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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
Matthew 25

 

 

Verses 1-5

The Parable of the Ten Virgins.

The delay of the bridegroom:

v. 1. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

v. 2. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

v. 3. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them;

v. 4. but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

v. 5. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

This parable is connected very closely with the preceding admonitions of the Lord, urging watchfulness and faithfulness, faith and love. The nearer the time of His departure, the more earnestly He strove to impress upon His disciples the need of the Christian virtues which are necessary for a living, active Christianity. "Therefore this parable, to summarize, does not indicate anything else than that we should watch and not be too secure, since we do not know when the day of the Lord is coming. For all of it is spoken against our carelessness, the accusation being that we are far too secure, and always think; There is no danger, the last day is not coming for a long time. Against this Christ and the apostles cry out, bidding us take heed for that day, watch, and be in lasting fear, lest it find us unprepared. Therefore those that watch will receive the Lord with His grace, those that are secure will find Him a merciless Judge. " Ten virgins are mentioned in the parable, not with any special significance, but as a round number. The number of virgins of the bride-chamber varied in Oriental weddings, being largely determined by the wealth of the parents. The wedding-feast evidently was to be held at the home of the bride, late in the evening, according to Jewish custom, and the bridegroom was expected any minute with his friends. So the ten virgins fared forth in festal array to meet the bridegroom and to accompany him to his destination. All of them took their lamps, small, saucer-shaped vessels with a cover; in the middle of which was a small hole for pouring in the oil and for providing air; at one side a spout protruded and the wick came out through this. Such a lamp would not contain enough oil to burn all night, so that to carry it to a prolonged wedding-feast without an extra supply of oil was a strong example of improvidence. The wise virgins, that were thoughtful and used foresight, took an additional supply of oil with them in vessels provided for that purpose; the foolish and improvident, that refused to heed the necessity, took their lamps only. "When the Kingdom is preached, these are the results: Some receive it with all their heart and are serious about it, believe the Word, make the most strenuous efforts to practice good works, let their lamps shine before the world; for they are well provided with lamps and oil, that is, with faith and love: these are represented by the wise virgins. Then there are some that also accept the Gospel, but are sleepy, are not serious about it, think they can succeed with their works, are secure, and believe it can be paid for with works; those are indicated in the foolish virgins. In Scripture those are called foolish that do not obey the Word of God, but follow their own mind, will not be taught, accept no opinion but their own. But it will happen to them at last as it here happened to the foolish virgins. These two kinds of people are in this Kingdom, namely, where the Gospel and the Word of God is preached and there should be exercise of faith: some follow, some do not follow. Remember, then, in this Gospel that the lamps without oil signify a mere external thing and a bodily exercise without faith in the heart; but the lamps with oil are the internal riches, also the external works with true faith. " The bridegroom was delayed, and so the virgins, sitting down in convenient places, began to nod, and finally they all slept, the wise with the foolish. There is danger at all times that a false sense of security lulls the spiritual senses to sleep.


Verses 6-10

The coming of the bridegroom:

v. 6. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

v. 7. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.

v. 8. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

v. 9. But the wise answered, saying, Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you; but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

v. 10. And. while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut.

After an unusually long delay, after they had almost given up all hopes, someone, having been aroused by the noise of the approaching company of the bridegroom, gave the alarm. All of the virgins quickly jumped up and trimmed the wicks of their lamps, in order that they might be burning with full brightness as they entered into the wedding-feast. But the improvident virgins were not ready for the emergency, their lamps, whose oil had been consumed, were at the point of going out, there was a mere glimmering of a dry wick. But their appeal to the prudent virgins met with a cold reception. If their request were granted, there was danger that they all would lack oil and be refused admission to the marriage festival. This is not selfishness, but sound prudence. In the emergency of Christ's coming to Judgment, the helpfulness of the Christian life is a thing of the past, and the bands of friendship and even of the closest relationship are torn asunder. The time of grace is at an end. The merchants, the dispensers of God's grace, have definitely closed their shops. Everyone must stand on his own merits. "That is a clap of thunder against those that rely upon the merits of the saints and other people; since none of them has enough for himself, not to speak of having something left over to impart to others. Therefore, when they now want to come and knock, and would also like to go in to the wedding, they will have to hear, as did the foolish virgins: I know you not; those that were to come in have come in. That will be a terrible sentence. " The frantic attempts of the imprudent virgins to provide fuel for their lamps were without avail. And, in the meantime, the festival procession reached the home of the bride. Those that were fully prepared in every respect went with the bride groom and were seated at the festival board, whereupon the door was locked. Fatal words, shutting off all hope!


