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Matthew 25:1. Then. At the period spoken of in the last chapter. The judgment upon those in office, having a more direct application to the Apostles, is mentioned before the judgment upon the people. But it is not necessarily prior in time.
Ten. The number of completion among the Jews; this number may have been usual in wedding processions.
Virgins, as representing separation from the world, if any special significance is to be sought. To carry out the apt figure of a wedding, this class of persons must be introduced.
Took their lamps. Each had a lamp for herself, probably a torch made by winding rags about a piece of iron, and fastening it to a thick wooden staff. The oil was poured on the wick, the vessel containing the oil not forming a part of the torch or lamp (Matthew 25:4).
And went forth to meet the bridegroom. The best explanation is: that the bridegroom was coming from a distance, before the wedding; that the virgins went out to meet him to attend him to the wedding at the house of the bride, where the marriage was to take place. Christ, the Bridegroom, comes from a distance, the bride is the Church ; but she is not mentioned here, while the ‘virgins’ represent the individuals making up the Church, as do the guests in the parable of the wedding of the king’s son (chap. Matthew 22:1-14). Other views refer this to the procession, after the wedding, to the bridegroom’s house, where the closing festivities were held. This accords with Eastern customs, but is far less appropriate.
THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS. Closely joined to the preceding one. Its leading idea is the readiness of the Church for the coming of the Lord. See the closing exhortation (Matthew 25:13). The last parable applies mainly to rulers, this to the whole Church. Interpreters differ as to the exact time referred to in this and the following parable. Both distinctly point to the coming of Christ, and not to the destruction of Jerusalem ; but is that coming immediately followed by the judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46? Some hold that a thousand years will intervene, during which Christ will personally reign on the earth. This is the ‘pre-millenial’ view. The other view is that the Second Advent will immediately precede the judgment. The numerous intimations that the coming of Christ will be preceded by apostasy and catastrophes, when joined with a literal interpretation of the prophecy about the ‘thousand years’ in Revelation 20:4-7, oppose the view that this period will precede the ‘coming’ spoken of in the last chapter, and alluded to in this parable. The passage in Revelation cannot be discussed here. The ‘pre-millenial’ interpretation of this parable involves a number of difficulties. At the same time, the main point, respecting the position of the Advent of Christ, is more and more accepted. Certainty here is impossible, perhaps undesirable. All calculations or definite explanations about the time and order of these last things, are discouraged by the whole scope of this discourse. The parable is peculiar to Matthew; in Luke 12:36, the sudden return of the Lord to His servants (chap. Matthew 24:46-51), is spoken of as a return ‘from the wedding;’ here it is followed by the same thought expanded into a parable.
Matthew 25:2. And five of them were foolish, etc. This equal division may have a meaning. The correct order is transposed in the common version.
Matthew 25:3-4. For the foolish. The insertion of ‘for’ introduces this as an evidence of their folly.
But the wise, provided themselves with oil in the proper vessels. Explanations: ( 1 .) The lamps refer to the outward Christian appearance, the oil to inward spiritual life, the grace of God in the heart. This we prefer. ( 2 .) The lamps represent the human heart, supplied with the oil of the Spirit, the vessels being the whole human nature. ( 3 .) The lamps mean ‘faith’ the oil ‘works,’ ( 4 .) the lamps ‘works,’ the oil ‘faith.’ The latter two are far-fetched.
Matthew 25:5. Now while the bridegroom tarried; as they were waiting for him ; an allusion to the delay of the Lord.
All slumbered and slept. Sleep overcame them, even while trying to keep awake. This probably refers to a gradual forgetfulness of, or ceasing to expect at once, the coming of Christ. It indicates an unconscious giving way to the influence of the world. Christ’s coming will be unexpected by all, even by those who make calculations about it.
Matthew 25:6. But at midnight. At a late, dark season, the most unsuitable too for the foolish virgins to make good their lack.
A cry is made, Behold the bridegroom! This was usual. A sign of the coming of Christ (chap. Matthew 24:30). For the individual, that cry may come at any time.
