We have here a continuation of the same discourse as that reported in the previous chapter. There are three parables, each designed to present special aspects of truth in connection with the second coming of Christ.
The parable of the ten virgins has been the subject of considerable controversy. Questions that are confusing and contradictory have been raised as to its exact application. It would seem to apply to the entire period during which the professed people of God are waiting for the fulfillment of the promised return of the Bridegroom. It is definitely a parable of the kingdom of heaven, and that in its mystical form, as are all the kingdom parables from chapter 13 on. Therefore, it would be a mistake to shift it in application solely to the tribulation period and to endeavor to make the virgins represent only the Jewish remnant rather than the church in accountability or responsibility, as the number ten suggests.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. (vv. 1-13)
It is well to remember that the word virgin means also “maiden.” Too much should not be made of the former usage here. The ten virgins do not necessarily represent born-again people, but those who by profession are in the place of testimony on earth. Of this the lamps speak. Five maidens are wise and five are foolish. The wise have the oil of grace to replenish their lamps; the foolish have lamps but no oil. All professedly go forth to meet the Bridegroom, and while He tarries they all slumber and sleep. This answers perfectly to what took place in Christendom when, in the Dark Ages, the hope of the Lord’s return was lost sight of and the whole professing church slept until awakened by the clarion call, when the darkness was deepest, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him!”
Ever since the Reformation this midnight cry has been sounding but becoming ever clearer as the end nears. With it there came a great awakening. The wise unto salvation trimmed their lamps: their testimony became brighter. But those who were unreal found that they were without oil to replenish their lamps. The wise could not impart any oil to them but directed them to the source of supply, and we are told that the Bridegroom came while they went to buy. Those who were ready went in to the marriage, but the rest were left outside. They knocked for admittance later but found they were too late. From within came the voice of the Bridegroom saying, “I know you not.” They were shut out forever.
The admonition that follows is simply, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour.” The words “wherein the Son of man cometh” are not found in the best manuscripts. It is not the coming of the Son of Man that is in view here, but the return of the Bridegroom.
As we consider the second parable, we should be careful to distinguish between reward for service and salvation by grace. All who trust in the Lord Jesus are saved, and this altogether apart from human merit. But all who profess to believe in Him are responsible to serve Him and to use whatever gift, ability, or means they have for His glory and to further His interests in this world. There are those who profess to be servants who are not even born of the Spirit. But God holds men accountable for what they know and profess. It is incumbent on all who believe His Word to serve wholeheartedly in view of the day when every one of us shall give an account. In that solemn hour no one will regret having been too much concerned about living for Him, but many will rue the hours spent in selfishness and folly which might have been used for His glory and talents wasted or hidden away that if properly invested in the light of eternity would have earned Christ’s “Well done.” He will reward all that is in accordance with His Word (1 Cor. 3:13).
It was when the master returned that he took account of his servants. And it will be at the return of our Lord Jesus that He will summon His servants to stand before His judgment seat not to be condemned for their sins, for that judgment is past (John 5:24), but to render an account of their service. Both for Israel and the church rewards are to be given out at His coming (see Isa. 62:11; Rev. 22:12).
The wicked and slothful servant does not represent a child of God, because he is cast into the outer darkness. He has nothing for which he can be rewarded. It is otherwise with those who are regenerated. Of them it is written that in that day “shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor. 4:5). This refers, of course, not to every man as such, but to every one of those who appear at the judgment seat of Christ, where only believers will stand.
If we use whatever gifts we have, no matter how small and insignificant they may seem, in dependence on God, we shall find our capacity for service increasing constantly. We are told to covet earnestly the best gifts (1 Cor. 12:31) and to use them in love.
Nothing is gained by quibbling as to the exact dispensational place of this lesson. The principle is the same whether applied to the church now or to the remnant of Israel after the Rapture. The important thing is to see that we use aright what we have received of the Lord.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said. Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, (vv. 14-30)
“A man travelling into a far country.” Note that the italicized words in the KJV should be eliminated. This parable has a very broad application. It refers to all of Christ’s servants during His absence in heaven. He has “delivered unto them His goods.” They are to act for Him as His representatives in the world until He returns.
“Every man according to his several ability.” All have some talents, which we are responsible to use to further the work of the Lord in this scene. “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2).
“Traded with the same.” Both the five-talent man and the two-talent one were faithful with what they had. Each doubled his lord’s money by using wisely and carefully what was entrusted to him. This was all that could be expected of them.
