Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 12 December 2007; Revised 12 April 2016
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the title "The Book of Matthew" because that is how Matthew introduces his story (Matt 1:1). Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Matthew and his book.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing information for Greek words is taken from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
Parable of the Marriage Feast, 25:1-13
Parable of the Talents, 25:14-30
Parable of the Sheep and Goats, 25:31-46
Messiah's People: Parable of the Marriage Feast
1 Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Then the kingdom: Grk. basileia, means kingship, royal power, or territory ruled over by a king. The doctrine of the kingdom in the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles relates to the expectation and fulfillment of promises made to Israel. of heaven: pl. of Grk. ouranos. In the LXX ouranos translates the pl. Heb. word hashamayim (“the heavens”), which is only translated into the plural 51 out of the 667 times it occurs in the LXX (DNTT, II, 191). The consistent use of the plural form for “heaven” is thought to signify completeness, yet different activities and places are associated with hashamayim. In Hebraic speaking and writing "heaven" is often a circumlocution for God as occurs in the book of Matthew.
Yeshua taught that the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven) had arrived in his person (Luke 10:8-9; 17:21), fulfilling the Father’s promise to the ancients. Thus, by being “in him” the disciples become or are made into his kingdom. The kingdom can be present, even though the King’s primary residence is currently in heaven, because the indwelling Holy Spirit enables the Lord Yeshua to reign from within his disciples, both individually and corporately (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:21).
will be comparable: Grk. omoioō, fut. pass. ind., to make a comparison, to compare. In this chapter Yeshua did what He always did with his kingdom parables. He took familiar themes and transformed them into a shocking stories with a powerful message. The coming of the bridegroom relates to Yeshua establishing his kingly reign.
ten virgins: pl. of Grk. parthenos, one who has no sexual relationship, a virgin when used of a female. The use of “virgin” could be a metaphor for the people of God. The regular Hebrew word for “virgin” occurs 18 times in the prophetic books and every time refers to Israel. In 2Corinthians 11:2 Paul desired to present the Corinthian congregation as a “virgin” to Yeshua. The assembly of the saints is also pictured as a pure and spotless bride (Eph 5:27). In Revelation the first fruits of the kingdom are chaste as virgins (Rev 14:4). The status of virgin represents the expectation to live by Torah standards of holiness. The number "ten" may allude to the minimum number (Heb. minyan) for any Jewish gathering for prayer. Since a Jewish wedding and feast include at least seven blessings, it has become customary to have at least ten present to offer the blessings. (Jewish rabbis are divided over whether the minimum ten for a wedding/feast gathering must be all male.)
Yeshua never explains the identity or the significance of the ten virgins. Interpretation is difficult because the word "bride" does not occur in the parable. Two alternatives may be offered to explain the presence of the ten virgins.
Companions of the Bride: It is possible that the virgins represent companions of the bride. There are a couple of references in the Tanakh of maidens that attend a bride. In 1 Samuel 25:39-42 David sends messengers to fetch Abigail, a widow, to be his wife. Abigail has five maidens who attend her as she goes to David. From the point of her arrival she is his wife but they do not go to Jerusalem. The parallel is not where they ended up living, but that the bridegroom received his bride and she was with him from that point on. It should be noted that David does not go and fetch Abigail himself. The actions of the virgins may be an allusion to Psalm 45:14, “She will be led to the King in embroidered work; the virgins, her companions who follow her, will be brought to You.” BUT, where is the bride?
Multiple Brides: The ten virgins stand in for the bride because they are the brides. Jewish law permitted marrying several women simultaneously. As Maimonides said, “A man may marry several women, even a hundred of them, either at the same time or one after another, and his wife may not hinder him therein, provided that he is able to supply each one of them with the food, raiment and conjugal rights due her.” The Code of Maimonides, Book Four: The Book of Women. Yale University Press, 1972, p. 87.
No doubt some of the Israelite kings built their polygamous households in this manner. David had at least 8 wives and 10 concubines (1 Sam 18:27; 2Sam 3:2-5; 5:13; 11; 12:7-8; 1 Chron 3:1-5; 14:3). Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kgs 11:3, 2Kgs 10:1; Song 6:8). He may have married a hundred at a time. Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines (2Chron 11:21). Abijah had 14 wives (2Chron 13:21).
