In Luke 12:37 Jesus’ disciples were told to watch (G1127), and in his first epistle Peter uses this same Greek word, calling upon believers to be vigilant (1Peter 5:8), because their adversary was roaming about, seeking whom he might swallow up (destroy). Jesus used the word in the context of being prepared and letting one’s light shine (Luke 12:35), and he mentioned the second and third watches of the night to point to the times when the guard was most apt to fall asleep. In the context of the first century this was from about 9 PM to midnight (2nd watch) and midnight to 3 AM ( 3rd watch).
In the context of setting a watch or a guard, Jesus likened his coming to the arrival of thief. Just as the thief doesn’t announce his coming, neither would it be known when Jesus would arrive for his bride. Therefore, the disciples must be ready at all times, doing what he has told them to do (cf. Luke 12:35).
It was at this time that Peter asked Jesus if his command to watch was meant just for Jesus’ disciples only, or was it also meant for the people in whose hearing Jesus’ teaching was given also (Luke 12:41). Jesus replied to Peter’s question with a question of his own (Luke 12:42), and Jesus’ question implies that his teaching is meant specifically for those placed in authority over the people. Notice that Jesus holds up the faithful servant for our consideration. It is he, whom Jesus will place in authority over his entire household. Consider what Jesus expects to see when he arrives. He expects to find his servant, whom he shall give great authority, already doing what Jesus intends to formally give him as his reward (Luke 12:43-44)!
On the other hand, Jesus also mentions servants who beat their brethren, because, believing the Messiah has delayed his coming, they take advantage of what they believe and use it for their own advantage (Luke 12:45-46). Nevertheless, Jesus says he will come to them when they are not aware and cut them off. When they don’t look for him to come, Jesus will come and give them their reward with the unbelievers.
It seems these servants are believers, but they are also folks who haven’t heeded Jesus’ command to “beware of… hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1), and were overly fearful of powerful men (Luke 12:4), which cannot end but in a poor confession of Christ in one’s life (Luke 12:8-9). Moreover, such servants were carnal and were greedy to have their needs met at once (Luke 12:15), and couldn’t bring themselves to trust God beyond their own ability to provide for themselves (Luke 12:28). Their hearts were on the treasures of this world rather than on the treasures of the Kingdom of God (Luke 12:30-31, 34).
Therefore, these servants have no concept of the patience of God (Luke 12:45), so they go about to please themselves at the expense of being compassionate toward their brethren. In doing so, they don’t look for the return of their Lord, and, in reality, their behavior cuts them off from their brethren, as they imitate worldly authority rather than that of Christ. When Christ comes, just as he has done with the faithful servant (Luke 12:43-44), he merely formalizes what unfaithful servants have already done to themselves (Luke 12:46).
Jesus tells us that the unfaithful servants will be treated fairly, because even among them there are degrees of culpability (Luke 12:47-48). Some know exactly what they are doing, so they will be punished accordingly. Nevertheless, some unfaithful servants will act with a degree of ignorance, no doubt placing their trust in admired leaders and doing as they do. Yet, knowing right from wrong isn’t so hidden that they shouldn’t have had second thoughts. There must be an element of recognition that their behavior goes beyond what Jesus has commanded. Therefore, they are guilty, but not as guilty as their brethren who knew beyond any doubt they were doing wrong. Therefore, these will be punished, but not to the degree the others would be. Both, however, have their portion (reward) among unbelievers. In other words, their sin (hypocrisy – Luke 12:1) will be exposed and unbelievers will be able to recognize their unfaithfulness to Jesus.