“Hid his lord’s money.” This man thought he had so little, as compared with the others, it was not worth endeavoring to do anything with it. He hid it in the earth, thinking that the best he could do would be not to squander it. He was an unworthy servant, without vision or a true sense of responsibility.
“The lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.” On his return, he called each one to account for the use of that which had been committed to him. So it will be at the judgment seat of Christ when our Savior returns (2 Cor. 5:9-10).
“I have gained… five talents more.” This servant was able to give an account with joy (Heb. 13:17). He had used his talents faithfully, and he could be certain of his lord’s commendation.
“Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” Because of his integrity and wisdom during his lord’s absence, the servant was rewarded by a special place of trust and confidence when he returned. So will it be at Christ’s return for those who have been faithful to Him in this time of testing.
“He also that had received two talents came.” This man had less to do with, but he was as truly faithful as his fellow servant who had so much more. We are held accountable for what we have, not what we do not have (2 Cor. 8:12).
“Well done, good and faithful servant.” This man receives the same commendation as the other, for he, too, had doubled what was entrusted to him. So he also is accorded a place of authority in the kingdom.
“I knew thee that thou art an hard man.” The one-talent man seeks to put the blame of his failure to produce upon his master. He was like those who blame the Lord because of their limited gifts, and who do not realize that to whom little is given, of him shall little be required, but who are, nevertheless, responsible to use faithfully what they have. On the other hand, he who has received much is the more accountable (Luke 12:48).
“There thou hast that is thine.” He had failed utterly in regard to the very purpose for which the talent was entrusted to him, yet he sought to justify his negligence and supposed his lord would be satisfied.
“Thou wicked and slothful servant.” It is wicked to be disobedient. It is sloth-fulness to fail to act energetically. This servant had to suffer because he failed to carry out the purpose of the master, as made known to him.
“Then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.” If nothing else, the servant should have put out the money at interest and thus have added something to what he had received. He represents those who, while professing to be Christ’s servants, do not really know Him at all and so do not seek to obey His Word. Eternal issues hang upon the right use of what we receive from the Lord.
The slothful servant lost everything, even his profession was taken from him. The Lord’s words may sound strange, but they are readily understood if we realize that what is in view is profit as a result of using his talent aright. That which he had misused was taken from him and added to the ten talents held by the first servant, while the unprofitable one was cast into outer darkness— an Oriental expression for the disfavor of the Master. There he wept over his loss even while he gnashed his teeth in anger because of the judgment inflicted upon him.
Throughout this entire section (chaps. 22-25), which gives us our Lord’s controversy with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other leaders in Israel, and His great prophecies as to His second advent and the judgment of the nations, one thing stands out crystal clear: That which counts with God is not slavish adherence to legalistic forms, rites, or ceremonies, but a life controlled by divine love. This is the paramount evidence of the new birth (1 John 3:14), and in the present dispensation is the specific proof that one is indwelled by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). It is important that we have a proper understanding of this section of the gospel of Matthew, viewing it in connection with God’s dealings with His earthly people, the Jewish nation, and with the Gentiles in connection with their attitude toward Israel. On the other hand, we shall lose a great deal for our own souls if we limit it to this dispensational aspect. We need to remember that moral and spiritual realities are the same in all ages, and the love that is here declared to be the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets will be manifested in the lives of all “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).
Love is, therefore, in the truest sense, the law or controlling principle of the new life. It is that perfect law of liberty of which the epistle of James speaks (1:25). It is so designated because the renewed soul delights to do that which glorifies God and blesses his fellow men, whether brethren in the faith or belonging to the world that lies in the wicked one (1 John 5:19 RV). The Christian will love the sinner even while he hates his sin. And in this he but manifests the divine nature, for this, too, is God’s attitude toward the world.
We show our love for Christ by our concern for His own. This is true in all dispensations, for in every age the new nature which believers receive is the same. Its very first characteristic is love. After the church has been caught up to meet the Lord in the air, a new witness will be raised up on earth. The wise in Israel, enlightened by the Word and sealed as the servants of God, will go to the nations, proclaiming the everlasting gospel. The attitude of the nations toward them will determine their destiny when the King returns and sets up His throne of judgment.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal, (vv. 31-46)
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory.” The coming of the Son of Man refers always to our Lord’s second advent, when He will come back to the earth, in manifested glory, to set up the kingdom which the prophets foretold. This expression is never used in connection with His coming to the air for His church—a mystery still unrevealed when this discourse was given (1 Cor. 15:51).
