The Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1-13)
1 This is a parable of Christ’s second coming and of the final judgment. In this parable, the bridegroom is Christ, and the ten virgins represent the church waiting for Christ’s return.
According to Jewish marriage custom in Jesus’ time, the bridegroom came to the bride’s house to fetch her. At that time there was a banquet. The bridesmaids would go out to welcome the bridegroom on his arrival. If he came at night, they would need lamps.
2-5 There are two kinds of people in the church: the wise and the foolish (see Matthew 7:24-27). The foolish have no oil in their lamps, that is, no Holy Spirit. They are not prepared to meet Christ. They have not truly known Christ and have not been born again of the Spirit (John 3:5). They are, in fact, false Christians (see Matthew 13:4042,47-50). Only by the Holy Spirit will our lamps burn; only by the oil of the Holy Spirit can we be lights in the world (Matthew 5:14).
6-8 When the bridegroom arrived, the foolish virgins realized that they had no oil. So they asked the wise virgins to give them some of theirs.
9 But the wise virgins refused to give the foolish virgins any oil. From this we must learn an important spiritual lesson. The Holy Spirit comes directly from God. Grace and salvation come directly from God. We cannot borrow them from other men. Each of us must stand alone before the judgment seat of Christ. On that day we will not be able to call upon our friends for help. It will be too late then to get oil for our lamp.
10 The foolish virgins went to the shop to get oil. Perhaps the shops were not open; it was the middle of the night. While they were away, the bridegroom came. The wise virgins went in with him. And the door was shut.
11-13 The foolish virgins had lost their chance. They had not been ready. Christ did not know them (see Luke 13:2427). There was a time when, if they had knocked, the door would have opened (Matthew 7:7). But now that time was gone forever.
Therefore keep watch (see Matthew 24:42-44; Mark 13:35 and comments). Let us be sure there is oil in our lamps (see Luke 12:35-38).
The Parable of the Talents (25:14-30)
14-18 Again, it (the second coming of Christ) will be like a man going on a journey. The man is Christ. Christ entrusts His followers with different gifts, or talents.69 These gifts are both natural and spiritual. They may be natural abilities; or they may be the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11); or they may be fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit Himself is a gift. Everything we have is a gift from God. We can boast of nothing that is our own. Indeed, the only thing we can call our own is our sin.
The parable’s meaning is this: Christ gives different gifts to different people according to their ability. He gives to some more, and to others less. But whatever gifts He gives, He wants us to use them. If He gives us land, He wants us to diligently raise crops. If He gives us the chance to study, He wants us to study hard. If He gives us the gift of teaching, or of leadership, then we must teach and lead diligently and wisely. If He gives us wealth, we must use it in His service. Christ does not expect everyone to return the same amount to Him (Mark 4:20). But He does expect that we return to Him all that we can. Especially, He expects from us our love, our faith, our obedience.
In the parable, one servant received only a small gift, just one talent. He was ashamed. He was lazy. He did not use the gift the master had given him. He buried the money in the ground (verse 18).
Although they are not mentioned in this parable, there are many people who receive two or five talents in this life and bury all of them in the ground. Their guilt will be even greater than the guilt of the man with only one talent.
19-23 The servants who had used their gifts well were rewarded. Because they had been faithful with a few things on earth, the master put them in charge of many things in heaven (see Matthew 24:45-47).
24-25 However, the servant with the one talent had despised his gift. He thought his gift was so small that he could never please his master. He thought his master would demand more from him than he could ever earn with his gift. He even accused his master of being unjust—“harvesting where you have not sown”. His accusation was untrue. God is always just. But wicked men always try to blame God for their own wickedness.
The wicked servant tried to defend himself. He said, “I… hid your talent. I put it in a safe place. Here, take what is yours. I have not made it more, but neither have I made it less.” He hoped thereby to escape punishment for his laziness.
26-27 The master replied, “You say that you knew I was a hard man? Then why didn’t you at least put the money in a bank, so that I might have gained interest? You have cheated me. You have not rightly used what I gave you.”
28-29 The wicked and lazy servant in the end did not preserve his talent; he lost it. If we do not use our spiritual and material blessings in God’s service, they will be taken away from us. If we grieve the Holy Spirit, He will depart from us. To the extent we use God’s gifts in His service, to that extent He will give us more. Paul wrote to Timothy: Do not neglect your gift (1 Timothy 4:14). But if we hide His gifts, or use them selfishly for ourselves, He will take them back (see Matthew 13:12; Mark 4:24-25 and comments).
30 The punishment for a servant who misuses a gift of God is very severe. When we do not use God’s gift in His service, we cheat God, we oppose God. Therefore, He will oppose us. Many people say to themselves, “I can do so little for God,” and they use that as an excuse for doing nothing. Such people are like the wicked and lazy servant of this parable.
The parable of the ten minas70 recorded in Luke 19:11-27 is very similar to this parable of the talents. There are two main differences between these two parables. First, in Luke’s parable, there are ten servants instead of three, and all ten get the same gift—that is, ten minas. However, they get different rewards according to how faithfully they used their gifts. The servant who earned ten additional minas was very faithful. The servant who earned five additional minas was less faithful. The servant who hid his mina was unfaithful. Each of the servants received a reward according to his faithfulness. Therefore, the meaning of Luke’s parable is the same as that of Matthew’s parable: namely, that we all must use the gifts of God as diligently as we can, and that God will reward each of us according to our work and faithfulness (Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
The second difference in Luke’s parable of the minas is that the master went to a distant country to have himself appointed king (Luke 19:12). But his subjects sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’ (Luke 19:14). Then at the end of the parable, the king had those enemies put to death (Luke 19:27).
