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‘Then will the kingly rule of heaven be likened to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.’
‘Then the kingly rule of heaven will be likened (future passive).’ The Kingly Rule of Heaven is thus to be seen as like this in its whole history from start to finish, although the future tense, in contrast with Matthew 13:24; Matthew 18:23; Matthew 22:2; (where they are aorist passives) see also Matthew 13:31; Matthew 13:33; Matthew 13:44-45; Matthew 13:47; Matthew 20:1, may be intended to suggest a special concentration on the closing days of the age, although when that will be is not known, and therefore all must see themselves in it. The parable is therefore giving a picture of the outworking of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in this life, as it describes some who are under that Kingly Rule of Heaven, and then leads on to the final consequences in the continuation of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in the next life. The wise maidens have entered under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, for they possess the essential light-giving qualities. They have been blessed by God (Matthew 5:3-9). They have received the divine benefits. But the foolish have not, as is evidenced by the fact that they do not have those qualities. They have not received the divine benefits. They have not been recipients of God’s blessing. What they have is dried out and old, and useless for providing light. Thus the wise will enter the eternal kingdom, for they will eat at His table. The foolish will have no place in it.
The number ten is a number that indicates a complete whole. We may see these virgins either as representing the whole world, for in the end all are called on to look for His coming and to welcome Him, or it may be seen as indicating all who make a profession of being His. Readers may certainly see themselves as included.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
Another emphasis on the fact that all must be ready for His second coming is found in this parable. It is the parable of ten maidens who were to go out to meet the bridegroom in accordance with custom, to welcome him with their well lit, oil-soaked torches, so as to escort him to the banqueting hall where the wedding would take place. These torches would consist of sticks with rags attached at the end which were soaked in oil before they were lit. When lit they would then burn brightly while the oil lasted. But five foolishly took no spare oil with them. They thought that what they had in their torches was enough. Thus when after some delay the call came that the Bridegroom was coming they were unable to keep their torches alight because there was too little oil left in them. The oil was drying out. And they had no surplus oil with which to renew them. Only the five who were ready, and had brought vessels of oil with which to renew their torches, could thus keep their torches burning brightly. They went happily in with the Bridegroom into the wedding feast, able to fulfil their duties. The foolish were left outside, trying to find somewhere where they could buy oil, and when at length they arrived at the building where the wedding was taking place (we are not told whether they had obtained oil or not) they were refused admittance. They knocked and pleaded but it did them no good. The Bridegroom would not acknowledge them. For the whole main point of the parable is that they should have been watching and prepared. By not being ready they had proved themselves as not being the Bridegroom’s true friends, and as not being fit to share in the wedding celebrations.
The identity of the Bridegroom is clear from previous parabolic material. Compare Matthew 9:15; Matthew 22:2. In both cases the Bridegroom is Jesus, and in the latter case the King’s Son. The maidens clearly represent all who should be watching and ready for His coming. Having light, or the lack of it, reminds us of Matthew 5:14; Matthew 5:16. The lives of those who are His are to be like a shining light. That is what identifies them. The oil is whatever is needed to provide that light. This may therefore indicate the special blessing of God (Matthew 5:3-10; Matthew 11:6; Matthew 13:16; Matthew 16:17), continuing true faith (Matthew 8:10; Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:29; Matthew 15:28), and/or the drenching in and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). But the idea is rather general than particular. It is to be seen as whatever is required to keep the torch burning brightly. This is a good example of a parable that has one main point, and yet whose very content contains a number of unavoidable lessons.
a Then shall the kingly rule of heaven be likened to ten virgins, who took their torches, and went forth to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1).
b And five of them were foolish (Matthew 25:2 a).
c And five were wise (Matthew 25:2 b).
d For the foolish, when they took their torches, took no oil with them (Matthew 25:3).
e But the wise took oil in their vessels with their torches (Matthew 25:4).
f Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept (Matthew 25:5).
g But in the middle of the night there is a cry, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come forth to meet him” (Matthew 25:6).
f Then all those virgins arose, and lit their torches (Matthew 25:7).
e And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us of your oil, for our torches are going out,”
d But the wise answered, saying, “Perhaps there will not be enough for us and you. Go you rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves” (Matthew 25:8-9).
c And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and they who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut (Matthew 25:10).
b Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But he answered and said, Truly I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:11-12).
a “Watch therefore, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
Note that in ‘a’ the virgins go forth with the set purpose of meeting the bridegroom whenever he comes, and in the parallel all are to watch in the same way. In ‘b’ five of the virgins were foolish, and in the parallel they thus came too late because they were unready. In ‘c’ five were wise, and in the parallel they thus came on time because they were ready. In ‘d’ the foolish had no oil with them and in the parallel they are told to go and obtain oil. In ‘e’ the wise had oil and in the parallel the foolish wanted to share their oil. In ‘f’ they all slept, and in the parallel they arose. Centrally in ‘g’ is the fact that the Bridegroom came.
‘And five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For the foolish, when they took their torches, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their torches.’
The division between five and five is arbitrary. The point is that everyone is in one section or the other (compare Matthew 7:13-14). And the question is whether they will be those who are truly prepared when the Lord comes, or whether they will be those who are just carelessly assuming that everything will be all right, only to discover at the last that it is not. They lack the vital ingredient that makes all the difference, the oil of true spirituality which reveals itself in giving true spiritual light.
The torches would be sticks to which oiled rags would be attached. These would be soaked in oil. As the time passed the oil in the rags would tend to dry out, and the wise therefore took with them vessels containing olive oil with which they could further soak the rags when they had to be lit, thus renewing the oil. The foolish just depended on the old oil as being enough for the purpose. But because they all had to wait for a while the oil in their torches would dry out.
