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Thursday, July 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 25

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins: In characteristic fashion Jesus speaks a parable to illustrate His point He begins in Matthew 24:36 (see also 24:42, 44). The word "then" refers to the time of His second coming. When Jesus returns, the "rule of God" (the kingdom) will be like the scene described in this parable.

This story revolves around ten maidens who anticipate the arrival of the groom and the subsequent marriage festivities. There seems to be no particular significance to the number ten, but it may represent completeness (the whole of the wedding party). Ten also serves as an easy number to divide the wise from the foolish. The Jews delight in the number ten, a synagogue, for example, having to have that number to possess a quorum for worship (Broadus 499).

which took their lamps: That the wedding festivities are at night is clear, so a torch is a practical requirement necessary for marching in procession in darkness to the bride’s home (Broadus 498). Torches are small oil filled bowls (or oil soaked rags) held aloft on wooden poles. Thus, their fuel supply will need to be replenished often. Before going out to meet the bridegroom, prudent watchers will not only fill their lamps but also carry extra oil with them.

and went forth to meet the bridegroom: The actual wedding feast is the culmination of months of anticipation and planning. When the day of the wedding finally arrives, the bridegroom leaves his home with a company of select friends and goes to get his bride. After certain religious ceremonies are accomplished, the groom, in grand procession, escorts his bride back to his own home where the celebration commences. In anticipation of the groom’s arrival, friends and enthusiastic well-wishers assemble at various points along the route and at the door of his home to await his appearance.

In this parable it is evident that the bridegroom represents Jesus—a motif not unfamiliar in scripture. The virgins are His disciples, namely the apostles, but generally any who await Jesus’ return. That

these maidens all have lamps indicates they are all faithful—at least to some degree. But as we shall see, the test of their faithfulness comes with the bridegroom’s delay.

While the church is the bride of Christ, this parable does not specifically address this point. Here the bride is not mentioned and plays no significant role. While Jesus will return for His church, this point is not the major thrust of the story. The primary point of this parable is preparedness. Thus, female virgins are representative of believers, not the bride.

Verse 2

And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

Immediately we discover two classes of virgins. Five are wise, and five are foolish. Jesus is not suggesting that at the end of time exactly one half of His followers will be saved while the other half will be lost. Rather, He makes a ready distinction between two classes, two attitudes, and two types of preparation.

Verse 3

They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

We discover why half of the virgins are foolish. They take their lamps, which presumably have oil in them, but they do not take extra oil. In their haste to join the watch party, they thoughtlessly leave their homes without proper preparation. Because Oriental wedding proceedings can often be slow and delays frequent, these young ladies should know their wait might be long. There is no excuse for their being unprepared.

As noted, these virgins are representative of believers who await the coming of the Lord. McGarvey says, "The foolish virgins are not the unconverted…they are not apostates…but they evidently represent those who enter the Church and stand at their post until the bride groom comes, and are then found without sufficient preparation to meet him". He goes on to say that these virgins are content to make only the preparation that they, in their indolence or indifference, deem sufficient (Commentary on Matthew 216).

These young women gamble that their lamps hold enough oil to get them by—a bet they lose. And yet so many believers fall into this category. Indifferent about the quality of their faith, they live their

lives unconcerned about the future and about whether they have wherewithal to remain steadfast if the Lord tarries.

Verse 4

But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

In contrast to the foolish virgins, we now find the reason the other five are wise. The wise virgins not only take lamps that are full of oil but also they take extra oil—probably in a separate vessel. No doubt to the foolish virgins the notion of taking extra supplies seems compulsive and unnecessary. This is the reason the wise enter the banquet. The characteristic qualities they possess serve to illustrate what God expects of those who wait for His Son’s return:

1. They have foresight. The wise have the presence of mind to look forward and see that their wait might be long. They realize they must plan for contingencies and for unseen difficulties. The same is true for faithful, vigilant believers who know they must constantly take an accounting of their faith and spiritual strength. It is not enough to rely on that with which one spiritually enters into Christ. There must be constant growth and a perpetual adding to one’s spiritual arsenal; otherwise, while we wait in a world dark with sin, our lamp goes out; and when the shout is heard, "The bridegroom cometh" our wicks are cold—we are surrounded by darkness.

