Matthew 25:1-13 . PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS.
This and the following parable are in Matthew alone.
1. Then--at the time referred to at the close of the preceding chapter, the time of the Lord's Second Coming to reward His faithful servants and take vengeance on the faithless. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took
their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom--This supplies a key to the parable, whose object is, in the main, the same as that of the last parable--to illustrate the vigilant and expectant attitude of faith, in respect of which believers are described as "they that look for Him" ( Hebrews 9:28 ), and "love His appearing" ( 2 Timothy 4:8 ). In the last parable it was that of servants waiting for their absent Lord; in this it is that of virgin attendants on a Bride, whose duty it was to go forth at night with lamps, and be ready on the appearance of the Bridegroom to conduct the Bride to his house, and go in with him to the marriage. This entire and beautiful change of figure brings out the lesson of the former parable in quite a new light. But let it be observed that, just as in the parable of the Marriage Supper, so in this--the Bride does not come into view at all in this parable; the Virgins and the Bridegroom holding forth all the intended instruction: nor could believers be represented both as Bride and Bridal Attendants without incongruity.
2. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish--They are not distinguished into good and bad, as TRENCH observes, but into "wise" and "foolish"--just as in Matthew 7:25-27 those who reared their house for eternity are distinguished into "wise" and "foolish builders"; because in both cases a certain degree of goodwill towards the truth is assumed. To make anything of the equal number of both classes would, we think, be precarious, save to warn us how large a portion of those who, up to the last, so nearly resemble those that love Christ's appearing will be disowned by Him when He comes.
3. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps--What are these "lamps" and this "oil"? Many answers have been given. But since the foolish as well as the wise took their lamps and went forth with them to meet the Bridegroom, these lighted lamps and this advance a certain way in company with the wise, must denote that Christian profession which is common to all who bear the Christian name; while the insufficiency of this without something else, of which they never possessed themselves, shows that "the foolish" mean those who, with all that is common to them with real Christians, lack the essential preparation for meeting Christ. Then, since the wisdom of "the wise" consisted in their taking with their lamps a supply of oil in their vessels, keeping their lamps burning till the Bridegroom came, and so fitting them to go in with Him to the marriage, this supply of oil must mean that inward reality of grace which alone will stand when He appears whose eyes are as a flame of fire. But this is too general; for it cannot be for nothing that this inward grace is here set forth by the familiar symbol of oil, by which the Spirit of all grace is so constantly represented in Scripture. Beyond all doubt, this was what was symbolized by that precious anointing oil with which Aaron and his sons were consecrated to the priestly office ( Exodus 30:23-25 Exodus 30:30 ); by "the oil of gladness above His fellows" with which Messiah was to be anointed ( Psalms 45:7 , Hebrews 1:9 ), even as it is expressly said, that "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him" ( John 3:34 ); and by the bowl full of golden oil, in Zechariah's vision, which, receiving its supplies from the two olive trees on either side of it, poured it through seven golden pipes into the golden lamp-stand to keep it continually burning bright ( Zechariah 4:1-14 )--for the prophet is expressly told that it was to proclaim the great truth, "Not by might, nor by power, but by MY SPIRIT, saith the Lord of hosts [shall this temple be built]. Who art thou, O great mountain [of opposition to this issue]? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain [or, be swept out of the way], and he shall bring forth the head stone [of the temple], with shoutings [crying], GRACE, GRACE unto it." This supply of oil, then, representing that inward grace which distinguishes the wise, must denote, more particularly, that "supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ," which, as it is the source of the new spiritual life at the first, is the secret of its enduring character. Everything short of this may be possessed by "the foolish"; while it is the possession of this that makes "the wise" to be "ready" when the Bridegroom appears, and fit to "go in with Him to the marriage." Just so in the parable of the Sower, the stony-ground hearers, "having no deepness of earth" and "no root in themselves," though they spring up and get even into ear, never ripen, while they in the good ground bear the precious grain.
5. While the bridegroom tarried--So in Matthew 24:48 , "My Lord delayeth His coming"; and so Peter says sublimely of the ascended Saviour, "Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things" ( Acts 3:21 , and compare Luke 19:11 Luke 19:12 ). Christ "tarries," among other reasons, to try the faith and patience of His people. they
all slumbered and slept--the wise as well as the foolish. The world "slumbered" signifies, simply, "nodded," or, "became drowsy"; while the world "slept" is the usual word for lying down to sleep, denoting two stages of spiritual declension--first, that half-involuntary lethargy or drowsiness which is apt to steal over one who falls into inactivity; and then a conscious, deliberate yielding to it, after a little vain resistance. Such was the state alike of the wise and the foolish virgins, even till the cry of the Bridegroom's approach awoke them. So likewise in the parable of the Importunate Widow: "When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" ( Luke 18:8 ).