In these verses we have laid out before us the basically important question in life. In what does true wisdom consist? And the answer given is that true wisdom lies in possessing the God-provided oil so that the torch may shine out (Matthew 5:16). The parable does not tell us where this God-provided oil would come from. But we have only to look at the remainder of the Gospel, and especially to Jesus’ teaching, to discover the answer to that question. It comes from being especially blessed by God (Matthew 5:3-10; Matthew 11:6; Matthew 13:16; Matthew 16:17), it comes through faith (Matthew 8:10; Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:29; Matthew 15:28), it comes from the working of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11), it comes from being one of the ransomed (Matthew 20:28). Most of those who are seen as wise in this world will spurn such oil, for it is for ‘babes’ (Matthew 11:25; Matthew 18:3-4 compare 1 Corinthians 1:18 to 1 Corinthians 2:16). It is for the lowly in heart (Matthew 5:3-9; Matthew 11:28-30).
‘Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all fell asleep and slept for some time.’
But there was a delay in the Bridegroom’s coming, just as there had been delay in the return of the Master (Matthew 24:48). Thus Jesus’ teaching concerning His coming has built into it the idea of unexpected delay. He wants all to know that it will not necessarily come as soon as expected. And the result was that inevitably all fell asleep, and then continued to slumber or drowsed off and then went to sleep. There was nothing sinful in that. We all have to sleep. Indeed as long as they were ready it was a wise move. The folly lay in not making full preparations before going to sleep. Note the aorist followed by the imperfect. They fell asleep and went on sleeping. Or alternately ‘they became drowsy and then went to sleep’.
‘But in the middle of the night there is a cry, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come you forth to meet him.” ’
And then while they slept the moment that they had been awaiting arrived. In the middle of the night (not necessarily midnight, but possibly even later) the cry went out, ‘the Bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet Him’. None had known when He would come, and the middle of the night was an unusual hour. He had come at a time when they did not expect (compare Matthew 24:50). And that was when their readiness would be tested.
‘Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their torches.’
And as a result all arose and ‘trimmed their torches’. They did all that was necessary in order for them to shine out. This was when readiness was vital. If they were not properly prepared their torches would not shine out, because something would be missing. And that was when the foolish recognised that they had no further supplies of oil. We should recognise here that they had failed the Bridegroom. They were to be an essential part of the procession, and then of the dancing. But because of their foolishness they were of no use for the task. The vital element was missing, well lit torches. They could not play their part in the celebration, and all because of their own folly.
Strictly the picture is of those who would expect to be ready to meet the Bridegroom. If we take it in that way it represents those who had some knowledge of the Bridegroom and wanted to welcome Him, and yet had failed to make the necessary preparations. Outwardly they professed to be His friends. But underneath they were not. But we cannot just tie it down to those who profess to be Christians. For in the nature of the Bridegroom ALL should be ready to meet Him. Thus in the end the folly is of all who are not ready for His coming. As in all parables, each can apply it to their own case.
‘And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” ’
The foolish suddenly realised that they had failed to provide extra oil for themselves. They thus knew that they had nothing suitable with which to welcome the Bridegroom, for without further oil the drying out torches would not continue to burn. Their torches were already ‘going out’. The oil simply refers to the divine provision that they had failed to obtain, and which therefore resulted in their lives not shining out. They had been content with the old oil which was drying out. They had not responded to the word of God (Matthew 15:3; Matthew 15:6), they had not been open to the work of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11), they had not pure their real trust in the Lord (Matthew 8:10; Matthew 9:28-29; etc), they had not benefited from the blessing of God (Matthew 5:3-9; Matthew 11:25; Matthew 13:16). Note these things all go together. Had they responded truly to Him their lives would also have shone out, for they would have enjoyed all of them. It would have been inevitable.
‘But the wise answered, saying, “Perhaps there will not be enough for us and you. You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” ’
The wise knew that they could not help them. They had only brought with them sufficient for their own needs. They had none to spare. And they dared not take the risk of spoiling the wedding. Everyone was depending on them. Similarly those who are His can be sure that they will receive total sufficiency for all that they need. But they will need it all if their torch is to continue to burn brightly. So all that these virgins could do quite genuinely was point their fellow-virgins to the oil-vendors. The foolish had previously failed to come to God and buy what was without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1). Sadly they would now find that it was too late to obtain what they needed.
‘And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and they those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.’
For while the foolish went off to seek what was needed the Bridegroom came. Those who were ready went out with their brightly shining torches, to welcome him, and they all went into the wedding feast. And then the door was shut! The time of opportunity had passed.
‘The door was shut.’ The point is made quite clearly. There will come a point in history when the Lord comes, and at that point all further opportunities for salvation will cease. Those who are prepared because they have what gives light will enter into the presence of God with Him, and enjoy the marriage feast with Him. And for all others their last opportunity will have gone, and that will include many who thought that they were ready, but will suddenly discover that they have no oil. It was true that they were properly dressed. It was true that they had their torches. But their dimly lighted wick had been quenched, for they had insufficient oil. Their torches could not shine and thus they would not be received.
There are many foolish people who argue about whether you can accept Jesus as Saviour and not as Lord. But that is something you cannot do. It is irrational. Receiving Jesus is a personal experience. If you accept Jesus you accept Him for what He is, both Saviour and Lord. How that works out is a different question, and it may take time before the realisation of what has happened can sink in. But the warning here is to beware lest you are found to have no oil, no true work of God within (Philippians 2:13). For if you have oil your torches will shine out. But if you have no oil clever theology will not help at all.