Copyists of Greek New Testament manuscripts recognized the straightforward meaning and added "and bride" at the end of the verse in a number of manuscripts. This was one aspect of ancient Jewish culture that Christianity refused to accept. As shocking as it may seem God even portrayed Himself as a polygamist in the Tanakh to teach a spiritual lesson (Jer 3; Ezek 23). In a similar vein Paul likens the relationship of believers to the Lord as a polygamous marriage. The allusion Paul is drawing upon is that while the husband is polygamous; the wives are all monogamous (faithful) to him (1 Cor 6:15-20). In Hebrews 3:2 Paul contrasts God's compliment of the faithfulness of Moses with the faithfulness of Yeshua, alluding to Numbers 12:7, the context of which pertains to Moses taking a second wife.
who took their lamps: Among Christians oil is widely believed to be a symbol of the Holy Spirit, although no verse expressly says this (cf. Luke 4:18), and Yeshua makes no such application in this story. For the virgins the lamps and oil represent their readiness to meet the bridegroom at night. All ten virgins took lamps, but why did they have lamps? Not to light the house, which would not be their responsibility. They had lamps simply because they were going away from the house to meet the bridegroom on the road and if he came at night they would need the lamps to illuminate their way. While Yeshua does not give meaning to individual parts of the parable as in the parable of the sower, the lamp may represent the body of the Messiah. We are the light of the world (Matt 5:14; Phil 2:15), although in reality it is not our own light but His shining through us. In Revelation seven gold lampstands symbolize the seven congregations of Asia (Rev 1:20).
and went out to meet the bridegroom: Grk. numphios, a bridegroom, which may be distinguished from anēr, "husband." The kingdom could have been likened to virgins without the mention of bridegroom, but with him there can be no doubt that the relationship between the bridegroom and the virgins is one of betrothal, i.e., an unconsummated marriage. The parable alludes to the nature of Jewish marriage, which was essentially a two ceremony process. If the marriage proposal was accepted then the groom would perform a betrothal ceremony, a procedure in which a man acquired the bride of his choice in the presence of witnesses (Ex 22:16; Deut 20:7; 22:23, 25; 24:1; 28:30; cf. Ruth 4:9-11).
Jewish betrothal is not like the Gentile concept of engagement, which is only a promise of marriage. The betrothal stage was also called kiddushin, “sanctification,” and meant that from that point the woman belonged to the man. The word kiddushin comes from the same root word as kadosh (“holy”). Just as kodesh ("holy things") are forbidden to all but those for whom they are designated, so too does this woman become forbidden to all men but to whom she has now been designated. Betrothal made the woman a legal wife and her status could only be changed by divorce or death.
Marriage was completed by the groom taking the bride into a room or his house for consummation, called nisuin. The Hebrew word nisuin (“elevation”) comes from a verb that means to lift up, to carry or to take. The wife has left her father’s authority and now belongs fully to her husband, just as Eve belonged to Adam when God presented her to him. In biblical accounts a wife never takes a husband, but a husband takes a wife (e.g., Gen 4:19; 6:2; 11:29; 1 Sam 25:39; Hos 1:2). The wedding ceremony, if there was one, was determined by local custom and the wishes of the parents.
A bride had a maximum of twelve months from the time of the betrothal to prepare her marriage “outfit,” which included her jewels and ornaments. The groom also had twelve months to make preparations for the wedding dinner and the bridal chamber (Heb. huppah). The readiness of the bride, indicated by the use of lamps and going to meet the bridegroom, represents a fulfillment of the admonition of Yeshua to “be prepared” (Matt 24:44). Preparation, consisting of godly living and watchful expectancy, obviously occurs during this life. Readiness is not something that can be developed after death, which seals the eternal destiny for all. For more information on this subject see my web article Marriage in Ancient Israel.
In the Tanakh Israel is pictured as a bride and God her husband (Isa 54:1-8; 61:10; 62:4-5; Jer 3; Ezek 16; 23; Hos 1-3) and several passages in the apostolic writings depict the imagery of the Messiah as a bridegroom and the Kingdom being inaugurated by a wedding (Stern 838). (See Matt 22:1-14; Mark 2:18-20; John 3:28-30; Rom 7:1-4; 1Cor 6:13-20; 2Cor 11:2; and Eph 5:25-33.)
This verse emphasizes for the second time that the virgins left their homes to go meet the bridegroom. They weren’t in their homes when he came. In fact, there is no biblical or apocryphal story where the groom steals his bride in the middle of the night and takes her to his home. The only bride stealing mentioned in Scripture is in Judges 21:16-23 where the men of Benjamin were allowed to steal brides during a festival to replenish their tribe which had been decimated by war. The context clearly indicates that the stealing was not customary as the families of the brides complained.
There is an ancient custom that has a bearing on interpreting the act of the virgins to go out to meet the bridegroom. When a dignitary of importance was en route to visit a town, it was common practice for a representative portion of the citizenry to go out of their city a little distance to meet him (Gundry 109). They would then give him honor by escorting him on the last leg of his journey into the city. The apostle Paul experienced such an honor when he traveled to Rome (Acts 28:14-16). If the meeting of the bridegroom and virgins is to be compared to the Rapture, then Paul's instruction should be taken to mean that the Rapture gathers the saints only as far as the atmosphere and not all the way to heaven (1 Thess 4:16-17). This meeting in the air provides a fitting tribute to the Lord Yeshua when He comes to take up His reign over all the earth.
2 "Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 "For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.
