The Day of Accountability: Matthew 25:1–46
Christ’s Second Coming is one of the dominant themes in the Olivet Discourse. His coming will be sudden, unexpected, visible, personal, powerful, glorious, and triumphant. When the Lord comes, He will judge the nations and usher in the Kingdom age. Those living in the generation of His return are warned to be prepared.
The Lord illustrated His warning through five personal parables. Two of these parables, the householder (Mt. 24:43–44) and the stewards (Mt. 24:45–51), were dealt with in Renald E. Showers’ article (see pg. 19). This article focuses on the three remaining parables and the judgment following Christ’s Second Coming.
Watching for Christ’s Second Coming
The setting for this parable is a Jewish wedding in the first century. Marriages at that time were very different from those of today. The first step was the arrangement. Young people did not choose their mates; a marriage was arranged by the father or a matchmaker (shadchan). The groom’s family provided a dowry to the bride’s father, and that money was put in trust to be used by the bride in the event of the loss of her husband, through either divorce or death. The second step was the betrothal. At the betrothal the bride and groom exchanged vows before family and friends, making the marriage official. Those official vows could be dissolved only through divorce or death. During the period following the betrothal the groom provided a home for his bride by building an addition to his father’s house. The third step was the wedding feast. At the appointed time the bridegroom, accompanied by his attendants, proceeded through the streets (usually at night), with torch in hand, to the bride’s home to claim his bride. The bride, hearing that her groom was coming, eagerly prepared for and awaited his arrival, along with her bridesmaids. The bridal party proceeded to the groom’s house for the wedding feast and the physical consummation of the marriage. It was this third phase of the marriage that Jesus referred to in Matthew 25. In the parable, Jesus is the bridegroom coming from heaven with His bride (the church) to establish His Kingdom on earth.
The focus of this parable is not the bride but the bridesmaids. They are referred as “ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (v. 1). At first glance they all seem alike, but then some differences appear. First, “five of them were wise, and five were foolish” (v. 2). Second, all had oil in their lamps at the start, but the five wise virgins took extra oil (v. 4).
There has been much speculation about who these virgins represent. Some teach that the wise virgins represent true believers within the church who are waiting for Christ’s return, whereas the foolish virgins represent professing Christians within the church who are not truly saved. This view has a number of problems. First, the church is the bride of Christ, and it is not mentioned in this parable. Second, the virgins are not marrying the groom; they are only attending the wedding feast. Third, the parable is set at the end of the Tribulation before Christ’s Second Coming. The church will be absent from the earth during the time of the Tribulation. Others interpret this parable in reference to people living during the Great Tribulation. This interpretation seems more fitting from the context of the Olivet Discourse.
While the virgins awaited the bridegroom’s coming, they all slept (v. 5). This should not be interpreted as unfaithfulness or laziness on the part of the virgins. It only proves that, just as they did not know the time of the bridegroom’s coming, so no one knows the time of Christ’s Second Coming. One writer stated, “Sleeping of the foolish bridesmaids may suggest their false confidence, whereas sleep of the prudent suggests their genuine security) and rest in the Lord.’’1
At midnight the call came: “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him” (v. 6). The ten bridesmaids arose quickly and trimmed their lamps (lit and adjusted the wick, v. 7), but the foolish bridesmaids found that their lamps had gone out (v. 8). The wise bridesmaids refused to give their oil to the foolish bridesmaids, lest there not be enough for them. They advised the five to go and purchase the needed oil (v. 9). The foolish bridesmaids soon returned without oil, unable to find anyone to provide it at such a late hour. Oil in Scripture is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. All Christians must obtain their own supply of oil. The five foolish virgins did not possess oil, a picture of a lack of salvation and living in spiritual darkness.