Verses 11-13

Too late:

v. 11. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

v. 12. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

v. 13. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.

When it was too late, the other virgins came. It is not stated whether they had any success in their quest. But they made an attempt to gain admittance to the wedding-feast. Without success! With solemn emphasis they are told: I know you not. Their terror, repentance, and despair "have come too late; they have neglected their opportunity; they have forfeited their happiness. The Lord adds the solemn warning of chapter 24:42 once more, urging constant, ceaseless watchfulness, since the day and the hour of His coming is hidden from the knowledge of men. To summarize: The bridegroom is Jesus Christ, Joh_3:29. The feast is the blessedness of heaven prepared for all His true followers. The foolish virgins are such as have indeed received faith, but have kept only its outward semblance, hoping to find acceptance on the strength of past merits. The wise virgins are such as are careful about providing and keeping fuel for their faith, in order that their lamps may not be extinguished at a critical time. The oil is the grace and salvation of God offered and given in the Word, by the work of the Holy Ghost. The bridegroom is apparently delaying His coming, 2Pe_3:9. But He will surely make His appearance for the last great judgment at a time when He is least expected. At that time every one will stand and fall with his own faith, and those that are lacking in its power must accept the fate which they have brought upon themselves: exclusion from the bridal feast of the Lamb.


Verses 14-18

The Parable of the Talents.

The talents entrusted:

v. 14. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

v. 15. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

v. 16. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

v. 17. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.

v. 18. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.

The transition from the previous parable to this one is very abrupt, indicating a very close connection in thought. It is the question of faithfulness and its test in the judgment of the last great day. Since the hour of the Lord's return is unknown to us, and since He will require a reckoning from us, therefore the lesson of this parable is so important. The master, in preparing for his journey, called his own servants, his favorite slaves, of whose faithfulness and willingness to serve he was convinced, and gave his wealth into their keeping, entrusting to one of them five talents, each talent of silver being worth about 41,200, to a second two, and to a third only one. He had carefully observed them, and was convinced that the amount given to each to do business with corresponded with his business ability. After the master had left, the first servant lost no time in investing the money he had received profitably. So well did he succeed in his business ventures that he had soon doubled his capital. In the same way the second servant gained two talents by the judicious investment of the two entrusted to him. But the third servant lacked both energy and enterprise. He dug a hole in the ground, and hid the talent of silver there.


Verses 19-23

The accounting of the good servants;

v. 19. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

v. 20. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents; behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

v. 21. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou. good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

v. 22. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents; behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

v. 23. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

When a long time had elapsed, during which they might easily find or make opportunity to make safe and judicious, but well-paying investments, the lord came. He at once holds a conference with his servants and broaches the question of business in his absence. Proudly the first servant came forward and carried with him not only the original sum of money, but also the money he had gained by his hard work and careful business enterprise. He presents the money and holds it out for verification. The master was highly pleased, not so much at the sum of money gained as at the faithful work of the servant. He assures him that he has done excellently well; he calls him a devoted and faithful servant. And his reward would be that he would have a far greater sphere of activity in the service of his master, since such business ability, coupled with such energy, enthusiasm, and trustworthiness, was worthy of a larger field. And he was to share in the returns of his labors by becoming, in a way, the partner of the master, and enjoying the fruits of wider usefulness. In exactly the same way the second servant now stepped forward, and in the same modest, unassuming, but effective way made his report concerning the investments he had made with the master's money. And he also was praised in the same way, commended highly for the course he had pursued, and rewarded in the identical terms as the other man, since his devotion and fidelity in his own sphere had been just as great as that of his fellow-servant with greater financial genius.