2. They were not indifferent to the importance of the event and role they play as the welcoming party. They take their simple job seriously. They are not sloppy in their preparation, and they pay attention to every detail. Likewise, Christians must take seriously their salvation and the role they play as the bride of Christ. Like the foolish, so many believers want the benefits of Christianity without the responsibility. Responsibility to details such as faithful church attendance, dedicated study of God’s Word, and constant prayer are mandatory to being prepared. Yet, too many want the blessings of Christ without His lordship over their lives.

Verse 5

While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

In the parable of the evil servant (24:45–51), his wrong results from an assumption that his lord tarried. Here, the wrong, as demonstrated by the five foolish virgins, results from their assumption that the bridegroom will not delay. In both cases, rather than being ready,

they rely on their own supposition to their detriment. Because of the bridegroom’s delay, the faithfulness and preparedness of the virgins is put to the test.

That they all slumber and sleep does not indicate any inherent sinfulness on the part of these virgins. Both the wise and the foolish sleep. Their action is natural and gives us insight into their mental state. Because they believe they have made all necessary preparations, they relax to await the groom’s arrival. The Greek does not mean they lay down and sleep, but more accurately they nod and become drowsy.

Perhaps the corollary of this scene is best summed by Plummer who says:

This seems to be a merciful concession to human weakness. It is impossible for creatures such as we are to keep our religious life always at high pressure. Certain as we are, and often as we may remind ourselves that the Lord will come, and may come at any moment, either by our death or in some other way, we cannot live hour by hour as if it would be possible and natural to live if we knew that He would come to-night or to-morrow morning. But it is possible to be constant in securing supplies of strength from the Holy Spirit; and then when the call comes, whether by some crisis great or small in our lives, or by the supreme crisis of all, we shall be ready to go out and meet the Bridegroom (344).

Verse 6

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

Midnight signifies the unexpected lateness of the hour. When they least expect it, the moment arrives. Notice how there is scarcely an interval between the awaking cry and the arrival of the bridal procession (Plummer 345). It all takes place in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52). There is no time to make additional preparations, no time to beg the generosity of others. As is customary, the bridegroom sends a messenger ahead to alert everyone of his arrival. In much the same way, the gladdening shout of the archangel will announce the Last Day (Fowler 552).

Verse 7

Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

Having waited for so long, the virgins need to trim the wicks of their lamps (Greek: ekomesan—to arrange, set in order) and add oil.

Verse 8

And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

The Greek is improperly rendered in the King James Version and should read, "for our lamps are going out," the Greek having the present tense, not the past. The request, however, is made too late and to the wrong people. The wise virgins are in no position to offer assistance to the foolish without jeopardizing themselves. At last the distinction between the two classes of virgins is seen.

Verse 9

But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: The wise virgins’ response is both logical and realistic. Just as they had looked ahead and prepared for this moment, they must now look ahead to the actual arrival of the bridegroom. They must refuse the request. If they give any of their oil away now, they will become the "unprepared." To cater to fools’ requests will make them fools!

but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves: This is a puzzling statement. Considering the lateness of the midnight hour, one wonders how it will be possible to go and buy more oil. We must remember, however, that not every detail of a parable need be understood for the main point to be made. The instruction is reasonable, and the five apparently scurry off in hopes of returning soon enough to enter the party. Whether or not they are successful at finding oil is not stated nor implied by their late arrival (25:11).

If virgins represent Christians, we have a statement about the individuality of preparation. It is up to each believer to prepare himself for the return of his Lord. In reality, neither while the Lord tarries, nor when He arrives, will one believer be able to borrow from another. Each shall stand before the Lord and give an account of the deeds done in his own body, whether good or evil. This life is the preparation ground for heaven, and everyone is personally responsible.

Verse 10

And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

The five remaining virgins are no longer called "wise" but simply "they that were ready," thus confirming the point of the parable.

The phrase "was shut" means, "shut to stay" (Robertson 198). What terrible finality in this phrase. As in the days of Noah when God shut the door, thus sealing Noah safely inside and the wicked out, so the bridegroom now orders the door closed, sealing his friends in and the foolish out.

