SUMMARY.--The Ten Virgins. The Foolish Who Took No Oil. The Bridegroom Comes. The Doors Shut on the Foolish Virgins. Watch Therefore. The Parable of the Talents. The Manner of Using. The Reckoning When the Lord Comes. The Day of Judgment Portrayed. The Gathering of the Nations. The Great Separation. The Blessedness of Those on the Right Hand. The Awful Fate of Those on the Left. The Ground of the Separation. The Everlasting Punishment and Life Eternal.
1. The kingdom of heaven shall be likened. The third question asked by the disciples, Matt. 24:3, was about the end of the world. This whole chapter is an answer. The future tense is used. In most of the parables of the kingdom the present is used, because they describe its earthly features. This, however, portrays the closing events, the judgment, the closing of the heavenly gates. Unto ten virgins. No significance attaches to the number, nor to the fact that they are virgins. The bridesmaids of a maiden at marriage are maidens. Who took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. The whole imagery of the parable is drawn from Eastern marriage customs. The betrothal, which took place some time before the marriage, was a kind of solemn marriage contract, but preliminary to its final consummation. When the time for the celebration of the marriage came, the bridegroom came to the house of the bride and brought her by night to his own house. The virgin bridesmaids awaited his coming and attended the bride to the marriage feast.
2. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. The quality that made the difference between them was prudent forethought on the part of the wise. Compare Matt. 7:21-27.
3. They that were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them. The Jewish lamp was a shallow vessel filled with oil, on which the wick floated. These virgins had oil in their lamps when they started, but had no oil to replenish them. They started out, apparently, all right, but did not hold out.
4. But the wise took oil in their vessels. In this their wisdom was displayed. They not only "let their light shine," but at the same time kept the grace renewed that was essential to the continuance of their light.
5. While the bridegroom tarried. This suggests that the heavenly Bridegroom will not return as soon as the church expects him. We have a hint of the same kind in Matt. 24:48. They all slumbered and slept. Literally, "nodded and fell asleep." The thought is that the Bridegroom came at an unexpected moment.
6. And at midnight there was a cry made. Midnight is the hour of slumber and silence when an outcry is always startling and unexpected. The implication is that the cry of the coming of the Bridegroom, the trump of the archangel, will be sudden and unexpected. Compare Matt. 24:27 and 1 Thess. 5:23.
7. All . . . arose, and trimmed their lamps. The object of trimming would be to secure a brighter light. It would involve the trimming of the wick and replenishing the oil if needed. When the cry does arise there will be a wonderful lamp-trimming.
8. Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The Revision says, more correctly, "Our lamps are going out," They had kept up a flickering light to this time. Their apparent piety, though it satisfied them before, was not sufficient now. Shams disappear in the presence of death or judgment.
9. Lest there be not enough for us and you. The wise virgins had sufficient for themselves, but none to spare, hence could be of no help. No one has a fund of surplus piety that he can turn over to someone else. Go ye, . . . buy for yourselves. The advice is the best possible. Every one had to procure for himself the needful grace and piety.
10. And while they went going to buy, the bridegroom came. They were now seeking to obtain the oil in the only legitimate way, and all would have been well if they had attended to it at the proper time, but it was now too late. There is no encouragement to death-bed repentance. The door was shut. The door of the marriage feast chamber. The door of the kingdom stands open now, in life, to every mortal, but it will not always be so. The day of opportunity for everything passes.
11. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. As Augustine says: "They came looking for mercy when it was time for judgment." Luke 13:25 also teaches that the doors finally will be shut. The shutting of the doors teaches that the day of salvation may pass by.
12. I know you not. This means, I do not recognize you as persons entitled to enter. The claims that they might have had once had been forfeited.
13. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour,
etc. The whole parable is an illustration of this solemn admonition.