Verses 24-30

The accounting of the lazy servant:

v. 24. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew then that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed;

v. 25. and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth. Lo, there thou hast that is thine.

v. 26. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed.

v. 27. Thou oughtest, therefore, to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

v. 28. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

v. 29. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

v. 30. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The whining, disagreeable wretch of a servant is excellently portrayed. Slinking forward, he brought his one lonely talent, and then tried to make a defense of his inexcusable conduct. As usual in such cases, he tried to put the blame upon the master. He believed the master to be hard, avaricious, grasping, ungenerous, with no love and reward for his servants, who were forced to slave and toil unremittingly to increase his gains, without receiving any share in the harvest which their hands produced—the old cry of labor against capital. He intimates that he did not want to do a thing more than he was absolutely obliged to for such a master, since it did not pay; do only and exactly as much as is demanded, but not a shred more. And so in the fear of his cowardly heart, he himself did not know what about, he had hidden the talent, which he now produced. But in these words he pronounced his own sentence. If he believed that to be the character of his master, he should have acted in accordance with his judgment. Without in any way hurting himself and straining his own energy and business ability, he could have carried the money to the bank, where the money-changers would have been glad to invest the silver for him and give the master interest into the bargain. The sentence of the master is therefore quickly passed upon him. He calls him a wicked, mean-spirited servant, one of those small souls that never rise above the dirt. The real trouble with him is laziness, together with lack of appreciation of the chances offered him. And so his one talent is to be taken from him and added to the ten talents of the one whose energy and ambition shone forth in comparison with this sluggard. The proverbial saying used once before, chapter 13:12, again finds its application. The reward of success is further success, while the penalty of failure goes to enrich the successful, true in the spiritual as well as in the temporal field. And the useless servant would have leisure to repent of his sloth in the dungeon, with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Christ's meaning is plain. The rich man is God Himself. The servants are those that profess faith in Him, who are His followers. To these God delivers spiritual gifts and goods, the means of grace, His Holy Spirit, all the Christian virtues, ability along the various lines of work in His kingdom. To everyone, to each individual, God has given spiritual gifts to be used in His service, 1Co_7:7; 1Pe_4:10. He knows the intellectual as well as the moral strength of every one, and is sure that He expects too much from no one. But He wants to see results, in the individual and in the whole Church. He wants to have each one invest the talents he has received with all energy, to work unceasingly in His service. It pleases Him to give a reward of mercy to those that are faithful in these small things, in their own little sphere. To them He will give a partnership in the joys of the Kingdom above. But woe unto the small, mean-spirited weakling, the slothful servant, that refuses to invest his talent, to make use of his gifts and abilities in that sphere of activity where the Lord has placed him. He thereby shows that he is not worthy of the Lord's bounty and cares nothing for His grace. There are few excuses so poor and so miserable in sound as those by which professing Christians attempt to evade work in the Church. All the more terrible, then, will be the Lord's sentence: From him that hath not even that which he hath shall be taken away.


Verses 31-33

The Last Judgment.

v. 31. When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory;

v. 32. and before Him shall be gathered all nations. And He shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.

v. 33. And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

The reckoning as it will finally be made is here described; for the day of doom is inevitable. Another impressive passage, awesome in its very simplicity, in the absence of all seeking for effect. He who was within two days to celebrate His last Passover on earth and then to be crucified, here fitly sets forth the glory of His triumph, as Jerome remarks. In glory, the glory of heaven, the glory of His Father, the glory which was His before the world began, before He entered into the weakness and lowliness of our sinful flesh, He will come, accompanied by all the angels, as His messengers, ministers, and courtiers. Through their services He will cause all the nations of the world, both Jews and Gentiles, to be assembled before Him. He will then set each kind of people in a separate place, in the same way as the shepherd keeps the sheep separated from the goats, the one division being placed on the right side of the throne of glory, the other on the left. Note: There are only two divisions on the last day; no social distinctions, no preference by rank and wealth, no neutral people; in one or the other of the two assemblies every person in the world will find himself, inevitably, without escape, in the one case; with no desire to escape, in the other. That is the first act of the Judgment, the separating, the fixing of an impassable gulf. The sheep are those that followed the great Shepherd, Jesus, willingly, that heard His voice, the believers; the goats are those that refused obedience to His gentle rule, that were disobedient to the Gospel, the unbelievers, the hypocrites among the Christians, the entire godless world.