Verse 11

Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

The door is now shut, the banquet party is in progress, and the five foolish virgins return. We are not told whether they are able to buy the necessary oil, but it is of no import to the story. Their arrival is too late, and the door is shut.

Their cries, "Lord, Lord" (kurie, kurie) simply mean "sir." Fowler notes they do not address him as "Lord God" but as "sir" because to them this is just another wedding, just another man getting married (556). Notice, however, they know to whom to cry. They obviously realize the "lord" is the only one who has the authority to open the door to latecomers. That he personally answers them in verse 12 makes their plight more poignant and pathetic.

There will be many in "that day" who will also cry out to the Lord for entrance. In fact, Jesus makes this point clear in verses 31–36. Having started out with their lamps full and having found them empty at His return, they desperately scramble and plead their case to no avail. Of the foolish virgins, Fowler notes, "They resemble those twice-a-year church goers who, without the spiritual vitality that gives power and character to the life and faith of the godly, nevertheless suppose that the Lord must welcome them even without it" (556). The Lord is under no obligation.

Verse 12

But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

The scene in this verse is magnified when the bridegroom hears their cry and personally answers. The five are within the sound of their "lord’s" voice, but they will never be in his presence. They are inches away from the pleasure of his party, but the door is locked.

"I know you not" is a Hebrew idiom meaning, "I do not recognize your claim." He does not recognize them as legitimate wedding guests, so their request for entrance is denied. Why should he admit those who did not fulfill their obligations? His party is a prepared event for a prepared people. So shall it be for those who are unprepared at the judgment. Close enough to hear the Lord’s voice, they will be banished forever.

Verse 13

Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

The point of the parable, beginning in Matthew 24:36, is that Christ’s second coming will be unexpected. Unlike the destruction of Jerusalem (24:1–35), it will not be preceded by warning signs. The events of "the day" lie solely within the providence of God. Thus, the believer must be constantly vigilant, prepared, watching for the coming of the Son of Man.

Verse 14

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

For the kingdom of heaven: "Kingdom of heaven" is not found in the original but is supplied by the translators. McGarvey believes the phrase has been incorrectly added and suggests the object of comparison is not the "kingdom of heaven" but the need for each servant to "watch" (Commentary on Matthew 216). In reality, however, the two themes cannot be separated. While the general topic of Matthew 24:36 to Matthew 25:46 is the end of time, it is clear the "kingdom" can be described in various stages—the culminating stage coming at our Lord’s return. To supply "kingdom of heaven" in this verse not only encompasses the need to "watch" but also the fact that judgment awaits those who watch.

is as a man travelling into a far country: The picture is that of a landowner who takes a journey into a far country. Since the landowner represents Jesus, He implies His return will not be imminent. There is time enough between His ascension and return for His servants to demonstrate their faithfulness.

who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods: The landowner calls his servants (Greek: douloi—slaves) together and entrusts them a certain portion of his goods in his absence. Ellicott notes the outward framework of the parable lies in the Eastern way of dealing with property in the absence of the landowner. Regarding investments, two procedures are generally used in Jesus’ day. In some cases an absentee landowner makes his slaves his agents. They till the land, harvest the crops, and sell the produce. While the master retains all rights to the profits, he shares with his servants the financial benefits of their labors. The second option is to put one’s money in the trust of bankers and money lenders in hopes of getting a good return on their investment.

This second option is the one used by the landowner in the parable. Before he takes his journey, he entrusts certain resources to the hands of his servants. He does not give all his wealth to an individual but spreads it among his servants in accordance with their ability. Notice, too, Jesus does not hesitate to suggest that the "kingdom of heaven" requires work—arduous labor.

Verse 15

And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

The master wisely distributes to each bondservant according to his individual ability. He is careful not to waste his own goods by placing more responsibility on the shoulder of each slave than he can handle. As soon as he distributes his wealth, he leaves. He does not stand over them to prod and glare but leaves it to their own ability to do what is right.

