The Parable of the Ten Virgins
25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 25:2 Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. 25:3 When the foolish ones took their lamps, they did not take extra olive oil with them. 25:4 But the wise ones took flasks of olive oil with their lamps. 25:5 When the bridegroom was delayed a long time, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 25:6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is here! Come out to meet him.’ 25:7 Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 25:8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 25:9 ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There won’t be enough for you and for us. Go instead to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 25:10 But while they had gone to buy it, the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready went inside with him to the wedding banquet. Then the door was shut. 25:11 Later, the other virgins came too, saying, ‘Lord, lord! Let us in!’ 25:12 But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you!’ 25:13 Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Virgins – Young women of marriageable age who were bridesmaids, or friends of the bridegroom. They were to go out the meet the bridgroom and lead him and his bride home for the wedding festivities.
Lamps – Oil-soaked rags on sticks. They would need to be dipped in oil every few minutes to keep them burning.
Oil – Although we can readily detect allegorical elements in this parable, we should not stretch these so far as to seek specific meaning for the oil (good works, faith, grace, the Holy Spirit, have all been canvassed).
The bridegroom was a long time in coming – Note the indication of delay, cf Mt 24:48. Jesus will return, but we do not know when.
“The cry rang out” – Cf Mt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16.
‘There are some things you cannot borrow. You need to possess them for yourself. It simply is not possible to rely on anyone else for them. Holiness is one of those things. It cannot be traded. If you are not what you profess to be, nobody else can help you or stand in for you.’ (Green)The door was shut – Although the ten girls were similar in so many ways, a division is made between them. Some went in with the bridegroom to join in the festivities, while the others were left outside.
At the point, the parable moves beyond realism (we would have expected the bridegroom to let the young girls enter, even though they were late) in order to accentuate its spiritual meaning.
‘There are some times when it is too late. ‘Too late’ is a terrible verdict. The job has been lost; it is too late now to say you will try harder. The divorce has come through; it is too late now to make amends. The examination starts today; it is too late now to prepare for it. And those terrible words are never more awesome than when applied to the parousia. Make sure you don’t miss the party!’ (Green)
You do not know the day or the hour – Harold Camping, 72-year-old president of Family Radio and a former member of the Christian Reformed Church, asserted in his books ‘1994?’ and ‘Are you Ready?’ that the world would end in September, 1994. His calculations were based on an elaborate system of dating, numerology, and allegory, and led him to believe that the world was created in 11,013 BC. A ‘spiritual tribulation’ began 13,000 years after creation, namely in May 1988. This happens to be the date when Camping was asked by his pastor to cease teaching an adult Bible class in the church in Alameda, California. Camping claims that it is possible to know the year and the month of Christ’s return, for Jesus only said that we could not know ‘the day or the hour.’ (Christianity Today, 20/6/94)
Blomberg summarises the meaning of this parable:-
- ‘Like the bridegroom, God may delay his coming longer than people expect.
- Like the wise bridesmaids, his followers must be prepared for such a delay—discipleship may be more arduous than the novice suspects.
- Like the foolish bridesmaids, those who do not prepare adequately may discover a point beyond which there is no return—when the end comes it will be too late to undo the damage of neglect.