In this parable the bridegroom offers marriage to ten virgins, but like the ancient King of Persia (story of Esther) he creates a test of readiness to determine who will actually become his brides. Five pass the test, being identified as wise and the rest described as foolish. The division follows the pattern of other parables that start out with a common group and then separation occurs in the group leading to judgment on the bad and blessing on the good (cf. Matt 13:47-48). The foolish took no extra oil with them whereas the wise did. Maybe the foolish didn’t think they would have to wait long, or assumed the bridegroom would come in the daytime or assumed the host would provide oil. The wise took no chances but carried extra oil with them.
Some interpreters, particularly advocates of the secret rapture theory of the Second Coming assume the parable depicts a regular marriage practice in ancient times. The bride would ensure every night before retiring that she had an oil lamp prepared, in case her groom returned for her at night. Since grooms often returned at midnight to surprise the bride, and since the journey back to the nuptial chambers through the dark streets of a Israelite village could be hazardous, the bride would continually have an oil lamp ready, in preparation for the return of the groom.
While it was not uncommon in villages for there to be a celebratory procession escorting a bride to her new home (cf. Jer 7:34; 1 Macc 9:39), this custom is not reflected in the parable. The "procession" consists of the virgins meeting the bridegroom and going into the wedding chamber. As Bob Gundry says, "Our ignorance of ancient Semitic marriage customs exceeds our knowledge. And what knowledge we do have shows considerable variation in those customs" (95). Scripture provides little information on Hebraic, Israelite or Jewish wedding customs, and while there are a few common elements (e.g., bride-price, betrothal, gifts, dowry, consummation and feast), biblical marriage stories indicate no standard procedure. The process was determined by the parties and the parents, not the government and not religious authorities.
Consider the marriage stories of the following men and women: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, Judah and the daughter of Shua, Er and Tamar, Joseph and Asenath, Moses and Zipporah, Samson and the woman of Timnah, Elkanah and Peninnah and Hannah, Boaz and Ruth, David and Michal, David and Abigail, David and Bathsheba, Solomon and the Egyptian princess, Hosea and Gomer, Esther and the King of Persia, Joseph and Miriam and the apocryphal story of Tobias and Sarah.
5 "Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 "But at midnight there was a shout, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 "Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 "The foolish said to the prudent, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 "But the prudent answered, `No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'
When the bridegroom appeared he was not invisible. There is no verse that says that when Yeshua returns for the Rapture he will be invisible. “Every eye will see” (Rev 1:7).
10 "And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.
the bridegroom came: In the parable the bridegroom comes to where the brides are waiting. The brides did not travel to meet him. those who were ready went in: The virginal brides who had kept their lamps ready went with the bridegroom into the house, although it’s not clear whose house the bridegroom and virgins entered.
to the wedding feast: pl. of Grk. gamos can mean marriage or wedding celebration. The KJV renders the word as “marriage” and the CEV and NKJV have "wedding." All other modern versions have "marriage feast" (or "banquet"). The word does not mean "wedding" as the term is used in modern culture. The Jewish marriage process did not involve a lengthy ritual wedding with the exchanging of vows as occurs in Western civilization. Marriage feasts were common in ancient times and generally lasted a week (Gen 29:27). When a family marriage feast is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture it was held at the home of the bride (Jacob, Gen 29:22; Samson, Judg 14:17; and Tobias, Tobit 8:19). Royal wedding feasts were held at the king’s palace (Esth 2:18; Matt 22:2). The bridegroom normally made the arrangements or paid for the feast (Judg 14:10; John 2:9-10).
Commentators typically liken the supposed wedding feast of the parable to the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation. However, no passage locates the eschatological feast in heaven and no passage describes the actual conduct of such a feast. (See my commentary on Revelation 19:6-10.)
and the door was shut: The interpretation of "marriage feast" is no doubt preferred because of the disapproval of polygamy. The noun is actually plural and if applied to the feast would imply a separate marriage feast for each of the five brides. However, the combination of the plural gamos and the door being shut suggests that the nisuin stage of marriage is being depicted. After all, a wedding feast would exclude no one and would be attended by everyone in the village (cf. John 2:1). Since the parable probably depicts a royal wedding then each bride would have her own chamber and over the next several days the king would consummate with each one. Jacob consummated his marriages with Leah and Rachel a week apart (Gen 29:23-28). Obviously a shut door signifies both the exclusion of the foolish virgins and the privacy the bridegroom expects to have with his chosen brides. When God shuts a door, no man can open it (Isa 22:22; Luke 13:25; Rev 3:7).
11 "Later the other virgins also came, saying, `Lord, lord, open up for us.' 12 "But he answered, `Truly I say to you, I do not know you.'
There is no explanation as to why the foolish virgins were not admitted. An Israeli wedding was a time of communal and family celebration (cf. John 2:1-2). No invited guests would be excluded because of forgotten oil. It was the host’s responsibility to provide oil.
Yeshua uttered the most frightening words anyone could ever hear, “I don’t know you.” This is the same warning given in the Sermon on the Mount. “Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS' (Matt 7:21-23).
13 "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour."