Verses 34-40

The sentence upon the righteous:

v. 34. Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

v. 5. For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in;

v. 36. naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.

v. 37. Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?

v. 38. When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

v. 39. Or when saw we Thee sick or in prison, and came unto Thee?

v. 40. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.

In this picture, the Judge stands out most strongly: the former lowly and despised Nazarene, now the King of glory, King of kings, and Lord of lords. This King calls those at His right hand the blessed of His Father, since they by faith received the benediction of the Father, by which all good gifts were imparted to them, and by which they became the children of God. Having continued in this faith, they are now, spiritually considered, become of age. They are to enter upon the undisputed possession and enjoyment of their inheritance, of the estate which has been prepared and ready for them since the foundation of the world, since the eternal counsel of God for the salvation of mankind was made, Eph_1:4. It is a kingdom which they are about to inherit, for they have been made kings and priests unto God, His Father, Rev_1:6. And the reason for this wonderful gift? A reward for their faith, as shown in the ordinary, everyday deeds of kindness to the lowly brethren of Christ: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, showing hospitality to the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned; outward expressions of love flowing from the love of Christ, as an evidence of faith. Christ expects no heroic acts. He demands no miracles, but He will judge the world in righteousness, making these deeds of kindness and charity the basis of His judgment; for it is impossible to perform even the smallest act of kindness in His spirit without faith in Him in the heart. The humility of the believers may cause them to disclaim any personal knowledge of Him and therefore of any personal service rendered to Him; but Christ quickly instructs them on this point, telling them that such works, one without all ostentation, without any idea of personal gain, are in reality the truest service they can render to Him.


Verses 41-46

The sentence upon the unrighteous:

v. 41. Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.

v. 42. For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink;

v. 43. I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in; naked, and ye clothed Me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited Me not.

v. 44. Then shall they also answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?

v. 45. Then shall He answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.

v. 46. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.

A fearful arraignment and a just of those on the left hand of the King: Instead of the "Blessed" which they expected a "Cursed," instead of the "Come" a "Depart from Me. " Several very important points: He does not say, Cursed of My Father, for they have brought the curse upon themselves. The everlasting fire was not prepared for them, but really only for the devil and his angels. And this fire was not prepared from the beginning of the world, God had no counsel according to which He willed the damnation of any man. They have no one to blame but themselves, this just sentence strikes them by no one's fault but their own. By the same method of appraisal of values which Christ used in the case of the righteous, they have been weighed and found wanting. They have not spent their life in the activity of good works flowing from the love of Christ. They may have gloried in deeds which are accounted great in the sight of men, and which are wont to receive headline notices in the daily papers. But in the peculiar works of true charity, in the little deeds of service from day to day, in that life of kindness which is the natural outflow of a heart filled with faith and love toward Christ, they have been altogether deficient. Therefore all their works, even those upon which they have prided themselves, were evil, since they were not of faith. And who can picture the terror of the hypocrites among the Christians, "that had the form of godliness, but denied the power thereof, when on the Last Day their lack of mercy is reckoned against them! True, if Christ were to appear in person on earth, with a proper press-agent and manager, undoubtedly the world would be willing enough to dine Him and fete Him. But that is not the service He is looking for. What is done to one of the least of these, His brethren, in simple love, flowing like a pure stream, from a heart filled with faith in Him, that is recorded as being done to Him. As for the unrighteous, their doom is sealed: everlasting punishment is their lot, while the righteous, those justified through their faith in the Redeemer, will go into everlasting life. The former, by their own fault, have forfeited the happiness of Christ's love and eternal glory; the latter, through the love and mercy of Jesus, which have become theirs by faith, will inherit the joys of everlasting blessing.

Summary.In order to emphasize the need of watchfulness and faithfulness, Jesus tells the parables of the ten virgins and of the talents, and gives a detailed description of the Last Judgment.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 25:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/matthew-25.html. 1921-23.

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