‘Afterwards came also the other virgins, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” ’
Having either purchased oil of a kind, or having been unable to obtain any (it really made no difference), the remaining maidens came running desperately to the door and discovered that it was shut against them. And they hammered on the door and cried out in despair, ‘Lord, Lord open to us.’ We can compare these words, and the double repetition of ‘Lord’, with what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-22. There too there were some who had thought that they were ready, but then discovered that they were not. For only those will enter who had done the will of their Father (Matthew 7:21), those whose torch shines out because they have been truly blessed by God (Matthew 5:16; compare Matthew 13:43). For it was this blessing of God at work within them that would result in their doing the will of the Father.
‘But he answered and said, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” ’
The reply of the Bridegroom came back firm and strong, ‘Truly I do not know you!’ Compare Matthew 7:23, and note there that He had never known them. This is not a case of the saved being lost, it is a case of people who have wrong ideas and so do not take the trouble to be properly prepared. They are not His elect (Matthew 24:31), and have never been so. For had they been so they would have had oil, and their lamps would have burned brightly. They would have been blessed by God in a life-transforming (Matthew 5:16), mind-enlightening (Matthew 11:25) way; they would have received the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11); they would have looked to Him in faith and trust (John 10:26-28). But they had not. Thus when it counted most they found that He did not recognise them. The lesson is clear. If your torch does not shine out brightly you are in danger of Him saying, ‘I do not know you’.
“Watch therefore, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”
And then Jesus applies the main lesson of the Parable. All must watch in full preparedness so that they will be ready for His coming, for they do not know the day or the hour when He will come (compare Matthew 24:36; Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:44; Matthew 24:50). And watching does not just mean ‘looking out’, it involves being ready and fully prepared.
“For it is as when a man, going into another country, called his own servants, and delivered to them his goods.”
‘It is as --.’ That is, ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven is as --.’ Note the relationship of the Kingly Rule of Heaven to the man who is going away. It is He Who has the Kingly Rule. And those to whom He gives responsibilities are under His Kingly Rule. On going away for a while He hands over all that is His to His servants for them to make use of while He is away. They are to use it in recognition of His second coming, the time for giving account. Each is to make of them what they can.
The Parable of the Talents (25:14-30).
In this third of three major parables on the need to be ready for His coming Jesus likens Himself to a man who goes to another country and hands over control of all that He has to servants so that they can look after His affairs. Two of them do well and double what He gives them. They receive His “well done!” But one makes no use of what he is given and buries it in the ground in order to keep it safe. When called on to give account he admits that he knows what he should have done and is accused of abusing what he has been given, by not using it for the benefit of his master. The result is that he is utterly condemned. The important lesson here is that all must use what God puts under their control to the glory of God, and that if we refuse to make use of what He puts under our control for His glory, building on it so that it multiplies, we can only expect judgment. Note that it is not a case of a man who does great wrong (as similarly in the first parable). It is the case of a man who does nothing, as in the case of what follows in Matthew 25:31-46.
a “For it is as when a man, going into another country, called his own servants, and delivered to them his goods, and to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his several ability, and he went on his journey” (Matthew 25:14-15).
b “Immediately he who received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. In the same way he also who received the two gained another two” (Matthew 25:16-17).
c “But he who received the one went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord’s money” (Matthew 25:18).
d “Now after a long time the lord of those servants comes, and makes a reckoning with them” (Matthew 25:19).
e “And he who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, ‘Lord, you handed over to me five talents. Lo, I have gained another five talents’ ” (Matthew 25:20).
f “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’ ” (Matthew 25:21).
g “And he also who received the two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you handed over to me two talents. Lo, I have gained another two talents’ ” (Matthew 25:22).
f “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’ ” (Matthew 25:23).
e “And he also who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you, that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter, and I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Lo, you have your own’ ” (Matthew 25:24-25).
d “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter’ ” (Matthew 25:26).
c “You ought therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own, with interest” (Matthew 25:27).
b “Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents” (Matthew 25:28).
a “For to every one who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away, and cast you out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:29-30).
Note that in ‘a’ the man delivers his goods to his servants, and in the parallel what they do with them determines their future destiny. In ‘b’ the five and two talents are given to two servants respectively, and in the parallel the receiver of the five talents receives an extra talent. In ‘c’ the one who received the one buried it in the earth, and in the parallel he is accused of wasting its value. In ‘d’ the lord returns to reckon with his servants, and in the parallel he castigates the one who failed for not recognising the reckoning that he would have to make. In ‘e’ the one who shone out had made five talents more, and has no criticism of his lord, while in contrast the one who had failed hands it back, blaming his lord for his behaviour. In ‘f’ the one with five talents receives his lord’s ‘well done’, and in the parallel the one with two talents receives the same. Centrally in ‘g’ the one who received two talents has doubled what he had received. But as sometimes happens with a chiasmus the central emphasis is to be seen in the central three points. Success is attended by a ‘well done’.
“And to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his several ability, and he went on his journey.”
Note that no one is expected to do more than they are capable of. Each is given a task to do in accordance with their ability. Each has been assessed and is called on only to do what they can.
“Immediately he who received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.”
The first goes out ‘immediately’. He is joyful and dedicated in his service. And he makes full use of what has been entrusted to him by his Lord. He trades, and turns the five talents into ten talents. A talent, which is a weight of silver or gold, was no mean sum of money so that five talents was a large amount (possibly half a lifetime’s wages), and it therefore involved him in being very busy, with his mind concentrated on what he was doing. He was ‘watching’, but he did not have time to stand and stare. He was busy for his Master.
“In the same way he also who received the two gained another two.”
The man who had received the two talents, a lesser amount, but still very large, behaved similarly. And he too doubled what he had been given. He gained two talents more.
“But he who received the one went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.”