Be on the alert: Grk. grēgōreō, pres. act. imp., to be fully awake, to be watchful. The tense of the command emphasizes starting and continuing the behavior. The command refers back to the diligence of the prudent virgins to keep their lamps ready.
you do not know: Yeshua repeats the assertion of 24:36 that the day and hour of his return is not known to anyone except the Father. In so saying Yeshua also reinforces the prophetic message of the previous chapter that he will return to establish His reign on the earth. He is not going to sneak in, beam up the saints in a clandestine operation and run back to heaven. He will come once and receive into fellowship those who are ready for Him.
Messiah’s Rewards: Parable of the Talents
14 "For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
For it is just like: Yeshua continues to make an analogy to the Kingdom of heaven. Just as the Kingdom is like ten virgins going forth to meet their bridegroom who is coming for them, so it is like a man who is leaving on a journey and entrusting his property to trusted servants.
15 "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
Talents: pl. of Grk. talanton, originally a unit of weight of precious metal, whether of copper, gold or silver, then a monetary unit varying in value depending on the amount and kind of metal used in a transaction, but in any case a relatively huge amount in purchasing power. In this case it was silver (v. 18). The word occurs 14 times in the Besekh, all but one in this chapter. Scholars differ widely in assigning value to the silver talent.
· NIBD says the talent of currency was shaped in pellets or rings with approximately the value of one ox (724).
· ISBE says the talent was a weight equal to about 120 pounds Troy and 96 pounds Avoirdupois. (There are 12 ounces in a Troy pound and 16 ounces in an Avoirdupois pound.)
· HBD says one talent equaled 3,000 shekels or 75.6 pounds based on Exodus 38:25-26. (NOTE: 603,550 men paid a half shekel of silver each producing a total of 100 talents and 1,775 shekels.)
· BDB in defining the Heb. word for talent, kikkar (SH-3603), says it signifies something round or circular, suggesting a ring of this weight to be used as money (503). The weight of the talent was 58.944 kilograms (= 129.97 lbs.) according to older (Babylonian) standard, later 49.11 kilograms (= 108.29 lbs.)
· Edersheim (in 1886) estimated the value of the talent as equal to 6,000 denarii, about £234 (791). (The denarius was the wage of a day laborer, so 6,000 denarii would equal 16.4 years of earnings.)
· Kasdan estimates the value of five talents as 100 years' wages (317), so one talent would be 20 years' wages.
· Mounce says the silver talent was equal to 3000 shekels, in weight estimated to be 114 lbs. .75 oz. Troy, whereas the Attic talent was 15 lbs. 11 oz. Troy, or about fifteen years’ wages for a day laborer.
· Stern says that in Roman times one talent equaled 6,000 denarii; and in the Tanakh a talent weighs 75.6 Avoirdupois pounds (59).
NOTE: The current silver price is $16.28 per ounce and there are 16 ounces in an Avoirdupois pound, the standard used in the USA and Britain. Taking Stern's weight of 75.6 Avoirdupois pounds for a talent at the current silver price of $16.28 per ounce = 1209.6 ounces or $19,692.29. So, two talents would be worth $39,384.58 and five talents would be worth $98,461.45.
HBD offers this caution: Values assigned by Bible scholars can be misleading, since weights in Bible times were never so precise. Also the price of precious metals could fluctuate depending on the state of the economy as now. Bulk weights of precious metals used in making things, such as components of the Tabernacle, is not the same as the talent of currency or money. There is no Bible passage that explains the exchange rate between the money of talent and the shekel, the denarius or the drachma. According to the story of Naaman and Gehazi a talent could be carried in a charit, the word for a bag or purse (2Kgs 5:23).
We should not assume the talents in this parable were ingots of silver, but rather the total value of the money given over to the servants for management. In other words, the actual coins may have been shekels, which was the currency of the Temple. The half-shekel used for the Temple tax was equivalent to two denarii (Matt 17:24). The talents in this parable have to be portable, so perhaps the Attic weight of almost 12 Avoirdupois pounds to the talent mentioned by Mounce pertains here. Whatever the form and weight of the money its value would have been considerable, certainly far beyond the value of their wages.
The master does not assign one servant over all his property. He is following the wisdom principle of diversification: “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth” (Eccl 11:2). Considering the amount of wealth left in the care of his servants, the master was willing to trust his servants.
According to his ability: Grk. dunamis, having ability to perform something. In the apostolic writings dunamis is primarily used to refer to the power of God. In ordinary usage the Greek word suggests the inherent capacity of someone to carry something out, whether it be physical, spiritual, military or political. In the LXX dunamis was used to translate Hebrew words that referred to military forces or the power of a ruler (DNTT 2:602). The master evaluated the ability of each servant for managing his property and made the assignments accordingly. The master expected responsible management to prevent losses, but also to increase his wealth. The real point of the parable is not to be found in the value of the talents, but in the expectation of the owner and what the men did with the money. We should not assume that these 8 talents represented the entire wealth of the owner.
16 "Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17 "In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.
The parable does not explain how the servants viewed their master, but we might make an inference from their actions. The good servants viewed handling the master’s property as a sacred trust. They did not seek an increase in order to gain some reward; indeed servants such as they would have no expectation of a special reward. To Yeshua and first century rabbis to do a good deed in order to gain a reward was repugnant.
