In this chapter, Jesus continues his discourse about the Second Coming. He tells the Parable of the Ten Maidens, the Parable of the Talents, and the discourse on the Final Judgments (The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats).
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus is continuing his discourse begun in 24:1-3. The disciples asked two questions in 24:3.
(1). “When will these things be?”
The context indicates that this question pertains to the destruction of the temple, which they had just admired. But he predicts its destruction. He answered the first question in 24:4-35 and concludes by saying this (Jesus’s) generation will not pass away until all those things happen (24:34).
(2). “And what will be the sign of your visitation [parousia] and the close [synteleia] of the age?”
Jesus restates the word parousia (pronounced pah-roo-SEE-ah or pah-ROO-see-ah)or Second Coming in 24:37 and 39. His answer to this second question has gone from 24:36 all the way to 25:46, when the age will be closed out or wrapped up.
Here are the relevant verses from Matt. 24:36-39, so you can see the noun parousia:
36 But concerning that Day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, except the Father alone. 37 For just as the days of Noah were, in this way the visitation [parousia] of the Son of Man will be. 38 For as just as they were in the days before the flood, munching and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 they also did not know until the flood came and took everyone away, and in this way shall the visitation [parousia] of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:36-39, emphasis added).
I could have just as easily translated the Greek noun parousia as “Second Coming.” Jesus is in the process of saying there is no sign of the Second Coming; instead, it will happen on a day or hour that no one knows. So be prepared!
Please see this post for a fuller look at Matthew 25:
The words parousia or synteleia do not appear in Matt. 25. However, there’s no need for them to appear because the whole topic is about them and was introduced back in 24:3 and reintroduced in 24:37, and 39, in answer to the second question. We are continuing from 24:36. No change in topic from Matt. 24:36 and throughout Matt. 25. After all, how much clearer can it get, when all the nations stand before the Son of Man as he sits on his glorious thrones to judge them (25:31-46)? This majestic visual of parousia and synteleia is a description by showing, not by repeating those two words here in Matt. 25.
So what is the parousia? It means, basically, “to be there” or “to arrive.” The best imagery of it says that an emperor arrives in a capital or province and the dignitaries go out to meet him and escort him back into their city. They don’t board his ship and sail away for three and a half or seven years. Instead, he has arrived. He is present with them and reached his goal—their capital city.
Parousia = Second Coming:
With that introduction done, now let’s begin the translation and commentary.
Parable of the Ten Maidens (Matt. 25:1-13)
1 “At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their own torches and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five prudent. 3 For the foolish ones, taking their torches, did not take oil with them. 4 But the prudent ones took oil in their flasks along with their own torches. 5 When the bridegroom delayed, all of them got drowsy and fell asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night, a shout happened: ‘Look! the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all of those maidens got up and prepared their own torches. 8 But the foolish ones said to the prudent ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our torches are going out.’ 9 But the prudent ones replied, saying, ‘In case there is in no way enough (oil) for us and you, go instead to the sellers and buy it for yourselves.’ 10 After they departed to buy it, the bridegroom came, and the prepared ones went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was closed. 11 Later on, the remaining maidens also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up to us!’ 12 But in reply, he said, ‘I tell you the truth: I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore because you do not know the day nor the hour.”
“But the point is simply that readiness, whatever form it takes, is not something that can be achieved by last-minute adjustments” (France p. 947).
In the above pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea), we find this sequence:
Parousia → Judgment → Kingdom Age
Recall that the parousia means the Second Coming or the Return. The bridegroom returned or arrived, and the five wise girls went into the wedding feast with him, which represents the New Kingdom Age or Messianic banquet, while the five silly girls were judged and excluded. This pericope is not about a separate rapture; it’s about the parousia, as the previous pericopes after 24:36 and the next two parables confirm.
Quick digression: What is a parable?
Literally, the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable. Here you must see yourself in the parable.
One more definition of terms:
“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And, since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.
Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
Now let’s get back to the parable.
The maidens are the friends of the bride and groom (the Greek noun says “virgins”, see just below), so please don’t draw the excessive conclusion that this parable endorses polygamy of “biblical proportions.”
“At that time”: it is the conjunction tote (pronounced toh-teh), and it refers backwards to 24:36, where Jesus introduces the fact that no one knows the day or the hour of the parousia or Second Coming, which is repeated here in v. 13. Context, context, context. This whole parable is one long teaching about what the days leading up to the parousia or Second Coming will look like. That’s why the verb is in the future tense: “will be like.” The prudent girls illustrate how we are to prepare for the parousia.
Blomberg summarizes the scene:
The imagery of the parable accurately reflects typical customs of first-century Palestinian wedding festivities. A welcoming processional escorts the newly married couple from the bride’s home to a great banquet at the bridegroom’s home, some unspecified time after the legal nuptials have been exchanged. Torches light the way in the darkness, so all the bridesmaids have to take enough oil to keep them burning for as long as might be necessary. The two groups of women are described as exactly alike in everything except their preparations. Thus the fact that five fall in each category does not teach that there will be the same number saved as lost. (comment on 25:1-5)
“torches”: it was a bundle of cloths tied to a stick, and the cloths were dowsed or soaked with olive oil. The flame would not last more than fifteen minutes, so oil had to be taken with the girls in a container (translated here as flask, following Grammarian Olmstead). At night, the bridesmaids would light their torches, go out and meet the groom, and escort him into the wedding feast.
Jesus describes these ten maidens or girls straightforwardly: foolish and prudent. The Greek for maidens is parthenos (pronounced par-then-oss), and it means virgin. The bride is not mentioned, but virginity even in the bridesmaids was sacrosanct. In this culture, the girl lived with her family, the marriage was arranged, and she did not stray far, under the watchful eye of her father and mother. It is a sure thing that girls back then were indeed virgins. Even pagan Greek novels at the time went to great lengths to protect the heroine’s virginity, even when she had been kidnapped by pirates, for example. She remained pure up to the time she was reunited with the bridegroom at the end of the story.
“foolish”: the adjective is mōros (pronounced moh-ross, and our word moron is related to it). It appears in Matt. 5:22, where Jesus said not to call someone a fool, but he was speaking in the context of a thoughtless, mean-spirited remark. It appears in Matt. 7:26 about the foolish man who built his house on an unstable foundation. In Matt. 23:17, he called the Pharisees and teachers of the law “fools!” Yes, he really was being thoughtful and had analyzed and sized them up accurately. And finally it appears here in Matt. 25:2, 3, 8 (see also 1 Cor. 1:25, 27; 3:8; 4:10; 2 Tim. 2:23; Ti. 3:9). Matthew is the only Gospel writer who uses it. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the term simply: “foolish, stupid.”
“prudent”: it comes from the adjective phronimos (pronounced fraw-nee-moss), and it means: “sensible, thoughtful, prudent, wise.” It is God-given know-how. It may even include shrewdness (Luke 16:8). It also appears back in 24:45 in the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants, where the servant is smart or wise enough to run a household faithfully and with business savvy.