APPLICATION.--The Bridegroom is the Son of man; the time of the marriage is the coming to judgment; the tarrying is the long and unknown period between his ascension and his return; the virgins represent the waiting church; the wise virgins represent those church members who are always ready and whose lights are shining; the oil in their vessels is the means by which their light is supplied; the foolish virgins are church members who have become cold and lifeless; the midnight cry is the summons of death, or the trump of judgment; the cry for oil is death-bed repentance, or an attempt at preparation in the face of judgment; the shut door is a declaration that such repentance is too late to be of avail; the great lesson is to be always in a state of readiness.
14. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country. Compare Mark 13:34-36; Luke 19:11-27. Christ's departure from the earth to heaven is referred to. Called his own servants. The church members or disciples. Delivered unto them his goods. This applies to the trust of the entire interests of the kingdom of our Savior to his servants on the earth.
15. Unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one. The talent was not a coin, but a weight, and was especially applied to the weighing of the precious metals. The Hebrew talent is variously estimated to be equivalent to a weight of silver ranging from $1,500 to $2,500. To every man according to his own several ability. The sums entrusted to the servants were graded by their capacity. The trust of the Lord to each servant is measured according to his mental ability, wealth, position, or influence.
16. Then he that had received five . . . traded . . . and made them other five. Whoever diligently uses the powers and means of grace the Lord has given is such a servant. The result is gain to himself.
18. He that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. Before the days of banks of deposit, and still in countries where they are not established, it is a common thing to hide treasure in the earth. The servant's only care was to hold on to what he had.
19. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh. There is certainly a hint here that a long period would pass before the Lord's return. And reckoneth with them. When our race meets the Lord, every mortal, saint, and sinner, good and bad, will be called on for a reckoning. Every one's opportunities, as well as the character of his life and works, will be considered.
20. He that had received five talents, etc. He had doubled what he had received, and in acknowledgment that all was due to his lord who had given all and whose he was, he brought all to lay at his feet.
21. I will make thee ruler over many things. (1) Observe here that it is God's talents that have made the ten talents. The fruitfulness of our work depends on what God has given us. (2) In God's government, promotion depends on fidelity. This is in a measure true, here and how; fulfillment of duty in a lower and lesser station is rewarded by the providence which bids us to go up higher. (3) Present duties are trials of character; God gives the talents that he may test and see who is worthy of a trust. (4) The trusts given here below, by our use of which we are to show ourselves capable of receiving the crown above, Jesus calls a few things. This is in contrast with the trusts we will enjoy in the heavenly kingdom.
22, 23. He also that had received two talents, etc. His fidelity and reward are indicated, acknowledged and rewarded in exactly the same terms as in the case of the first servant. The final reward depends on faithfulness, not greatness.
24. I knew thee that thou art a hard man. The charge against the lord is insulting. The term hard, and the charge in the next clause, "of reaping where thou hast not sown," affirm that the lord was harsh, unfeeling, grasping, and unscrupulous about his methods of acquisition. It states the position of many of our fellow-men. Many refuse to employ their talents in Christ's service because they think it a hard, exacting service, making unreasonable demands of self-denial, self-control and self-sacrifice.
26. Thou wicked and slothful servant. The wickedness of the servant is demonstrated, not only his unfaithfulness, but by his false and slanderous excuses.
27. Thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers. To the bankers. If the lord was so exacting as he supposed, he ought at least to have put his money to use with the money brokers that it might have earned something. Usury. Interest. The Jews were forbidden to take it from their brethren, but were allowed to take it from aliens.
28. Take therefore the talent from him. He had shown himself unworthy of the trust. He had enjoyed opportunity to serve the lord, but had utterly neglected it; therefore the opportunity was taken away. The application is easy. Give it to him which hath ten. Because he has shown himself worthy of great trusts.
29. To every one that hath shall be given. Every attainment of honor, wealth, knowledge, or spiritual grace helps to render further attainment more easy and more assured; while it is spiritually as well as materially true that "the destruction of the poor is their poverty" (Prov. 10:15). Shall be taken away even that which he hath. For every hath there is a richer hath; and in every hath not a deeper, poorer hath not.
30. Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness. A state of banishment from the presence of the Lord. Have you a trust from the Lord? Are you useful to him according to your ability?