As in other parables the group is divided. Although there are three servants, there are really only two groups: good servants and bad servants. The good servants showed initiative and shrewd investing. They purposed to earn more. They saved what they earned to present to the master. They obviously avoided creating any debt that would obligate the money they earned. The good servants must have regarded money as meant to work for good.
18 "But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
The bad servant is defined by the act of burying his talent, and in so doing showed a lack of concern for blessing others. The lazy servant knew there would be an accounting, but perhaps doubted his own ability to increase his talent. At least if he buried it and returned it to his master, then he couldn’t accused of embezzlement. The good servants were motivated by love, loyalty and respect and the lazy servant was motivated only by fear.
How could the perception of the lazy servant be so different than the faithful servants? The lazy servant saw the master as a privileged rich man that didn’t really have to work to earn his wealth. "The rich are just lucky and I’m poor or have financial problems because I’m just not lucky."
19 "Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 "The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, `Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.' 21 "His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 "Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, `Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.' 23 "His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, `Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 `And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.' 26 "But his master answered and said to him, `You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 `Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 `Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' 29 "For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 "Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The parable presents the reality of divine rewards and divine punishments. The master rewarded his servants by praising them and verbalizing his approval. Then he gave them more responsibility. The good servants showed they could handle a few things, so the master put them in charge of many things. Lastly, the master welcomed them into His joy. The parable poses an underlying question: How do people behave in the absence of God?
The punishment is for those who will not try. If the lazy servant had made any effort he would have been rewarded, instead of punished. In Christian eyes the punishment seems unduly harsh. In the parallel story in Luke 19:25 some actually complain that it was unfair to give the money of the unproductive servant to the one with ten talents.
Application - Level One
In the parable of the good and lazy servant in the previous chapter, the stewardship responsibility was for people. In this parable the stewardship responsibility is for money.
1. God created everything that man needs for his subsistence. In the beginning there was nothing, and God created (Genesis 1:1). He sends the rain and the sun on the just and unjust (Matt 5:45).
2. God owns everything. “The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:8). “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10). “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1).
3. God entrusts everyone with the power to make wealth (Deut 8:18). His distribution according to ability indicates a measure of God’s faith in us to take care of his property.
4. God’s blessing should be received with thankfulness. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude” (1Tim 4:4).
5. The Lord will conduct an audit when Yeshua returns. The point of being accountable for wealth should not be dismissed. How does God expect us to use our money? Just to create larger portfolios, build bigger houses, or buy more expensive cars? Investing in spreading the good news of the Kingdom is the most important use of our money. How might the Master react if someone failed to invest in his Kingdom work?
Application - Level Two
On a symbolic level the talents may represent the riches of the Kingdom. Yeshua said, "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?" (Luke 16:11) The word for “entrust” is pisteuō which means to have faith or confidence in someone.
The riches of God include his kindness, tolerance, and patience (Rom 2:4), wisdom and knowledge of God (Rom 11:33), his grace (Eph 1:7), the glory of his inheritance for the saints (Eph 1:18), the unfathomable riches of Messiah (Eph 3:8). Even the riches of the reproach of Messiah is greater than the wealth of the world (Heb 11:26).
Paul speaks of being entrusted with the good news (Gal 2:7; 1Thess 2:4), he speaks of committing “prophecies” to Timothy (1Tim 1:18) and he counsels Timothy to follow his example by committing the future of God’s work to reliable men (2Tim 2:2).
We have been entrusted with the riches of the Kingdom of God. What shall we do with it? Share it? Hoard it? Increase it?
The point of the parable is not what will happen when the master returns, but what the master expects of his servants while he is gone. The Kingdom of heaven is about faithfulness as good stewards.
The talents may correlate with the distribution of the gifts of the Spirit (1Cor 12:4-7) and stewardship as service to the body of Messiah in general. Since each disciple receives the manifestation of the Holy Spirit differently, then it is the Holy Spirit working through the disciple’s gift(s) that produces the increase. In ourselves we can do nothing (John 15:5).
Messiah’s Justice: Parable of the Sheep and Goats
31 "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
But when the Son of Man: Grk. ho huios tou anthrōpou, which translates the Heb. ben adam, "Son of man," or "son of the first man, namely Adam." The idiom is thoroughly Hebraic and has no counterpart in Greek culture. Christian interpreters typically treat "Son of Man" in the context of Yeshua's ministry as representative of his identification with humanity, whereas "Son of God" pertains to his deity. In Hebraic thought these expressions mean just the opposite. In the Olivet Discourse and other passages that point to the Second Coming the "Son of Man" is a Messianic title that refers to the supra-natural figure from heaven who establishes a kingdom on the earth (e.g., Matt 13:41; 16:27-28).