The Parable of the Talents
25:14 “For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 25:15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 25:16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. 25:17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. 25:18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 25:19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 25:20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 25:21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 25:22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 25:23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 25:24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, 25:25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 25:26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 25:27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 25:28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 25:29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 25:30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” – ‘Scripture contains many indications that the new heaven and the new earth will be for the believer a place not only privilege but of responsibility. The “good and faithful servant”, who has been “faithful with a few things”, will be put “in charge of many things” and will “share in [his] master’s happiness.” Similarly, to the good servant of the ten minas the nobleman says: because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities” (Lk 19:17). And Paul adds to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Cor 6:2). It seems fitting that it should be so. Those who have learned to do Christ’s works in this life will continue to do them in the next. Those who have come to rule their own passions on earth will rule over people in heaven.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 403f)
Come and share your master’s happiness! –
‘Note, (1.) The state of the blessed is a state of joy, not only because all tears shall then be wiped away, but all the springs of comfort shall be opened to them, and the fountains of joy broken up. Where there are the vision and fruition of God, a perfection of holiness, and the society of the blessed, there cannot but be a fulness of joy. (2.) This joy is the joy of their Lord; the joy which he himself has purchased and provided for them; the joy of the redeemed, bought with the sorrow of the Redeemer. It is the joy which he himself is in the possession of, and which he had his eye upon when he endured the cross, and despised the shame, Heb. 12:2. It is the joy of which he himself is the fountain and centre. It is the joy of our Lord, for it is joy in the Lord, who is our exceeding joy. Abraham was not willing that the steward of his house, though faithful, should be his heir (Gen. 15:3); but Christ admits his faithful stewards into his own joy, to be joint-heirs with him. (3.) Glorified saints shall enter into this joy, shall have a full and complete possession of it, as the heir when he comes of age enters upon his estate, or as they that were ready, went in to the marriage feast. Here the joy of our Lord enters into the saints, in the earnest of the Spirit; shortly they shall enter into it, shall be in it to eternity, as in their element.’ (MHC)
25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
This passage is the last teaching of Jesus to his disciples reported in this Gospel.
It is often described as a parable. Although there is a parabolic element in the simile of the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats, it is best thought of as a vision of the future (NBC).
‘Jesus began this discourse by focusing on the temporal judgment against Israel (Mt 23:1–24:20); he now ends with an emphasis on the eternal judgment of all the world.’ (Blomberg)
Osborne notes that this teaching ‘moves from the responsibility of the disciples (Mt 24:36–25:30) to the responsibility of all the world in light of the imminent appearing of the Son of Man and the final judgment he will bring.’
Wilkins, too, comments on the relationship between the present teaching and that which has preceded it: ‘Each of the following parables emphasizes different aspects of that preparedness: responsibility (Mt 24:45–51), readiness (Mt 25:1–13), productivity (Mt 25:14–30), and accountability (Mt 25:31–46).’
Morris cautions: ‘This picture of Judgment Day does not give us a full account of everything that has to do with salvation; it does not include, for example, the fact that from the beginning of his Gospel Matthew has been writing about one who will “save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21; cf. also Mt 11:25–30; 20:28). This passage deals with the evidence on which people will be judged, not the cause of salvation or damnation.’
‘The language about the Son of Man coming, glory, angels, throne and judging all derives from Dan 7:9-14. This is the ultimate outworking of the kingship and authority which that prophecy envisaged for the Son of Man, and which Jesus has already referred to in several connections. (Mt 10:23; 16:28; 19:28; 24:30) The gathering of all the nations for judgment recalls the vision in Joe 3:2; but there the judge is God himself. The whole passage calmly attributes to Jesus the authority and kingship which in the OT belong to God alone.’ (NBC)
Hagner notes that ‘the closest parallel to the present verse comes from Mt 16:27, which also refers to the coming of the Son of Man but ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρός, “in the glory of his Father,” rather than ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ, “in his glory,” as here. That Matthew can alter this language so naturally is an indicator of his high Christology. The remainder of Mt 16:27, “and then he will render to each according to his work,” is, of course, the point of the present parable concerning the sheep and the goats.’
“When” – Barnes notes: ‘That this refers to the last judgment, and not, as some have supposed, to the destruction of Jerusalem, appears—1st. From the fact that it was in answer to an express inquiry respecting the end of the world. 2d. All nations were to be assembled, which did not take place at the destruction of Jerusalem. 3d. A separation was to take place between the righteous and the wicked, which was not done at Jerusalem. 4th. The rewards and punishments are declared to be eternal. None of these things took place at the destruction of Jerusalem.’
“The Son of Man” – A title taken from Dan 7. It is our Lord’s favourite self-designation. One remarkable feature of this passage is the pre-eminent place given to the Son of Man at the Last Judgement: in Jewish thinking, that place was reserved exclusively for God himself. As France says: ‘the OT expectation of the eschatological visitation of God in judgment and salvation finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Son of Man who sits on his glorious throne and pronounces judgment.’
