11 As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away.
12 Therefore He said: “A nobleman traveled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king and then return.
13 He called 10 of his slaves, gave them 10 minas, and told them, ‘Engage in business until I come back.’
14 But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us!’
15 At his return, having received the authority to be king, he summoned those slaves he had given the money to so he could find out how much they had made in business.
16 The first came forward and said, ‘Master, your mina has earned 10 more minas.’
17 ‘Well done, good slave!’ he told him. ‘Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, have authority over 10 towns.’
18 The second came and said, ‘Master, your mina has made five minas.’
19 So he said to him, ‘You will be over five towns.’
20 And another came and said, ‘Master, here is your mina. I have kept it hidden away in a cloth
21 because I was afraid of you, for you’re a tough man: you collect what you didn’t deposit and reap what you didn’t sow.’
22 He told him, ‘I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave! [If] you knew I was a tough man, collecting what I didn’t deposit and reaping what I didn’t sow,
23 why didn’t you put my money in the bank? And when I returned, I would have collected it with interest!’
24 So he said to those standing there, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has 10 minas.’
25 But they said to him, ‘Master, he has 10 minas.’
26 ‘I tell you, that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from the one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away.
27 But bring here these enemies of mine, who did not want me to rule over them, and slaughter them in my presence.’”
A similar parable appears in Matt. 25:14-30. Yet these parables differ in several respects. The parable in Matthew is spoken after Jesus enters Jerusalem; the parable in Luke, while He is on His way there. The parable in Matthew is delivered on the Mount of Olives; the parable in Luke, in the home of Zacchaeus. Finally, the parable in Matthew is delivered to teach Jesus’ followers the necessity of improving the talents committed to them; the parable in Luke, primarily to correct the false notion that the kingdom of heaven would immediately appear.
Jesus is passing through Jericho and has dined in the home of Zacchaeus, chief of the tax collectors, amidst grumblings from onlookers that “He’s gone to lodge with a sinful man” (v.7). Upon Zacchaeus’ declaration of repentance, Jesus announces that salvation has come to his home, consistent with His words to the chief priests and elders in Matt. 21:31 that “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!” Now, with the crowds listening and thinking that “the kingdom of God (is) going to appear right away” (v.11), Jesus tells the parable of the 10 minas.
The central theme of this parable is that the kingdom of heaven will come in its fullness at a later time. Jesus’ followers “thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away” (v. 11). His parable corrects that shortsighted view. At the same time, the central theme feeds two other truths: first, the Jews would be judged for their rejection of the Messiah; and second, the King would hold His servants accountable for their stewardship.
The day is coming when all believers must “stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10 KJV). At that time, “each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). The apostle Paul writes that this judgment is like a fire that refines good works and consumes dead works (see 1 Cor. 3:11-15). For faithful believers who wisely use all that God has entrusted to them while He is in “a far country,” they will receive rewards, referred to throughout the New Testament as “crowns” (see 1 Cor. 9:25; Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Rev. 2:10).
The central character in this parable is the nobleman, who leaves the country to receive authority to be king and then returns. This clearly represents Christ, who tells His disciples He must “go away” (John 16:7) but promises to return (John 14:3). Like the nobleman who is “hated” by his subjects, who send a delegation after him saying, “We don’t want this man to rule over us” (v. 14), Jesus is “despised and rejected by men” (Isa. 53:3). Further, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Jesus gives His listeners a clear message that the kingdom cannot come in its fullness until He completes the work of salvation and goes to His Father in heaven, returning one day “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).
An interesting side note is that in Judea in Jesus’ day, the Roman emperor had to formally recognize the right of a prince or king to rule. To acquire this authority, the prince or king had to travel to Rome. Archelaus, a son of Herod the Great, went to Rome to obtain a confirmation of the title his father had left him. Previously, his father had done the same thing to secure the aid ofAntony. Agrippa the younger, grandson of Herod the Great, also went to Rome to obtain the favor of Tiberius and to be confirmed in his government. So Jesus’ listeners clearly understood the concept of traveling to a far country to receive authority to be king.
The slaves are the followers of Christ, who expect to be made princes, judges and rulers at once if the kingdom comes in its fullness as Jesus enters Jerusalem. The apostles have dreamed of sitting next to Jesus in His kingdom, sharing His authority. But Jesus instead tells them they are slaves with much work to do. The number of slaves summoned – 10 – does not appear to have any special significance, much as the number of virgins in the parable of the 10 virgins does not reveal any profound truth other than that was the minimum number of people required to hold synagogue, have a wedding, etc.