But the one who received the one talent, which did not after all require all that much of him, although it was still a useful sum (it was beyond most people’s dreams), went away, and instead of making use of what had been entrusted to him he buried it in the earth. Burial was a recognised way of keeping treasures safe in those days. He was just doing what many people did. But the point is that he was refusing to make use of what had been entrusted to him, possibly because in his misguided view of his Master he was either frozen with fear, or resentful and unwilling to serve. Either he was terrified at the thought of losing the precious money, or he simply did not want to be bothered with it (as ever Jesus leaves each listener to apply it to his own situation). We should recognise that he was a servant, and knew that his responsibility was to make use of what he had been entrusted with. But he chose not to do so. He thus had no excuse when called to account. In the same way many are so terrified of God that they never come to appreciate His mercy, and others just cannot be bothered with Him, and resent His demands. Both can fit into this picture.
“Now after a long time the lord of those servants comes, and makes a reckoning with them.”
Inevitably the day came when the Lord returned and called them all in for reckoning. In the context this refers to Jesus’ second coming. Thus all were to be busily occupied until His return.
“And he who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, ‘Lord, you handed over to me five talents. Lo, I have gained another five talents’.”
The first servant came to give his account and was able to point to the fact that he had doubled his five talents. The Lord had entrusted him with five talents and he had made use of them to produce five talents more. His Lord had greatly benefited from his endeavours and his skill. And he came with joy at what he had been able to do for his Lord.
“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ ”
And he thus received his Lord’s commendation of ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ (or ‘it is well, good and faithful servant’). Note the description. He was like the faithful and wise servant of Matthew 24:45. For this is what the Lord requires of all of us. Faithfulness, goodness and commonsense. The result is that he learns that, because he has been faithful over a few things, the Lord will set him over many things. He is to enter into his Lord’s favour, and share His joy.
“And he also who received the two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you handed over to me two talents. Lo, I have gained another two talents.’ ”
The one who had received the two talents also came to render account, and was able to point out that he had doubled what he had been given. He too had used what was entrusted to him wisely and well.
“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ ”
And he too received the same commendation and the same reward (compare Matthew 20:1-16). But the greatest reward of all was in being pleasing to his Lord. He too was ‘set over many things’.
“And he also who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you, that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter, and I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Lo, you have your own.’ ”
However, the man with the one talent had nothing extra to offer, for he had made no use of what had been entrusted to him. He had simply hidden it away. But he knew who was to blame for that. It was his Lord’s fault. If his Lord had not been such a hard and exacting master he would have behaved differently. But he knew that his master was one who expected to reap where he did not sow, and to gather where he had not scattered. He was unfair, and greedy, and not to be trusted. Thus he had taken no risks. He had gone away and hidden the talent in the earth. And now here it was. He could have it back safe and sound.
His words were like a mirror of his heart, and by them he was self-condemned (compare Matthew 12:36-37). Firstly he had a jaundiced view of his Lord, a view which we know from the remainder of the parable was untrue. He considered him to be hard and unfair, and to be someone who expected too much. And he was sure that if he lost what had been entrusted to him he would be severely punished. There are many who see serving Christ in the same way. And yet his words also reveal that he knew what he should have done. He knew where his duty really lay. He knew that he should have multiplied the talent so that his Lord would be pleased. By his words he was actually passing sentence on himself, for he had blatantly refused to do what was required of him because of his resentment about his Lord. And such an attitude lies behind the failure of all men who fail to make use of what God entrusts to them for His glory. Belief in God is not rejected because it is irrational. That is the face saving excuse. It is because it makes too many demands, and interferes with our being able to have our own way.
So he thrust the talent back at his Master, and said, ‘There you are take it. You have it back, just as you gave it to me, unused and untouched.’ And the fact that it was untouched revealed that the servant had failed in his duty, and in his responsibility. He had thought that he could behave as though his Lord was never coming back. And that was precisely how he had behaved.
Paul in Romans 1:18 onwards speaks similarly of man’s awareness of what his responsibility is, and of his refusal to acknowledge it. No man, he says, will be able to say in the last Day that he was not aware of what he should have been, and of what he should have done. For all are aware from the least to the greatest. All have an inward awareness of the reality of God. All are aware of the moral ‘ought’, the fact of what they ought to do. All can see the divine plan and beauty in nature. That is why in the end all try to seek to justify their actions, whatever they may be, for they know that they have not behaved as they ought. Thus they are as foolish as this man was. And like this servant the majority simply bury what God has entrusted them with, or misuse it to their own advantage ignoring the fact that one day they must give account.
“But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter. You ought therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own, with interest.”
But his Lord answered him in his own coin. In contrast with the ‘good and faithful’ servants, this servant had failed in his duty. He was the very opposite. He was a ‘wicked and slothful’ servant. His attitude was wrong, his heart was wrong, and he was lazy too. For he had himself admitted that he knew what was required of him, and indeed that it was his duty, and by his own admission he had refused to do his Lord’s will. The very minimum that he should have done was to invest the money so that it gained interest that he could hand to his Lord. All that the Lord had wanted was that he should do what he could. But he had refused to do even that, and that because of his wrong attitude towards his Lord.
“Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.”
So his sentence was twofold. Firstly that he should lose what had been entrusted to him, simply because he could not be trusted to use it properly. He was rather to see it given away to another who had proved to be more worthy of it, and would use it properly. Secondly that he be sent away for severe punishment. He had said, ‘Take it.’ And so his Lord would. And then his Lord revealed His own generous nature by giving it to the one who had ten talents, exposing once for all the calumnies of the wicked servant.
“For to every one who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
And thus was fulfilled the proverb that to those who ‘have’, because they have been good and faithful, will more be given. They will receive an abundance. But as regards the man who was unfaithful, and had therefore handed back all that he had been entrusted with, even what he had would be taken away from him, both his talent and his life. (This would have applied even if it had been the man with five talents who had failed. But Jesus used the man with one talent as His example, because he was the one who was like most of us).
