Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 30th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 25

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Verses 1-13


Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For the foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there is a cry, Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are going out. But the wise answered, saying, Peradventure there will not be enough for us and you: go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour.

This is plainly a parable of the second coming and of the judgment, thus emphasizing the presence of that theme in Matthew 24.


The kingdom of heaven = the church

The bridegroom = Christ

The midnight arrival = the second advent

The virgins = church members

The wise virgins = the prepared

The foolish virgins = the unprepared

The lamps = (a) faith or (b) works

The oil = (a) works or (b) the Spirit

The sleep of the virgins = the sleep of death

Tarrying of the bridegroom = delay of the second coming

The midnight cry = the call to judgment

Refusal to give oil = merit not transferrable

Exclusion of the foolish = rejection of unprepared

The shut door = impossibility of the last minute

This parable pertains to members of the body of Christ; and, although an oriental wedding is made the vehicle for the conveyance of a vital truth relative to church members and their kingdom duties, it will be observed that the bride in this instance is not mentioned, and does not represent the church in this parable. It is the bridesmaids who appear in this analogy as Christians, and their going forth to meet the bridegroom represents the going forth of Christians to meet the Lord eternally.

The number ten (10) and their equal division as to wise and foolish appear to be inert factors in the parable. The same is true for part of the conversation between the wise and foolish. Thus, the suggestion of the wise that the foolish go and buy for themselves does not imply any opportunity for preparation after the summons for judgment.

The parable is practical, the tragic story of the ready and the unready. It applies to all present-day Christians. The kingdom of heaven is the church, aptly set forth in the analogy as a company of precious bridesmaids. The great shock, therefore, is to realize that some, even of these, shall be summarily excluded from association with the bridegroom. The parable is designed to shock men into realization that a host of good, clean, moral, respectable members of the church will be lost. Through sheer negligence, many of the redeemed shall fail to enter in. The foolish virgins are the Lord’s own example of saved persons who at last failed to make the port of everlasting life. This warns against idleness and neglect, but it should not discourage. Those foolish virgins did not provide oil, but they could have done so. What was required of them was nothing extraordinary or especially difficult, but it did require concern and attention which they failed to give.

And five were foolish … A favorite term in Scripture for the unsaved is precisely this, "foolish." It is the "fool" who says in his heart there is no God (Psalms 14:1). The man who built on sand is described not as vicious but as "foolish" (Matthew 7:26). The rich man who mistook his body for his soul was denominated by the Lord, "thou fool!" (Luke 12:20). Those unfortunate bridesmaids of this parable were in no sense reprobate or immoral, but "foolish." One sees their counterpart on every hand in those persons with exquisite tastes, cultural excellence, and social acceptability; but they have no oil in their lamps. They are spiritually bankrupt.

They all slumbered and slept … The sleep in this parable must be identified with the sleep of death, because: (1) it ended only when the midnight cry heralded the second advent, symbolized by the coming of the bridegroom, and (2) because both the unready and the ready entered it. Death must come alike to all, the ready and the unready, except, of course, for those relatively few who shall remain alive at the coming of the Lord.

While the bridegroom tarried … This referred to the long delay prior to the second coming of Christ. It has been vigorously alleged that the early Christians thought the coming of the Lord would surely take place within their life span, and certainly some of them did believe that; but the teachings of Christ afford abundant proof that Jesus taught otherwise. Again and again, Jesus left witness that a very long period would elapse before his return (Matthew 24:48; Matthew 25:19). Observations of Richard C. Trench in this context are helpful. He said:

We may number this among the many hints given by our Lord that the time of his return might possibly be delayed very far beyond the expectation of some of his disciples. It was a hint and no more. Had more been given, had he plainly said that he would not come for many centuries, then the first ages of the church would have been placed at a manifest disadvantage, being deprived of that powerful motive to holiness and diligence supplied to each generation of the faithful by the possibility of his return in their time. It is not that he desires each succeeding generation to believe that in their day he will certainly return; for he cannot desire our faith and our practice to be founded on a misapprehension … But it is a necessary element of the doctrine of the second coming of Christ, that it should be possible at any time, that no generation should consider it improbable in theirs.Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Parables (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953), p. 256.

The wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps … In the list of analogies above, two interpretations for the oil and the lamps were noted. Again, from Trench:

Here again we meet with a controversy between the Romanists and the early Reformers … The Reformers asserted that what these virgins lacked was the living principle of faith … The Romanist reversed the whole; for him, what they had was faith, but faith which, not having works, was "dead, being alone" (James 2:17).Ibid., p. 252.

Rather than choosing sides in an old controversy, we take the view that there is no relative evaluation of lamps vs. oil, or oil vs. lamps, intended in this parable. BOTH OIL AND LAMPS were vital and necessary. There is not the slightest suggestion that if the foolish virgins had brought plenty of oil and NO LAMPS, they would have been admitted. Therefore, to take a position with reference to the superiority of either oil or lamps would be only to obscure the fact that both were required. For this reason, it makes no difference whether the lamps are viewed as faith without works, or works without the Spirit of God, or whether the oil is made to be the Holy Spirit without which a person is "none of his" (Romans 8:9), or that living faith without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The overwhelming message of the parable turns on preparation or the lack of it. The oil happened to be the necessity which the foolish virgins failed to supply; but their failure would have been no less fatal to their purpose if they had failed to supply lamps.

We have already noted that the conversation between the wise and foolish at the moment of the bridegroom’s appearance forms a somewhat inert portion of the parable, inserted not to teach the possibility of last-minute preparation, but to emphasize the utter impossibility of it. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s criticism of the wise virgins for not sharing their oil with the foolish sprang from a profound blindness to spiritual reality. Alfred Plummer noted that:

It is impossible for one person to impart to another the spiritual power which comes from frequent communion with God’s spirit. That can come only from man’s own experience of such communion, an experience which requires much time. "Give us of your oil" is a request which no religious person can grant. The refusal of the wise virgins to give of their oil indicates, not want of will, but want of power.Alfred Plummer, Commentary on Matthew (London: Elliot Stock, 1909), p. 344.

The Romish doctrine of the works of supererogation to the effect that the good deeds done by saints in excess of the requirements of divine law provide a bank of merit or stored-up credit, available, upon terms prescribed by the church, to help supply the lack of sinful souls - this doctrine is dealt a fatal blow by this parable of Jesus. One can be sure that there are no banks of stored-up merit to which the unprepared may have recourse at the last moment. Heaven will be a prepared place for a prepared people; and failure to prepare will mean failure to enter.

And the door was shut … This is a warning to the good, the morally upright, the respectable, and the cultured church member, a warning thundered from the gates of heaven, "There must be oil in your lamp." Do not be deceived by the cliche of Satan to the effect that "works cannot save." Preparation can save, and works are invariably involved in preparation. One shudders to think of some who may be trusting to be saved by "faith alone," as outlined in many of the current creeds, or expecting the stored-up merit of some ancient "saint" to save them. Equally futile are the hopes of those who may rely upon the goodness of their parents, the merits of their families, or the works of their religious group to save them. Is there enough oil in your lamp? Arouse, ye sleepers, and provide oil for your lamps before life’s little day is spent. Oil you must have, not merely enough to light, but enough to burn and last. An apostle said, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). The unwise virgins simply did not do it, and millions today are in the same condition. They are members of the company called to meet the Bridegroom; they even have lamps, and a little oil, but not enough. Not enough! What awful words are those! This parable is a trumpet call and war cry for men to bestir themselves. "Go and buy for yourselves!" This is the only proper advice; but do it now. The foolish virgins waited, waited until the sun declined, and twilight came, and darkness fell, until their eyes were closed in the sleep of death; and in that wretched state of unpreparedness, the midnight cry overtook them. Then it was too late; may it not be so for us!

Watch, therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour … This was Jesus’ own conclusion from the parable; it should also be ours. The meaning of "watch" is not restricted to staying awake but includes thoroughness of preparation, an alertness that takes account of unseen contingencies, and a conscious readiness AT ALL TIMES to respond to the divine summons. The wise virgins slept with the foolish ones, as indeed all shall sleep in death; thus, "to watch" enjoins the proper employment of all those golden hours that precede the inevitable onset of that night in which no man can work.