Matthew 25:7. Arose, and trimmed their lamps, i.e., trimmed the wick and put on fresh oil, so as to make a brilliant flame. ‘All’ did this; the foolish virgins were not lacking in effort. But mere trimming does little good, if there is no oil.
Matthew 25:8. For our lamps are going out, not ‘have gone out’ The trimming of the wick made this apparent. Merely outward Christian appearance will show its insufficiency in the midnight when the Bridegroom comes, yet even then be only ‘going out.’ This natural request represents what will occur in various forms in the hour here prefigured.
Matthew 25:9. Peradventure. This was a refusal, though not in form. ‘Not so’ is a correct paraphrase. The reply is not selfish, even in the figure, for it is affirmed: there will not be enough. To have divided the oil would have entirely defeated the purpose of the procession. In that hour each must stand for himself, each having for himself the oil of grace to make his lamp burn brightly. The brightness of the outward life, moreover, is to be a part of the glory of that hour.
Go ye rather to them that sell. This probably refers to the means of grace; the Scriptures, prayer, the ministry. Some even find here an argument for a set and a paid ministry.
Matthew 25:10. And while they went away to buy. They kept up their endeavor to the very last (see Matthew 25:11), but probably did not get a supply of oil at that late hour.
They that were ready ( i.e., the wise virgins) went in with him to the marriage feast; comp. Revelation 19:7-9; Revelation 21:2.
And the door was shut. No more entrance to the feast. The case of those without ( ‘ outer darkness;’ comp. chap. Matthew 8:12) was finally decided.
Matthew 25:11. Afterward come also the other virgins. The story is carried to its conclusion; the foolish virgins did not lack persistent effort. We may understand the verse as a mere carrying out of the story, or as showing the persistent appeals of the self-deceived, without regard to time. Comp. chap. Matthew 7:22. The more literal application is given below.
Matthew 25:12. I know you not. Comp. chap. Matthew 7:23. The refusal is definite and apparently final, and is the basis for the exhortation which follows. Some of the advocates of the pre-millenial view suppose that this refusal excludes only from the millenium, not from the ultimate kingdom of glory in heaven, finding a difference between the phrase here and in chap. Matthew 7:23. They refer the parable, not to the final judgment, but to the coming of the Lord to His personal reign. On this view the lesson respects the blessedness of endurance unto the end, of keeping the light bright for the coming of the Bridegroom, however delayed. The ten virgins represent Gentile congregations accompanying the Bride, the Jewish Church. Nor are any of them hypocrites, but all faithful souls bearing their lamps; the foolish ones, however, making no provision for the supply of the oil of the Spirit, but trusting that the light once burning, would ever burn, neglecting watchfulness and prayer. As it was, their lamps were only going out (Matthew 25:8), and their effort was too late for that time. At the general judgment, such will be judged in common with the rest of the dead. To all this it may be objected that the final judgment has already been spoken of in chap. Matthew 24:51, and that the exhortation of Matthew 25:13 loses its emphasis, if there is another day of grace for these.
Matthew 25:13. Watch therefore. The same admonition as in chap. Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:44. ‘Wherein the Son of man cometh’ is omitted by the best authorities. This makes the exhortation more general. The coming of our Lord, in so far as individuals are concerned, is the day of death. Then the door, is shut: the door of repentance, of hope, of salvation, shut by Him that shutteth and none can open, ‘watch therefore,’ that the Christian profession is supplied by the oil of the Spirit, so that His sudden unexpected coming may not find us without oil for our lamps.
Matthew 25:14. For it is. The events illustrated in the previous parable, ‘The kingdom of heaven’ is not specific enough. The omission of ‘the Son of man,’ etc. (Matthew 25:13) forbids our supplying ‘he is.’
As when a man going into another country, ‘going abroad.’ Here Christ is represented as a man of wealth; in Luke as a nobleman gone to receive a kingdom.
His own servants, the professed followers of Christ, not merely the ministry.
And delivered unto them his goods. The spiritual blessings which are ‘his;’ more general than chap. Matthew 24:45, where the office of the ministry is plainly referred to.
