The King and the Kingdom of Heaven, CFP, by Watchman Nee
D. THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS, 25.1-13
This parable may be divided into seven parts: (1) the ten virgins going forth to meet the bridegroom (v.1); (2) the two different classes of virgins (vv.2-4); (3) their history or process (vv. 5-7); (4) the discovery of a lack (vv. 8-9); (5) the distinction (v.10); (6) the request of the foolish (vv.11-12); and (7) the lesson (v.13).
v.1 “Then” refers to the time of parousia. “The kingdom of heaven” and not the church is in view here. The kingdom of heaven is the sphere of the righteousness of God, the realm in which God rules and reigns.
“Virgins” refer to Christians; and “bridegroom” to the Lord.
“Ten” in the Scriptures is a number which, as we shall see below, denotes the greater part of the whole. There are altogether four numbers in the Bible which represent perfection: “three” (the perfection of God); “seven” (the perfection of time, temporary perfection); “ten” (the perfection of man); and “twelve” (the perfection of the ages, eternal perfection). In Revelation 21 everything noted there is twelve—gates, pearls, the names of the apostles, the tribes of Israel, the precious stones, the height of the wall [144 = 122]. Before this chapter 21, all is seven in the book of Revelation. But commencing with the new heaven and new earth (the subject of chapter 21), all is twelve. Three is the number of God and four is the number of man. Three plus four is seven (God’s number plus man’s number), which is yet separable and hence represents temporary perfection. Three multiplied by four is twelve (God’s number multiplied by man’s number), which is inseparable and therefore stands for eternal perfection. Ten is a little short of the perfect number of twelve. By adding two to it, the result will become the number of eternal perfection: in this connection let us see that in Matthew 24, the two women grinding at the mill represent the living believers; while in chapter 25 the ten virgins represent the dead believers (“they all slumbered and slept”—v.5).
In the Bible there is the usage of the number twelve in both Greek and Hebrew as often being ten plus two: ten being the majority number and two the residual number. For example: ten brothers and two brothers (Gen. 42.3-4); ten spies and Joshua with Caleb (Num. 14.37-38); the prophet Ahijah rent his new garment into twelve pieces and gave them away by distributing ten pieces and two pieces (1 Kings 11.29-31); and the controversy between the ten disciples and the two disciples (Matt. 20.24).
“Virgins”—In a parable, the matter of virginity cannot be taken literally. The virgins instead represent us who are recreated in Christ. They point more to the idea of our being hidden ones than to the idea of chastity, for married women may also be chaste. The term “virgins” cannot be applied to either the Jews or the unbelievers; only Christians can adopt this term. The one purpose of these virgins is to go forth with their lamps to meet the bridegroom.
“Lamp” in the Bible may mean several things: (1) the word of the Lord (Ps. 119.105); (2) the word of prophecy (2 Peter 1.19); and (3) the outward testimony of the Christian (Matt. 5.14-16). It does not say “candle” here since a candle burns its own wax to give light, whereas oil is poured into a lamp from the outside in order for it to shed light. So the outward declaration of the Christian ought to be a going forth to meet the bridegroom. Just as in the breaking of bread, we not only remember the finished work of the Lord but also remember that the day of His coming is near.
vv.2-4 Two classes of virgins. Many commentators take the five foolish virgins to be the unsaved, yet there are so many iron-clad evidences to overturn such an interpretation that we will mention only fifteen of them, which serve also as important proofs that these foolish virgins are saved ones:
(1) These five foolish ones are virgins. Even through verse 11, they are still termed virgins. Throughout the parable the Lord never called this matter into question; on the contrary, He continually recognized this as a fact.
(2) There are lights in their lamps (v.8). These lights sustained them up to midnight and the time of their lamps “going out” (not even that they had “gone out”), showing that the lights are not yet extinguished. And hence these virgins have “good works” and they “glorify [their] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5.16) due to the indwelling Holy Spirit in them, except that now their lights are going out.
(3) They all go forth to meet the bridegroom. The unsaved will never be able to go out to meet the bridegroom. Will bandits ever light their torches and go forth to meet the government troops?
(4) “But at midnight there is a cry.... Come ye forth to meet him”—The cry is to all the ten virgins. The archangel surely will not call mistakenly nor the Lord use any word incorrectly.
(5) Oil in their lamps, even though it is granted that there is no oil in the vessels. Oil signifies the Holy Spirit, and hence these foolish virgins must be saved ones.
(6) “Then all those virgins arose” (v.7). It refers to but one resurrection common to all ten. For note that a thousand years shall separate the resurrection of the saved from that of the unsaved.
(7) The five wise virgins go in with the bridegroom (v.10); afterward come also the foolish virgins (v.11). They all are raptured to the air, except that the latter five cannot attend the marriage feast.
(8) The difference between the five wise and five foolish virgins lies in their conduct, not in their nature—since all of them are virgins with no divergence of true or false, the only distinction being between being wise or foolish. To be foolish does not mean to not be saved.
(9) Due to the tarrying of the bridegroom (v.5), the lamps of the foolish are going out. If the bridegroom does not tarry, these may be just as qualified as the wise ones to enter.
(10) These five foolish are virgins from the beginning to the end (v.11).
(11) “Buy for yourselves” (v.9). To the unsaved, it cannot be a matter of “buying” but one of “asking” since grace is freely given. Only to the saved can the word be “buy”—which means paying a price.
(12) If the five foolish are unsaved, then according to this interpretation it would seem that they are being given another opportunity to be saved after they die, because the wise virgins counsel them to go and buy oil.
(13) If the five foolish are unsaved, would the five wise say, “Peradventure there will not be enough for us and you”? If these foolish are truly unsaved, these five wise cannot make any excuse but must pay any cost to help; for how can they stand by and do nothing for the perishing?
(14) “Watch therefore,” says the Lord (v.13). To be watchful requires life. If the five foolish are not saved, they cannot be exhorted to watch but must be urged to repent.
(15) In contrast to the parable of the gospel feast told of in Matthew 22, which is directed towards the lost, this parable is spoken to the disciples. Matthew 22 is concerned with the question of being saved or perishing, but this is not the concern of Matthew 25. Whoever is bound and cast out in the parable of Matthew 22 is totally helpless, but the foolish virgins who are barred are still quite free. The earlier parable relates to the gain or loss of the king, while the latter story pertains to that of the virgins. The one refers to the glory of the king; the other reflects upon the welfare of the virgins.
In interpreting the Scriptures believers today devote themselves almost entirely to the problem of whether saved or unsaved, not realizing that there is the equally important question of the kingdom after once being saved.
The wise and the foolish differ not in nature, only in conduct. There is one place in the New Testament that can prove this point, and for this we must consult Matthew 7.24-26. The wise man is he who does the words of the Lord, while the foolish man is one who does not obey them. The rock stands for the words of the Lord, but the sand signifies the ideas of man. To build upon the rock is to do everything according to God’s word; to build upon the sand is to do things according to one’s own ideas. “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9.10). It is therefore wise to be simple before God and foolish to rebel against Him. To say “perhaps” or “according to my own opinion” is really being foolish. To do what God says may look like utter foolishness to man but it is real wisdom to God.
Only in two points do the two classes of virgins differ: (1) the wise ones carry oil in their vessels while the foolish do not; and (2) the wise virgins go in to the marriage feast whereas the foolish ones are rejected. Their similarities are many, such as they all (1) are virgins, (2) have lamps (the appearance), (3) they bear light (the conduct which glorifies God), (4) have oil (the Holy Spirit), (5) go forth to meet the bridegroom (waiting), (6) sleep, (7) hear the midnight cry, (8) arise (resurrection), and (9) trim their lamps (prepare oil). Yet however numerous are their similarities and seemingly limited are their differences, the consequences for each group are far, far apart. What care must we therefore exercise! Whatever may be the cause, that will be the effect. Today’s difference will produce tomorrow’s divergence. The glory or shame in the age to come is decided today.