"I kept watching the night visions, when I saw, coming with the clouds of heaven, someone like a son of man. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 To him was given rulership, glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His rulership is an eternal rulership that will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. … 27 Then the kingdom, the rulership and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. Their kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey them.'" (Dan 7:13-14, 27 CJB)
For first-century Jews the "Son of Man" is Daniel's divine redeemer in human form (33). He appears younger than the Ancient of Days and will be enthroned on high. Jewish intertestamental literature expounded strongly on his identity and activity (cf. Book of Enoch Chapter 46). David Flusser, Orthodox Jewish scholar and professor at Hebrew University, explains,
"In all of the sources, the one resembling a man is portrayed in a consistent manner. The Son of Man has a superhuman, heavenly sublimity. He is the cosmic judge at the end of time. Sitting upon the throne of God, judging the entire human race with the aid of the heavenly hosts, he will consign the just to blessedness and the wicked to the pit of hell. Frequently he is identified with the Messiah, but he can also be identified with Enoch, who was taken up into heaven." (112)
comes in his glory: The opening clause refers back to the narrative of 24:30-31, which occurs after the great tribulation. "Glory" refers to the luminescence of his presence as well as his regal appearance (Rev 19:11-13). all the angels with Him: Two references mention the angels accompanying Yeshua at his Second Coming outside the Olivet Discourse:
“For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Yeshua will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” (2Thess 1:7)
“And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.” (Rev 19:14)
Yeshua declared previously in the Olivet Discourse that when he comes the angels will gather the saints, but other references mention Yeshua being accompanied by the saints who have died:
“When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Col 3:4)
"These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” (Rev 17:14)
The consistent testimony of the apostles is that when Yeshua returns he will be accompanied by the angels and the saints who have overcome the dragon and the beast.
then He will sit: Grk. kathizō, to take a seated position in order to assume a position of authority. on His glorious throne: This throne corresponds to the “judgment seat of the Messiah” (2Cor 5:10) before which “we” must all stand. Yet, to Paul the “we” would be the saints and his prophecy would correspond to the “glorious throne” judgment that no doubt takes place after the bowls of wrath and the battle of Armageddon (Rev 19:11-21) and before the millennial reign begins (Rev 20:6). The location would be Jerusalem (Zech 14:4).
32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
All the nations: pl. of Grk. of ethnos, originally referred to a number of people or animals forming a group, then later strictly of humans as a people group. Mounce gives the root meaning as multitude or company. In the Tanakh the term "nations" (Heb. goyim) is used for people groups defined by language and culture, including descendants of Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel (cf. Gen 10:5; 12:2; 17:4; 18:18; Ex 19:6; Deut 4:6; Ps 106:5; Isa 9:1; 42:1, 6; Jer 5:15; Ezek 4:13; 36:13-14; Mic 4:2-3). The term is used often in the Besekh for "Gentiles" in contradistinction to Jews and Israel (e.g., Matt 5:47; Acts 2:27; 21:21; 26:17; Rom 3:29; 9:24; 11:25; 1Cor 1:23; Gal 2:14-15), but is also used of the Samaritan Jews (Acts 8:9) and Israel (Matt 21:43; John 18:35; Acts 24:10, 17; 26:4; 1Cor 10:18).
Often ethnos is used in a geographical sense with a diverse population that would include descendants of Jacob as residents or citizens (Matt 12:21; 24:14; Acts 17:26; Rom 1:5; 16:26; Gal 2:9; 1Tim 3:16). Just as the plural Ioudaioi can mean Jews, Judeans or more specifically the Judean authorities (i.e., Sanhedrin), so the context must be examined to determine the meaning of the ethnos. In the Besekh ethnos is translated in various versions with the pejorative terms of “foreigners,” “heathens,” or “pagans,” but the word has no particular religious meaning.
Although Yeshua urged his disciples not to be like the goyim in certain practices (cf. Matt 5:47; 6:7, 32; 10:5), he never defamed them as his fellow countrymen sometimes did. Rather, the Father loved the goyim (John 3:16), gave them his light (Matt 5:14; Luke 2:32), offered the Good News to them (Matt 10:18; 12:21; Rom 1:16; 2:9-10; Gal 3:8) and welcomed those who repented into citizenship in the Commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12-13).
will be gathered before Him: The description stretches the imagination, because the crowd would have to be in the millions. The important point is that all those being judged are in front of him and in a position to be viewed by him. and He will separate them: Grk. aphorizō, to set apart by marking off boundaries. The Messiah knows the condition of every person (cf. John 1:48; 2:25) and thus with the help of the angels it is not a difficult task to divide the immense gathering into two groups.
33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
The deliberate choice of direction may allude to Solomon's treatment of "the right" as indicative of good and "the left" as indicative of bad (Eccl 10:2). This distinction is especially emphasized in that the Son of God is seated on the right of the Father in heaven (Ps 110:1; Mark 16:19; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 1Pet 3:22; Rev 5:7). In modern politics it is no accident that conservatism is described as being "the right" and liberalism is described as "the left."