Likewise, Jesus entrusts each of His servants with talents. While this parable has generally been interpreted to mean "natural talents," the application is broader. In the story the master gives these talents at his departure. These servants do not previously or naturally possess this wealth. Thus, "talents" refers to any resource, natural or gifted, through which we are to glorify the Lord. Whatever ability we have or have been given is the Lord’s. Even our lives are His. We are not

our own; we have been bought with a price. It is our job to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Verse 16

Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

Many commentators suggest the "straightway" of verse 15 is actually a part of this verse (Broadus 503). If so, then the emphasis is not on the immediacy of the master’s departure but is on the immediacy of the servant’s labors. As soon as the master is gone, he wisely puts his money to work. Time is of the essence, for he does not know when his lord will return; and he wants to be found faithful. In any event, this man goes out and doubles his money. How long this takes in Oriental times is unclear, but that he has time to do so indicates a delay in the master’s return.

Verse 17

And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

The faithfulness of the "two-talent man" is just as great as the "five-talent man." He, too, goes out and doubles his master’s money, giving us a beautiful lesson in stewardship. The amount of "talent" is not nearly as significant as what he does with it. Being granted lesser abilities or lesser spiritual gifts than his fellow does not diminish his responsibility to use what he has to its fullest. Far too many Christians enter the game of comparison. They suppose because their talents, resources, or abilities are less than their brother’s, they have a lesser responsibility. As we shall see, the five and two talent servants are not judged on what they are not given but on how they use what they have.

Verse 18

But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

The one talent man is really pathetic. But we should not feel sorry for him because of his single talent. The master assesses his ability and gives him the appropriate amount. The reason he is pathetic is that he refuses to use what he has. Fowler says, "This fellow is not a great waster, like the prodigal son (Luke 15:13) nor a great debtor, like the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-25). He simply hides what belongs to his lord and refuses to put it to work" (Fowler 569). He is over-cautious, unimaginative, and un-enterprising.

"Went and digged in the earth" depicts an ancient way of hiding money. Political, social, and economic uncertainties abound in Palestine, and the earth often becomes a person’s "safe box," (see 13:44). In reality, the decision to hide his lord’s money in the earth is foolish. What if, as in the parable of the hidden treasure, someone finds the money? What if it is stolen? What then will he say at his lord’s return? It would have been far more praiseworthy to lose his talent through investment, for at least he would have attempted something positive for his lord (Fowler 569).

Verse 19

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

"After a long time" is the same period during which the virgins "slumbered and slept" (25:5). This is the "waiting time" when the faithfulness of each disciple is tested. This is the time of grace when faithfulness can be assessed and necessary corrections made. This is the time of God’s patience as He allows men to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But this time, though long, is not forever. The master will come, and there will be a reckoning and a judgment. There will be an end of time. This is the theme of the entire chapter.

Verse 20

And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

Having managed his money wisely, the "five-talent man" has doubled his master’s wealth. His statement, "Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents...," is a grateful acknowledgment of what the master does for him. All the credit goes to his master, for without the master’s gift this slave could have done nothing. Likewise the servant of Jesus Christ must humbly admit that his every accomplishment is a result of resources gifted from above. The statement, "I have gained…" is not a boast but stresses the great amount acquired (Lenski 978).

Verse 21

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

What wonderful commendation the Lord gives. This servant is both good and faithful (pistos). He has proved himself trustworthy in

every way. The master is not pleased simply because five talents have been turned into ten. It is not the amount of money that brings commendation. It is that this servant demonstrates a depth of character that makes him useful for nobler employment. Now he becomes ruler over many things! This fact implies the master has tremendous wealth, vast capital, and many kinds of businesses to be managed (Broadus 504).

Since the underlying message of this parable is faithfulness to Christ, it is clear God wants to reward us richly. Our Master is even more generous than the one in the parable. The master of the parable could have stopped with a simple commendation. Many masters would have. Or he might have simply added a small sum taken from the profit gained by the five talents. But instead he, who is a picture of Jesus, stations the servant over many things (Lenski 979). The true nature of the Lord is that, at first, He places us over a few things so that when we have proved ourselves faithful He might elevate us to a position over many things. The work is not over just because we have been found faithful; the work has just begun. But what a joy it is to be found trustworthy enough to be both commended and commanded by our Lord.

"Enter the joy…" denotes the blessings of the Lord’s presence. Robertson suggests the word chara or joy may refer to the feast the master would throw on His return (199).

