Notes Matthew chapter 25
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
The parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins 25:1-13
25:1. “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins. The phrase ‘at that time’ refers to the end of the previous chapter (Matt 24:50) and means: when the Messiah returns. The Kingdom of Heaven is not simple being compared to ten virgins but to ten virgins who have taken their lamps and gone out to meet the Bridegroom, i.e., to a marriage feast. The lamps (Gk. lampas) are not lamps of clay or some metal (Gk. luchnia, Matt 5:15), nor yet lanterns (Gk. phanos, John 18:3), but torches, i.e., sticks, the top of which has been bound in cloth or flax soaked in oil.
Some Bibleteachers think that this verse refers to the virgins’ leaving their homes for the meeting place mentioned in v.6 where the real procession will begin. But considering that an indication of place is missing and that it is unthinkable in the East for girls to spend the night outside, we have rather to accept that this verse is an introduction to the parable and functions as a heading. A marriage reached its climax and completion when the bride was taken off by the bridegroom and with the procession to his parents’ home (see commentary on v.6).
2. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. Wise and foolisch does not refer to good and bad in a moral sense, but to a wise or a foolish attitude regarding the coming of the bridegroom (cf. commentary on 24:45). After the previous parable (24:45-51), which dealt with a wise and faithful servant, only being wise is dealt with here, and in the following parable (vv.14-30), being faithful.
3-4. The foolish ones … did not take any oil with them. The foolish virgins did not take any extra oil. The wise virgins took likely occurrences into account, and because a torch only burns for about a quarter of an hour they took extra pots of oil along. It would appear later that they needed them (vv.8-9). The difference between the wise and the foolish is that the foolish did not do at the very beginning what they should have done, and what the wise did (cf. Matt 7:24-27). This is the reason why the foolish virgins do not reach the goal and the wise do (v.10).
5. The bridegroom was a long time in coming. Waiting hours on end for the bridegroom was a familiar occurrence for everybody. The bridegroom’s delay was frequently caused by transactions relating to the size of the dowry, in which the amount to be paid to the woman when the marriage was dissolved by divorce or the death of the husband was settled.
they all became drowsy and fell asleep. Both the wise and the foolish virgins fell asleep. In this respect they do not differ from each other. The parable is not concerned with watchfulness but with preparation.
6. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ After hours of waiting the bridegroom suddenly comes, in the middle of the night! The course of events must have been the following: the virgins are in the home of the bride’s parents; they (the virgins) await the bridegroom’s arrival with her; he will come to collect his bride and take her to his parent’s home, where the marriage will be celebrated. When the bridegroom comes, escorted by his friends carrying blazing torches, the virgins go to meet him, also carrying burning torches to greet him warmly. Then they all go together in a great procession together with the bride and the groom and all the guests to the home of the groom’s parents.
The groom came late and unexpected by both wise and foolish virgins.
7-8. All the virgins put their torches to rights. The wise replenish the oil and light them. But the foolish virgins, who have no oil with them, simply light their torches. Almost immediately it appears that their torches are too dry and they go out. Their nonchalance and lack of preparation are fatal.
9. The wise virgins refuse when the foolish ask them for oil. This is not based on unwillingness or self-interest. How ever much they may have wished to, it is utterly impossible for them to do so. There may not have been enough for them all. The advice given by the wise virgins is not ironic either, for the foolish take it seriously. Apparently the possibility that oil may be on sale during the night is taken into consideration.
10. While the foolish virgins are away buying oil, however, the bridegroom comes. The wise virgins, who had taken precautions (v.4) and were therefore prepared, accompany the bridegroom to his father’s home. After the procession has gone inside the door is shut. After this there will not be welcomed any more guests. This is to be understood in the light of comparable Eastern marriage ceremonies (cf. commentary on v.6).
11-12. I don’t know you. When the foolish virgins arrive later and demand admittance, they are answered, ‘I do not know you.’ ‘I do not know you’ is a Jewish expression for ‘I want to have nothing to do with you’. It means that the lord regards them as outsiders, as strangers who are shut out (cf. Matt 7:23).
13. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. It is obvious that Jesus is speaking about the day on which the Son of Man will come (cf. 24:36,42,44). We see that in this parable He is comparing the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven to the coming of a bridegroom in the middle of the night. This verse therefore does not form a part of the parable, but is the conclusion to it. Therefore the words ‘keep watch’ do not form a part of the imagery of the parable, which would conflict with v.5, but are intended metaphorically and mean ‘be prepared’ (cf. v.10 and 24:44).
The Parable of the Talents 25:14-30
14. like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. This parable is not the same as that of the pounds in Luke 19:11-27. Apart from many differences in content this parable was given on a different day (see context). ‘Again’ is intended to link this parable with the preceding, particularly to indicate that this one deals especially with the call to watchfulness. To watch does not exclusively mean to be wise (vv.1-12) but also to be faithful (vv.14-30).