34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, `Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
The King will say: The narrative changes the title of the Judge from heavenly "Son of Man" to "King." His reign begins with an important pronouncement, a fulfillment of his promise to his disciples of an inheritance. The greatest evidence of blessing or God's favor to His people is the sharing of His kingdom with them. from the foundation: Grk. katabolē means “foundation” or “beginning”. The word comes from kataballō, which means to cast down. of the world: Grk. kosmos has a variety of uses in the apostolic writings, but here “foundation of the world” is an expression that refers to the founding or creation of the earth in its completed form with all its flora, fauna and human life within six days as recorded in Genesis 1 (See Matt 13:35; 25:34; Luke 11:50; John 17:24; Eph 1:4; Heb 4:3; 9:26; 1Pet 1:20; and Rev 17:8). The inheritance for God's people has always been part of God's plan.
35 `For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'
The ministry of the sheep offers help in the most extreme circumstances beyond normal charitable activities. The description applies to the sheep in a corporate sense, not to specific individuals. Some of the recipients of this care are starving, some are homeless, some are deprived of property, some unable to obtain medical care and some imprisoned. Others may well have experienced all these misfortunes. It is for these that Yeshua has promised, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev 22:4).
Yeshua does not list these charitable works as the means by which the sheep are saved. Entrance into the kingdom is only by confession, repentance and trust (Matt 3:2; Luke 12:8; Acts 3:19; Rom 10:9-10; 1John 1:9). Rather, charitable works are simply the fruit of salvation. As Paul says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves - it is the gift of God. It is not based on deeds, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship - created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them" (Eph 2:8-10 TLV).
37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, `Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 `And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 `When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
When did we see you? Ironically, the sheep do not "see" Yeshua in their acts of charity (Matt 25:37, 44). The apostles strongly emphasized doing charitable acts for the poor among God’s people (Gal 2:10; 6:10; Jas 2:14-17; 1John 3:16f; cf. Deut 15:7f). On the surface the sheep do not appear to understand the concept of the unity of the Body of the Messiah and the identification of the Lord with His disciples (Acts 9:4f; 1Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22f), but in reality their question reflects a genuine humility. The sheep do good works, not to be seen either by men or by God (Matt 6:1-5), but because they genuinely share the Lord's concern for the needs of others (Matt 9:36).
40 "The King will answer and say to them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
these brothers of mine: “Brethren,” of course, literally means blood siblings, but in Scripture is also used to refer to countrymen (i.e., fellow Jews; Lev 10:14; Deut 15:3, 12; 17:15; Acts 2:29; 3:17, 22). Moreover, Yeshua considers anyone who “does the will of My Father” as near as a personal blood relation (Matt 12:50) and therefore calls His disciples “brethren” (Matt 25:40; Mark 3:34; John 20:17; Heb 2:11).
The identification of “these brothers of mine” has four possible meanings in the Besekh: (1) The blood siblings of Yeshua (Mark 3:22; Acts 1:14; 1Cor 9:5); (2) His native countrymen (Acts 3:22); (3) Yeshua’ Jewish disciples (Matt 28:10; John 20:17; Rom 7:4), and (4) Jews and Gentiles who believe in Yeshua and are obedient to the will of God (Matt 12:50; Rom 16:14). Application depends on whether one uses a wide angle lens or a zoom lens in terms of the period of time for the activity described (first century, all of history, or last days).
Since the first usage of “brothers” does not fit the parable’s overall story, the other definitions yield two possible interpretations. First, the Lord is rewarding and punishing Gentiles on the basis of how they have treated God’s chosen people, particularly Messianic Jews (cf. Gen 12:3). The second interpretation is that the judgment of those who have not accepted the Good News, whether Jew or Gentile, is made on the basis of how they treat believers in Messiah, whether Jew or Gentile. There is a third possibility when the words to the goats are considered.
even the least: Who are the least of his brethren? The unimportant. Those without wealth, power or influence. Those without the power to repay. The least might also be the greatest sinners who came to faith, such as Paul (cf. 1Cor 15:9). you did it to me: Yeshua identifies himself with his faithful disciples as he said to Saul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:5). The congregation of Israel is his body and what’s done to anyone in the congregation is done to him. By caring for His poverty-stricken, homeless and imprisoned brothers, the "sheep" of the nations identify with the Shepherd and receive his commendation, as in the cases of Roman centurions who performed charitable acts for Jews (Matt 8:4-10; Luke 7:1-5; Acts 10:1-2; cf. Matt 10:40ff; Rom 8:29).
Many Christians encourage charity to the poor because of seeing Yeshua “in them.” While this sounds noble, the expression unintentionally espouses universal salvation. In other words, people need not confess Yeshua because they will go to heaven anyway. However, Yeshua is only in his disciples and no matter how many good deeds are performed by unbelievers for the poor, they will still die in their sins if they do not accept the Messiah and Savior. The most important charitable work to give the poor is the Good News of Yeshua (Matt 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:18; 7:22; Jas 2:5). Charity should not focus on making the poor comfortable in this life to the neglect of their eternal destiny.
