The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (9)

Part Eight

Matthew 25

The Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25

            The two parables that begin chapter 25 both have lead-ins which state, “The kingdom of heaven is like” (Matt. 25:1, 14).  The second of these, the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)[1], is about stewardship in honoring the King.  Glasscock hits the nail on the head:

[T]he Lord’s point was that the kingdom…was calling servants to honor and glorify its King.  Those who failed to do so demonstrated they were not true servants but wicked, lazy, and useless usurpers of the prerogatives of the kingdom…primarily this parable relates to Israel, who claimed a desire to serve their King but in reality squandered His blessings.  Any tempt to relate this to the church or associate the “talents” with skills or abilities, especially spiritual gifting, is eisegesis.[2]

The first parable is about the wise and foolish virgins and concerns “the day [and] the hour” of Christ’s coming (Matt. 25:13 cf. 24:36).  The story is simple.  Ten virgins (sort of maids in waiting who have not yet been married) are looking out for the bridegroom.  Only five virgins prepare their lamps for the dark, and when it comes five are away buying oil while the bridegroom arrives and leaves.  Five virgins were unprepared for the bridegroom’s coming (cf. Matt. 24:44).  In this parable we find more support for those “taken” in chapter 24 being the saints, while the unprepared remain.

The Sheep and the Goats

            The Olivet discourse closes with Jesus depicting a scene which happens after His second advent.  Again, it should not escape notice that since Jesus began to answer the disciples’ question in Matthew 24:4 the focus has been upon the end time and the second advent.  Let us look at how the section begins:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. – Matthew 25:31-33. 

This judgment appears to complement to the Parable of the Talents as in that passage too the King returns and deals with people and their service (or lack of it) toward Him.  Note that whereas the parable has the King interacting with individuals (e.g., Matt. 25:24-27) the “Sheep and Goats Judgment” pictures Him addressing and being addressed by groups (“those on His right hand,” the righteous,” “those on His left hand.” – Matt. 25:34, 37, 41).  We are not told how the wicked among “the nations” remain after the second coming, but nothing contradicts what we have already been told in Matthew 13:41-43 and 49-50 as long as one allows this passage in Matthew 25 to throw light on those parables.  What we are told here must mean that for example, the dividing off of “those things that offend” in the Parable of the Dragnet (Matt. 13:47-50) occurs after the Lord’s return.  Clearly King Jesus has some house-cleaning to do before He can begin His reign of shalom in earnest.[3] 

            The passage indicates that it is “the nations” (ethnos – Matt. 25:32) that are being judged.  This word ethnos usually signifies Gentiles in contrast to Jews.  Hence, the entry in Balz and Schneider is unambiguous:

Matthew describes the Son of Man’s judgment of “all ἔθνη.”  According to Matthew’s usage and the context and content of the pericope, “all ἔθνη must refer to those peoples (outside Israel!) to whom the message of Christ has not reached or rejected it.[4] 

Granted that “the nations” equal the Gentile nations, are we justified in maintaining that those Jesus refers to as “My brethren” are Jews?  It appears that may be so, although it should be admitted that taking “My brethren” (Matt. 25:40) as meaning “My fellow Jews” is more than a short stride.  It may well refer to all believers in that day.[5] 

The treatment of the “goats” is as severe as it could be.  Those at Christ’s left hand depart to “everlasting (aionios) punishment”; a fate which corresponds to the “everlasting (aionios) life” of those on His right (Matt. 25:46).  There can be no doubt that if the “sheep” enter eternal bliss then the “goats” enter eternal punishment.  There is no room at all in this verse for the notion of a temporary hell, still less annihilationism.

[1] Although some writers hold that the Parable of the Talents is repeated in Mark 13: and Luke 21: I am one of those who disagree.  There are too many dissimilarities between Matthew’s account and the other Gospels.  See Ed Glasscock, Matthew, 484.

[2] Ibid, 488.

[3] This calls to mind the mysterious time delay one reads about in Daniel 12:11-12 where the difference between the length of days in those verses many indicate the time needed for this “shake up” immediately after Christ’s arrival.  

[4] N. Walter, “ἔθνος” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Volume 1, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, 383.

[5] There is an element of works in the verdict: E.g., “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” (Matt. 25:45).  Perhaps this is because the circumstances will require true faith to reveal itself through good works.    


