by Paul George
There are a number of items that need to be addressed as we move into Matthew 25, which affect how we should understand Christ’s intent in chapter 24. One of the first issues that should be recognized is that the parables and teachings in Matthew 25 are a continuation of the previous chapter. Jesus has not totally shifted gears and started speaking about something totally new when He enters this section. This means that these parables are related to Israel, not the church, her first century rejection of His Messiahship, and the coming spoken of here relates to the second coming and judgment that will take place upon Christ’s arrival.
Chapter 25 highlights that since the Jewish people missed Messiah’s first coming because of unbelief and were judged temporarily in a.d. 70, they need to be prepared for His return so that they will escape judgment and enter into the millennial kingdom. Jesus said that following His return the nation would be brought under judgment (Matthew 25:1- 30). Jesus used two parables to teach that the gathering of the nation will be to determine who is saved and who is unsaved. The purpose of this judgment will be to exclude the unsaved from, and to received the saved into, the kingdom that He will establish following His Second Advent. Jesus accomplishes His goal as He continues presenting parabolic lessons and teachings about judgment upon His return. Matthew 25 can be broken down into the following three sections: First, the parable of the ten virgins (25:1- 13), second, the parables of the talents (25:14- 30), and third, the judgment of the Gentiles (25:31- 46).
These parables are designed to teach the imminent return of Christ. It could be very soon, or it could be a long time away. However, either way, we need to go ahead and live our lives but stay prepared. We need to live and work as if the master is going to be back any minute.
In all of Jesus’ parables, He contrasts two or three people with the same social status. How else is He going to create tension and contrast? He always uses slaves and sons because God is the Master of all. Slaves and sons are the natural examples to represent this relationship between God and man. The idea behind all these parables is that humans have an equal opportunity to respond, some do, and some do not.
You must be aware that these are probably the most debated parables in the Bible. Many of the books and journal articles and articles on the internet claim all the characters in these parables were believers. Instead of seeing that these are parables about salvation, they see them as parables about rewards or loss of rewards.
In Matthew 24:36 Jesus begins to answer the question of when He will be returning. It will be just like in Noah’s day when people did not believe Noah and were surprised when it started raining. In the same way, even when people are in the tribulation, experiencing the wrath of God, many are still not going to believe, when Jesus said, “two will be in the field, and one will be taken” (Matthew 24:40) the one taken will be taken to the wedding feast. The thief that comes at night (Matthew 24:43) comes to judge the unbelieving. The head of the house did not believe the thief was coming and was not prepared when he came.
In Matthew 24:45-51 and Luke 12:41-48 the master, Jesus, puts a faithful slave in charge of his household and goes away, Jesus’ ascension. Jesus said, when the master returns and he finds the slave faithfully performing the duties the master has given, the master will put the slave in charge of all his possessions (Matthew 24:47). Verse 48 is an obstacle. Some interpreters drag in a second slave. The slave in verse 48 is not the same slave in verse 45. Why would the master give two slaves the same responsibility? Why would the master leave an evil slave in charge of his household? While the master was present, the slave won the confidence of his master.
One of the greatest dangers in positions of authority or responsibility is the abuse of the position. Remember two important facts; Jesus has predicted the trend in Christianity in the parables recorded in Matthew 13. He is also setting the stage for the presentation of the parables in Matthew 25. In Matthew 21:28-31 Jesus compares two sons and their reaction to the father telling them to go work in the vineyard. In the parable of the faithful slave, Jesus is pointing out conditions that will exist during His absence. We may not like to admit it, but we have witnessed those who have slipped from the position of a faithful servant in Christianity to the position of an evil servant just as this faithful servant did in the parable of the wise slave (Matthew 24:45-51). The idea behind the parable of the two sons and the slave in the parable of the wise slave is that humans have an equal opportunity to respond, believe, do something or do not do something, here’s what’s going to happen to them: First, the faithful will be rewarded. Second, if he does not remain faithful he will be cut in pieces and assigned in the place where there will weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51).
This represents a universal principle. If a person does not really believe there is a God who will hold them accountable when they die, they do not feel a need to “trust” in God or obey His commandments. There are people who believe that there is a God and He will hold them accountable, but they do not want to change their lifestyle and figure they will “get religion” later. This parable speaks to them too. You never know when God will return or if you will die in a car wreck tomorrow. We also see the result is a lifestyle that is abusive and destructive.
Matthew 25 begins with Jesus making a comparison between the kingdom of heaven and ten virgins. This is a much-debated parable. No one can agree what anything means. Some say the individuals in this parable are called virgins to emphasize their purity and that this means all ten were true believers in Christ. Others claim they represent the people in the tribulation. The lamps represent knowledge because each virgin had a lamp. This would equate to people having a certain degree of knowledge about the Lord’s return, but for five of them, that knowledge was just academic. Others believe the lamps represent works that are the believer’s “light” or testimony to the world. The oil is the source of the light therefore, it was essential that they have an adequate supply of oil; otherwise, their light would go out. So what does the oil represent? Some claim the Holy Spirit. This answer is rejected because the Holy Spirit is a gift and cannot be bought the instructions to go and buy some more would make no sense at all in the case of the Holy Spirit. Some say it is works since the oil is only important when it is set on fire, in other words when it is giving light. The symbol of light rather than oil helps us because then we realize that Jesus is talking about the good works of the believer that he/she does before men, which constitutes them the light of the world. Since you cannot buy works this does not seem to be the right answer. Others say it is faith. Since you cannot buy faith this does not seem like the right answer.
What do you think?
Since Jesus has been talking about the sign of His coming and He uses the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like” (v. 1), He is referring to the time prior to His return to earth. He is comparing those who will be prepared for His return and those who will not be prepared. Five are prepared, have their own oil. Five are unprepared, could not borrow oil, the symbolism is that you cannot get into heaven with someone else’s faith. Do you think the oil represents salvation? The five left outside, never made it into the banquet hall. Once the door was closed, it was too late to enter.
Where the last parable taught that the Lord could return sooner than expected, this one teaches that there may be quite a delay before the Lord returns. We know that in fact there has been. It has been almost 2,000 years so far. Both the wise and foolish virgins slept. However, they are not condemned for it. Perhaps the point is that we need to go ahead and live our lives. Not sell everything and go wait on the mountaintop for the Lord’s return.
The main point of the parable is that even if it might be a long time before the Lord returns, do not wait until the last minute to get prepared, because you never know when that last minute will be and you may miss out.
Another kingdom of heaven parable is Matthew 25:14-30. Some try to say this is different because 25:14 does not say “kingdom,” but “it,” what else are you going to link the “it” to?
The big debate involved in this parable is whether the slaves represent saved people or not. Some try to argue that since they were all slaves, they were all saved. But, there is a big contrast going on between the first two slaves and the third slave. The third slave did not know the master. He thought he understood what was required of him, but he was wrong. Maybe it is like the person who thinks he will get into heaven for being mostly good.
When confronted by the master, this wicked slave argued belligerently and attempted to make his laziness a necessity and a virtue. By defaming the master, portraying him as one who enriched himself by exploiting others, he attempted to excuse his own actions. This man seems to have given in to some cunning reasoning. It is much like the thinking of Judas Iscariot when he sold his Lord. Judas reasoned, if He is really the Messiah, my betrayal will not hurt anything and I will get my money from the High Priest. If He is not the Messiah, then at least I get the money. This one-talent man reasoned somewhat the same way. His lord was going on a far journey. If the servant put the money in the bank, he would have to register it in his lord’s name. Then when his lord did not come back, his heirs could claim it. He reasoned, however, that if be buried it in the backyard, there would be no record. If his master did not come back, the servant would have it for himself. If he does come back, he could not accuse him of dishonesty because he could produce the talent.
The description of the servant’s attitude suggests something qualitatively different from the other two servants found faithful. There is a definite contrast going on here. The works are indicative of the relationship with the master. The third slave had no works, that in the gospels is the same as having no faith.
In Matthew 25:31-46 we see the Son of Man coming in glory with his angels. This is the second coming, not the rapture. Seated on His throne we see all the nations gathered around Him and He separates them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (vv. 31-33). The rejection of the goats was not based on what they did, but on what they failed to do. God abhors not simply the performing of sinful acts but also the omission of deeds. Failure to do good is in fact to do evil. In addition the gift of grace (Matthew 20:1–16) has to be reconciled with the role of works. The works are the fruit that demonstrates the reality of the conversion of one’s heart, the love shown by these deeds of mercy springs from true faith. While works are not the ground of justification for salvation, they can be the fruit or evidence of it.
In each parable, the judgment occurs at the consummation of this age. While the timing of that event is unknown, each follower is to be ready for and anticipate the coming kingdom. The judgment will render decisions that are eternal in nature, reflecting the status of each human being with regard to his or her eternal relationship to the kingdom. Phrases such as “the darkness outside,” the “fiery furnace,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” describe eternal separation from the kingdom. They are not simply expressions of grief over a Christian life that did not count for much in the kingdom, for they are figures and phrases representing an eternal exclusion from the presence of God. With this in view, it has been suggested that salvation in these parables is viewed as a “whole,” not simply as a point of entry. There is no room for purgatory, universalism, or a view that some may miss the heavenly “banquet” while yet retaining a right to entry into the kingdom. Those who are rejected are permanently excluded. The basis for this eternal judgment is the individual’s works. In some cases, the emphasis is on faithfulness to a job assigned: perhaps in a picture of preparation for an event, or a picture of the fruit of the believer.
Works are not separated from the faith one exercises for entrance to the kingdom for works are evidence of that faith. A true change of heart will be reflected in a person’s life. A lack of that change is apparently enough to prevent entrance into the eschatological kingdom. The goats are prohibited from entrance because of their actions while the sheep are given entrance because of their works; but works are never ultimately separated from the faith of the individual, for it was also shown that works are not in themselves enough to impress the Son of Man positively in His role as judge (Matthew 7:21–23).
Paul wrote with different emphasis in mind, focusing clearly on the entrance requirements into salvation, namely, justification by faith. While the Gospels support the role of faith in establishing one’s relationship with God, usually in phrases such as “repent and believe the gospel,” they tend to emphasize the whole life of faith for the believer. In other words, the life of a follower of Jesus is to be a constant exercise of faith in order to obey and please God. Paul clearly recognized this same truth, for he knew that works, the burden of Galatians, could not perfect something started by faith.
These parables are designed to teach the imminent return of Christ. It could be very soon, or it could be a long time away. However, either way, we need to be prepared. We need to live and work like the master is going to be back any minute because we are going to be rewarded for how hard we worked while he was gone.