The close connection of this parable with the last is indicated by its opening words. The time is the same, but the two can readily be distinguished: ‘The virgins were represented as waiting for the Lord, we have here the servants working for Him. There the inward spiritual rest of the Christian was described; here his external activity. There, by the end of the foolish virgins, we are warned against declensions and delays, in the inward spiritual life; here against sluggishness and sloth in our outward vocation and work ‘(Trench).’ There, the foolish virgins failed from thinking their part too easy here the wicked servant fails from thinking his too hard ’ (Alford). This parable must also be distinguished from that of the ten pounds ( mina); Luke 19:2-27. They were uttered on different occasions (this on the Mount of Olives just before the crucifixion, that in Jericho the week previous); with a different purpose; that to warn against the idea of the speedy coming of the kingdom of God in a temporal sense, this to exhort disciples to be ready for the return of the Lord. The trust in the one case is the same for each servant, here according to ability; there is a difference in the number of servants, and in the purpose of the Lord’s absence; the behavior of the wicked servant is not described in identical terms: the parable in Luke applies to official persons; this to all, even nominal, Christians.
Matthew 25:15. Five talents two one. In Luke the trust is the same for each servant. So great a sum as even a single ‘talent’ (comp. chap. 18 constituted a very valuable trust. The ‘pound’ (of much smaller value) is an official gift; the ‘talents,’ gifts of the Spirit in different degrees. The greater value of the talent suggests the superiority of spiritual endowments to merely official ones. This parable has led to the use of the word ‘talent’ to denote natural endowments also.
According to his several ability. Here natural ‘talents’ are referred to. Even spiritual gifts are regulated by personal susceptibility and capacity. The ‘ability’ is as really but less directly the gift of God. Sufficiently our own to occasion strict responsibility, such ‘ability’ is not enough our own to warrant pride. It is here, moreover, capacity for ‘spiritual’ gifts.
Went on his journey. The order of the parable is that demanded by its form; but the Ascension (the departure) preceded the day of Pentecost (the distribution of gifts). This should caution us against theories about the order of events at the coming of Christ. ‘Straightway,’ owing to a change of reading, must be placed in Matthew 25:16.
Matthew 25:16-17. The Lord’s absence represents in general the period between the Ascension and the second coming of the Lord; in the case of individuals, the day of death terminates the period of activity.
Straightway (see Matthew 25:15). Each faithful servant began his activity at once; and each gained a sum equal to that intrusted to him. In the other parable, the gift is the same, the gain varied. Success in official position varies; but the blessing from faithful use of God’s spiritual gifts is in direct proportion to those gifts. As applied to us, the talents may be constantly given, as well as constantly gaining.
Matthew 25:18. Went away, in carelessness.
Digged in the earth and hid his lord’s money. Not an active ill-doer, like the wicked servant of Matthew 24:48, but simply neglectful of the blessing given him. He buried his spiritual gift in what is earthly, fleshly; ‘the napkin’ in the other parable means idleness in office. The man with the one (spiritual) talent is negligent, not because he has little natural capacity, but from envy, or false ideas of human inability (Matthew 25:24), etc. The one talent may represent the general influences of the Spirit of God. In our history as Christians, this one may be changed to five.
Matthew 25:19. Now after a long time. Long in the history of the whole Church, and long enough in the case of individuals, to allow them to make good use of the trust.
Beckoneth with them. The pre-millenial view places this reckoning at the Second Advent, the general judgment occurring later. Nothing is said of judgment outside the Church, yet the wicked servant represents one who is not of Christ’s people.
Matthew 25:20. I have gained. In addition to and through the talents entrusted. Spiritual gifts are the means of increasing spirituality, yet human effort and responsibility enters.
Matthew 25:21. I will set thee over many things. In the kingdom of glory; or on the other theory, during the millenium.
Into the joy of thy Lord. In Luke the official position is recognized in the rule over ‘ten cities,’ etc.; here the reward has a reference to the personal spiritual life. ‘The joy;’ the blessed inheritance which Christ’s servants will have with Him. The reference to a ‘feast’ seems unnecessary.