“Took no oil with them”—That is to say, the foolish prepared no oil apart from what was already in the lamp. The wise have extra oil in their vessels. Oil in the lamp speaks of the Holy Spirit who dwells in every regenerated person. A Christian, even a beginner, has the indwelling Holy Spirit (see Ez. 36.26-27, Eph. 1.13). “The spirit of man is the lamp of Jehovah, searching all his innermost parts” (Prov. 20.27). “If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8.9). “Know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed ye be reprobates” (2 Cor.13.5). “Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us” (1 John 3.24). “Hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4.13). The Lord therefore dwells in us by His Spirit.
But oil in the vessel means more than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; it speaks of being filled with the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Holy Spirit is received at the time of regeneration, but the filling of the Holy Spirit comes through continual seeking following the moment of regeneration. Each believer has the Holy Spirit, yet not all have the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A vessel is something other than the lamp. Yet this is not the emphasis here. Since oil is a liquid, it has to be contained in a vessel. God’s will is for us to be filled to the full, not just having oil in the lamp. In order to realize this, neither trimming nor decorating the lamp will be a good way, for God looks for extra oil in the vessel. Yet the believer’s attention is usually drawn to the outward appearance of the lamp. The less oil one has, the more assiduously he takes care of the appearance. Nevertheless, trimming can never be a substitute for the oil.
We imagine that receiving oil once is enough, but God desires us to receive it twice. The second time is different from the first, in that at the first instance God gives freely whereas at the second instance He demands a price to be paid. If anyone refuses to pay the price—denying himself and seeking earnestly—he will not be given the oil again. So let us be alert. People may not be able to detect whether or not we have the oil twice over; and we may indeed get by without any trouble today, but on that future day we will be found out. Are we willing to pay the price? To be filled with the Holy Spirit is the condition for rapture. Just as a balloon filled with helium will ascend heavenward, so will those who are filled with the Holy Spirit be caught up. Let us therefore pay the price in providing oil in the vessel, or else we will be those like the foolish virgins.
vv.5-7 These verses form the third part of the parable and narrate the history of these virgins. Spiritual foolishness may not be readily discerned in the world, but the tarrying of the Lord is the acid test. At the beginning, both the wise and the foolish receive the same light. And the latter may therefore ridicule the former for being cumbered about with carrying extra oil. Oh how many are fit to be raptured at first but render themselves unfit later on! This is due to the delay of the Lord. Indeed, it is the evil servant who thinks that the Lord will delay His return; just the opposite, though, is the foolish virgin who imagines that the Lord will come earlier! The parable of the evil servant teaches believers to be ready to meet the Lord today, while the parable of the ten virgins instructs us to be prepared for any unexpected delay of the Lord’s return. Should the Lord tarry for 56 more years, will you still be ready to meet Him? Be careful lest your lamp can only burn till midnight but not after midnight. If you set your lamp to burn only till midnight, the Lord may tarry until after that hour. Do not despise the testing of the Lord. The usefulness of the oil in the vessel is revealed in the Lord’s tarrying. So that what is being emphasized here is not the initial burning but whether there is extra oil in the vessel for longer burning.
The bridegroom, of course, is the Lord.
“Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept”—Since this is a parable, it naturally should be interpreted spiritually. Sleep in the Scriptures may convey either one of two meanings: (1) a falling away spiritually (see Rom. 13.11-14,1 Thess. 5.6); or (2) death (see 1 Thess. 4.13, John 11.11-14). It cannot mean a spiritual falling away because (a) the wise virgins fall asleep as well as the foolish; (b) the sleep here is unimportant since the wise are not evilly affected by it; (c) the Lord does not reprimand them for their sleep, instead He completely ignores the fact; and (d) we should notice the lesson to be gained from verse 13 wherein the Lord is found teaching His hearers to watch just as the wise virgins had done. In view of these observations, therefore, the sleep mentioned here cannot have reference to a spiritual falling away but instead signifies physical death.
“But at midnight there is a cry”—Some say this refers to the renewed interest in the study of prophecy and the preaching of the second coming which occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This may sound attractive, but unfortunately in the parable none of the ten virgins awakens on her own accord. They do not awaken through any initiative of their own but must be awakened by the action of the bridegroom himself. Hence the sounding of the midnight cry must yet await its fulfillment at the time of the voice of the archangel and the sound of the trump of God as mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4.16 and 1 Corinthians 15.52. The voice of the archangel is for the purpose of waking people up, and the sounding of the trumpet of God serves to gather people together. So that in the parable, those who hear (all ten virgins) stand for all the dead believers.
“Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him”—Since the two sides (that is, the bridegroom and the virgins) are both coming together, they will accordingly meet in the air.
“Then all those virgins arose”—This proves that all dead Christians are resurrected together. Here the virgins seem to have time to talk things over; but according to 1 Corinthians 15.52 the event all happens in a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—so that there is no opportunity left to make conversation. Let us understand that what we have here is a parable, and there frequently is portrayed in parables an element of time which actually does not exist. For example, in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20.1-16), a contention is mentioned as arising between the Lord and those who labor earliest but are paid last. Such contending with the Lord is in fact impossible. The same thing happens in the parable of the marriage feast as told in Matthew 22.1-14. Consequently, when we study parables we should concentrate on their teachings and not so much on the details.
vv.8-9 The fourth part of this parable is the discovery of lack in the five foolish ones. They discover their lack of oil because of the tarrying of the bridegroom (v.5a). His tarrying is for the purpose of testing the wise and the foolish. The foolish virgins no doubt deemed the five wise ones to have encumbered themselves unnecessarily in carrying oil in vessels, but now they too find the need for oil, and so they ask the wise virgins for it. The gift of the Holy Spirit may be imparted (see Acts 8.17, 19.6; 1 Tim. 4.14; 2 Tim. 1.6), but the fullness of the Holy Spirit cannot be transferred. It is not enough simply to ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is absolutely no way to share other people’s oil, not even with parents, brothers and sisters, or close relations. One’s spiritual fullness can come only from paying the price himself. Counterfeit spirituality may pass for real today, but it cannot pass the test on that day. To be filled with the Holy Spirit requires fellowship with the Lord and costly pursuit of Him. No matter how long we may be in company with spiritual people, we will not automatically share in their oil. Light may be borrowed, but oil cannot.
“Preadventure there will not be enough for us and you”—In other words, there can be no help since help in this situation is impossible. The Lord does permit a certain kind of holy selfishness here. Although we should always be sympathetic toward others, can we afford to be foolish because others are? Should we not rather keep a definite amount of sacred holiness for the Lord? “There will not be enough for us and you”—It will mean loss to both; and moreover, the other party will not be helped at all.
“And buy for yourselves”—This injunction signifies a great deal of truth:
(1) At least there is still the possibility and the opportunity to buy oil at that time. Yet please notice that this does not refer to one more opportunity being given to the resurrected dead to be saved, because the resurrection of the unsaved does not occur at that time.
(2) This injunction does suggest, however, that the oil of the wise ones was originally secured with a price. The indolent will not be filled with the Holy Spirit.
(3) To be filled with the Holy Spirit requires paying a price. It has to be bought, not to be begged for. Also, one needs to know what to buy. Who would go to a department store to buy, and when asked what he wants would not know what to buy? Nevertheless, a great number of Christians are like that because (a) they do not realize the necessity for buying oil, (b) they do not know the price, and (c) they do not wish to pay the price.
Believers today do not understand how essential it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The oil in the lamp is not sufficient to burn after midnight; only the oil in the vessel is sufficient enough. Most Christians, having received the New Covenant, know only new desires but not new power. It is most painful to have a new desire without the power to fulfill it. This proves the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Since there is need, there is reason for paying the price. Before one builds a tower he should first sit down and count the cost, and before he goes to war he should first take counsel as to how many soldiers he would commit to the fight (see Luke 14.25-35).
Many are frightened away by the heavy cost, not considering how essential is the oil. The price each pays will vary. Some may have to forsake something. One thing is certain, which is, that oil cannot be bought without paying a price. It is not freely obtained, neither is it obtained for personal interest but for the glory of God and for His work. How many there are who like to adorn themselves with gifts and power, yet God does not give these to exalt men. People may know what price they have to pay, but they ought to know that a price must be paid. Obviously, dealing with sin is a prerequisite. If sin is not dealt with, who can talk about paying a price? Yet to confess sin is not the paying of any price since this is minimally what one and all ought to do anyway; for let us understand that even the five foolish virgins have dealt with sin too.