“And cast you out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
These words are left until the end so as to bring out their emphasis. This was what the parable was finally leading up to. It is not an added note, it is at the heart of the parable, the failure of men and women to respond to Jesus Christ with their lives. Jesus was warning all who were listening, that this was what had to be avoided at all costs.
For the one who refuses to serve his Lord and fails to make use of what He entrusts to him, is unprofitable. And he will thus be cast into the outer darkness, away from the light. Light is regularly the picture of eternal bliss (Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5). It is a symbol of living in the presence of God. And that is what this man has lost. He is cast into outer darkness, away from the light, and there, as he observes all that he has lost, he will weep and gnash his teeth. For the outer darkness see Matthew 4:16; Matthew 8:12; John 12:46. For weeping and gnashing of teeth see Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51, always apparently referring to the despair of the lost at what they have lost.
“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,”
Significantly here the Son of Man is paralleled with the King (Matthew 25:32). In Daniel 7:13-14 the son of man came into the presence of the Ancient of Days and was given a kingdom and glory and dominion. In the case of Jesus this was fulfilled by His enthronement after the resurrection (Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36; Acts 7:55-56) when He received His eternal kingdom (Daniel 7:14). And now that glory is to be openly revealed to the world. Compare Matthew 16:27 where the Son of Man comes in the glory of His Father with His angels in order to render to every man according to his deeds, and Matthew 24:30-31 where the Son of Man comes on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory and sends out His angels to gather His elect. Both are being fulfilled here. The angels are attendants who carry out the duties required by the court. That the Son of Man is Jesus is demonstrated by the fact that it is the answer to the question about ‘Your coming’ (Matthew 24:3), and this is confirmed by the use of the term Son of Man throughout the remainder of the Gospel. One significance of the title Son of Man was that Jesus was bringing out that His life was finally fulfilling Old Testament prophecy.
‘Then shall He sit on the throne of his glory.’ As He will have been given a kingdom, and glory and dominion (Daniel 7:14), He will clearly have received His throne. This is thus that very throne where He received His glory. But regularly it is also His Father’s throne (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 6:16-17; Revelation 14:14; Daniel 7:13-14; Jeremiah 14:21) where He sits at His right hand (Psalms 110:1; Acts 2:34; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22), and from which the covenant is confirmed and made sure (Jeremiah 14:21). Isaiah had seen it in vision (Isaiah 6:1). It was the place from which judgments were made. Here Jesus is making clear that He is, as the Son of Man, the Judge of all the earth (compare John 5:22; John 5:27; Genesis 18:25).
“And before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
From His throne He surveys ‘all nations’. These include the ‘all nations’ who have hated His disciples and followers throughout the age (Matthew 24:9), and the ‘all nations’ who have been evangelised prior to His coming (Matthew 24:14) and have been ‘discipled’ (Matthew 28:19). Thus, as with those verses it has in mind individuals, and it includes the living and the dead. Now His voice has spoken and the dead have come from their graves to receive either life or judgment (John 5:28-29). It includes the nations who had been waiting in their tomb worlds for this time (Ezekiel 32:17-32), and the righteous raised from the dust of the earth (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2-3) which also at the same time includes the unrighteous (Daniel 12:2). For at His coming the dead in Christ are raised, and the living are transformed (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
The Final Judgment (25:32-46).
That this is the final judgment comes out in that its verdict determines the eternal destiny of men (Matthew 25:46). It should be noted that it is not said to take place on earth, it includes everyone, that is ‘all the nations’, whether living or dead, for all the dead await His coming too. (See John 5:28-29; Compare Ezekiel 32:17-32 where the nations as nations are in their graves on earth awaiting judgment; Psalms 2:9 with Matthew 25:1 where the nations are finally to be severely judged). There the righteous will inherit the Kingly Rule prepared for them ‘from the foundation of the world’, in other words the Kingly Rule of God which began from the beginning in Eden, where man was appointed as God’s representative on earth (Genesis 1:26-28), continued on in a small way under the patriarchs, was re-established at Sinai with the promise that they would become a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6; Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 33:5), looked as though it was being set up by Joshua, leaked away through disobedience in Judges, was promised again through David (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 11:1-9; Ezekiel 37:25), but never came to fruition, and has, however, never ceased in Heaven (Psalms 22:28; Psalms 103:19) in spite of man’s failure, and has now been reintroduced as a heavenly kingly rule on earth by Jesus Christ the son of David, and David’s Lord, that is as a Kingly Rule on earth by God over His responsive people, which will finally result in an everlasting kingdom in Heaven. This is what Matthew is all about. Compare Genesis 1:26-28; Psalms 8:0 with Hebrews 2:9-11; Exodus 19:5-6; Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 33:5; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-9; Ezekiel 37:25.
The idea of a ‘glorious throne’ should not be taken literally (see, however, Ezekiel 1:0, although there also it was visionary), for God is Spirit, but for those who wish to see it as such it is depicted as the throne of His glory which is in Heaven where He shares it with His Father (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 6:16-17; Revelation 14:14; Daniel 7:13-14; Jeremiah 14:21), in the same way as He has taken His seat at the right hand of God (Acts 2:34; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 1:13; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22) and all creation cries ‘glory’ Matthew 4:9; Matthew 4:11; Matthew 5:12-13). From this throne the covenant was confirmed and made sure (Jeremiah 14:21) We can compare it also with the great white throne (Revelation 20:11-15), the seat of impeccable judgment, from which Heaven and earth fled away. No doubt the same happens here. Indeed we should recognise that God’s judgment through His Son is pictured in many ways, all vivid, and the common idea behind all is the separation between the righteous and the unrighteous, and the appalling end of the unrighteous (compare Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 13:49-50; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Revelation 6:16-17; Revelation 14:6-20; Revelation 16:17-21; Revelation 19:11-21). The details are never to be pressed. It is the ideas, the principles and the final results that are important. Thus Jesus will not come on a white horse, nor will He and His accompanying angels have to do battle with earthly forces (as the account itself makes clear all is accomplished through His word of power). The world’s armouries would be powerless against His all prevailing presence, (to say nothing of their ineffectiveness against spirits). These are pictures emphasising that He is the true Messiah (contrast Matthew 6:2), coming in purity and divine power, and in triumph, to bring about His will, and bring all into judgment by His word (Revelation 19:11-21). But the picture is nevertheless magnificent and conveys the foundational ideas perfectly adequately in a way that people can understand and appreciate.
