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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 25

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 3-46


This section of the Gospel continues Jesus’ instruction of His disciples in preparation for their future (Matthew 19:3 to Matthew 20:34). Then Jesus presented Himself formally to Israel as her King with His triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-17). This resulted in strong rejection by Israel’s leaders (Matthew 21:18 to Matthew 22:46). Consequently Jesus pronounced His rejection of Israel (ch. 23). Finally He revealed to His disciples that He would return to Israel later and establish the kingdom (chs. 24-25).

Throughout this entire section the Jewish leaders’ opposition to Jesus continues to mount in intensity, and it becomes more focused on Him. Reconciliation becomes impossible. Jesus revealed increasingly more about Himself and His mission to His disciples and stressed the future inauguration of the kingdom. Between these two poles of opposition and inauguration God’s grace emerges even more powerfully than we have seen it so far. Matthew never used the word "grace" (Gr. karis), but its presence is obvious in this Gospel (cf. Matthew 19:21-22; Matthew 20:1-16).

". . . despite the gross rejection of Jesus, the chronic unbelief of opponents, crowds, and disciples alike, and the judgment that threatens both within history and at the End, grace triumphs and calls out a messianic people who bow to Jesus’ lordship and eagerly await his return." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," pp. 410-11.]

6. The responsibilities of the disciples 24:32-25:30

Next Jesus exhorted His disciples on the basis of this revelation concerning the future. He taught them using seven parables.

The importance of prudence and faithfulness 24:45-25:30

Jesus continued instructing His disciples but now stressed the importance of prudence and faithfulness as He prepared them for His return. There are three parables in this section. All of them refer to two types of disciples, the faithful and the unfaithful. [Note: See Dillow, pp. 385-96.]


E. The King’s revelations concerning the future chs. 24-25

We now come to the fifth and final major discourse in Matthew’s Gospel, the Olivet Discourse. Its theme is the kingdom, specifically, events leading up to the establishment of the kingdom.

Verse 1

The introductory "then" ties this parable to the subject of the preceding instruction, namely, the Second Coming of the Son of Man. The beginning of the kingdom of heaven is in view. It will be similar to what the following story describes.

Jesus probably chose 10 virgins as a good round number that He could later divide into two groups easily. Such a number was also fairly common for marriages of His day. [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:455.] The number probably does not have symbolic significance. Likewise that the women were virgins (Gr. parthenos, cf. Matthew 1:23) probably has no other significance than that they were young women who were friends of the bride and groom. Their virginity is not a factor in the parable. The "lamps" (Gr. lampas) could have been either torches or smaller lamps with wicks. "To meet" (Gr. hypantesis) connotes an official welcome of a visiting dignitary. [Note: M’Neile, p. 360.]

Most premillennial commentators have taken these virgins as representing Jews during the Tribulation. However some argued that they stand for Christians in the present age. [Note: E.g., Gaebelein, 2:225-36. Cf. Carr, p. 275; and Plummer, p. 343.] The arguments in favor of the second view are primarily what the passage does not contain such as the title "Son of Man," the phrase "times or seasons," and Old Testament quotations. However, arguments from silence are never strong, and they are unconvincing here. The better explanation is that this parable deals with the same time and people as the immediately preceding and following parables do. The ten virgins represent Jewish disciples in the Tribulation waiting for the coming of the King. That is not to say, however, that the principle of watchfulness that this parable teaches is not applicable to Christian disciple who await the Lord’s return for us at the Rapture.

Some background information concerning weddings in the ancient Near East is helpful in understanding this parable. [Note: See Yamauchi, 241-52; Jeremias, The Parables . . ., pp. 173-74; and Trench, Notes on . . ., pp. 200-201.] First, the parents arranged the marriage with the consent of the bride and groom. Second, the couple passed an engagement period of many months in which it would become clear, hopefully, that the bride was a virgin. Third, on the day of the wedding the groom would go to the bride’s house to claim his bride from her parents. Friends of his would accompany him. Fourth, the marriage ceremony would take place at the bride’s home. Fifth, on the evening of the day of the wedding the groom would take his bride home. This involved a nighttime procession through the streets. Sixth, the bride and groom would consummate their marriage at the groom’s home the night of the wedding ceremony. Seventh, there would be a banquet that would often last as long as seven days. This often took place at the groom’s home.

