The End of the Age: Matthew 25

REVIEW

Previously in Matthew 24 we studied the Lord’s answer to the first two questions asked by his disciples in verse three by revealing the first two questions and then pausing to teach the disciples a lesson so that they may be prepared for the coming of Christ.

They asked:

  1. When will these things happen?
  2. What is the sign of your coming?
  3. What is the sign of the end of the age?”

First Sign: 

Matthew 24:15 (CSB) So when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand)

The Lord used Daniel’s fulfilled prophecy to create a symbol representing the unveiling of the Anti-Christ:

2nd Thessalonians 2:3-4 (CSB) Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God.

Second Sign:

Matthew 24:30-31 (CSB) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Then the Lord reveals the sign of his return so that we won’t be deceived by false prophets and false messiahs:

1st Thessalonians 4:16-17 (CSB) For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout,, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

The First Lesson:

Matthew 24:32-33,42, 46 (CSB) Learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, recognize that he is near—at the door. 42 Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 46 Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.

The first lesson that Jesus teaches his disciples is to be alert and active in their kingdom-work so that they will be blessed when Christ returns to earth:

1st Thessalonians 5:1-8 (CSB) About the times and the seasons: Brothers and sisters, you do not need anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “Peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the dark, for this day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or the darkness. 6 So then, let us not sleep, like the rest, but let us stay awake and be self-controlled. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled and put on the armor of faith and love, and a helmet of the hope of salvation.

 

INTRODUCTION

In this chapter Jesus will finish teaching his disciples two more lessons before answering their final question about what sign will indicate the end of the age.

As we read this chapter, I want to open with words from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount that I believe are well suited to our lesson today:

Matthew 7:24-27 (CSB) “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash.”

THE TEN VIRGINS: 25:1-13

The Lord’s first lesson teaching us to “be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42), is the theme that his second and third lessons build on.

The scene for this parable is a village wedding, with the virgins (perhaps bridesmaids in our sense, or friends or servants of the bridegroom) waiting to escort the bridegroom in a torch-light procession at the end of the ceremony, as he brings his bride home. The lamps are probably torches made of oil-soaked rags wrapped on a stick, which would burn for several minutes before being dipped in oil again. Without a further supply of oil they would go out as soon as they were lit (i.e. the foolish virgin’s response in verse eight). And everyone in the procession was expected to carry his or her own torch. Those without a torch would be assumed to be party crashers or even brigands. The festivities, which might last several days, would formally get under way at the groom’s house.

Christ’s glaring omittance of the Bride in this parable means that we are meant to focus our attention on the ten bridesmaids, who correspond nicely to the wedding-guests in Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Banquet (Mt. 22:1-14), both of whom represent the individual believers composing the universal Church, who is Christ’s bride.

Wise and Foolish Virgins: v.1-4

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them; 4 but the wise ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.

This parable is dealing with the Kingdom as it is finished and brought to perfection on the Day of Christ’s return.

The “wise virgins” are called such because they are prepared for the bridegroom’s delayed coming, while the others were called “foolish” because they were not prepared for the bridegroom’s delayed coming.

We should not seek hidden meanings in the symbols of either the oil or the sleep; the oil simply functions in this parable to illustrate their preparedness, while their sleep simply functions in this parable to illustrate the bridegroom’s delay.

The sole distinction between the two groups is that the wise maidservants bring sufficient oil for their long wait (24:48; 25:19), while the foolish maidservants do not bring enough oil, yet still expect to meet the groom without being adequately ready for his arrival.

The Groom’s Delay: v. 5-9

When 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 the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 “The wise ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell oil, and buy some for yourselves.’

The Groom’s delay does not describe any “postponement” on his part – we remember the Lord promised not to delay – but rather, this word describes a long chronological period of time illustrated by the bridesmaids becoming sleepy.

We should immediately connect this text to the pericope of Jesus’ first lesson:

Matthew 24:48-50 (CSB) But if that wicked servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and starts to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 that servant’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.

The passing of time will either inspire greater faithfulness in Christ’s servants or greater wickedness.