Verse 22

He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

The "two-talent man" has the same report as the five-talent man. He, too, has been prudent and doubled his lord’s money. The issue here is "stewardship." Even though he had been entrusted with less than half as much as the first servant, he recognizes he has the same responsibility. The issue is not the amount but what he does with that amount.

Verse 23

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

The master’s commendation is the same as to the "five-talent man." He is pleased with the servant’s work and can now elevate him to a position of greater responsibility.

Verses 24-25

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

One wonders at the audacity of this "wicked" servant. Having seen the generosity of his master toward his fellows, he begins to offer excuses for his sloth. In reality, he blames the good character of his master. "I knew thee," says the servant. Really?!!! How little did he know him, or he would have served him well. This master is not an unreasonable man but is generous and good, willing to reward where reward is due. If he is "hard," it is only toward laziness and sloth. Fowler says that with poetic justice this servant’s accusation of his master will be fulfilled because, ironically, he pushes his lord to be harsh with him, a tactic that succeeds only in slamming the door of mercy in his own face (574).

"Reaping where thou hast not sown..." means the master uses the labors of others to benefit himself. Others sow, and he reaps the profits of the harvest. Others scatter unthreshed grain on the threshing floor, and the master gathers the profits of their labor. To a great degree, the wicked servant’s assessment is true. But what right does this servant have to criticize? The master is The Master and has every right to use the labor of others.

Fear is this wicked servant’s excuse. He is afraid that if he profitably invests his master’s talent, the master will take the profits, and he will get nothing. But if he invests it and fails, he still will be responsible for the loss. This servant is not motivated to do anything but await the master’s return. This servant’s action requires neither ingenuity, skill, nor risk. His action demonstrates nothing but a lack of motivation.

Sadly, this man fails to recognize not only his own position and responsibility as a servant but also the potential generosity of his master. This servant is both lazy and selfish. He is concerned more with cutting his own losses than in benefiting his lord. But how

unconscionable! As a servant (doulos—slave), it is his job to think of his master’s good, not his own.

Verse 26

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 have not strawed:

Notice the contrast between the master’s words "good and faithful" (verses 21, 23) and "wicked and slothful." This servant is wicked because he demonstrates little respect and in essence accuses his master of being a man of harshness and tyranny. He is wicked because he has usurped his lord’s authority over the resources that have been entrusted to him (he puts himself in charge of what should be done with the money). He is wicked because he is more concerned with himself than he is with his master.

The master meets this wicked servant with his own argument (25:24). "Thou knewest..." simply means that if this servant knows his lord is so exacting then why does he not make ample preparation for his return. If he knows the master profits from the labors of others and expects to profit from him, he should have been afraid NOT to invest the money wisely. By his own logic, this servant brands himself a "fool."

Verse 27

Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

If this servant does not feel comfortable in speculating in business, the least he could have done was to invest his talent with the bankers. "Exchangers" or bankers is derived from the Greek word for bank or bench on which money was received and paid out (Broadus 505). While it is illegal to charge interest on money loaned to fellow Jews (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36; Psalms 15:5), interest could be charged to non-Hebrews (Deuteronomy 23:19). Fowler notes that such a low risk investment might have returned a handsome profit (577).

What application can be made from this verse for Christians today? Perhaps those who feel their own talents are meager, and thus feel ill at ease in launching out on some great endeavor themselves, may at least put what they have in the hands of others who can use it wisely.

For example, the man who feels he has little talent to preach the gospel may support the one who does have the ability. Or the man who feels his talents are too meager to work alone may combine his efforts with others in accomplishing the Lord’s work.

Even to the end, it is the master’s money. "I should have received mine own," he says. Likewise every resource the Christian has, every talent he develops, every skill he increases, is the Lord’s. The believer may not lay claim to any accomplishment, for were it not for the graciousness of the Lord he should have nothing. It is the Christian’s responsibility to make wise use of the Lord’s gifts—"buy up every opportunity" (Ephesians 5:16) to serve well. Every moment should be turned toward increasing that which we have been given so that when the Lord returns we will not be found wicked and lazy.