The order is chronological (comp. Mark 7:24 to Mark 8:10; especially the miracle peculiar to that Gospel). This visit of our Lord to Gentile regions followed an attack from the Pharisees. (Comp, the course of Paul; Acts 13:46.) The interview with the heathen woman is striking and prophetic. The Jews reject the blessing; the Gentiles seek it with longing desire. The heathen world had been prepared for Him who was ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles.’ The incident was timely . It prepared the Apostles for their universal mission, and also for the prophecy (chap. Matthew 16:21) of His death at Jerusalem. They must see the faith of the Gentiles, before they could learn the faithlessness of the Jews. On the second miracle of feeding the multitudes, comp, the account of the first (chap. Matthew 14:15-21). Four Evangelists tell of the first; two of the second. The six accounts emphasize one thought: Christ the Bread of Life, sufficient for all.
Matthew 25:23. Well done. The same commendation for the same faithfulness; the amount was smaller, but the trust was smaller, the reward was the same also. In spiritual things faithfulness is success.
Matthew 25:24. Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man. A common excuse: the master is hard and selfish. Men represent God as demanding from them what they cannot perform. In the parable, and in reality, the excuse is inconsistent and self-convicting.
Reaping where thou didst not sow. ‘ This is man’s lie, to encourage himself in idleness’ (Alford). Didst not scatter. A repetition of the former thought, the sowing being represented as a scattering to bring into contrast the gathering into the bam. A reference to ‘winnowing’ is less satisfactory.
Matthew 25:25. I was afraid. Both true and false. He had a fear of his lord’s punishment, but that did not make him idle. Being afraid of God, is an excuse not a reason, for men’s misimprovement of His gifts. The insolent speech shows that the servant did not really regard his master as ‘hard.’
Thou hast thine own. The interest of the money, the profit of his own time and labor, due to the lord, should have been added, before this could be true. Such a closing of accounts with God, is an eternal breach with Him.
Matthew 25:26. Wicked because slothful. Neglect is also wickedness.
Knewest thou. A question. Granting that this were the case; comp. Luke 19:22: ‘Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee.’
Matthew 25:27. Thou oughtest therefore to have put. Lit. ‘thrown,’ i.e., thrown on the money-table, which required no exertion.
My money. The trust demanded this.
To the bankers; the Greek word has the same etymology as the English one. These probably represent stronger spiritual characters who would have quickened his spirituality. If the ‘talents’ be understood as including temporal trusts, such as money, then ‘religious and charitable societies,’ as Alford suggests, fulfil this office.
Mine own with interest, It is implied that the duty, profit, and pleasure of the servant should have been in gaining for the master. The theory of Christianity is, that laboring for Christ is not a matter of bargain, but of loving, interested service. When the servant came with a false plea of returning to the master what was justly his, he was condemned on his own showing. Those who treat the service of Christ as a bargain, will be justly condemned.
Matthew 25:28. Take ye away therefore the talent from him. This command will be given, whether the latter be a spiritual or temporal gift.
Give it unto him that hath the ten talents. Comp. Luke 19:25, where this command is questioned. This act of judgment on the slothful servant becomes an act of mercy to the faithful one.
Matthew 25:29. For unto every one that hath shall be given. The expression is well-nigh proverbial. Comp. chap. Matthew 13:12, where it is applied to spiritual knowledge (through parables); here it refers to the whole spiritual life. It is not a law for conduct between man and man, but of God’s dealings in providence and grace. He is the owner, and we the trustees, obligated to serve Him moreover. The principle is not arbitrary, for the trust is proportioned to ‘ability,’ and the taking away is the result of slothfulness and misuse. The giving is a gracious reward, but always in accordance with the previous development.
Matthew 25:30. Comp. chap. Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13. An obvious allusion to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, so that this and the preceding parable must refer to the same point in the future. In Luke, the nobleman becomes a king, who punishes his rebellious servants; here the parable closes with the just administration of the landowner, although the King comes into all the more glorious prominence in the last parable, Matthew 25:31 ff.
Matthew 25:31. Now when the Son of man shall come. An interval is hinted at, but not asserted.