The scene in this parable is at night as the bride’s friends wait to welcome the couple and to enter the groom’s house where the banquet would begin shortly. All ten of the virgins knew that the groom’s appearing would be soon.

Verses 1-13

The parable of the 10 virgins 25:1-13

This parable helps disciples understand what it means to await the King’s return with prudence.

". . . the point is simply that readiness, whatever form it takes, is not something that can be achieved by a last-minute adjustment. It depends on long-term provision, and if that has been made, the wise disciple can sleep secure in the knowledge that everything is ready." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 947.]

Verses 2-5

The five prudent (Gr. phronimoi, cf. Matthew 7:24; Matthew 10:16; Matthew 24:45) virgins represent Jewish disciples who not only anticipated Jesus’ arrival but also prepared for it (cf. Matthew 3:2: Matthew 4:17). The five foolish virgins anticipated it but did not prepare for it. Preparedness is what separated the wise from the foolish.

"Perhaps their spiritual condition will be analogous to the Jews at the Lord’s first coming. With eyes only for the physical benefits of the kingdom, the foolish Jews fail to prepare themselves spiritually for its coming." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 285.]

Both groups of young women fell asleep. This period of delay corresponds to the time between the first signs of Jesus’ coming and His appearance. Jesus did not praise or blame the virgins for sleeping. Apparently only the wise virgins had oil with them. The foolish ones evidently just lit their torches or wicks without oil. [Note: Robertson, Word Pictures . . ., 1:196.] The symbolism of oil is probably significant since it often represents the Holy Spirit in Scripture (e.g., 1 Samuel 16:13). If so, those with oil might be believers and those without oil unbelievers.

Verses 6-9

Midnight probably also has significance since it is often the time of judgment in Scripture (e.g., Exodus 11:4). When someone announced the arrival of the groom, the virgins all woke up and trimmed their lamps. However the lamps of the foolish soon began to go out (present tense in the Greek text). The preparations of the wise virgins did the unwise no good. The time to prepare had passed.

Though Jesus did not go into this, the bride in the parable must be the church, the bride of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2). The church will be in heaven with Jesus during the Tribulation having gone there at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Christians will return to earth with Jesus at His second coming and will evidently have some part in the judgment that will begin the kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:2).

Verses 10-12

Shortly after the announcement went out the groom arrived (cf. Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:39; Matthew 24:50). There was not enough time for the foolish virgins to obtain oil then. The wise virgins entered the wedding feast, and someone shut the door into the banquet hall (cf. Matthew 25:34-40). There was no more opportunity for the foolish to enter. Their pathetic cries were of no avail (cf. Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 23:37). The groom’s refusal to admit them was not the result of callused rejection in spite of their desire to enter the feast. Rather he refused to admit them because they had failed to prepare adequately.

"The closed door, which to those who were ready meant security and untold bliss, to the others meant banishment and untold gloom." [Note: Plummer, p. 346. Cf. Pagenkemper, pp. 188-89.]

These verses picture the judgment of Jews that will happen at the end of the Tribulation and before the establishment of the messianic kingdom.

Verse 13

This is the lesson the disciples were to learn from this parable. Disciples need to prepare for Messiah’s appearing as well as to anticipate that event. Jesus was not calling for alertness in this parable, remaining awake when others sleep, as important as that is. He was calling for preparation. Preparing involves trusting in Jesus as the Messiah. Many Jews in Jesus’ day were anticipating the appearance of Messiah and the inauguration of the kingdom. However they did not prepare as John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples urged them to. Those who did became believing disciples of Jesus. Likewise the same two types of Jews will exist during the Tribulation before Messiah appears the second time. The prudent disciple is the one who makes the necessary preparation by trusting in Jesus.

Verse 14

"For" links the following parable with the lesson expressed in Matthew 25:13. The antecedent of "it" is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 25:1).

"Probably this parable is so tightly associated with the last one as to share its introduction . . ." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 515.]

Thus the point of the parable of the 10 virgins and the parable of the talents is the same. The difference is a matter of emphasis. The emphasis of the first one is the importance of spiritual preparation whereas the emphasis of the second is the importance of spiritual service. The second parable deals with the period of waiting that the first parable only mentioned in passing. Both parables deal primarily with the judgment of Jews at the end of the Tribulation, though both apply to Christians today as does the whole Olivet Discourse.