(4) Pay the price—a matter of paying the right price for the right merchandise. The measure of the price paid will determine the amount of oil obtained. Let us see that the cross and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. Let the slaying of Jesus be manifested in your body (see 2 Cor. 4.8-11 ), for the cross will create in you an empty space for the power of the New Covenant to fill. The fullness according to the New Covenant is a fact more than it is a matter of consciousness—just as the heartbeat is a fact, although it may not always be felt. God’s only begotten Son is freely given, but the oil in the vessel must be bought.
There are four things cited in the Bible which must be bought:
(a) “Buy the truth” (Prov. 23.23). In order to know the truth, one must be determined to practice the truth and to seek earnestly after it.
(b) “Buy . . . gold refined by fire” (Rev. 3.18). Such buying of refined gold and white garments and eye-salve is not action for the unsaved to take, because God cannot ask the unsaved to buy. Laodicea is, after all, a church. “Gold refined by fire” signifies that faith which has gone through trial and has been proven undefeated. It is the faith which overcomes environment (see 1 Peter 1.7). God allows you to go through a trial in order to show His love to you, and also for him to be glorified before Satan (such as in the case of Job).
(c) “Buy. . . white garments” (Rev. 3.18)—There are two kinds of white garments spoken of in the book of Revelation: (1) those white garments we received before God, which garments are the Lord Jesus himself. We are clothed with Christ, and thus are we cleansed. Whoever does not have this white garment is not saved. (2) those white garments we wear before God, which represent the righteousnesses of the saints (Rev. 19.8 Darby) that are the result of the operation of the Spirit of the Lord within us. Whoever does not have this white garment is naked before God and will not be rewarded.
(d) “Buy. . . eyesalve” (Rev. 3.18)—This is the revelation of the Holy Spirit, without which no one really sees.
(5) Such an injunction here in verse 9 hints at the fact that oil must be bought. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is not something you can decide. Sooner or later you must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Do not think that those who are like the five wise have gone to an extreme. One day God will force you to go to such an “extreme”: for Ephesians 5.18 is a command.
(6) “Go ye rather to them that sell”—Where will they be able to buy this oil? We can only take it as signifying that they must pay a price for obtaining their extra oil.
(7) The injunction in verse 9 touches upon this question too: How can there be suffering after resurrection? Such notion that there is no suffering after resurrection is erroneous. For all who shall suffer in the lake of fire will have themselves been resurrected too. Some people are resurrected to enjoy life, while others are resurrected to suffer eternal death. If a person has not been able to control his temper while living, his death will not automatically change him. For let us realize that the lusts, pride, and selfishness of the rich man spoken of in Luke’s parable remain with him in Hades (16.19-31). Therefore, after the virgins arise they all are found trimming their lamps. Yet the statement—“Our lamps are going out”—made by the five foolish virgins (v.8) indicates that the lamps will not be completely extinguished. God gives us life that is once and forever. Although in the Christian’s experience of the Holy Spirit there are many times when it looks as if his lamp is going out, nevertheless the Holy Spirit will never leaves us: He will not leave, even in the face of our unfaithfulness.
v.10 The fifth part of the parable deals with the separation. “And while they went away to buy”—Oil these foolish ones must have; but while they go away to buy, the Lord arrives; and only those who are ready go in with Him to the marriage feast. Hence the whole problem is whether one is ready. Yet they do not cease to be virgins because they are not ready; for many are true Christians, but few are ready ones.
“Went in with him to the marriage feast” (see also Rev. 19.7,9). The bride is the New Jerusalem, which includes all who are chosen to be united with God—both those of the Old Testament time and of the New Testament dispensation. The bride mentioned in Revelation 19 emerges before the millennial kingdom, whereas the bride spoken of in Revelation 21 appears after the kingdom. There is thus a gap of a thousand years. Since one becomes a bride but once, it is evident that the marriage feast extends over a period of a thousand years.
“Marriage feast”—This means to be with the bridegroom and to rejoice together. Such joy is very special, and therefore Revelation 19 says how “blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (v.9). The “blessed” mentioned in Revelation 20.6, though, has relationship to the matter of reigning and appears to be the same supping and reigning as is described in Revelation 3.20-21. Altogether, there are seven times in Revelation when the word “blessed” is proclaimed.
Why does Matthew 25 not speak of the bride? For the simple reason that the bride is corporate, whereas the virgins here in the parable are seen as individuals. The bride cannot be viewed as five and five.
“And the door was shut”—It is the door of the kingdom, the entrance into the joy of feasting with the bridegroom.
vv.11-12 The request of the foolish virgins forms the sixth part of the parable. Now they have come back from buying oil. Keep in mind that both the five wise and the five foolish are virgins, all ten having oil in their lamps, all going out to meet the bridegroom, all falling asleep while waiting, and all rising and trimming their lamps after having heard the cry, Behold, the bridegroom! Now, both parties have oil in their vessels, with the only difference being one of time. Recall how once the Lord had chided the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, saying, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24.25) Recall also how He had likewise admonished Thomas, saying, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20.29). The matter of quickness or slowness is of great importance. Do we not know that all who will suffer in the lake of fire will have to believe sometime, only they have believed too late? “Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5.15-16). The foolish do not redeem the time, but the wise ones do. The latter are filled with the Holy Spirit. Let us realize that we must all some day be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then why not now? Why have this experience come afterwards?
“I know you not”—Will the Lord ever say to the saved that He does not know them? However, we need to examine this answer of our Lord’s very carefully:
(1)”But he answered and said”—The word “but” shows that the answer is unusual and out of all expectation. In Luke 15.22 the same word indicates how totally unthought-of, unhoped-for, and unexpected by the prodigal son were the father’s words to his servants. The word “but” here proves that the “know not” is not an ordinary not knowing.
(2) The Lord knows all who are saved (2 Tim. 2.19, Gal. 4.9, John 10.14). Two Greek words are used for “know” in the New Testament: ginosko and oida. The former signifies an objective knowledge while the latter signifies a subjective and deeper knowledge. Now oida is the Greek word employed here by the Lord.
(3) How is oida used in the Scriptures? It is recognizably employed to mean approve, commend, endorse, or applaud. What follows are a few examples from the New Testament which illustrate the use of this Greek word. In each example, the verb “to know” or “to not know” is oida or its variant. “In the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not” (John 1.26). In this situation, of course, the Jews know (ginosko) the Lord, but they do not really know (oida) Him because they do not love Him. “I knew him not” (John 1.31). Since John and the Lord Jesus are cousins, the Baptist certainly knows Jesus objectively (ginosko) but not subjectively (oida)—that is to say, John does not know Him deeply. “Ye know neither me, nor my Father” (John 8.19). Though the Jews know (ginosko) the Lord quite well externally, they do not approve of Him nor do they receive Him. “I know you not whence ye are” (spoken twice in Luke 13.22-30). Here the Lord speaks of the situation in the kingdom. Some who have eaten and drunk with the Lord and have also heard Him teaching in their streets doubtless know objectively (ginosko) the Lord well, yet they are referred to by the Lord as “workers of iniquity”—a phrase which in the original is worded as “workers of unrighteousness”—that is to say, those who do not walk according to rule. “Ye know the house of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 16.15). The Corinthian believers know deeply (oida) and not just know objectively (ginosko) the house of Stephanas. Hence from all these examples we learn that oida is subjective knowing of a person, which implies a sense of trust.
(4) “Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10.33; cf. also Luke 12.9). These two instances of the word “deny” have reference to things in the kingdom. Secret Christians will not perish, yet neither will they be approved by the Lord in the kingdom. “Deny” (arneomai) is to not know (in the oida sense of not knowing) (see Matt. 26.70). It is to contradict, refute, or overturn.
(5) There are similar examples of this matter of knowing and not knowing in the Old Testament, as for instance in 1 Samuel 3.7 (“Now Samuel did not yet know Jehovah”) wherein Samuel had indeed objectively known Jehovah, but he had yet to know the Lord in a subjective way.
