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MATTHEW - Chapter 25

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Matthew 25

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS   3-25 (continued)

6.  Last Ministry at Jerusalem  21-25 (continued)

25, 1-13: Parable of the Ten Virgins.  Only in Matthew; but cf. the little parable of the "master's return from the wedding" in Luke 12, 35 f.  In order to  understand this parable it is necessary to know something of the wedding customs of that time, which Christ supposes are well known to His hearers.  On the day of the wedding the bridesmaids assembled at the house of the bride.  After sunset the bridegroom, accompanied by his male friends (the "friend of the bridegroom" and the "sons of the bridal chamber"; see Commentary on 9, 15), went to the bride's house, where they were greeted by the bride and her bridesmaids, and then both parties returned together in a joyous  procession, that was illuminated by lamps or torches, to the wedding feast in the house of the bridegroom.

1.  In the parable ten virgins or bridesmaids are mentioned because this was the regular number at an ordinary Jewish wedding, as certain other accounts would seem to indicate.  The words and the bride are not in the best Greek manuscripts; they were added by some copyist who did not understand the customs of a Jewish wedding.  With her friends the bride awaited the arrival of the bridegroom.  She, of course, was ready when the bridegroom arrived and therefore she is not mentioned in the parable.  The words who went forth to meet the bridegroom must be considered either as a preliminary statement of the meeting which is told more in detail in 6-10, or in the sense, "They took their lamps and went forth from their own homes to the home of the bride, in order to meet the bridegroom when he would arrive there."    2.  Foolish and wise: here in the sense of "improvident" and "provident."    3 f.  The foolish virgins did not take extra oil with them: but the wise took extra oil in auxiliary vessels besides the lamps.    6.  A cry arose: probably one of the friends of the bridegroom went a little ahead of the bridegroom's party in order to warn the bride and her maids that the bridegroom was approaching.    7.  While the virgins slept, all of their lamps had burned low.    10.  The foolish virgins probably tried to arouse some of the neighbors in order to buy oil from them.  Went in with him to the marriage feast: in the house of the bridegroom, not of the bride.

13.  This verse shows that the principal lesson intended by Christ in this parable is that His disciples must always be ready for His unexpected coming.  But many of the details of the parable fit in so aptly with this leading thought that we may rightly conclude that these also were intended by our Lord to signify a spiritual truth.  The bridegroom is Christ (see Commentary on 9, 15).  The bride is His Church (cf. especially Apoc. 22, 17 where the bride longs for His coming).  The virgins, the friends of the bride, are the members of the Church.  All Christians are virgins spiritually, inasmuch as they are not contaminated by heresy (cf. Apoc. 14, 4 f); but in the parable no stress is laid on their virginity, for bridesmaids were always unmarried and presumed to be virgins.  That half of them were not found ready at the coming of Christ should not be taken as an answer to the question in Luke 13, 23; but this parable reaffirms the truth that not all the members of the Church are saved (cf. the parable of The Weeds and the parable of The Net, 13, 24 ff.47 ff).  The lamps which all the virgins had, may signify faith which all Christians have; the extra supply of oil would then be perseverance in good woks.  The bridegroom was long in coming.  He would normally be expected to arrive shortly after sunset, but it was only at midnight that he came: a warning to the early Christians who hoped for a speedy return of the Savior (cf. also 24, 48).  They all became drowsy and slept: even the good succumb to a certain amount of indifference.  But the important thing is that they are found ready; they are in the state of Grace.  The last-minute efforts of the others are of no avail.  The door was shut: death and Judgment seal the fate of every one for all eternity.    11 f.  Cf. 7, 21-23; Luke 13, 25-27.