The following analogies will readily be seen in this parable:

The man going into another country = Christ the Lord

The other country = heaven where Christ is

The servants = Christ’s disciples

Distribution of talents = endowment of gifts

The return of the man = the second advent

The accounting required = the judgment

Profit reported = improvement of gifts

The buried talent = sloth and an evil heart

The joy of the Lord = felicity in heaven

The outer darkness = punishment of wicked

Faithful servants = faithful Christians

The unfaithful servant = unfaithful Christians

Verse 14

For it is as when a man, going into another country, calleth his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

Christ has entered into that upper and better country, but he has delivered unto each one of his disciples certain talents and abilities, along with responsibility for the due exercise of them. The proper ownership of all things is the Lord’s, since both the servants and the goods they received were his. A glance at John 14:1-3 and Hebrews 9:23-28 will show that Christ has gone into "another country."

Verse 15

And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability; and he went on his journey.

The true standard for distribution of wealth is not, as expressed by the Marxist view, "to each according to his need," but rather to each "according to his ability." The reason lies in the fact that without ability, even that which a man receives shall be wasted, neglected, or diminished, and in the law of economic progress there can never be, in the final analysis, any substitute for ability.

How lavish are God’s gifts. None came empty-handed from him. God places in every man’s hands the necessary instruments for God’s service and endows him with abundant means of service to his Creator. The diversity of gifts is meaningful. No two were alike. Each was uniquely different. It is true of every man born into the world. Every individual is the handiwork of the Eternal with gifts unlike those of any other. One may have less, one more, another least, another most; but every person made in the image of God is the possessor of a unique endowment.

The distribution was fair and equitable and was made upon the basis of the varying abilities of the recipient. To have made them all equal recipients would have been a gross injustice. Five talents would have been an intolerable burden to the man with one-talent ability, and the five-talent man would not have been challenged by a gift of only one. Diversity is seen not merely in the various gifts but also in the peculiar temptation to which each was susceptible. One may rest assured that God’s mercy and wisdom provided with each man’s distribution of gifts that personal endowment with which he may be most likely, and with least danger, to enter into life eternal. We hold this to be true of him of one talent no less than with him of five; and we may conclude that the man of one talent would have been inclined more to sloth had he been given five than was the case with one.

Verses 16-19

Straightway he that received the five talents went and traded with them, and made other five talents. In like manner he also that received the two gained other two. But he that received the one went away and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. Now after a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them.

A remarkable difference in this and the parable of the virgins is seen in the fact that, whereas they WAITED for the Lord’s appearing, these servants were EMPLOYED until his return. In the first case, the inner spiritual life of a Christian is represented, and in this their outward activity. There is, to be sure, an element of both in the life of every child of God. It is explicit in the case of the servants who received talents that God expects his servants to employ themselves in the advancement of his work, in the improvement of their several gifts, and in the exploitation of every possible opportunity.

The case of the servant with the buried talent is understood when it is remembered that he was a bondservant, under full obligation to seek and improve his lord’s interest. Although no command was mentioned in the parable, his obligation was inherent in his status as a slave; and there can be no doubt that he was fully aware of it.

Again, in Matthew 25:19, is another strong hint of the delay of the Lord’s coming. See under Matthew 25:5. The word "reckoning" is written over against every thought, word, and deed indulged by the Lord’s disciples. It should be noted that this parable is primarily one regarding the Lord’s servants, and not of all men; although, of course, this does not exclude the accounting that shall at last be given by non-servants as well.

Verses 20-21

And he that received the five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: lo, I have gained other five talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

It is of vast significance that the "reckoning" with the servants was upon an individual basis and that no group appraisal of their efforts was allowed. This is at strong variance with the habits of men who love to judge themselves and assess their success or failure on the basis of group achievements. In the case of the three servants here, if their lord had followed the plan in vogue today, they might well have presented themselves in a group, saying, "Look, you left us in charge of eight talents, and we have increased them by 87 1/2 percent!" It appears that men will not be judged on the basis of general success of some group or congregation of which they may be a part, but upon the basis of their individual fidelity.