Some slaves (Gr. douloi) in the ancient biblical world enjoyed considerable responsibility and authority. In the parable the man taking the journey turned over his money to three of his slaves. They understood that they could share in the profits if they managed well what they had received.

Verses 14-30

The parable of the talents 25:14-30

The other important quality that will make a servant blessed when Jesus returns, in addition to prudence, is faithfulness (cf. Matthew 24:45-46). This parable explains what Jesus regards as faithfulness. Essentially it involves using what God has entrusted to one to advance His interests in the world. It involves making a spiritual profit with the deposit God has entrusted to each disciple (cf. James 2:14-26). The parable of the ten virgins speaks of salvation, but this one emphasizes the importance of rewards and judgment.

Verse 15

In New Testament times a talent (Gr. talanton) was a unit of exchange. Its value depended on the type of metal that was in view-gold, silver, or copper. The talents in this parable may have been silver, though this is not important. The Greek word argyrion in Matthew 25:18 can mean either "money" or "silver." Originally a talent was a measure of weight, between 58 and 80 pounds. [Note: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, s.v. "talanton," p. 803.] Many translators and commentators use 75 pounds as a convenient working amount. Later the talent was a coin worth about 6,000 denarii. The earning power of a talent coin was therefore the equivalent of about 16 and a half years wages for a workingman or a foot soldier. By any reckoning the worth of the talents entrusted to the slaves in this parable was great. Five talents might amount to considerably more than a lifetime of earnings.

This master distributed his resources according to his evaluation of the ability of each slave. As always, greater privilege brings greater responsibility.

Probably we should understand the talents to represent all the working capital that God entrusts to His disciples. To limit the talents to spiritual gifts, natural abilities, the gospel, opportunities for service, money, or whatever, limits the scope of what Jesus probably intended. All of these things constitute what God has given His servants to use for His glory.

"This capacity for work lies not within our own power; but it is in our power to use for Christ whatever we may have." [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:460.]

These slaves represent Jews living during the Tribulation, not Christians living in the church age, though this parable is applicable to us. They will have unparalleled opportunities to serve Jesus Christ then. The opportunity to herald the gospel to the ends of the earth will be one of these great privileges. Many disciples then will probably have the opportunity to present the gospel to thousands and perhaps millions of individuals using the technology of their day.

Verses 16-18

Immediately the slaves entrusted with five and two talents began to put their money to use for their master. This shows their faithfulness to their duty to make money for him. They traded with the money in some way, and they made a profit. The other slave, however, was unwilling to work and to risk. By burying the money he showed that he valued safety above all else. Burying his talent was even much safer than putting it in a savings account. Before the days of modern banking, many people buried money in the ground for safekeeping.

The slaves of God who have a heart for God and His coming kingdom will sense their privilege, seize their opportunities, and serve God to the maximum extent of their ability in the Tribulation. Those who have no real concern about preparing people for the coming King will do nothing with their opportunities. Their own safety will be more important to them than working to prepare for the arrival of the King. Being a good steward involves taking some risks.

Verses 19-23

Jesus’ mention of a long time passing probably suggests the time between His ascension and His second coming (cf. Matthew 24:48; Matthew 25:5). Thus while the slaves in view are those living during the Tribulation, with which the whole Olivet Discourse deals, the parable has meaning for all Jesus’ disciples who anticipate the kingdom. This is true of all Jesus’ discourses in Matthew.

The first slave received a verbal commendation from his master, increased responsibility under his master, and joy with his master (Matthew 25:21; cf. Matthew 24:46; John 15:11). He would exercise his increased responsibility and enjoy his joy in the kingdom and, I assume, beyond it when the earthly messianic kingdom moves to new heavens and a new earth (Rev_21:1 to Rev_22:5). The second slave received the same verbal commendation as the first slave, and he received increased responsibility and joy commensurate with his God-given capacity (Matthew 25:23).

"You don’t ’retire’ from being a disciple." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., pp. 954-55.]