The Hebrew maneh, or Greek mina, translated “pound” in some versions, is a measure of weight equal to about 1.25 pounds. When used in a monetary sense, it is about $34 in silver or $510 in gold by 1915 standards (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). A marginal note in the New American Standard Bible says one mina is equal to about 100 days’ wages. In any case, the nobleman tells his slaves to “engage in business” or put the money to work until he returns. “The pounds here denote the talents which God has given to his servants on earth to improve, and for which they must give an account in the day of judgment” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
The “subjects” symbolize the nation of Israel, and particularly the Jewish religious leaders, who have rejected Jesus as Messiah. They are fully aware that Archelaus had gone to Rome to obtain from Augustus a confirmation of his title to reign over the portion of Judea left to him by his father, Herod the Great. The Jews, opposing him, sent an embassy of 50 to Rome to ask Augustus to deny the title, but they failed. While Jesus is in no way of the same character as Archelaus, He is letting the Jewish leaders know that they have even less chance of successfully petitioning the Heavenly Father against Him than they had petitioning Augustus against Archelaus. Verse 27 may be seen as a dual prophecy in which Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora in 70 A.D., as well as the final judgment of unbelievers before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
The rewards granted by the returning king should not necessarily be applied literally to the believer’s reward at the judgment seat of Christ. Faithful believers may or may not be given cities to rule over. The point is that our reward in heaven will be in proportion to our faithfulness in improving our talents on earth.
The response of the third slave, who was entrusted with one mina, calls for a closer look. He wraps his mina in a cloth, or napkin, trying to convince his master that he has taken great care of it. Many gifted people guard their abilities but never employ them in the work of the kingdom and thus will be in a similar situation at the final judgment. Next, notice how the slave thought of his master – as someone to be feared, tough and demanding. In fact, the word translated “tough” or “austere” is commonly applied to unripe fruit and means sour, unpleasant, or harsh. Further, his reference to his master as one who collects what he doesn’t deposit (v. 21) is used to describe a man who finds what has been lost by another and keeps it himself. “All this is designed to show the sinner’s view of God. He regards him as unjust, demanding more than man has power to render, and more, therefore, than God has a right to demand” (Barnes Notes on the New Testament).
The master tells the slave, “I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave” (v. 22). Even though the master is neither unjust nor austere, the slave’s supposing that he is should have spurred him to be obedient to the master’s command. A sinner’s mischaracterization of God does not excuse him or her of accountability on the day of reckoning.
Finally, the master orders that the mina be taken away from the unfaithful slave and given to the one who earned 10 minas. Some are surprised at this and object, “Master, he has 10 minas” (v. 25). But the master’s response illustrates a kingdom truth: To every person who is faithful and improves what God gives him or her, God will give that person more. As for the evil slave, it is interesting to note that he is not slaughtered with the rebelling subjects (v. 27). Perhaps instead Jesus is telling us what Paul writes about in 1 Cor. 3:11-15, in which the believer who fails to build upon the foundation of Christ escapes the judgment, “yet it will be like an escape through fire.”
One day all believers will “stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10 KJV) and give an account of our stewardship. That judgment will not determine where we spend eternity, but how. We will have to give an answer for how we employed our time, talents, spiritual gifts, relationships, material possessions – all that Christ has entrusted to us while He has gone into heaven, preparing His return as King of kings and Lord of lords.
26 “The kingdom of God is like this,” He said. “A man scatters seed on the ground;
27 he sleeps and rises—night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows—he doesn’t know how.
28 The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head.
29 But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because harvest has come.”
Mark is the only gospel writer who records this parable, which Jesus tells after explaining the parable of the sower to His disciples (Mark 4:13-20) and after admonishing them to share His teachings with others (Mark 4:21-25). Commentators like Herbert Lockyer believe this parable “can be regarded as supplementary to the parable of The Sower, being designed to complete the history of the growth of the good seed which fell on the good ground. It is one of the three parables which reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom of God in terms of a sower’s work” (All the Parables of the Bible).
The central theme of this parable is that God is sovereign over His kingdom. Christ’s disciples are to labor faithfully in His fields, but it is God who gives the growth (see 1 Cor. 3:5-8).