The five-talent man was applauded and approved, not because he had gained five other talents, but upon the basis of his faithfulness. Significantly, the two-talent man received the identical commendation, indicating that it is not the amount of one’s achievement that is vital, but the quality of it. In the faith of Christ, it is true that,

When the one great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He writes not if you won or lost,
But how you played the game.
- Anonymous

J. W. McGarvey noted that:

In this part of the parable, there is a transition to the language of the Lord from heaven when bestowing the eternal benediction; for the words, "Enter into the joy of thy Lord," are not those of an earthly master when rewarding his servants.J. W. McGarvey, Commentary (Delight, Arkansas: The Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1875), p. 218.

Verses 22-23

And he also that received the two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: lo, I have gained other two talents. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

What are the "many things" over which the Lord will set his faithful ones at the second coming? We cannot know. Paul said:

Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not
And which entered not into the heart of man,
Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him.
- 1 Corinthians 2:9.

Verses 24-25

And he also that had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou did not scatter; and I was afraid, and went away and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, thou hast thine own.

The failure of the one-talent man is the burden of the parable. It should not be supposed, however, that failure is invariably associated with one-talent individuals. True, in the case before us, it was the least able of the group that failed; but had the causes of his failure been in any of the others, they too would have failed. His failure was not in the size of his gift but in his failure to use it. History records many tragic failures of the gifted; and failure is always sad when it comes to the high and mighty, and just as sad when it comes to the poor and lowly. God condemns failure in the realm of things spiritual. There is no excuse for failure in those eternal exercises of the soul in communion with God. The reception of but a single talent was no license for failure. No man will be excused merely on the basis that he does not have much ability, or that his gifts are less than the gifts of others. The least able of God’s servants, no less than the most able, must do their best to be approved.

Since this man’s failure is the great point of the parable, we shall particularly note the ingredients of it and mark the antecedent attitudes that caused it.

First, he failed in his attitude toward God. He had none of that attitude of Abraham who said, "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). All around us are people who have a low opinion of God. That in itself is damnation. H. Leo Boles noted that:

We attribute to others what we find in ourselves. Very few people excuse their own sin without blaming God or someone else for it. He (the one-talent man) gave back all that he had received; he had done no harm, but he had done no good with that which was entrusted to him. He had been in possession of his master’s money for a long time; if he had been a free man, he would have owed interest on it; but he had been too slothful to use the talent to any gain for his master. His master had really lost by the indolence of his servant.H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Matthew (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Publishing Company, 1936), p. 483.

Chappell remarked that this unfaithful servant did not believe that his lord would give him a square deal.

He thought that his close-fisted lord was going to require as much of him with his one talent as he did of those who had two or five. And there are those who think thus meanly of God. They virtually tell him frankly and to his face that his demands are greater than they are able to meet. Milton once had to fight this temptation. He wondered after he had lost his sight if God was going to expect as much of him as if he could see. "Doth God exact day labour, light denied?" he asked. But he refused to think thus meanly of God. He reached the wise conclusion that God is not going to judge us by the way we use what we do not possess, but by the use we make of the gifts that are actually our own.Clovis G. Chappell, Sermons from the Parables (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1933), p. 215.

Certainly, the low opinion the one-talent servant had of his lord was a vital factor in his failure.

Another cause was his sloth. Plain indolence and laziness are at the bottom of widespread neglect of Christian duty. How many are absent, and how frequently, from the worship of God, only because a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep, robs them of the energy to serve God. Whatever the unfaithful servant said about his failure, the lord put the finger of analytical truth on the seat of the problem when he said, "Thou wicked and slothful servant!"

Note that his failure did not consist of theft, rebellion, or arson. G. Campbell Morgan wrote:

When he (Christ) comes, the slothful and unprofitable will be cast out, not because they did not believe, or because they had rebelled, but because they had neglected the opportunities which he had committed to them.G. Campbell Morgan, An Exposition of the Whole Bible (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1959), p. 421.

Verses 26-27

But his lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I did not scatter; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming, I should have received back mine own with interest.