“For”: Jesus now explains why five were foolish and five were prudent. The prudent ones prepared with olive oil, while the others were unprepared.
Some teachers say that the oil symbolize the Holy Spirit. However, this symbolism is not the main point of the story, because oil can be bought, while the Spirit cannot! Instead, it is to be prepared and watch spiritually and morally, as we go about our business and daily routine (v. 13).
Both the prudent and foolish ones fell asleep. As just noted, this indicates that it is all right to go about your daily routine; just keep spiritually and morally alert, every minute.
“delayed”: it is the verb chronizō (pronounced khro-nee-zoh), and it means, depending on the context: (1) “take time, linger, fail to come (or stay away), for a long time … (2) delay, take a long time in doing something; (3) stay (somewhere for a long time)” (Shorter Lexicon). The best definition here is the second one. It appears in 25:5, the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants (24:45-51), so the two parables are connected by the same themes and wording. The main point is to be alert because you don’t know the day or the hour of the parousia or Second Coming.
These verses speak of scoffers who sneer at the delay:
3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. (2 Pet. 3:3-10, NIV).
The scoffers need to be careful! They will be shocked when the Lord returns in his parousia (Second Coming).And by the way, that long passage does not teach a separate rapture or a thousand year reign (millennium) between the day of the Lord (Second Coming) and the judgment (v. 10). In fact, Peter says that the thousand years is symbolic! Maybe we should interpret the millennium reign of Christ, mentioned only in Rev. 20, the most symbolic book of the Bible, symbolically. (See the Summary and Conclusion section, below.)
Once again: What Does ‘Parousia’ Mean?
Uh-oh. The bridegroom returned. A shout went out (literally “happened” or “took place”) in the middle of the night. The maidens got up and trimmed or prepared their torches, but the foolish ones realized their fire was going out. They had lit their torches, but they burned only fifteen minutes, so they had no oil to replenish their fuel for the flame. They asked the wise ones for a share of their oil, but they wisely said no. There is not enough for the both of them.
No, this parable is not about sharing, but about preparing adequately. Each individual must guard her heart to wait expectantly for the Lord. No one can give her share of the Holy Spirit to another person. In any case, once again, let’s not overinterpret a parable and apply it to a social, national setting.
The wise girls (= prepared girls) told the foolish ones (= unprepared girls) to go to the marketplace and buy the oil. It is not clear if a seller would be open in the middle of the night, so the foolish ones must have waited until early morning for the vendor to open. This proves once again how foolish they were.
While the foolish ones departed to buy the oil, the bridegroom came more visibly and with full manifestation and entered the place of the wedding feast—his own house. When the girls came back they asked to be allowed in. The door was close shut. Too late. Closing the door symbolizes the final division at the last judgment (Matt. 13:30, 48, 41; 22:8-13; and Luke 13:25). Yes, the bridegroom knew the girls, so his words “I don’t know you” are a judicial sentence, echoed in Matt. 7:22.
These words from the Sermon on the Mount are sobering:
21 Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? And in your name expel demons? And in your name do many miracles?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you! Depart from me, you practitioners of lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:21-23)
I don’t believe that the foolish ones practiced lawlessness, but they did not prepare properly for the parousia. Their lack of oil symbolizes a false relationship, illustrating their lapse in judgment.
They must have floated through life, without a care in the world. They must have not been waiting patiently for the groom, but instead their minds wandered off and were distracted. They didn’t even go to the marketplace while they were waiting to buy enough olive oil. How foolish! What were they doing when the five wise ones bought their oil earlier in the waiting process, as each girl engaged in her daily routine? Were the silly girls trying out new makeup? Trying on new dresses for the big arrival? They didn’t think about the oil to greet him at night, the usual time for the girls to form a procession to escort him into the wedding feast. The wedding feast speaks of the Messianic Age, after final judgment when all ungodliness will be finally and thoroughly purged from the moral universe, not some feast after a rapture when more moral purging needs to happen after a final battle. The wedding feast celebrates the final victory (Matt. 8:11-12; 22:1-13).
“I tell you the truth”: Matthew uses this expression thirty times in his Gospel. “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement, but Jesus’ “introductory uses of amēn to confirm his own words is unique” (France at his comment on 5:18). The authoritative formula emphasizes pronouncements which are noteworthy and will be surprising or uncomfortable to the listener.
Here’s the main point. Watch does not mean staying up 24/7/365, but to be prepared so that one can be ready to welcome the Lord at any time. After all, the ten girls fell asleep. No problem with it, because it illustrates living your daily routine as you wait for the parousia. Also, when the shout went forth, the prepared girls and the unprepared girls woke up at the same time. So what’s the big difference? Their preparations were different. Watching does not only mean posting a guard, but to be observant and expectant throughout your daily life. We simply don’t know the day or the hour of his parousia.
In context of all of Matt. 25, this parable does not allow for a separate rapture that happens before the Second Coming. No. This is about Jesus answering the disciples’ second question: no one knows the day or the hour of his return or parousia or Second Coming, which he restates in 24:37 and 39. The parousia will usher in the Messianic Age (the wedding feast) and being locked out in darkness (judgment and punishment).
See my post:
Keener sums up this parable well:
To participate in their friends’ wedding was a great honor; as virgins, these young women were in a sense practicing for their own impending wedding around the age of twelve or sixteen. But to have spoiled the wedding for her by failing to do their appropriate part was a great insult to their friend and to the groom and guests. That they would be shut out of the fest in punishment suits their case, but the language used to depict this nightmare points beyond itself to more severe, eternal judgment, probably echoing the sayings in 7:21-23. … Wedding feasts involved great joy; thus the transgressors will mourn because they have been shut out from it (p. 599)
The Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants (24:45-51), this parable, and the next one, teach us that the parousia (Second Coming) is imminent. Be ready, because it could happen at any time.
GrowApp for Matt. 25:1-13
A.. Oil often symbolizes the Holy Spirit. When you were born again, the Spirit caused your new birth. Tell your story about being born again.
B.. Are you morally and spiritually watchful of the Lord’s return? How do you do this?
Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)
14 “For it is like a man, who, before going on a journey, has called his own servants and entrusted to them his possessions. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to one servant two, and to one servant one, to each one according to his own ability. And he went on his journey. 16 Immediately the one who received five talents went and did business with them and earned five others. 17 Likewise, the one with two earned two others. 18 But the one receiving one went out and dug up the ground and buried his master’s money.
19 After a long time, the master of those servants settled accounts with them. 20 And the one receiving five talents approached and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted me with five talents. Look! I have earned five other talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Excellent, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over little; I will set you over many things. Go into the joy of your master. 22 The one having two talents also approached and said, ‘Master, you entrusted me with two talents. Look! I earned two other talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Excellent, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over little; I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 But the one who had received one talent approached and said, ‘Master, I know you: that you were a harsh man, harvesting where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter. 25 And because I was fearful, I went out and buried your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’ 26 But in reply, his master said to him, ‘Wicked and lazy servant! Did you know that I harvest where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Therefore, you should have placed my money with the bankers, and after returning I might recover what is mine with interest!