(6) The reward of the kingdom is based purely on righteousness. For the Lord to deny has about it the flavor of righteousness. Just as a judge must ask the name of the offender even if the latter is his own son, so the denial here in Matthew 25.12 (“I know you not”) refers to the action and not to the person. It means the Lord cannot accept or approve.
v.13 The lesson in this final part of the parable is “watch”—The Lord commands us to be watchful; He does not urge us here to be regenerated and be saved. The “they that were ready” in verse 10 are those who have watched. Thus, “ready” and “watch” are joined into one. To be “ready” means that there is no unfinished business, and one is therefore ready to be reckoned with daily. To “watch” means to so live as to be always ready for the coming of the Lord. We believers should daily be prepared for reckoning. The Lord may come at any time. The five foolish virgins were ready and watching at the beginning, but alas, they did not continue on. The word “ready” here is concerned with self as to whether or not there is anything left undone. The word “watch” on the other hand has its direction towards the Lord; it signifies a waiting to meet Him at any time. To be ready and watchful and waiting, we need the fullness of the Holy Spirit. It will not do if we depend on ourselves, for very soon we will be weakened and become foolish. But if we are filled with the Holy Spirit we will spontaneously bear fruit to the glory to God.
He who is truly watchful often feels he is not yet entirely ready. He does not trust in his own self. This is true humility.
Yet what does it avail if we have such prophecy but are not watchful? Will it not be tragic if we have prophetic knowledge and still suffer loss in the future? Be ready, for the Lord only looks into our lamp and light. Be watchful, because we do not know the day nor the hour. For if we knew, we would have no need to be watchful.
In chapters 24 and 25, five times we are told that no one knows the day of the coming of the Lord. Such intense repetition signifies extreme importance. How unreliable is the concept of our all being raptured after the Great Tribulation; for if that were indeed the case, we would be able to compute most accurately the day of His coming: we would need only to count three years and a half after the image of the beast has been placed in the temple. Yet the reason why the Lord does not inform us of the date is because He wants us to be watchful.
E. THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS, 25.14-30
This parable is divided into four parts: (a) the householder delivers his goods (vv.14-15); (b) the way the servants handle the talents (vv.16-18); (c) the judgment of both the first and the second servant (vv.19-23 ); and (d) the judgment of the third servant (vv.24-30).
In order more accurately to study this parable, we must first know the difference between our reconcilation with God and our relationship to the Lord. Otherwise, we shall not be able to understand clearly the Scriptures but will find difficulties and conflicts in this passage and in many other places in the Bible.
Let us see that before the Father we are children, but before the Lord we are servants (or bondslaves). Through faith we become children; by works we become servants. On the principle of grace we come to be children; on the principle of responsibility we come to be servants. We become children through the blessed Son; we become servants by the Holy Spirit.
This passage speaks of the relationship between the servants and the Lord, not of the relationship between the children and the father. Commencing from Matthew 14, the relationship between children and the Father is no longer mentioned (such relationship being eternal); only that between servants and the Lord is thereafter presented (such relationship lasting only until after the millennium). The relationship we have to the Father pertains to salvation and eternity, whereas the relationship we have to the Son pertains to overcoming and kingdom reward. The parable of the talents is related to reward and not to eternity, since the problem of eternity has already been solved.
There is a basic difference between the Old and New Covenants. The Old demands works before life, which means being servants before becoming children. The New Covenant, though, gives life before works, that is to say, being born again before becoming servants. And why? Because God does not want believers to serve Him by their flesh.
v.14 “For it is as when a man, going into another country”—This man is the Lord. He is truly going into another country, for His country is not of the world and is totally different from the nations on earth. Our citizenship belongs to that country (see Phil. 3.20). The phrase “going into another country” points to the ascension of the Lord (see Heb. 9.11, 1 Peter 3.22).
“Called his own servants”—These are His bondslaves; hence they are neither Jews who are not His bondslaves, nor are they the unsaved, but they are those who have been bought by Him with a price.
Formerly Abraham performed circumcision on the slaves whom he had bought, as well as on his own sons, because of the covenant which God made with him. Now our position is that of slaves (being bought with His blood) as well as children (being born again). The Lord wants us to serve Him as slaves. In the church today there are two schools of extremes: one stresses works but not faith, while the other emphasizes faith but no works.
“And delivered unto them his goods”—The Lord delivers His goods to them because He is going to another country. This will be a test to the servants, because the servants may be faithful in the presence of the Lord, but true faithfulness will be seen only when the Lord is absent. The Lord delivers His goods to them for them to manage His property. The same is true with us today. The Lord has delivered His goods to us, and we are now serving the Lord whom we do not see.
This parable is different from that in Luke, for in Luke’s account we have our Lord adding this statement: “Trade ye herewith till I come” (19.13). Here in Matthew’s account the Lord is recorded as not instructing these servants what to do with His goods. He wants us to seek His will and do accordingly. Whoever knows the Lord’s will and does it is fit to be rewarded. Not telling the servants what to do is a real test.
v.15 “To each according to his several ability”—What is meant by the word “talent”? Most people will say that the talent represents property, position, influence, time, life, personal character, keen mind, health, church position, and so forth. But we maintain that it speaks of gift, not ability. For (1) a talent is something which Christians have but which the Gentiles do not have, because the Lord delivers it to His own slaves and not to anybody else’s; (2) a talent is given according to each person’s ability and not given casually or indiscriminately; (3) a talent may be increased through earning; (4) it can be taken back; and (5) it is not something which God ordinarily gives to men; rather is it something given by the Lord after His ascension. On the basis of these five points we conclude that “talent” cannot refer to property, position, and so forth as is usually understood.
Talent, therefore, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the gift of the Holy Spirit (1) is something which the Lord possesses exclusively (Acts 2.38); (2) is that which can be distributed (Acts 19.6); (3) is that which can also be increased (1 Cor. 14.12-13); (4) is given according to the ability of each person, such as Peter who being a fisherman is given the gift of fishing for men while John who was found mending nets is given the gift of mending the broken net of the church; (5) is given at the ascension of the Lord on the day of Pentecost (John 7.39,16.7); and (6) is something which can be laid aside unused—and hence Paul exhorts Timothy with these words: “I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1.6). Without any doubt, therefore, “talent” speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
“And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one”—The Lord mentions only three servants, yet the number “three” can represent all the believers, just as the number “seven” in the counting of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 can represent all the churches (for note that the city and church at Colossae is also in Asia, but the Lord does not name this local church since she is included in the seven mentioned). The number “three” also stands for three classes of servants; otherwise, the Lord would have but three individual servants. Remember that this is a parable; it therefore cannot be literally interpreted. All servants (or believers) have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Each of them has at least one talent; so that no one can excuse himself by saying that he has no gift.
Please do not plead that you have no gift. You are not a child of God if you have none. Having the gift of the Holy Spirit, you will be reckoned with one day.
“To each according to his several ability”—The Lord gives to each according to his ability. Today people regard ability too highly, but ability cannot be a substitute for “talent”: for ability without capital (talent) cannot accomplish anything. Yet we cannot despise ability, either, because it is that which turns the capital into profit: ability manages the talent. Even so, we cannot dictate to the Lord as to what talent(s) He must give simply on the basis of our ability; the giving of the talents is something that must be strictly left to the Lord to determine. Hence there is no ground for pride and satisfaction to the ones who receive five and two talents, respectively; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason for shame and envy by the one who only receives one talent. How believers in the church today esteem the more and despise the less! All this is the activity of the flesh. Just keep in mind that gifts are distributed by God for us to trade with. Let all of us trade according to the gifts given by God. This will greatly reduce many strifes and much confusion in the church: for abilities are different, and gifts, too, are diverse.
Notice how the Lord divides His goods himself. He has not asked someone else to divide and distribute for Him. For this reason no church can ordain a pastor, nor can a seminary confer a gift. Whatever gift one has is given by God, not by man.
Notice also that reward is not dispensed according to the amount of talent given. Both the five talent person and the two talent person received the same reward. And if the one talent servant had gained one talent, he too would have received the same reward.