“Comes” – Although modern readers tend to assume that this is a ‘coming’ from heaven to earth, the reverse is probably the case. France (TNTC) writes: ‘this fulfilment of the visions of Daniel 7 is something which Jesus expects progressively over the whole period from his resurrection to his parousia, as the ‘everlasting dominion’ predicted in Daniel 7:14 becomes increasingly a reality. Here we see the climax of the progressive fulfilment, for it seems clear from what follows that we are now transported to the ultimate manifestation of that authority in the final judgment associated with the parousia (which has been the focus of the whole discourse since Mt 24:36).’
“His glory” – ‘The picture is one of grandeur, majesty, authority, and judgment.’ (Blomberg)
“All the angels with him” – he will come with all the insignia of divine majesty. ‘They must come to call the court (1 Th. 4:16), to gather the elect (Mt 24:31), to bundle the tares (Mt 13:40), to be witnesses of the saints’ glory (Lk 12:8), and of sinners’ misery, Rev 14:10.’ (MHC)
France notes that Jesus’ claim here ‘goes beyond the vision of Daniel 7, for whereas in that passage the throne was that of God the judge, now it is the Son of man himself who sits on it as King (v. 34); moreover all the angels with him probably echoes Zechariah 14:5, where they accompany ‘the LORD your God’ in his coming to judgment. And in v. 32 the language recalls the gathering of all the nations for judgment in Joel 3:1–12, where again it is God who sits in judgment.’
“He will sit on his throne” – ‘He is now set down with the Father upon his throne; and it is a throne of grace, to which we may come boldly; it is a throne of government, the throne of his father David; he is a priest upon that throne: but then he will sit upon the throne of glory, the throne of judgment.’ (MHC)
‘This is the reason why he says that he will then assume the title of King; for though he commenced his reign on the earth, and now sits at the right hand of the Father, so as to exercise the supreme government of heaven and earth; yet he has not yet erected before the eyes of men that throne, from which his divine majesty will be far more fully displayed than it now is at the last day; for that, of which we now obtain by faith nothing more than a taste, will then have its full effect. So then Christ now sits on his heavenly throne, as fir as it is necessary that he shall reign for restraining his enemies and protecting the Church; but then he will appear openly, to establish perfect order in heaven and earth, to crush his enemies under his feet, to assemble his believing people to partake of an everlasting and blessed life, to ascend his judgment-seat; and, in a word, there will be a visible manifestation of the reason why the kingdom was given to him by the Father.’ (Calvin)
“In heavenly glory” – Jesus stresses that ‘when he returns at the end of this age he will come in majesty and splendor. His servants must not be misled by his readiness to take the lowly place and think that that is his only place. His second coming will be strikingly different. He will come in power and majesty to inaugurate the final state of affairs.’ (Morris)
France (NICNT) regards the ‘main thrust’ of this passage ‘as the climax of the discourse on judgment, its portrayal of the ultimate sovereignty of the Son of Man as the universal judge..
‘There is a judgment to come, in which every man shall be sentenced to a state of everlasting happiness, or misery, in the world of recompence or retribution, according to what he did in this world of trial and probation, which is to be judged of by the rule of the everlasting gospel.’ (MHC)
25:32 All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 25:33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“All the nations will be gathered before him” – ‘The nations’ – ta ethne – would include Jews and well as Gentiles.
It was to ‘the nations’ that the disciples were sent, Mt 24:14; 28:19, and it is response of ‘the nations’ to the disciples, as emissaries of Christ, that will be scrutinised on the last day.
The view of Calvin, that the judgement here is of the church as a mixed body of believers and unbelievers, is not supported by the text itself.
‘Note, The judgment of the great day will be a general judgment. All must be summoned before Christ’s tribunal; all of every age of the world, from the beginning to the end of time; all of every place on earth, even from the remotest corners of the world, most obscure, and distant from each other; all nations, all those nations of men that are made of one blood, to dwell on all the face of the earth.’ (MHC)
“He will separate the people one from another” – Although we tend to think of this scene as representing the Last Judgement, ‘it does not depict a trial but the passing of a sentence on those whose judgment has already taken place.’ (Mounce)
Although it is the nations that have been gathered, it is the individual people of the nations who are judged.