These extra details about the king do not change the meaning of the parable. However, they do describe a historic occurrence. Archelaus, the son of King Herod (see Matthew 2:1,22) went to the Roman emperor after his father’s death to confirm his succession to his father’s throne. But a delegation of Jews went after him and appealed to the emperor asking that Archelaus not be made king over them. As a result, the emperor reduced Archelaus’ authority. Later, Archelaus persecuted the Jews who had opposed him.
Let us not be among those who oppose the true king, Christ, the King of kings. If we reject His gifts, if we refuse to serve Him, we shall bring upon ourselves eternal condemnation.
The Sheep and the Goats (25:31-46)
31 In this section Jesus gives us a description of what the final judgment will be like. He Himself will come in glory to judge (Mark 13:26; John 5:22). Christ will sit on his throne, which is the throne of judgment (Revelation 20:11).
32-33 Christ will judge all the nations. On that day every man of every nation will acknowledge that Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). And Christ will separate the people one from another. Judgment is the act of separation. Christ will be like a shepherd who separates sheep and goats (Ezekiel 34:17). He will put the sheep, that is, the righteous (verse 37), on His right hand, and the goats, the unrighteous, on His left.
34 Then Christ will invite the righteous to receive their inheritance, prepared for them since the creation of the world. The righteous have been chosen from before the beginning of the world (see Ephesians 1:4). God knew from the beginning who would live righteously; that is, He knew who would repent and believe in Christ.
Man has the freedom to choose between right and wrong. Man has the freedom to go through the narrow gate or the wide gate (see Matthew 7:13-14). It is each man’s choice. If a man chooses to disobey God and walk through the wide gate, it is his own fault. He cannot blame God (see Romans 9:19-21).
Even though people are free to choose, yet God knows beforehand how each one will choose. God’s knowledge is without limit. He knows everything. The Lord knows those who are his (2 Timothy 2:19). Their names are written in the book of life (Revelation 3:5; 21:27). And He has prepared a kingdom for each one (see Luke 12:32).
There is no more important question anyone can ask than this: “On the day of judgment, will I be standing on the King’s right hand, or on His left?”
35-36 On what basis, by what means, will Christ separate men? For what reason will He call some to be on His right hand, and others to be on His left? The answer is this: Those who during their life on earth performed acts of love to Jesus will be placed on His right hand. They will be counted righteous (Hebrews 6:10).
37-39 But the righteous at first will not understand. They don’t remember that they had done anything for Jesus Himself. They don’t consider their simple acts of love to be worthy of special credit. They do not consider themselves worthy of honor. They are humble.
40 Then Jesus will answer: “What you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. All those acts of love and mercy you showed to others, you showed also to me.”
Jesus is a loving shepherd. He came to earth to seek the lost. He loves all men. He loves them like brothers. He can put Himself in man’s place. He feels our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15; 5:2). That is why when we show love to another person, it is as if we were showing love to Christ. Christ is not here on earth in the flesh. But we all have the chance to serve Him by serving others71 (see Proverbs 19:17; Matthew 10:42; Mark 9:41).
It is important to remember one thing here: It is not because the righteous have performed acts of love that they are saved. They are saved only through faith. But these acts of love are signs of true faith. When Christ sees us perform these acts of love, He knows our faith is true. First comes faith; then, second, comes the fruit of faith, which is works of love (see Ephesians 2:89; James 2:14-17 and comments). The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).
41-45 Then the King will send those on His left hand to eternal punishment, the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (see Revelation 20:10). Those on His left hand are the ones who did not perform acts of love to Christ. They had thought they were serving Christ. Perhaps they went to church. Perhaps they gave tithes. They took pride in their “religious” works. But they did these works only to win praise for themselves. They did not truly love their neighbor. They did not realize that when they refused to help their neighbor in need, they were also, in fact, refusing to help Christ. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).
46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment. The last judgment is final. There is no appeal. God judges fairly, but His judgment remains forever. Let every man and woman think about the judgment of God. On that day, will God say to us: “Come … take your inheritance” (verse 34)? Or will He say: “Depart from me … into the eternal fire” (verse 41)?
There is another thing to think about also. For what kind of sins did those on the King’s left hand receive eternal punishment? Murder? Adultery? Theft? Big sins? No. Their sin was neglecting to do good. Many people wouldn’t call that a sin at all. Many people suppose that sin means only doing something bad. But Jesus teaches us here that sin is also omitting to do something good when we have opportunity. Such sins are called “sins of omission.” These are things we ought to have done but did not. Such was the sin of the ten virgins: they did not bring oil for their lamps (verse 3). Such was the sin of the wicked servant: he did not use his one talent (verse 27). It is mainly for sins like these that people will be punished on the day of judgment.
How many opportunities have we missed to do good this past month? This past week? This very day? How many times could we have fed someone, clothed someone, visited someone, cared for someone, but didn’t? Oh God, forgive us. We have not done what we ought to have done. We have not loved as we ought to have loved. Oh Father, have mercy upon us!
Now, is it not clear why we can never be saved by our righteous works? Only by the grace and mercy of God, and through faith in the Savior Jesus Christ, can we be saved from eternal punishment.