Charity toward the poor of the world should not be done because one “sees” Yeshua in them, but because the Good News was intended for the poor (Luke 4:18; 6:20; 7:22) and the nature of righteousness inherently involves care for the needs of others (Matt 6:1-4; 19:21; Luke 12:33; 14:13; 19:8f). Interestingly, the only recorded “compassionate ministry” conducted by the disciples during the apostolic era was for the benefit of the Jewish disciples in the land of Israel (Acts 2:45; 6:1-3; 24:7; Rom 15:25-27, 31; 1Cor 16:1-3, 15; 2Cor 8:1-4; 9:1-5, 12). This begs the question of what Christians in these modern times should be doing to help needy Messianic Jews in Israel.
The scene would be thus: "these brothers of mine" (v. 40) are in the background or to the side of the throne. In front of Yeshua are the "nations," or those not included in his Kingdom or Commonwealth of Israel. Yeshua said that the nations are separated "as" sheep from goats, a typical Hebrew analogy referring to the house of Israel (Ezek 34:17). He does not say that the "sheep" are his sheep in the sense of John 10:4; they are the "other sheep" of John 10:16, but in any event they are considered “righteous” (v. 37). In the context of the judgment the sheep and goats are distinguished by virtue of how they treated "his brothers" (vs. 40).
41 "Then He will also say to those on His left, `Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
to those on His left: The goats now receive the pronouncement of judgment. They must depart from the king and be separated from him forever. eternal fire: All the references in the Besekh suggest an other-worldly location for the place of punishment and would be synonymous with the term “hell.” Yeshua spoke of hell more than anyone else in Scripture and declared that it was originally prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41), implying that hell was not created until after Satan rebelled.
Hell is a place of “everlasting fire” (Matt 18:8; 25:41) that “destroys both soul and body” (Matt 10:28). The fire of hell is described as “unquenchable” (Matt 3:12; Mark 9:43f; cf. 2Kgs 22:17; Isa 1:31; 34:10; 66:24; Jer 4:4; 7:20; 21:12), which means that the fire will not degrade in intensity over the course of eternity and it cannot be extinguished by any force other than God’s power. (Interestingly, the Greek word for “unquenchable” is asbestos.)
Hell is also a place of “wailing and gnashing” (or grinding) of teeth (Matt 13:40-42; 22:13). The reference to wailing means that the human spirit is not destroyed but instead mourns with the deepest regret. The metaphor of “gnashing teeth” speaks of suffering unimaginable torment. (Cf. Luke 16:23f for the torment of the rich man in Hades. If Hades causes such terrible torment, how much worse will the suffering of Hell be?)
Hell is a real place, a physical reality. It is not just a metaphor for a state of separation from God. A “state of separation” is nonsensical if there is no actual place of damnation. (And, if there is no Hell, there can be no Heaven.) All the descriptions of Hell provided by Yeshua correspond to the characteristics given of the lake of fire in Revelation. The lake of fire may be located in outer space across the galaxy since it is also referred to as the “outer darkness” (cf. Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Jude 13).
The lake is said to burn “with brimstone” (Rev 14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8), which is a word used for the yellow sulfurous mineral usually found near active volcanoes. Large deposits of sulfur are found in the Dead Sea area. Highly combustible, sulfur burns with a blue flame that emits a peculiar suffocating odor (sulfur dioxide). Scripture reports God using brimstone in judgment on the wicked (Gen 19:24; Ps 11:6; Ezek 34:8-10; 38:22; Luke 17:29), which may refer to a specially created divine fire or to molten elements erupting from below ground. In Isaiah 30:33 the “breath of the Lord” is described as being like brimstone. The lake of fire, then, is not like a lake of water with flammable material ablaze on the surface; rather the lake of fire is composed of a sulfurous substance that is constantly burning. For example, the sun could be described as a lake of fire, because its total mass is burning.
42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' 44 "Then they themselves also will answer, `Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' 45 "Then He will answer them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Yeshua repeats the list of charitable works but turns them into a list of charges against the goats. The goats failed to follow the passive version of the Golden Rule: “don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.” The goats demonstrated not only apathy, but callous disregard of the injustice meted out to the “brothers” of Yeshua. To defy the edict of the beast to deprive rebellious citizens of life, liberty and property (Rev 13:7, 16-17) and help those in need would be to identify with them.
Yeshua does not imply that the goats actively persecute his brethren. However, silence can make one an accessory to a crime even after it is committed and therefore deserving of punishment. Since the context of the parable is the Second Coming and related events, then the trial probably depicts God doing justice for the great tribulation martyrs (cf. Rev 6:9-11; 7:14-17; 17:6; 18:4-6, 20; 19:15, 20; 20:4). During the great tribulation there will likely be many sympathetic to the plight of Christians and Jews and do whatever possible to provide aid in the face of the beast’s persecution. Thus, when the public fails to oppose the beast’s war against the disciples of Yeshua they become guilty under God’s Law and deserving of the same punishment as the actual perpetrators (cf. Ex 23:1f, 7; Lev 5:1; Deut 19:10-13; 21:9; Luke 12:47; Jas 4:17).
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