“As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” – ‘Although sheep and goats grazed together, it is said that Palestinian shepherds normally separated sheep and goats at night because goats need to be warm at night while sheep prefer open air. Sheep were more valuable than goats, and characteristics like this may have may have influenced how these terms would be heard figuratively; for instance, in a pagan dream handbook sheep were associated with good while goats were associated with trouble.’ (NT Background Commentary)
The Hebrews made little distinction between sheep and goats, and they were regularly mixed in Palestinian flocks, so separation may be indicative of divine discernment. ‘We too could probably not guess from superficial knowledge and external appearance who are truly God’s people, but he knows.’ (Blomberg)
The distinction is absolute: there is no middle ground. Right and left indicate here, as in many cultures, favour and disfavour respectively.
This striking imagery is illustrative of ‘the final division of people who have up to that point lived together indistinguishably—cf. the imagery of the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13:29–30) or of the silly and sensible girls (Mt 25:1–12). To other people (and even to themselves, vv. 37–39, 44?) the saved and the lost may look very similar; it takes the expertise of the “king” to know which is which.’ (France)
25:34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
“The King will say to those on his right” – Morris observes that this appears to be the only passage in which Jesus explicitly refers to himself as ‘King’. ‘At the time he was speaking he might well be “despised and rejected of men,” but in due course he will be sovereign over all.’
“Come” – ‘This come is, in effect, “Welcome, ten thousand welcomes, to the blessings of my father; come to me, come to be for ever with me; you that followed me bearing the cross, now come along with me wearing the crown. The blessed of my Father are the beloved of my soul, that have been too long at a distance from me; come, now, come into my bosom, come into my arms, come into my dearest embraces!”’ (MHC)
“You who are blessed…take your inheritance” – ‘By calling them blessed of the Father, he reminds them, that their salvation proceeded from the undeserved favor of God…There can be no doubt…that Christ, in describing the salvation of the godly, begins with the undeserved love of God, by which those who, under the guidance of the Spirit in this life, aim at righteousness, were predestined to life.’ (Calvin)
‘Though the life of the godly be nothing else than a sad and wretched banishment, so that the earth scarcely bears them; though they groan under hard poverty, and reproaches, and other afflictions; yet, that they may with fortitude and cheerfulness surmount these obstacles, the Lord declares that a kingdom is elsewhere prepared for them. It is no slight persuasive to patience, when men are fully convinced that they do not run in vain; and therefore, lest our minds should be east, down by the pride of the ungodly, in which they give themselves unrestrained indulgences-lest our hope should even be weakened by our own afflictions, let us always remember the inheritance which awaits us in heaven; for it depends on no uncertain event, but was prepared for us by God before we were born,-prepared, I say, for each of the elect, for the persons here addressed by Christ are the blessed of the Father.’ (Calvin)
“Blessed by my Father” – ‘reproached and cursed by the world, but blessed of God.’ (MHC)
‘He pronounces them blessed; and his saying they are blessed, makes them so.’ (MHC)
See Eph 1:3ff for Pauls accounts of ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’.
France recalls ‘John 5:27 where the Father “has given authority to the Son to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”’
‘The idea of the fatherhood of God goes hand-in-hand with inheritance language, for it is as part of God’s family that believers will have an inheritance (see Mt 5:5; Mt 19:29; Rom 8:17; 1 Cor 6:9, 10; Heb 1:4, 14; et al.).’ (Osborne)
“The kingdom prepared for you” – Their role is not merely to be subjects, but to exercise their own delegated kingship.
‘The happiness they shall be possessed of is very rich; we are told what it is by him who had reason to know it, having purchased it for them, and possessed it himself.’ (MHC)
‘Christ does not simply invite believers to possess the kingdom, as if they had obtained it by their merits, but expressly says that it is bestowed on them as heirs.’ (Calvin)
“Since the creation of the world” – It is ‘sure and unalterable’, and to know this ‘is solid assurance for persecuted disciples in a hostile world.’ (France)
‘The end, which is last in execution, is first in intention. Infinite Wisdom had an eye to the eternal glorification of the saints, from the first founding of the creation.’ (MHC)
Morris says that although some interpret this passage to teach salvation by works, here we see that the kingdom has been prepared by God ‘since the creation of the world’: i.e. long before any good deeds have been performed. However, as France says, this passage is not conclusive in any discussion of the doctrine of election, because it could be understood to mean that ‘what is determined in advance is that those who prove at the time of judgment to be “sheep” will inherit the kingship, rather than that certain individuals have been “pre-selected” before their birth to be “sheep.”’
