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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 25

 

 

Verse 1

1. Then — At the judgment day. Ten virgins — Ten unmarried females. The fact that they are called virgins does not imply that they represent a holy character. The word simply means maidens, and such are selected because such performed the illustrative part in wedding performances. Hence they may be considered as representing all probationary human beings. The number ten is selected as probably the usual number of bridesmaids; as it seems that ten was a usual number of procession lamps. Went forth… bridegroom — The bridegroom, with his bride, is coming from her residence to his, where the nuptials will be performed. The ten maidens or virgins are to be met either at his house or some position in his route home.


Verses 1-13

Tuesday of Passion Week. PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS, 1-13.

In the parable of the waiting servant, who said, “My lord delayeth his coming,” in the last chapter, our Lord had hinted the idea that the real time of his coming, though veiled under terms of immediateness, might be more distant than the words literally expressed. The present parable brings that intimation into a more prominent view. The virgins who sleep while the bridegroom tarrieth, are the generations of mankind who slumber in death, waiting for the judgment day. This parable, therefore, states the relation of death to the judgment. We are not so much to prepare for death as to prepare for the judgment; since preparation for judgment is preparation for death. Although the Son of man may come while we are living, he may not come until we have slumbered for ages the sleep of death. But if we have not the oil of the grace of God in the lamp of our hearts, there will be no remedy at the final day. Hence preparation for judgment must be made before death; and preparation for judgment is preparation for death; and preparation for death is preparation for judgment.


Verse 2

2. Five… wise… five… foolish — As their conduct demonstrated. This is not to be taken as an indication of the comparative number of the saved and the lost.


Verse 3

3. Lamps — Rabbi Solomo is thus quoted by Wetstein: “It was the custom in the land of Ishmael to bring the bride from the house of her father to that of her husband in the night time; and there were about ten staffs; upon the top of each was a brazen dish, containing rags, oil, and pitch, and this being kindled formed blazing torches, which were carried before the bride.”


Verse 4

4. Oil in their vessels — Each virgin besides her lamp, or rather torch, had an oil can with which to replenish the lamp.


Verse 5

5. The bridegroom tarried — While the judgment day remained in the distance. It is a view on which the New Testament is emphatic, and which false interpretation at the present day has very much obscured, that the final judge is ready, is waiting, is on the point of coming, and so is to be expected, to be looked for, to be prepared for.

They all slumbered and slept — The living wait for the Son of man in life, the dead in death.

The following extract from Ward’s View of the Hindoos will in some degree illustrate the circumstances of this parable: “At a marriage the procession of which I saw some years ago, the bridegroom came from a distance, and the bride lived at Serampore, to which place the bridegroom was to come by water. After waiting two hours, at length, near midnight, it was announced, as if in the very words of Scripture, ‘Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.’ All the persons employed now lighted their lamps, and ran with them in their hands to fill up their stations in the procession; some of them had lost their lamps, and were unprepared, and it was then too late to seek them, and the cavalcade moved forward to the house of the bride, at which place the company entered a large and splendidly illuminated area before the house, covered with an awning, where a great multitude of friends, dressed in their best apparel, were seated upon mats. The bridegroom was carried in the arms of a friend and placed upon a superb seat in the midst of the company, where he sat a short time and then went into the house, the door of which was immediately shut and guarded by sepoys. I and others expostulated with the doorkeeper, but in vain. Never was I so struck with our Lord’s beautiful parable as at this moment. ‘And the door was shut!’ I was exceedingly anxious to be present while the marriage formulas were repeated, but was obliged to depart in disappointment.”

In this case the nuptials took place at the bride’s house; in the case of the parable at the bridegroom’s; as appears from the foolish virgins being excluded by him. Matthew 25:12.


Verse 6

6. At midnight — In the very depth of the shades of time. This slumber by no means implies the unconsciousness of the souls of the dead. It implies that the day of probationary life has completely closed. Those who sleep with the oil in their lamps are happy. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours; and their works of faith and repentance follow them into the future, to render them blessed.