31. When the Son of man shall come in his glory. Compare 1 Thess. 4:14-18; Rev. 20:11-15. The glorious coming at the end of the world is meant. See Matt. 24:30. The throne of his glory. See Rev. 20:11, for an account of the great white throne upon which sat the divine Judge from whose face heaven and earth fled away. An earthly judge was wont, in pronouncing judgment, to take his place on the "judgment seat," a kind of judicial throne (John 19:13).
32. Before him shall be gathered all nations. It will be the day of the final account of all the world. He shall separate them. Now for the first time the separation takes place. The two classes have been mingled on the earth; every nation, country, town and city has had its wicked as well as righteous; nay, even into the church the bad have crept, but now they are separated forever.
33. He shall set the sheep at his right hand. The sheep, who represent the righteous, are placed at the right hand, the place of honor. See Heb. 12:2.
34. Then shall the King say to them on his right hand. The King is Christ. This is the only time, save in parabolic language, that he applies the title to himself, though he speaks of his kingdom and declares he came into the world to be a king. At judgment his kingly majesty will be acknowledged by all the universe. Come, ye blessed of my Father. Observe that his invitation on earth to mortals is to come: "Come ye to the waters and drink;" "Let him that is athirst come and partake of the waters of life freely." To all who have heeded his earthly invitation he gives a heavenly invitation. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you. The blessed are now to enter on an inheritance. On earth they were heirs and joint-heirs with Christ.
35, 36. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat. The reason why those on the right hand are given the kingdom is now shown. They had ministered unto the Savior. The deeds of loving kindness that the truly benevolent do his needy disciples are named as having been done to Christ. It should be noted (1) that the duties named are such duties as every one can perform. Chrysostom says: "He said not I was sick and ye healed me; or in prison and ye set me free; but ye visited me and came unto me." (2) A real, personal service of Christ is implied, one involving some sacrifice of ease, time and property.
37, 38, 39. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee, etc. The saints in all ages, in lands unknown when Christ was on earth, saints who had never seen him when he was in the flesh, he commends for feeding, visiting and entertaining him whom they had never seen in person. What more natural than for them to exclaim: "When saw we thee? When did we entertain thee?" etc.
40. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. The righteous understood well that they had often, in the name and from the love of Christ, ministered to his brethren, the poor and suffering saints, but they had never understood that their Lord accepted this as a personal service to himself. It should be distinctly noted, (1) that the saved are the righteous, or those whose sins have been washed away by Christ; (2) they are those who have lived and acted in the name of Christ, or have been obedient to his will; (3) they have been full of the love of Christ and have faithfully ministered to the distressed, especially to those of the household of faith. The love of Christ implies love of the brethren, and of all mankind.
41. Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire. Those that have sought the Lord on earth shall be with him forever (1 Thess. 4:17). Those who have turned away from him shall be turned away from him forever. The punishment is everlasting banishment from his presence (2 Thess. 1:9). Ye cursed. Under the Jewish law, anything irretrievably condemned and devoted to death was called "accursed" (Deut. 13:17). The same term applied to the wicked is a sentence of eternal death. Into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Fire is probably used, as in many other places in the Scripture, as symbol of the bitter punishment of the wicked. Note, (1) it is everlasting; (2) prepared, not for man, but for the devil and his angels. Those who choose his service will have his portion.
42, 43. For I was an hungered, etc. The reasons of this awful fate are given. The judgment of the wicked is pronounced, not for what they have done, but what they neglected to do.
44. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee? etc. These, too, inquire if this is possible. If they had seen him in his splendor they certainly would have denied him nothing.
45. Then shall he answer them. The answer is exactly the same as that given to the righteous, save that it introduces not.
46. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. We shall not enter into the discussions that have arisen over this controverted passage. These things are certain: (1) A separation between the righteous and the wicked takes place at judgment. (2) The righteous inherit the kingdom; the wicked "depart into everlasting fire." (3) The state of the righteous is "life eternal;" the state of the wicked is "everlasting punishment." (4) The duration of these two states is the same, exactly the same Greek word being used in each case (aionios). Then if the state of punishment has an end, so has the life.