28 ‘Therefore, take from him the talent and give to the one who has ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has it will be given and he will abound, but from the one who does not have, even what he ‘has’ will be taken from him. 30 Further, throw the useless servant into outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
See the previous parable and the introductory comments for the definition of a parable.
The whole context begins with 24:36, about the parousia (Second Coming). Jesus is continuing his teaching about it. There will be no sign of his Second Coming, other than the moral climate as it was before the flood came during the time of Noah. Now he is about to teach us to be productive while we wait for the parousia, which will come at a day or hour when we don’t expect it. It is imminent.
Again: What Does ‘Parousia’ Mean?
In the above pericope, we find this sequence:
Parousia → Judgment → Kingdom Age
Recall that the parousia means the Second Coming or the Return. The master of the household leaves and then returns after a long delay. He settles the accounts (judgment). The two productive servants enter into the joy of the master, which is the New Kingdom or Messianic Age. The unproductive servant is taken away to punishment.
“It is like”: The grammatical subject is not clear, so I wrote “it.” However, the setting is similar to the one in 24:45-51, the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants, about servants in the household. So the context is the time just before the parousia, just as we saw in the Parable of the Ten Maidens. The implied subject is the kingdom of God, but near the close (synteleia) of the age. The language speaks of final judgment (vv. 21, 22, 30).
“going on a journey”: this is merely an element of the story, but it also speaks of the Lord’s ascension, as he is now in heaven. He is waiting for the Father’s signal to come back at his parousia or arrival or visitation, when he is about to settle accounts and launch the final judgment (vv. 31-46).
“entrusted”: it can be translated “handed over.” The idea is a motion from him to them. Here in this context, it is an important word because the master / lord gave them an assignment. What would they do with it? Succeed or fail? Can he trust them?
Now let’s deal with a little of the cultural background—master and servants.
“master”: it is the noun kurios (pronounced koo-ree-oss), and it typically means Lord, as in the Lord Jesus Christ or lord or master or even sir in some contexts. Here it means both: Jesus is the master who returns, and he is the Lord. When Jesus appears on the scene at his return, he changes the title manager to servant. All of us in leadership are manager-servants. We are not the boss. He alone is the boss.
“servant”: The word servants here is doulos (pronounced doo-loss) and could be translated as slave, but I chose servants (the Greek is plural douloi, pronounced doo-loi) because in Jewish culture a Hebrew man who sold himself into servitude to his fellow Jew was like an indentured servant whose term of service had a limit; he was freed in the seventh year. But then the indentured servant could stay with his family, if he liked his owner (Exod. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:38-46; Deut. 15:12-18). So there was a lot of liberty even in servitude, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
It is a sure thing, however, that Matthew’s Greek-speaking audience, knowledgeable about Greek culture, would have heard “slave” in the word doulos. So if you wish to interpret it like that, then that’s your decision. But culturally at that time slavery had nothing to do with colonial or modern slavery.
Jesus furthers the story along, and we learn there are three servants: the one with the most ability or capacity gets five talents. The one with medium capacity or ability gets two. Now what about the third servant? Did the Lord see that he should get at least one talent, in hopes that the servant would not be fearful and hide it? Did the master / lord put his faith in him, so that he would respond and be productive? If so, the servant disappointed him. It’s sad, because the master / lord sized up each servant and gave him the money according to his own ability or capacity.
Entrusting these talents means that we are to go about kingdom business. This element in the story is that we are not called to calculate the sign when he would return in his full glory, but to be productive.
Some are fearful of surrendering to the King and his kingdom because he might call them to be obscure missionaries and send them to faraway places. However, if they do not have the capacity to be one of them, then God won’t send them (or give them the wrong number of talents). He knows more clearly than they do how they are made and what their abilities and capacities are!
BDAG writes of the talent: the value …
… differed considerably in various times and places, but was always comparatively high; it varied also with the metal involved, which might be gold, silver, or copper. In our literature only in Mt. 18:24; 25:15-28. In 18:24, at six thousand drachmas or denarii to the Tyrian talent, a day laborer would need to work 60,000,000 days to pay off the debt. Even assuming an extraordinary payback rate of 10 talents per year, the staggering amount would ensure imprisonment for at least 1,000 years. The amounts distributed in 25:15-28 are not small change, either (p. 988, slightly edited).
Here in v. 15, the distribution of the amounts indicates that servants / slaves had a lot of power in wealthy households.
In any case, the Parable of the Talents is not about a kingdom citizen’s personal talents, like singing or playing football or practicing medicine or teaching in the public schools; instead, the parable is about doing kingdom business. However, if it so happens that you can do kingdom business by doing those activities for the Lord, because that is your calling—and only because it is God’s call on your life—then you can expand the meaning to include your personal talent and calling. Just remember that in the historical context a talent was a huge amount of silver.
He immediately set off to earn money for his lord / master. This is an enthusiastic disciple. This must be what the master had seen in him before his journey. An enthusiastic employee–to put it in modern commercial terms—is a benefit to the kingdom. An enthusiastic disciple catches the Lord’s attention. This disciple was willing to take big risks, as I have heard it said from a pastor of long ago that faith is spelled R-I-S-K. You have to be willing to take risks to work in the kingdom, but please realize that this servant-disciple had the capacity or ability to succeed. Don’t be a church planter, for example, if you are a teacher.
And now the individual capacity or ability of each servant is revealed. In the first two servants, they doubled the master’s / lord’s money. The point is not a modern investment strategy, but being effective and productive in kingdom business, all the way to the parousia.
By the way, the word money comes from the Greek noun silver.
“after a long time” this indicates that the parousia or Second Coming will not have clear signs or time markers; this stands in contrast to the end of the temple in 24:4-35, which has all sorts of time markers and was completed in this (Jesus’s) generation. The parousia will take a long time to come, and it did not happen in Jesus’s generation; it is open-ended.
The master / lord (really the Son of Man, King Jesus) went away and entrusted the three servants with his own talents, and now he expects to settle the account books. This speaks of final judgment, right after his parousia or return or visitation or Second Coming that will last forever. They are about to be welcome into the Messianic age and enjoy his presence forever. Remember, the entire context 24:36 to 25:46 is about the parousia (Second Coming). This long passage should not be complicated by imposing on it or inserted into it foreign ideas about a separate rapture. Just take this parable as written and in its textual context, and then it will be clear and can be interpreted simply. Streamlined.
The first two servants render their account, and they place down on the table (so to speak) a total of ten talents. The word excellent can be translated also as well done. Faithful can also be translated as trustworthy. The master / lord welcomes this servant into his joy, another indication that we are observing the final judgment of all of us, right after the parousia or the master / lord’s return. He also receives the commission to be placed over or set over or appointed over many things. This appointment is a hint that we will have other things to do when we are in the Messianic Age. The second servant places four talents on the table, and he too receives the “well done” or “excellent” commendation. He too is welcomed into the joy of his master lord and is given responsibilities over many things. We will have much to do in the Messianic Age, but we don’t know the details.