“Before him shall be gathered all nations.” This sessional judgment is to be distinguished from the judgment of the Great White Throne of Revelation 20, which will not take place on the earth at all, but will be the judgment of the wicked dead. This which is before us here is a judgment of living nations prior to the Millennium. The other—that of the Great White Throne—is after it ends and the heavens and earth of the present order have vanished away. But this judgment, like the other, is according to works. The sheep are those in whom divine life is manifested by their loving care for those who belong to Christ. The goats are bereft of this and speak of the unrepentant, who did not respond to Christ’s messengers. The “right hand” is the place of acceptance; “the left” hand, of rejection.
“Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The kingdom mentioned here is that spoken of in Daniel and other prophetic books (Dan. 7:13-14). It is not to be confounded with the heavenly inheritance but will be set up on this earth at our Lord’s second advent, when He shall be revealed as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15) and His world kingdom will supersede all human dominions (Dan.2:44).
“I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat.” We are not to suppose that the salvation of these Gentiles will be on the ground of works, but their works will prove the reality of their faith. The same principle comes out in John 5:28-29, where our Lord speaks of the two resurrections—the first, for those who have done good, and the second, for those who have done evil. In each case, their works demonstrate the state of the heart.
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred…?” Notice these “sheep” are designated “the righteous.” This in itself speaks of new birth, for apart from that there are none righteous (Rom. 3:10). These disavow any recognition of merit in themselves. They will not even be conscious of having ministered to Christ in any worthy manner. Hence their question as to when such services had been rendered.
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The Lord Jesus ever recognizes anything done for one of His own as done unto Himself (Matt. 10; 42; Mark 9:41), and He also considers any harm done to His own as though it were done against Him (Acts 9:4). In its strictest sense, the “brethren” here will be part of a Jewish remnant in the last days, who will be witnesses for God in the dark days of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, the Great Tribulation (Dan. 12:1-3; Jer. 30:7). This will be after the Rapture of the church and prior to the establishment of the kingdom, for that time of trouble ends with the coming of the Son of Man, as we have seen in 24:21, 23, 29-30. As the King’s messengers go through the world, there will be some who receive them and believe their message: These are the sheep. Others will refuse them and spurn their testimony: these are the goats.
Christ’s brethren. While there is a sense in which all believers are brethren of Christ, it is evident that here the term is used in a special sense, for there are three classes of people in view: the sheep, the goats, and those called by the Son of Man “My brethren.” These are those of Israel who are related to Christ, both according to the flesh and the Spirit, and will be His authoritative witnesses in the coming time of tribulation, when the present church age is ended.
“Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” This sentence of eternal doom will be pronounced on those of the nations who have shown by their cold, indifferent behavior to His servants that they did not believe the message they carried through the world. It would seem that this is their final judgment, as the sentence coincides with that of the unrighteous dead, who stand before the Great White Throne after the thousand years are finished (Rev. 20:7-15).
“I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat.” The charge against these lost ones is not concerning any flagrant violation of the moral code, but it is their indifferent attitude toward Christ that seals their doom. They showed they had no faith in Him or His message by their unconcern about the sufferings of His representatives. This principle is as true now as it will be in the coming tribulation era.
“Lord, when saw we thee an hungred … and did not minister unto thee?” They speak as men utterly unconscious of having given any offense, but they failed to recognize and honor the Son of Man in the person of His brethren, sent to call them to repentance, in view of His coming kingdom.
“Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” Failure to have compassion on the poorest and weakest suffering one is failure to minister to Christ Himself, for He makes their cause His own. While in strictest interpretation this has to do with the Jewish remnant before mentioned, it may be applied to all who belong to Him.
“These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” The issues of this judgment are for eternity—either endless punishment or endless life, which is far more than mere prolonged existence. The wicked will be destroyed and go into their awful destiny at once. The righteous will enter into eternal life in the millennial kingdom and then have their portion with Christ through the unending ages that follow the destruction of the present creation. These are the saints of Daniel 7:18, who will enjoy the blessings of Messiah’s glorious reign on the earth.
Two elections. It will help to get the dispensational setting of this parable clear if we notice that there are two different elections in the New Testament. In Ephesians 1:4 we see the church of this age, which consists of those chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. In this present passage the saved are given a place in the kingdom “prepared… from the foundation of the world” (v. 34). This agrees with Revelation 13:8, where we have the same people in view. One is a heavenly election; the other is an earthly election. To confuse these in our thinking is to fail to “rightly divid[e] the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).