Revelation 14:13. To them the judgment day will not seem distant; for it will not be tedious waiting, though that day is to be the full consummation of their bliss. Ages will be but as moments. As in some clear and beautiful atmospheres distant objects seem near at hand, so in the blessed air of the paradise of pure spirits the coming of the Judge, though it should be ages on ages distant, is, in full accordance with the phrases of Scripture, close at hand. To the restless spirits of the wicked it will be distant when their mind’s eye looks over the vast length of unrest to be endured before that day; but it will even to them seem terribly near when they contemplate the terrors of the day itself and the woes that shall follow. There was a cry made — By the narrative which we have given from Mr. Ward, it may be supposed that this cry was an ordinary fact at weddings; and so may be considered no significant part of the parable. It may have been the cry of self-announcement from the bridegroom’s party, or of waiting spectators, or of the virgins rousing each other. It does not contradict the fact that the coming of the Son of man is unwarned. It is more properly to be considered as identical with the blast of the last trumpet, announcing that the day of grace is past, and that the judgment day is come. More properly still, it is the cry of conscious confession and despair echoing through the world, that THE JUDGE COMETH and we must meet our doom.


Verse 7

7. Virgins arose — The generations of the dead wake at the resurrection. Trimmed their lamps — For now the time hath come for them to shine in eternal glory.


Verse 8

8. Give us of your oil — Here is expressed, in dialogue form, the fearful condition of the soul that wakes in eternity without the grace of God. He finds his own case deficient. He looks to others for aid. Alas! he that is wise is wise for himself, and he that scorneth alone must bear it.


Verse 9

9. Lest there be not enough for us — Here is a striking denial of the Romish doctrine of supererogation, by which the merits of particular saints may by surplus save other persons. The righteous are scarcely saved. After we have done all, we are unprofitable servants. We are saved not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by the merits of the Lord our righteousness. Go ye rather to them that sell — This is added to show how utterly too late it is. The wise give the only counsel that thought can devise, but it is a plain impossibility. The judgment is too near, and the remedy is beyond all reach.


Verse 10

10. And the door was shut — As the door of heaven must be closed to all who are arrested by the sleep of death before they have secured peace with God.


Verse 11

11. Lord, open to us — It is not to be supposed that there is to be any literal application by the lost at the door of heaven for admission. But the Saviour here puts in dialogue form the utter hopelessness that would attend such an application, as conceived in thought. It is then too late for prayer.


Verse 12

12. I know you not — You call me Lord as if you were my servants, when in fact we are strangers. You have never gained my acquaintance. I recognize you not, and forever dismiss you as pretenders.


Verse 13

13. Watch therefore… day nor the hour — Watch through your life, for you will certainly watch in the spirit-world.


Verse 14

14. Man travelling into a far country — Our Lord ascending into heaven, until he comes to judge the quick and the dead. His own servants — The slaves of antiquity were frequently educated men, trained to the various kinds of business, and who toiled for the benefit of their masters.


Verses 14-30

PARABLE OF THE TALENTS, Matthew 25:14-30.

The parable of the virgins illustrates the watch for the judgment in life or in death; so the parable of the talent teaches the duty of working while the day lasts.


Verse 15

15. Five talents… according to his several ability — The word talents has acquired in our language, doubtless from this parable, the meaning of abilities. Yet this is not the meaning of the word in the parable. For the talents are said to be conferred according to their ability. The talent is plainly a trust to be discharged; a responsibility to be met. And every man in probation has a charge and office; and that task God imposes in proportion to our ability.


Verse 16

16. Made them other five talents — As we say a man makes money. His five talents were a high duty to perform, proportioned to his high ability. The five other talents is an amount of good he had accomplished by his discharge of his task in life. He may have been a minister in the Church of God, and faithfully discharged his office. He may have been a wealthy man, on whom rested an office for distributing to the good of man and the glory of God, and that duty he may have liberally done. God requireth of man according to his ability. He may have been a magistrate, and have well discharged the duty of guarding the morals and peace of society.


Verse 18

18. Received one — His duties were not as responsible as those of the man of five, yet he discharged them less faithfully. Hid his lord’s money — He buried his responsibility to heaven under a load of earth. He merged the celestial in the terrestrial. He sunk duty in selfishness.


Verse 19

19. After a long time — We have here an intimation that the judgment day was very probably far distant. Cometh — The Son of man coming to judgment.


Verse 20

20. Behold, I have gained — With a sweet and cheerful boldness does the faithful servant come before his Lord. Behold, I have gained, as it is in Matthew; and, Thy pound hath gained, as it is in Luke. These united expressions show how man and God unite in the performance of Christian duty. But even in Matthew the servant recognizes that it is the five talents which thou deliveredst unto me.


Verse 21

21. Well done — For, though we are not saved for the merit of our works, (for our sins infinitely overbalance all our good,) yet having been forgiven all our sins by the merits of Christ, all that we have done of good, or avoided of evil, by faith in Christ, our final judge will applaud, and will view in it a merit which he will reward. Few things… many things — Their merits, at the most favorable reckoning, are few, and have to be rewarded with a surplus over their value. A small faithfulness has a plentiful reward. Ruler over many things — Or as it is in Luke 19:17 : Have thou authority over ten cities. The words are taken from Eastern customs. A monarch rewards a faithful servant with the government and revenues of a satrapy, or principality of a province, or of a certain number of cities. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord — The same favourite, rewarded with the rule and revenue of a distant province, shall reside in the palace of his lord, enjoying the felicity of his favour and sharing the happiness of his royalty.


Verse 24

24. The one talent — Our Lord does not mean by this, that men of inferior responsibilities are less likely to discharge them than those of higher. Men whose splendid abilities or means lade them with a mighty load of responsibilities, often make their very means an instrument, not only of unfaithfulness, but of great positive wickedness. Perhaps the smallness of the sum committed arose from the very smallness of his first moral value, and that same smallness of moral value he showed in his neglect. His talent was one because his ability was little, and because his heart and will were little.

Hard man — Very few men excuse their own sin without blaming God as a hard master. His religion is severe; he lays down too stern a morality; he exposes us to powerful temptation; he has established a humbling plan of salvation; he has not made the evidence of Christianity sufficiently clear; and in fine, he expects too much of men in the circumstances in which he has placed them. He would reap a harvest of requirements where he has not sowed sufficient means. The last clause is an allusion to the cleaning the wheat from the chaff. Thou art a man, gathering the clean kernels where thou hast not strewed or winnowed with the fan. The verbs to straw, to strow, or to strew, are all but different orthographies of the same word, and are cognate with the Latin sterno, to scatter. The scattering here is that done in the winnowing alluded to Matthew 3:12.


Verse 25

25. Was afraid — There doubtless will many be damned from moral cowardice. The fearful as well as the unbelieving shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. Revelation 21:8. Thou hast that is thine — I give you back all you gave me. I have done no harm. I am a very innocent man. I have destroyed nothing. We now are about even.


Verse 26

26. Wicked and slothful servant — The precise opposite of good and faithful. Wicked in self-exculpation, by calumniating his Lord. Slothful in neglecting his talent. Thou knewest — The master echoes the culprit, in order to condemn him on his own grounds. It is best understood as an interrogation: “You knew I was a hard man, did you?”


Verse 27

27. Thou oughtest therefore — In view of my very supposed hardness. Men sometimes think that the doctrine of eternal condemnation is too terrible to believe, and so refuse to believe or repent. The infinitely better way is to say, “The eternal damnation is so terrible I will make sure not to incur it.” Exchangers — Brokers, or men whose business it is not only to give one kind of coin for another, but also to take money as loan and pay interest upon it. Usury — The word, in the time it was used by the New Testament translators, meant lawful interest. Our Lord then, in this verse, reasons with the culprit. If I am, as you say, a hard exacter, you ought at least to have done justice; if you dared not trade for fear of loss, you might at least have put the money in a savings bank, where a legal interest would have accrued. If a man will not in his place and according to his ability try to win laurels by extra good, he certainly may not damage his place by sinking below his ability, or by wasting what powers he has.