Here in Matthew 25:31-46 the emphasis is to be on the grounds of judgment, a judgment which applies to individuals, and is based on both the Law and the Sermon on the Mount. It examines men’s willingness to show consideration and mercy. It can be paralleled with Revelation 20:12-13, where the question is again the manner of life, and there also the result is eternal life for those in the book of life, and eternal punishment for the remainder (Revelation 20:15, compare Matthew 25:46). The reason that the righteous are spared is not because they are seen as ‘not guilty’ on the basis of their own merits (they do not think that they have any merits; compare Romans 3:19-20), but rather because the quality of their lives will reveal that they are those who have been blessed by God (Matthew 5:3-9) who have been ransomed (Matthew 20:28) and forgiven (Matthew 18:27; Matthew 18:32 compare Matthew 6:12-15), who have been filled with righteousness by the Righteous One (Matthew 5:6 compare Matthew 6:33), and have thus begun to walk in the way of righteousness (Matthew 21:32) with their light shining clearly before men. They are those who from the beginning have been chosen by Him (Matthew 25:34; Matthew 24:31). They are judged by their changed lives, because they have become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), and are living out the effects of the blessing of God (Matthew 5:3-9).
This has little in parallel with the judgment scene described in Joel 3:0 where it is the nations who are charged as nations. There it is because they have scattered His people, cast lots for them in order to sell both males and females into prostitution, stolen God’s possessions, and have sold His people as slaves. Furthermore they would be sold off as slaves in return, demonstrating that that is an earthly judgment scene carried out by earthly people with earthly results (Joel 3:2-8). Their judgment would come on the battlefield in the valley of Jehoshaphat (often the battleground of the nations) where they would be punished as nations (Joel 3:9-12 a), by awesome defeat, something which in fact happened fairly regularly (e.g. 2 Kings 23:29), although such judgments are then seemingly connected with (although not necessarily following immediately by) the last judgment to which they lead up (compare Joel 3:12-14 with Revelation 14:14-20). In the Old Testament all God’s judgments on nations are pointers to the end, but we must distinguish those judgments from the last judgment which is necessarily of a totally different kind.
It is significant how much that is in the verdict given here is connected with the Law, the Sermon on the Mount, and the remainder of Matthew’s Gospel:
* “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.” See Matthew 14:16; Matthew 5:42; Matthew 6:25-26; Matthew 7:9-12; Leviticus 19:9-10; Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 25:6; Leviticus 25:35; Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 24:19-22; Deuteronomy 26:12; Isaiah 58:7; Ezekiel 18:7; consider also 1Ki 17:10-16 ; 2 Kings 4:43-44.
* “I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.” See Matthew 10:42; Matthew 5:42; Matthew 6:25-26; Leviticus 25:6; Leviticus 25:35; Deuteronomy 24:21; Deuteronomy 26:12.
* “I was a stranger, and you took me in.” See Matthew 5:43-47; Matthew 22:39; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Leviticus 25:6; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 15:13-15; Deuteronomy 23:7-8; Deuteronomy 23:15-16; Deuteronomy 26:12; Isaiah 58:7.
* “Naked, and you clothed me.” See Matthew 5:40; Matthew 5:42; Matthew 6:27; Leviticus 25:35; Isaiah 58:7; Ezekiel 18:7.
* “I was sick, and you visited me.” See Matthew 10:8. The gifts of healing in the early church would very much encourage this, compare James 5:14; consider also 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:22-37 and compare Sir 7:35 .
* “I was in prison, and you came to me.” See Matthew 10:18; Matthew 11:2; Matthew 5:25-26; Luke 21:12; Hebrews 13:3.
* For the whole see Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 5:23-24; Matthew 5:38-48; Matthew 6:3; Matthew 6:20; Matthew 7:9-12; Matthew 7:17; Matthew 7:20; Matthew 7:24; Matthew 11:29-30; Matthew 12:33; Matthew 12:35; Matthew 22:39 Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 15:7-8; Deuteronomy 15:11; Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Isaiah 58:7; and the whole example of Jesus.
Note how in one way or another all these benefits were given by God to His erring people in the Old Testament, for He regularly promises to feed and water His people (e.g. Psalms 146:7 and often); to welcome them when they have become as strangers (Hosea 1:9-10) and to welcome the Gentiles (e.g. Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 49:22; Malachi 1:11), to clothe His people (Genesis 3:21; Deuteronomy 8:4; Ezekiel 16:10-14; Zechariah 3:4-5), to visit the sick (Psalms 103:3; Psalms 146:8; Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 61:1) and to show compassion on the prisoners (Psalms 102:20; Psalms 146:7; Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 61:1; Zechariah 9:11-12). Thus to be like this is to be God-like (Matthew 5:48).
The analysis of the passage is simple:
a Introduction (Matthew 25:31-33).
b Judgment on The Righteous (Matthew 25:34-40).
b Judgment on The Unrighteous (Matthew 25:41-45).
a Final Verdict and Ending (Matthew 25:46).