The central character in this parable is the man who “scatters seed on the ground” (Mark 4:26). This represents all those whom God uses to establish His kingdom in the hearts of men. Christ has finished the work of redemption and has given to His followers the responsibility of carrying the gospel message to the entire world (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). God the Father draws people to Christ and grants them everlasting life through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, bringing the spiritually dead to new life in Christ. As Matthew Henry writes, “… we know not how the Spirit by the word makes a change in the heart, any more than we can account for the blowing of the wind, which we hear the sound of, but cannot tell whence it comes, or whither it goes” (Matthew Henry Unabridged). On this side of heaven, believers will never fully understand how God works to populate His kingdom, yet we are called to faithfully spread the good news of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 24:14; Mark 1:14).
According to Herbert Lockyer in All the Parables of the Bible, “Our Lord was directing His disciples to the three stages of The Kingdom of God:”
1. The blade, or the kingdom in mystery (the church age);
2. The ear, or the kingdom in manifestation throughout the millennial kingdom;
3. The full corn, or the kingdom in its majestic perfection after God creates new heavens and a new earth.
While other commentators apply this parable to the believer’s personal spiritual growth, Lockyer’s interpretation seems to fit Jesus’ other parables of the kingdom of heaven. The Jews in Jesus’ day are expecting the kingdom to come in a singular, dramatic event. Yet Jesus teaches through His parables that the kingdom of heaven is both a present reality and a future hope, growing to full maturity over a long period of time.
Let’s look more closely at other elements in this parable:
- The seed. Most certainly this is “the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). As Jesus explains following the parable of the sower, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11) – the good news that the kingdom has come in the Person of Jesus the Messiah and that all may enter into the kingdom by faith in Him, the Word (Logos, John 1:1).
- The ground. As in the parable of the sower, the ground symbolizes the human heart. The ground cannot sow and it cannot reap, but it may receive the seed. The starting place of the kingdom of heaven is the heart captivated by God. When Jesus says, “The soil produces a crop by itself” (v. 28), we are not required “to suppose that our Saviour meant to say that the earth had any productive power by itself, but only that it produced its fruits not by the power of man. God gives it its power…. So religion in the heart is not by the power of man” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
- The mystery of the growth. The sower sleeps, rises and does not know how the seed bursts forth into life and fruitfulness. In the same way, we do not understand the mysterious work of God in the hearts of men and women. Nor can we fully fathom His work in bringing the kingdom to full maturity. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways…. For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
- The harvest. This may be looked upon as the consummation of all things (Matt. 13:39) – “the most glorious consummation when with the devil forever vanquished, and sin completely destroyed, and the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth, Jesus will surrender all things to the Father” (All the Parables of the Bible).
Just as Christ’s kingdom will grow to full maturity, God’s design for His children is that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, [growing]into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:13).
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left.
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.
35 For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’
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?
38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You?
39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’
40 And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’
41 Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!
42 For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me.’
44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’
45 Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’
46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This parable ends the so-called Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24-25. Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with his disciples, responding to their questions about the future destruction of the Temple and the end of the age: “When will these things happen (the destruction of the Temple)? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3)? He concludes His teaching in Matthew 25 with an exhortation to watchfulness (the parable of the 10 virgins, Matt. 25:1-13); an encouragement to faithfulness (the parable of the talents, Matt. 25:14-30); and an assurance of righteous judgment (the parable of the sheep and goats, Matt. 25:31-46).
The central theme of this parable is that Christ will separate believers from unbelievers at His return.
The central character in this parable is Christ, who assures His disciples He will return one day with the holy angels and sit on the throne of His glory – “the glory of His judicial authority” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary). Jesus refers to Himself as a shepherd, who faithfully separates the sheep from the goats. Jesus knows who belongs to Him and who does not. “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me,” He says in John 10:27. There are many other references to God/Christ as the shepherd and to His followers as sheep (see Ps. 23:1, 80:1; Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31; John 10:11, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25, 5:4). In this parable, Jesus plainly teaches that a time of separation is coming when those who are of His flock will enjoy the benefits of His kingdom while those who have rejected Him will be rejected themselves.