“You don’t ‘retire’ from being a disciple. If so large a sum as five talents is a ‘few things,’ the ‘many things which follow will be a huge responsibility indeed” (France pp. 954-55). We won’t sit on clouds playing harps, feeling nothing but lazy pleasure. We will have more responsibilities in the Messianic Age, after the parousia or Second Coming.
For the record, all the commentaries I use, below, agree that burying treasure was not the wrong way to go, because the economy could be untrustworthy, and putting valuables in the bank could be risky. However, this servant had the wrong attitude, and he should have followed the enthusiasm of the first servant. Instead, he comes across as arrogantly misjudging his master and his whole mission and so the servant became fearful and lazy. As noted in many churches nowadays, “faith” is spelled R-I-S-K.
Yes, this servant is presumptuous. He claimed that he knew his lord / master. He sized up his lord and concluded that he was a harsh and hard man and didn’t want to do anything to benefit him. He harvested (grain) where he did not sow (seed) and gathered (grain) where he did not scatter (seed). In other words, the Lord was orchestrating the worldwide harvest, and his management and delegating and commissioning workers for the harvest (Matt. 9:37-38) made him seem like he was out of touch. So the servant was frightened. This is the wrong kind of fear. It was irrational. No one needs to be scared of the Lord. We should trust him that he is good. After all, he rewarded the first two servants according to their good works and productivity. So the servant placed down on the table the one talent of silver. Did it still have a residue of dirt on it? Did he reach over and brush off some of the dirt? Or did he take it out of a dirty bag?
The lord / master called him out accurately. The servant really was wicked and lazy. The master asked him a question: Did you know I harvested where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter? In other words, you don’t have the right perspective. I’m the landowner who can hire people to do the daily work. I was in charge of the whole operation. I have the ultimate responsibility. I am demanding, but the work is serious and eternal. You should have at least placed the one talent with the bankers, so I can receive the money back with interest. Maybe the money-lenders who would have taken your money might have lost it—or not. But risk is at the heart of discipleship. And burying your one talent is not a risk.
“‘Wicked and lazy servant! Did you know that I harvest where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter?”: This could be an assertion, rather than a question: “Wicked and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter!”
I like Keener’s expanded paraphrase of the master’s words: “On the assumption that I am hard and merciless, you should have been all the more diligent!” (p. 601, emphasis original).
Now it is time for his punishment. It was deserved. The one talent was to be taken from him and given to the one with ten. He gets a bonus for being extra-productive. True, he doubled his money, and so did the servant with two talents, but the one who had received five had a larger capacity and ability, so he got the biggest reward. And he would get an abundance of reward in the Messianic Age. The one who has the most shall get more because he was faithful over many things. He will get a bigger commission in the Messianic Age. It is a startling feature of the story that the one who earned five talents still has his ten, plus one more talent—eleven in total. The money had been returned to him for future trading. Success breeds more success, and failure is compounded. However, the one who has nothing shall be deprived of what he “has” or thinks he has.
There is thus a fundamental division between good and bad disciples, between the saved and the lost, and the language of ultimate judgment is deployed again to warn the reader to take the parable’s message seriously. What ultimately condemned this disciple, and made him unready to meet his Lord at the parousia was the fact that he had proved to be ‘useless’ for the kingdom of heaven. Like the man ejected from the wedding feast in 22:13, his performance had not matched his profession, and it is only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven (12:50) who ultimately belong to his kingdom (France pp. 956-57).
“outer darkness”: So where is it? Some see it as a spiritual dimension, but away from God so far that his light does not reach it, so that place is dark. Others see it as far outside the joy of the master in the New Age. Note that v. 46, below, talks about fire. Therefore, others ask: how can the lake of fire, which produces light, coexist with farthest or outer darkness? They cannot. Some interpreters conclude that punishment in the afterlife takes on different dimensions: fire in one place, and darkness in another. Still another interpretation is possible.
Charismatic theologian and Presbyterian minister J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams did not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism) (see the three links, below in a three-part series.
However, if you want to take the images of darkness and fire literally, you may certainly do so. It’s up to you.
“weeping and gnashing”: In their comments at 8:12, Keener says that weeping means mourning over damnation, and gnashing of teeth may indicate anger or a strong emotion similar to it. Carson says weeping may indicate suffering, and gnashing indicates despair, and Osborne agrees. In any case, existence in punishment is unhappy and produces despair and even anger. Perhaps the gnashing can also mean cursing in anger. (See these verses for gnashing: Acts 7:54; Job 16:9; Pss. 34:16; 36:12; 112:10; Lam. 2:16). Since weeping indicates remorse, it is not quite accurate to claim that hell is locked from the inside as if people want to be there, though maybe only the enraged do want to be there.
Please read a three-part series, each of which has plenty of Scriptural support:
Each theory teaches punishment in the afterlife, but the debate is over the duration of punishment. It may be surprising to many traditional Christians, but the latter two theories have plenty of Scriptural support. But whichever theory you decide on, please don’t call the other theories heretical or unorthodox, particularly if you believe in eternal, conscious torment. The theory of eternal, conscious torment did not gain momentum until Augustine’s time in the fifth century. Until then, church leaders easily believed in the other theories of annihilation or restoration.
Yet in all these theories of punishment in the afterlife, you decide. I suggest that God has not made the details as clear as some in the eternal conscious torment camp have led us to believe because he wants us to focus on kingdom living right now and reach as many people as possible. I therefore consider the details of punishment in the afterlife to be a secondary doctrine. Whichever theory you land on, please follow this wise advice:
“In the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials liberty; in all things charity (or love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories. You can still have fellowship with them.
“that place”: The Greek says ekei, which means “there” or “that place.” Unfortunately most translation don’t pick up on the ambiguity of their translations: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here it is more awkwardly but accurate: “The weeping and the gnashing will be there.” The standard translation (“there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth)” makes “there” into the wrong kind of adverb, or at least it is not clear in English. The clearer translation is as I have it.
One more point about theology in this parable. Different rewards at final judgment after the parousia (Second Coming) will be distributed to us, according to our ability or capacity. The one who got a reward for two talents was still welcome into the kingdom to share in his master’s joy. He doubled the money, 100%. He will be given charge over many things. In comparison, the one who was entrusted with five talents in the first place also earned double—100%—got to keep his ten talents, plus one more, to earn more money. He will receive an even greater responsibility in the New Age.
I heard this analogy of how this judgment will work out. You can take it or leave it.
