Illustrations of Imminence – Matthew 25

Read the Passage: Matthew 25:1-46

Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1–13)

In the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, in responding to the disciples’ question about the end times, Jesus emphasized the idea of the imminence of His return (cf. Matt. 5:44). In Matthew 25, Christ gave two parables, which are only recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, to illustrate that His second coming could happen at any time and that mankind needs to be spiritually and practically ready for His arrival. The first story is the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Here Jesus appealed to the picture of a biblical era marriage party being ready for the arrival of the groom at the bride’s residence to commence a wedding ceremony. Such arrivals could happen at any time and required advanced preparation. In Christ’s parable—just as with His earlier illustrations of Noah’s day (cf. Matt. 24:36–44) and the two servants (cf. Matt. 24:45–51)—only half of the people (i.e., the bridesmaids) were ready for the wedding.

In Jesus’ parable, the five virgins who had not made preparation for the arrival of the groom were forced to try and make hasty preparations at the announcement of his arrival. Such attempts were foolish and could not possibly succeed, for oil vendors in the marketplace were not open for business at midnight. By implication, then, in this parable Christ teaches that if mankind waits until the moment of His second coming in order to try and accept Jesus, it will be too late to receive Him. Indeed, a present failure to accept Christ betrays a blatant disinterest in Jesus and His Kingdom. Any attempts to receive Christ at the time of His second coming would necessarily be foolish and disingenuous, as they would be motivated by a love for self—that is, a desire to avoid eternal punishment—and not by a love for God and a passion for advancing His Kingdom.

Parable of the Talents (25:14–30)

The second illustration Christ gives is the Parable of the Talents. Here Jesus teaches that we may errantly evaluate our readiness for Christ’s return by comparing ourselves and our Kingdom work to others. This is foolish, for there are always others who we will judge to be more or less productive for God. In this parable Jesus teaches that we are not to evaluate ourselves by way of comparison to others. Rather, we are to evaluate ourselves in light of the spiritual gifts and opportunities that God has given to us. Good stewardship of such is one way in which we can manifest readiness for Jesus’ return. We must remember that God gives “to each according to his own ability” (Matt. 24:15). In Jesus’ parable the faithful servant with five talents and the faithful servant with two talents each received the exact same commendation and the exact same reward from God.

In the Parable of the Talents, the master who traveled to a far county is Christ and the servants are human beings. Note that the first two servants understood their role as stewards who were accountable for their actions when their master returned. In fact, they seem happy to give an account of their stewardship upon his return. The last servant clearly did not know his master, believing him to be “a hard man” (Matt 25:24), worthy of fear, who regularly acted unjustly in his dealings with others. Upon his return, the master told this servant that even such a misperception should have guided him to a different course of action; but no matter his master’s true character, the servant was “wicked and lazy” (Matt 25:26). The one-talent servant’s problem was not the amount of his possessions; rather it was his understanding of his master and, in turn, his own role.

Judgment of the Nations (25:31–46)

Jesus ends the Olivet Discourse by teaching on the judgment of mankind that will occur when “the Son of Man comes in His glory . . . [and] will sit on the throne of His glory” (Matt. 25:31). This event is also referenced at Rev. 20:1–6. Appealing to imagery from Ezek. 34:17–19, Christ likens this judgment to the separation of sheep from goats. Interestingly, these animals are very similar in appearance, especially upon superficial inspection. However, “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4) is well qualified to make such judgments. Jesus notes that the sheep (i.e., believers) will be placed on the right, and the goats (i.e., unbelievers) will be placed on the left. The right was a place of power and honor, while the left represents weakness and dishonor. Believers are blessed for serving Christ, while unbelievers are judged for neglecting Christ (cf. Matt. 25:36–37; 42–43).

Application Questions:

  1. How does the idea of Jesus’ imminent return—that is, the idea that Christ could return at any time—affect your life? Do most believers think much about Jesus’ second coming?
  2. Have you ever found yourself in a life situation for which you failed to make reasonable preparations? If so, how did such experiences affect you?
  3. Are you ever tempted to evaluate your own spiritual readiness by comparing yourself to others, rather than considering what God has asked you to do?
  4. The master in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents gives each of his servants a differing number of talents to steward. Is this just?
  5. Other than meeting material needs, what are some good works that you’ve witnessed in other that you’d consider to be evidence of salvation?