Verses 24-25

When the third slave said his master was a "hard" (Gr. skleros) man, he meant that he exploited the labor of others, namely, this slave and his fellow slaves (cf. John 6:60; Acts 26:14; James 3:4; Judges 1:15). This slave evidently felt that his master would not share many of the rewards of his labor with him if he proved successful but would punish him severely if he failed. The fact that he had received less than the other slaves should not have made him resentful, if it did, since even he had a great opportunity. He ignored his responsibility to his master and his obligation to discharge his duty. Moreover he showed no love for his master whom he blamed, attempting to cover up his own failure. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 517.]

"Grace never condones irresponsibility; even those given less are obligated to use and develop what they have." [Note: Ibid.]

Verses 26-27

Rather than commending this slave, his master gave him a scathing condemnation. Instead of being good and faithful he was wicked and lazy. To be lazy is to be unfaithful. The master used the slave’s own words to condemn him (Matthew 25:24-25). If the master really was hard and grasping, the slave should have known he was in for trouble if he proved unfaithful. At least he should have put his master’s money into the hands of moneylenders. That would have been a fairly safe and easy way to manage it, and it would have earned some interest. The Jews were not to charge fellow Jews interest on loans, but they could charge Gentiles interest (Deuteronomy 23:19-20).

". . . risk is at the heart of discipleship (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25-26); by playing safe the cautious slave has achieved nothing, and it is his timidity and lack of enterprise . . . which is condemned. Schweizer, 473, pertinently describes his attitude as representing ’a religion concerned only with not doing anything wrong.’" [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 956. He quoted the English translation of E. Schweizer, The Good News according to Matthew.]

Verses 28-30

Rather than giving this servant increased responsibility, the master took back the talent he had entrusted to him. Rather than blessing him with the joy of fellowship with the master, the slave had to depart from his master’s presence. Matthew 25:29 expresses a kingdom principle that Jesus had formerly explained (Matthew 13:12; cf. Matthew 21:43). The master removed the slave’s opportunity to serve him further. He declared him "worthless" (Matthew 25:30) because he had failed to do his master’s will with what the master gave him to use. This resulted in the loss of his resources, rejection by the master, banishment from his presence, tears, and gnashing of teeth.

Does the unfaithful slave represent a believing or an unbelieving Jew in the Tribulation? In view of the punishment he received he must be an unbeliever (cf. Matthew 13:12). [Note: Darby, 3:131; Pagenkemper, pp. 194-98.] Everywhere else in Matthew’s Gospel where the phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" occurs it refers to the final condition of unbelievers (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51). The darkness outside (Matthew 25:30) contrasts with the joy inside the messianic banquet and kingdom (Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:23).

"The last three parables give practical instructions in the light of the King’s coming to judge and to reign. The principle which underlies each is the same one which was given in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:16-21). The fruit of faithfulness and preparedness would indicate the character of those living in the days before His coming. In each parable, character is manifested by works. This thought forms the key to the following passage which deals with the judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:31-46)." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 288.]

This concludes the section of the Olivet Discourse in which Jesus taught His disciples their responsibilities in view of His coming and the end of the present age (Matthew 24:32 to Matthew 25:30). He stressed the importance of vigilance with four parables (Matthew 24:32-44) and the importance of prudence and faithfulness with three parables (Matthew 24:43 to Matthew 25:30).

Verse 31

This verse fixes the time of the judgment described in the following verses at the beginning of Jesus’ messianic reign (cf. Daniel 7:9-14; Daniel 7:22-27). Nowhere in this discourse did Jesus explicitly identify Himself as the Son of Man. However, since He used that title in answer to the disciples’ questions in Matthew 25:3, the inference is inescapable (cf. Zechariah 14:5; Joel 3:1-12). Jesus becomes the eschatological Judge that the Old Testament identified as God. Jesus again referred to His coming with heavenly glory (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 24:30; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Jesus will sit on His earthly throne as Judge and King (cf. Matthew 28:18; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 12:2).

Verses 31-46

7. The King’s judgment of the nations 25:31-46

Jesus concluded the Olivet Discourse with further revelation about the judgment that will take place at the end of the present age when He returns. He had referred to it often in the discourse, but now He made it a special subject of explanation. This judgment will occur when the King returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation to set up His kingdom. [Note: See Eugene W. Pond, "The Background and Timing of the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats," Bibliotheca Sacra 159:634 (April-June 2002):201-20.]