It will be noted that the two Judgments follow precisely the same pattern.
“And he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”
He is pictured as a shepherd dividing the flock. The separating of sheep from goats for various reasons was a regular part of the shepherd’s life. Goats required different treatment from sheep, and especially to be protected from the cold at night, while sheep had at some time to be sheared, and were more highly regarded. Other reasons for separation may have been for breeding, or for the purposes of the market. To be placed on the right hand was to be placed on the favoured side. It indicated judgment in favour. To be placed on the left indicated guilt and judgment. A similar idea is found in other ancient literature.
This division between the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous, the elect and the non-elect is pictured elsewhere in many ways. See for example Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 13:49-50; Matthew 24:31; Matthew 24:38-41; Daniel 12:2-3; John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:13-15. The righteous are those whom Jesus has saved from their sins (Matthew 1:21). We must remember that when God goes about His judgment there will not be the same logistical difficulties as there would be for men. This is not so much a description of how it will be done, but of what will be accomplished.
“Then will the King say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingly rule prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ ”
Here Jesus is for the first time called King. For the shepherd King see Ezekiel 37:24. For the Son of Man as King see Matthew 13:41, where it is also directly related to the judgment. It is noteworthy that He does not address them as ‘you righteous’, but as those who have been ‘blessed by His Father’. That is what has made them acceptable (compare Matthew 5:3-9; Matthew 13:16). And because they have been so blessed they are to ‘inherit’. An inheritance is something that is bestowed by a benefactor on those whom he chooses because of their relationship. Inheritance therefore indicates what is given and received in total undeserving. And as a result these are to enter into the everlasting Kingdom under His Kingly Rule. They are to inherit eternal life (Matthew 25:46).
“For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.”
The reason for His verdict is given. It lies in what they have revealed themselves to be (compare especially Isaiah 58:7; Ezekiel 18:5-9). They have revealed their love for Him by how they have behaved towards ‘His brothers’. By their behaviour they have revealed that they are true sons of their Father (Matthew 5:42-48). Compare Acts 9:1; Acts 9:4-5 for this idea that what people do to Jesus’ disciples is done to Him, because they are a part of Him (John 15:1-6; John 17:20-21; 1 Corinthians 12:12 onwards).
There is an interesting parallel in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, ‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless’. But these are the more obvious needs of the poor, and together with hospitality, were widely practised (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). It is the other two which are more distinctive and are very much seen as Christian responsibilities (see Hebrews 13:2-3; James 5:14; Acts 28:8; but see also Sir 7:35 ). Nevertheless the whole was a reminder by Jesus of the future that many of His people would face.
As mentioned above this behaviour parallels God’s behaviour towards His own in the Old Testament. Thus by doing this they are being perfect even as their Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). It also parallels the behaviour of God’s Coming One (Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 49:10; Isaiah 61:1-3), thus making them like Himself.
We can compare how this epitomises the early church as seen in the book of Acts 2:45; Acts 4:34 where food, drink and clothing was ensured for all by the sacrifices of some among them, because they had first ‘believed’ (Acts 2:44; Acts 4:32). And that would also soon develop into prison visiting, which would be very necessary because prisoners depended on outsiders to provide their food (Acts 8:3). It could, however, be very dangerous, especially in times of persecution, for it associated the visitor with the prisoner. The reception for strangers was important because there were few inns, but Christians became famed for their hospitality.
“Then will the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and fed you, or thirsty, and gave you drink? And when did we see you a stranger, and took you in, or naked, and clothed you? And when did we see you sick, or in prison, and came to you?’ ”
Being blessed by His Father these are now ‘the righteous’, those who are accepted by Him and delivered from judgment, and made righteous by His saving power. This is evidenced by the fact that they have been placed on His right hand side. They are the forgiven (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:27; Matthew 18:33) and are the ransomed (Matthew 20:28). They have been saved from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Compare also Matthew 13:43 where the righteous are those who are saved and who shine forth in their Father’s kingdom; Ezekiel 18:5-9 where ‘the righteous’ do such things as are described here and are also ‘careful to observe all My ordinances’. There too they will find ‘life’ (compare Matthew 25:46).
They express their surprise at His words. They were unaware that they had done anything special for the King. We must not take this too literally. When the righteous come before the King they will already be aware of this for if nothing else they will remember these words. The purpose of them here is in order to stress the facts. These people have not done these things in order to earn merit, they have simple behaved in this way because this is the kind of people into which God has made them (Philippians 2:13). They are demonstrating that they have really been blessed by God in such a way that it has transformed their lives (Matthew 5:3-9).
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it to one of these my brothers, even these least, you did it to me.’ ”
For the King will point out that it was when they did these things to ‘His brothers’ that they did it to Him. The only people whom Jesus describes as His brothers in this way are those who have responded to His words and do the will of His Father (Matthew 12:48-50; Matthew 28:10, compare Matthew 10:42. See also Hebrews 2:11-12). This is further confirmed by ‘even these least’. For that was precisely what His followers were to seek to be (Matthew 18:4; Matthew 20:27; Matthew 23:11-12; Luke 9:48). Furthermore He has already said that to receive a disciple in His Name was to receive Him (Matthew 10:40), and has spoken of those who give a cup of cold water to a disciple as not losing their reward (Matthew 10:42). The evidence that we identify ‘brothers’ with followers of Jesus is conclusive.
Some suggest that ‘His brothers’ indicates the Jews, but Jesus never speaks of the Jews as such as His brothers. Others see it as indicating all mankind. That Jesus saw all decent men as His neighbours comes out in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:36-37). But again He never describes all men as His brothers. This further confirms that by ‘His brothers’ He was referring to His followers.