6. And at midnight--that is, the time when the Bridegroom will be least expected; for "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:2 ).
there was a cry made, Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him--that is, Be ready to welcome Him.
7. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps--the foolish virgins as well as the wise. How very long do both parties seem the same--almost to the moment of decision! Looking at the mere form of the parable, it is evident that the folly of "the foolish" consisted not in having no oil at all; for they must have had oil enough in their lamps to keep them burning up to this moment: their folly consisted in not making provision against its exhaustion, by taking with their lamp an oil-vessel wherewith to replenish their lamp from time to time, and so have it burning until the Bridegroom should come. Are we, then--with some even superior expositors--to conclude that the foolish virgins must represent true Christians as well as do the wise, since only true Christians have the Spirit, and that the difference between the two classes consists only in the one having the necessary watchfulness which the other wants? Certainly not. Since the parable was designed to hold forth the prepared and the unprepared to meet Christ at His coming, and how the unprepared might, up to the very last, be confounded with the prepared--the structure of the parable behooved to accommodate itself to this, by making the lamps of the foolish to burn, as well as those of the wise, up to a certain point of time, and only then to discover their inability to burn on for want of a fresh supply of oil. But this is evidently just a structural device; and the real difference between the two classes who profess to love the Lord's appearing is a radical one--the possession by the one class of an enduring principle of spiritual life, and the want of it by the other.
8. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out--rather, as in the Margin, "are going out"; for oil will not light an extinguished lamp, though it will keep a burning one from going out. Ah! now at length they have discovered not only their own folly, but the wisdom of the other class, and they do homage to it. They did not perhaps despise them before, but they thought them righteous overmuch; now they are forced, with bitter mortification, to wish they were like them.
9. But the wise answered, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you--The words "Not so," it will be seen, are not in the original, where the reply is very elliptical--"In case there be not enough for us and you." A truly wise answer this. "And what, then, if we shall share it with you? Why, both will be undone."
but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves--Here again it would be straining the parable beyond its legitimate design to make it teach that men may get salvation even after they are supposed and required to have it already gotten. It is merely a friendly way of reminding them of the proper way of obtaining the needed and precious article, with a certain reflection on them for having it now to seek. Also, when the parable speaks of "selling" and "buying" that valuable article, it means simply, "Go, get it in the only legitimate way." And yet the word "buy" is significant; for we are elsewhere bidden, "buy wine and milk without money and without price," and "buy of Christ gold tried in the fire," ( Isaiah 55:1 , Revelation 3:18 ). Now, since what we pay the demanded price for becomes thereby our own property, the salvation which we thus take gratuitously at God's hands, being bought in His own sense of that word, becomes ours thereby in inalienable possession. (Compare for the language, Proverbs 23:23 , Matthew 13:44 ).
10. 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--They are sensible of their past folly; they have taken good advice: they are in the act of getting what alone they lacked: a very little more, and they also are ready. But the Bridegroom comes; the ready are admitted; "the door is shut," and they are undone. How graphic and appalling this picture of one almost saved--but lost!
11. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us--In Matthew 7:22 this reiteration of the name was an exclamation rather of surprise; here it is a piteous cry of urgency, bordering on despair. Ah! now at length their eyes are wide open, and they realize all the consequences of their past folly.
12. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not--The attempt to establish a difference between "I know you not" here, and "I never knew you" in Matthew 7:23 --as if this were gentler, and so implied a milder fate, reserved for "the foolish" of this parable--is to be resisted, though advocated by such critics as OLSHAUSEN, STIER, and ALFORD. Besides being inconsistent with the general tenor of such language, and particularly the solemn moral of the whole ( Matthew 25:13 ), it is a kind of criticism which tampers with some of the most awful warnings regarding the future. If it be asked why unworthy guests were admitted to the marriage of the King's Son, in a former parable, and the foolish virgins are excluded in this one, we may answer, in the admirable words of GERHARD, quoted by TRENCH, that those festivities are celebrated in this life, in the Church militant; these at the last day, in the Church triumphant; to those, even they are admitted who are not adorned with the wedding garment; but to these, only they to whom it is granted to be arrayed in fine linen clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints ( Revelation 19:8 ); to those, men are called by the trumpet of the Gospel; to these by the trumpet of the Archangel; to those, who enters may go out from them, or be cast out; who is once introduced to these never goes out, nor is cast out, from them any more: wherefore it is said, "The door is shut."
13. Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh--This, the moral or practical lesson of the whole parable, needs no comment.
Matthew 25:14-30 . PARABLE OF THE TALENTS.
This parable, while closely resembling it, is yet a different one from that of THE POUNDS, in Luke 19:11-27 ; though CALVIN, OLSHAUSEN, MEYER, and others identify them--but not DE WETTE and NEANDER. For the difference between the two parables, see the opening remarks on that of The Pounds. While, as TRENCH observes with his usual felicity, "the virgins were represented as waiting for their Lord, we have the servants working for Him; there the inward spiritual life of the faithful was described; here his external activity. It is not, therefore, without good reason that they appear in their actual order--that of the Virgins first, and of the Talents following--since it is the sole condition of a profitable outward activity for the kingdom of God, that the life of God be diligently maintained within the heart."
14. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man--The ellipsis is better supplied by our translators in the corresponding passage of Mark ( Mark 13:34 ), "[For the Son of man is] as a man"
travelling into a far country--or more simply, "going abroad." The idea of long "tarrying" is certainly implied here, since it is expressed in Matthew 25:19 .
who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods--Between master and slaves this was not uncommon in ancient times. Christ's "servants" here mean all who, by their Christian profession, stand in the relation to Him of entire subjection. His "goods" mean all their gifts and endowments, whether original or acquired, natural or spiritual. As all that slaves have belongs to their master, so Christ has a claim to everything which belongs to His people, everything which, may be turned to good, and He demands its appropriation to His service, or, viewing it otherwise, they first offer it up to Him; as being "not their own, but bought with a price" ( 1 Corinthians 6:19 1 Corinthians 6:20 ), and He "delivers it to them" again to be put to use in His service.
15. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one--While the proportion of gifts is different in each, the same fidelity is required of all, and equally rewarded. And thus there is perfect equity.
to every man according to his several ability--his natural capacity as enlisted in Christ's service, and his opportunities in providence for employing the gifts bestowed on him.
and straightway took his journey--Compare Matthew 21:33 , where the same departure is ascribed to God, after setting up the ancient economy. In both cases, it denotes the leaving of men to the action of all those spiritual laws and influences of Heaven under which they have been graciously placed for their own salvation and the advancement of their Lord's kingdom.
16. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same--expressive of the activity which he put forth and the labor he bestowed.
and made them other five talents.
17. And likewise he that had received two he also gained other two--each doubling what he received, and therefore both equally faithful.
18. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money--not misspending, but simply making no use of it. Nay, his action seems that of one anxious that the gift should not be misused or lost, but ready to be returned, just as he got it.
19. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them--That any one--within the lifetime of the apostles at least--with such words before them, should think that Jesus had given any reason to expect His Second Appearing within that period, would seem strange, did we not know the tendency of enthusiastic, ill-regulated love of His appearing ever to take this turn.
20. Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents; behold, I have gained besides them five talents more--How beautifully does this illustrate what the beloved disciple says of "boldness in the day of judgment," and his desire that "when He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming!" ( 1 John 4:17 , 2:28 ).
21. His lord said unto him, Well done--a single word, not of bare satisfaction, but of warm and delighted commendation. And from what Lips!
thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things, &c.
22. He also that had received two talents came . . . good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things--Both are commended in the same terms, and the reward of both is precisely the same. Observe also the contrasts: "Thou hast been faithful as a servant; now be a ruler--thou hast been entrusted with a few things; now have dominion over many things."
enter thou into the joy of thy lord--thy Lord's own joy. (See John 15:11 , Hebrews 12:2 ).
24. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man--harsh. The word in Luke ( Luke 19:21 ) is "austere."
reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed--The sense is obvious: "I knew thou wast one whom it was impossible to serve, one whom nothing would please: exacting what was impracticable, and dissatisfied with what was attainable." Thus do men secretly think of God as a hard Master, and virtually throw on Him the blame of their fruitlessness.