As we have seen, Matthew stressed judgment in his Gospel (Matthew 3:12; Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16; Matthew 7:24-27; Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:48-49; Matthew 18:23-34; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-41; Matthew 22:1-14; Matthew 24:45-51; Matthew 25:1-12; Matthew 25:14-30). This is not unusual since the Old Testament predicted that judgment would precede the messianic kingdom, and Matthew emphasized the kingdom. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jesus concluded this discourse that reveals events leading up to the inauguration of the kingdom by explaining the judgment that will precede it.

The New Testament teaches that there will be two distinct judgments relative to the kingdom. Many scholars believe there will only be one general judgment at the end. [Note: E.g., Kik, pp. 92-97; Lenski, pp. 986-88; Tasker, p. 238; M’Neile, p. 369; France, The Gospel . . ., p. 959; and Shepard, pp. 528-29.] Most of these are amillenarians, but some premillenarians believe this as well. [Note: E.g., Alford, 1:254.] One of these judgments will occur just before the messianic kingdom begins and another will follow at its end. The one at the end is the great white throne judgment when God will send all unbelievers to hell (Revelation 20:11-15).

Some differences between these two judgments indicate their distinctness. First, the first judgment will not involve a resurrection of unbelievers but will deal with unbelievers alive then on the earth. The word "nations" (i.e., Gentiles, Gr. ethne) never refers to the dead elsewhere in Scripture. [Note: Peters, 2:374.] The second judgment will involve a resurrection of unbelievers. Second, the first judgment will involve three different kinds of people: the sheep, the goats, and Jesus’ brethren. The second will involve the wicked (Revelation 20:13-15) and possibly the righteous who have died during the Millennium. Third, the first will result in some inheriting the kingdom and others getting eternal punishment, but the second will result in the wicked judged going into the lake of fire. Fourth, the first happens at the beginning of the messianic (millennial) kingdom, but the second happens at its end. [Note: Cf. Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 288-89.]

This pericope rounds off Jesus’ instructions about the future in a way similar to how Matthew 10:40-42 completes Jesus’ charge concerning His apostles’ mission in Israel (Matthew 10:5-42). It is the parable of the sheep and the goats. Some writers have argued that this is not a parable. [Note: E.g., Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 200; and Carson, "Matthew," p. 518.] However most have dealt with this section as a parable in the looser sense of a lesson.

Verses 32-33

Usually "the nations" (Gr. ta ethne) refers to Gentiles distinguished from Jews (e.g., Luke 21:24; Acts 14:16). [Note: Abbott-Smith, pp. 129-30; Thayer, A Greek-English . . ., p. 168; Vincent, 1:135. ] Because of this some interpreters believe the judgment of Matthew 25:31-46 is a judgment of Gentiles only. [Note: E.g., Barbieri, p. 80; Bailey, in The New . . ., p. 53; and Eugene W. Pond, "Who Are the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:31-46?" Bibliotheca Sacra 159:635 (July-September 2002):288-301.] However the phrase "all the nations" is often more inclusive, referring to all people, including the Jews (cf. Romans 16:26; Revelation 15:4). Here it probably refers to all people living on earth when Jesus establishes His kingdom (cf. Matthew 28:19; Mark 13:10). Everyone will have heard the gospel of the kingdom preached during the Tribulation (Matthew 24:14). In Jesus’ day, shepherds separated the sheep from the goats in their flocks for various reasons at various times (cf. Ezekiel 34:17). Also, sheep and goats in the Middle East look more alike than they do in some other parts of the world. [Note: Bailey, in The New . . ., p. 54.] The right often signified the place of favor, and the left the place of comparative disfavor in biblical and Jewish literature. [Note: J. M. Court, "Right and Left: The Implications for Matthew 25:31-46," New Testament Studies 31 (1985):223-29.]

Verse 34

The identification of the King with the Son of Man (Matthew 25:31) recalls Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man approaches the Ancient of Days (God the Father) to receive a kingdom. The purpose of Jesus separating humanity into two groups at the beginning of the kingdom is to determine whom He will admit to the kingdom and whom He will exclude (cf. Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46). The Father blesses (Gr. eulogemenoi, cf. Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39) some by allowing them to enter the kingdom. They now enter into their inheritance, a term that presupposes relationship with the Father. The inheritance involves the blessings God will give them in the kingdom that will vary depending on their service during the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 25:14-23; Matthew 25:28-29).