Milne says that a number of aspects of heaven are highlighted in this passage:-
- We enter heaven at the invitation of the King.
- The redeemed are ‘blessed by my Father’.
- Heaven is an inheritance.
- Heaven is an order of existence characterised by life – eternal life.
25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
“I was a stranger and you invited me in” – ‘The stranger is always in a somewhat difficult position, and in first-century Palestine, with its lack of facilities like the hotels that in modern times we so easily take for granted, this was especially the case. Where would a stranger lodge when he came to an unfamiliar place? The Old Testament knows of a man who prepared to spend the night in the town square (Judg. 19:15; cf. Job 31:32); thus a stranger could not rely on facilities for temporary lodgings. If he was not to spend the night in the open air, someone would have to take him into a private home. This was done among the Christians (Acts 10:23; Heb. 13:2, etc.), who seem to have taken the duty of hospitality very seriously.’ (Morris)
‘The hardships listed recall those promised in ch. 10 to Jesus’ disciples in their mission, and are strikingly echoed in Paul’s description of his experiences as a Christian missionary in 2 Cor 11:23-27.’ (France)
‘Jesus is clear that to follow him means to be homeless; in reply to a teacher of the law who would follow him, Jesus replies: ‘Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head’ (Matt 8.20 = Luke 9.58). In other words, if you follow Jesus you will be like him, and this is to be without home, a wandering stranger, reliant on the charity and provision of others.’ (Ian Paul)
The acts of kindness are listed no less than four times, ‘and is clearly meant to be remembered as a guide to practical discipleship. It is by such acts that one prepares for the judgement.’ (France)
As Hagner notes, ‘the catalogue is, of course, only representative. It covers the most basic needs of life in order to represent the meeting of human need of every kind.’
‘This parable describes acts of mercy we all can do every day. These acts do not depend on wealth, ability, or intelligence; they are simple acts freely given and freely received. We have no excuse to neglect those who have deep needs, and we cannot hand over this responsibility to the church or government. Jesus demands our personal involvement in caring for others’ needs (Isaiah 58:7).’ (HBA)
‘Faith working by love is all in all in Christianity.’ (MHC)
‘It is no new thing for those that are feasted with the dainties of heaven to be hungry and thirsty, and to want daily food; for those that are at home in God, to be strangers in a strange land; for those that have put on Christ, to want clothes to keep them warm; for those that have healthful souls, to have sickly bodies; and for those to be in prison, that Christ has made free.’ (MHC)
‘Works of charity and beneficence, according as our ability is, are necessary to salvation; and there will be more stress laid upon them in the judgment of the great day, than is commonly imagined; these must be the proofs of our love, and of our professed subjection to the gospel of Christ, 2 Co. 9:13.’ (MHC)
‘Does our Lord hunger and thirst? Is he who himself made everything in heaven and on earth, who feeds angels in heaven and every nation and race on earth, who needs nothing of an earthly character, as he is unfailing in his own nature, is this one naked? It is incredible to believe such a thing. Yet what must be confessed is easy to believe. For the Lord hungers not in his own nature but in his saints; the Lord thirsts not in his own nature but in his poor. The Lord who clothes everyone is not naked in his own nature but in his servants. The Lord who is able to heal all sicknesses and has already destroyed death itself is not diseased in his own nature but in his servants. Our Lord, the one who can liberate every person, is not in prison in his own nature but in his saints. Therefore, you see, my most beloved, that the saints are not alone. They suffer all these things because of the Lord. In the same way, because of the saints the Lord suffers all these things with them.’ (Epiphanius the Latin, in
25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 25:38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? 25:39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
The righteous – Those on whom a favourable verdict has just been announced.
The criterion of judgement is not accepting the message of Jesus’ ‘brothers’ but ministering to their physical needs.