25. And I was afraid--of making matters worse by meddling with it at all.
and went and hid thy talent in the earth--This depicts the conduct of all those who shut up their gifts from the active service of Christ, without actually prostituting them to unworthy uses. Fitly, therefore, may it, at least, comprehend those, to whom TRENCH refers, who, in the early Church, pleaded that they had enough to do with their own souls, and were afraid of losing them in trying to save others; and so, instead of being the salt of the earth, thought rather of keeping their own saltness by withdrawing sometimes into caves and wildernesses, from all those active ministries of love by which they might have served their brethren.
Thou wicked and slothful servant--"Wicked" or "bad" means "falsehearted," as opposed to the others, who are emphatically styled "good servants." The addition of "slothful" is to mark the precise nature of his wickedness: it consisted, it seems, not in his doing anything against, but simply nothing for his master.
Thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed--He takes the servant's own account of his demands, as expressing graphically enough, not the hardness which he had basely imputed to him, but simply his demand of a profitable return for the gift entrusted.
27. thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers--the banker.
and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury--interest.
30. And cast ye--cast ye out.
the unprofitable servant--the useless servant, that does his Master no service.
into outer darkness--the darkness which is outside. On this expression
there shall be weeping and gnashing of
Matthew 25:31-46 . THE LAST JUDGMENT.
The close connection between this sublime scene--peculiar to Matthew--and the two preceding parables is too obvious to need pointing out.
31. When the Son of man shall come in his glory--His personal glory.
and all the holy angels with him--See Deuteronomy 33:2 , Daniel 7:9 Daniel 7:10 , Jude 1:14 ; with Hebrews 1:6 , 1 Peter 3:22 .
then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory--the glory of His judicial authority.
32. And before him shall be gathered all nations--or, "all the nations." That this should be understood to mean the heathen nations, or all except believers in Christ, will seem amazing to any simple reader. Yet this is the exposition of OLSHAUSEN, STIER, KEIL, ALFORD (though latterly with some diffidence), and of a number, though not all, of those who hold that Christ will come the second time before the millennium, and that the saints will be caught up to meet Him in the air before His appearing. Their chief argument is, the impossibility of any that ever knew the Lord Jesus wondering, at the Judgment Day, that they should be thought to have done--or left undone--anything "unto Christ." To that we shall advert when we come to it. But here we may just say, that if this scene does not describe a personal, public, final judgment on men, according to the treatment they have given to Christ--and consequently men within the Christian pale--we shall have to consider again whether our Lord's teaching on the greatest themes of human interest does indeed possess that incomparable simplicity and transparency of meaning which, by uersal consent, has been ascribed to it. If it be said, But how can this be the general judgment, if only those within the Christian pale be embraced by it?--we answer, What is here described, as it certainly does not meet the case of all the family of Adam, is of course so far not general. But we have no right to conclude that the whole "judgment of the great day" will be limited to the point of view here presented. Other explanations will come up in the course of our exposition.
and he shall separate them--now for the first time; the two classes having been mingled all along up to this awful moment.
as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats--(See Ezekiel 34:17 ).
34. Then shall the King--Magnificent title, here for the first and only time, save in parabolical language, given to Himself by the Lord Jesus, and that on the eve of His deepest humiliation! It is to intimate that in then addressing the heirs of the kingdom, He will put on all His regal majesty.
say unto them on his right hand, Come--the same sweet word with which He had so long invited all the weary and heavy laden to come unto Him for rest. Now it is addressed exclusively to such as have come and found rest. It is still, "Come," and to "rest" too; but to rest in a higher style, and in another region.
ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world--The whole story of this their blessedness is given by the apostle, in words which seem but an expression of these: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." They were chosen from everlasting to the possession and enjoyment of all spiritual blessings in Christ, and so chosen in order to be holy and blameless in love. This is the holy love whose practical manifestations the King is about to recount in detail; and thus we see that their whole life of love to Christ is the fruit of an eternal purpose of love to them in Christ.
35. For I was an hungered . . . thirsty . . . a stranger, &c.
36. Naked . . . sick . . . prison, and ye came unto me.
37-39. Then shall the righteous answer him, &c.
40. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, &c.--Astonishing dialogue this between the King, from the Throne of His glory, and His wondering people! "I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat," &c.--"Not we," they reply. "We never did that, Lord: We were born out of due time, and enjoyed not the privilege of ministering unto Thee." "But ye did it to these My brethren, now beside you, when cast upon your love." "Truth, Lord, but was that doing it to Thee? Thy name was indeed dear to us, and we thought it a great honor to suffer shame for it. When among the destitute and distressed we discerned any of the household of faith, we will not deny that our hearts leapt within us at the discovery, and when their knock came to our dwelling, our bowels were moved, as though 'our Beloved Himself had put in His hand by the hole of the door.' Sweet was the fellowship we had with them, as if we had 'entertained angels unawares'; all difference between giver and receiver somehow melted away under the beams of that love of Thine which knit us together; nay, rather, as they left us with gratitude for our poor givings, we seemed the debtors--not they. But, Lord, were we all that time in company with Thee? . . . Yes, that scene was all with Me," replies the King--"Me in the disguise of My poor ones. The door shut against Me by others was opened by you--'Ye took Me in.' Apprehended and imprisoned by the enemies of the truth, ye whom the truth had made free sought Me out diligently and found Me; visiting Me in My lonely cell at the risk of your own lives, and cheering My solitude; ye gave Me a coat, for I shivered; and then I felt warm. With cups of cold water ye moistened My parched lips; when famished with hunger ye supplied Me with crusts, and my spirit revived--"YE DID IT UNTO ME." What thoughts crowd upon us as we listen to such a description of the scenes of the Last Judgment! And in the light of this view of the heavenly dialogue, how bald and wretched, not to say unscriptural, is that view of it to which we referred at the outset, which makes it a dialogue between Christ and heathens who never heard of His name, and of course never felt any stirrings of His love in their hearts! To us it seems a poor, superficial objection to the Christian view of this scene, that Christians could never be supposed to ask such questions as the "blessed of Christ's Father" are made to ask here. If there were any difficulty in explaining this, the difficulty of the other view is such as to make it, at least, insufferable. But there is no real difficulty. The surprise expressed is not at their being told that they acted from love to Christ, but that Christ Himself was the Personal Object of all their deeds: that they found Him hungry, and supplied Him with food: that they brought water to Him, and slaked His thirst; that seeing Him naked and shivering, they put warm clothing upon Him, paid Him visits when lying in prison for the truth, and sat by His bedside when laid down with sickness. This is the astonishing interpretation which Jesus says "the King" will give to them of their own actions here below. And will any Christian reply, "How could this astonish them? Does not every Christian know that He does these very things, when He does them at all, just as they are here represented?" Nay, rather, is it conceivable that they should not be astonished, and almost doubt their own ears, to hear such an account of their own actions upon earth from the lips of the Judge? And remember, that Judge has come in His glory, and now sits upon the throne of His glory, and all the holy angels are with Him; and that it is from those glorified Lips that the words come forth, "Ye did all this unto ME." Oh, can we imagine such a word addressed to ourselves, and then fancy ourselves replying, "Of course we did--To whom else did we anything? It must be others than we that are addressed, who never knew, in all their good deeds, what they were about?" Rather, can we imagine ourselves not overpowered with astonishment, and scarcely able to credit the testimony borne to us by the King?
41.Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, &c.--As for you on the left hand, ye did nothing for Me. I came to you also, but ye knew Me not: ye had neither warm affections nor kind deeds to bestow upon Me: I was as one despised in your eyes." "In our eyes, Lord? We never saw Thee before, and never, sure, behaved we so to Thee." "But thus ye treated these little ones that believe in Me and now stand on My right hand. In the disguise of these poor members of Mine I came soliciting your pity, but ye shut up your bowels of compassion from Me: I asked relief, but ye had none to give Me. Take back therefore your own coldness, your own contemptuous distance: Ye bid Me away from your presence, and now I bid you from Mine--Depart from Me, ye cursed!"
46. And these shall go away--these "cursed" ones. Sentence, it should seem, was first pronounced--in the hearing of the wicked--upon the righteous, who thereupon sit as assessors in the judgment upon the wicked ( 1 Corinthians 6:2 ); but sentence is first executed, it should seem, upon the wicked, in the sight of the righteous--whose glory will thus not be beheld by the wicked, while their descent into "their own place" will be witnessed by the righteous, as BENGEL notes.
into everlasting punishment--or, as in Matthew 25:41 , "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Compare Matthew 13:42 , 2 Thessalonians 1:9 , &c. This is said to be "prepared for the devil and his angels," because they were "first in transgression." But both have one doom, because one unholy character.
but the righteous into life eternal--that is, "life everlasting." The word in both clauses, being in the original the same, should have been the same in the translation also. Thus the decisions of this awful day will be final, irreversible, unending.