25, 14-30:  Parable of the Talents.  The parable of the Gold Pieces in Luke 19, 12-27 is similar but distinct.  This parable, like the preceding, teaches that Christ's Second Coming may seem long delayed; however, it does not stress its sudden and unexpected character, but rather the judgment that will accompany Christ's return.  This forms, therefore, a natural transition to the last section of the discourse, the Last Judgment.    14.  The man going abroad is Christ, who deprives His disciples for a while of His visible presence.  His servants are all Christians.  His goods are the spiritual benefits and graces that He won by His Redemption.    15.  A talent was not a coin but a definite sum of money, amounting to twelve thousand denarii or about one thousand nine hundred and twenty dollars.  Many consider the talents of the parable to signify both the natural and the supernatural gifts that God bestows on us.  In the sense of natural abilities, especially of mental endowments, the word "talents" has been taken from this parable into English and other modern languages.  But this is not entirely correct.  In the parable the talents signify certain supernatural gifts and responsibilities which Christ gives to each according to his particular ability, i.e., according to his natural endowments which he already has from the Creator.  On the apparently unequal distribution of spiritual gifts, cf. Rom. 12, 6-8; 1 Cor. 12, 4-11; Eph. 4, 7; 1 Pet. 4, 10.    16 f.  These gifts are "given to everyone for profit" (1 Cor. 12, 7).    18.  Therefore this servant does wrong in merely taking care that his gift is not lost.

19.  After a long time: cf. 5.  The Judgment is a "settling of accounts."    20-23.  Note that both scenes are identical.  Each of the good servants receives the same reward, because this is measured not by the original gift but by the degree of co-operation.  Contrast the similar parable in Luke, which considers the same truth from a different aspect.  There is joy in the words of the good servants, "Look, Master, I have doubled thy money!"  The reward consists in a sharing of Christ's own joy; but heaven does not consist in inactivity: I will set thee over many things (cf. also Luke 19, 17.19).    24-27.  The wicked servant failed to use the talent that his master had entrusted to him: (a) because he was slothful; (b) because he had a wrong idea of his master as a stern man; (c) because he was afraid: entrusting the money to the bankers involved a certain amount of risk.  Thus a Christian may fail to use the graces that Christ bestows upon him: (a) because of spiritual sloth; (b) because he has an exaggerated idea of God's justice and a mean idea of His mercy; (c) because he is spiritually timid and too proud to risk making a mistake.    28-30.  The punishment of the wicked servant.    28.  God's grace is not given in vain (cf. Isa. 55, 10 f), if some one neglects or misuses it, it is taken from him and given to another (cf. Apoc. 3, 11).    29.  Just as natural faculties become more perfect through use or become atrophied through disuse, so also grace that is used leads to an increase of grace, whereas grace that is neglected tends to be lost; cf. 13, 12.    30.  Cf. 8, 12; 13, 42.50; 22, 13; 24, 51.

25, 31-46:  The Last Judgment.  Only in Matthew.  While it is certain that all men, whether Christians or not, will be judged by Christ on the Last Day, still it is not certain whether this description was meant by Christ to be understood in such a sense, or whether this description is limited to a portrayal of the judgment that will be passed on Christians alone.  All the preceding parables (from 24, 42 on) are concerned with good and bad Christians only, and this would seem to be the case here also.  Not only those on the right but also those on the left address Christ as "Lord" (37.44), i.e., they speak to Him as only Christians would.  On the other hand this is a judgment of all the nations (32); still this might mean only "the Christians of all the nations" (cf. 8, 11; 28, 19).    31.  On the Last Day Christ shall come in his majesty as king (34; cf. also Apoc. 19, 16).  And all his angels with him: these words are from Zach. 14, 5, where "the saints," i.e., "His holy ones," really means "His angels."  Christ frequently mentions the angels as playing an important part in the Last Judgment (cf. 13, 39.41.49; 16, 27; 24, 31).    32 f.  The little parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  Because most of Palestine offers rather poor pasture land, goats are often as common as sheep.  During the day they all graze together, but in the evening the shepherds put the sheep in folds apart from the goats.  So also in the Church the good and wicked are not separated until the Last Day.  The goat is a common symbol of the wicked, whether from its vile smell or its "capricious" nature.  The left has always been considered the evil, unlucky side.