The Bridesmaids Trimming their Lamps represents how the bridesmaids respond to the midnight-shout with waking up and preparing their lamps for use, signifying how the Church will ready herself for Christ’s return when she sees the dawning of these eschatological signs:

Revelation 19:7-8 (CSB) Let us be glad, rejoice, and give him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has prepared herself. 8 She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.

Luke 12:35-40 (CSB) “Be ready for service (NASB – “clothed with readiness”) and have your lamps lit. 36 You are to be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet so that when he comes and knocks, they can open the door for him at once. 37 Blessed will be those servants the master finds alert when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will get ready, have them recline at the table, then come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the middle of the night, or even near dawn, and finds them alert, blessed are those servants. 39 But know this: If the homeowner had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

The bridesmaids go out boldly into the chaos and terror of the apocalyptic crisis described by Jesus being clothed with righteousness!

They are:

  • Not ashamed of the gospel or the testimony of Christ
  • They love their enemies and bless those who curse them
  • They love their brethren and lay down their life for them
  • Their hope is fixed firmly on the grace coming with Christ
  • They keep themselves pure for the Groom

The foolish bridesmaids’ lamps going out show that once the eschatological crisis dawns on the world – possibly represented here as “the midnight shout” –it will be too late at that time for those who have not readied themselves to prepare for Christ’s return:

Matthew 24:9-13 (CSB) “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, betray one another, and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

This illustrates the reason I believe the “oil” is better interpreted broadly as “readiness” rather than narrowing it to any one element like “love” (Augustine), “grace” (Matthew Henry), or “the Holy Spirit” (modern); their lamps are described as “going out” because they did not bring enough oil to endure till the end, signifying that their faith was not prepared to endure by the whole host of elements that compose Christian preparation.

The Groom’s Arrival: v. 10-13

“When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived, and 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 “He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you!’ 13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

Christ’s conclusion to this parable parallels his conclusion to the sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 7:12-15, 21-23 (CSB) “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. 15 “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves… 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’,,

THE TALENTS: 25:14-30

The opening of verse of this parable is merely transitional, suggesting that the introduction to the parable of the Virgins is meant to cover this parable too and demonstrating that Jesus intends a very close link between these parables.

The scene for this parable is a businessman who goes on a trip and leaves his belongings under the authority of his servants so that they might prosper while he is away.  The talent was not a coin, but a weight, therefore its value depends on whether the coinage involved was copper, gold or silver. The most common metal involved was silver, and the value of a talent of silver was worth between fifteen to twenty years’ wages for laborers.  The first servant received between 60 to 100 years of wages, the second servant received between 30 to 40 years of wages, and the third servant received between 15 to 20 years worth of wages.

The Journeyman’s Departure and Return: v.14-23

“For it is just like a man about to go on a journey. He called his own servants and entrusted his possessions to them.15 To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent, depending on each one’s ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I’ve earned five more talents.’ 21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’ 22 “The man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I’ve earned two more talents.’ 23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’

The two faithful servants take the sums given to them by their master and immediately put it to work. This directly connects to the Lord’s first lesson in the previous pericope:

Matthew 24:46-47 (CSB) Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.

The unfaithful servant takes his sum and digs a whole large enough to burry 15 to 20 years worth of wages. This directly connects to the Lord’s first sermon in the sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:14-16 (CSB) “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The master entrusts each servant according to their faithfulness, signifying that God does not put more in your hands than you can properly handle.  Each servant was capable of prospering with the amount of blessings entrusted to them.

The Unfaithful Servant: v. 24-30

The man who had received one talent also approached and said, “Master, I know you. You’re a harsh man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.” 26 His master replied to him, “You evil, lazy servant! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and I would have received my money back with interest when I returned. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents.” 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The unfaithful servant’s actions express “ungodly fear”; either the kind of fear that holds the heart of legalism in bondage, which fears doing what is wrong more than it desires to do what is right, or the kind of fear that holds the heart of pride in bondage, which fears becoming a failure more than it desires to please God

The master’s answer shows that at the very core of the unfaithful servant’s heart was wickedness and laziness.  The servant’s actions didn’t merely come from fear, which could have been overcome by involving the community of support available to him – represented here by the bankers – but his actions came from a wicked and lazy heart.