“And he went on his journey”—This speaks of the Lord’s ascension.
vv. 16-18 These verses cover the second part of the parable—the way the servants handle their talents.
The servants go ahead and trade with the talents because they know this is the will of the Lord. They know their Lord does not wish His talents to lie idle but would like to see them increased. They have the same mind as does the Lord. Therefore, in the future they will share in the joy of the Lord. Now doubtless trading is not at all easy: it involves difficulty, anxiety, risk, and hardship.
The focus of this parable, however, is on the third servant. More verses are devoted to him than to the others. He who receives but one talent has the greatest temptation. He tends to bury his gift and grow lazy. He is ashamed of the little he has been given; he is also conscious of how little he can earn from it by trading. So that he simply buries his gift in the earth. People often say it is better to have none than to have little, but the Lord says it is better to have little than to have none. Please understand that the issue here is not over the amount given and received; rather, it is over the way the talent or gift is used. He who receives five talents has the responsibility for those five talents while he who receives two is responsible for those two. How discontented today’s believers are towards the gift of God. If, before anyone will begin to serve, he looks to receive from God a gift such as a certain other brother or sister has, he looks in vain, for God will never give it to him.
Hence the emphasis of this parable is on the one who receives one talent. Though he cannot preach a great sermon and save several hundred people at one time, though he is unable to do such spectacular work, he still can do a little something for the Lord. Digging in the earth and burying the talent shows the lack of courage to do anything. May we be willing to do a little work if God is willing to give a little gift.
Do note, by the way, that the talent is not put in a chest in the attic but is buried in the earth. The earth can easily bury the gift of God. Intimacy with the world quickly buries God’s talent in the earth so that the gift of God becomes inaccessible. How, for example, can a believer stand up before men and speak the truth if just beforehand he has uttered some coarse jest or some unclean words? He has lost his testimony. For this reason, let us stand firmly on our ground and exercise the gift which we have received. Do not be intimate with the world lest your gift be buried. Always remember that the flesh will make you despise the gift of God, and the world will cause you to lose the testimony of God.
“To trade” means to circulate or to be actively engaged in. May God make us channels of His blessings.
If we do not learn to exercise our gifts today, how can we render a positive account at the reckoning in the future? Most certainly will we be less likely to exercise gifts in the coming kingdom.
A comparison of the parable of the talents with the parable of the virgins tells us that the first stresses the importance of exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit while the second stresses the importance of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Talent is for the Lord but oil is for oneself. All who are gifted by God are used by the Lord to build up His church, not to build up themselves. God never gives a gift which is only for self. (Even though speaking in tongues, for example, does build up a person, it is nevertheless for the church as well.) Hence when a person buries his gift, the Lord suffers loss. Oil is for life just as talent is for service. Having oil—that is to say, being filled with the Holy Spirit—enables one to use gifts wisely.
Ability alone is useless, because nothing can be accomplished if there is no capital, no talent, no gift. How believers need the gift of the Holy Spirit!
Gift must be accomplished by the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A talent or gift without oil is most dangerous. And this is precisely why the parable of the virgins precedes the parable of the talents. The church at Corinth was full of confusion because the Corinthian believers had an abundance of talents yet a scarcity of oil. Nevertheless oil without talent or gift may result in good life but no good works, even as talent or gift without oil produces good works but not a good life.
The parable of the virgins touches on rapture, but the parable of the talents speaks of the judgment seat of Christ and His kingdom. The condition for the rapture of the virgins is to be filled with oil—which is to say, to live according to the Holy Spirit. The condition for the servants to enjoy the joy of the kingdom is to trade with the talents—which means to serve the Lord faithfully. These two are closely linked.
As a matter of fact, work today is not meant to solve the matter of reward in the kingdom. Today’s work simply prepares us for the position in the kingdom. Our works today can actually be likened to “kindergarten works”; but in the future our works will be greatly increased in both number and substance. Yet what we learn now will be something that can be used then.
Let us notice that the lord in the parable did not order his servants to trade; nevertheless, the good and faithful servants in the parable knew the mind of their lord. The same is true of the good and faithful servants of our Lord Jesus. But how sad that many of us frequently wait for people to ask us, even to appoint us, before we will exercise our gifts. And if otherwise, we will rather bury our talents than use them.
vv.19-23 The third part of this parable is the judgment of the first and second servants.
“After a long time”—The testing period must be long. It covers the entire period of the church (almost 2,000 years). It is very easy during such a long period to forget the Lord’s charge. How apt we are to be zealous at the beginning, but as the time wears on we gradually grow cold—thus losing the first love. Yet it is only after a long period that the time of judgment arrives.
“The lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them”—The coming again of our Lord is a most certain fact. People may say the Lord is delayed, but they cannot mock and say that He is not coming. Even in the case of the evil servant, he can only say that the Lord tarries (see Matt. 24.48).
“Reckoning”—The failure of the church today is revealed in her ignorance that the Lord will come and settle accounts with His own. From the time we believe in the Lord, whatever we do or do not do will all await a time of reckoning. Reckoning here has nothing to do with salvation. Our walk (see 1 Cor. 3.10-15), speech, and even thoughts will all be presented at the judgment seat. Unlike the great white throne where judgment is meted out according to books, we give our own accounts at the judgment seat of Christ (see Rom. 14.12). If our faults are under the blood, they have already been judged and will therefore not be recalled. But if they are not repented of and have not been put under the blood, there will have to be an accounting of them. Accordingly, let us learn to judge ourselves. We will have to answer for everything which today has not been judged by the blood of Christ. God will prosecute all that is not under the blood. The grace and love of God are manifested in the blood of the Lamb, but on the other hand His righteousness and holiness are revealed at the judgment seat of Christ. He will not overlook our unholiness.
At the judgment seat of Christ, not only what was done will be judged but also what was not done will be too. That which was done blindly will be judged and that which was not done by quenching the Holy Spirit will also be judged.
Please notice the word “cometh” in verse 19 and the word “came” in verse 20. The Lord comes, but so also come the servants. They shall meet in the air (see 1 Thess. 4.17). The “cometh” in verse 19 refers to the coming of the Lord to the air, and the “came” in verse 20 points to the rapture of believers to the air.
“And he that received the five talents came and brought other five talents”—The other five talents are extra to the five talents originally received. At that time some people will appreciate the preciousness of earning another five talents as well as others will become anxious over not earning another five talents. Whether a person is or is not to receive a reward is not decided at the judgment seat; rather, it is determined today. The key to this matter is how one handles the God-given gift today. Hence believers should not despise the gift of the Holy Spirit, whether great or small. Earning is not done at the judgment seat; it is accomplished on earth now. Today if we hear the word of the Holy Spirit, let us not harden our hearts. Both the five talents given and five talents earned are brought to the Lord, thus indicating that works are for Him and not for ourselves. Stealing secretly from the Lord shows one to be an evil servant. We must instead give all the glory to God.
“Well done, good and faithful servant”—By reading verse 20 alone we might think that reward is dispensed on the basis of earning; but verse 21 clearly shows us that reward is according to being good and faithful. The five talent servant, the two talent servant, and the one talent servant can all be good and faithful.
“Good and faithful”—Not good Christians but good and faithful servants. The extra five talents earned does not represent success, it instead represents the goodness and faithfulness of the servant. By outward appearance Stephen might have seemed to have been a failure, yet in spiritual reality he had done a good and faithful work. So if a cup of cold water is given for Christ’s sake (this is faithfulness), it shall be rewarded. To be faithful means to do it for the Lord. For whom do we really work? Oftentimes we seek for success, not realizing that if success is not for the Lord it is but wood, hay, and stubble. The Lord looks for our faithfulness.
“Well done”—This is the Lord’s commendation. We seek for the Lord’s commendation only. The reason for the patient endurance of the saints is to receive a “Well done” from the Lord. The world’s praise has no value whatsoever because it is most inaccurate, since it cannot discern in us what is really good or bad.
“Thou hast been faithful over a few things”—The “few things” here refer to the works done today. Even the works done with five talents are deemed but a few things when compared with what will be done in the kingdom.