34-46.  The criterion is the exercise of Christian charity.  This should not be surprising.  The non-Christians are already condemned for not believing in Christ (cf. John 3, 18).  But the Christian's faith will not save him unless it is a living faith (cf. Jas. 2, 14 ff) which proves itself in doing God's will.  All the commandments of God can be summed up in the love of God and the love of neighbor (cf. 22, 37-40).  And the true test of sincere love of God is love of neighbor (cf. 1 John 4, 20 f), which is shown in acts of charity (cf. 1 John 3, 17 f).  This argument is developed on these same lines in Jas. 2.  From the particular acts of charity which Christ mentions here, is derived the list of "the corporal works of mercy"; but this list should not be limited to these.  Note how similar yet diverse are these two judgments.  The repetitions, interrogations, etc., are merely a literary device used by Christ to impress this truth on the minds of His disciples; we need not believe that such conversations will actually take place at the Last Judgment.  Contrast blessed of my Father with accursed ones; the latter are cursed by the good God only because they have damned themselves.  Contrast the kingdom prepared for you with the everlasting fire prepared for the devil; hell was not intended originally for men, for "God our Savior wishes all men to be saved" (1 Tim. 2, 4).  My brethren does not mean "all men" but "my disciples"; in the New Testament brethren in this sense always means "Christians" (cf. Heb. 2, 11 f).  While the New Testament teaches the unity of the human race (cf. Acts 17, 26), the modern concept of "the brotherhood of man" is not found in it.  We must, of course, "do good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal. 6, 10).  The least of Christ's brethren are, in a sense, all of His disciples, who should all be humble and lowly, but here are directly meant the most afflicted and despised of His disciples who would on this account be more easily neglected.  Christ does not say that He will consider what is done to these as though it were done to Him; He says simply that it is done to Him.  This should be understood in the light of the Mystical Body of Christ, the intimate union of Christ Himself with each of His members.


Confraternity Bible:

Parable of the Ten Virgins  1 "Then will the kingdom of heaven be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom and the bride.  2 Five of them were foolish and five wise.  3 But the five foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, 4 while the wise did take oil in their vessels with the lamps.  5 Then as the bridegroom was long in coming, they all became drowsy and slept.  6 And at midnight a cry arose, 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming, go forth to meet him!'  7 Then all the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  8 And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  9 The wise answered, saying, 'Lest there may not be enough for us and for you, go rather to those who sell it, and buy some for yourselves.'

10 "Now while they were gone to buy it, the bridegroom came; and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.  11 Finally there came also the other virgins, who said, 'Sir, sir, open the door for us!'  12 But he answered and said, 'Amen I say to you, I do not know you.'  13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Parable of the Talents  14 "For it is like a man going abroad, who called his servants and handed over his goods to them.  15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his particular ability, and then he went on his journey.  16 And he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more.  17 In like manner, he who had received the two gained two more.  18 But he who had received the one went away and dug in the earth and hid his master's money.

19 "Then after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  20 And he who had received the five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Master, thou didst hand over to me five talents; behold, I have gained five others in addition.'  21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many; enter into the joy of thy master.'

22 "And he who had received the two talents came and said, 'Master, thou didst hand over to me two talents; behold, I have gained two more.'  23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many; enter into the joy of thy master.'

24 "But he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Master, I know that thou art a stern man; thou reapest where thou hast not sowed and gatherest where thou hast not winnowed; 25 and as I was afraid, I went away and hid thy talent in the earth; behold, thou hast what is thine.'  26 But his master answered and said to him, 'Wicked and slothful servant! thou didst know that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I have not winnowed?  27 Thou shouldst therefore have entrusted my money to the bankers, and on my return I should have got back my own with interest.  28 Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents.  29 For to everyone who has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him who does not have, even that which he seems to have shall be taken away.  30 But as for the unprofitable servant, cast him forth into the darkness outside, where there will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.'

The Last Judgment  31 "But when the Son of Man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory; 32 and before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 "Then the king will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; 36 naked and you covered me; sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.'  37 Then the just will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and feed thee; or thirsty, and give thee drink?  38 And when did we see thee a stranger, and take thee in; or naked, and clothe thee?  39 Or when did we see thee sick, or in prison, and come to thee?'  40 And answering the king will say to them, 'Amen I say to you, as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me.'

41 "Then he will say to those on his left hand, 'Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.  42 For I was hungry, and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.'  44 Then they also will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'  45 Then he will answer them, saying, 'Amen I say to you, as long as you did not do it for one of these least ones, you did not do it for me.'  46 And these will go into everlasting punishment, but the just into everlasting life."