During the absence of the foolish virgins, “the bridegroom came” (v. 10). Those who had oil went into the marriage feast, and the door was closed (v. 10). When the foolish bridesmaids returned, they found that the door had been shut. Their request, “Lord, Lord, open to us” (v. 11), went unheeded. His answer was, “I know you not” (v. 12). This is a clear indication that they were not true believers. Jesus taught, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (Jn. 10:27–28).
Watchfulness and preparedness are the two lessons taught in this parable. Christ warned, “Watch, therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of man cometh” (v. 13). Only those Jewish people who receive Jesus as their Messiah during the Tribulation will be prepared to enter the Millennial Kingdom at Christ’s Second Coming. Those without oil will face judgment and eternal damnation.
Working Until Christ Comes
The second parable the Lord taught His disciples concerned performance. The parable of the talents centers on being a faithful steward while waiting for Christ’s Second Coming. Although the parable of the talents is similar to the parable of the pounds in Luke 19:11 to 27, there are differences. In the parable of the pounds Christ illustrated that equal gifts, if used with unequal diligence, may be unequally rewarded. In the parable of the talents He illustrated that unequal gifts, if used with equal faithfulness, will be equally rewarded.2
This parable begins with the word “For” (v. 14), linking it to the application made in verse 13. In the parable of the virgins spiritual preparedness is emphasized, but in the parable of the talents performance is emphasized.
Still speaking of the Kingdom of heaven, Jesus told a simple story of a man readying himself to travel into a far country. Before going, he entrusted three servants with “his goods” (v. 14). The three servants were given “talents” (v. 15), which could weigh between 58 and 100 pounds, depending on whether they were silver or gold; thus, a talent was a coin of great value. The talents in this passage were silver (argyrion), each one equivalent to over $2,000 in today’s economy. In the first century a worker earned one drachma (about 16 cents) for a day’s work. Each of these servants was given a large sum of money: “unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to every man according to his ability” (v. 15). Then the master left on his journey.
Each servant was to invest the money entrusted to him. The first two servants traded in the marketplace and doubled their investments, gaining five and two talents respectively (vv. 16–17). The third servant, who received one talent, “dug in the earth, and hid his lord’s money” (v. 18), a common practice in the first century (cp. Mt. 13:44).
After a long period of time the master returned home and requested that his servants give an account of their stewardship (v. 19). The first two servants each reported that they had gained a one hundred percent return on their master’s money. They were highly praised for their work: “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” (vv. 21, 23).
The third servant seemed to be surprised by his master’s return. He quickly gave excuses for his actions. He obviously had a misguided view of his master’s character. He saw him as a hard man, reaping where he had not sown and gathering where he had not spread (v. 24). In other words, he saw his master as a harsh, cruel, merciless individual who profited from the labor of others, gathering into his barn the harvest that others had winnowed.3 This lack of faith in his master produced fear within the servant—fear of losing his master’s talent and of being punished by him (v. 25). Actually, the reverse was true: The master was a kind, generous, trusting, loving man who desired only the best for his servants.
The third servant’s excuse was not valid. If he truly believed that his master reaped and gathered where he did not sow (v. 26), he would have put the money in a bank so that his master would have received interest when he returned (v. 27). The man was a “wicked and slothful servant” (v. 26) who lied to cover up his laziness and lack of faithfulness. He was an impostor, a hypocrite, and a fraud, pretending to serve his master when, in reality, he was serving himself.4 This servant represents people who profess to follow Christ but do not possess salvation.
The master’s reaction proved that the servant was not his true follower. He took the talent from this hypocrite and gave it to the most productive servant, the: one who had ten talents (v. 28). The third servant was condemned to everlasting damnation: “cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 30). Those cast into hell await the Great White Throne Judgment, after which they will be cast alive into the Lake of Fire to suffer forever (Rev. 20:11–15).
True believers must heed-this warning. Each one will have his or her works judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ following the Rapture of the church. Those who have misused their talents for the Lord will suffer loss of rewards (1 Cor. 3:15), but they will not lose their salvation.
This parable provides a number of applications concerning the use of talents.