“When did we see you hungry and feed you…?” – ‘The surprise expressed is not at their being told that they acted from love to Christ, but that Christ Himself was the Personal Object of all their deeds: that they found Him hungry, and supplied Him with food: that they brought water to Him, and slaked His thirst; that seeing Him naked and shivering, they put warm clothing upon Him, paid Him visits when lying in prison for the truth, and sat by His bedside when laid down with sickness.’ (JFB)
‘Not as if they were loth to inherit the kingdom, or were ashamed of their good deeds, or had not the testimony of their own consciences concerning them: but, (1.) The expressions are parabolical, designed to introduce and impress these great truths, that Christ has a mighty regard to works of charity, and is especially pleased with kindnesses done to his people for his sake. Or, (2.) They bespeak the humble admiration which glorified saints will be filled with, to find such poor and worthless services, as theirs are, so highly celebrated, and richly rewarded: Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Note, Gracious souls are apt to think meanly of their own good deeds; especially as unworthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed.’ (MHC)
France insists that ‘it does not seem to be possible to read this passage as expressing a “Pauline” doctrine of salvation through explicit faith in Jesus. A systematic theologian can devise a scheme whereby justification by grace through faith and judgment according to works are together parts of a greater whole, but Matthew is not writing systematic theology, and the present passage brings to its fullest expression his conviction that when the Son of Man comes he will “repay every person according to what they have done.” (Mt 16:27).’ We think, however, that France, fine exegetical theologian that he is, needed to allow a little more room for the contribution of systematic theology.
‘Their surprise (and that later of those who were rejected) is not unimportant. It shows clearly that their salvation did not depend on their good works; for in doing those works they must have known that they were doing things that other people did not do. But clearly their kindness to the needy was not in order to gain a reward and merit salvation, but was part of the way they lived in response to what Christ had done in and for them.’ (Morris)
‘In the Two-Thirds World today…some estimates suggest that over two hundred million Christians suffer malnourishment daily.’ (Blomberg)
25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’
Here, suggests Hagner, is ‘an astounding principle, central to the passage.’
“One of the least” – ‘Everything is referred to its class; nothing is committed to oblivion. Even a single instance often makes much in either direction. cf Mt 25.45.’ (Bengel)
“These brothers of mine” – a term for Jesus’ disciples, not for people in general (see note for discussion). Service to any of these – including ‘the least of these’ – is service to Jesus himself. This is the nearest that Matthew comes to the concept of the church as the ‘body of Christ’ (France). Consider the risen Lord’s words to Saul: “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4)
‘It is important to note that, in each of the passages which refer to ‘these little ones’, the point is to declare the importance of such people because of their identification with Jesus (see esp. Mt 10:40, 42; 18:5).’ (Osborne)
‘The good works of the saints, when they are produced in the great day, (1.) Shall all be remembered; and not the least, not one of the least, overlooked, no not a cup of cold water. (2.) They shall be interpreted most to their advantage, and the best construction that can be put upon them. As Christ makes the best of their infirmities, so he makes the most of their services.’ (MHC)
‘The verdict is not based on whether or not men have lived a good moral life or even used their checkbooks compassionately. It is based on how men have stood with respect to the Kingdom of God. Were they on the side of the kingdom or against it?’ (Oudersluys)
“You did it for me” – ‘Jesus as Son of Man not only pronounces the judgement but is himself the criterion by which people are evaluated…People cannot plead a total ignorance of Jesus, because they have already encountered him in the needy “brothers”.’ (Milne) This identification of Jesus with his ‘brothers’ is also found in Jn 20:23; see also Mt 10:42.
‘Note, Christ is more among us than we think he is; surely the Lord is in this place, by his word, his ordinances, his ministers, his Spirit, yea, and his poor, and we know it not.’ (MHC)
‘Christ espouses his people’s cause, and interests himself in their interests, and reckons himself received, and love, and owned in them. If Christ himself were among us in poverty, how readily would we relieve him? In prison, how frequently would we visit him? We are ready to envy the honour they had, who ministered to him of their substance, Lk 8:3. Wherever poor saints and poor ministers are, there Christ is ready to receive our kindnesses in them, and they shall be put to his account.’ (MHC)
‘In Matthew’s Gospel there is an emphasis on the solidarity between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus as Immanuel mediates the presence of God with his people (Mt 1:23), and he assures them that he will be with them to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). Jesus’ identification with his disciples is forcefully articulated in Mt 10:40-42: “He who receives you receives me.” It seems clear, therefore, that any act of kindness shown to even the most unassuming of Jesus’ disciples is service that is rendered to Jesus. It is most remarkable that at least one standard to which the nations will be held accountable involve the manner in which they respond to the plight of Jesus’ followers.’ (cf. Acts 22:7) (College Press)
‘How few saints would be exposed to daily wants and necessities, if [this] scripture were but fully understood and believed!’ (Flavel)
25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels!