The lord did not deign to answer the servant’s slanderous charge, but drew the conclusion from it that, even if it had been true, the servant’s obligation was in no sense diminished. The analogous conclusion is true in the spiritual realm. If it could be true that God should prove to be hard, uncompromising, unyielding and relentless, men should redouble their efforts to please him, FOR GOD IS GOD. To be sure, such thoughts of God’s nature are totally unworthy of him who is the giver of life and every blessing and who has manifested such great love to the sons of men, even giving his only begotten Son for our salvation; but, just as the morality of his master was no concern of the slothful servant, the morality of God is no proper concern of the people whom God has made and who, in the very nature of things, are incapable of making an intelligent criticism of their Creator. In fact, the soul presumptuous enough to do so manifests its rebellion against the Creator and invites the condemnation that inevitably follows such a deed.

A comparison of the causes which led to this servant’s exclusion, and those which led to that of the foolish virgins, is full of warning and instruction to all. Those virgins erred through a vain OVERCONFIDENCE, this servant through an UNDERCONFIDENCE that was equally vain and sinful. They were over bold; he was not bold enough. Thus two wrong aspects under which we may be tempted to regard God’s service, two rocks upon opposite sides on which faith is in danger of being shipwrecked, are laid down for us, as in a chart, that we may avoid them both. Those virgins counted it too easy a thing to serve the Lord; this servant counted it too hard.Richard C. Trench, op. cit., p. 288.

Verse 28

Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents.

This is no high-handed case of robbing the poor to enrich the rich. This action on the part of the Lord calls for no indignation. It is God’s law that neglected gifts perish while improved gifts multiply, and that law is as inviolate as the law of gravity. The slothful servant invited the loss of his gift when he buried it. None may flout this law with impunity; and, in order for more men to know what the law is, Christ immediately stated it.

Verses 29-30

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away. And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

Dummelow noted that:

It is a law of the natural as well as the spiritual world, that the disuse of a faculty finally leads to its complete loss, whereas the due use of it leads to its development and increase.J. R. Dummelow, One Volume Commentary (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 707.

A much more severe fate for this unprofitable servant is recorded than the mere exclusion of the foolish virgins from the bridal supper; but in that case, their exclusion stands for the total fate of the wicked, no less than the punishment of the unprofitable servant stands for the same thing. The nature of the two parables required a different statement of the penalty in each case. On the whole problem of the eternal fate of the wicked, Jesus was about to be much more specific in the solemn account of the judgment scene which immediately followed these two parables.

Verse 31


The scene immediately presented by Christ is peculiar to Matthew and is one of the most awesome revelations brought to mankind by the Saviour. All who hope to avoid the fate of the unrighteous and aspire to enter the home of the redeemed should take deeply to heart the words of Christ who said,

But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory.

As the poet John Milton expressed it:

The aged earth aghast With terror of that blast Shall from the surface to the center shake, When, at the world’s last session, The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread His throne.Frank S. Mead, The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1965), p. 260.

This place does not teach that Christ will sit upon the throne of his glory only upon the occasion of his second coming, nor that he will only then begin to do so. He had already revealed to his disciples that he would sit on his glorious throne "in the times of the regeneration" (Matthew 19:28), that is, in the times of the new birth, namely, now, in this present era, during which period the twelve apostles are also reigning with him on twelve thrones; ruling over the twelve tribes of spiritual Israel, which is the church. The expression, "then" shall he sit, etc., refers to a special sitting for the great assize, the judgment of the great day. He is already upon the throne of his glory; but then he will be visibly so, and every eye shall see him, and they shall look upon him whom they pierced. His angels even now are diligent in the service of them that shall be the heirs of everlasting life (Hebrews 1:14), but THEN shall they APPEAR! Now Christ, from his glory throne, intercedes for his own; but THEN he shall APPEAR in judgment (see 2 Thessalonians 1:8).

Verse 32

And before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats.

The cataclysmic and simultaneous judgment of all nations depicted here should not be understood as some special kind of selection regarding earth’s governments. The "all nations" here is the same as that of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and, from the parallel account in Mark, it is learned that it means "every creature," that is, "every man born into the world." Paul said, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, whether it be good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The designation of all mankind under two figures, the sheep and the goats, is in keeping with the dual classification stressed throughout the Scriptures, such as the "wheat" and the "chaff," the "wise" and the "foolish," etc.