Jesus’ description of the kingdom as what God had prepared from the foundation of the world is significant. The rule of Messiah on the earth over all humankind has been part of God’s plan since creation. This shows its central place in God’s program for humanity. Its establishment will be the fulfillment of many promises and covenants that God gave to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15), to Abraham (Genesis 12; Genesis 15; Genesis 17; Genesis 21), to David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), and to the nation of Israel (Ezekiel 34:20-31; Jeremiah 31:31-40; Zechariah 10:5-12). [Note: Peters, 2:375.]

Verses 35-40

Jesus clarified the basis for judgment then. It would be reception or rejection of the King as seen in people’s reception or rejection of the King’s brothers. The King’s brothers are probably His faithful disciples who fulfill His will by preaching the gospel of the kingdom during the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 12:48-49; Matthew 28:10; Isaiah 58:7). Most of these will be Jews, including the 144,000, though some may be Gentile converts as well (cf. Revelation 7:1-8; Revelation 14:1-5). They will have become believers following the Rapture since all believers alive on the earth when the Rapture happens will go to be with Jesus then. [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 290-91; Feinberg, Israel in . . ., p. 46; Allen, p. 265; Gaebelein, 2:246-47; Darby, 3:133; Hodges, "Possessing the . . .," 1:3 (November-December 1991):1, 4; and 2:1 (Spring 1992):1, 4.] Other interpreters have identified these brethren as all the needy of the world, [Note: E.g., David R. Catchpole, "The Poor on Earth and the Son of Man in Heaven: A Re-appraisal of Matthew xxv. 31-46," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 61 (1978-79):355-97.] all Jews, [Note: E.g., Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 201; Barbieri, p. 81; and Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans. Vol. I: Man’s Ruin. God’s Wrath, 2:38-39.] or Christian apostles and missionaries. [Note: E.g., J. R. Michaels, "Apostolic Hardships and Righteous Gentiles," Journal of Biblical Literature 84 (1965):27-37; and Peters, 2:376.]

"Those described here are people who have lived through the great tribulation, a time of unparalleled anti-Semitism, when the majority of Jews in the land will be killed. Under these circumstances, if a Gentile befriends a Jew to the extent of feeding and clothing and visiting him, it could only mean that he is a believer in Jesus Christ and recognizes the Jews as the chosen people." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 202.]

The least of Jesus’ brothers are probably Jewish Tribulation martyrs. [Note: See Eugene W. Pond, "Who Are ’the Least’ of Jesus’ Brothers in Matthew 25:40?" Bibliotheca Sacra 159:636 (October-December 2002):436-48.]

Verses 41-45

Jesus will banish the goats and send them into eternal fire (cf. Matthew 13:24-43; Matthew 13:47-50; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 19:15). Jesus’ descriptions of hell were familiar to the Jews of His day (cf. Matthew 3:10; Matthew 3:12; Matthew 5:22; Matthew 7:19; Matthew 13:40; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 18:8-9; Judges 1:7; Revelation 20:10-15). Only the righteous will enter the kingdom (Matthew 25:34). The fact that the goats will address Jesus as "Lord" (Matthew 25:44) does not show they are believers since everyone will acknowledge Him as Lord then (cf. Philippians 2:11).

The sheep and the goats will not express surprise because they anticipated a different fate. They will express surprise because of the evidence by which Jesus will judge their condition, namely, their treatment of His brethren. Normally a person’s works demonstrate his faith or lack of it.

"The King’s messengers, immediately before He appears in glory, will go forth preaching the gospel of the kingdom everywhere; and when the King takes His throne, those that received the gospel of the kingdom among the nations are recognized as ’sheep,’ and the despisers perish as ’goats.’" [Note: Kelly, p. 485.]

Verse 46

The goats (unbelievers) will go into eternal punishment in hell eventually instead of entering the messianic kingdom (cf. Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 13:40-43). This is the only place in Scripture where the term "eternal punishment" appears. Some interpreters believe that "eternal" here does not mean "everlasting" but pertaining to the age to come, which is eternal. [Note: E.g., France, The Gospel . . ., pp. 966-67.] They favor understanding Jesus to mean that the lost will suffer annihilation. This view is sometimes called "conditional immortality." [Note: See Robert A. Peterson, "A Traditionalist Response to John Stott’s Arguments for Annihilationism," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:4 (December 1994):553-68; idem, "Does the Bible Teach Annihilationism?" Bibliotheca Sacra 156:621 (January-March 1999):13-27; Millard J. Erickson, "Is Hell Forever?" Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1995):259-72; and Bruce W. Davidson, "Reasonable Damnation: How Jonathan Edwards Argued for the Rationality of Hell," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:1 (March 1995):47-56.]