“I will set thee over many things”—The “many things” point to the things to be done in the kingdom. How often we mistakenly consider the things of today as exceedingly great.
The church is like a school in which we learn. After graduation we are sent to the kingdom to practice what we have learned. This is why we may foretaste the powers of the age to come (Heb. 6.5).
“Enter thou into the joy of the lord”—See also Hebrews 12 which says: “Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (v.2). Why is “joy” mentioned but not “kingdom”? Because the recompense of faithfulness is an inward satisfaction, not an outward position. The greatest reward is to rejoice with the Lord. This exceeds kingdom, glory, and position. For we are satisfied with just the Lord himself.
“Set thee over”—This is a matter of authority. Today is the time to be faithful; the future will be the time to reign. He who is anxious to rule today must be the evil servant of Matthew 24. God cannot give authority to one who loves to rule; He gives authority only to the obedient.
Yes indeed, for us to reign does happen in the kingdom. We shall rejoice on the one hand and reign on the other. The Lord will give joy to compensate for sufferings on earth, and authority He will give to recompense for loss incurred in the world. All who are faithful must be willing to suffer loss. We cannot be the rich man in life and Lazarus in death.
vv.22-23 The words spoken to the servant with the two talents are exactly the same as the words spoken to the servant with five talents. Why are they repeated? To show that what the Lord looks for is neither success nor amount but faithfulness. What He requires of the five talents is five more talents and what He requires of the two talents is two more talents. The amount of gift has nothing to do with reward. Faithful service is what really counts. Trading in gift will never incur loss. What the Lord holds us responsible for is faithfulness. Do not admire the great gift that another has and despise the little gift you have. Gift—whether great or small—is the prerogative of the Giver, the Lord himself.
Of him who is given more, more is required. Of him who is given less, less is required. The Lord rewards the five talent servant not because he has gained five talents more, but because he is faithful. According to the calculation of the world, the difference between the first and the second servants at the time of reckoning amounts to six talents. But according to spiritual arithmetic, five beyond five and two beyond two are equal. Each and every believer may receive reward. Though we do not have gifts comparable to Paul’s, yet we may receive the same reward because the opportunity for faithful service is the same.
The servant with the two talents should give us great consolation. We may have less gift, but our faithfulness must not be behind that of anybody else.
vv.24-30 We now come to the fourth and final part of the parable of the talents—the judgment of the third servant with one talent.
v.24 Is the one who receives but one talent saved? Of course he is. The reasons are as follows:
(1) If this man is not saved, then it means that all the saved will be rewarded.
(2) If this man is not saved, it is as if the Lord were telling us that however a Christian may fail he will not be disciplined.
(3)This man is the Lord’s own servant, having been redeemed through His blood; for the Lord will not choose anyone who is unsaved to be His “servant”—the Holy Spirit, incidentally, never uses incorrect terminology.
(4) How can the Lord give His goods to an unsaved person?
(5) When he is sentenced this one talent person is still called a “servant” by the Lord: an “unprofitable” one, yes—but not a false servant.
(6) He is judged for his works and not judged for believing or not believing. If he is not saved, how can the Lord ever judge him for works? He should be judged for despising the precious blood. Moreover, if earning another talent will save, then salvation will not be by faith.
(7) With whom is he judged? He is judged together with the saved who receive reward. Will the unsaved be judged with the saved? Before the judgment seat of Christ only the saved are going to be judged.
(8) If the person is unsaved, can the Lord ever blame him for unfaithfulness, for not trading with the gift? Can, for example, the Lord be unhappy with the unsaved for not preaching the gospel? He would much rather not have him preaching the gospel.
(9) At the coming of the Lord, His servants shall come to Him, which means that they shall be raptured to the air. Can an unsaved person be raptured?
(10) The Lord has not ordered the servant to be brought in; instead the servant comes himself because he is the Lord’s. An unsaved soul will not dare to see the Lord; he would rather summon the rocks to fall upon him in order to hide himself from the face of God and of the Lamb. Yet we must notice that this servant has not lost even the one talent which the Lord gave him: he ate his own food and carefully kept the talent for the Lord. He thinks he has done well and has done nothing wrong.
(11) This parable agrees with the one in Luke 19.11-27 where the wicked servant (saved, v.22) and the unsaved (“these mine enemies”—v.27) are clearly distinguished and definitely not to be mixed up.
Nonetheless, people will ask why the evil servant is cast into outer darkness. Is not this hell? they ask. Yet if it is hell, then it should be termed the lake of fire which will appear only after the millennium. Yet this parable speaks of what is to take place before the millennium.
vv.24-25 No one really dares to utter these words; the Lord is only revealing here what is in the heart of man.
“Hard” means strict. This makes the servant afraid. His failure lies in not really knowing the Lord, not knowing His grace. He imagines that the Lord is overly strict; and thus he obviously is still under the fear of Mt. Sinai (see Ex. 20.18-21). Are we not now in the dispensation of Grace and not of Law? We therefore need not be afraid. The Lord is responsible for our success; we are only responsible for being faithful.
v.26 If our Lord reaps where he sowed not and gathers where He scattered not (and yet we know He has actually sown and scattered) He will not require something from us. At the judgment seat, there is no ground for argument. This servant’s poor showing is attributed in the parable entirely to his laziness. D. L. Moody once said that it is hard for a lazy person to be saved. We can at least say here that no lazy person will receive a reward. Let us not allow our gift to remain idle because it is small. Let us not wait for a more convenient or more promising time to serve.
v.27 “Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the bankers”—Gift may be distributed to others for trading. We should contact one or more people. We should never bury the gift so as not to pass it on to another’s hand. However little our gift may be, it must not go unused. Whether or not we succeed is not, as we have said, our responsibility; but why not at least put it to use to save one soul, help one life, or comfort one person? How very sad if we have not led anyone to Christ.
v.28 “Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath the ten talents”—This third servant receives double punishment—a taking away from him and a casting him out, just as the faithful servants had received a double reward—joy and authority. And incidentally, the giving of the one talent to the servant with the ten talents proves that the Lord is not “a hard man” since He keeps nothing for himself.
v.29 This is a principle: He who has today shall have abundance in the future. He will be elevated to rule over many things. In the kingdom, gifts will be used even more extensively than today. But he who does not have today will not have in the future; for all who despise gifts now will have their gifts taken away then.
v.30 “And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness”—This is the second punishment. Outer darkness is a relative, not an absolute, term. In order to understand this word “outer” we need first of all to know where the Lord will speak these words. As we have noted earlier, the Lord will come to the air, to where as well His saints are to be raptured. There they appear before His judgment seat where these words are spoken. And hence the “outer” spoken of here is “outer” in relation to the air. Never in the Scriptures, not even once, is hell called outer darkness. As a matter of fact, hell is not dark but has about it the element of fire! Let us see that when the Lord comes, He shall be surrounded by darkness, although there shall be glory within (see Ps. 18.9-11). And hence the “outer” mentioned in the parable is in relation to this darkness that shrouds the darkness of the Lord’s glory at His coming.
“Weeping”—This term has reference to a repentance on the part of this servant as to his lost opportunity in using the talent properly.
“Gnashing of teeth”—Such a servant will murmur against himself for the loss incurred; for he loses out in the matter of joy and authority.
Three elements are closely related: the blood, the cross, and the judgment seat. Although there are no Bible verses plainly connecting these three, both life and experience bear witness to this undoubted link. The cross of Christ stands at the center of the three. Now whereas the judgment seat is yet to come, the blood and the cross have already been accomplished. Whatever the blood and the cross miss (that is, whatever sin or failure will not have been dealt with throughout our lives by the blood and the cross), will not be missed at the judgment seat. What the cross may have missed in our lives ought at least to have passed through the blood (in terms of forgiveness). If a believer anticipates nothing but grace at the judgment seat, then everything will have needed first to have passed through the blood and the cross. The blood of Christ is for washing and redeeming; it is something much more objective to us. The cross, on the other hand, is for crucifying death, sin, the old man, the world, and the old creation. To us this is far more subjective.