12 thoughts on “The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (9)”

  1. Thanks very much for this clear exposition.
    There is one thing I have always been stuck on.
    If according to Mt 24:36-41 a separation of saved and unsaved takes places (regardless of whether those taken are saved or unsaved) why do we then have a separation at the sheep and goats judgement? The separation has already taken place. I recall Walvoord making passing reference to this in The Rapture Question. He says those who were taken away (he believed they are unsaved) in v.36-41 are taken away and brought to the place of the sheep and goats’ judgement. But those who are left behind would also need to be brought to that place anyway. And as I say, given that the separation has occurred why are they again being separated? Gundry I think put the sheep and goats’ judgement at the end of the millennium. That resolves my problem but at the cost of creating a whole bunch of even worse problems 🙂
    Once again I’d be much obliged to you for any insights

      1. Thanks very much for this comment. By “localized” do you mean pertaining to people in Israel (Mt 24) in contrast to the wider judgement (Mt 25)? Given that at this stage of the tribulation when Israel will be in turmoil is it likely that people will be marrying and going about their daily chores at the point when they are then separated? In an earlier post you addressed the apparent evidence of normality in Mt 24 by saying that there would be pockets of greater normality throughout the world even during the tribulation which seems reasonable but are you here suggesting that could even be the case even in Israel which will be the centre of it all?
        I must confess to sometimes finding it hard to piece things together. Amillennialists seem to just glide lightly over such texts, paying little attention to detail. I want to avoid that roughshod treatment but when I look at detail it sometimes seems to me like a jigsaw in which the pieces don’t seem to entirely fit 🙂

      2. Justin,
        A good counter to a tired and trite answer from me. Although I still think a localized removal works so long as the scene is the Middle East for the marrying etc. and narrows to the environs of Megiddo (?) for the judgment.
        Alternatively, as those who remain do so for judgment is it not possible that theyare included in the goats?
        I am okay with a bit of indefiniteness in these texts (from the interpreter’s perspective).

        Still, I want to encourage you to keep to your method of attending to details like this. I actually believe this approach is far more helpful than minute grammatical analysis because I do not think the Apostolic writers used Greek in “fixed” law-like ways (as a comparison of several technical commentaries often reveals).

  2. “According to Matthew’s usage and the context and content of the periscope”
    Ha, Matthew the submariner!

  3. Luke 17.34-37 seems to point to “those taken” as a judgment, not the “rapture.”
    Also, eternal punishment can mean “annihilation” since a destruction after requisite punishment would be a perfect and similar contrast with those who receive eternal life. Annihilation is an eternal punishment not a temporary one. Only one class of being receive eternal torment (Rev. 20.10), and, though the wicked humans are assigned to the same place, their duration is according to their works.

  4. Alex,
    I disagree about your view of Lk. 17:
    I tend towards a removal to safety for the elect, although I leave the possibility for a rapture (which would mean there would be two raptures if one is pretrib like myself).

    As for annihilationism, even after suitable punishment, I do not think so. Personally, I would be all for it (from my limited understanding), but I cannot arrive there from the text. There seems to be a lot of picking and choosing in your comment. If “Hell” is for the devil and his angels but humans go there and they (and the Beast and false prophet) go there forever and ever then that supprts the language of Matt. 25:46.

    You need to deal with these passages head-on to have a chance of convincing me.

  5. Thanks again for the response above (23 Nov).
    I think that if those who remain are unsaved they would indeed be included amongst the goats. So the sheep would not be those who were removed since they are already separated but the rest of the redeemed. I suppose the question then is why the removing/being left behind scenario is localised?
    Thanks for the encouragement to attend to details. If I were talking to a nonbeliever and they asked me about some passages (esp. OT prophesy) and I was to interpret them in the way that amillennialists do (“Well, when it says this it REALLY means that”), I would expect them to roll their eyes and say “oh yeah, sure!” and there and then decide the whole thing is bogus. Only after they are in the faith might they entertain that sort of hermeneutic (and that because they somehow think they have no choice) but it isn’t something that on the face of it appears either natural or legitimate.

  6. Paul,
    See my reply at your link.
    Also, I suppose if a person has already made up their mind what defines “eternal punishment” then one could not see annihilation as exactly fitting the bill. It certainly fits the definition. Why would Jesus use apolesai (Mt. 10.28) of something that the Father will do to the wicked?

    1. The verb ‘apolesai’ does not automatically mean annihilate, though it does point to utter destruction. Still, as I said above, you need to deal with the relevant texts if you are to become persuasive.

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