THE SIGN OF THE END: 25:31-46

Jesus concludes his parables about preparedness and answers the disciples third question from 24:3, “what is the sign of the end of the age?

The setting for this sign comes after the great apostasy, after the Antichrist has taken power, after the great tribulation, and after Christ has descended from the heavens to gather his elect and destroy his enemies.  This sign is the conclusion to the age of sin and death.  After this point, there will be no more weeping, no more sorrow; the living will know only eternal life and the dead will know only eternal death.

The Sign of the End of the Age: v.31-33

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels, with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 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.

This describes the judgment of the great white throne in heaven before which all the nations on earth will be judged.

This judgment is described at the conclusion of Christ’s 1,000 year reign:

Revelation 20:11-15 (CSB) Then I saw a great white throne and one seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. 13 Then the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them; each one was judged according to their works. 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

The Judgment of the Righteous: v.34-40

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, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

It is a necessary imperative that we make a careful theological distinction between “justification” and “judgment”:

The justification by which one is saved occurs through faith:

Romans 5:1 (CSB) Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The nations are divided into two groups – those who have faith, and those who do not – to bring everyone into judgment where we will all answer for the works we have done on earth:

Romans 2:5-7, 10 (CSB) Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed. 6 He will repay each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; 10 but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.

But these two groups are divided before the judgment takes place based on their faith.  Those who have been sealed by the Spirit through faith will be placed on Christ’s right hand, while those who do not have a living faith will be placed on Christ’s left.  But everyone will answer for the works they have done on earth.

The Judgment of the Wicked: v.41-46

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, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Here, another careful theological distinctive must be made:

John 3: 17-18 (CSB) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

We are already either justified or condemned based on our faith in Christ.  Those who do not believe in Christ are dead-men walking because they are already condemned for their faithlessness.

The unrighteous are not condemned for their works, they are punished according to their works, but they are condemned because they did not believe in Christ:

Romans 2:5-7, 8-9 (CSB) Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed.6 He will repay each one according to his works: 8 but wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness. 9 There will be affliction and distress for every human being who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek;

Yet, another careful theological distinctive must be made:

Matthew 7:21 (CSB) Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Titus 1:16 (CSB) They claim to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work.

Galatians 5:6 (CSB) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love (Or Galatians 6:15, “what matters instead is a new creation”).

Those who confess that Jesus Christ is their Lord must also live by faith, being compelled by their love for him to walk in the Lord’s way.  Those who do not obey Christ show by their faithlessness that they do not love him and have no part in the inheritance of the saints.

This is what Jesus is describing in these parables: the faithless servants don’t love Christ, and therefore, are not prepared to meet him when he returns because they have not been transformed by the sanctification of the Spirit through loving obedience to his word.

CONCLUDING POINT

Here is my summary of Christ’s teaching about the end times:

Be prepared for the judgment by doing your job in love with what God has given you.

Now after all this study we need to unpack the meaning of Jesus’ lessons so that you know what you should do:

2nd Peter 3:10-13 (CSB) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief;, on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness 12 as you wait for the day of God and hasten its coming., Because of that day, the heavens will be dissolved with fire and the elements will melt with heat. 13 But based on his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

The events described in Matthew 24 and 25 make it clear to those who are spiritually alert what kind of person they should be in holiness and godliness of conduct in this world.

The Theology of Readiness

How can we be ready for Christ’s return?

Revelation 16:15 (CSB) “Look, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who is alert and remains clothed, so that he may not go around naked and people see his shame.”

  • Be alert
  • Be clothed in Christ

Revelation 19:7-8 (CSB) Let us be glad, rejoice, and give him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has prepared herself. 8 She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.

  • Walk in the righteousness of Christ that we have been clothed with by his grace

Hebrews 10:23-25 (CSB) Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, 25 not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

  • Hold on to your hope in Christ
  • Stir each other up to love and good works
  • Keep our fellowship together even more as we see the difficulties of the end approaching

1st John 2:28 (CSB) So now, little children, remain in him so that when he appears we may have confidence and not be ashamed before him at his coming.

  • Remain in Christ by keeping his word through faith

 

 

 

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