In his glory. Comp. chap. Matthew 24:30. The ‘great glory’ culminates in ‘His glory’ (comp. John 17:5).
And all the angels with him. ‘All the angels,’ ‘all the nations;’ the former interested and active in the work of man’s salvation. Comp. Hebrews 1:14; Matthew 13:40; Matthew 24:31; Luke 12:8. It is an objection to the pre-millenial view that it must include the redeemed among these ‘angels.’
Sit upon. The sitting expresses finished victory.
The throne of his glory. More than glorious throne;’ the throne peculiar to, manifesting, His glory. What and where it will be, we do not know; nor are these the most important questions.
We have here a picture of the final judgment, ‘the end of the world;’ not a parable, though containing the figure of a shepherd dividing the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32-33). The pre-millenial theory places this after the millenium, referring it only to those who were not Christians; ‘all the gentiles’ (Matthew 25:32). In favor of this are urged, the previous statements about the gathering out of the elect (chap. Matthew 24:31; Matthew 24:40-41), the declarations of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelation 20:2-15, the answer of the ‘blessed’ in this section (Matthew 25:37-39), which is considered incompatible with a knowledge of Christianity. The whole judgment being according to ‘works,’ without reference to faith. But this involves many difficulties and inconsistencies, e. g., that those represented by the foolish virgins reappear in the judgment; that during this personal reign of Christ, the world still remains in ignorance of the simplest gospel truth (see Matthew 25:37-39). There are difficulties on the other side: e. g., how the saints who are to judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2) are themselves brought to this final judgment; how the millenium, which is to be a time of holiness and peace, can immediately precede the coming of Christ, which is to follow ‘tribulation’ (chap. Matthew 24:29-30). It is safest to hold, that an interval of some kind, the character of which is not fully known, will occur between the advent of Christ and the final judgment. That Christians are not included in the latter, is not warranted by the section before us. Many of the materialistic and exclusive notions which have been appended to the pre-millenial view are objectionable and hurtful. The time when the discourse was uttered should not be lost sight of, in these discussions as to when it will be fulfilled. Jerome says: ‘He who was within two days to celebrate the passover and to be crucified, fitly now sets forth the glory of His triumph.’ This contrast deepens our view of the divine foresight and majesty of our Lord, and the sublimity of this description.
Matthew 25:32. Shall be gathered. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily is not stated; but all submit (Philippians 2:10). All the nations, all mankind. The pre-millenial view excepts ‘the elect,’ but of this exception there is here no hint. Even if gathered before (chap. Matthew 24:31), they may appear again as their Master does, at the public declaration of the gracious judgment, indicated by previously gathering them out in the days of tribulation.
Shall separate them. A process which is further described.
As the shepherd. Christ is really the Shepherd of all mankind.
Separateth the sheep from the goats, lit, ‘the lambs (gentle, tractable) from the he-goats’ (proverbially wild, intractable, of less value, to which the idea of wantonness, uncleanness may be added). Together in the pasture, they are now divided.
Matthew 25:33. The sheep on his right hand, the place of preference. The pre-millenial view refers ‘the sheep’ to the unconscious Christians among the heathen, hinted at in Romans 2:7; Romans 2:10, including the ‘other sheep,’ ‘not of this fold.’ But how unlikely that, in this great picture, believers should be excluded, when the term ‘sheep’ is appropriated to them so often.
Matthew 25:34. The King. Christ Himself. From this point there is no figure. It is the only time that our Lord thus calls Himself, though He acknowledges the title before Pilate (chap. Matthew 27:11). He is the judge; comp. Luke 19:38, and many other passages.
Ye blessed of my Father. Not ‘blessed’ now for the first time; whether believers or unconscious Christians, all the good in them came from the Father, through the Spirit, and for the sake of the Son. God has but one way of blessing.
Inherit the kingdom. Peculiarly appropriate to the ‘elect,’ even were they gathered together before this time. Comp. Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:6-7; Hebrews 1:14.
Prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Christ has gone to prepare a place for His people (John 14:2); but it was prepared for them from ‘the foundation of the world’ (comp. John 17:24). The idea of choosing unto eternal life is plainly implied here, as it is expressed in John 6:37; Romans 8:29-30; Eph 1:11 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2. What follows shows human responsibility in the case of all. ‘For you;’ the salvation of men was an eternal purpose.
Matthew 25:35. For. The evidence that they are the ‘blessed of my Father;’ since the proceedings are judicial. The real ground lies deeper than the good deeds themselves (see Matthew 25:40). Those addressed had been prepared for the kingdom prepared for them. Such works are the fruit of Divine grace (Matthew 25:34); charity is the daughter of faith, and faith is wrought by the Holy Spirit. That ‘the verdict turns upon works, and not upon faith,’ is no proof that believers are not included; judgment must in all cases be according to works, which in Christians are distinguished, but not divided, from faith.
Hungered, etc. Heubner: ‘The acts of love here named are not such as require merely an outlay of money, but such as involve also the sacrifice of time, strength, rest, comfort,’ etc.
Stranger. A foreigner or traveller. In the East such an one was dependent upon private hospitality.
Matthew 25:36. Naked, or, poorly clothed.
Sick in prison. Healing and release are not mentioned, these could be rendered by a few only; but visitation, sympathy, care, which all can give.
Matthew 25:37-38. Lord, when saw we thee, etc. The language of humility rather than of ignorance. Care for Christ’s brethren, as such, would not be shown by those ignorant of Him. There is nothing in this description, which makes the judgment a terror to Christians.
Matthew 25:40. Unto one of these least (or, these the least’) of my brethren, ye did it unto me. This principle is the basis of Christian charity, as of all Christian morality. The prominence given to it shows that real faith in Christ must manifest itself in such Christian charity. The early Christians acted at once on this principle. Christ lives again and perpetually in the persons of His people; as we treat them, we treat Him. All men are to be treated thus, because possible brethren of Christ. Some suppose that the saints appear with Christ as judges; hence the expression, ‘these my brethren.’ But no theory need exclude the pleasing thought that some may have unconsciously been ‘blessed by the Father,’ with love in their hearts, feeling its way to Him who is Love, through acts of charity to men, even while Christ has not been made known to them.
Matthew 25:41. Accursed. ‘Of my Father’ (Matthew 25:34) is omitted, for though the curse comes from God, it is through their own fault
Which is prepared; ‘from the foundation of the world’ is not added, but for the devil and his angels, prepared for him as a devil (his personal existence being evidently assumed). All these differences show that God is ever merciful, and that the punishment on those ‘accursed’ is a just one, that they go to torment prepared for the devil and his angels, because they have prepared themselves for it That the word eternal means never-ending, scarcely admits of a doubt; it is used in Matthew 25:46 of the life of the righteous (see below). The word fire may not be literal, but whatever the punishment previous to the general judgment, after that the bodies of the wicked, then raised, shall partake in it; and this is not obscurely hinted here.
Matthew 25:42-43. For. The evidence of their state of heart follows. Only sins of omission are mentioned; the absence of good works, the destitution of love, or the dominion of selfishness is sufficient, even without positive crimes, to exclude from heaven.
Matthew 25:44. When saw we thee, etc. A self - righteous plea of ignorance, implying that they would have done such good works, had they seen Him. The answer of the Lord in Matthew 25:45, repeats the principle of Matthew 25:40. Many fancy they would do good to Christ, who fail to see Him in the person of His followers; and the deceitful fancy often continues until the day of retribution.
Matthew 25:46. Into eternal punishment. The opposite is eternal life, both never ending, the Greek word being the same. In the New Testament it is used fifty-nine times of the happiness of the righteous, of God’s existence, or of the Church and the Messiah’s kingdom, in seven of the future punishment of the wicked. If the former end, then the latter may. The word ‘punishment’ expresses positive misery, not ‘ annihilation;’ especially ‘life,’ the contrasted expression, means here far more than mere continued existence. Endless and boundless life is contrasted with endless and boundless misery. The two facts, one transcendently glorious, the other unspeakably awful, are revealed: the details, blissful and terrible alike, are wisely withheld. Enough is known to enforce all needed practical lessons.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent