New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

25:1- see on Mt. 13:19.


Then- Immediately after the judgment, we are told, "the Kingdom... will be likened unto ten virgins...", the implication being that then we will perceive the truths contained in that parable; only then will we fully appreciate the result of watchfulness and keeping oil in the lamps. "Then shall ye return, and discern [judge] between the righteous and the wicked" (Mal. 3:18) is spoken to the "ye" of Malachi 3 (e.g. v. 14) who refused to repent. God had asked them to repent, but their response was: "Wherein shall we return?" (Mal. 3:7). But in their final rejection, they would repent, all too late, and appreciate the basis of the Lord's condemnation: they will discern the crucial chasm between the righteous and the wicked, just as "then shall the Kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins..." (Mt. 25:1). Then, the wicked will understand the judgments of God. But it is our wisdom to learn and appreciate them now. The chapter division between Matthew 24 and 25 is unfortunate. The description of the rejected at the judgment given in Mt. 24:51 is followed straight on by Matthew 25:1: "Then shall the kingdom of heaven (i.e. entry into it) be likened unto ten virgins...". This may suggest that the rejected will have time for reflection - then they will see the 'likeness' between their position and the parable of the virgins.   This parable follows that of the negligent steward who will be rejected at the judgment (Mt. 24:45), implying that a lack of proper spiritual care by the elders of the latter-day ecclesias results in the lack of oil in the lamps of the rejected. 


If the judgment is in time as we now know it, we must be judged before Christ is enthroned, i.e. the Kingdom is established. But Mt. 25 teaches that we will come before Him already enthroned for judgment. The idea of "meeting" Christ at judgment employs a Greek phrase which distinctly means to go out to welcome a respected visitor. Its three Biblical occurrences are all in this context (Acts 28:14,15; 1 Thess. 4:16,17; Mt. 25:6,10). This would suggest that the faithful go out to meet the Lord and accompany Him to the judgment. But this is rather difficult to square with the idea of good and bad coming together before the judgment and being separated from each other there.  It is almost as if these descriptions are designed to push the thoughtful reader away from seeing the judgment as occurring in real time! Christ comes with the saints to save Israel from their enemies. Unless there is a secret coming of Christ to gather and judge the saints and then he is revealed to the world, this just isn't possible. And the idea of a secret coming of the Lord of glory just cannot be reconciled with the clear descriptions of his coming in the NT. The coming of Christ in glory with the saints with him to establish the Kingdom is the coming of Christ. Therefore it would be fitting if the whole process of Christ coming, resurrecting and judging his people, all happens in a moment of time as we know it. Depending how one reads the Hebrew text of Zech. 14:6,7, this idea of collapsed time at the Lord's return is Biblical: "It shall come to pass in that day, that it shall not be clear in some places, and dark in other places of the world; but the day shall be one, in the knowledge of the Lord, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light" (AV mg.). The RVmg. speaks of "the planets shall contract"- the times and seasons they control would somehow contract. Is. 21:12 RV has a similar idea, again in the context of a judgment day: “The morning is come and also the night”. This collapsing of time would also explain why it is impossible to construct a chronology of events in real time for the coming of Christ; the various prophecies of the last days just don't seem to fit together in chronological sequence.

Shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins- Ten men were required for a synagogue to be formed. The Lord may be consciously subverting this idea, implying that in the new Israel He was creating, the congregations would be comprised of believing individuals, whose gender was unimportant.

Who took their lamps- Gk. ‘they received’. The same word is used throughout the chapter, also of the servants receiving their talents (:16,18,20,22,24). 


And went to meet the bridegroom- Our calling to the Kingdom is effectively a calling to go and meet the Lord. However, the parable seems to be specifically about the response of the faithful immediately prior to the Lord’s coming, once they know He is ‘back’ and must of their own volition go out to meet Him. This would then follow straight on from the teaching of chapter 24. The same Greek word translated “meet” is that in 1 Thess. 4:17. The faithful who are alive at the time of Christ’s coming will be snatched away to “meet” Him. But they will have gone forth to meet Him of their own volition, and those who delay going to meet Him will not meet Him in that way.


25:2 And five of them were foolish and five were wise- Dan. 12:3 speaks of “they that be wise... they that turn many to righteousness”. This group of people are defined in Dan. 12:10 as “the wise” amongst latter day Israel who are purified and refined in the latter day time of Jacob’s trouble such as never was for Israel. The very same phrase occurs in Dan. 11:35, where we read that some of these wise and understanding ones will perish during “the time of the end... the time appointed” (RV)- of the three and a half year tribulation? One wonders if the Lord had these “wise” in mind in His parable of the “wise virgins” of the latter days. This would all suggest that some amongst Israel will repent and zealously preach in the last day tribulation, even if it costs them their lives. And Rev. 11 seems to be saying something similar.

Foolish- The Lord uses the same word in saying that we are not to call anyone ‘foolish’ because it implies that we are condemning them (Mt. 5:22). Clearly enough, the people of God are divided between those who will be saved, the wise, and those who will be condemned. But that division will only be apparent in the last day, and will be made apparent by varying responses to the knowledge that the Lord has finally come. Likewise the parable of the two builders shows that the difference between the wise and foolish will only be apparent when the flood comes, i.e. at the Lord’s return. The foundation they built is invisible to those around them- nobody can see whether they dug down through the sand onto the rock, or just built in the sand. 


25:3 For the foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them- The ten virgins each having lamps may connect with the parable of the ten servants each having the talents of the true knowledge of God (Lk. 19:13). Those who were "wise" had oil in their lamps; our Lord earlier defined "the wise" as those who truly obeyed the word (Mt. 7:24). By contrast, the "foolish" without oil are those who only superficially respond to it (Mt. 7:26). The parable of the talents following on from that of the oil lamps suggests that the talents- symbolic of our appreciation and application of the word- are to be equated with the oil.   Those whose spiritual lamps go out during the tribulation "took no oil with them" after the first intimation that the second coming is about to occur (Mt. 25:3). Thus during the delay period they will rely on the feeling of hope that this intimation gives rather than on genuine spirituality. These contrasting attitudes are perhaps hinted at by the wise taking their oil first, then their lamps; whilst the foolish grabbed their lamps but discounted the need for more oil (Mt. 25:3,4). Thus those who presume too much upon their own personal worthiness, thinking that they are spiritually in "peace and safety" (1 Thess. 5:3), fail to properly apply themselves to the oil of the word.

However, it’s quite likely that the oil has no particular significance. The idea is simply that the foolish take no oil because they are certain they know the day and hour of the bridegroom’s coming; whereas the wise recognize that they do not know the exact day and hour, and therefore act accordingly by taking more oil in case there is a delay. This is exactly the point being made in the Lord’s teaching at the end of chapter 24. Those who are convinced they know the day and hour, for whom the idea of flexibility or delay in the Lord’s purpose is anathema, are in fact those who fall asleep and are caught unprepared.

25:4 But the wise took flasks of oil along with their lamps- The fact the lamps of the foolish ‘went out’ means that they all had oil in their lamps. The difference was that the wise thought there might well be a delay, and so they took oil with them. The wise took lamps plus vessels; the foolish only took their lamps. The only other time the Greek word translated “vessels” occurs in the New Testament is also in Matthew and also on the lips of Jesus in a parable, in 13:48. There, the faithful are likened to good fish which the judge casts into “vessels” whilst the bad fish are cast away. The telling paradox is that the wise, those ultimately saved, are those who have “vessels” exactly because they suspect the oil of their own spirituality will not be enough. It is their awareness of their own likelihood of failure which is their salvation. And further, they recognize that the outworking of God’s purpose is changeable- there may be delays, such is His sensitivity to human spirituality. The foolish, by contrast, think that all will be well with them because they accurately know the time of the bridegroom’s coming, and cannot think that their own oil may not be enough. Personal spirituality [oil] is therefore related to our perception of God’s sensitivity and openness. 

25:5- see on Mt. 22:9.
Now while the bridegroom was delayed- The same word translated ‘delay’ in 24:48 (see note there). Without doubt, there is a delay in the Lord’s return. Beyond question, the fact not all will work out as expected in terms of chronology means that some will stumble. This is a sober warning to the very many who hold dogmatic views about the interpretation of end time Bible prophecy. Rev. 10:6 uses a related word to speak of how there will finally be no more delay. And yet ‘delay’ is to some extent metaphor- the same word is used in Heb. 10:37 “He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (s.w. “tarried”, Mt. 25:5). In one sense there will be a delay, in another sense there will not be. God on one hand foreknows all things, and in that sense there is no delay; in another sense, He does in real terms delay His program in response and sensitivity to human behaviour. This paradox is at the root of Hab. 2:3, which is being quoted in Heb. 10:37: “The vision is yet for an appointed time [the Hebrew could mean ‘Will still not happen for another year / moed / until the next feast / until the time appointed]… though it tarry, wait for it… it will not tarry”. Despite the delay, it will fulfil, and so it must be waited for. It tarries in one sense, but in another sense “it will not tarry”.

They all became drowsy and slept- The word is used figuratively of ‘delaying’. The only other NT usage is in 2 Pet. 2:3, where it clearly means ‘delaying’: “Their condemnation slumbers not”. Because the bridegroom delayed, so did they. Here again is the Lord’s commentary upon the dangers of assuming a fixed date for His return. Spiritual life grinds to a halt when it is perceived [wrongly] that God’s purpose has ground to a halt. The delay in the Lord’s coming means that there is a delay in the spiritual life of those who waited for Him on a particular day. By slumbering, they were assuming that He too is slumbering. But the God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4). David had sworn not to slumber nor sleep until God was enthroned in Zion (Ps. 132:4). Regardless of delays in the program, it is the end result which must ever be kept in view- the coming of the Lord to Zion. The fulfilment of prophecy is not an end in itself, but it is the end result which must be our desire- rather than merely seeing the vindication of our own pet interpretations.

Both wise and foolish "all slumbered and slept". This slumbering can only be seen in a bad light. The exhortation at the end of the parable is to "watch", i.e. to keep awake rather than be sleepy (Mt. 25:13). We have earlier commented on the many parallels between 1 Thess. 5 and Mt. 24 and 25. 1 Thess. 5:2,6,7 speaks of the unworthy in the last days as being surprised by the midnight coming of Christ due to their being asleep. Their being "drunken in the night" (1 Thess. 5:7) matches the similar description of the weak elements of the latter-day ecclesias in Mt. 24:49. And yet 1 Thess. 5 goes on in this context to say that Christ died for us so that whether we wake or sleep, we may be accepted with Him. This is positivism beyond measure; He wants to save even those who slumber. Clearly enough, the very last generation of believers will all be weak, and those of them who shall be saved will only be ‘ready’ because of their own admission of their weakness and lack of oil.

That all the girls should fall asleep whilst awaiting the bridegroom is unusual- an element of unreality in the story. They must have been a pretty unenthusiastic, switched off bunch. And yet immediately we are led by the Lord to pass judgment upon ourselves- which is quite a feature of the parables, e.g. Mt. 21:31; Lk. 7:43 (as it is elsewhere- consider 2 Sam. 12:5; 14:8; 1 Kings 20:40). Note how there is surely a similar element of unreality in the Lord’s description of all those invited to the dinner refusing the invitation (Lk. 14:18,24). Would really nobody respond to such a gracious invitation? This was the obvious question that He begged in the minds of His hearers. The intention being that each hearer would reflect: “Is it I…?”… maybe at least I could respond to the call of the Gospel… Christ's low expectations of us are clearly demonstrated when He told the parables of the weddings. When you put them together, you get this picture: God made the wedding between Christ and us. The invited guests didn't bother coming, for very trivial, mundane reasons that they put in front of the honour of being invited to His wedding. Only tramps and beggars come to it, motivated selfishly by the thought of a free meal (cp. a penny for the day). But we, the bride, aren't ready (although Christ graciously doesn't mention that in the parable), and so He delays to come to the wedding. Back home, His most trusted household servants realize that He's delaying His return, and start to get drunk and beat each other. The excited young bridesmaids lose their enthusiasm and go to sleep. Eventually, the wedding happens, but some of the guests don't bother to turn up in a wedding garment, just in their filthy rags. The impression is clearly this: the whole thing's a mess! Yet this is the marriage of the Son of God to His dearly purchased bride, for whom He died, and lived a life of total self-control. Yet He knew the whole thing would be such a mess. See on Mt. 13:25.

25:6 But at midnight- Israel both kept Passover and went through the Red Sea at night.  Indeed, it is stressed six times in Ex. 12 that it was “night", and hence Dt. 16:1 reminds them to carefully keep the Passover (i.e. at night), "for... thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night". Other latter day prophecies speak of the events of the second coming being at "night": Lot left Sodom in the very early hours of the morning; and it was "at midnight (that) there was a cry made" informing the virgins of their Lord's return (Mt. 25:6). There can be little doubt that the parable is intended to have a specific latter-day application.  And yet there is a general application of the parable to all believers who at the time of their baptism have oil in their lamps- which needs continual topping up by our freewill effort.    The virgins "took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom" (Mt. 25:1), but settled down to slumber due to his unexpected delay.   Then "at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him" (Mt. 25:6). The whole of the believer's probation should therefore be in the spirit of a journey to the judgment / wedding, believing that Christ is at the door. The 'arising' of the virgins in Mt. 25:7 would then refer to the resurrection.

There was a cry- This is surely representative of some specific indication given to the latter day believers that the Lord is back and they must now exercise their freewill in going to meet Him. It may be in the form of a trumpet blast. The book of Revelation often uses the same word for the ‘crying’ of Angels in their various proclamations. So this may refer to the “voice of an Archangel” (1 Thess. 4:16) with which the Lord returns. This great cry also equates with the "shout" of 1 Thess. 4:17 at the Lord's return and the resurrection. From this it follows that the faithful will have a separate gathering to judgment than the unworthy; Christ "shall gather together his elect" (Mt. 24:31), the unworthy then wish to be with those who have oil, putting their noses in a Bible for a change, and then come to the judgment. The wise trim their lamps and go to meet Jesus. The same Greek word translated 'trim' is rendered 'adorned' in Rev. 21:2, concerning the bride of Christ (the wise virgins) "coming down from God out of Heaven (a literal descent from the sky, having been snatched away in clouds?), prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2). The intimation that the second coming is imminent could be due to a number of factors:
-  The open presence of 'Elijah'. The cry of the watchman would be in the spirit of the Elijah prophet.
-  The possible possession of the miraculous spirit gift by the Elijah ministry.
-  The onset of active persecution
-  The Arab domination of Israel
-  Possibly the appearance of a literal sign in the heavenly bodies heralding the Lord's coming; the sign of the Son of man.

Look! The bridegroom [comes]! Come out to meet him- “Comes” translates erchomai and “go out” is ex-erchomai. The coming of Christ must be greeted by our ‘coming out’ to meet Him. The idea is that we cannot be merely passive. The whole parable is designed to debunk the idea that we can know the exact date of the Lord’s return, with the implication that we are just waiting for things to happen to us. But God’s purpose involves us having a hand in the outworking of it; He is responsive to our freewill attitudes and decisions. His coming / going out to us cannot just be waited for by us; we have to go out to Him. The virgins had all ‘gone out’ to meet the bridegroom (:1 s.w.), but now they actually go out to meet Him after the delay. And it is the response to how the Lord delays which is effectively the division between wise and foolish, worthy and unworthy.

The same Greek word translated "meet" in Mt. 25:6 concerning the wise virgins going out to "meet" Christ occurs also in 1 Thess. 4:17:  "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up... in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air". The picture is therefore presented of the righteous obeying the call of their own volition, and then being confirmed in this by being 'snatched away' to meet Christ in the (literal) air. We will then travel with Christ "in the clouds" (literally) to judgment in Jerusalem. In no way, of course, does this suggestion give countenance to the preposterous Pentecostal doctrine of being 'raptured' into heaven itself.   Every alternative interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:17 seems to run into trouble with the phrase "meet the Lord in the air". 1 Thessalonians is not a letter given to figurative language, but rather to the literal facts of the second coming.

25:7 Then all those virgins arose and- In the general application of the parable, this invites interpretation as resurrection. But the burden of the parable is clearly specifically for those who live in the last days, those who are “alive and remain” and are called to meet their Lord, but find there is a delay. The more obvious picture, however, is that the call will grab all by surprise, and will lead to them arising and taking stop of their lives, and coming to terms with who they really are. Again, this is relevant to the closing section of the Olivet prophecy- the Lord’s point is that even if they think they know the day and hour of His coming, it will be a shock which can in no way be prepared for. And knowing the day and hour is not the essential thing, but rather being willing to immediately go to Him and leave the things of this world.

Trimmed their lamps- This is the same word translated “garnished” in the Lord’s parable about how response to John the Baptist’s teaching left a house “garnished” (12:44). And his teaching was about Jesus as Christ and the need for repentance and faith in His grace. Those who properly responded to it would be ready for the Lord’s second coming. The whole language of Jesus as bridegroom was surely intended to recall John, for he had used the very same figure for the Lord. The introduction to the Olivet prophecy had noted that the temple was “garnished” (s.w. “trimmed”; Lk. 21:5), and the Lord is surely saying that that was irrelevant, for the true garnishing is of personal preparedness for His coming. The bride herself is to be “adorned [s.w.] for her husband”, the bridegroom (Rev. 21:2).

25:8  And the foolish said to the wise: Give us some of your oil- Those who thought they knew the day and hour of the Lord’s coming are revealed here as actually having no personal spirituality. They could have just gone to meet their Lord for joy of wanting to see Him, throwing themselves upon His grace. A bridegroom wants to see His bride and would rather see her without some piece of jewelry, than find she turns up very late. Their request for oil from others indicates they have no personal love of Him, no personal relationship with Him, and a group mentality whereby they thought others’ spirituality could count for theirs. All they had was their conviction that they knew the day and hour of His coming. So it’s no surprise when finally the Lord tells them “I know you not” (:12). This puts all obsession about figuring out Bible prophecy into correct perspective. 


For our lamps are going out- Apparently the "lamps" which the parable is based upon had to be replenished every 15 minutes or else they went out.   The "wise" (relative to the foolish, anyway) can therefore be pictured as dozing for five or 10 minutes, then jolting back into consciousness and refilling their lamps, while the foolish snored on. This presents a powerful picture of the frail spirituality which will characterise the faithful remnant just prior to the second coming. The Lord asks the faithful remnant to "look up, and lift up your heads" (Lk. 21:28) when the signs of the last days just begin to come to pass. There seems a designed connection with this parable of the virgins, spoken only minutes later: in actual fact, he foresaw that even at His coming, even the faithful would be sleeping.  Even now our real faith is but as candles in the wind. There is an urgent need for us each to analyse and appreciate what real spirituality is, to spotlight the few times and ways in which we show it, and to work on these. Such self-knowledge and realisation will be worth its weight in diamonds during the delay period. This said, it will ultimately be the midnight cry which reveals our true spiritual state to us. Each virgin arose and with heightened awareness analysed the state of their oil. The wise will have the faith to quickly prepare themselves to meet Christ- they "trimmed their lamps", pulling out the burnt strands in the wick and adding oil. The foolish panic- "Give us of your oil"!   In that moment it will be evident to all in the ecclesia who has been wise and who foolish. Those who are spiritually empty will then realize their folly; the parable even suggests that they desperately try to associate themselves with those they know to be spiritually stronger, somehow hoping that they might be covered by their spirituality. "Our lamps are going out" (Mt. 25:8 R.V.) shows that they are not totally without oil, but they feel the oil- what faith they had- ebbing away as the reality of Christ's return and the judgment dawns upon them.

25:9 But the wise answered: Perhaps there will not be enough for us and you- AV "Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you". The translation is problematic, as reflected by the way the AV puts “not so” in italics. This has been added in a valiant bid to make the difficult Greek have at least some kind of sense. The idea seems to more accurately be: ‘In any case there is not sufficient for us, let alone for you too’. The only other time arkeo ou occurs it is translated “not sufficient” (Jn. 6:7); and there, the idea is ‘We cannot possibly have sufficient of ourselves, only God’s grace can provide the sufficiency’. As it is translated in most English versions, the sense is somewhat selfish- as if the wise are too concerned for their own acceptance by the bridegroom to worry about anyone else. But I suggest the sense of the original is rather ‘We ourselves hardly have any oil, we are woefully unprepared ourselves, we are going to throw ourselves onto His grace when we meet Him. It’s not about how much oil we have. It’s about loving Him enough and trusting His grace enough to just want to go immediately and be with Him. But if you’re so worried about oil, well, presumably you will have to go and get some- a hard job, in the middle of the night, when the shops are all closed’.

Instead, you should go- The Greek really means ‘to depart’, and significantly, the very same word is used by the Lord in this same context when condemning people at judgment day in :41: “Depart [s.w. “go”] from Me, you cursed”. So the point is again established that in their response to the news of His return, the rejected have their judgment. They are asked to go and meet Him, but they depart, to try to make themselves prepared by relying upon others [“them that sell”]. Their departing from the Lord was in essence their condemnation, for condemnation is all about departing from the Lord.

To them that sell oil and buy some for yourselves- This may well be obeyed by the foolish in the form of getting their noses down to some serious, personal Bible study for a change; or going looking for peoplewho could sell them oil. But again, they go to others- rather than immediately to the Lord Himself. Hence His comment in :12 that they do not know Him, and therefore He doesn’t know them. There is simply a lack of personal relationship with Him, despite their confidence that they knew the day and hour of His coming. "Go... and buy" is surely rhetorical- the rejected know it's too late for them to actually rectify their position, but the process of judgment day  will show the rejected how it would have been possible to enter the Kingdom. Likewise the Lord will tell the one talent man: 'Why didn't you, for example, put the money into the bank...?'. I mentioned under Not so… that the only other time arkeo ou [“not enough”] occurs is when the amount of bread required was described as “not sufficient” (Jn. 6:7). The advice to go and buy for yourselves is also alluding to that same feeding miracle. The lesson then had been that no amount of bread was enough / sufficient, nor was it possible to go and buy for oneself- rather must there be total reliance upon God’s grace in Christ. I feel the allusion or similarity is purposeful, because lack of oil didn’t have to mean rejection by the Bridegroom. They could simply have thrown themselves upon His grace. If they were ready and eager to go and meet Him at any moment, regardless of whether they felt or externally appeared ready, then this was enough for salvation. And that, really, will be the struggle of every spiritual heart when we know the Lord has returned; our love for Him and trust in His grace must be greater than our awareness of our own unworthiness, lack of preparation and poor external appearance. Those who thought they knew the day and hour [and we must ever remember that this is the context of the parable] couldn’t cope with things working out other than they had expected, needed to run to others for help, rather than to the Lord personally; and had no sense of His grace nor, in fact, any overpowering desire to simply be with Him. Rather was their own correctness of expectation the most significant self-defining issue for them. And it would appear so many ‘Christians’ have fallen into this trap, becoming obsessed with chronologies of events and accuracy of prophetic interpretation, at the expense of true spirituality and direct personal relationship with the Lord.
Buy for yourselves- Literally, ‘redeem yourselves’. The whole point is that we were bought / redeemed by the Lord and not by ourselves.

25:10 And while they went away to buy- There seems no reason to think that the Bridegroom would have rejected them because their lamp was not burning. They could have just gone along anywhere, motivated by the joy that comes from love. But they were too convinced by their need to appear ready externally. I have spoken elsewhere of a collapsing of time [as we understand it] in the period around the Lord’s return and judgment. But let us not think that such collapsing of time only means that what would otherwise take a long time actually takes a short time. It may be that what is in fact a very short time feels like much longer. Thus we read here of the rejected as foolish virgins going to get oil, and it taking so long that the door was shut and they were eternally outside the marriage. In time as we know it, this may just be a momentary desire to have been more filled with the Spirit in the day of opportunity. But the whole process of realising this will feel to them as if it takes a long time to work out.

The bridegroom came- and they that were ready- “You- be also ready” (24:44) uses the same word. This parable is the definition of what ‘readiness’ means. The wise virgins were hardly ready. They fell asleep when they should have stayed awake; and they recognized that they didn’t really have enough oil. They hadn’t calculated the day nor hour of their Lord’s return. They were ‘ready’ only in the sense that they wanted above all to be with their Lord, and this sense was far stronger than their deep awareness of their own shameful unpreparedness. But this is what ‘readiness’ is about. 
Went in with Him to the wedding- This is another hint that the faithful come with Jesus to judgment. See Digression With Jesus to Judgment. The Lord entering into the wedding feast is the exact picture of His coming in judgment (22:11 “the King came in” s.w. “went in”). But in that same parable, we ‘come in’ to the wedding feast at our response to the Gospel in this life (22:12 s.w.). The nature of our initial response is highly significant. “Went in” translates the same Greek word found in 24:38: “Noah entered into the ark”. The next comment that “the door was shut” continues that allusion to the ark.

Went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut- The very same words are used in Lk. 11:7 concerning how although the door is shut in this life, yet it can be opened by prayer and beseeching. We as sinners are condemned here and now, the door is shut- but we can repent and pray, and the door shall be opened. But like the shutting of the door of the ark, once this is done at the day of judgment, it is too late. Now is the day to change the verdict, then will be too late.

25:11 Afterward came also- We may be intended to imagine some details of the story. They would have searched for oil sellers in the middle of the night, and finding none, they came without oil to their Lord. I suggested earlier that the issue is readiness, a love for the Lord, rather than having oil; they could have gone immediately and thrown themselves on His grace. But they didn’t do that and chose instead to try to get human help; resulting in their rejection.

The other virgins- If the Lord literally meant ‘the others’, He would have used a Greek word like heteros [or the Aramaic equivalent]. But loipoi definitely has the sense of that or those which remain; it is elsewhere translated “the things which remain” (Rev. 3:2). The foolish virgins are those who remained, those who didn’t go immediately in response to the call. Yet again, attitudes to the Lord’s coming will decide our eternal futures.

Saying: Lord, Lord- The Lord had warned that saying “Lord, Lord” would not guarantee “entry” into the Kingdom (7:21). And here He is speaking about exactly such “entry”- the same word is used here in :10 “they that were ready went in with Him to the wedding”. The category in view are those who considered themselves believers, who thought that externally correct forms of address would impress the Lord Jesus. The “Lord, Lord” contingent indeed had “done many wonderful works” (7:22), but they had never known and loved Him. Whilst organized church life is a necessary part of our present experience and the Lord’s intention, the danger is that it can exalt such “works” and public appearances to the point that personal relationship with the Lord is totally eclipsed.

Lk. 13:25 adds the detail that they ‘knocked’. Knocking is sometimes used as a figure for prayer (Mt. 7:7; Lk. 11:7). The basis for these foolish virgins is surely in Prov. 1:28,29: "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer... they shall not find me: for that hated knowledge". The foolish virgins realize the need for prayer all too late; they knocked on the door with great zeal, asking for it to be opened; seeking but not finding. They were so convinced they knew the day and hour that prayer for the Lord’s return, and prayer to Him generally, somehow was overlooked or felt to be unnecessary.

Open to us- The foolish virgins, for all their initial spiritual confidence shown by not taking oil with them, lacked that true love for Christ's appearing which enabled the wise to immediately go forth to meet him. This accords with the description of the righteous as opening the door immediately in response to the 'knock' of the second coming (Lk 12:36). "Lord, Lord, open to us" is met with the response "I know you not"; and this connects with an earlier picture of the rejected at judgment day: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not... in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you" (Mt. 7:22,23). Thus there is the implication that when the foolish virgins delay their going to meet Christ, they amass a list of "many wonderful works" which they hope will impress their Lord. This would explain the indignation of the rejected at Christ's rebuke of their lack of suitable works (Mt. 25:41-45). These people would probably not have appeared reprobates in this life; works are so impressive to ones' fellow believers. Jesus did not tell this parable about five hookers and five virgins; all of them were 'virgins' in the parable, having an appearance of purity from being in Christ. By contrast, "the wise", whose love for Christ makes them respond immediately to the call, are unconscious of their works of faith (Mt. 25:35-40).  "Lord, open to us" is therefore to be read as a confident demand by the unworthy for entry into the Kingdom, based upon trust in their "wonderful works".  "I know you not" is paralleled with a lack of oil. The Lord knows His people through their attitude to the oil; whether they have enough or not, or whether they think they do or think they do not, is all so irrelevant. The essence is in wanting the Lord’s return. 

25:12 But he answered and said: Truly I say to you, I do not know you- Lk. 13:25 adds “From whence you are”, from what nation or ethnicity. They were complete strangers, speaking another language. The intended paradox is in that those who were so confident they knew the day and hour actually did not know it (:13), and did not know Christ. They thought knowing the day and hour was the same as knowing Christ; or at least, they put the two together in their minds as one and the same. But they are not. And that is the point of this parable, which is sandwiched in between warnings that we do not and cannot know the day and hour- but we are invited to know Christ personally.

25:13 Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know the day nor the hour- "Let us watch and be sober" (1 Thess. 5:6) matches our Lord's "Watch, therefore" (Mt. 25:13). This command to watch seems to have a conscious connection with the Lord's urgent plea to the sleepy disciples in Gethsemane to "watch and pray" (Mt. 26:38), indicating that they at that time typify the latter day believers; about to fellowship their Lord's sufferings during the tribulation period, confused, failing to see the urgency of the situation. The disciples doubtless started to obey their Lord's command to watch and pray, but then drifted off into sleep. Watching and praying are often associated; a real knowing of God through dynamic prayer is the real way to be watchful for the second coming. The foolish virgins realize this all too late; they knocked on the door with great zeal, asking for it to be opened; seeking but not finding. Knocking is sometimes used as a figure for prayer (Mt. 7:7). The basis for these foolish virgins is surely in Prov. 1:28,29: "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer... they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge". 

It cannot be accidental that Matthew's Gospel twice records Christ's plea for us to watch (Mt. 24:42; 25:13); and then goes straight on to describe how in Gethsemane, Christ pleaded with the disciples to join Him in watching and praying, lest they fall to temptation (Mt. 26:38-41). He was evidently deeply, deeply disappointed that they could not share this with Him. Surely the reason for this further mention of watching is to suggest that in the pain of our latter day watching, we will be at one with our suffering Lord in Gethsemane, as He too watched- not "signs of the times", but His own relationship with the Father, desperately seeking strength to carry the cross rather than quit the race.

25:14 For it is as when a man, going into another country- The same word is used in the parable of the tenants (21:33), and also at the end of the Olivet prophecy in describing the Son of Man travelling into a far country and leaving His servants to watch, not knowing exactly when He shall return (Mk. 13:34). The parables of Matthew 25 are an extension of the Olivet prophecy and appear to comment particularly upon the fact we do not know the exact time of the Lord's return but are to live as if He is coming any moment. The key phrase in this parable, in this connection, is the idea of the Lord returning to assess the servants "after a long time" or delay (see on :19). It may be that the Lord foresaw the rescheduling of His intended return in the first century, and wanted to teach that regardless of the delay, His servants were to keep 'ready' and watching by trading the goods He entrusted them with, and progressing His work on the earth. In one sense, the Lord Jesus is very present. The teaching of the Comforter passages in Jn. 14-16 is that through the Spirit, He is as good as personally present with us. And yet He is apparently absent, in that we no longer possess the miraculous gifts, and it visibly appears that He is far away. The metaphor of a man travelling into a far country is a sign of His recognition that on one level, that is indeed how it will appear to us. And clearly the idea is based upon the experience of absent landlords, who left their estates in the hands of their servants and went away to enjoy the good life in some better part of the Roman empire. Such landlords were despised as non-patriotic and disinterested in the welfare of their people. And yet the Lord consciously employs this image concerning Himself. He is not ultimately like that, but through this choice of imagery He gives a nod of recognition towards the fact that indeed this is how it will appear to some. Joseph likewise appeared tough and disinterested to his brothers, when beneath that mask his heart was bursting for them; His whole plan of action was simply to lead them to repentance.

Called his own servants- A picture of how the Lord considers us to be His very own.

And delivered to them His goods- The same word is used about how all things have been delivered unto the Son by the Father ("All things are delivered to me from My Father", Lk. 10:22). The totality of the action is the element of unreality- that this Master would share out all He had amongst His servants, when He Himself was not present to oversee their work. Again, this is metaphor. He is present. But He is 'absent' in the sense that He will not forcibly intervene to ensure that His work prospers in our hands. He has left us with absolute freewill and self-determination. In a different metaphor, Paul likens the community of believers to the body of Christ. we are Him, and without us, He is not. We each have part of His work, some aspects of His characteristics, which we are to develop and reveal in the world. The most common usage of paradidomi concerning what has been delivered to us is in the context of "That form of doctrine" which has been "delivered" to us (Rom. 6:17; 1 Cor. 11:2,23; 15:3 2 Pet. 2:21; "the faith which was once delivered to the saints", Jude 3)- not to simply keep buried, but to develop in various ways, to the glory of the Lord who gave it. Thus the basic doctrines of the Faith were "delivered" to us at our conversion, as the talents were delivered to the servants. We are asked to use that understanding of basics to develop our own character. It doesn't mean we're each given different doctrines; but we all have different characters and areas of spiritual growth, and we must each use the same doctrines we are "delivered" to develop these. This would explain why it's so easy to see others' lack of spiritual development in some areas, whilst being so sure that we have grown spiritually in other areas. Our observation is correct; this is the case. But it's nothing to be proud or critical about; we ourselves have our blind spots. This approach to the parables of the pounds and talents may also explain why brethren of past generations seemed so strong in some areas (e.g. defence of the Faith and preaching) but so weak in others (e.g. compassion).

"His goods" follows on from the Lord's word that "He shall make him ruler over all his goods" (24:47 s.w.). What we are faithful with now will be in some sense eternally given to us in the Kingdom age. We will each have all the Master's goods, and the description in the next parable of those goods being distributed between us in this life (Mt. 24:47). In the Kingdom we will no longer know partially, as a result of seeing parts of the whole picture; we will see face to face (1 Cor. 13:9,12 Gk.). The talents here are the pounds of the similar parable in Luke 19, His very own (Lk. 19:23). Here in the parable of the talents we read of the servants as “His own”. The Lord’s personal identity with His servants and His goods could not be more stressed. This is no disinterested business transaction. The goods of Christ are those which He took from the devil (Mt. 12:29), the absolute righteousness which is possible once sin is bound. I would suggest the goods of Christ refer to the ultimate spirituality which He has, the various aspects of His character. The ten pounds are delivered to the ten servants, who are to be compared with the ten virgins of Mt. 25. The ten servants and ten virgins represent the body of Christ, each of whom has been given a part of Christ's "own" to develop; we are called to develop His likeness, and I am suggesting that each of us has been given a certain amount and aspect of His perfectly righteous character to develop. The unworthy calls what he has been given “...yours” (Mt. 25:25)- when it was intended to be his personally (cp. Mt. 20:14). He just didn’t let himself see the wonderfully personal nature of what God had given him.

25:15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one- This is one of the most programmatic, persistent and widespread translational problem in the New Testament. A talent is a weight, a measure. The Lord did not have in view ‘talent’ as in the natural ability in a particular area which a person may have. These talents are given to us by Him when we are called to Him; they are not something we had of ourselves. A Roman talent weighed 71 pounds or 32.2 kg. The servants were given His goods; something they previously did not have was given to them. And to each servant was weighed out a different amount, suggesting that gold or silver is in view. The use ofargurion in :18 confirms it is silver. The suggestion that the one talent could have been left with the bank in order to receive interest confirms that a precious metal is in view. The figures are large- 32 kg. of silver for the one talent man. The story line of the parable suggests he thought he had not been given much- but 32 kg. of silver is a huge amount. Even if we think we have little or no capacity for service, we need to consider that in fact we have been given a huge amount. And the five talent man was given 160 kg. of silver. As I write this in 2014, 1 kg. of silver is worth around 700 US$. The one talent man was therefore given the equivalent of around 22,000 $. And he considered it not enough to do anything much with. The story line suggests that many of us have been given far more than one talent. The five talent man was therefore given something like 110,000 $. This is all a picture of the great riches in Christ which are given to us- each one of us. The relative lack of guidance they were given, with their Lord leaving immediately and leaving them to get on with it, is an insightful picture into how so much has been delegated to us to get on with according to our own initiative, and how we are tempted to think we have not really been given that much. And it’s a powerful statement of what huge potential we have. 

The parables several times speak of the relationship between our Master and ourselves. They do so in somewhat unreal and arresting terms. It would’ve made everyone think when the Lord spoke of how a master handed over a total of eight talents to His servants and told them to use them as best they could. This was, humanly speaking, a huge and unreal risk for a master to take. He so trusted those servants! And so much has the Lord delegated to each of us, entrusting us with the Gospel. And we can imagine His joy when they lived up to the trust He placed in them. We can also imagine them walking away from their meeting with Him, wondering why ever He had entrusted so much to them, feeling nervous, praying for strength to act responsibly and zealously. The talent was worth 6,000 denarii, i.e. 20 years’ wages for the workers in the parable of the labourers (Mt. 10:1-16). In 2014 the average annual income in the USA was 50,000$- 20 years wages would therefore be $1 million in dynamic terms. For one talent. But most of the Lord’s servants are given more than one talent. Looked at in this way, the church is a millionaire’s club. The element of unreality in the story is that this is a huge and unrealistic amount to give to a servant to have responsibility for! But this is the huge responsibility which passes to us in having been called to the Gospel. Likewise, what human Owner of a vineyard who give out his vineyard to other tenants, after the first lot had proven so wicked, and killed not only His servants but His beloved Son? But this speaks of God’s amazing desire to keep on delegating His affairs to frail mortals. And just as people typically fail to manage large sums of money which they are unaccustomed to, so we too miserably mismanage the Lord’s wealth. But it was and is His will that we should use our own initiative in progressing His work and managing His wealth.

Note how valuable just one talent was- equivalent to 20 years earnings of a working man. This seems to me to be an element of unreality in the story, that flags up a lesson. The point is, we have been entrusted with a huge amount. We tend to see it as something ordinary; that we have a faith, a denomination, just like many others do. But the personal, individualized gift which we have been given is simply huge. Imagine if you were given say $1 million to use for the Lord’s service. You’d be quite busy working out how to spend it all. But the point is, we have each been given far more than this. The parable has specific application to our witness; for it was just prior to the Lord’s departure that He gave us the great preaching commission, corresponding to how in the parable, the Master leaves His servants but just beforehand, gives His servants the talents to go and trade with. Hence the one talent man is criticized for not having lent the talent on usury, a practice which Jews could only practice with Gentiles. He should’ve taken his talent, the riches of the Gospel, to the Gentiles. And yet I’d suggest that 21st century disciples aren’t one talent people. We have been given so much- not least literacy and having the Bible in our own native languages.

To each- This idea is repeated and alluded to so often in the New Testament. Each man shall be judged individually according to his works because to each servant something has been given, and he must answer for its usage (16:27). This parable leads on from the Olivet discourse, which concluded with the Lord’s teaching about the household which “the Son of Man” departed from, “and gave authority to his servants, and to every man [s.w.] his work” (Mk. 13:34). In a culture where religious specialists were thought to be God’s workers, this was a radical teaching- that each and every one of us has been given specific work to do. And the culture of our present age is a no less difficult one into which to introduce this teaching. Our fear of responsibility, our desire to retreat deep within ourselves, to live only semi-aware lives in an age of abstraction and minimalism… all this makes it difficult to accept that we have been given specific work to do, for which we shall be judged at the last day. ‘Every man… each of you’ is a very common term in the New Testament, seeking to persuade people of their personal connection with God and Jesus, and not to rely on mere group membership. Hence "Be baptized every one of you… in turning away every one of you from his sins” (Acts 2:38; 3:26) would appear redundant until we realize this personal appeal that was necessary against a culture of group mentality. 
Analyzing the later NT allusions to this term “to every man”, we have an insight into what in practice the talents may represent. God has “dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3); we have each been given a specific ministry, and according to Romans 12, we are to develop that ministry. If we have no idea what that ministry is, what hopes the Lord has for us, we need to earnestly ask Him to reveal it to us. But if we’re not perceiving it, this may well be because we don’t want to perceive it. On a more obvious level, it may be that faith itself is a gift of God, and different people are given different amounts of it- but we are to develop whatever we are given and not leave the potential dormant. This would explain the great diversity of spiritual levels and of faith which there clearly is within the body of believers. Life and especially psychological and spiritual life is not experienced by each person on an even playing field. There are background factors which affect how easy it is for a person to believe; and the Lord is aware of this and will judge accordingly.

When we read of how “the Lord gave to each man” (1 Cor. 3:5 s.w.) we have a very clear allusion to the parable. But the context is of how the Lord ‘gave’ converts to both Paul and Apollos. This too is a gift which we must use. Some make much brave effort to preach and never win a single convert. Others seem to keep stumbling across folks eager to hear and respond to the message. But that is all a gift from the Lord, for us to use and develop. And so the testing of ‘each man’s work’ in the day of judgment will be a testing of the quality and extent to which they have worked with people (1 Cor. 3:8,10,13). Another allusion to this part of the parable is in 1 Cor. 7:7, where singleness or marital situation is described as “every man has his idios gift [s.w. “his own / idios ability / power”]… one [this way]… one [that way]”. This is the same wording used in speaking of how this one was given five talents,  that one was given two talents. As God has distributed to and called every man, so we are to develop our lives in that calling (1 Cor. 7:17), whether as slaves, single people, married or whatever. Many lament their marital situation, considering that if only it were otherwise, they would be able to serve God better. But it is in fact a gift from God, to be used for Him.

1 Cor. 12:7,11,18 again allude to the parable in saying that the gift of the Spirit “is given to every man… the Spirit… dividing to every man idios , personally”. The talents therefore refer to the Spirit, spiritual gifts to be used within the body of Christ- so the passage continues. Likewise “unto every one of us is given grace” (Eph. 4:7). “Grace”, charis, does indeed mean simply a gift. But it is so often used in the context of God’s forgiveness that we can overlook the obvious fact that the gifts of God to us are His recurrent acts of patient forgiveness, given so freely to “every man” in Christ. These gifts of grace, and so many other such gracious gifts, are to not merely be accepted but developed and used. Again in allusion to this parable, Peter pleaded: “As every man [s.w.] has received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10).

According to his abilities- The Lord recognizes that we each have unique abilities in some areas- and thereby unique inabilities in others. And He gives us work to do according to those abilities and not according to our inabilities. It may be that understanding of ‘correct doctrine’ is a gift given to one and not another; because not all are wired as Bible students. The giving of such different gifts, in different amounts, suggests that there can never be uniformity of spiritual level or achievement in the church. And yet so much church structure, hope, intention and expectation is geared towards achieving such uniformity. We each start at a different point and much more is expected of those who start further down the road. Kata… dunamis is the very phrase Paul uses in 2 Cor. 8:3 in commending some brethren for responding to others’ needs “according to their ability [kata… dunamis], yes, and beyond their ability”. Surely this is an allusion to the Lord’s words here. The point is that the Lord understands our ability and asks us to work according to that; but those brethren excelled themselves in that they responded beyond what the Lord even expected or hoped for from them.

The goods are distributed "to every man according to his several (Gk. idios, individual, s.w. “private") ability" (Mt. 25:15). We each have our own private spirituality which we must develop in our own private way. The talents parable is alluded to in 1 Cor. 12:7-12: "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each man (RV) to profit withal". In the first century, this was seen in the way in which different believers were given different gifts of the Spirit. In our dispensation, each of  us is called to manifest a different aspect of the Lord Jesus, the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18 RV). But the principle of 1 Cor. 12:7-12 remains true, as indicated by the way Paul reasons that we each have a different aspect of the Spirit to manifest because “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body... and have been all made to drink into one Spirit". In principle, these words are true of our baptisms. At baptism we were given our talents, our different aspects of the Spirit / mind of Christ to manifest. We are all in the Christ body, and manifest His spirit / mind in different aspects. And as the manifestation of different aspects of the Spirit in the first century caused frictions, so too today.  

However, there is no equivalent of the pronoun “his” in the Greek text here. The Lord gave the talents to the three servants “according to his own power and immediately took his journey”. The ‘he’ in view could quite easily be the Lord, and the ‘His… ability / power’ would then refer to that of the Lord. This is rather confirmed by the recurrence of kata… dunamis in Paul’s writings [which allude once every three verses at least to the Lord’s words in the Gospels, especially His parables]. “Kata the gift… given unto me kata… His power [dunamis]” (Eph. 3:7)… that He would give you, kata… the might [dunamis] through His Spirit” (Eph. 3:16). “He that is of power [dunamai]… kata the power [dunamis] that works in us” (Eph. 3:20). Each of these verses associates kata… dunamis with the gift of the Lord, and the same word is used as in the parable for the giving of the talents to believers. Note too 2 Tim. 1:8 “Kata the power [dunamis] of God”.

I suggest there is a purposeful ambiguity of meaning here. We are given some aspects of the Lord’s goods according to our power / ability, and in order to develop them and use them we are given His power / ability. For His Spirit is to be merged with our spirit. Maybe Paul appreciated this when he wrote: “I also labour kata His working, which works in me with power [dunamis]” (Col. 1:29). 

And he went on his journey- Perhaps an element of unreality in the story. For we would expect Him to train them and explain to them how He intends the wealth to be used. The one talent man’s response at the end suggests that he had not been given any clear commands by his Lord as to how to use his one talent. But this is the point. We have been given the talents we have, and we are to use them- at our initiative, and not in response to a legal code which defines how we use them. And therefore one believer will make more than another out of what God gives. 


The same word for ‘took his journey’ has just been used by the Lord at the end of the Olivet prophecy in saying that the Son of Man ‘took a far journey’ and “left His house” (Mk. 13:34). The leaving of His house surely connects with the introduction to the Olivet prophecy, in which the Lord stated that “Your house is left unto you desolate” (23:38). It was no longer His house, but theirs. And in departing from the temple, He was leaving the house of Israel. The structure of Judaism was no longer going to be used- instead, He would give His wealth to a few individual servants and leave it to their initiative what they did with it. And this is what was and is so hard for so many- to serve the Lord on our initiative, without religious, legalistic structures. And these are [re]built exactly because people generally struggle with the calling to take ownership and responsibility for what the Lord has given them.

This idea of using one’s own initiative was more startling then than it is now. Today, students are 'trained' to think for themselves, be creative, develop their own opinions, push forward their own independent research, using question / problem-based learning as a paradigm for their education. 'Education' in the first century wasn't like that at all. The idea was that "every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher" (Lk. 6:40). The idea was that a person born into a certain social situation was trained to take their place in society, given that 'station and place' into which they had been born. Initiative in that sense was not encouraged; it was all about training up a person to correctly fulfill societies' expectation of them. The idea of being personally taught by the invisible Master / teacher Jesus, becoming like Him rather than like the person whom society expected, being given talents by Him which we are to trade and multiply at our initiative (Mt. 25:15-28)... this was all totally counter-cultural stuff. What was so vital in the Mediterranean world was that a person achieved conformity to accepted values. Cicero advised that in any good presentation of a legal case or encomium, emotions and passions shouldn't be referred to. Individualism was seen as a threat to tradition and the collective society. The huge New Testament emphasis on becoming disciples, learners, of an invisible Lord, Master and teacher located in Heaven, serving Him alone, worried aboutHis standards, perceptions and judgment of us- that was and is so totally opposite to the expectations of society. People were educated to be embedded in society, rather than to come out of their world and live in the new world in which Christ was the light, and all things were made new in a new creation, a new set of values.


Several times Paul alludes to the parable of the talents; in Rom. 12:6 he suggests that this parable has an application to each having a different gift within the ecclesia; whilst in 1 Cor. 12:11 and Eph. 4:7 he implies that he saw the talents as representing miraculous Holy Spirit gifts. This shows how Paul applied the basic principles of Christ's teaching to local situations, even though it may seem strictly to be slightly out of context. He does the same with Christ's commands concerning personal offences in Mt. 18; he applies them, strictly out of context, to dealing with doctrinal problems at Corinth. But this, presumably, is how we are to read the Gospels; understanding the basic principles, and applying them in different situations in practice.  


25:16 Immediately he that received- Continuing Matthew's common theme of immediacy of response. We have freely received [s.w.], and are to freely give (10:8). The context is of giving the things of the Gospel to others. This is the incredible wealth of silver we have been entrusted with. We “receive” [s.w.] the seed / word of the Gospel (13:31,33), just as in the previous parable the virgins receive [s.w. “took”] their lamps (25:1) when we “received the knowledge of the Truth” (Heb. 10:26). The emphasis upon their ‘receiving’ the talents (:16,18,20,22,24) shows that the talents are not natural abilities, but what is given by the Lord. And straight after this teaching, the Lord uses the same word to urge His followers to take or [s.w.] ‘receive’ the bread and wine, the symbols of His life given to us (26:26,27). But that is ongoing- we receive [s.w.] “of His fullness” (Jn. 1:16), all that He is, He has divided amongst us His servants; different aspects of His personality and work in this world. This is achieved practically through the medium of the word and the Spirit- for again He uses the word about us ‘receiving’ the Father’s words (Jn. 17:8) and receiving the Holy Spirit (Jn. 20:22). There are specific things we are called to do- Paul surely alludes here when he speaks of how what he “received of the Lord Jesus” was the ministry of testifying to the good news of His grace (Acts 20:24).

The five talents went- This may seem a superfluous word, until we perceive a connection with the great preaching commission, to go into all the world with the Gospel.

And traded- The same word is translated "work" in the parable of the sons working in the vineyard (21:28). Whilst salvation is on the basis of grace and not works (Rom. 4:4,5), there is all the same a fundamental call to "work" in response to that grace. If we do not, then we have to remember that "faith without works is dead, being alone" (James 2:17). And this is a severe temptation. To believe, to assent to Christian and Biblical ideas, but not to respond further, thinking that the mere possession of the ideas is enough. This was the one talent man; his faith remained "alone". The "work" was to be done within the vineyard. The ecclesia of Christ, the body of Christ, is merely a structure enabling our response in practice. The "work" was to harvest the fruit of the vine- to work with others bringing them in to the final harvest of salvation. In another metaphor, we ourselves are to bring forth fruit on the vine; but the metaphor of harvesting used in 21:28 and in other parables of the vineyard surely speaks of harvesting others for the Kingdom. The same word has just been used by the Lord in saying that the Son of Man has left his house and given to each man in the household his "work" (Mk. 13:34). We each have a specific work or trading to do, tailored personally to what the Lord has given us. Sadly, the structure of church life has often become so developed and defined that the average church member assumes that the work is being done by the specialists. "Get professional help" is the comment made on so many cases of personal need encountered; "Read the book... come to the seminars... to the meetings" can all be a passing up of our personal responsibility to work. The judgment seat is largely about presenting to the Lord our work in this life. And yet John uses the same word in recording the Lord's comment that the deeds ['trading', s.w.] of the faithful are even now "made manifest that they are wrought in God" if we come to the light of the cross which is the basis of all self-examination and self-understanding (Jn 3:21).

We can indeed prove / examine our own work [s.w.] even in this life (Gal. 6:4). People are never better than when they perceive clearly their calling and the work they are intended to do- and give their lives to doing it. Barnabas and Saul were 'called' just as the servants here were 'called' (:14) to do the 'work' [s.w. 'trading'] of spreading the Gospel (Acts 13:2), and experienced the Spirit confirming them in the "work" [s.w.] they were 'fulfilling' (Acts 14:26). The idea of 'fulfilling' a work given suggests that they were fulfilling God's intention for them. And again we note that the work was related to bringing others to Christ. Just as the servants 'went' to 'trade', so Paul talks of 'going' to "the work" [s.w. 'trade'], again in the context of missionary work (Acts 15:38). God will render to every man according to his "works" (s.w. Rom. 2:6). Our trading is the basis upon which we will be judged. The gift has been given by pure grace, as it was to the servants; but we have to respond to that grace, lest we have believed and accepted in vain. It is the works of the law [of Moses] which will not justify (Rom. 3:20); rather our works are to be those in response to the Lord's great gifts to us. 1 Cor. 3:13-15 uses this same word for 'working / trading' and again applies it to our work in building others up- and the day of judgment will declare the quality of that work. The Corinthians were therefore Paul's "work in the Lord" (1 Cor. 9:1), even though he baptized virtually none of them, his efforts for them were his attempt to trade / work with the talents given him. God clearly has intended works / trading for each of us, "Good works [s.w.] which God has before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). And the NT usage of the idea of works / trading is nearly always in the context of preaching or caring for others. Paul may well have himself in mind when he promises the Philippians that "He who began a good work in you [Paul's initial preaching at Philippi] will work at finishing it right up to the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6 cp. 22). The key is to be open to God's leading. Thus Paul urged Timothy to purge himself from bad company so that he might be prepared or ready "unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21), and to devote himself to the Scriptures that he might be "equipped unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:17). These works are surely those "Good works [s.w.] which God has before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). And we should be "ready to every good work... thoughtful to be ready for good works" (Tit. 3:1,8), thoughtfully open to God's leading in response to our prayer to be shown what exactly is the work / trading intended for us. A functional church will be a place where the members are all devoted to this principle personally, and thus will "consider one another to provoke unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24). And God will confirm our openness and willingness; He will "frame you in every good work to do His will" (Heb. 13:21 Gk.). 

We cannot be passive on receiving the opportunity to serve God. We will urgently seek to do something with what we have been enabled to do for the Lord: “The servant who got five bags went quickly to invest the money and earned five more bags” (Mt. 25:16 NCV). The law of the peace offerings was designed so as to encourage the person who decided to make such a freewill offering to execute immediately- they were to eat it the same day they offered it, and the sacrifice would be totally unacceptable if it was killed but left for some days (Lev. 19:5-7). If we have an impulse to respond to the Lord, we should respond to it immediately. This isn’t mere impetuosity. It’s a spirit of always having an immediacy of response, which empowers us to overcome the procrastination which holds us back so much.

With them- The idea surely is that we are to trade / work with what the Lord gives us to do, with those same things; rather than decide that our natural talents, which were not given at conversion but rather are an outcome of our own environment and experience, are to be developed just as everyone in the world does- and then claimed as work for the Lord.

And made another five talents- “Made” translates poieo, a very common word; but it has just been used by the Lord, again in talking about His servants, in saying that the faithful servant will be found ‘doing’ care to his brethren (24:46). And the word is twice used later in this chapter about ‘doing’ good unto the least of Christ’s brethren, and this being the basis for our judgment (:40,45). Again we see that our work / trading involves fruitfully sharing the spiritual riches we have received with others. It’s worth noting that this teaching is followed by the record of the woman anointing the Lord’s feet; and all the records of it use the same Greek words to describe it. She “did it” (poieo, 26:12,13), she “worked” (s.w. “traded”) a good work [‘trading’] on the Lord (26:10). It’s as if her humanly senseless pouring out of her wealth for the Lord was in fact smart trading in the spiritual sense. The story line implies that we can add to the total wealth of the Lord Jesus. Yet the extension of His glory, the progress of His work, depends upon us, and we are left to our own initiative in this. This is the meaning of the element of ‘absence’ of the Lord, and the immediacy of His leaving the servants with such huge amounts of silver without instructing them specifically how to use them. 

25:17 In like manner he also that received the two gained other two- The word is used regarding 'gaining' others for the Kingdom: "You have gained your brother" (18:15), Paul was sensitive to his presentation of the Gospel "that I might gain the more" (1 Cor. 9:19,20,21,22); unbelieving husbands are "gained" by the example of the believing wife (1 Pet. 3:1). Clearly enough, the trading and gain of talents refers to what we do for others on the basis of what the Lord Jesus has personally given us. Not having oil to give light to others in the house [the ecclesia] and to the world is made parallel with not gaining more talents, which matches not ministering to the least [the word often refers to the spiritually least] of Christ’s brethren. This shows the primacy of preaching & pastoral work / effort for others, especially in the last days. Oil burning is giving light to others. Going to sleep / not tending the lamps in the last generation is therefore lacking in love to the household, not keeping ourselves awake to give light to others. Lack of care for others in the last days results in lamps going out and our generation slumbering. Does this imply that in the last days there will not be the care for the least of Christ’s needy brethren which there should be? The last generation will be slumbering when shouldn’t be, i.e. not giving light to the world and brotherhood as they should. And could it be that the spiritually “least” whom they despise are the new converts made in the last days tribulation, whom they somehow disregard?

25:18 But he that received the one went away and dug in the earth and hid his lord's money-  The tragedy is that the Gospel is hid from the majority anyway (s.w. 11:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26). It is treasure hid in a field which must be found (13:44). And it is hid now by one to whom it was revealed in order to share with others, put back in the earth from which the Lord Jesus had extracted it. By hiding it, the man effectively was placing himself in the same position as the unbelieving world. The allusion is clearly to Achan, hiding God’s talents in the earth, for himself. In this connection we perhaps have an insight into the man’s mentality. Can we infer that the man reasoned that the Lord might in fact never return, and therefore, his Lord’s talents would become his? His excuses about the Lord being unreasonably demanding and “therefore” he did nothing with the talent all seem rather illogical, as if he was just saying it for the sake of mumbling at least something. His real motivation, surely, was to keep the talent for himself- on the basis that his Lord would not return. And this is the context of the parable. The fact we know that Christ will return, even if we do not know when exactly, will guard us against such an assumption- that we can take what is His as ours.

The fact it was not his ("his Lord's money")meant that he had no right to simply not use it. The fact we have been given so much by the Lord is undeniable; and we are to use it for Him and not hide it. Because it’s not ours to do that with.

25:19 Now after a long time- Chronos, "time", can as a word imply delay or an interval. If time has ‘length', as it does here, this can only be in the expectation of human beings. It would be fair to interpret this phrase, even simply on the basis of the original Greek, as meaning 'after a long delay'. And this would admirably fit the context- for the parables of Matthew 25 are a commentary upon the closing warning of the Olivet prophecy, that there is indeed a delay to the Lord's coming (24:48; 25:5). Our sufferings now are only for a moment compared to the glorious eternity of the Kingdom (Ps. 37:10; 2 Cor. 4:17), and yet the language of the Bible also expresses God’s appreciation that from our perspective, our time of probation is “a long time” (25:19). See on 20:16.

The lord of those servants came and made a reckoning with them- The Lord’s coming was surely not in AD70 because He did not reckon up with all His servants then; there was no resurrection of the faithful in order to reckon with them. The Greek text here issunairo logos- He reckons the logos with them, He considers the thought behind their actions. It wasn’t so much a reckoning on a simply utilitarian, mercenary level. Rather was it an examination of their innerlogos and motivation, as demonstrated by the discussion with the one talent man concerning his inner thoughts about his Lord. Sunairo is only used elsewhere in 18:23,24 where the Lord’s reckoning with His servants begins now in this life. And they had miserably failed in money management. Yet He still wanted relationship with them, and frankly forgave them, whilst assuming they would on that basis forgive any of their own far smaller debtors. But even that didn’t work out. Putting the Lord’s parables together, so many of them are about servants; and the servants often behave in an incredibly bad way to Him. And we are those servants.

25:20 And he that received the five talents came- This is proserchomai, and the word used for the Lord’s coming is erchomai (:19). He comes to us and the faithful come to Him. As outlined earlier, this will have a literal element to it. When we know for sure that the Lord has come, we will have the choice as to whether to go to Him immediately or delay. Those who go immediately will be confirmed in that by being snatched away to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16,17). One of the great themes of Matthew's gospel is that various men and women 'came to Jesus' at different times and in a variety of situations. The Lord uses the same term to describe how at the last day, people will once again 'come unto' Him (Mt. 25:20-24). The same Jesus whom they 'came before' in His ministry is the one to whom they and we shall again come at the last day- to receive a like gracious acceptance. He will judge and reason the same way He did during His mortality. Likewise we know what kind of judge Christ is, and so the meeting of Him in final judgment need not be for us something so terribly unknown and uncertain. We know that He is the judge who 'justifies' sinners- the Greek word means not so much 'making righteous', but 'acquitting, declaring righteous' in a legal sense. It's unthinkable that a human judge treats the guilty as if they are righteous and innocent, just because they are "in" Christ. It's also unheard of that a judge also is the counsel for the defence! But this is the kind of judge we have, day by day- to those who believe. Will He be so different in the last day?

And brought another five talents, saying: Lord- He offered / presented the talents to his Lord. Only in the day of judgment will we achieve final self-knowledge and be able to perceive what we have done and achieved with what He has given us. Our trading / work is clearly with the Lord’s people. The presentation of the wealth gained therefore refers to what we have done for others. Paul spoke of how he would ‘present’ his converts to Christ at the last day; hence his concern about their development, “that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2).

You gave me five talents. Look, I have gained another five talents- This is the word used for the ‘delivering’ to believers of the body of doctrine comprising the Gospel message (1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Pet. 2:21; Jude 3). Again we see that the talents refer to what is specifically given to us by Christ at the time of our calling by the Gospel, and not to any latent natural ability within us.

25:21 His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant- The term used in the previous parable (24:45). There, the “faithful servant” was faithful in that he provided food for the other servants within the household, and didn’t beat the fellow-servants. Here, the faithful servant trades his Lord’s wealth for a profit. The metaphors refer to the same essential activity- sharing the wealth we have in Christ for the benefit of our brethren. To cut them off, waste their energy and attention with empty arguments and pedantic concerns, ignore them… is to not trade the talents, to be unfaithful.

You have been faithful over a few things- The equivalent parable in Lk. 19:17 says “in a very little” (elachistos). This very same word is found later in Matthew 25, when we read that the final judgment will be based around how we have treated “the least” of the Lord’s brethren (25:40,45). The talents we have been given relate to them- how we have used them, what we have done for them, how we have served them with the riches given us by the Lord. There is obviously a connection between the manner in which we rule over the “few things”, and how we shall be given “many things” to rule over in the Kingdom age. Clearly what we are doing now is in essence what we shall eternally be doing, but on a greater level. If our lives are centered merely around ourselves and doing what we want, developing ourselves, rather than developing the Lord’s work and doing His work, then we will be out of step with the life eternal. We are to start living that now. And then we shall live it eternally.

So I will set you over- The preceding parable says that we have already been made ruler in the Lord’s household in order to feed the members (24:45 s.w.). Our whole church experience, our relations with others and efforts for them, is to prepare us for being made ruler over all the Lord’s goods (24:47). We cannot of course accurately imagine what new dimensions await us, but all we can say is that we are in training for them, and that training involves the care of others within the household now. To separate ourselves from that household, or cast others out of it, is to deny both ourselves and others the environment required for us to prepared for eternity. 


Many things- The Lord gave a related teaching in Lk. 16:10-12: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?”. What is given to us now is to test our faithfulness. If we don’t perceive what we have been given, and so many believers tell me they are unsure about this, then you need to ask the Lord to show you. Urgently. And give your life to developing those things. The Luke 16 passage appears to say that in this life, we are stewards of the Lord’s wealth; but if we manage that well, then we will be rewarded with wealth which is actually and personally our own. For eternity. That ‘wealth’ will be of the same nature as that given to us by the Lord initially. Here we have a rare insight into the nature of our eternity. “Many things” is equivalent to “all His goods” (24:47; Lk. 12:44). There is nothing that is the Lord’s which will not be shared with us and in some sense give to us to exercise our initiative over.

Enter into- This is eis-erchomai, and is the Lord’s confirmation of how the servant responded to the call to come to Him by ‘coming’ to Him, pros-erchomai (:20). Once again we meet the teaching that our initial response at the Lord’s return, our willing desire to go to Him, will be confirmed by Him bringing us closer to Him. The same word has just been used about the wise virgins ‘going in’ to the wedding (25:10) having initially responded to the call without delay. The same word is used of Noah entering the ark (24:38), and these parables in chapter 25 appear to be an expansion upon that.

The joy of your Lord- The joy of the Lord Jesus as revealed in His own teaching is specifically His joy at the repentance of others. He speaks of Himself as the shepherd rejoicing over the lost sheep (Mt. 18:13; Lk. 15:5) and the repentance of any sinner (Lk. 15:7), at the return of the prodigal (Lk. 15:32), joyful that the disciples believed in Him (Jn. 11:15), joyful at finding the believers in the world (Mt. 13:44). The reasons for the Lord’s joy were all related to the salvation and spiritual blessing of others. He went on to say soon afterwards that His joy was to become the joy of the disciples even in this life (Jn. 15:11; 17:13). This will ultimately happen at the point of entry into the Kingdom at the day of judgment, but the essence of it is to begin now. And it can indeed begin now, if the Lord’s joy at others’ repentance, growth and salvation becomes our joy, and our joy is no longer in ourselves and material things. There is also here a Joseph allusion- “They were merry with him” (Gen. 43:34). He would fain have them enter into the joy of their Lord.

25:22 And also he that had received the two talents came and said: Lord, you gave me two talents. Look, I have gained another two talents- Paul uses the same word for "received" in 1 Cor. 4:7: “For who makes you to differ? And what have you that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”. All that we have spiritually including the knowledge of the Lord Jesus in truth, is a gift we received. And yet we can easily act as if we did not receive it, suggesting instead that we found the Lord ourselves by our own searching. Many people have a spiritual search all their lives and never find much if anything. What we have got is a gift we received, and we must ever be humbled by that.

25:23 His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things- The "Truth" we have now (and it is that) is "a very little... a few things". We mustn't see it as an end in itself. Yet because of our humanity, our limited vision, the way we are locked up in our petty paradigms, we tend to think that the Kingdom will be rather similar to our present experience of "the Truth". Yet the Lord emphasizes, at least twice, that what we have now is pathetically limited compared to the infinitely greater spiritual vision of the Kingdom. We (personally) will then be made ruler over all that Christ has (Mt. 24:47; the "many things" of Mt. 25:23); and in him are hid all the riches of spiritual wisdom (Col. 2:3).

So I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord!- The figure of judgment would suggest a grim faced judge, with all the dignity and soberness of the courtroom, whatever the verdict is. But there are elements of unreality in the pictures of judgment which are put before us in the parables. This judge is emotionally involved in each case (unheard of in a human court); and He is also the advocate and the witness who finds nothing bad to say; and He exalts: "Well done... enter into the joy of your Lord". The picture is of the happy judge, breaking down in joy at the verdict, inviting the hesitant believer to share his joy in their victory. The picture seems so imaginable; "you, enter into the joy of thy Lord" suggests a reticence, an unbelief, at the outcome. Compare this with the one hour labourers receiving a day's pay (Mt. 20:9), and the faithful almost remonstrating with their Lord that they have not done the things He reminds them of (Mt. 25:38-40). But we will overcome our reticence; we will enter our Lord's joy; for we shall stand before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24). “Enter into the joy of your Lord!" sounds like the Lord may have to encourage us to get over our weeping, and enter into the sheer joy which He has, that we've finally made it. "Come…!! You blessed of my Father! Enter the Kingdom…!" sounds like something similar. Now all these things are highly emotional. Yet we will have God's nature. He therefore has the same kind of emotional capabilities as we will have. And, He exercises them right now.

25:24 And also he that had received the one talent came and said- The judgment of the righteous comes before that of the rejected. The faithful respond first to the news that ‘He’s back’, and their willingness to go and be with Him is effectively their judgment. Those who delay are the unworthy and are therefore judged slightly later.

Lord- The man considers himself one of the Lord’s servants, within the household. He clearly felt he had been given too little to do anything much with; but actually the talent was worth around 1 million $, or 20 years’ wages. He didn’t appreciate the greatness of what he had been given.

I knew you- In reality, he didn’t know his Lord. For those who ‘know the Lord’ will be saved, and it is the unbelieving world who do not know Him (s.w. Jn. 17:3,25). Because that isn’t at all how the Lord is (hard, unreasonable, etc.). But the Lord doesn’t correct the false understanding, thereby justifying Himself. Rather does He [as so often] reason with the man upon the basis of the man’s professed belief system. We see this so often in the Lord’s teaching style, and in the way the Gospels use the language of demons. Error is not baldly exposed and corrected, rather are those who believe it worked with according to their understandings, and gently brought to a realization that those views are unhelpful and not the correct reality. The focus, therefore, was upon people, upon the persons holding the ideas, rather than the error of the ideas in themselves. And this has much to teach us; for so many Protestant groups have become obsessed with exposing intellectual error for its own sake; whereas our focus must be upon the individuals who hold those misbeliefs. 

Are a hard man- The problem was the man’s wrong attitude and laziness to do anything. The prodigal son was given much of his Father’s wealth, and he wasted it rather than trading it. But he recognized the Father’s grace and was prepared to work just as a servant. And this attitude was his salvation. So this man’s rejection wasn’t simply because he had failed to do any trading.


Another take on this is that there is a sense in which the Lord is indeed a “hard man”, a demanding Lord, His expectations were (and are) high. And yet His parables reveal an immense sympathy and empathy with our weakness. In a normal human situation, it would be difficult to build a relationship with someone who had such apparently contradictory trends in His character. Perhaps we have the same problem in our struggle to know the Lord. He never denied that He came over in some ways as "a hard man" with high expectations; all He said was that seeing this was the case, we ought to act accordingly (Mt. 25:24). And yet He is also a man of grace and understanding far beyond anything reached by anyone else. He is truly the Jesus who understands human weakness. And note that He is described even now as “the man Christ Jesus”, able to feel the pulse of our humanity. This, in passing, opens a window into what Divine nature will be like: we will be able to completely feel the human experience, to the extent of still bearing the title ‘men’ even in immortality.

Reaping where you did not sow- The moment of conversion is the beginning of the gathering to judgment (Lk. 11:23; Jn. 4:36). The one talent man didn't appreciate this; he objected to the Lord reaping and gathering him (Mt. 25:24). But whatever human objections, the responsible from all nations will be gathered to judgment (Mt. 25:32). The servants are called to receive their talents, and then called again to account (Lk. 19;13,15); there is something in common between the calling to know the Gospel, and the calling to judgment. If reaping refers to judgment [which it clearly does in the Lord’s teaching], then the man could hardly claim to have known the Lord on the basis of how He reaps. Because the man hadn’t experienced the Lord’s reaping. The man says he ‘knows’ [ginosko] the Lord is like this; the Lord answers that if indeed the man has ‘known’ [eido- which more means to see / experience] that He is like this, then he should have acted accordingly. The suggestion may be that even if a person’s understanding of the Lord Jesus is slightly wrong, the important thing is to live within and according to that understanding, even if it involves breaking some Divine principles [lending for interest]. If the desire to respond to the Lord’s gift was there, the desire to progress His work, then although such response was not ideal and not as good as that achieved by the other two servants, then the Lord would accept it. The language of sowing, reaping and gathering is all described using the same Greek words in the Lord’s comment that the birds don’t do these three things, and yet God still feeds them (Mt. 6:26). Perhaps the man was making a garbled, incoherent attempt to say that he had understood those words of the Lord to mean that He was somehow going to be an unreasonable judge with unreal expectations, therefore he had done nothing, although he had not spent the talent [unlike the prodigal son- who desperately wanted to be with the Father]. We may be intended to understand his reasoning as being ‘You created birds who don’t sow, reap nor gather into barns, they just expect food. And God thinks that’s good. So, He is like what He creates’. And perhaps the man also had in view Jn. 4:38: “I sent you to reap that whereon you bestowed no labour. Other men laboured…”. The harvest of people was reaped by those who hadn’t fully worked for it, and the man desperately tries to turn that around to justify his own lack of action. Such desperate twisting of Bible verses can be seen at every hand today, as people wriggle by all means to justify their inaction and selfishness.

And gathering where you did not scatter seed- The Lord is clearly the sower of seed, the seed of the word of the Kingdom (13:3). But the man is complaining that the Lord ‘reaps’ or calls to judgment those who had not received that seed. That is not the case- for knowledge of the Gospel is what makes responsible to judgment. The Lord could have corrected him by reminding him of the sower parable. But He doesn’t. He reasons with the man according to the belief system which he claims to have, assuming for a moment that it is in fact true. His whole style ought to be programmatic for us in our frequent encounters with those who misuse Scripture and the Lord’s words. The Lord does not expect a harvest from ground He has not sown; and in any case, the man had heard the word, received the talent. He was ground which had been sown, and the Lord could therefore expect a harvest from him. Like many people today, he started to raise philosophical questions about the fate of those who have not heard, and justified his own inaction [as one who definitely had heard and been called] on the basis of his doubts as to the Lord’s justice in dealing with those who had not been called. Truly these ancient teachings speak to the heart of postmodern man today.

"Gathering" was highly relevant to the man, for the language of ‘gathering’ is often used about the gathering of God’s servants to judgment (3:12; 13:30; 25:32). The man was implying that his ‘gathering’ to judgment was unreasonable because the Lord had not sown in his land, had not strawed where he has. He felt he was being gathered to give an account when the Lord had given him nothing to account for. And yet the obvious fact was, the elephant in the room, that the Lord had given him a talent, 20 years’ wages, $1 million. And yet the man reasoned as if he had not been given anything to account for. He totally refused to perceive the immense value of what he had been given. And this is so true for us- we for whom Christ died, the blood of God’s Son shed, we who have been called to eternity, who by status are “saved” and showered with all spiritual blessings… can complain that we have not been given anything. Because in our minds we have buried it away, and reason as if we never received it. Here again, the Lord’s ancient words pierce to the core of modern Christian self-perception.

The Greek diaskorpizo can mean ‘to scatter’ and can therefore be used about sowing; but it also has the specific meaning ‘to winnow’. In this case, the picture would be of a man who has not winnowed and yet expects to come and gather up wheat. Again, the man may be attempting to twist the Lord’s words about ‘gathering wheat into His barn’ (13:30, repeating John’s words of 3:12). His idea would be ‘You expect the wheat to be waiting for You without even winnowing it’. But of course the point was that winnowing represented judgment, and this was exactly what the Lord had come to do. But in His grace, the Lord doesn’t make that obvious point, but runs with the man’s words and reasoning and shows him that however wrong his imaginations were about the Lord, he should have acted according to them if he truly loved his Lord. But he hadn’t done so; because he was selfish and lazy.

25:25- see on Mt. 25:14.
And I was afraid- Fear of the judgment of others is a source of false guilt. It is this which militates against the true and free life of which the Lord speaks so enthusiastically. We fear showing ourselves for who we really are, because we fear others’ judgments. This fear makes us uncreative, not bearing the unique spiritual fruits which the Lord so eagerly seeks from us and in us. The Lord said this plainly, when He characterized the man who did nothing with his talents as lamely but truthfully saying: “I was afraid” (Mt. 25:25). Think about this: What or whom was he afraid of? His fear was not so much of his Lord’s judgment, but rather perhaps of the judgments of others, that he might do something wrong, wrongly invest, look stupid, mess it all up... And thus John writes that it is fear that leads to torment of soul now and final condemnation. The Lord’s words in the parable are almost exactly those of Adam. The rejected one talent man says ‘I was afraid, and so I hid my talent’. Adam said: ‘I was afraid, and I hid myself’. The talent God gave that man was therefore himself, his real self. To not use our talent, to not blossom from the experience of God’s love and grace, is to not use ourselves, is to not be ourselves, the real self as God intended.

And went away and hid your talent in the earth- Just as Achan did, hoping that what was not his would somehow become his in time. In line with our earlier suggestions that the man was alluding to the Lord’s words, one wonders if here he has in mind the Lord’s teaching about the Kingdom as treasure hid in a field [i.e. in the ground] which must be found (13:44).  Of course, it’s terribly out of context. But that’s the way so many people use the Lord’s words, as if sharing the same lexical items with Him somehow adds legitimacy to their doing just precisely what they want to do- rather than serving Him. The Lord Jesus was the man of 13:44 who sold all that He had to buy / redeem the field in which the treasure was buried. By returning the treasure into the earth, the man was effectively undoing the work of the Lord on the cross; for the field is the world (13:38), and the price of the field’s redemption was the Lord’s blood. But by laziness and a vague hope that the wealth would by default become his own, the Lord’s work on the cross was undone for this man. The connection with 13:44 is surely purposeful.

Here, have what is yours- So many of the parables build up to a final climax which is the essence of the point the Lord was trying to get across; and this ‘end stress’ is also seen in the talents parable. The warning is not to be like the man who didn’t have the vision to do anything with his talent, but buried it and returned it unused to the Lord. This perhaps is our greatest temptation in our postmodern age of passivity, of staring at computer screens and clicking a mouse. “Lo, there You have what is Yours” suggests an air of confidence in this man; he really didn’t get it, that he was asked to trade what he’d been given. The fact he had retained it pristine appears to have been his reason for thinking that he ought to be accepted, or at least, didn’t ought to be condemned. The story line penetrates deep into the mentality of many small time Protestant sects, according to which the ultimate test of loyalty to the Lord is whether we have retained our understanding of whatever curious or specific interpretations were entrusted to us via the charismatic founder of the sect. This man thought that that was all there was to it. He didn’t spend it on himself, he wasn’t like the prodigal son. But too late he was to learn that sins of omission are the ground for condemnation. To do nothing with God’s Truth is described by the Lord as ‘wickedness’. The grammar emphasizes personal possession: You have what belongs to You. As if to say ‘I didn’t steal it! It’s yours, and it remains yours’. But the whole point was that the Lord had given the talents to the servants and gone away- they had to trade in their own name, as if they were theirs. Thus the other two servants speak somewhat differently, of the talents which had been “delivered” to them. We’re not simply receptacles of intellectual truths which are to be preserved for the sake of it until the end of our days. That would be of itself pointless, a kind of mind game played between God and man for no ultimate purpose. We are given God’s Truth, the riches of Christ, in order to use it for others; the whole talk of ‘preserving the Truth in its purity’ is dangerously close to inculcating the mentality of the one talent man- the mentality that led to his condemnation. See on :29 Taken away.

Perhaps we have never seriously thought of being generous to someone else [even if it’s a few pennies from our poverty]; of actively telling an acquaintance about the Gospel; of doing acts of kindness for someone ‘out of the blue’, thinking up something nice for them which will make them feel ‘Wow!’; doing mission work; reconciliation with our enemies; seeing beyond our immediate emotions of hurt, pleasure, anger, passion. When we step out in faith and do these things, we start living a totally new kind of life. We find God setting us up with situations, working with and through us- and we feel it. We will see beyond the steely silence of the skies to know the reality of Angelic existence. One of my favourite Bible stories is that of Elisha and his frightened servant. Elisha asks God to open the man’s eyes so that he might see the Angelic armies surrounding them; Elisha [and I so love this] didn’t ask for his own eyes to be opened to see them; he was so certain they were there. 

25:26 But his lord answered and said to him: You wicked and slothful servant- The Lord’s only other reference to a wicked servant is in the parable of the wicked servant who runs up a huge debt, is forgiven, and then refuses to forgive a far smaller debt, putting the debtor in prison (18:32). The two men are clearly intended to be compared. The one of 18:32 was dishonest with his Lord’s money [for how else did he amass such a huge debt to his Lord? Was it not that he was found out for dishonesty?]; he was materialistic in the extreme; and he was incredibly ungrateful and unforgiving. He committed many sins. The “wicked servant” of 25:26 does nothing wrong, is not overtly materialistic; but his sin of omission, his laziness [AV “slothful”], meant that in reality he had done just the same as the man who committed so much wrong.

The Lord’s parable was clearly alluding to a contemporary Jewish rabbinic parable later recorded in the Zohar Chadash, folio 47: “A certain king gave a deposit to three of his servants: the first kept it; the second lost it; the third spoiled one part of it, and gave the rest to another to keep. After some time, the king came and demanded the deposit. Him who had preserved it, the king praised, and made him governor of his house. Him who had lost it, he delivered to utter destruction, so that both his name and his possessions were blotted out. To the third, who had spoiled a part and given the rest to another to keep, the king said, Keep him, and let him not go out of my house, till we see what the other shall do to whom he has entrusted a part: if he shall make a proper use of it, this man shall be restored to liberty; if not, he also shall be punished”. The point of contrast is that the Lord is far more demanding. The Jewish story praised the man who simply preserved the deposit. The Lord Jesus condemned the same man for doing nothing positive with it. The third man in the Jewish parable was given the possibility of repentance. But the third man in the Lord’s parable was condemned with no possibility of changing the verdict- for this life is our sole time of responsibility. The Lord is purposefully alluding to this parable, and deconstructing it. Passivity, ‘holding on to the faith’ in a passive sense, much glorified by both Judaism and Protestant Christianity, is what may be glorified in human religion; but it’s exactly this attitude which will be the ground of condemnation.

You knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter seed- See on :24 I knew you. There are different words used. Here, eido means more ‘to see’. The Lord’s response could actually be translated as a question: ‘You [really?] saw Me reap where I did not sow…?’. The process of reaping definitely refers to the last judgment, and so the man had no basis upon which to make this claim, because he had never actually ‘seen’ the Lord act like that. But I prefer to understand the Lord as taking the man’s ideas and working with them, without specifically correcting them- and saying that even if the man’s understanding of Him was correct, then He expected him to act appropriately to that understanding. Instead of doing nothing.

25:27 You should- Explaining how the man could have entered the Kingdom is surely the basis for the gnashing of teeth. To have it explained like that… is harder than any hell fire of classical imagination. He ought to have given the talent to the exchangers. Either he should’ve given it to the Gentiles, or he should have at least done something, in lending it to his Jewish brethren- even against the Law. “Oughtest”, dia,means you must have , you had to- very possession of the talent meant we have to, we must, share it with others in some way- we are all preachers. I have often pondered what we are to learn in our generation from the strict statement that males without the ability to procreate were barred from the Lord’s congregation during the Old Covenant (Dt. 23:1). Perhaps the point is that all those who are the Lord’s people must recognize their ability to procreate for Him, in the bringing forth of yet others in their Lord’s image.


The man being told how he could have entered the Kingdom is after the pattern of rejected Adam and Eve having the way to the tree of life clearly shown to them after their rejection (Gen. 3:23,24). Again, notice how the judgment is for the education of those judged and those who witness it. He will shew them how they should have given their talent, the basic Gospel, to others, and therefore gained some interest. This has to be connected with the well known prohibition on lending money to fellow Israelites for usury; usury could only be received from Gentiles (Dt. 23:20). Surely the Lord is implying that at the least this person could have shared the Gospel with others, especially (in a Jewish context) the Gentile world. This would have at least brought some usury for the Lord. This would suggest that issues such as apathy in preaching, especially the unwillingness of the Jewish believers to share their hope with the Gentiles, will be raised by the Lord during the judgment process. Of course, the Lord hadn't told the servant (in the story) to lend the money to Gentiles; he was expected to use his initiative. The overall picture of the story is that at least the man should have done something! Alternatively, it could be that we are intended to understand that the Lord would even have accepted him if he lent money on usury, something which the Law condemned; if he'd have done something, even if it involved breaking some aspects of God's will... Instead, his attitude was that he had been given the talent of the Gospel, and he saw his duty as to just keep hold on it. He was angry that the Lord should even suggest he ought to have done anything else! We really must watch for this attitude in ourselves. He justifies himself by saying that he has "kept" the money (Lk. 19:20), using the word elsewhere used about the need to keep or hold on to the doctrines of the One Faith (1 Tim. 1:19; 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:13; Rev. 6:9). He had done this, he had held on, he hadn't left the faith. And he thought this was enough to bring him to the Kingdom. Sadly, many understandings of spirituality has almost glorified this very attitude. Any who show initiative have been seen as mavericks, as likely to go wrong. The emphasis has been on holding on to basic doctrinal teaching, marking your Bible with it, attending weekly meetings about it (even if you snooze through them), regularly attending...  And, son, you won't go far wrong. The Lord, in designing this parable as he did, had exactly this sort of complacency in mind. In view of the man’s beliefs about the Lord, he still should’ve acted accordingly.


Have deposited my money with the bankers- The Lord probably means that the man should have done at least something, putting the money into “the bank” (Lk.), doing something effortless [in line with his lazy character], but at least doing something. And yet just possibly the Lord may also have in view the money exchangers whom He so despised and whose tables He overthrew in 21:12. It’s as if the Lord is saying that He was willing to make major concessions to the man- if he had done at least something, even if that ‘something’ was far less than ideal. A Rabbinic teaching claims that bankers should never be trusted and therefore “Money can only be kept safe by placing it in the earth” (b. B. Mes’ia 42A, quoted in R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) p. 954). The Lord is consciously deconstructing Rabbinic views. If we had more access to such contemporary texts, we would likely understand many of the more enigmatic and difficult passages of Scripture- probably they are alluding to and deconstructing contemporary writings.

So that on my return I would have collected my own money with interest- The Lord will receive or collect back His own. Strong defines this as "to carry off, away from harm" (the same word is used in Heb. 11:19 about  Abraham receiving Isaac from the dead). There is the suggestion that the Truth which the Lord has given us is valuable to Him, and He fears our losing it; those who lose the faith lose the personal possession of the Lord Jesus. But at the judgment, when we hand it back to the Lord, He (not to say, we) will have that deep knowledge that now we can't fail Him any more, we no longer have the possibility of causing harm and loss to the treasured wealth which has been entrusted to us. We need to remember, however, that there was no banking system as we have today. Lending money to exchangers was a highly risky business and often resulted in the loss of money; money was safer stored in the earth, as the man did. So the Lord’s point was that he should have taken a risk; indeed, all such trading requires risk taking which may leave us looking foolish. But the Lord may be implying that if he had taken that risk for the right reasons, all ultimately would have worked out well.


Lk. 19:23 says at this point that the Lord will “require” of us our use of wealth (Lk. 19:23). The man who did nothing with his pound should have at least lent it out on usury, the Lord said- even though this was illegal according to Moses. He should have done at least something with his money, even if it involved taking a lower level of service than the Lord ideally expects. The Greek means to exact regularly, in an ongoing sense (s.w. Lk. 3:13); Strong defines it as meaning "to perform repeatedly... not a single act". When the Lord examines our achievements at the judgment, He will expect to keep on receiving the result of what we have achieved for Him in this life. This is the ultimate encouragement for us in our preaching and encouraging of others, as well as ourselves; what we achieve now will yield eternal, continual fruit to the Lord.  

"My own money" reminds us of the fact that He is Lord of all . This means He is owner of absolutely everything to do with us (Acts 10:36). At the judgment, this fact will be brought home. The Lord will ask for “my money... mine own"; we will be asked what we have done with our Lord's money (Mt. 20:15; 25:27). All we have is God's; it is not our own. Therefore if we hold back in our giving and trading, we are robbing God. Israel thought it was absurd to put it like this: But yes, God insisted through Malachi (3:8-12), you are robbing me if you don't give back, or even if you don't give your heart to Him in faith. And will a man rob God? Will a man...? We must give God what has His image stamped on it: and we, our bodies, are made in His image (Mt. 22:21); therefore we have a duty to give ourselves to Him. We are not our own: how much less is 'our' money or time our own! Like David, we need to realize now, in this life, before the judgment, that all our giving is only a giving back to God of what we have been given by Him: "Of thine own have we given thee" (1 Chron. 19:14). The danger of materialism is the assumption that we are ultimate owners of what we 'have'.

25:28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents- The faithful will have enough self-knowledge to be able to say: 'You gave me these basic doctrines and these characteristics to develop with them, and I can now present you with this...'. That part of the character and mind of Christ which was given to the unfaithful servant to develop is taken away and given to the faithful.  The unfaithful receive the riches of Christ but do nothing with them; they don't let them impact their character.  

The man having ten talents as his own is in sharp contrast with the way the one talent man speaks of how the talent is not his but the Lord’s: “Here You have what is Yours” (:25). The Lord is making the point that the faithful will now personally own the talents they were first given, plus they will be allowed to keep for their personal, eternal possession what talents they made during the trading of this life. The progress achieved in this life will be kept eternally. Yet words like ‘achievement’ are almost dirty words in the vocabulary of grace which some insist on. The Lord’s teaching here must be given its due weight.

25:29 For to everyone that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance- This repeats the Lord’s earlier teaching in 13:10-12 about the giving of understanding to those who have some: “And the disciples came and said to him: Why do you speak to them in parables? And he answered and said to them: To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.  For whoever has, to him shall be given and he shall have abundance, but whoever has not, from him shall be taken away even what he has”. Clearly there is an upward spiral in spiritual life, and this will come to ultimate term in the outcomes of judgment day.

But from him that has not, even what he has shall be taken away- This is a paradox. Does the rejected man have talents, or not? He did, of course, have a talent; but as far as the Lord is concerned, we only have what we have developed. If we don't develop, we have nothing; the fact we received the talent at baptism won't save us. It’s only what a man has developed from that in the service of others which counts as truly “his”. This likewise is the sense of “To him that has shall be given”; all we have is what we have developed.

"Taken away" is perhaps a special reference to the Kingdom of God being “taken away” [s.w.] from Israel and given to the Gentiles (21:43). The same Greek word is used about the taking away of the rejected individuals at judgment day (22:13; 24:39). But here, it is the unused talent that is “taken away”. The man was therefore to be identified with the talent- it was to be him. And yet he is most careful to speak of the talent as not his, but the Lord’s: “Here you have what is yours” (:25). The Lord intended that we identify with the talent, rather than see it merely as His. See on :25 You have what is yours.

25:30 And cast out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There, shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth- Unless we are going to actually achieve something for the Lord, then we are unprofitable. But of course the same words for “unprofitable servant” are found in Lk. 17:10- after we have “done all” that we could, we are to recognize that we are still in this category of “unprofitable servant”. Salvation itself is still by grace. The story of the slave who worked all day in the field and was then expected to come home and cook for his master without a word of thanks to him seems to be more realistic, lacking the element of unreality usually seen in the parables. But the Greek word "charis", usually translated "grace", is the one used for "thank" there (Lk. 17:9). The point is that we don't receive grace because of our going the extra mile, as we are inclined to think. We receive grace, but not as a result of all our special efforts; these are what are expected of us, on account of the fact that we have become salves to our Master, the Lord Jesus. At the end of all our special efforts (in whatever sphere), we must consciously make an effort to recognize that we are "unprofitable servants" (Lk. 17:10). This must surely connect with Mt. 25:30, which describes the rejected at the day of judgment as unprofitable servants. If we judge / condemn ourselves, we will not be condemned (1 Cor. 11:31). This is just one of many examples of where the Lord's parables seem intended to be linked with each other- which further prooves that they are not stories with a deeper meaning, whose storyline is not intended to be carefully considered. We must recognize not only that we are unprofitable servants, but that we have only done what was our "duty" or debt to do- the implication being that we were sold into slavery on account of an unpayable debt. This is exactly the figure used by the Lord to describe us in Mt. 18:25.  

25:31 

In Mt. 25:31-46 we have a parable depicting the last judgment, where the Lord sits as judge and we come before Him. Usually, a person comes before a judge regarding things which they have committed wrongly. But our expectations, which are set up by the story of a judge and people coming before him in judgment, are shattered. The issues the people are judged about aren’t acts of commission. It’s all about what they omitted to do, continuing the theme of the preceding parable of the talents, which concludes with the one talent man being condemned for what he omitted to do. We tend to be all so freaked out about our committed sins, rather than realizing the tremendous importance the Lord attaches to our omissions of acts of kindness and thoughtful love, and perceiving the image of Christ in our brethren. It’s rather like how Paul starts writing to the Corinthians. He doesn’t start as we might have done with their gross immorality, false doctrine, perversion of the Lord’s supper into a drunken orgy [although he comes to those things]… rather, he begins with and spends most time discussing their lack of love, their divisiveness etc.

It is worth observing the very simple fact that the New Testament is essentially a missionary document- all the expressions and articulations of doctrine / theology found there are all in the context of the preaching of the Gospel and the immediate problems of men and women in responding to it. This is why we aren't given a cold statement of faith or catechism in the New Testament, but rather the history of the mission of Christ at its first beginning. Even parables like that of Mt. 25:31-46 were relevant in a missionary context- regarding the perils of not supporting the itinerant missionaries in the first century. And this is why the power of the early Christian witness lay in who they were- for this was the real advertisement for the doctrine they preached.

But when the Son of Man shall come in his glory- A clear allusion to Dan. 7:13, which is interpreted later in Daniel 7 as referring to the coming of Jesus with the accepted believers with Him. There is a sense in which we will be involved with judging others; thus the men of Nineveh will condemn the first century Jews at the day of judgment (Mt. 12:41). In this case, the judgment of the nations could be a judgment of people from all nations concerning how they have treated the faithful who were recently under tribulation in all nations. This would make good sense of the allusion to Joel 3:2 “I will gather all nations… into judgment” which we have in :32. The nations gathered to judgment in Armageddon or at least, in Israel somewhere, would then be judged according to how they have treated God’s people. However, the stubborn problem for this interpretation is the reward given to some of these unbelievers- eternal life in the Kingdom just for helping God’s people under persecution. Such salvation is surely predicated upon faith in Christ, rather than the doing of good works.

And all the Angels with Him- If all the Angels accompany the Lord Jesus and relocate from Heaven to earth, then we can better understand why the Kingdom of God on earth is described as “the Kingdom of Heaven”. The future Kingdom of God seems to involve Heaven, including God Himself, ultimately, descending from Heaven to earth. This is certainly the scene presented in the final chapters of Revelation.

Then he shall sit on the throne of his glory- The Lord's throne is the restored throne of David, in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is called the throne of God's glory (Jer. 14:21, and Mt. 23:22 may have the same reference), and the Lord's glory is ultimately God's glory. But His glory is ultimately His character and personality- God's revelation of His glory to Moses was the revelation of His Name and character. Yet the Son attained that glory through His own perfectly God-like character, and this is the basis upon which He shall be enthroned as King of the cosmos. There is surely here also a reference to Zech. 6:13, where the Messianic "Branch" sits upon a throne of glory and rebuilds the temple. But that prophecy was clearly intended to have had a fulfilment in Zerubabel's intended rebuilding of the temple when the exiles returned. But the exiles who returned, and their leadership especially, dropped the batton. The intended temple outlined in Ezekiel 40-48 was not built by them. And so the prophecy was rescheduled in fulfilment. Not every detail needs to be literally fulfilled [e.g. the rebuilding of a temple], but the essence will be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ to earth. The Lord spoke of how the disciples would sit with Him in His throne of glory (Rev. 3:21), judging the twelve tribes of Israel (19:28). This would support our earlier suggestion that the Son of Man coming in judgment is in fact a picture of the Lord Jesus along with the faithful coming in judgment. This is why there are thrones [plural] of judgment (Rev. 20:4). The contrast is with the man of sin, who at that time will also be sitting upon a throne in the temple (2 Thess. 2:4 s.w.); the Lord Jesus shall come and depose him.

25:32 And before HimEmprosthen could just as well mean 'against' Him, referring to the gathering of the nations against Christ which is spoken of in Joel 3, Zechariah 14 and Psalm 2. But the sense is likely the more obvious one, of being gathered in front of Him.


Shall be gathered- See on :31 The Son of Man shall come in his glory. This is a figure used about the gathering of individuals to judgment and both to condemnation and salvation (3:12; 13:30; 24:28; Jn. 15:6 "men gather them and cast them into the fire"; "bring / gather here, and slay them before Me", Lk. 19:27). And yet right now the gathering is going on as the net of Gospel preaching gathers in people (13:47; 22:10; the fragments are gathered that no man be lost, Jn. 6:12, the other sheep are brought / gathered into the fold, Jn. 10:16). Our first steps in responding to the Gospel call are in fact our first steps towards meeting the Lord at judgment. The Lord has just been falsely accused of gathering where He did not sow, and therefore I suggest that those gathered are those from all nations who have received the seed of the Kingdom message. When we are called to judgment, the immediacy of our response will be a summary of how we have progressively responded to that call to go to Jesus. But the word for 'gather' is used extensively by the Lord in this section of His teaching. The one talent man has complained that the Lord is unreasonably gathering him to judgment (25:24), and the Lord now goes on to say that indeed people from all nations will be gathered to Him. And He goes further to say that the basis of acceptability with Him is whether we 'gathered' [AV "took me in"] Him in this life, when He was manifested to us in the least of His brethren (:35,38). Again we see the idea of mutuality. We gather Him, He gathers us. And this will be literally, visibly manifest in that when the call comes, those who voluntarily, immediately gather towards Him will be confirmed in that by being snatched away towards Him, and will thereby come with Him in glory to His throne (1 Thess. 4:16,17). The nations will gather themselves together against Christ at the last day (Rev. 16:14,16; Psalm 2, s.w. Acts 4:26). 


All the nations- Frequently, New Testament references to “all men” really means “all true believers” or those who have become responsible to God. Hebrews 2:14 states that Christ killed the devil (the power of sin) on the cross; but this is only true for those in Christ. Those who are ignorant of the saving power of God’s Truth are under the active control of sin- the Biblical devil. Revelation 20:5 speaks of “the dead” as those responsible to judgment, whereas many other Bible passages show that not all the dead will be raised. Only those who have heard the Gospel will be resurrected to judgment. Thus “the dead” in God’s usage does not refer to everyone who has ever died. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 speaks of “the dead” as those in Christ. Matthew 25:32 describes “all nations” coming before Christ for judgment. This indicates that to God, the world He sees is comprised of those who are responsible to Him; not literally “all nations” will come before Christ, only those people from them who are responsible to Him. We must surely read in an elipsis here, 'People from all nations', because the Gospel will have gone to all nations before the Lord returns (24:14). The great commission to take the Gospel to all nations (28:19 s.w.) will finally have been fulfilled. Knowledge of the Gospel is the basis of accountability to judgment, and that fact alone means that if people from all nations come to judgment, then the Gospel must have gone to all nations; the believers [spiritual Israel] will be persecuted in all nations (24:9 s.w.) at the same time as Jews [natural Israel] are lead away captive into all nations (Lk. 21:24) and this likely will be the basis of our witness to all nations, just as the early church needed persecution to make them take the Gospel to the Gentiles. If we do that now in this day of opportunity, maybe that final persecution by "all nations" will be unnecessary. The whole scenario could have been allowed a first century fulfilment in that Jews from all nations were converted at Pentecost (Acts 2:5 s.w.), but clearly they did not return home and take the Gospel further to the Gentiles of literally all nations. it took Peter until the Cornelius incident to realize that people from literally all nations could be accepted (Acts 10:35 s.w. "all nations"), but the church generally struggled with that understanding. Rev. 14:6 explains that only in the last days will the Gospel go to all nations, during the tribulation period; only when God's judgments are revealed in maybe literally the very last days before the Lord's coming will people from "all nations" come to Him (Rev. 15:4). 


And he shall separate them- The separation between sheep and goats is not, therefore, ultimately visible now. Mt. 13:49 uses the same word to describe how "the Angels" shall do this work of separation. And yet the essence of separation does go on in this life, insofar as men "shall separate [s.w.] you from their company" (Lk. 6:22; Acts 19:9). The final judgment will be a confirmation of processes which have been ongoing in our lives today. Likewise, separating ourselves from our brethren as Peter did in weakness due to political pressures (Gal. 2:12 s.w.) is effectively separating ourselves from the sheep, and placing ourselves with the goats. Significantly, the only other occurrence of the phrase “from one another” is in Acts 15:39, where Paul and Barnabas “departed asunder the one from the other”. The Greek translated "separate" in these passages means to set a boundary, a limit. And in this lies the danger of the misuse of Statements of Faith and legalistic fellowship boundaries. Any drawing of a line in the wrong place can lead to our condemnation, so it's better to be open to all our brethren.

One from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats- Sheep and goats were similar looking. The sheep of the first century would typically have been dirty and with dark patches, making it possible to separate them from goats only by an experienced shepherd who knew his flock. The point may have been that from a distance, sheep and goats looked quite similar. The Lord Jesus was the shepherd during His ministry, and commented that “I know My sheep” (Jn. 10:14). He knew who were the goats and who the sheep. But His judgment will only be made manifest in the last day. But the purpose of the last judgment is not, therefore, to gather information about us; for the judgment in essence is ongoing now as we live our lives before the shepherd of our souls. 

The way the Lord speaks of dividing the sheep from the goats and not vice versa could suggest that there are far fewer sheep compared to goats (Mt. 25:32). This would imply that the majority of those who are responsible are in the goat category. The word used for ‘goat’ here strictly means a kid, and the purpose of the division may well have been because the goats were to be killed for meat.

25:33 And he shall set- Gk. 'to stand'. 

The sheep on his right hand- The paradox is that seeing the Lord will be facing the people, His right hand is their left hand. Those who place themselves at His left hand from their perspective, those who condemn themselves, are thereby on His right hand, and saved. The Lord Himself was rewarded with a place on the right hand (of the Father), and He shares that reward with His people by likewise placing them on the right hand.

And the goats on the left- The Greek euo-numos means literally the good named or good omened. The Greeks understood the left hand as being the side of good fortune. The Lord turned this idea upside down. His culture is radically different to that of the world.


Initially, it does not appear that there will be much compulsion to come to the judgment. After a meeting of the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17), both sheep and goats eventually appear before the judgment seat. The point has been made that when the Angels first come to call us to judgment at the second coming (Matt. 13:39), there will be an element of choice as to whether we immediately accept the call to go and meet Christ. “In that day” we will have the choice to go and take our goods from the house, or to go immediately with the Lord (Lk. 17:31). Under the law, the trumpet sounded and Israel had to gather themselves together (Num. 10:4); yet Paul says in Thessalonians that the Lord comes with a trumpet to gather His people together. If this is indeed based upon the Old Testament pattern, then there is an element of choice as to whether we gather ourselves unto Him- at least initially. Noah and Lot were invited, not forced, to leave the world. Those who respond to Christ's return "immediately" will be accepted, implying that the unworthy delay. This means that the response is optional in the first instance (Lk. 12:36). There are other indications of this.  The most obvious is in the parable of the virgins, where the wise go out to meet their Lord immediately, whilst the foolish delay in order to spiritually prepare themselves. Our attitude in that split second is so vital. The rejected will mourn and wail, in anticipation of their future condemnation, when they see the sign of the Son of man indicating His imminent coming (Mt. 24:30,31). And this is why there is the implication that effectively, the division between sheep and goats happens in the gathering process (Mt. 25:33); our response to the gathering is our judgment. The parables invite us to see the Lord gathering the wheat to one place and the tares to another, as if the gathering is the judgment (Mt. 13:30); the wheat is gathered to the garner, and the chaff to the place of burning (Mt. 3:12). The Angel who reaps for judgment 'thrusts in' his sickle, and 'casts out' the wicked in rejection (Rev. 14:19). But 'thrust in' and 'cast out' in that verse both translate the same Greek word ballo- the implication being that the gathering-to-judgment process is in fact the separation process. Likewise the net is "cast" into the sea in order to gather people for judgment, and then the rejected are "cast" away (Mt. 13:47,48).


25:34 Then- If indeed the Lord comes to judgment with the faithful with Him (in line with the allusions to the Son of Man of Daniel 7, the faithful saints, coming in judgment), then we would have a chronological problem- if the sheep here represent the responsible from all ages standing before Him. We note too that He speaks to them of "the least of these My brethren" (:40), as if His brethren are standing somehow in another group. These considerations have led some to think that the group now being judged are those who have ministered to the Lord's people during their final tribulation. The nakedness, being in prison etc. is exactly the language of persecution found in Rom. 8:35. But I think this is unnecessary, and this suggestion in turn raises problems when analysed further- for will unbelievers in the world enter eternal life and the Kingdom simply on the basis of good works? And the whole language of gathering and separation [as demonstrated above] is elsewhere used about the judgment of all the responsible at the judgment seat of Christ. It seems to me that there is abundant evidence for a collapse of time and space at the period around the Lord's coming. This means that such chronological issues need not concern us. Another possibility is that there are various possible chronologies of events in the last days, and there may be different scenarios for the gathering and judgment of the Lord's people.

The King shall say to those on his right hand: Come- The invitation to come to Him is what we respond to now, in this life, in daily situations (11:28; 19:21; 22:4; Mk. 10:21 s.w.). The judgment seat will simply be a continuation of that principle. Perhaps "Come”suggests a hesitancy of the faithful to enter the Kingdom. Ps. 36:8 says that God will "make us" partake of the blessings of the Kingdom of God. It reminds us of how the Lord Jesus said that in his Kingdom, He will "make us" sit down at a table, and He will come and serve us (Lk. 12:37), knowing full well that he who sits at meat is greater than he who serves (Lk. 22:27). It isn't so difficult to imagine this scene: the Lord of glory wanting us to sit down to a meal, and then He comes and serves us. He will have to "make us" sit down and let ourselves be served. And perhaps the way the Lord had to 'make' the healed blind man look up and use his new sight was some kind of foretaste of this. There is even the suggestion in Rev. 7:15 that after the judgment process, the Lord will come down off His throne and mix with us, after the pattern of Joseph.

Blessed of my Father- The Greek means literally those who are praised. The Greek eu-logeo is literally those who are spoken well of. And this is exactly what the Lord proceeds to do. He praises the righteous, bewildered as they appear to be, for their good works. Righteousness is imputed to them. This connects with other New Testament pictures of the righteous being praised by the Father and Son at the last day.

These words are spoken collectively: "Come, ye (not 'thou', singular) blessed... ye [plural] gave me meat... then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, When saw we thee an hungered...". Yet we know that there must be an individual judgment. These words sound as if we are all judged together, at the same time. Again, the reconciliation of this is in appreciating that the meaning of time will be collapsed. In similar vein, the rejected going off to try to get oil and then turning up later at the judgment (Mt. 25:10) probably describes a process that occurs in the minds of the people, rather than something which occurs in real time- although it may feel like real time to them. The existence of these two groups at the judgment explains how the men of Nineveh and Sheba will "rise up in the judgment" and condemn the rejected Jews; if they are in the group of sheep facing the group of goats in which the faithless Jews will be. The wicked will walk naked, and the accepted believers will then see their shame (Rev. 16:15). The rejected will experience "shame and everlasting contempt" at the judgment (Dan. 12:2). Shame and contempt must be in the eyes of others- i.e. the group of 'sheep'?

"My Father" suggests that the King is therefore the Lord Jesus. Yet He judges as God because God has given Him authority to do this, because He is the Son of Man (Jn. 5:27). 

Inherit the kingdom- 'Be heirs of'. But we are right now "heirs of the Kingdom" (James 2:5 s.w.). What we are now by status will be realised in a more physical sense. Note that inheriting the Kingdom parallels inheriting the earth (5:5), inheriting eternal life (19:29), inheriting incorruption (1 Cor. 15:50), inheriting salvation (Heb. 1:14), inheriting the promises (Heb. 6:12) and "all things" (Rev. 21:7). In no way could these things have been inherited in AD70. These words of Jesus at the judgment, inviting the faithful into the Kingdom (Mt. 25:34), rung in Paul's mind: Acts 20:32; Gal. 3:29; 4:7; Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Tit. 3:7.

Prepared for you- We each have a specific, unique role being prepared for us in eternity; and the process of that preparation is ongoing now, and is the reason for all our current experiences. This brief life prepares us for eternity, who and what we shall eternally be; this is why life is so intense now, even if at times it seems so repetitious. We prepare ourselves (Lk. 12:47 "that servant.... prepared not himself", "His wife has prepared herself", Rev. 19:7; 21:2 s.w.), and God works through this in preparing us. This perhaps explains the irregular dative translated "for you"- it could equally mean 'prepared by you'. The 'preparation' of God's people for that eternity was a major theme of John the Baptist, and it involved repentance (Lk. 1:76; 3:4). The cross was a major part in that preparation (Jn. 14:2,3 s.w.); each of us was somehow represented in Christ then. We are now being "prepared unto good works" (2 Tim. 2:21)- which we shall eternally do. For the Kingdom of God will not be a passive state. We will be active in the good works for which we are now being prepared. I have made the point that the parables of Matthew 25 all address the issue of preparedness for the Lord's coming with which He concluded the Olivet prophecy in Matthew 24. He concluded it with an appeal to be "ready", the same word as "prepared" here (24:44). If we have this sense of being prepared for an eternity of service, then we will be prepared for His coming even though we don't know the day nor hour.

The parable of the pounds describes the reward of the faithful in terms of being given ten or five cities (Lk. 19:17). This idea of dividing up groups of cities was surely meant to send the mind back to the way Israel in their wilderness years were each promised their own individual cities and villages, which they later inherited. The idea of inheriting "ten cities" occurs in Josh. 15:57; 21:5,26; 1 Chron. 6:61 (all of which are in the context of the priests receiving their cities), and "five cities" in 1 Chron. 4:32. As each Israelite was promised some personal inheritance in the land, rather than some blanket reward which the while nation received, so we too have a personal reward prepared. The language of inheritance (e.g. 1 Pet. 1:4) and preparation of reward (Mt. 25:34; Jn. 14:1) in the NT is alluding to this OT background of the land being prepared by the Angels for Israel to inherit (Ex. 15:17 Heb.; 23:20; Ps. 68:9,10 Heb.) . We must be careful not to think that our promised inheritance is only eternal life; it is something being personally prepared for each of us. The language of preparation seems inappropriate if our reward is only eternal life.

From the foundation of the world- In a literal sense, perhaps, our unique genetic structure has been under preparation from the beginning. We were intended to be who we are and to do something specific for the Lord, to be someone unique, throughout eternity. For we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), our names / personalities written from the foundation of the world (Rev. 17:8).

25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me to eat- The Lord was hungry (21:18; Lk. 6:3), wanting to be satiated by fruit on the fig tree, the repentance of Israel.

I was thirsty  and you gave me drink- The Lord was thirsty, and satiated by the food and drink of the Samaritan woman's interest in the Gospel (Jn. 4:13,14). She 'gave Him to drink' (Jn. 4:7); the same words are used here. And He thirsted on the cross (Jn. 19:28) and was 'given to drink'- the same words are used (Mk. 15:36). Hunger, thirst, prison and nakedness are all part of the sufferings of Gospel preachers (1 Cor. 4:11; 2 Cor. 11:27). It may be that Matthew is making this connection because he sought to remind his converts of the need to support the itinerant preachers who were going around reciting the Gospel of Matthew at his time. Further, the spread of the Gospel worldwide is one of the preconditions for the Lord's return, according to the preceding Olivet prophecy. And the point is being made that those who do this are to be supported.

The Lord’s focus on the positive is shown by the way He quotes Job 22:7 in the parable of the sheep and goats: “Thou hast not given water to the weary to drink, and thou hast withholden bread from the hungry”. These words are part of Eliphaz’s erroneous allegations against Job- for Job was a perfect man, and not guilty on these counts. Yet the Lord extracts elements of truth from those wrong words, rather than just contemptuously ignoring them. Likewise Job 22:25 speaks of God being our “treasure… our precious silver” (RV). Surely the Lord had this in mind when saying that our treasure must be laid up “in heaven”, i.e. with God (for He often uses ‘Heaven’ for ‘God’). And James follows suite by approvingly quoting Job 22:29 about the lifting up of the humble (James 4:6).

A stranger I was a stranger and you welcomed me- The Lord was buried in the place of "strangers" (27:7 s.w.); He was treated as a Gentile especially in His death on the cross. "Welcomed" is the same word translated "gathered" in :32. As they gathered Him, so He now gathers them. 


25:36 Naked- The Lord Jesus was naked or at least without clothing on the cross. 

And you clothed Me- As the believers clothed Him, so He will clothe them (Rev. 3:5; 7:9; 19:8; being clothed upon with immortality is definitely a picture of salvation). He will act spiritually to us, in terms of salvation, as we have acted materially to His brethren as they in their lives, as the body of Christ, experience various aspects of His life, sufferings and death.

Sick- Gk. 'weak'. "He was crucified in weakness... we also are weak in Him" (2 Cor. 13:4). His crucifixion 'weakness' is manifest in all who are in Him, part of His body. Both in His life and supremely in His death, the Lord carried our weakness / sickness (Mt. 8:17, quoting from the prophecy of the crucifixion of Jesus in Isaiah 53). He fully shared in "our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15 s.w.) and was "compassed with infirmity / weakness" (Heb. 5:2 s.w.). Clearly the weakness / sickness of the Lord is to be found in all those in Him, and we are to minister to that as we would minister to Him personally.

1 Cor. 8:9 is one of several passages which warn us not to make “the weak” to stumble. There are weak members amongst every group of believers, and therefore we should watch our behaviour, because it will have an effect upon whoever is weak. But this doesn't mean that we actually know who the weak ones are. Because we don't know who is especially weak we must always be careful in our behaviour, whoever we are with. Indeed, we have to adopt the perspective that in a sense we are all weak.  The Greek word translated "weak" usually means one of two things: physical illness, or spiritual weakness. Sometimes these two senses are combined (e.g. when James speaks of praying for the "sick" brother, or when Jesus talks of how pleased he was that brethren had visited the "sick" brother in Mt. 25:36). Paul often uses the word in his letters to Corinth. He says that we are all weak because of our natures (1 Cor. 15:43), and that Christ died on account of the fact that we are weak (2 Cor. 13:4 Gk.). Because of this, Paul reasons, we're all weak, because Christ died for every one of us. He therefore says that to sin against a weak brother is to sin against Christ; because Christ has associated himself with our spiritual weakness, in order to save us from it (1 Cor. 8:12). Thus he says that when we visit a weak brother (spiritually? it's the same word), we visit him. He so closely associates himself with the weak brother. Christ on the cross carried the sins of "the weak" (i.e. all of us), and thereby left us an example of how we should behave towards the "weak". In this context, Paul says that we should likewise love our neighbour (in the ecclesia; Rom. 15:1-4). What he seems to be saying is that we should understand that we are all weak, and therefore try to help each other, in the same spirit as Christ died for the weakness of each of us. If we recognize that we are all weak, we'll avoid two common mistakes: 1) Thinking that some brethren aren't weak and should therefore be followed blindly; and 2) Thinking that some believers are "weak" whilst the rest of us are "strong". Paul didn't want the Corinth ecclesia to think he was wagging the finger at them and implying: 'You lot are so weak, but I'm strong'. Several times he speaks of his own weakness, and he glories in the fact that although he is so (spiritually) weak, God works through him so mightily; indeed, he comes to the conclusion that God's strength is perfectly expressed through his spiritual weaknesses (2 Cor. 11:30; 12:5,9,10). He says that he preached to Corinth in the first place in (spiritual) "weakness" (1 Cor. 2:3)-  because it seems that when he first got to Corinth, he wasn't spiritually strong enough to grasp the nettle of witnessing to the city as he should have done (Acts 18:9,10). Having admitted to Corinth that he himself was weak, he can say that whenever one of them is weak, he feels weak too; in other words he's saying that he can totally empathize (not just sympathize) with a weak brother's feelings (2 Cor. 11:29). 

And you visited Me- The idea is not really to pop around to someone's house or hospital ward. The idea really is of identity, with a view to salvation. Thus God visited us in Christ to save us (Lk. 1:68,78; 7:16 "God has visited His people"; Acts 15:14 God "visited the Gentiles to take out a people"; Heb. 2:6 "what is man that You visit him"). This is the 'visiting' in view. As He ultimately 'visits' us to save, crossing the huge distance between God and man to do so, likewise we are to 'visit' our brethren. Again, what we do materially for those in Christ is a reflection of what He spiritually does for us. This is to be the motivation; to perceive that their poverty, their imprisonment, all of which may be their fault, is a reflection of our spiritual need and poverty, as we like them miss chance after chance to pull ourselves out of our poverty, and fall down too easily into survival and coping mechanisms that bind us to our poverty. And we are to show the same compassionate care to them as the Lord does to us. 

I was in prison and you came to me- Prison is a metaphor for where sin and spiritual debt leads us. We are all hopelessly in spiritual debt and therefore in the debtors' prison (18:30). The Gospel which saves us is of freedom for the spiritual prisoners. And we are to reflect that experience in visiting others in prison, even if it is their fault they are there, just as it's our fault that we too are imprisoned spiritually. And "prison" was understood by Peter as a fair description of the Lord's sufferings, "to prison and to death" (Lk. 22:33). In His death, the Lord went to the "spirits in prison", He was with them  / us there (1 Pet. 3:19). But "prison" wasn't necessarily understood as a building with "Prison" written on it. Legion was 'bound', imprisoned, with fetters (Lk. 8:29 s.w.); and yet still free. Likewise Paul was 'bound' or 'imprisoned' to a soldier (Acts 28:16 s.w.). The Lord's binding could therefore be fairly understood as an imprisonment. And He was imprisoned at least for 24 hours before His death. The wonder of all this is that those imprisoned even by the effect of their own sin are thus still fellowshipping the Lord's crucifixion sufferings; and we are to minister to them as we would have done to Christ on the cross. Would we not have rushed to provide something in response to His plea "I thirst"? Of course. But we are to do so in response to the need of His brethren. Even "the least" of them, who are suffering for their sins. 

So we can say that hunger, thirst, being a stranger, naked, weak and imprisoned are all things which the Lord experienced during His life and especially in His death. His brethren, His body, share His sufferings. We are to minister to them as we would have done were we there beholding the sufferings of Christ on the cross. We should emerge from such ‘beholding’, as we do it at the memorial meeting, practically resolving to reflect it to His brethren. And we are the more motivated by realizing that all those situations of hunger, thirst, imprisonment, weakness and nakedness are in fact metaphors for our own spiritual poverty, which the Lord through the cross responded to, in utter grace. As He has done spiritually to us, so we are to do, spiritually and materially, to others. All those symptoms of poverty are often (although far from always) the result of mismanagement, weak motivation, unhealthy coping patterns, chronically missed chances… and yet in spiritual terms, those things are the story of our lives. In the materially poor we see exact reflections of ourselves, of our spiritual poverty and failures. As the Lord has graciously responded to us in our weakness and self-inflicted poverty, so we are to do so to His people.

25:37 Then the righteous shall answer him, saying: Lord- The parable implies the day of judgment will be such a surprise. Both righteous and wicked will find that they are criticized and commended for things which surprise them. There are several indications that because of this, the rejected will begin to argue back with Christ (e.g. Mt. 7:22), until eventually they realize their errors, stop speaking (Mt. 22:12) and gnash their teeth in anger against themselves (Mt. 22:13). This should truly be a sobering thought to us all. We must strive, really, to examine ourselves, to know ourselves, to try to see our motives and actions a little more from God's perspective; because it is His perspective, not ours, which is ultimately important; and it is this lesson which the day of judgment will ultimately teach each of us.

When did we see you hungry and fed you? Or thirsty and gave you drink?- “See”, eido, means effectively ‘to know’. The Lord has just used the same word in warning that He will have to tell the foolish virgins “I know you not” (:12). Here He explains that this is in fact because they knew Him not, in that they didn’t recognize His brethren. To not recognize His brethren means that He will not recognize us. It becomes crucial, therefore, to recognize the Lord’s brethren- and upholding a statement of faith as a basis of brotherhood seems to be a sure way not to do that. Such a system may work well in secular life, but in spiritual terms, we end up creating fellowship boundaries which effectively treat others as not the Lord’s brethren because we do not recognize them as our brethren, seeing they fail to meet some curious criteria of theology or practice.

One major characteristic of the judgment will be surprise- for both rejected and accepted (Mt. 25:37,44). Firstly, incomprehension (Mt. 25:37) and surprised anger, then realisation of the Lord's verdict. Both sheep and goats register their surprise at their Lord's comments on various specific actions of theirs which he discusses with them- "When saw we thee...?" (Mt. 25:44). The judgment will be a surprise for all. The thought that at least some of our deeds will be discussed with us at the judgment should surely make some impact on our present behaviour. Lk. 19:23 implies not only that there will be a discussion with our judge, but that Jesus will point out to the rejected what they should have done to be accepted: "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee... wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank?". The rejected are to be cut in two, shown as the two faced hypocrites which they were. But the idea of cutting in two was immediately associated in the Jewish mind with making a covenant. When Abraham placed the sacrifices in two parts and the Lord passed between them, the idea was really that God would cut in two the man who broke the covenant. Hence the Jews spoke of 'cutting a covenant'. Those who have made the covenant with God but not kept it will be cut in two, as they initially agreed. God will keep His side of the covenant.

We need to observe that the goats are rejected not so much for their lack of actions, but for failing to discern Christ in the least of His brethren. Then, the rejected will finally see their good works in context. They will realize how little works really meant. The faithful already knew that- for they objected when the Lord told them all the good things they had done. The list of works in Mt. 25:35,36 include the following: giving food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, a bed to the homeless, help to the sick. Yet these are the very things which Job claims he had done, when he clears himself from all his accusers (Job 31:17-20). But the voice in the whirlwind soon reduced him to realize "I am vile"; all his good works became as filthy rags before the supremacy of salvation by grace alone. The connection with the parable isn't merely incidental. Surely the Lord is saying that the self-righteous in the ecclesia may seem as righteous as Job was before his conversion; but they must either in this life realize the totality of grace, or the whirlwind of judgment condemnation will reduce them to the same realization. Job seems to oscillate between believing and not believing in the resurrection (consider Job 14:7-15). At the end, Job confesses he has not spoken the right things; and Yahweh then says that he has only spoken that which was right. The friends likewise said some true things and some false things; and yet because they did not repent, their bad words were remembered against them. The final revealing of Yahweh in Job was some kind of judgment day for all concerned. Job, the righteous, had only his good deeds and words remembered; whereas the wicked friends had only their bad words remembered. It seems it will take a while for the penny to drop for the rejected- that they're "out", and actually never were "in". This Jesus, in whose presence they had broken bread (although note the difference between this and Jesus breaking bread with us, Lk. 13:26 cp. Mt. 26:29), actually doesn't know them. The Lord has to repeat the very same words twice to the rejected: "I know not whence you are" (Lk. 13:25,27)- as if they are dumbfounded and slow to comprehend the eternal implications of His words.

The righteous gave to the poor, the sick, the hungry- without even realizing they had done it. They will confidently deny it when Jesus points it all out to them. They served with no expectation of reward; so much so that they even forgot what they did. And every one who is accepted at the judgment, all the sheep, will have been like that. Giving without any thought of getting anything back is a must for all of us who seek to truly manifest God: for this is exactly what He does and has done, minute by minute, down through the millennia of indifferent, unresponsive human history (Lk. 6:35,36). The accepted will feel so certain of all this that they will almost argue with the Lord Jesus at the day of judgment that he hasn't made the right decision concerning them (Mt. 25:37-40). It's only a highly convicted man who would dare do that. Thus the Father will have to comfort the faithful in the aftermath of the judgment, wiping away the tears which will then (see context) be in our eyes, and give us special help to realize that our sinful past has now finally been overcome (Rev. 21:4). We will be like the labourers in the parable who walk away from judgment clutching their penny, thinking “I really shouldn't have this. I didn't work for a day, and this is a day's pay". Therefore if we honestly, genuinely feel that we won't be in the Kingdom, well, this is how in some ways the faithful will all feel.


There is surely an intended contrast between the accepted denying the righteous acts that the Lord reminds them of, and their telling Him how much they have gained (spiritually) by trading (Mt. 25:37-39 cp. 20,22). These quite different attributes of the accepted are recorded within the same speech of the Lord. He frames those parables as if He is getting over global lessons rather than describing the response of different people.  Perhaps the point is that first of all, the accepted feel as if they have done no righteous acts, and feel their unworthiness so strongly that they even dare to genuinely disagree with the Lord's praise of them. But then they come to accept themselves as He sees them, and later on in the judgment dialogue, He teases out of them a realistic self-assessment of their spiritual growth. There is a similar intended contrast in the attitude of the rejected; they begin by denying the Lord's criticism of their spiritual barrenness, and later in the conversation claim that well, He is being unreasonable, looking for fruit which He can't reasonably expect. Their tone changes from a loving 'Lord, Lord...' to a more bitter, critical spirit (Mt. 25: 4 cp. 25).

25:38 And when did we see you as a stranger and welcome you? Or naked and clothed you?- They were commendably unaware that they had done these things. Or perhaps the focus is upon the word "You". Their genuine surprise is because they had never realized the degree to which their actions to their brethren were done directly to their Lord.

25:39 And when did we see you sick, or in prison and came to you?- The parable of the sheep and goats clearly suggests that after the judgment, the worthy and unworthy will be in two distinct groups to the right and left hand side of the Lord. The group of "sheep" then enter the Kingdom all together, at the same moment. This explains how the Lord will address the faithful and unfaithful as groups (note "ye" in Mt. 25:37,39); how the men of Nineveh stand together in a group, as the men of Sodom and Gomorrah will (Mt. 12:41;  Mk. 6:11). In some way, there will be a collective sense at the day of judgment, as well as an individual one. If there will be a collective sense then, before the presence of His glory... there ought to be now.

At judgment day, the Lord will commend the righteous for feeding Him etc.- and they will reply in genuine surprise, feeling that they truly have not done any of those things for which He commends them. The point is, their way of life was an unconscious doing of good; it is the mindset which legalistically remembers every act of righteousness which will be finally rejected. 

25:40 And the King- The day of judgment was an important theme with the Lord. There is an element of unreality in the way he speaks of the King as being the judge (Mt. 25:40); the implication is that our judgment will be an extremely important event; the King himself is the judge (actually, the King of heaven and earth). This indicates that the Lord wishes to put before us the picture of those who have been called to the Kingdom but reject His offer.

Shall answer and say to them- They answer to Him (:37), and He likewise to them.

Truly I say to you, inasmuch- The Greek suggests an exact correspondence. Whatever is done to the Lord’s brethren is done to Him. This is the point of the Lord’s teaching. He is not simply saying that if we do good practical works we shall be saved, and if we don’t, then we shall not be. He is saying that it is what is done or not done to Him which is significant. So the point of the teaching is an appeal to recognize and serve His brethren, rather than to simply do good works. The rejected of Mt. 7:22 “did many wonderful works”- and the same word is used here, “you did it unto one of the least of these my brothers”. It’s not so much works that are being appealed for, as recognition of the Lord in His brethren. It’s the same word used in :16 for the faithful man who ‘made’ talents for his Lord. The making of talents is therefore parallel with serving the Lord’s brethren. It’s also the word used in 24:46 [which introduces the parables of chapter 25]- the watching servant will be found ‘doing’ care for his brethren.

As you did it to one of these my brothers- This word may seem superfluous until we realize that ‘one of the least of these’ is an invitation to look at the group of sheep and focus upon any one of the faces. This is a unique insight into the day of judgment. We are enabled to imagine ourselves there. The Lord is inviting us to imagine the colossal importance of perceiving Him in His brethren, and treating them as Him. If only this principle were understood in church life now, the church would be a beacon of light in this world’s darkness. All rejection, spitefulness, hard speaking against other believers… would disappear. We are to treat others in Christ as if they were Him. And that is the basis of our acceptance or rejection.

Even the least, you did it to me- See on :34 Then. The ‘little ones’ in the Lord’s earlier teaching are believers in Him (10:40-42; 18:6,10,14). 10:42 is strikingly similar: “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple; truly I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward”. The least of the Lord’s brethren refer to His disciples, and not to needy humanity generally. The purpose of the parable is to continue the theme of watchfulness which began at the end of chapter 24. There the Lord taught that watchfulness and readiness for His return will be achieved by feeding the household, and here that is defined in terms of practical care for His brethren. Careful reflection on the parable surely indicates that the Lord doesn’t condemn people for not doing acts of kindness; that would be salvation by works. Rather is the basis of their condemnation whether or not they perceived the Christ in the least of the Christ’s brethren. The Lord’s point is that things were done or not done to Him. If He meant ‘If you feed the hungry, you’re a sheep; if you don’t, you’re a goat’, He would have expressed it otherwise. He’s not teaching salvation by works, but rather the crucial importance of perceiving Himself in His brethren and not denying their connection with Him. This lifts the whole issue to a far more personal and demanding level than doing a few acts of kindness to needy folks.

The ‘least’ of the Lord’s brethren are those who are spiritually weak. The “least in the Kingdom” are those who break commandments and teach others so (5:19 s.w.); Paul felt “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9 s.w.), “the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8 s.w.). The parable describes those on whom the righteous expend effort as sick, hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, in prison: every one of which is a description used elsewhere in Scripture concerning our spiritually weak state. Therefore the parable is teaching that one of the grounds upon which we will be rejected or accepted relates to how we have treated spiritually weak brethren. The wondrous, wondrous thing is that the Lord of glory identifies himself with the spiritually weakest of his brethren: and structures his judgment seat around how others have behaved towards them. Yet the description of “the least” brethren exactly match the Lord’s own experience in His death- one who is imprisoned (Mt. 26:50), sick (Mt. 27:26), naked (Mt. 27:35), thirsty (Mt. 26:29; 27:48), friendless like a stranger (Mt. 26:56). In responding to “the least” of the Lord’s brethren, we are responding to His cross. For our brethren, in their poverty, nakedness and imprisonment, are fellowshipping the sufferings of their Lord.  

As He says "Of these", we imagine a nod towards the crowd of sheep, with an invitation to focus upon “one” of those faces. There will be a public element to the judgment process. This is why the rejected shall walk naked and have their shame seen by others (Rev. 16:15). The purpose of judgment is to teach us all, to prepare us for eternity together as we behold each other’s lives revealed and perceive the same patterns of God’s amazing grace. This is why hypocrisy is pointless; we shall then be revealed for who we really are before all.

25:41 Then he shall also say to them on the left hand: You who are cursed, depart from me- The same word has just been used about the foolish virgins when they were told to “Go [s.w. ‘depart’]” to buy more oil (:9). The rejected will be told: "Depart from me" (Lk. 13:27); and yet in their lives, they will have already departed themselves. In time of temptation some fall away (s.w. "depart from"; Lk. 8:13). Some depart (s.w.) from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 3:12). Demas departed (2 Tim. 4:10), as the rejected will depart (s.w. here in Mt. 25:41). The same word is used about how the seed sown among thorns goes forth, it departs (Lk. 8:14) to condemnation.  They departed, and so He tells them to depart. Now they willingly absent themselves from the Lord, but then they will not want to depart from Him. God will gather up the nations to thresh them, but they gather themselves to Him (Mic. 4:11,12).

To the perpetual fire which is prepared for the Devil and his messengers– Clearly alluding to the Gehenna myth. This is a phrase taken straight from Jewish apocalyptic thinking and literature. It was the worst category of punishment conceivable in Judaism. And yet Jesus in the context is talking of the way that religious people who claim to believe in Him will not go unpunished for ignoring the needs of their poor brethren. This all too easy to commit sin... The Lord uses Judaism’s toughest language to condemn. But this doesn’t mean that He actually believed in the literal existence of either “eternal fire” nor a personal Devil. The Devil’s angels are those who ignore their needy brethren. It’s a powerful and telling juxtapositioning of ideas by the Lord Jesus. The warning that the wicked will be cast into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil (Mt. 25:41) was referring to the apocryphal fate of supposedly ‘wicked angels’ as recorded in 1 Enoch 54. The references to Tartarus and sinful angels in 2 Peter and Jude are also clear references to wrong beliefs which were common in Jewish apocryphal and pseudo-epigraphical writings. These wrong ideas- and they are wrong- are not corrected directly, but rather a moral lesson is drawn from the stories. This is the point of the allusion to them; but there is no explicit correction of these myths in the first instance. It is the Angels of Jesus, and not of the Devil, who punish the wicked (Mt. 13:42–50). A wresting of Scripture to make out that the Devil is the tormentor of the wicked simply runs in straight contradiction to these plain statements of the Lord Jesus.

It is a common theme that the wicked snare themselves, falling into their own pit, rather than God specifically snaring them (e.g. Ps. 7:15; 9:15; 57:6; Prov. 26:27; 28:10; Ecc. 10:8). Their condemnation, the nature of their punishment, will have been specifically "prepared" for them (Mt. 25:41). The bitter self-hatred and ineffable regret of the rejected will be their punishment; and in accordance with the specific, personal way they mistreated and neglected God's Truth in this life, so they will mentally torture themselves. From their own mouth and words men will be judged (Mt. 12:37; Lk. 19:22 cp. 2 Sam. 1:16).

25:42 For I was hungry and you did not give me anything to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink-
The ideas of being hungry, thirsty and in prison connect with the picture we have in the sermon on the mount (Mt. 5:5-11)- where those very categories of people are those who are blessed by the Gospel. The implication of the connection may be that their being given food, water and comfort is articulated through the body of Christ today. And those who refuse to be the channel for those things are thereby showing themselves to not be part of the body of Christ.

 25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. Naked and you did not clothe me. Sick and in prison and you did not visit me-
"Welcome me" translates the same Greek word used for welcoming others into salvation. It is translated "assemble together" in the context of church meetings (Jn. 20:19; Acts 4:31; 11:26; 14:27; 15:6,30; 1 Cor. 5:4), and specifically of gathering together to break bread (Acts 20:7). Clothing the naked likewise has connections with accepting the otherwise spiritually unacceptable. It is all a sober warning to those inclined to "not welcome" some at the Lord's table.

25:44 Then they shall also answer, saying: Lord- The figures of judgment can be taken literally to an extent. However, the actual process will be slightly different for each of us. Thus for some, Christ gives his verdict immediately and then discusses it with them (Mt. 25:33,34,41). Others are apparently given the reasons for the verdict first, and then explicitly told the verdict (Mt. 25:27). Others tell the Lord of their spirituality and are then told his comment (Mt. 25:20). Others don't realize the spiritual growth they've achieved (Mt. 25:37), others see it quite clearly (Lk. 19:16). To some, Jesus speaks first; in other cases, the believer starts the dialogue (Mt. 25:41-44 cp. 11,12,24-26). Some sense their rejection coming and plead to be let in to the Kingdom (Mt. 25:11,12); others complain at their Lord's apparent unfairness, as if they're sorry, but they just have to make their point to him (Mt. 25:44).

The Lord points out their failings, then they give an explanation of their behaviour (Mt. 25:24), justifying themselves (Mt. 25:44). There is an intended contrast in the attitude of the rejected within the Lord's parables of judgment in Mt. 25; they begin by denying the Lord's criticism of their spiritual barrenness, and later in the conversation claim that He is being unreasonable, looking for fruit which He can't reasonably expect. Their tone changes from a loving 'Lord, Lord...' to a more bitter, critical spirit (Mt. 25: 44 cp. 25). According to the type of Cain, he was questioned by God, answered back, and then changed his tune and begged for mercy (Gen. 4:9). Adam likewise began by answering back, blaming the woman and the fact God gave her to him (Gen. 3:12). So they go through three mood swings: 'Lord, Lord', assuring Him they have never omitted to serve Him (Mt. 25:44), then a more bitter feeling that He is unreasonable (Mt. 25:25), and now a desperate begging for mercy.

When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?- This is the word commonly used about people ministering to Jesus, and the ministering women at the cross. Again the point is established that the language used about ministrations to the historical Jesus is applied to ministration to the least of His brethren. The shock of both sheep and goats reflects their shock at the degree to which their brethren really had been the very same as the Lord Jesus. The parable suggests that we shall never in this life appreciate the degree to which He perceives His brethren as Himself, and our actions to them are our actions to Him. Any exclusion or spitefulness towards them is directly felt as action against Him. The thought of not ministering unto the crucified Christ is unthinkable, and is so clearly expressed by the goats in their denial of having been guilty of this. And yet to ignore our brethren who are part of Christ, who are Him to us, is to do the same. We wish to minister to the Lord in His time of need. But He is not here personally. And yet effectively He is, insofar as His brethren are His body, and are right before our eyes.

25:45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of these least, you did not do it to me- See on :40 The least.

Many of those who ungraciously storm out of fellowship with the rest of the body, do so because they complain that other believers are weak, unloving, hypocrites, don't practice what they preach etc. And in many ways, their complaints are true (seeing that the Lord came to heal those who need a doctor rather than shake hands with the healthy). And again, Paul has a comment on this situation. He says that those parts of our bodies "that seem to be weaker... that we think are less honourable... the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty... with special honour" (NIV). The private parts of our bodies are the parts we are most sensitive to, although on the outside they seem weak and hidden. And so Paul reasons that the weaker parts of the ecclesial body should be treated the same. The Greek for "feeble" (1 Cor. 12:21) is used (notably in Corinthians) to describe spiritual weakness: Mk. 14:38; Rom. 5:6; 1 Cor. 8:7,10; 9:22; 11:30; 1 Thess. 5:14. And in some ways, we are all "weak" (1 Cor. 1:27; 4:10). So those we perceive ("that seem to be... that we think") to be spiritually weak in their external appearance, we should be especially sensitive towards. Significantly, the “sick" (s.w. "feeble") in the parable of Mt. 25:44 are the "least" of Christ's brethren, the spiritually weakest; and at the day of judgment, the rejected are condemned because of their attitude towards these spiritually weakest of Christ's brethren. As John realized the tendency of some to think they could love God without loving His Sons, so Paul tackled the same problem at Corinth. He reasons that "the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee... if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if they were all one member, where were the body?" (1 Cor. 12:21). He knew that some would want to go off on their own, and he shows that such behaviour would suggest that they alone were the whole body. He knew that some would think that they had no need of other parts of the ecclesial body; he saw that some would feel that they were so inferior to others that they had no place in the body. All these are reasons why believers push off on their own. But notice that Paul doesn't actually say 'the eye shouldn't say to the hand, I have no need of thee'; but rather "the eye cannot say to the hand...". Although some may say or feel this, ultimately, from God's perspective, it's simply not valid. Christian disillusion with Christianity mustn't lead us to quit the body. The same logic applies to those who think that the body of Christ is divided; ultimately, there is one body, and from God's perspective this is indivisible. The divisions only exist in the minds of men. Those who say that they don't need fellowship with their brethren "cannot say" this, according to Paul. If they continue on this road, ultimately they declare themselves not of the one body of Christ; although I trust there are many brethren who have done just this who may still receive God's gracious salvation.  

"Of these" suggests that the righteous are present and visible at the time of the verdict given to the goats. Again we see the public dimension to the judgment process.

A telling chronology is suggested by putting together a few Scriptures. The foolish virgins will knock on the door, as it were, and be told by the Lord “I know you not” (Mt. 25:12). Lk. 13:27 says that He tells the rejected after they have justified themselves to Him: “I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity”. Mt. 7:22,23 describes a dialogue in which the rejected justify themselves by listing their good works, and the Lord will profess unto them: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity”. All their good works He will see as works of sin, because they were not of faith. Mt. 25:41-45 gives more information: the rejected are told “Depart from me”, but they argue back with self-justification, and then they are told that they had not shown love to the least of Christ’s brethren, and are sent away to punishment.

25:46 And these shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into eternal life- After the pattern of Cain and Adam (Gen. 3:24; 4:14), and also the idea of the wicked being cast into the darkness of condemnation, it seems that the rejected will be forcibly driven away. Cain was driven out from the faces, the presence of the land of Eden, where the Lord's presence was (Gen. 4:14). Presumably this driving out was done by the Angels. We are left to imagine the ultimate tragedy of Cain going forth from the presence of the Lord (Gen. 4:16 s.w. "face" 4:14), and the rejected 'going away into...' (Mt. 25:46). The tragedy of rejection is well reflected in the way the Lord speaks of how "great was the fall" of the poorly built house (Mt. 7:27). We are invited to see worthy and unworthy walking away from the throne into different futures. The sheep will enter into the city (Rev. 22:14), into the temple (Rev. 15:8), into their rest (Heb. 4:11), into the Kingdom (Acts 14:22; Jn. 3:5; Lk. 18:24; Mt. 18:3); into life (Mk. 9:45; Mt. 18:9; 19:17); into the joy of Christ (Mt. 25:23).

The rejected going away into... (Mt. 25:46) is only a reflection of the position they themselves adopted in their lives. They thought that they could flee away from the judgments of God (Rom. 2:3 Gk.)- and so they will flee from His judgment seat, although so, so unwillingly. The man who refuses to immediately respond to the Lord's call to service says that he must first go away from the Lord and bury his father (Mt. 8:21); the young man went away in sorrow (Mt. 19:22); people hear the Gospel and then go away to all their petty businesses of this life (Mt. 22:5). Those who couldn't handle the demanding Lord went awayfrom Him (Jn. 6:66); and Judas went away of himself to hang himself (Mt. 27:5). He condemned himself. These are all the same words as in Mt. 25:46- those who of their own choice went away from the Lord now, although that isn't maybe how they saw it, will then go away from Him into condemnation. This point is made even within Mt. 25. The foolish virgins went away to buy oil- they didn't want to immediately go to their Lord (:10); the one talent man went away and buried his talent (:18,25). And then at judgment day they again go away from the Lord (:46). Their going away from the Lord is simply being confirmed by Him.