It’s important to establish when this judgment takes place and who it involves as the sheep and goats. There is considerable disagreement over these two questions. Some commentators believe this parable is a general description of the final judgment of all mankind – a summary of both the judgment seat of Christ for believers (Rom. 14:10, 2 Cor. 5:10) and the great white throne judgment for unbelievers (Rev. 20:11-15), even though these judgments may be separated by a thousand years or more. Other scholars, however, believe this parable teaches a separate judgment for all those who survive the great tribulation and witness the return of Christ.
In the context of Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 24-25, and since there is no reference to resurrection, it appears Jesus will carry out this judgment in concert with His personal, physical and glorious return one day, and that the sheep and goats represent those who are alive at His return. Their treatment of “the least of these brothers of Mine” (Matt. 25:40) indicates the true condition of their hearts, either as believers in Christ or rejecters of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Next, it’s helpful to look more closely at some key words and phrases Jesus uses in this parable:
- Son of man. This is the name Jesus most frequently gives to Himself. “Some eighty times He thus designated Himself and this familiar title was a racial one as the representative Man” (Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible). Used also in the Old Testament, this term has Messianic meaning, and by using it liberally, Jesus is revealing not only His identity with man (John 1:14) but His identity as the Son of God.
- All the nations. The word “nations” also may be translated “Gentiles.” Herbert Lockyer points out that “when the plural is used in the Bible, it represents all the heathen or Gentile nations of the world as distinguished from the Jewish nation (All the Parables of the Bible). Others argue that the Jews are necessarily included here. Still others teach that this is a reference to representatives of all the sovereign nations of the world, which will be judged for their treatment of God’s people as all national boundaries are dissolved. It seems best in the context of this parable to see the nations/Gentiles as those individuals who are alive at the glorious appearing of Christ.
- Sheep and goats. These creatures often graze together, and it takes the trained eye of the shepherd to separate them at the time of shearing. Sheep symbolize mildness, simplicity, innocence – the qualities of one completely dependent upon the shepherd for protection and care. Clearly, these are believers. Goats naturally are quarrelsome, selfish and smelly – a stark contrast that highlights the profane and impure character of unbelievers.
- Right and left. “The right hand is the place of honour, and denotes the situation of those who are honoured, or those who are virtuous…. The left was the place of dishonour, denoting condemnation” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
- The King. This is the only time Jesus directly refers to Himself as King – and just three days before He is crucified as a common criminal.
- Brothers of mine. Some teach that these are the Jews, and eternal rewards await those who care for God’s chosen people, especially throughout the great tribulation. Others believe this is a reference to all believers. It would appear this phrase describes those who trust in Christ – at great personal cost – during the period between the rapture of the church and the glorious appearing of the King.
Now, let’s look more closely at what Jesus says to those who stand before Him in judgment. To those on His right, He says, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (v. 34). Believers often are called heirs of God and/or co-heirs with Christ in Scripture (see Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:6-7; Heb. 1:14). The kingdom of heaven has been “prepared” – designed, appointed – for believers from the beginning. This is no new plan; rather, it is the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan to bless His own.
What is the basis of this blessing for these people? “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me” (vv. 35-36). We know from Jesus’ own words that eternal life is received by faith and not by works (John 5:24). So what He seems to be saying is that the way the sheep treat God’s children demonstrates they truly know Him. “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” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).
In contrast, Jesus says to those on His left, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (v. 41). The one who rejects Christ is “already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God” (John 3:18). “There is a remarkable difference between the manner in which the righteous shall be addressed, and the wicked. Christ will say to the one that the kingdom was prepared for them; to the other, that the fire was not prepared for them, but for another race of beings. They will inherit it because they have the same character as the devil, and therefore are fitted to the same place” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).
What is the basis of this departure into eternal fire? “For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me” (vv. 42-43). As with the sheep, the goats’ destiny is not determined by works; rather, the works demonstrate the true condition of the heart. The unbeliever does not care for heirs of the kingdom because he has no regard for the King. And so, by his choice, the goat departs into eternal fire.
Our acts of kindness, especially toward those “who belong to the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), demonstrate our true nature as children of the King, and are received by Christ as if done for Him personally.
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.
2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them.
4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.
5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’
7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’
9 The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’
10 When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.
11 Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’
12 But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’
13 Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.”
Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with his disciples, responding to their questions about the future destruction of the Temple and the end of the age. Just before this, in Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces woes on the Jewish leaders for their hypocrisy. Then, leaving the Temple and crossing over the Kidron Valley, He tells His disciples that the Temple, a glistening monument to Jewish nationalism (but a stale house of worship where He was rejected as Messiah), would soon be demolished. Shocked by this prediction, His disciples ask him in Matt. 24:3, “When will these things happen (the destruction of the Temple)? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus responds in the rest of Matthew 24-25 in what is known as the Olivet Discourse. The parable of the 10 virgins comes in the middle of this message.
The central theme of this parable is that people should stay alert and be prepared for the return of Christ.
The central character in this parable is the bridegroom, or Christ, who is delayed in his coming for the bride, the church. Scripture often refers to the church as the bride and Christ as the bridegroom (Matt. 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29). Believers are “espoused” or “betrothed” to Jesus, who promises He will come one day and take them to His Father’s house (John 14:1-3).
An understanding of the Jewish wedding custom is helpful in navigating this parable. In Jesus’ day, if a young man has acquired sufficient means to provide a marriage dowry – or payment for a bride – then his parents select a girl for him, call in a “friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29) to represent them and begin negotiations with the bride’s father, who also selects a representative. If consent is given for the bride to be married, and if there is agreement on the amount to be paid, congratulations are exchanged, coffee is brought out and everyone drinks as a seal of the marriage covenant. Later, the families of the bride and groom meet. The young man gives the young woman a gold ring, some article of value, or simply a document in which he promises to marry her, saying, “See by this ring (or this token) thou art set apart for me, according to the law of Moses and of Israel.” The young man then leaves his bride-to-be, promising to return once he has prepared a place for her.
He then returns to his father’s home and, under his father’s supervision, prepares a wedding chamber for his bride. The period of betrothal normally lasts a year or more and may only be broken by obtaining a bill of divorcement. While the bridegroom works on the wedding chamber, the bride prepares herself for the wedding and remains chaste – covering her face with a veil in public to show she is pledged to be married.
At last, the father gives word to his son that all is ready and the night of the wedding arrives. The groom dresses as much like a king as possible. If he is wealthy enough, he wears a gold crown; otherwise, it is a garland of fresh flowers. The bride, meanwhile, goes through an elaborate and costly adorning. Every effort is made to make her complexion glossy and shining like marble. Her dark locks of hair are braided with gold and pearls, and she is decked with all the precious stones and jewels her family has inherited from previous generations.
The groom sets out from his father’s house to the home of the bride in a night-time procession attended by wedding guests bearing torches. The bride steps out to meet him, receives the blessing of her relatives, and then proceeds across town with the groom to his father’s home. A grand procession follows them. The invited guests who did not go to the bride’s home are allowed to join the march along the way, and go with the whole group to the marriage feast. Since the streets are dark, the guests need a torch or lamp, without which they may not join the procession or enter the feast.
There are demonstrations of joy all along the route. Family members hand out ears of parched grain to the children, musical instruments are played, and there is dancing and shouts of “Behold, the bridegroom comes!” At last they reach the home of the bridegroom’s father, where the specially built wedding chamber is prepared. Together they enter the suite and shut the door, and for seven days they stay inside, alone. Meanwhile, a seven-day celebration breaks out. At the end of the seven days, the bride and groom emerge, leave the father’s house and set out to establish their own home.
This is the context in which Jesus’ disciples hear the parable, so the truths about the bridegroom going away, preparing a place and returning are well-known, as are the elements of delay and surprise. This parable clearly is a teaching that Jesus, after His suffering, death and resurrection, would return to His Father, prepare a place in heaven for believers, and then call His bride to meet Him in the air in an event known as the rapture (1 Cor. 15:50-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The seven-day honeymoon perhaps depicts the seven years the church is in heaven while the tribulation takes place on earth. And the leaving of the father’s house after the honeymoon may picture the glorious appearing of Christ when He returns to earth with the saints, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling the earth with His bride.
It is interesting to note that the bride is not mentioned in this parable. While Scripture often refers to Christ’s church as His bride, the focus in this parable is on the bridegroom and the virgins, or attendants. It is not necessary for believers to be represented as both bride and bridal attendants, or this would present difficulties Jesus did not intend. Remember that His parables generally illustrate one key spiritual truth – and this parable warns all those who profess Christianity to make sure they are ready for Christ’s return.