I have no musical ability. My ability or capacity is shriveled. I may be able to expand my ability with more training and more risk-taking in music, but if I don’t take the risk or get trained, then my capacity remains shriveled. In contrast, a man like Mozart or Beethoven had a massive capacity or ability in music. So he can enjoy music much more than I can. He spent his entire life expanding his talent. I may receive a fraction of a talent from the Lord at the start of my life, while those two receive many talents. But if I am faithful with my small talent and turn it over to the bankers with interest, then I can at least get a little reward. If those two great musicians use their talent to get more, then their reward in the Messianic New Age will be greater, because they had a huge capacity to begin with and enlarged it. In the New Age Jesus will usher in, I won’t be jealous because I can’t feel what Mozart or Beethoven are feeling. I’ll be happy with my small reward because my soul shall receive it and be none the wiser about what is going on in their lives.
On the other side, if I am a useless disciple in his kingdom when I meet the Lord, I may be thrown out and cast into outer darkness. I am not a true disciple but a false one. This speaks of a massive deception in my life. It is best to remain humble and productive for the king. No one wants to hear a negative judgment delivered by God himself.
You can take the illustration as you will.
GrowApp for Matt. 25:14-30
A.. This parable is about being productive for the kingdom, as we wait for the Second Coming. What do you do for the kingdom?
B.. How do you discern what his mission is for you, so you can hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” on his return?
The Final Judgment of the Nations (Matt. 25:31-46)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all his angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 And all the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate them from the others, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right and the goats on the left.
34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; and I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will reply to him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungering and feed you or thirsting and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ 40 And in reply the king will say to them, ‘I tell you the truth: to the degree that you did it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.’
41 “Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Go away from me, cursed of my Father, into the everlasting flames which was prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you did not give me food to eat; I was thirsty and you did not give me something to drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and did not clothe me, sick and in prison and did not visit me.’ 44 Then they will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungering or thirsting or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not attend to you?’ 45 Then he will reply to them, saying, ‘I tell you the truth: to the degree that you did not do it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, neither did you do it for me.’ 46 And they will go to everlasting punishment, and the righteous to everlasting life.”
From 24:36 to right here, we once again find this sequence:
Parousia → Judgment → Kingdom Age
Recall that the parousia means the Second Coming or the Return. Judgment is held, and the callous go to their punishment, and the righteous go to their reward in the New Kingdom or Messianic Age.
Jesus’s teaching about the very end is consistent throughout the Gospel of Matthew and the other three Gospels (and the Epistles) (see the Summary and Conclusion section, below, for links to other verses in Matthew).
Right off the top, v. 34 should be translated as “from the foundation” not “before the foundation.” The Greek preposition apo simply does not mean “before,” but the preposition pro means “before.” Apo appears here, not pro.
Now let’s move forward.
Let’s take this long passage as a whole, rather than go verse by verse. Five issues to explore, which those verses raise:
First, the Greek conjunction tote (pronounced toh-teh) is used six times but does not serve as signs of the time, as they did in 24:4-35; they simply move the teaching along, internally to the teaching.
Second, commentator R. T. France seems to connect this entire pericope or section with the Son of Man “coming” in glory at his enthronement, referring to Daniel 7:13-14 (see Matt. 24:30 for the verses in Daniel), yet France titles the pericope as the “final judgment.” (Incidentally, Garland seems to agree with France, p. 247).
However, I disagree with them because the Son of Man’s enthronement and final judgment are far apart. We have not even reached the realized synteleia (closing) in Matt. 28:20, where the Greek noun significantly appears in the final verse of Matthew’s Gospel. And we learned that the destruction of the Jerusalem did not close out the global age when the church was still going strong, but we still have an open-ended parousia (Second Coming), and no one knows the day or the hour. This open-endedness is particularly true if Matthew lived to see the destruction of the temple. It must have crystallized for him that the end (telos) of the temple was different from the closing (synteleia) of the age, which will happen at an unknown time. And three parables talking about the end and final judgment when the master or bridegroom returns, speak of the synteleia, but there would be a delay of the parousia or Second Coming, which ushers in the synteleia. We have not closed out this age yet.
Therefore, I believe that vv. 31-46 are about the final judgment and synteleia of the entire age, when Jesus will visibly judge the nations as he sits on his throne. In this long passage we now see proleptically (by a prophetic foresight) with our own eyes the day and hour of his parousia.
Third, do the brothers and sisters represent everyone who suffers, or just Christian disciples, particularly missionaries? Keener and Garland build a strong case for the latter group—disciples and missionaries. In Matthew’s Gospel, “all the nations” (v. 32) is never used for members of the church, but to the nations which Christians are called to evangelize (Garland, p. 247). So Israel will stand before the Son of Man, just as all other nations do. “Brothers” refers to Jesus’s disciples (12:49-50; 23:8; 28:10). As one example, here’s what 28:10 says, spoken by the resurrected Jesus: “Go, announce to my brothers and sisters that they should depart for Galilee, where they shall also see me.” “Little ones” are those who believe in Jesus (10:42; 18:6, 12, 14). And “least” is used here for emphasis (see 5:19) (Garland p. 247). They refer to Jesus’s followers. The disciples should be received with food, drink and hospitality (10:18-19). The hardship of the mission can cause sickness (Phil. 2:27-30; perhaps Gal. 4:13-14; 2 Tim. 4:20). Being poorly clothed makes the list of suffering (Rom. 8:35). See Paul’s catalogue of mistreatment and deprivation in 1 Cor. 4:11. When Saul / Paul was persecuting the church, Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4, emphasis added). He identified with his brothers and sisters by virtue of their belonging to him, not by virtue of their being Jewish. He also identifies with the least of these brothers and sisters of his in vv. 31-46.
40 Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive the reward of a prophet. And he who welcomes a righteous person because he is a righteous person shall receive the reward of a righteous person. 42 And whoever gives just a cold drink to one of these little ones because they are disciples—I tell you the truth: he shall in no way lose his reward. (Matt. 10:40-42)
For Matthew, it is all about the mission and the church and the gospel. He sees that Jerusalem and the temple are about to be taken down, while the gospel mission will go on.
Blomberg on the identity of the brothers (and sisters):
Who are these brothers? The majority view throughout church history has taken them to be some or all of Christ’s disciples since the word “least” (elachistōn) is the superlative form of the adjective “little [ones]” (mikroi), which without exception in Matthew refers to the disciples (10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; cf. also 5:19; 11:11), while “brothers” in this Gospel (and usually in the New Testament more generally) when not referring to literal, biological siblings, always means spiritual kin (5:22–24, 47; 7:3–5; 12:48–50; 18:15 (2×), 21, 35; 23:8; 28:10). There may be a theological sense in which all humans are brothers and God’s children, though not all are redeemed, but nothing of that appears here or, with this terminology, elsewhere in Matthew. (comment on 25:40)
Then he goes on to say how certain quarters of the American church have interpreted the “brothers and sisters” as the nation of Israel.
However, the brothers and sisters do not refer to Israel (though Jewish texts naturally write from the perspective of how the nations treated Israel; Keener, p. 603, but see long quotation from him, below), because the disciples were called to evangelize all nations; and even Israel, both then and now, must accept or reject their Messiah and be judged on how they treat Christian missionaries. And many did accept him (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 21:20).