The man who went on a long journey is a ‘multi-millionaire’, judging from the sums of money mentioned in v.15. His ‘property’ is a fortune in money (vv.15,27) and was given to the servants by their master to transact business on his behalf (vv.16 ff).
15. To one he gave five talents of money… The talent was the largest monetary unit of ancient times. One talent was equal to 6,000 denarii, and one denarius was about a day’s wages for a workman (Matt 20:2). An enormous sum of money is involved. This says something about the master’s confidence in his servants, and also about the servant’s great responsibilities.
each according to his ability. The Greek word for ability (dunamis) means ‘power’ in the first place and thus refers to the ability to execute something. From the beginning the master had noticed a difference in ability. We therefore see that each servant had a certain degree of ability and an initial capital sum with its own field of operation. But what the third servant lacked, compared with the first two, was faithfulness (see vv.21,23 and 26).
16-17. The first two servants immediately began to carry out the commission and doubled the amount entrusted to them. They did what their master expected of them and were faithful to him.
The sort of business undertaken is not disclosed and further is unimportant.
18. In fact the third servant dug a hole in the ground and buried the money. This was the usual way of protecting something against theft (cf. 13:44; Josh 7:21).
19. the master … returned and settled accounts with them. When the master returns after a long absence he holds an accounting with his servants. In Matt 18:23 (the only other place where the Greek term, sunairein logon is used) settling accounts is an image of God’s settling accounts with man in judgment (see 18:35).
20-23. The first two servants, who have doubled the sum entrusted to them, are praised: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant‘. The Master praises the faithfulness with which they have looked after His interests, not their success in first place. For he says to both of them, ‘You have been faithful with a few things‘. Both servants receive a double reward: ‘I will put you in charge of many things‘ and ‘Come and share your master’s happiness‘. The property over which the servants are placed in control on their master’s return is related as to what was originally entrusted to them as much exceeds little! Overwhelming riches (cf. Eph 2:7) and responsibility are their portion (cf. 24:47; 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 5:10; 20:4,6). Moreover they are invited to share in their master’s happiness. Although the Kingdom of Heaven is often compared to a feast (22:1-14; 25:1-13), we are to see ‘your master’s happiness’, in this parable in contrast to ’the darkness’ (v.30), in the first instance a transition from image to reality: the eternal heavenly joy of the feast prepared for the redeemed (cf. Heb 12:2; Rev 3:20; 19:6-10).
24-25. ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. When the third servant comes, he who had buried his talent, he defends his business methods by saying that he was afraid, because he regarded his master as no respecter of persons, merciless and greedy, who himself conducts his business dishonestly. The picture this servant sketches of his master’s character is totally at variance with reality (cf. vv.21,23,28). All the more reason for the master to regard these words as a grave insult. The hardness or greed of the master were not the cause of the servant’s passive attitude but his own egoism and the groundless contempt for his master. We see here clearly how certain actions proceed from a man’s manner of thinking as a matter of course. Our thoughts determine our actions.
Here is what belongs to you. Further, the servant’s idea’s arouse blind self-confidence in him. This appears especially in the last words of his answer: ‘Here is what belongs to you’ as if he were saying, You can expect no more. Here again his faulty opinions of both his terms of service and his master are apparent. He had not obtained the talent to bury it, but to control it.
26-27. It is clear that this servant too should have traded with the talent entrusted to him. But from his own words it appears that he had dreaded the risk (see commentary on vv.24-25). If we cannot do what is great, and do not want to do what is small, we run the risk of doing nothing. The servant now tries to excuse himself, but he could at least have put the money out to gain interest. He was too lazy even to do that. For this reason he is called wicked and useless (v.30), in contrast to the other two good and faithful servants.
28-29. It is not only wrong actions that are punished (24:48,49,51) but also abstaining from good works (vv.28,30; cf. vv.45-46). By completing v.28 with v.29 (‘for’) this aspect of the parable gives a special lesson in the manner in which the divine reward is given. In this parable (v.28 set against vv.21 and 23) we encounter the same distinction between eternal life and the reward to come as in Matt 19:27-30. The lesson is this: he who uses God’s gifts in the right way and keeps in his heart the light of grace he has been given, will receive much more from the Lord. Yet from him who disregards his capabilities and had no love for the truth will be taken even what he has (cf. 13:12).
30. throw that worthless servant outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ It is said of the third servant, who was lazy, that he was worthless, useless. For this reason he may not enter the Lord’s brightly-lit banqueting hall (vv.21,23) but is thrown into the darkness. Still more clearly than with ‘your master’s happiness’ does image change into reality here, as in 22:13 and 24:51. For the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth means condemnation to Hell (Gehenna). See commentary on 8:12.
The Son of Man Will Judge the Nations 25:31-46
31. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory. On His first coming Jesus was humbled even unto death, but His second coming is in glory, i.e., in His Kingly dignity (vv.34,40) with might and majesty. Hosts of angels will be in His train (13:41; 16:27). The angels who escort Him are the same as in 24:31, who will first gather before Him the elect from the whole world. The Son of Man will take His place on the throne of glory, which will then be situated on earth, and from which He will reign (19:28) and pass judgment (vv.32ff), cf. Rev 20:4-6, 11:15.