Verses 33-34

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

The significance of the right and the left is the same in all nations and from the most ancient times. Even in Plato’s REPUBLIC, the unjust were ordered to take the road downward and to the left.

The kingdom which God has allotted to the righteous was designed before the human race was created, "which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory" (1 Corinthians 2:7). The disaster in Eden did not thwart, nor will it even delay, the ultimate achievement of God’s eternal purpose.

Verses 35-36

For I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

This makes one’s relationship to Christ the all-important consideration; and as he pointed out a moment later, that relationship turns altogether upon the treatment of his disciples. Just as in the case of Saul of Tarsus his persecution of the church amounted to his persecution of Christ (Acts 22:7), so, in all ages, the treatment of the Lord’s followers shall be the basis of determining one’s relationship to their Head, which is Christ. What is done to Christ’s followers is done to him. What is done to his church is done to him. Those who think they find in these words of Jesus an excuse for making Christianity a mere matter of social charity, should look again. It is not the treatment of all the wretched and unfortunate of earth that shall make up the burden of the Christian’s duty (though that must be allowed as desirable), but the treatment of "these my brethren," as Christ expressed it, that determines destiny (see Matthew 25:40).

Verses 37-39

Then shall the righteous answer him saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee?

The surprise of the righteous is itself surprising. The element of surprise applies to both the saved and the unsaved, but the principle is stated with crystal clarity. "What we do to his, we do to him!" What an awful warning this contains for those who set at naught the Lord’s true followers, who persecute, harass, mistreat, deny, or neglect them! The Lord is in the least of his followers. Their needs, their rights, and their requirements are the Lord’s. To deny them is to deny him. In view of this, the principal part of every church’s budget should be on command for the alleviation, not of the wicked world’s abounding woes, but for the legitimate needs and requirements of God’s people. That it is not usually so is a shame of modern Christianity.

Verse 40

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.

No thoughtful person can conclude that Jesus equated salvation with benevolence in the usual sense. It is not mere charity, but help of Christ’s followers that is highlighted here. If this principle were more widely understood and accepted, it would revolutionize men’s attitude toward the church. In the final essence, what men do to his church, they do to him. To neglect, flout, or dishonor the church is to do the same to Christ who is the head of the church. On the other hand, those who support and provide for the church and extend their concern and constant aid upon behalf of her poor and needy, do the same for Christ whose body is the church.

Verse 41

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.

We approach the study of this passage with an overwhelming sense of melancholy and the deepest feelings of sorrow for the awful fate of the wicked. Alas, the doctrine of hell is a prominent teaching of the Son of God. The sophistry of our generation has tended to ameliorate the Master’s teaching on this subject, but such a tendency is profoundly sinful and foolish. A little reflection will suggest the most logical reasons why such a thing as hell is not only just and reasonable but also actually necessary. No industrial concern ever operated without some means of waste disposal, and no well-managed kitchen ever existed without a garbage pail or its equivalent. How then, in all reason, could God Almighty be expected to operate a complex as large and diverse as the universe without some means of destroying those portions of it which, if permitted, would circumvent and countermand his benevolent purpose for the entire creation? Hell is God’s cosmic disposal unit; yet it is not prepared for men but for Satan and his angels, and the only persons who will be finally lost in hell are those who elect to follow the influence of Satan and must also partake of his destiny. Christ spread wide his bleeding hands upon the cross in order to woo men and to save them, and redeem them from the power of the evil one. Men who rush past the warning signals can ultimately blame no one except themselves.