Today, Israel does not seem particularly to be “hungering or thirsting or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison.” The opposite is true. The nation is prosperous. The old dispensational view, still popularly circulating on Christian TV, which says that these brothers and sisters refer to Israel, must be dropped. When Israel also stands before the Son of Man, treatment of this nation will not be the criterion by which he judges Malaysia or Tibet or a tiny south sea island nation, for example. But if Christian missionaries go to any nation and are mistreated, then these nations’ judgment will be negative (or the other way around, if they are treated positively).
Objection, someone says: “This is replacement theology! The church does not replace Israel!” No, the church does not replace Israel (though I am currently thinking about it and I have not reached a conclusion yet). God still has a plan for this nation. Israelis can now hear the gospel in modern Hebrew and convert to the Messiah. All Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:25-32), if they do not continue in their unbelief and hardness of heart (Rom. 11:23). Conditions do apply. God will not force Israelis to convert, anymore than he will force Gentiles to convert. Both Jews and Gentiles have to capacity to exercise their free will.
I wish the Jewish nation of Israel well. But for the past 2000 years God’s heart has always been on his church; his church is the focal point of his mission, for the church is the only living organism that can carry the gospel around the world, and the gospel is the answer to humanity’s deepest needs. So the church does not replace Israel as much as the church moves past this tiny nation. (However, I am currently studying this issue, and the church may indeed replace Israel and become the New Israel. I have not yet made up my mind.)
Keener is right:
The older dispensational scheme viewed this as the judgment of the nations based on their treatment of Israel, a view that could fit Jewish perceptions of the judgment … But this hardly fits Jesus’ own designation of his ‘brothers’ elsewhere (12:50; 28:10 …), and perhaps not the shift from the neuter “nations” to the masculine pronoun, suggesting individual judgment of nations …. But because the passage explicitly declares that this judgment determines people’s eternal destinies (25:46), it cannot refer to a judgment concerning who would enter the millennium, as in some older dispensational schemes … (p. 604).
Fourth, it may occur to some readers that Matthew seems to affirm a positive or negative judgment based on good or bad works, which may seemingly contradict Paul. However, this misunderstands both Matthew and Paul. I have nicknamed Matthew the Trimmer (akin to John’s nickname, the Baptist). In this long passage, he is simply trimming away many criteria of what constitutes good or bad works and focuses on helping or mistreating the disciples. He and Paul have different emphases in their writings, as they use differently vocabulary, but they agree surprisingly closely, if we know where to look. Matthew said we must enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20; 7:13). Paul spoke often about the kingdom, which is only summarized by Luke in his history (Acts 14:22; 19:8). Through John the Baptist Matthew says that Jesus baptizes with the Spirit and fire (3:11). Paul was baptized and filled with the Spirit (Acts 9:17). Jesus taught that true disciples must pick up their cross and follow Jesus (Matt. 10:38; 16:24). Paul said he crucified his flesh (Gal. 2:19-20; Gal. 5:24). Paul, by revelation from the risen Lord, received his gospel that highlights salvation by grace alone through faith alone, which emphasizes this first step. Matthew, on the other hand, assumes that disciples were Jesus followers by definition and lived deeply righteous lives; they were in the kingdom already and presumably baptized with fire and the Spirit. Paul also taught righteousness as a sign or fruit that one is in Christ (Phil. 1:11).
In short, conversion and life in Christ are theologically the same, though they come at the topic from different angles.
Now we shift to the final day and judgment. In agreement with Matthew, Paul also says that additional factors will be used to judge everyone, Christian or non-Christian alike, and not just conversion or no conversion. Here’s a sample of what Paul writes:
Rom. 2:6-7 says, “God will repay to everyone according to what they have done. To those [outside of Christ] who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5:10)
The additional criteria are good or bad works. If Paul had read Matthew’s Gospel, he would have simply said that Matthew focuses judgment on good or bad treatment of disciples, and Paul would agree, but his theology of judgment is much broader than those particular criteria. So the seeming contradictions between the two apostles disappear.
Fifth, the verses about punishment need to be discussed.
“everlasting”: It is used in the context of fire. The adjective “everlasting” is the translation of the Greek adjective aiōnios (pronounced eye-oh-nee-oss and used 71 times). It could just as easily be translated as “punishment of the new age” or “new-age punishment” and “life of the new age” or “new-age life.” God is eternal, but souls outside of God may not be.
Further, some are disputing the everlastingness of fire. It could be punishment that lasts an age. Sincere and devout and Bible-believing Evangelicals today are shifting their focus away from the eternal, conscious torment, because the eternality of conscious torment does not carry as much weight in Scripture as they had once believed.
For more on punishment in the afterlife, please see vv. 28-30
The topic of judgment may be difficult for lovey-dovey Christians who don’t understand who God is in his fulness. He is love, yes, but he is also a Judge. Don’t believe it? Here is a partial rundown of God in judgment over nations and peoples:
Very violent people at the flood of Noah
Sodom and Gomorrah
Nations (the infamous “-ites” like Canaanites) who polluted the Holy Land with diabolical practices
Israel who constantly violated God’s laws, so they were conquered by the Assyrians
Judah who had consistently violated God’s laws, so they were conquered by the Babylonians
In all of these examples, preachers of righteousness and prophets warned the people to live righteously and follow God. They represented God’s love and mercy because through them he was calling them to repentance and back to righteousness by adhering to the law.
Don’t let the hyper-grace teachers and Progressive Christians tell you that God is not a Judge. He is, and we will all face him and his judgment.
Finally, good news!
For the believers in Jesus, however, they immediately go into heaven after they die to await their rewards (or no rewards) at the judgment for Christians. At this judgment, no believer in Jesus will be thrown into hades or Gehenna or outer darkness (whichever image it is), but will remain in heaven and be rewarded (or not) according to the deeds they did in their bodies or on earth.
GrowApp for Matt. 25:31-46
A.. This long passage is simply about the Final Judgment. How can you ensure that you are with the sheep and receive a favorable judgment?
Summary and Conclusion
It is clear that Jesus wants us to be ready morally and spiritually for his return. He intends that we practice whatever gifts and calling he has for us–to do good works of ministry, to help the last, the lost, and the least. We don’t know that day or the hour of his Return, so let’s be ready for it while we are doing his assignment or mission.
Those parables spoke of delays. Therefore, Jesus did not believe that he would return in this (his) generation (24:34). That prediction was for the destruction of Jerusalem. Instead, his parousia is delayed and will arrive after a “long time”; it is open-ended. Not even he knew, while he was on earth, the day or the hour of his own Return (!). But he knew (approximately) when the city would be sacked–his generation.
And the ultimate solution or best teaching of 24:36-25:46 is that when we carry out our assignment or mission, he will invite us into his New Kingdom or Messianic Age. Everything will be put right.