- Each servant of the Lord is given at least one talent.
- All servants have the freedom to use their talents as they see fit, but they are expected to use them.
- The Lord has placed great faith in his servants by entrusting them with abilities and responsibility.
- Faithful servants will always have their master’s interest at heart.
- Fear to step out in faith paralyzes servants in their service.
- Many who profess to be servants in the church are not.
- All servants will have to give an account of their stewardship when their Lord calls for it.
- Those talents that are not used for the Lord’s service will be lost.
- Those who are faithful in their service for the Lord will be given greater responsibilities and privileges.
- Faithful servants will enter into the divine joy of the Lord after their works are judged.
Worthy and Wicked at Christ’s Second Coming
The third parable, that of the sheep and the goats, was given in the context of the judgment of the nations. This judgment is different from the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment. The judgment of the nations will determine who among the Gentiles living on earth after the Great Tribulation will enter into the Millennial Kingdom (vv. 34, 41, 46). This judgment will occur after the Second Coming of Christ: “then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory” (v. 31). It will occur in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:2, 12), between the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives.
The Lord will separate the sheep from the goats, as does a shepherd (v. 32). The sheep are righteous people (v. 37), who will be placed at His right hand (v. 33), a place of honor and blessing. They will “inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world” (v. 34). Note that the Lord is not preparing the kingdom in heaven; it was prepared in eternity past, before the world was ever created. Evidence of their regenerated nature is based on how they treat the Lord’s brethren, the Jewish people, during the Great Tribulation, as they suffer severe persecution. The righteous Gentiles will feed them, give them drink, take them in, clothe them, and visit them when they are sick and in prison (vv. 35–36). To their amazement, the Lord will declare that they were actually ministering to Him (v. 40).
During the Tribulation God will raise up 144,000 Jewish evangelists (Rev. 7:4) who will bring about the conversion of a great host of Gentiles (Rev. 7:9–14) through their preaching (Mt. 24:14). These Gentiles will, in turn, give evidence of their faith by ministering to the Jewish people. During the Holocaust of World War II, hundreds of Gentiles fed, housed, and clothed Jewish people escaping the wrath of Nazism. The same will take place during the Great Tribulation.
Unlike the sheep, the goats will be condemned at their judgment, cursed, and committed to “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). They, too, will be astonished at the Lord’s verdict, unaware of any opportunity to minister to Him (v. 44). The Lord will inform them that their hostile attitude toward and physical mistreatment of Jewish believers during the Tribulation were actually indications and demonstrations of their rejection of Him (vv. 42–43, 45).
At this point two observations must be made. First, “everlasting fire’) was not prepared for the unsaved but for the “devil and his angels” (v. 41), but those who reject the Lord’s provision for salvation are destined for everlasting fire. Second, people are not rejected from inheriting eternal life because they have not performed good deeds. It is a gross misconception that good works to the poor and needy without exercising faith will produce salvation in people’s lives. Salvation has always been, and always will be, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In this passage Jesus proclaimed the same message as James: “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:26). In other words, believers’ works provide outward indications of saving faith in their lives, especially during the Great Tribulation.
Jesus ended His discourse by emphasizing the two destinies of those living at the time of His Second Coming, after the judgment of the nations. The wicked will be taken “away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal” (v. 46).
Judgment is on the way for everyone. Those who have received Jesus Christ will have their works judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Believer, are you using your talents in a way that will glorify the Lord? Those who profess to be followers of Christ but do not possess salvation will hear the words “I never knew you” at the Great White Throne Judgment. Friend, are you sure you have received Christ as your Savior? He is coming soon. Perhaps today! Are you ready?
- Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Matthew (New York, NY: The Inversen Associates, 1971), 90.
- Ibid., 91.
- Ibid., 92.
- J. Arthur Springer, The King Returning, Studies in Matthew 19—28, Moody Manna (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1964), part II, 5.