Therefore, let’s see the virgins as professors of the faith, those who claim to know the Bridegroom and await His coming. Some are “wise” and some are “foolish” – not good and bad. There is at least a degree of goodwill, and good intentions, in the foolish as well as in the wise. The difference is in the depth of their commitment, which is evident by their readiness for the Bridegroom’s coming.
The wise virgins are those who truly know Christ and are known by Him. They understand that His coming may be delayed, so they are prepared with an abundance of oil, “that inward reality of grace which alone will stand when He appears whose eyes are as a flame of fire” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary). They may not be excused for slumbering while the Bridegroom tarries – even Christ’s closest followers could not stay awake one hour while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane – yet they persevere and are allowed into the marriage feast.
The foolish virgins are those who profess to know Christ but lack a genuine relationship with Him. They carry their lamps – an outward profession of their faith in the Messiah – but they lack the reserve of oil that is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. When the Bridegroom comes, their lamps are dark.
The supply of oil may be seen as that inward grace of Christ that has enduring character. Whereas God’s grace is given to all in a general sense, only those who have entered into a relationship with Him receive His Spirit Who, like the oil of the wise, is abundant and sufficient.
Nothing should be made of the fact that there are 10 virgins, other than that Jews would not hold synagogue, a wedding or another ceremony without at least 10 witnesses. The fact that five of the virgins are wise and five are foolish should not be taken to mean that half of all professing Christians are lost. There is folly in reading too much into the details of Christ’s parables.
All 10 of the virgins “slumbered and slept.” The word “slumbered” signifies “nodding off” or “becoming drowsy.” The word “slept” is the usual word for lying down to sleep. This denotes two states of spiritual stupor – first, “that half-involuntary lethargy or drowsiness which is apt to steal over one who falls into inactivity; and then a conscious, deliberate yielding to it, after a little vain resistance” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).
The lamps are of two general kinds. The first consists of rags wrapped around one end of a wooden pole and dipped in oil. The second, and most likely, consists of a “round receptacle for pitch or oil for the wick. This was placed in a hollow cup or deep saucer … which was fastened by a pointed end into a long wooden pole, on which it was born a loft” (Dr. Alfred Edersheim, quoted in Manners and Customs of Bible Lands).
When the bridegroom comes at last, the foolish virgins need oil, for their lamps are going out, and so they ask the wise for oil. The response of the wise is important in two respects. First, they deny the request for oil – not out of selfishness or a judgmental nature, but because all 10 virgins would be undone. Salvation is not to be acquired from believers but from God. Second, the wise virgins tell the foolish to buy their own reserve of oil. This does not imply that salvation may be purchased, only that the foolish need to acquire salvation the same way the wise did.
When the bridegroom comes, the wise are ready. They join the wedding procession with their blazing lamps and are welcomed in. The foolish come too late, after the door has been shut, and are excluded from the wedding feast. Today, believers and unbelievers populate the visible church; in a day to come, God will separate those who merely profess to know Christ from those who truly do.
There is no improving on the words of Jesus, “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” when the Bridegroom will come (Matt. 25:13).
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables:
2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.
3 He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come.
4 Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet. ’
5 But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business.
6 And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them.
7 The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.
8 Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.
9 Therefore, go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’
10 So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests.
11 But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding.
12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
A similar parable is found in Luke 14:16-24.
Jesus has made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple complex, driving out those who are buying and selling. He has received the praise of children and cursed the barren fig tree. He has answered the Pharisees’ challenges to His authority and provided the parables of the two sons and the vineyard owner to illustrate the Jewish leaders’ hardness of heart. Stung by Jesus’ rebuke, they look for a way to arrest Him.
Now, as chapter 22 begins and Jesus’ crucifixion draws near, He remains in the Temple in the presence of the Pharisees and tells the parable of the wedding banquet.
The central theme of this parable is that Israel will be judged for its rejection of the Messiah. The kingdom of heaven has been opened to the Gentiles – a joyous event the Jews should have anticipated and celebrated as friends of the King and His Son, the Bridegroom. Yet, because the generation of Jews witnessing Messiah’s appearance has rejected Him, God’s wrath will fall. This prophecy is fulfilled in 70 A.D.
The central character in this parable is the king, who represents God the Father. He chooses the nation of Israel as His own special people, and invites them to the wedding of His Son through the prophets. Yet their hearts grow hard, and when the time comes for the Son of God to appear, they will not receive Him. Therefore, the Jews are set aside as the Gentiles are welcomed in.