Our personal failures may affect two sides: God and self. If we sin and our fellowship with God is interrupted, we may be cleansed again and again by the blood and thus have our fellowship repeatedly restored. The blood deals with sins while the cross deals with the power of sin. Through the blood sins are forgiven, but the blood cannot give a guarantee to us never to sin again—nay, not even never to sin the same sin again. And hence the flesh and the world (the power centers of sin) must be dealt with by the cross. The blood forgives, but only the cross can deliver.
All failures and sins throughout our lives which have passed under the blood and been dealt with on the cross will not be judged at the judgment seat. Indeed, at this seat the Lord will only judge our undealt idle words, thoughts, and works. As penetrating as the light of the judgment seat may be, it can never uncover sins which are already under the blood. How then do we deal, for example, with the tongue which often delights to indulge in idle words? We need the cross. And the same is true with our unprofitable thoughts and works. They too need the cross. Let us therefore accept the cross by faith, reckon that this old man was crucified on the cross, and then the judgment seat can never search out for judgment those things in our lives that have already been dealt with by the cross.
Upon being cleansed by the blood with respect to any particular sin or failure, we must turn immediately to the cross; otherwise, there is the possibility of our sinning again and thus we shall have to be judged at the judgment seat.
THE PARABLE OF THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS
This parable applies to the Gentile nations. According to the Scriptures the inhabited world is divided into three classes of people: the Jews, the church, and the nations. Both the Jews and the church have already been touched upon in chapters 24 and 25. Now in this remaining passage of chapter 25, Jesus’ prophecy as to what will happen to the nations at the end time has been recorded.
However, two erroneous interpretations of this parable have been set forward. One of these propounds a universal judgment in the future; and the other has this parable signifying the judgment of the Christian. Let us examine each of them closely, making a number of observations about each interpretation.
(1) Universal judgment
(a) If the meaning of this parable has reference to a future universal judgment, such judgment must obviously include the Jews, the church, and the nations, both the living and the dead. In the first place, holding a view of there being one grand universal judgment is a serious misconception among some in the church today. For the Bible never teaches the concept of a universal judgment. On the contrary, its pages teach that judgment is dispensed severally—to the church, to the Jews, and also to the nations. Unfortunately, people use this parable as the basis for the idea that one cannot know for sure his salvation until the time of the judgment seat. Consequently, many hope that there will yet be opportunity for people to be saved after death. And thus the church today becomes a haven for many people who can only hope for salvation. For if the teaching of a universal judgment is true, then we do indeed have no way of knowing with any degree of certainty our salvation today.
(b) Who in this parable are the ones to be judged? It tells us that it is to be “all the nations” (v.32). This word “nations” is the same as is translated “the Gentiles” in Matthew 4.15; 6.32; 10.5,18; 12.18; and 20.19,25. It is a Greek word which in its meaning includes all the Gentiles.
(c) When is to be the judgment that is spoken of here in this parable? We are told by the Lord that it will be before the millennial kingdom (see v.34). Revelation 20.11-15 tells us that there will be the judgment of the great white throne after the millennium. And thus by these facts we know that no such concept as a universal judgment can be true.
(d) Where is the judgment in this parable held? The Son of man, we are told, shall sit on the throne of His glory. In Revelation 3.21 we see two thrones—the Father’s and the Son’s. Today our Lord sits on His Father’s throne. In the future, though, He will sit on His own throne. The throne here in Matthew 25.31 is His own throne, that is to say, His throne on earth in the kingdom; for how can the nations be separated if they are in the air and not on earth, since it is only on earth that national boundaries exist? If they are in the air, then it would mean that the judged must be raptured—which would further mean that a part of the raptured are unsaved, a circumstance which we know cannot be true.
(e) The ones to be judged in this parable are living, none of them is dead. The Scriptures reveal that resurrection occurs twice, and these two are separated in time by a thousand years. Now we know that in the first resurrection, there is none unsaved. Yet here in the parable the goats are condemned to eternal fire, and hence this parable cannot be speaking of the first resurrection and therefore has nothing to do with Christians.
(f) At the time alluded to in this parable, Satan has not yet been cast into the lake of fire; for the word “prepared” in verse 41 proves that this action has not yet been taken. If the judgment here were the same as that of the great white throne, Satan would at this time now be cast into the lake of fire.
(g) The appellation “the Son of man” is a name used in connection with the kingdom. After the millennium, the Son “will deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father” (1 Cor. 15.24).
(h) Prophecy must be interpreted with other prophecies. And by doing so, we shall easily see that the Bible speaks of several judgments.
(2) Church judgment. This parable of the sheep and the goats does not allude to a judgment of the church. People usually think of sheep as only referring to Christians (see John 10), but such is not the case here, for the following reasons:
(a) As we have seen, the “nations” mean the Gentiles.
(b) These people (both the sheep and the goats) have never known the Lord.
(c) They are judged not according to Mosaic law, nor according to faith, but according to works alone—thus distinguishing them from the Jews and the church.
(d) The church is chosen before the foundation of the world (see Eph. 1.4), while these sheep in the parable are chosen from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25.34).
(e) These sheep showed kindness to the least of the brethren of the Lord (see Matt. 25.40) without realizing they had done it to the Lord. If these were Christians, how could they fail to know? For surely, Christians deal kindly with the least of the Lord’s brethren for the sake of the Lord himself, and even the Jews give alms for the sake of Jehovah; yet these people are totally ignorant. The church, which includes the lazy servant as well as the wicked servant (see Matt. 25.24 and 24.48), certainly knows the Lord.
(f) Our judgment as Christians is carried on in the air, not on the earth.
(g) The judgment if this parable is no related to the first resurrection because these people (both the sheep and the goats) are the unsaved.
(h) The judgment in view here results in either eternal life or eternal death, but believers have already had this matter in their lives settled.
(i) In the sight of God the saved and the unsaved are never mixed together.
(j) The least of the brethren (see Matt. 25.40) must of necessity be those who are distinct from the goats and the sheep. They are the believers who have already passed through judgment. They cannot be the Jews,* for the Lord has cut asunder such a relationship with the Jews (Matt. 12.46-50). And if the sheep are Christians, they are really mixed up with the goats.
(k) Christians well know that they must love God’s children, but these people have no such knowledge.
(l) If these sheep represent Christians, then Christians are saved not by faith but by showing kindness to the least of the brethren.
(m) If people are saved by distributing food, showing hospitality, sending clothes, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned, then the least of the brethren would themselves have no chance to be saved: for how can the imprisoned perform such good deeds?
* But see the footnote on this at 25.34-40 (more specifically at vv..35-36) below.—Translator
The parable of the sheep and the goats may be divided into four parts: (1) the gathering of the sheep and the goats (vv. 31-33); (2) the conversation with the sheep (vv.34-40 ); (3) the conversation with the goats (vv.41-45); and (4) the consequence (v.46).
vv.31-33 These verses form the first part of the parable—the gathering of the sheep and the goats.
v.31 “The Son of man”—All the names of the Lord given in chapter 25 are full of meaning: the name of bridegroom is significantly related to the virgins, the name of lord is characteristically related to the servants, and the name of the Son of man is appropriately related to the nations (as well as to the kingdom—see below). As the Son of man, the Lord Jesus has a relationship with all mankind in general. Strictly speaking, the passage in verses 31-46 of Matthew 25 is really no parable, for it does not begin with such words as “like” or “as” but is instead a rather factual account. The Son of man has the power to judge. As the Son of God the Lord raises people from the dead, and this is His relationship to the church; as the Son of man He executes judgment, and this is the Lord’s relationship to the Gentiles (see John 5.25,27). The Son of man is also related to the kingdom (see Dan. 7.13-14). The Lord shall come to establish His kingdom, but He first must judge the world. Only those who pass through the judgment successfully are qualified to be people in the kingdom. Are we not to reign as kings with Christ? How then can we reign if there are no people? Where is there a kingdom which has no people?
“Shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him”—The glory of the Lord is manifold: the glory of the Godhead, His moral glory, the glory of being man, and the glory which God gives Him (Phil. 2.9-11). Here, it is His glory as the exalted Man. He receives this glory as the result of His becoming obedient even to death. The kingdom is God’s reward to Him. This glory is therefore not His eternal glory which He only shares with His Father in eternity.