Verse 28

28. Take therefore the talent from him — Take from him all farther probation and chance for doing service.


Verse 29

29. Unto every one that hath — That hath the addition of talents resulting from faithful improvement of talents. Hath not — The gains of improvement. Shall be taken away even that first conferred talent which he hath.


Verse 30

30. Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness — This is the consummation of judgment. Loss of all farther means of divine favour, and rejection from the life and glory of the divine presence. See note on Matthew 8:12.


Verse 31

31. Son of man — In all places in which the judgment scene is alluded to, it is not the Father but the Son who is the visible judge. Hence in Revelation 20:12, God must be understood to designate the God incarnate, yet glorified. It is therefore strictly speaking a proof text of the divinity of the Son of man. Our Lord receives, or rather assumes this title not as a term solely of humiliation; but for the purpose of identifying himself as the Son of man, described in the glorious prophetic visions of Daniel. All the holy angels — That belong to the sphere of our mundane system. Throne of his glory — Of his final eternal kingdom. He exercises, like the judges of the Old Testament, both the judicial and regal authorities. Hence, in Matthew 25:34, he is styled king, although the action is, on the face of it, judicial.


Verses 31-46

§ 119. PICTURE OF THE FINAL JUDGMENT, Matthew 25:31-46.

1. In the passage Matthew 24:29-31, the introductory circumstances of the judgment day are described. But as they are there introduced for a given purpose, namely, to contrast the sudden shock of that day with the slow process of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Lord suspends the conclusion in order to attend to other points of the contrast, and to give parabolic illustrations of the nature of the coming of the Son of man. Now it is time that the commenced picture should be completed. Accordingly, a cursory examination will show that both parts of the picture perfectly fit to each other. This latter passage presupposes the other. Let them be read in connection and they will form one complete narrative.

2. There is not the slightest reason for calling this description a parable. In all the preceding parables the likeness, or parabolic similarity, is expressly declared. The kingdom of heaven is likened unto its illustration. All the terms here are literal. Surely the Matthew 25:29-31 describe literal things by their literal names. And in this passage the literal Son of man, (not a parabolic husbandman or master of servants,) in his literal person, at his literal coming to the literal judgment, so often alluded to in Scripture, is described. The folly of calling it “a parable of the sheep and goats,” (of which even Olshausen is guilty,) is exposed in our comment on Matthew 25:32.

3. A certain class of expositors as strenuously maintain that this passage is an allegory symbolizing the destruction of Jerusalem. They do this for the purpose of maintaining the tenets of universal salvation, by removing from the Bible the doctrine of a future judgment and a future retribution. In this they have had, we regret to say, but too much aid from the expositions of orthodox commentators of the present day. It is unnecessary for us to say how inadmissible such a perversion of the passage is, for it appears from our whole mode of explaining this discourse. We view the whole discourse as a distinguishing and not a blending of the two events, (the destruction and the advent,) which the disciples specified in their two questions.


Verse 32

32. All nations — Of all ages and all continents. Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, Russia, England, and America shall, with all their populations, come up before God. All the lesser tribes and all the unorganized wanderers shall appear; for “every eye shall see him.” Revelation 1:7.

That it is a judicial arraignment of individuals, and not of organic nations, is plain; because the merits and demerits upon which they are judged are purely individual, and not national, (Matthew 25:35-40; Matthew 25:42-45.) So in Matthew 28:19, the apostles are commanded to go teach all nations, baptizing them, etc. That is, the entire nation is to be baptized by the baptism of every individual in it. Mark expresses it: “Preach the gospel to every creature.” So “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body.” 2 Corinthians 5:10. He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world.