“Depart from me” – It is the ultimate blessing to hear God’s gracious word, “Come”. It is the ultimate misery to hear the word, “Depart”.
“You accursed” – ‘They that would not come to Christ, to inherit a blessing, must depart from him under the burden of a curse, that curse of the law on every one that breaks it, Gal. 3:10…But observe, The righteous are called the blessed of my Father; for their blessedness is owing purely to the grace of God and his blessing, but the wicked are called only ye cursed, for their damnation is of themselves. Hath God sold them? No, they have sold themselves, have laid themselves under the curse, Isa. 50:1.’ (MHC)
“Eternal fire” – So translated in International Standard Version, RSV, GNB, TNIV, ESV, NASB, NRSV, NLT. Translated as ‘the fire that burns for ever’ (New Century Version, NIrV), ‘everlasting fire’ (AV, NKJV, God’s Word Translation),
The word aionios strictly means ‘pertaining to the age to come’. ‘It is clear therefore that the terminology of this verse and of verse 46 does not by itself settle the issue between those who believe that hell consists of endless conscious torment and those who see it as annihilation.’ (France)
“Prepared for the devil and his angels” – Whereas the kingdom, v34, was prepared for the blessed, the fire is not prepared for the accursed, but for the devil and his angels. ‘The cursed are going to a fate that was not meant to be theirs.’ (France)
Milne says that this verse highlights a number of aspects of the meaning of hell:-
- Hell consists in separation from God.
- Hell is for the ‘cursed’.
- Hell is described as a place of fire.
- Hell was prepared, not for humans, for the devil and his angels.
- Hell is ‘eternal’.
25:42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 25:43 I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
He only expected them to do what they could do. ‘He doth not say, “I was sick, and you did not cure me; in prison, and you did not release me” (perhaps that was more than they could do); but, “You visited me not, which you might have done.”’ (MHC)
25:44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ 25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ 25:46 And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
There is a note of surprise here.
‘These wicked people still address Jesus as “Lord” (κύριε), but in forced subjugation rather than in worship.’ (Osborne)
“Then they will go away” – and the verdict is not open to appeal. The consequences of the final judgement are unalterable.
“Eternal punishment…eternal life” – αἰώνιος is consistently translated ‘eternal’ in modern versions. (In the AV, the word was translated ‘everlasting’, and so foreclosing the question of whether the meaning might be qualitative, rather than (or as well as) quantitative). Universalists find support for their views in the idea that this word means ‘pertaining to the age to come’, rather than ‘everlasting’. But, as France, says, the word can carry either meaning, and so this verse cannot be used to settle the question either way.
France observes that this is ‘the only time we meet the phrase “eternal punishment” in Matthew, or indeed in the whole NT.’
It has been asserted that ‘Kolasis, in Classical Greek meant Remedial Punishment, punishment with a purpose of bringing about a positive change in the one being punished. Another word, timoria, spoke of Vindictive Punishment, punishment meant as an outlet for vengeance. In Mt.25.46 Jesus warns of kolasis not timoria, remedial punishment not vengeful punishment, punishment as in chastisement!’ So, in the 1893 Emphasized Bible Joseph B. Rotherham translates: ‘And these shall go away into age-abiding correction, but the righteous into age-abiding life.’ For many interpreters, this interpretation is seriously undermined by the description of this punishment as being ‘eternal’ (i.e. pertaining to the life to come and therefore everlasting). Even though we doubt that ‘eternal’ necessarily implies’ everlasting’ in both cases, the lexical objections appear to be decisive against this view.
Our Lord adds no further explanation or application. The passage is left to speak for itself. However, a number of reflections are prompted:-