Verse 28

Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

Take therefore the talent from him: These words indicate that during the entire conversation and rebuke, the wicked servant stands holding the money. The master does not so much as accept it back but lets it lie there in his servant’s slothful hands to remind him of all his missed opportunities. Instead of taking the talent, the master rejects it. In so doing, he rejects the wicked servant.

and give it unto him which hath ten talents: The man with the ten talents has proved himself faithful. Where better can the master now rescue his money from slothful hands? Unlike the "lazy" man, this man works hard during his master’s absence and accomplishes his master’s goals. Here we have the master’s first step in fulfilling the promise of verse 21, "I will make you ruler over many things."

Verse 29

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

This statement is the general axiom of God’s kingdom. When one, by his wise stewardship, proves he is capable of handling God’s resources, he will be given more. He shall have in abundance. But when one foolishly handles what God has entrusted him, even that which he has shall be taken away. In this case, two of the master’s servants are wise and, consequently, are entrusted with more. The lazy servant, however, is stripped of his single talent. No longer does he have even the opportunity to serve his master. In reality, he is left with less than nothing. Both talent and opportunity are gone. It is the same for those to whom God has entrusted talents. When God’s resources are not used and increased, the slothful will find themselves stripped not only of their ability but of any future opportunity to serve the Lord at the final judgment.

Verse 30

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus shows the fate that awaits the slothful servant (see 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51). Since he has not produced for his master, he is good for nothing but to be cast out. While the wise workers enter into the "joy of their Lord," he will be cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Obviously, this is a picture of gehenna (hell).

This parable squelches any thought that in judgment the Lord will be too merciful to punish the wicked. The time of "mercy" is between the Lord’s departure and return when each servant is granted opportunity to serve. For those who serve well, there will be unspeakable joy. For those who foolishly pursue their own agenda, the Lord will personally pronounce a damning judgment.

Verse 31

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

This verse begins a description of what will occur when Christ comes to judge the world. That He uses the "sheep and goat" motif indicates a parabolic comparison (25:32–33). But this is more than a simple parable. This is prophecy. Jesus does not say, "The kingdom of heaven is like…." He simply states what He will do.

When the Son of man: This expression is one of Jesus’ favorite ways to identify Himself as the Messiah (compare 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:37, 41; 16:13, 27; 17:2, 9, 12; 18:11).

Furthermore, the phrase is readily recognized by the Jews as a reference to the Messiah (Daniel 7:13).

shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: This description refers to the Great White Throne judgment at the end of time (Revelation 20:11). When Jesus returns, it will be to judge the nations and separate the righteous from the unrighteous. From this and other passages (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelation 20:11-15), it is clear Christ’s coming and the final judgment will occur at the same time. There is no intimation of a long earthly "millennial" reign between Jesus’ personal coming and the end of the world.

Jesus’ judgment throne is called the "throne of his glory" because in it His ultimate and glorious victory will be manifested. "Then shall he sit on the throne of his glory" does not suggest Jesus is not currently reigning, for He took the "throne of David" after His ascension (Acts 2:30-36). The idea is that He will come to fulfill His purpose as ruling monarch to sit in judgment over the nations. That "David’s throne" is spiritual is clear from Peter’s words (Acts 2:33) and David’s own acknowledgment that the Messiah would sit "at the right hand of God." There is simply no evidence to indicate that upon Christ’s return He will establish a literal and earthly throne in Jerusalem or at any other place on this earth.

That the second coming of Christ is to be attended by angels is also evident from numerous other passages. In the parable of the tares (13:41), angels act as gathering agents. Paul also notes their role (2 Thessalonians 1:7) as does John (Revelation 14:17-20).

Verse 32

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

The comparison of separating "sheep from the goats" is familiar to His Jewish audience. Broadus notes that in Oriental lands where sheep and goats are often found together, they are sometimes separated when grazing because of their different feeding habits (509). Furthermore, the two animals are characterized by two different natures. Whereas sheep rely on their shepherd, goats are headstrong and rebellious. This may be the reason Jesus uses this illustration. Up to this point, Jesus’ parables have depicted the "shepherd" as a protector and provider (18:10–14). Here He is a Judge.

Verse 33

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

At this point judgment is actually over, and the sheep and goats have been separated. All that remains is the sentencing of the wicked and good, and the justification for their rewards or punishment.