We are not to see ‘His brothers’ as being a separate group from the righteous and the unrighteous. They will indeed be the same as the righteous. Thus when Jesus said, ‘these My brothers’ He could be seen as indicating all the righteous with a wave of His hand.
By these words Jesus was demonstrating that while His true followers are to love all men, they are to have special love for their brothers. ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another’ (Matthew 13:35). And certainly as a result of persecution many of them would be in need of such help, for their faithfulness in testimony would often lead to poverty, illness, exile in a strange country and imprisonment, but Jesus’ expectation was that in such situations their brothers in Christ would sustain them. This would be one very real evidence of the genuineness of their faith. Nothing more surprised the ancient world than the love that Christians revealed towards each other.
That the description ‘His brothers’ does indicate His disciples and followers is important for the significance of the whole account, for it demonstrates that in the end it is the attitude of men and women towards Jesus that is in question. A few moments thought will demonstrate that the final judgment cannot possibly be limited to dealing with such matters as are described here, however important they might be. For however sentimental we might be, acceptability with God cannot possibly be seen as based simply upon these few requirements. Indeed there was nothing that the Jews were more diligent in than giving alms and helping their poor, and they were exhorted to it by the Scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus’ criticism of them did not lay in their lack of such behaviour but in their reasons for doing it (Matthew 6:2) and their whole attitude towards people. Relief work is good and valuable, but it does not and cannot ensure entry into His everlasting Kingly Rule. It is only a small part of the whole. Such righteousness would not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Doing fully the will of the Father is far more demanding than that.
But if in reality the judgment is being made on the basis of the attitude of the judged towards Jesus Christ, as revealed by their behaviour towards His brothers (compare Matthew 10:42 where the same principle is in mind), then it brings us back to the basis of salvation found all the way through the New Testament, that salvation finally depends on response to and attitude towards Jesus Christ Himself. For there is no other Name under Heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). They are not saved by ‘do-gooding’ but because of their response to, and attitude towards, Him which results in even greater ‘do-gooding’.
“Then will he say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels,’ ”
Then comes the judgment declared on ‘those on His left hand’. Notice the anonymity of the description. They are all who are not ‘the righteous, the blessed of the Father’. They are those who are indifferent to, or at odds with, Jesus Christ, as revealed by their attitude towards His followers. Only this could justify their sentence. In contrast to those who are ‘blessed’, these are ‘cursed’. And as a result they are to depart into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.
Of great interest here is Jesus’ emphasis on the fact that the eternal fire had not been prepared for mankind. Originally it had been prepared for spirit beings. This in itself reveals that it is not physical fire, which could not touch spiritual beings. But these out of mankind are to experience it also because they have sided with the Devil and his angels. They have rejected God and His Law in practise if not in theory, and above all they have rejected His Son. And thus their destiny is to share the fate of the main rebels against God. Thus originally God’s purpose was that all men should be righteous and enjoy eternal life. It was man who chose otherwise. The final realisation of the fate of all that is evil is described in Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10; Revelation 20:14.
“For I was hungry, and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.”
And their rejection was based on their attitude towards the followers of Christ. They had refused to help them because of Whose they were, and by it they had revealed their attitude towards Jesus Christ Himself.
“Then will they also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ ”
Again they ask the question which reveals that they are ignorant of what they have done wrong, for to them Jesus Christ is irrelevant, and thus what happens to His followers does not matter. They cannot understand it. Here is this great Judge and He is ignoring all the good that they have done. What can He mean?
“Then will he answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of these least, you did it not to me.’ ”
And His reply is that it is because they have failed to reveal their love and compassion towards the followers of Christ, whom they see as ‘the least’, and have therefore failed to demonstrate it towards Him. In the end it is because by doing so they have rejected Him. It is because their hearts are not truly right towards God.
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
And the final verdict is given. These who have not responded from their hearts towards Jesus and His followers will go away into eternal punishment. While those who have been made righteous by Christ will enter eternal life, the life of the age to come, the everlasting Kingdom.
Note on Eternal Punishment.
What is involved in eternal punishment is something that we are in no position to be dogmatic about. All we know is that it is eternal in its consequences, but see Isaiah 66:24 where it appears to be both eternal and ‘unconscious’. Scripture clearly indicates that it will include some kind of conscious punishment beyond the grave, but nowhere is ‘eternal conscious punishment’ spoken of, and there are a number of reasons that caution us against dogmatism. One is that the impression given in Revelation is that the Devil and his closest minions are subjected to special treatment in that they are thrown ‘alive’ into the eternal fire in order to be ‘tormented day and night for ever and ever’ (Revelation 19:20, compare Matthew 25:21; Matthew 20:10). All others are apparently thrown in ‘dead’ (Matthew 20:15, compare Matthew 20:12 and Matthew 19:21). In their case it is only the smoke from their torment, as they are questioned before the Judge, that is said to ascend for ever and ever as a reminder to the universe of their folly (Matthew 14:11). And if all are treated equally in this way it is difficult to see how some can be said to be punished with only ‘few stripes’ compared with ‘many stripes’ (Luke 12:48), which hardly seems a reasonable description of eternal torment (compare also Matthew 11:22). Nor how it can be more tolerable in the day of Judgment for some rather than others (Matthew 11:22).
Furthermore God becoming ‘all in all’ is not consistent with there still being rebels in Hell (1 Corinthians 15:28). And while some may point to ‘the immortality of the soul’ (which is Platonic teaching, not Biblical teaching, which teaches that life is given and taken away by God), it is little short of blasphemy to suggest that God cannot destroy an ‘immortal soul’, (as I in my foolishness once used to do). Thus while we must never underestimate the awfulness of the fate of the unrighteous, we are wise not to be too dogmatic about it. We must leave it with God.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24