From birth and all throughout Jesus’s life, he was destined to grow, minister, and enter Jerusalem as the humble Messiah, but he was also authoritative. In fact, his mission is to take down the old temple the Old Regime.
Let’s summarize his life from Matt. 21 to Matt. 25, just before his arrest and crucifixion and resurrection.
When he entered the city, he rode on a donkey, echoing the prophecy in Zechariah, which says the king is coming to the daughter of Zion riding on a donkey. This was an action parable or an action sign, which the establishment did not pick up on, entirely. Other action parables or signs: He cleansed the temple because it was his Father’s house and it was polluted with dubious commerce. He healed the blind and the lame. He cursed an unproductive fig tree, which probably symbolized Israel as a whole. Then he shifts over to hard-hitting parables about tax collectors and prostitutes entering the kingdom before certain religious people. Two sons: one obeyed, the other did not. The tenant farmers mistreated the heir, so they could take over.
In Matt. 22, he begins with the Parable of the Wedding feast, where the original invitees did not come, while those on the outskirts of the city and life were invited and they accepted and gladly came. One man was not clothed properly, and he was ejected. This means he was a false kingdom disciple. The religious leaders fought back, however, and asked him all sorts of challenging questions, which he answered with such wisdom that they were silenced. In an honor and shame society, he would not allow himself be shamed. He won the debates. (Never be afraid to stand your ground when you are challenged.)
In Matt. 23, he issued seven denunciations of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, but he was really addressing the entire religious establishment that oversaw the temple and imposed heavy sentences of religious law and traditions on the people.
Matt. 24 and 25 follow the two question: when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of the closing of the age. Jesus answers the first question in 24:4-35 and the second one in 24:36-25:46. His first answer says that the whole temple and old Judaism with it was going to be destroyed. Then in the last third of Matt. 24 and into this one, he says that the whole world or age was going to end, much like the temple was about to end.
Here’s a short diagram to illustrate the first question and answer in Matt. 24:4-35:
First Coming → Resurrection → Coming to His Throne → Judgment on Jerusalem or Temple →Telos (End) of the Old Temple
The “telos end” happened in A.D. 70, the generation that was living when Jesus taught that his generation would not pass away before it happened. His prediction came true.
Now let’s move on to the bigger picture.
Here’s a diagram of the second question and answer.
________________← This Age ——–→| Synteleia (Closing) of
First Coming ———————————→ Parousia → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / That Age
In the above diagram, This Age began with the Fall in Gen. 2-3. The first coming begins the movement towards the parousia or Second Coming. At the parousia (Second Coming) the synteleia (closing) of This Age occurs, and subsequently the New Messianic Age or Kingdom Age or That Age (all three describe the same thing) begins in full manifestation. And you can certainly insert the judgment on the temple in AD 70, in This Age. But that is not the synteleia end; it is the telos end of an Old Regime (see the companion piece). In Matt. 28:20b, Jesus promises the synteleia, the closing out of the age, which is a fitting capstone on Matthew’s Gospel. “And remember this: I am with you every day, until the end [synteleia] of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).
The Messianic Age or Kingdom Age or That Age begins and will last forever. In short: Messianic Age = Kingdom Age = That Age. Just because different terms are used does not mean they are different things. All three terms refer to the same (wonderful) reality.
Next, Jesus came the first time at his birth and began his ministry at around thirty years old. He inaugurated the kingdom. And so we see that This Age lasts until the Second Coming or Parousia which stops it and ushers in the Messianic Age.
Here it is in a flow chart:
________________← This Age ——–→| Synteleia (Closing) of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom → Parousia → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / That Age
Before the kingdom is fully realized at his Second Coming, the kingdom is announced and ushered in by Jesus at the launch of his ministry. So there is overlap between This Age and the Kingdom Age.
As I noted at Matt. 13:36-43: In the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, particularly Matt. 13:39-43; and in the Parable of the Net, particularly Matt. 13:49-50; and in Matt. 16:27; and here in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus clearly teaches that the end of This Age and the new Messianic Age (or Kingdom Age or the Age to Come) are ushered in right after the Second Coming; and the judgment of the righteous and the wicked happen at the same time.
We can depict things in this flow chart:
___________← This Age ⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom → Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / That Age
For simplicity, I have taken out the Greek noun synteleia (close-out of This Age) and put in “End.” And I have inserted the Second Coming instead of the Greek noun Parousia, because the Second Coming is the same thing. The Second Coming (Parousia) stops This Age. Then there is one big judgment, in which the righteous and wicked are judged together. One can even say that the final judgment happens during the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come. Finally, the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated at his first coming will have been fully realized and accomplished at his Second Coming (Parousia), after judgment. And so after God sweeps aside the wicked and Satan and demons, the New Messianic or Kingdom Age can begin in true and pure rulership.
Bottom line: All of the New Testament (outside of a few contested verses in the Revelation) fully and clearly and consistently teach this flow chart:
___________← This Age ———⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom —→ Second Coming → Judgment → Fully Realized Kingdom Age
To see how consistent Jesus’s teaching is in the above, bottom-line flow chart, please see these posts:
Matthew 13 (scroll down to vv. 42-43)
Matthew 16 (scroll down to vv. 27-28)
Matthew 19 (scroll down to vv. 28-29)
Matthew 22 (scroll down to vv. 29-33)
Matthew 24 (scroll down to Summary and Conclusion)
Matthew 28 (scroll down to v. 20)
What about the Church? The Father and the resurrected and ascended Son and the outpoured Spirit, by means of the inaugurated kingdom, created the church at Pentecost (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:1-4). It exists in This Age and preaches the gospel of the kingdom. It will be snatched up or raptured at the Second Coming, meet Jesus in the air, descend with him, go through judgment, and then finally will last forever in the Fully Realized Kingdom Age.
Let’s look more deeply at the overlapping This Age and the Kingdom Age. Until and before the Second Coming, we now live in the conflict and battle between This Age and the Inaugurated Kingdom, proclaimed by Jesus during his ministry. (They are not the same things but are at war with each other!) We are in the process of binding Satan and his demonic hordes, by expelling demons from people’s lives but mainly by preaching the gospel, so people surrender to the Son’s Lordship, and then Satan is pushed back and people experience victory in their lives. The gospel and life in the Spirit, coming after Jesus’s ascension in This Age, but are part of the inaugurated Kingdom, are so powerful that saved and redeemed kingdom citizens can experience victory over the power of sin in their lives in This Age. The presence of sin in their lives is not removed until they get their new resurrected and transformed bodies and minds in The Age to Come. The Second Coming stops This Age, which is replaced and displaced with the fully realized Messianic or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come.
Let’s wander just a little way from Matthew’s Gospel and discuss other eschatological teachings circulating around the Church today, the American Church in particular.