To set the good on the "right hand" and the wicked on the "left hand" is a common Jewish way of describing acceptance and rejection. The "right hand" is not only the favored hand for use but also it denotes special privileges. For example, when Bathsheba goes to speak to Solomon regarding Adonijah, he has a throne set for her at his right hand (1 Kings 2:19) (see also Psalms 45:9; Psalms 110:1). Likewise, Ephesians 1:20-22 describes Jesus’ position as Head of the church and says He has been seated at God’s right hand (26:64; Acts 2:33).

Verse 34

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 King speaks to the righteous first. Because His words can presumably be heard by the wicked, it makes the scene all the more poignant. "Come, ye blessed of my Father" is His magnificent welcome. These words are for those who demonstrate a true spiritual kinship with God and, thus, deserve to be with Him (Fowler 591).

"Inherit the kingdom" is a picturesque way of expressing salvation. For one to inherit something implies a relationship with the grantor. Furthermore, it suggests a legal or rightful claim to that which is bequeathed. In this case, Christians, the children of God, possess rightful claim to heaven. No more beautiful bond exists than that of parent and child. Here God is depicted as a Father who delights in generously bestowing His riches upon His children. John, the apostle, says "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God" (1 John 3:1).

The "kingdom concept" is one that plays a vital role in Jesus’ preaching and in scripture at large. While modern Christians often visualize the "kingdom" as synonymous with the church, the idea is much broader, encompassing the entire "reign of God." In this verse, the "kingdom" has reference to that ultimate and final destiny of believers set forth and planned in the mind of God from the beginning of time (Titus 1:2; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20). While Christians may be said to be part of the kingdom by virtue of their salvation (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9), the consummation of their hope will be realized only at the judgment (Romans 8:15-25).

Verses 35-36

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me 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.

Jesus shows the way we serve Him is by serving others. Each of these acts is a work of benevolence done toward our fellow man. When we minister to the needs of those who are hungry, thirsty, without lodging, ill clad, and in prison, we demonstrate a spirit of goodness that can be identified only with Christ. Thus, we do these things to Him.

McGarvey is quick to point out that "good works" alone cannot secure everlasting life because even sinners do good. One must be forgiven of his sins by obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ. But Christian benevolence constitutes one of the conditions of our acceptance on the day of judgment. Of these works McGarvey says, "They are, indeed, but the outgrowth of faith and love, and their absence proves that our faith is dead, and that love has not been born within us" (Commentary on Matthew 220). James describes pure and undefiled religion as visiting the orphans and widows in their trouble while at the same time keeping oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). He also says that faith that does not feed and clothe others is a dead faith (2:14–20) (see also Galatians 6:2; Galatians 6:10).

In verse 36, the phrase, "Ye clothed me" literally means to "cast something around." "Visited me" means to "come to see, look after." Thus, a "hands on" Christianity is implied. It is not enough to rely on the goodness of others to meet the needs of our brethren. We must be involved personally. Neither is it enough to cast our offering into the treasury and expect the "church" to do our benevolence. Each will be judged on his own works.

Verses 37-39

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

Some assume that the "righteous" here cannot be Christians because believers know the full significance of their acts of mercy when they do them. Their conclusion is that these are heathens who will be surprised in judgment at their final reward. Ellicott says these (heathen) are astounded that in acting from what seemed merely human affection towards merely human objects they are now rewarded by Christ (364).

The fallacy of this reasoning is that scripture nowhere suggests that man can be saved without obedience to the gospel. It seems unreasonable that anyone, pagan or otherwise, could "accidentally" do that which now leads to salvation. The notion is far afield from the basic tenor of scripture. Furthermore, it is not unthinkable that "righteous" Christians might not realize the impact their everyday lives have in God’s grand scheme. In this case, these Christians’ surprise is genuine—based on the fact that in the activity of everyday living it is all too easy to forget that every deed done is to Christ. Kindness shown to our fellow man is in reality shown to the Lord. Because these Christians cannot literally see their Master in their daily benevolence and because He is no longer physically on earth, they are pleasantly awakened to the reality that their actions are directed toward Him.