The scene here is similar to that of Matthew 24.30. And hence this judgment follows closely that of Matthew 24.30.
“All the angels with him”—This is in order to gather all the nations. These Gentiles have not followed the Antichrist in war. For the Gentiles who follow the Antichrist will all be slain by the sharp sword which proceeds out of the mouth of Christ (see Rev. 19.21). Hence we see that these people neither believe in the Lord nor follow the Antichrist.
“Then shall he sit on the throne of his glory” —Today it is the mercy seat on which the Lord sits and where we can receive seasonable helps (Heb. 4.16). But in that day it will be the throne of glory which is most holy and where judgment will be quickly executed: glory—> holy—> righteous—> judgment.
This throne is set on earth at Jerusalem. The throne of God is now in heaven (Matt. 25.31), and today the Son sits on His Father’s throne (Rev. 3.21). How do we know that this throne will be set in Jerusalem? The proofs are found in Psalm 122.3,5 and Luke 1.32-33. The throne of David is set in Jerusalem and we know that the throne of Christ is the throne of David. His glorious throne is already mentioned in Matthew 19.28.
The first “glory” in verse 31 is the glory with which He comes, while the second “glory” in the verse is that which shall continue on.
v.32 The phrase “all the nations” refers, as we have said, to all the Gentiles. Who are these Gentiles who are gathered? They are those who are still alive and who are to be judged. Let us understand that there are two classes of Gentiles: one class will be slain by the sharp sword which proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord because they follow the Antichrist; the other class, which will be the majority of the Gentiles, are those who do not follow the Antichrist. The judgment which comes upon those Gentiles who follow the Antichrist is described in Joel 3.12, Micah 4.11-13, Zephaniah 3.8, Zechariah 12.3, and Revelation 16.14 and 19.19,21. They are instigated by the Antichrist to go out and destroy the Jews, but they themselves shall be destroyed by the appearing of the Lord.
“Separate them one from another”—This action is likened to a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. This statement injects a little parable into this passage before us. From the Scriptures we can discern that the Lord seems to have three distinct kinds of sheep: (1) the believers in the church (see John 10); (2) the Jews (see Ps. 80.1, Jer. 23.1-4 and 31.10); and (3) the nations or Gentiles (see Ez. 34.20-22 and Ps. 100.1-3). And thus, sheep cannot be applied exclusively to Christians.
There is absolutely no possibility to perform this separation in heaven or in hell. Separation is only possible on earth.
First separate, then judge. It is not to be as in the case of the great white throne (where it will be first the books and then the execution), for to be precise it is a judgment not according to works but according to nature: because the sheep act naturally as sheep while the goats act naturally as goats.
v.33 “On his right side”—This phrase signifies the position of glory, since we know that the Lord ascended to the right side of the Father after He was glorified.
vv.34-40 This second part of the parable covers the conversation with the sheep.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand”—“King” is injected as a new title here. The Lord is also King to the Gentiles. To the church He is her head as well as her bridegroom.
“Ye blessed of my Father”—It says “my” Father here and not “our” Father. The Bible rarely says “our Father”; but the Lord did say on one occasion, “my Father and your Father” (John 20.17). By the Lord only saying “my Father” in the parable here, it indicates that these people have no relationship with Him, thus proving that they are not Christians. Since they do not know the Lord, He obviously cannot say “our Father” or “your Father” as He had done elsewhere when speaking to those who know Him.
“Blessed”—This blessing is earthly (“inherit the kingdom”). The church, on the other hand, receives heavenly blessing.
In the future kingdom of the heavens, there will be three distinct realms: (a) the realm of earthly blessings such as God originally gave to Adam in having dominion over all things, with the earth yielding abundantly for man. These blessings which will be in the earthly kingdom were lost after man had fallen. Hence the Lord says, “from the foundation of the world” (v.34c). Today we are afraid of beasts lest they hurt us, but in that day there will be no need for such fear. (b) The kingdom of the Jews. Though its realm will be Canaan land or Palestine, yet its sphere of influence will be far-reaching. See Genesis 17: “She shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her” (v.16); Isaiah 60 “That nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted” (v.12); and Deuteronomy 15: “Jehovah thy God will bless thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over thee” (v.6). (c) The spiritual realm of the kingdom. See 1 Corinthians 15: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: we all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed. . . and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (vv.50-52); and Romans 8: “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (v.17). The kingdom in view in Matthew 25.34 points to that kingdom realm wherein neither asp nor lion will hurt anybody and into which the parable’s first group of people (the sheep) is placed.
vv.35-36 Herein lies the difference between the sheep and the goats: Why is it that the sheep could “inherit the kingdom”? Because they distributed food, sent clothing, provided hospitality, and visited the sick and the jailed. Believers will be judged before the judgment seat of Christ according to faithfulness; the Jews will be judged as to whether or not they worship the beast; and the nations at the very end will be judged at the great white throne according to the book of life and the books. But the nations here are to be judged differently from the nations at the very end of this old heaven and earth. Since the people of these nations are still alive at the appearing of the Lord on earth, they will be judged according to their work, that is to say, according to how they treat the least of the brethren of the Lord (see v.40).
Who are the least of the brethren of the Lord? Our Lord has three distinct kinds of brethren: (1) the Jews, He and they being of the same race (see Acts 7.23-26, Rom. 9.3, and Deut. 17.15); (2) His own brethren according to flesh (see Matt. 12.46-48 and 13.55); and (3) the believers who are His brethren (see Matt. 12.48-50). The least of the Lord’s brethren spoken of in Matthew 25.40 do not refer to the first or second kinds (the Jews), since by the time of Matthew 12 the Lord had already deliberately severed such relationships.∗ Consequently, they must refer to those believers who shall have to pass through the Great Tribulation.* Since believers are joined to the
* In Mr. Nee’s study on the book of Revelation entitled “Come, Lord Jesus” (New York, Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1976), the author puts forth the view on page 83 that the little brother spoken of in Matthew 25.40 (“one of these my brethren, even these least”) points to the Jews or those Christians who yet remain on the earth. It is therefore an interpretation which is open to discussion.—Translator
Lord as one (1 Cor. 6.17), then whatever is done to them is done also to the Lord.
The overcomers have been raptured but the majority of believers are left to go through the Great Tribulation. They will be afflicted and persecuted. The sheep in this parable will have heard the eternal good tidings proclaimed by an angel warning people to “fear God, and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters” (Rev. 14.6-7). They will be those who do not follow the crowd in persecuting the Christians, neither will they worship idols. These sheep are those who shall fear God and treat believers kindly. It will not be easy to perform these kind deeds during the Great Tribulation.
Since the judgment is to be based on deeds done in the flesh and not on spiritual things, these people cannot be Christians.
Please note finally that these righteous ones in the parable are astonished at what the Lord says, and the Lord accepts their astonishment, because He well knows that they have not done all these things for the sake of the Lord: they indeed are not Christians.
vv.41-45 This third part deals with the Lord’s conversation with the goats. These wicked ones are condemned because they have not treated the Christians well during the Great Tribulation.
v.46 This is the fourth and final part: the consequence. The wicked shall go into eternal punishment while the righteous shall enter eternal life. Notice that the righteous enter “into” eternal life, they do not “have” eternal life. Believers enter in with life, but the righteous enter into life. The believers gain the kingdom because they are chosen by the Father before the foundation of the earth, whereas the righteous enter into the kingdom which God has promised Adam from the foundation of the earth.
The righteous regain the position of Adam. The Old Testament speaks of how the righteous shall inherit the earth (Ps. 37.10-11,22,26-29,34; and Gen. 27.28).
What is comforting most is the fact that even though believers may pass through the Great Tribulation, the Lord yet remembers them by sending an angel to proclaim the eternal good tidings.
The general lessons: (1) Deal kindly with suffering brethren. Do not be like Job’s friends, but help those who suffer. And (2) The Lord is one with the believers. Though they may be put in jail, the Lord is still with them.
Go to Matthew 24