In Jesus’s teaching throughout the Gospel of Matthew, there is no word on a literal thousand-year reign with two comings and “several first” resurrections. And there is no separate rapture that makes the church disappear, before the Second Coming. If Jesus believed in a separate rapture, he would have taught it here; he missed his chance. However, he did not miss his chance and he did not teach it. Therefore, he did not believe in a separate rapture. All of it is too convoluted. Instead, the Gospel and the other three Gospels (and Epistles) present a streamlined picture of salvation history and God’s dealing with his human creation and the return of Christ.
An amillennialist believes that the millennium begins with the Inaugurated Kingdom, but apparently it is quiet and behind the scenes (note, for example, the Parable of the Mustard Seed and its slow growth in Matt. 13:31-32); it is not a literal thousand years. Satan is not literally bound with chains (as if a spirit being could be), even though Jesus did teach that he bound the strongman (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22). So what this binding means is that Satan cannot now fully stop the advance of the kingdom (as Satan did to the ancient Israelites, except a remnant). Before Jesus came, every nation was bound by satanic deception. However, after Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, the gospel has a way of infiltrating societies, even under Islamic and communist regimes, if only underground. Satan can no longer deceive the nations as he did before Jesus came. Instead, kingdom citizens, surrendered to the Kingship of the King and following him, are plundering Satan’s domain of This Age and rescuing people out of it and transferring them to the inaugurated kingdom of God. The final victory over Satan will be fully manifested at his Second Coming.
In contrast, based on his interpretation of a few verses in Rev. 20, one chapter in the most symbolic book of the Bible, a premillennialist (or more simply a millennialist) believes that a literal thousand years of Christ (not shown in flow charts) is ushered in at the Second Coming, where there will be peace and harmony. And Satan is literally bound in chains until the end of the thousand years. During the literal millennium, people will still die, so the last enemy (death) is not defeated after all at the Second Coming (even though Paul said death would be defeated, in 1 Cor. 15:23-26, 51-56). However, the theory of a literal thousand years says that death and Satan are defeated at the end of the millennium, when another resurrection and another judgment will take place.
Never mind, however, that in John 5:28-29 and Matt. 13:41-43 and 25:31-46, Jesus teaches that the wicked and righteous are judged together at the end of This Age, as indicated in the above flow charts. Interpreting literally a deliberately and intentionally symbolic book (Revelation) runs aground quickly. Things soon become convoluted and complicated, in comparison with the nonsymbolic, streamlined Gospel and Epistles.
So then where does the rapture fit in? When all peoples are called out of their tombs and those who are alive also respond to Christ descending from heaven at the Second Coming, they will be “caught up” (the rapture) and meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Then they will descend with Jesus to a new heaven and new earth, which will have been recreated, renewed, renovated or reconstituted. They will be judged, and the wicked will be sent away to punishment, and the righteous will be welcomed into the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come (as distinct from This Age). In other words, the rapture and the Second Coming happen at the same time and are the same event.
Please see my post:
There is no reason, biblically, to overthink and complicate these verses and insert a separate rapture that happens before the Second Coming. Just because a teaching is popular does not make it right.
Personally, in my study of the Gospels and Epistles, I have now accepted amillennialism because it is streamlined, and I don’t believe the NT teaches convoluted theories. The entire NT fits together if we adopt amillennialism, from Matt. 1 to Rev. 22. I cannot allow, in my own Bible interpretation, a few contested verses in Rev. 20 to confuse the clear teaching of Jesus in the Gospels and the apostolic teaching in the Epistles. That is, I don’t believe we should allow Rev. 20 (the only few verses where one thousand years are mentioned) or the entire book of the Revelation, the most symbolic book of the Bible (after Chapter 3), to guide our interpretation of these clear teachings in the Gospels and the Epistles. Instead, we should allow the clear, straightforward, nonsymbolic teachings in the Gospels and Epistles to guide our interpretations of the most symbolic book in the Bible, in which even the numbers may be symbolic and probably are. To see everything fit together, all we have to do is turn the kaleidoscope one notch or click and adopt amillennialism. I am willing to do that. And I have now done that.
Clarity guides the unclear portions. My main point: keep the plain thing the main thing in hermeneutics (science of interpretation), and let the clear verses guide the unclear ones.
This interpretation enjoys the beauty of simplicity by eliminating all the complications that popular end-time Bible prophecy teachers have been imposing on the Gospels and Epistles for decades—over a century. Since this tradition has deep roots—not to say entrenched—in the conservative sectors of American Evangelicalism (broadly defined to incorporate the Renewal Movements), these teachers won’t give up their interpretation easily. So I hope to reach and teach the younger generations and all other openminded people of all generations. They need to prepare for tough times ahead. I’m not a pastor, but I can still have a teacher’s pastoral heart.
But in these eschatological (end-time) discussions:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
We should not break fellowship with those with whom we differ in eschatological matters.
Let’s move on.
The moment Jesus entered Jerusalem (Matt. 21), his Father intensified his project to take down the old temple, to sweep aside old Judaism as it had been practiced since Moses, with many embellishments, represented by the religious leaders whom Jesus denounced. They had their chance to repent and change their ways (Matt. 3:2, 17), but instead they came around testing and tempting Jesus (10:24-25; 12:2; 9-14, 24, 38; 15:1-9; 16:1-4; 17:24; 22:15-22; 23-33; 34-40). Then he even turned the tables and challenged them about the true identity of the son of David (22:41-46). They were stubborn and uninsightful. They did not truly know God personally, but confused law keeping with deeper righteousness. Reading people’s hearts, hard or soft (think of the Pharaoh), God foresaw how hard-hearted Jerusalem and the temple establishment would react to his Son, and he simply allowed the events to unfold naturally, so they could be held accountable, yet the vindication of his Son could be accomplished.
Examine these simple equations. If they help, great. If not, move past them. The arrow means “leads to”:
The Establishment’s Hard Heart + His Son’s Challenge to Them → Crucifixion
However, God loves and anointed his Son and Messiah (Matt. 3:16-17; 17:5) and is about to vindicate him, so this equation takes effect:
Crucifixion + God’s Love for His Son → Vindication = His Resurrection and Ascension and Enthronement
God’s vindication of his Son is the resurrection and ascension and enthronement.
Now God has a new plan for the world (Jer. 31:31-34). Old Judaism had been unable to accomplish it. As much as the new plan is difficult to consider when we are stuck in the past, we must move forward and look at it. Here it is:
Old Plan + Old Temple + Rejection of the Messiah + Vindication + New Plan → Destruction of the Temple and Old Judaism
Yes, this destruction had to be done, just as Jesus predicted (Matt. 24:2). The old must be swept aside.
Now the new plan has many aspects, like facets on a diamond, but here is one:
The New Plan → New Temple = The Church = the Body of Christ
Here’s just one verse about the Church = the Temple
For we are the temple of God, as God has said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16, ESV; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27)
He is about to introduce the New Covenant at the Last Supper. This is part of this take down of the Old System of Judaism. To ratify it, Jesus first has to die. Then his Father will resurrect him, raise him up in the ascension, and enthrone him. To the final three chapters we now turn.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 15-28: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).