The wedding banquet, in all likelihood, is an evening meal. In Jewish culture, two invitations are sent out. The first asks the guests to attend, and the second announces that all is ready and provides the time at which the guests are to arrive. In this story, the king offers a third invitation, but the invited guests respond by treating the king’s slaves cruelly – even killing them. There is little doubt that the banquet is a picture of the covenant fellowship between Christ (the king’s son) and the church (his bride) in the current age. The Jews under the old covenant are the invited guests, who disregard the Father’s invitation, treat His slaves (the prophets) cruelly, and despise His Son. There also is a sense in which this refers not only to Jews, but to all people and cultures that have closed their eyes to the light of the promised Messiah.
“The king was enraged,” according to verse 7, “so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.” This is Jesus’ prophecy of the judgment that would befall the nation of Israel in 70 A.D., when the Roman armies under Titus sacked Jerusalem, completely destroyed the Temple, killed more than one million Jews, and scattered the rest of the Jewish nation. Jesus also speaks of this terrible day in Matt. 24:1-2.
Now, the king directs his slaves to go “where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet” (v. 9). Luke adds the word “hedges” or “lanes” (Luke 14:23), “to point out the people to whom the apostles were sent, as either miserable vagabonds, or the most indigent poor, who were wandering about the country, or sitting by the sides of the ways and hedges, imploring relief. This verse points out the final rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary).
So the slaves fill the banquet hall with “everyone they found, both evil and good” (v. 10), a picture of the visible, or professing church. Scripture is abundantly clear that not everyone who claims the name of Jesus truly knows Him, despite appearances to the contrary (Matt. 7:21-23). In the same way, the church throughout this present, evil age will consist of professors and possessors – those who profess to know Christ and those who truly have His Spirit within them as the distinguishing mark of the true believer (Rom. 8:9).
Now, we come to the guest “who was not dressed for a wedding” (v.11). In ancient times, kings and princes provided fresh clothing to their guests. Normally these were long white robes. To refuse such gifts, or to appear at the banquet without them, was an expression of highest contempt. Albert Barnes comments in his Notes on the New Testament:
“This beautifully represents the conduct of the hypocrite in the church. A garment of salvation might be his, wrought by the hands of the Saviour, and dyed in his blood. But the hypocrite chooses the filthy rags of his own righteousness, and thus offers the highest contempt for that provided in the gospel. He is to blame, not for being invited; not for coming, if he would come – for he is freely invited; but for offering the highest contempt to the King of Zion, in presenting himself with all his filth and rags, and in refusing to be saved in the way provided in the gospel.”
The king confronts the guest in verse 12: “Friend [companion is a better term], how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” The man is speechless — “muzzled, or gagged,” according to Adam Clarke’s Commentary. Just as the guest is silenced by his own conscience, the unbeliever will stand before God one day “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). As a result, the king orders his guest to be bound hand and foot and thrown into “the outer darkness,” away from the fellowship of the wedding party, perhaps even into a dungeon. In a similar way, Christ will cast unbelievers out of His kingdom into everlasting punishment on the day they are summoned before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15; see also Matt. 7:21-3; 8:12; 25:30).
“It will aggravate their misery, that … they shall see all this plenty with their eyes, but shall not taste of it,” writes Matthew Henry. “Hell is utter darkness, it is darkness out of heaven, the land of light; or it is extreme darkness, darkness to the last degree, without the least ray or spark of light, or hope of it, like that of Egypt; darkness which might be felt … Hypocrites go by the light of the gospel itself down to utter darkness; and hell will be hell indeed to such, a condemnation more intolerable; there shall be weeping, and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew Henry Unabridged).
Finally we come to the phrase Jesus uses often in the Gospels, “For many are invited [called], but few are chosen” (v. 14). This is an allusion to the Roman method of raising an army. All men are mustered, but only those fit for duty are chosen to serve. Many are invited to the wedding feast, but most ignore the invitation, make light of it, find themselves otherwise engaged in worldly matters, abuse the King’s messengers, or show up in the filthy rags of their own righteousness; a comparatively small number enter the kingdom through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13-14).
To enter the fellowship of the King we must make sure we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ – true possessors of the Holy Spirit and not merely professors of the faith.