Who can think of a better way to deal with Satan than by his being cast into hell which God has prepared, or may be in the process of preparing, for the evil one? (At the projected time of the scene presented in this chapter, hell will have been prepared; but, since Christ is now preparing the place for the righteous (John 14:1-6), it does not appear illogical to suppose that the place of containment for the host of Satan is likewise currently in a state of preparation also). What would YOU do, if you were God? Would you permit Satan to continue unabated for all eternity with license to rob, rape, plunder, seduce, destroy, and deceive, corrupt, wound, and slay forever? Whatever YOU might fancy you would do, God has revealed his will in his announced purpose to overwhelm Satan and the fallen angels in the "lake of fire that burneth with brimstone." In a certain fearful sense, one may thank God for hell. It is the place where the great enemy of mankind shall at last be destroyed. Since such a place actually exists, or is in state of being made ready, and since there is the dreadful certainty that men following the lead of Satan shall unwittingly partake of his overthrow, what a benign and holy purpose is seen in the blessed words of the Lord who revealed this astounding fact and warned men how they might escape such an awful fate! Those who have been deceived into thinking of hell as some kind of torture arrangement which God, through peevishness or caprice, has devised for naughty children of men, have failed to comprehend the scope and power of the mighty spiritual conflict which has opened a seam in the nature of every person ever born on earth, nor have they taken account of the vicious destructiveness of man’s arch-enemy, Satan.

A number of years ago, a flood carried away one of the bridges over the Brown River near Vicksburg, Mississippi. A salesman, taken unaware, was able to halt his car only on the last few feet of pavement that remained. In a state of shock, he got out of his car and stood a few moments transfixed by the boiling flood he had so narrowly escaped. Approaching headlights warned him of the danger to others, and he frantically tried to halt the drivers as several cars, one after another, ignored his desperate signals and plunged to destruction. A total of eight persons lost their lives before he could turn his car and blockade the road. Now was that salesman to be blamed for the death of those motorists who ignored his warnings and plunged into the river? No! And in exactly the same way, God cannot be blamed for the eternal punishment men shall certainly incur who ignore the divine warnings, reject the Saviour’s sacrifice, and plunge headlong into eternal death. Let the Saviour’s words be viewed in such a light, and men will avoid the temptation to "humanize" the gospel. There are dark and terrible realities confronting the race of Adam, and no blind and prejudiced rejection of the divine Saviour’s admonitions will remove them. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!"

As to the speculation of what hell will be like, it is safe to assert that we do not know. It has not even entered into the heart of man what wonderful things God has prepared for the redeemed (1 Corinthians 2:9); and it may safely be assumed that man’s mind has not fully conceived what may be the details of eternal punishment. The very figures used in Scripture such as "lake of fire" and "outer darkness" are not such as lend themselves to building a clear mental image of what hell will be. Enough that men have been adequately warned. May none who read these lines ever know what it will really be!

The devil and his angels … indicates that some of the angels, in a sense, belong to Satan. Why? Because they kept not their first estate but elected to follow Satan in a course of rebellion and disobedience of God’s will. 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6 shed additional light upon the status of Satan’s angels.

Verses 42-45

For I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me.

See under Matthew 25:39,40. It is remarkable that in this passage the unsaved refer to Christ as "Lord," giving support to the interpretation which refers this entire judgment scene to the church only; but in refutation of that idea, it should be recalled that "Every knee shall bow and tongue confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11). At that great moment when all nations shall have been assembled before the throne of Christ for judgment, infidelity will have finally and eternally disappeared; but the incorrigible sinners who have mocked God’s word shall plead in vain before the gates of life. Consistent with this view, applying the passage to all men and not just to the church, is the solemn fact that the Scriptures mention only one judgment. The thesis that there will be seven judgments, or more or less, is just speculation. The men of Nineveh will rise in "the" judgment; the queen of the South shall rise in "the" judgment, etc. (Matthew 12:41,42), as throughout the entire New Testament.

Verse 46

And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life.

This overwhelming word from man’s only Redeemer is shocking. The soul draws back from the contemplation of anything so terrible as eternal punishment. Only a fool could fail to be moved by the dreadful thought that such a penalty as eternal punishment can be incurred. No wonder men have sought to soften this doctrine; and yet, the theological and philosophical grounds for this doctrine are profoundly overwhelming and convincing. Granted the immortality of soul, and the ultimate separation from the righteous God of every sinful and unworthy being, there appears no way that hell could be avoided; and certainly those two concepts (immortality and ultimate separation of the sinful from God) are universally held to be true and valid. Rejection of the doctrine of hell is a logical rejection of one or both those concepts. We are certain that the all-wise Saviour would not have misled men concerning these eternal truths.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/matthew-25.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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