"At the time of Christ the punishment of the wicked was certainly regarded as of eternal duration." [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:440. See ibid., 2:791-96, on eternal punishment according to the rabbis and the New Testament.]

Immediately these unbelievers will enter Hades, the place of departed spirits, until God resurrects them at the end of the millennium and sends them to hell (cf. Revelation 20:11-15). The sheep (believers) will enter the kingdom that will be the first stage of their ceaseless life with God. Whereas eternal life begins when a person trusts Jesus Christ, the first stage of life in the King’s presence for these believers will be the messianic kingdom. Elsewhere God revealed that there are degrees of happiness and responsibility in the kingdom (Matthew 25:14-30; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15) and degrees of punishment in hell (Matthew 11:22; Luke 12:47-48). Jesus described the sheep as "righteous."

"This whole discourse again reflects the Lord’s emphasis on righteousness [cf. the Sermon on the Mount]. It is a righteousness founded in faith in God which in turn, by God’s grace, empowers the whole man to live a new and righteous life." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., pp. 291-92.]

Does this passage (Matthew 25:31-46) teach us anything about the time of the Rapture?

"Although the question of whether Christ will come for His church before the tribulation (the pretribulational view) or at the time of His second coming to earth (the posttribulational view) is not dealt with in this passage, the implications are clearly in favor of the pretribulational view. If the rapture and translation of the church occur while Christ is coming from heaven to earth in His second coming to set up His kingdom, and the church meets the Lord in the air, it is obvious that this very act would separate all the saved from the unsaved. Under these circumstances, no judgment of the nations would be necessary subsequent to the second coming of Christ, because the sheep and the goats would already be separated." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 203. See also Paul D. Feinberg, "Dispensational Theology . . .," pp. 229-35.]

Thus ends the Olivet Discourse. Revelation 6-20 provides further exposition of Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse. [Note: For other expositions of the whole Olivet Discourse, see Walvoord, "Christ’s Olivet Discourse on the End of the Age," Bibliotheca Sacra 128:510 (April-June 1971):109-16; 128:511 (July-September 1971):206-14; 128:512 (October-December 1971):316-26; 129:513 (January-March 1972):20-32; 129:514 (April-June 1972):99-105; 129:515 (July-September 1972):206-10; 129:516 (October-December 1972):307-15; and Pentecost, Thy Kingdom . . ., pp. 247-62.]

"Taken as a whole, the Olivet discourse is one of the great prophetic utterances of Scripture and provides facts nowhere else given in quite the same way. In it, Christ, the greatest of the prophets and the master Teacher, described the end of the age as the climax of the troubles of earth in a great tribulation. The time of unprecedented trouble will be terminated by the second coming of Christ. The saved and the unsaved will be separated, and only the saved will enter the millennial kingdom. This is the final word, which Matthew brings in answer to the leading question of this first gospel, concerning the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament of a glorious kingdom on earth. Matthew states clearly that while Christ, in His first coming, suffered and died and was rejected as both King and Saviour by His own people, He will come again and, in triumph, will bring in the prophesied kingdom literally, just as the Old Testament prophecies had anticipated. There is postponement but not annulment of the great prophecies of the kingdom on earth." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p. 204.]

In one sense Matthew 25:46 is the climax of Matthew’s argument in this Gospel. [Note: Kiddle, p. 44.]

"He has at this point accomplished his main purposes in presenting the credentials of the King and the kingdom program of the Jews. The King has shown Himself by His words and His works to be Israel’s Messiah. Because Israel refused to accept Him as their King, the kingdom is taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth fruit worthy of repentance. However, this situation will exist only until the son of Man comes in His glory. At that time, all unrighteousness will be vindicated and Christ shall reign as Israel’s King over the nations of the earth." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p. 292.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/matthew-25.html. 2012.
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