Separate them — The separation is even previous to the judgment. This strikingly and, as we may say, undesignedly coincides with the view everywhere clearly expressed or implied, that the resurrection, though one in general time, is yet twofold. It is of the just and of the unjust, (Acts 24:15;) it is unto life and unto damnation, (John 5:29;) it is unto everlasting life and unto shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2. The saints strive for a better resurrection, a glorious resurrection; and Paul strove to attain to an extra resurrection, εξαναστασις. Philippians 3:11. Every man shall be in his own order. 1 Corinthians 15:23. And Christ here so arrays them right and left, that their position decides their destiny before their sentences pronounce it. As a shepherd — Here is a slight simile running through some three lines, from which interpreters of a certain class have taken license to misname this whole description of sixteen full verses, “The parable of the sheep and the goats.” The allusion to the shepherd is very transient, being a slight simile, and illustrates but a single point, namely, the separation before the judgment.

In this allusion, as in other Scripture allusions of the same kind, no doubt some reference is made to the character of the two animals. The goat is especially a repulsive animal, and so a fit image for wicked men; and in Hebrew there is a single word which seems to designate the goat and a demon. And similarly, in all ages perhaps, the right hand has had the preference, and the right hand seat has been the place of honour.


Verse 34

34. Kingdom prepared for you — By God’s eternal purpose an immovable kingdom of glory has been prepared, and predestinated for all who should by faith in Christ and obedience to him become its heirs. The plan of redemption in Christ has been adopted with full view to this, and all who accept its terms will inherit its results. If this verse proves the eternal predestination of individuals to life, then Matthew 25:41 proves that the wicked were by predestination excluded from everlasting fire, because that was prepared for devils only; and yet, contrary to predestination, they are sent there!


Verse 35

35. For — A reason why they, and not others, do inherit this kingdom. Works of mercy and of love are the testimonies in their favour, that the faith and the spirit of Christ have dwelt in their hearts. All they have done has been done in his name and for him.

Because deeds only are named as grounds of reward, some reasoners have argued that the doctrine of justification by faith is here ignored; and others have even inferred thence that not the judgment day, but the destruction of Jerusalem is the subject. But,

1. The same argument would prove that the destruction of Jerusalem is not the subject; for numerous passages prove that Jerusalem was destroyed for want of faith in Christ, and her rejection of him as Messiah. Matthew 23:37; Romans 9:32; Romans 11:20.

2. That no complete enumeration of the grounds of reward is intended is plain from this: only a few deeds of physical benevolence are named, and those performed solely to Christ and to “these my brethren.” And this, indeed, gives the true key, and shows that faith underlies the grounds of approval. For, 3. These my brethren are the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom he is now delivering these discourses, and to whom he had said, “He that receiveth you receiveth me,” (Matthew 10:40,) which is precisely parallel with the closing clauses of Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45 here. The same phrase is by inference applicable to all the messengers of Christ in all ages. Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you he shall not lose his reward. And these are specific acts of faith. (See notes on Matthew 10:40-42.) The receiving the apostles was the receiving their message and their Gospel; and that, by faith, producing these works in them.

4. The reason thence appears why our Lord’s statement of the ground of condemnation and approval in this passage are so incomplete. He takes that special view which suits the case of his apostles present. It was saying to these — the preachers of his Gospel in all the world — Whosoever, of mankind, from faith in my name, receives and gives you aid in the hunger, thirst, imprisonment, and exile you are called upon to suffer, will find in the day of judgment that I am his rewarder.


Verse 37

37. Then shall the righteous answer — The great principle of the inadequacy of all creature merit to so high a reward is here put into the mouths of the saints, where it most beautifully belongs. It is a truth which their deep humility prompts them to express.


Verse 40

40. Ye have done it unto me — By a turn of surpassing beauty the Lord confers an infinite value upon the least of their good or approvable acts. It was done to him. Eternal glory is the thanks he returns for personal favours. He identifies himself with the humblest object of charity, and assumes that all mercy done is done to him. He holds himself remunerator for all the good done.


