spiritual feeding would nourish that "one hope" which belongs to the Gospel. (Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:23)

All of this, the literal contextual view of Luke 12:32 with its "little flock" and Luke 12:42 with its "faithful steward" as manifest in the body of the Apostles, would not rule out holding the view that Jesusí teaching would also apply to individual Christians. Each Christian Saint would be under change to guard against undue material concerns, exercise loving care for the needy, and remain alert for the Masterís return. Throughout the ages millions of Christian disciples of the Nazarene have remained awake and alert to the Masterís Return. They as well proved themselves to be "faithful stewards" looking after the material and spiritual needs of their fellow Nazarene Saints.

The most important question is that posed by the Nazarene: "When the Son of Man arrives in is glory will he really find The Faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8) The whole intent of Jesusí parables of the "slaves" and "faithful steward" in Luke 12:35-48 is to: a) remain ready and alert for the Masterís Parousia; and, b) show loving care for Christian associates. The emphasis here is on those Nazarene Saints alert and alive at the precise moment when the Master returns. These particular "faithful slaves" would turn out to be the same as "we the living" in Paulís description at 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.

May it be your happy lot to be among those "slaves" still alert for the Master and giving loving care to Household associates when the Master does indeed return in his foretold Parousia to rapture home to himself the Nazarene Saints.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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