Verse 40

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

Perhaps one of the most beautiful lessons of this section is the close-knit identity Jesus has with His people (Christians, sheep), here identified as "the least of my brethren." So close is the Master to His own that to serve them is to serve Him. Should this not remind us to treat all, but especially our fellow believers, with the utmost respect and honor (Galatians 6:10)? These were "least" because of their poverty and little apparent importance. Christ identifies Himself not

merely with the distinguished but with those whom men would esteem lightly (Broadus 511). This passage reminds us of James’ admonition against letting outward appearance determine how we treat our fellow man. "Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:1-5 NKJV).

Verse 41

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

This verse stands in direct opposition to verse 34 and completes the contrast. While the righteous on the right hear "Come, ye blessed of my Father," the wicked on the left hear, "Depart from me, ye cursed." These are cursed not because God desires it so but because they, by their own willful wickedness and conscious sin, reject the Savior (2 Peter 3:9). They leave Him no choice.

Everlasting fire is an obvious reference to gehenna (hell). But notice Jesus does not say "prepared for you," as in verse 34, but rather "prepared for the devil and his angels." It is not for man but for Satan and his demons (Judges 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 12:7) that hell is designed. Thus, the wicked are not said to "inherit" torment, though they may receive it. Because rejection of Christ is paramount to rebelling against God, all who refuse His Son will spend eternity with the "first family" of rebellion: Satan and his angels.

Hell is a "prepared place." It is not an afterthought by God. Just as heaven (verse 34) is God’s design for the righteous, so hell is His design for the wicked. And while scripture affords just enough description of hell to cause one to want to avoid it, the exact nature of "eternal punishment" is not comprehensible to the "mortal" mind; however, that it is described as an eternal fire prepared by God hints at its unimaginable severity.

Verses 42-43

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: 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.

Here then is the justification for the sentence of the wicked. The "wicked" are not murderers, thieves, idolaters, or adulterers. There is

no indication they are guilty of any of the "big sin" crimes that man typically imagines will bring damnation. Rather they are wicked because of the sin of neglect and indifference. They neglect to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and so forth. When they see others in need, they do nothing. They have no compassion toward them. McGarvey says, "Such neglect proves the absence of that faith and love which are essential to Christian character" (Commentary on Matthew 221). Eternal punishment is justified in this case because the indifference they have shown to others proves their understanding of grace and shows that, in their view, when anyone needs mercy, it should not be granted (Fowler 604). As in the parable of the unforgiving servant (18:21–35), one chooses the criteria for his judgment. God cannot extend mercy to someone who, by his actions toward others, shows disdain for mercy. There remains only one option by which God can judge: Justice!

Verse 44

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Neither the righteous nor the wicked have seen Jesus. But the wicked indicate that had they seen Him, they would have ministered unto Him if there had really been a need. With an air of defiance and self-justification, they challenge the Lord to reveal when He needed their help. Fowler sums up their argument by saying:

Had we been granted the privilege to serve you, we would have been more than glad to do so. But we never met anyone that even closely resembled you—just miserable wretches whom it was useless to befriend, a shabby old woman, a waif too skinny to adopt—all situations too trifling to take seriously, you understand. (605).

Verse 45

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

Such self-justification as found in verse 44 does not stand with a just judge. The wicked have had plenty of opportunities to do good, but they have refused. While both righteous and wicked have a similar intellectual sense of awareness, they possess strikingly different hearts. Both are blind to Christ in the face of their fellow man, but the righteous have a "servant’s heart." Such a heart makes them valuable to the King.

Verse 46

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

The Judge’s sentence to the wicked, "Depart!" is now carried out. "These shall go away," into hell, away from the presence of the Lord and His eternal joys. The "everlasting punishment" here is the same as "everlasting fire" of verse 41. For the righteous, however, eternal life awaits.

Whatever else may be deduced from this passage, it is clear the punishment of the wicked will last as long as the reward of the righteous. Both will be everlasting, eternal, and without end. In this verse, the same Greek word (aionion – eternal, everlasting) is used to describe both eternal punishment (kolasin aionion) and eternal life (zoen aionion). Lenski says, "This settles the question: hell is as eternal as heaven; heaven no more so than hell" (1001). When one ends, so will end the other.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-25.html. 1993-2022.
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