Verse 41

41. Prepared for the devil and his angels — Sad mistake of these men! A glorious kingdom was prepared and predestinated for them (see our comment on Matthew 25:34) from the foundation of the world; but lo! they have missed that predestinated lot, and fallen into an everlasting fire not intended for them, but prepared for the devil and his angels! As if God had provided no hell for men! He had secured a Redeemer mighty enough, and a heaven capacious enough for all, and had made no other arrangements. So God’s plans of mercy are not accomplished, and his predestinations are not fulfilled. But as they had made themselves utterly unfit for heaven, he stows them away forever in the devil’s lake of fire.


Verse 44

44. They also answer him — Such is the answer that wicked men’s hearts are now prepared to give him. Jesus puts it into their mouths here to show of how little worth it is in the trying time. What wicked man now believes he is deserving everlasting fire? What great hurt has he done? How cruel it is, and impossible to believe, that the everlasting company of the devil and his angels is a fit destiny for him? Christ shows in the answer what is his view of the solemn matter.


Verse 45

45. Ye did it not to me — He here imputes an infinite demerit to their character and conduct. All their sins of omission and commission were against the very person of him — of him, the incarnation of the infinite mercy of God. By the infinite dignity of his person does he measure the infinite demerit of their sin. Hence eternity alone can measure the length of their penalty.

We have already shown clearly to our readers, we trust, that the phrase “these my brethren” refers to the apostles and messengers of the Gospel of Christ. The rejection, by these wicked ones, of these was a rejection of the Gospel and a rejection of all faith in Christ. No positive crimes, no murders, treasons, sacrileges are in this colloquy imputed to them. Their primal and all-comprehensive sin is the rejection of Christ through the ministration of his Gospel. From this cause, whatever sins they have committed stand all unforgiven. They stand without a cover in all their life’s guilt, in complete exposure to the full unrestrained measure of justice without mercy. There is no need then for our Saviour to call over their catalogue of sins.


Verse 46

46. And these shall go away — Millenarians, who hold that the righteous are raised from the dead at a first resurrection one thousand years before the resurrection of the wicked at a second resurrection, are unable to explain this entire scene of judgment. Here at our Lord’s next advent, at an unknown distance, stand the righteous and the wicked at once before his bar, listen in common to each other’s trial and sentence before either pass to their final doom. The ordinary subterfuge is to say that this judgment day is a thousand years long. For this there is no support in the passage. Besides, by their view the righteous ought to be acquitted and glorified for a millennial kingdom before the wicked are tried, or even raised from the dead. Whereas by this whole description the wicked are raised, adjudged, and condemned before the righteous enter at all upon their reward.

Everlasting punishment. . . life eternal — The words everlasting and eternal are here in the original precisely the same word, and should have been so translated. Hence the duration of the penalty of the wicked is defined by the same measurement as the duration of the reward of the righteous. One is just as long as the other. The pillars of heaven are no firmer than the foundations of hell. The celestial nature of saint and angels is no more immutable than the infernal nature of devils and sinners. And since the word used is the most expressive of perpetuity that the Greek affords, so we have the strongest assurance here that language can afford. And since the term is used as a measurement of divine duration, we may well infer that the foundations both of the divine rewards and the divine penalties are as perpetual as the foundation of the divine government. Clouds and darkness are indeed round about him; righteousness and justice are the basis of his throne.

The word αιων (we may suggest to scholars) is not derived, as Dr. Clarke, (quoting Aristotle) asserts, from αει, always, and ων, existing; for ων is but the noun termination added to αει. This noun termination is equivalent to the Latin termination um; so that the Latin aevum is (with a digamma inserted) the same word as αιων. The Latin word aevum is the same as our word ever, so that the Greek εις αιωνα is precisely forever. By adding the adjective termination ernus to αει we have (inserting a strengthening t) aeternus, eternal. So that αιων, ever, and eternal, are etymological equivalents.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 25:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/matthew-25.html. 1874-1909.

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