Obviously Jesus is not giving a lesson in eschatoloty here (with a chronological sequence of the events of the Last Days, etc.), for much is not mentioned. In a picturesque way, which sometimes resembles a parable (vv.32-33), He tells of the fate of man and the yardstick by which man will be judged.
32. All the nations will be gathered before him. ‘All the nations’ here means ‘all the tribes of the earth’, as in 24:14 and 28:19 (24:30; Rev 1:7), i.e., all those alive who do not belong to the Church. The passive voice ‘will be gathered’ speaks of a divine action, possibly carried out by the angels (cf. 24:31).
The Son of Man will divide the people, as a shepherd separates at evening the sheep from the goats (Gk. eriphos, Bauer s.v.) with whom they have normally been mingled during the day. The judgment begins with a separation, which is followed by reward or condemnation (vv.34,41,46).
33. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The right hand is the place of those acquitted, the side of blessing and happiness (cf. Mark 16:5; Luke 1:11). The left hand is the place of condemnation, the side of unhappiness. The sheep stand at the right hand, for they are the more valuable animals. Further, their white colour makes them a symbol of the righteous.
34. take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. When Jesus returns He will come as a King with kingly dignity (16:28). The righteous among the people, here called blessed by the Father, receive their reward, or rather their inheritance: the perfected Kingdom and eternal life (v.46). It is said of the kingdom that it was destined for them from the creation of the world, which serves to emphasise the certainty of the promise.
35-39. Now the basis for their righteousness is discussed. They have done good works for the King. Six expressions are used as examples: they have given the King food and drink, they have housed Him (Gk. sunag, bring together, i.e., with the family, in other words taken Him into their family), clothed Him, looked after Him when He was sick, and visited Him when He was in prison. But it appears from their answer (vv.37-38) that they are not aware of the love they showed for their King. For this reason Jesus reveals to them the relationship, hidden to them, between their words and His person (v.40). What is characteristic here, next to their lack of knowledge, is the criterion for judgment. The yardsticks mentioned in 24:45-25:30, which apply to the believers, are not named here. The other criteria and man’s lack of knowledge are comprehensible when we realise that the church is not being judged here, but the nations (v.32) who have come into contact with the disciples (v.40) and to whom the gospel has been preached as a witness (24:14). Further they are not justified by their works, but by their relationship to the Person of Jesus, a relationship present in their works, which flow naturally from the disposition of their heart (cf. 12:33-37; Rom 2:12-16). Indeed, the life of faith will also weigh heavily in the judgment of the believers (10:32-33; 7:21; 24:13; cf. Gal 5:6).
40. whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. King Jesus gives the righteous an answer to their question (vv.37-39): they have shown love to Him in His brothers. That ‘brothers’ may be the poor in general or the Jews has no other basis than that the wish is father to the deed. Both ‘brother’ (Matt 12:48-49; 23:8; 28:10) and ‘smallest’ or ‘least’ (cf. 11:25 ‘little children’ and 10:42; 18:6,10,14 ‘little ones’) clearly indicate that Jesus means His disciples, the believers. He speaks of how the heathens treated His followers when they went throughout the world with the gospel (24:14).
Jesus has previously exhaustively discussed the matters dealt with here with His disciples: 10:9-14, 17-19,40,42). The believers who have been gathered in by the angels (24:31) are now indicated as being present with Him, gathered round His throne, as in the days when He, surrounded by His disciples taught them the same thing (10:42), while they are differentiated from the nations who are condemned. For the disciples, for whom Jesus describes the judgment of the nations in this way, this rendering must have been a comfort, as were the words of 10:40-42. It demonstrates how immensely valuable they are in the eyes of God.
41. After the separation of those who stand at His right hand from those at His left, the former hear ‘Come’, and inherit the Kingdom (v.34), the others (the accused) hear ‘Depart from me’ (cf. 7:23) and are thrown into Hell.
The eternal fire (see Matt 18:8) was not destined for them in advance, as was the Kingdom for the righteous (v.34), but they are now condemned to it. Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (cf. Rev 20:10-14).
42-45. ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry … and did not help you?’ The condemned ones too ask questions about the judgment (v.44), like those who are acquitted (vv.37-39). Jesus gives them too a clear answer.
There is no mention of serious sins, only of neglect of good works (vv.42,43,45). If these sins of omission (cf. 24:24-28) are punished with such severity, how will it be with real sins and crimes?
See also commentary on v.35.
46. “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” ‘Eternal’ (Gk. ainios) means in the first place ‘belonging to the coming age’. The coming age is the time beginning with the coming of the Messiah. But everlasting is also ‘having no end’, ‘everlasting’ (Bauer, s.v.).
The people on the left hand are condemned to eternal punishment, the everlasting fire (v.41), Gehenna, but the righteous inherit eternal life in the Kingdom of God (v.34). Cf. Dan 12:2; John 5:29.