Matthew 24–25. Five Short Messages
On Facing the End of the Age.
Key Notes: Parables of omitted duties. Our inadequacy dreams. Care for the least of the brethren.
Jesus had previously given the religious leaders four last parables of rebuke and warning. (Matt.21:28–22:14). There were two sons ordered to work in the vineyard; a vineyard was to be worked by tenant farmers; a king made a wedding party for his son, and one man was at the party without a wedding garment. The parables end with the words “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Now He gives the disciples four parables and one short sermon on their conduct as they face toward Jesus’ return, His Second Coming. The parables describe people in various occupations facing an accounting with differing attitudes toward delay. The delay in the Master’s return is the key, and gives us perspective for our times. Two thousand years have passed since the Master left us. That is a delay no one could have anticipated. The parables also illuminate feelings of un-readiness and weakness, deep-seated anxieties all humans feel, that are expressed in our dreams.
24:43 The first parable is the shortest. It describes a home-owner who may have forgotten to lock the door and suffered the loss of his goods. The parable is puzzling because Jesus describes Himself “as a thief”. But the point is simple: He is coming at an unexpected hour. The “as a thief” theme is repeated four other times in the NT: I Thes.5:2; II Pet. 3:10; Rev.3:3; 16:15. The last Revelation reference is most surprising because the warning is set in the middle of the description of the Battle of Armageddon.
Some are put off by Jesus’ use of such a negative image, but He uses others, such as eagles circling a carcass, the unjust steward, (Lk.16:1–9) and the unjust judge. (Lk.18:1–8). The messages are vivid, not easily forgotten. This lesson is simple: be watchful.
24:45–51 The second parable puts the burden of readiness on a head chef whose job is make sure that the other servants are fed regularly. (Regular meals make for good work rhythm and hold the household together.) If he is on the job when the Master returns, he will become the chief steward, over the whole house. However, the Master may be gone so long that the chef decides that it is all right to go back to his old ways, raiding the wine-cabinet and beating his fellow servants. If caught, he will be cut down and cast out with the wicked, to his everlasting remorse. The Master’s delay (24:48) leads the chef to presume that He will not come back soon—so he can "eat, drink and be merry”—and therefore he dies.
25:1–13 The third parable is about ten young girls who are lined up to give light and entertainment at a wedding. They may be bride’s maids, or friends, or even paid performers. Mourners were paid for funerals, as we know. (Jer.9:17–20). I imagine they were there to provide light, singing, and gaiety to the wedding.
The arrival of the bridegroom was delayed so long that they all fell asleep. When they woke up, their little oil lamps were guttering out. The bridegroom went by in a hurry and the door was soon closed. The wise girls were prepared with extra oil to make their lights bright and were swept in with the party. The foolish asked for refills, but there was not enough to go around. While they went off to replenish their supplies, the door was shut and they were left outside the door, dejected, rejected and unrecognized.
After Jesus lets us feel the pain of rejection, He gives us the message :”Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Jesus is the bridegroom. In Matt.9:15 He is having a party with the wedding guests. John the Baptist describes himself as rejoicing to hear the bridegroom’s voice. (Jn.3:29). The marriage feast is yet to come. Matt.22:2–14; Rev.’:7
25:14–30 The fourth parable is the longest and describes a master leaving his property—his money—in the hands of servants. Three servants were given three different amounts, depending on their ability in business. A talent was a weight of precious metal, estimated at 80 lb. It would have to be converted into tangible goods, like land or cattle or grain to trade with. They were to be businessmen, making money for the owner. The first servant went out at once, suggesting that he was enthusiastic. He had something like a million dollars and doubled the money. The second also doubled his $400,000. They third buried $200,000 in gold bullion.
“Now after a long time” the master returned. The productive businessmen were congratulated and given much more responsibilities. The third servant blamed his master for his failure to produce. He described his master as hard and unscrupulous, one to be feared. He at least had not squandered the money but returned it intact. Since he had rejected his master, he also was rejected and lost what he had. His money would be given to the most productive. He was cast into outer darkness to his everlasting remorse.
In God’s economy, you are punished, not rewarded, for simply hanging on to what you were given. That is an arresting concept.
25:31–46 The last text is not a parable but a short sermon on the Judgment Day. Jesus portrays Himself as “Son of Man” in His Glory, surrounded by angels, seated on His glorious throne. He will be doing the work of the Kingdom that was begun during His lifetime on earth. Nations are gathered before Him and separated into two groups. The criterion for judgment is what they have done for the least of Jesus’ brothers-- the hungry, naked, sick, the outcasts and prisoners. Those who have cared for them are invited to enter the Kingdom prepared for them before the foundation of the world. Those who did not care for them go to eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Fearsome.
First we note that it is nations rather than individuals that are being judged. That is an unfamiliar scenario, since we are focused on individual judgment. But national judgment is common in the OT. Psalm 2, for example, describes the nations raging against the Lord and His Christ. They do not want to be restrained by His Law.
Here wrath comes upon those who have omitted caring for the least of Jesus’ brothers. His “brothers” are His disciples, those who do the will of the Father in heaven.
“Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” “Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother, and sister, and mother.” Matt.12:48–50
The majority of interpreters, however, extend his “brothers” to all the poor of the earth. God cares for the poor. Perhaps we can take Paul’s word as a compromise at least in practice: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Gal.6:10
We might ask who, today, are the least of Jesus’ brethren. We can begin with the persecuted Church world-wide. We are increasingly aware of their distresses. “Operation World” has an ordered list of persecuting countries and discusses the struggle of Christians in each country. And lately the Church, through prayer and diplomatic efforts has begun to do something to lighten their burdens. We have been able to get a church leader out of a Chinese prison, for example. A recent call from a Turkish pastor does not ask for relief from persecution, but strength to bear up under it. Africa, with a growing Christian population is a bottom-less pit of need. We also have several prison ministries in the US, realizing that almost half the prisoners would claim some faith in Christ.
To summarize the failings, they just weren't ready.
*The homeowner was unprepared for a surprise night visit. He was careless, thinking of something else.
*The chef waited so long for the master to come back that he decided he never would come back and he could do whatever he liked. Evidently he was not a good person in the first place.
*The foolish girls did not think ahead, and expected others to provide for them. Some believe that the church will carry them into heaven. “Third-party faith”, it is called.
*The businessman was angry at his master, afraid and paralyzed. The right fear of God leads to action, not paralysis.
*The nations paid no attention to Jesus’ disciples in need, until it was too late.
Note that the word “Lord” or “Master” (Gr. kurios, kurie) is used 13 times in this lesson. These parables are addressed to disciples, those who would win heaven. But Jesus said at the beginning,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, (Kurie, Kurie) shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”
It is shocking to realize that Jesus is just as sharp in his criticism and incisive in His judgment on disciples as He is with the Scribes and Pharisees. The test here, as there, is performance. After I said “Lord, Lord”, did I do the will of the Father in Heaven?
The stunning common trait of all these failures is not that so much that they did wrong, but that they were not able to meet the master’s demands. They forgot, they presumed, they could not act, or did not. They were not guilty so much of sins of commission, but of omission.
There are two major classes of sins: sins of rebellion (commission) and sins of weakness (omission). A number of Greek words express sins of omission and we could apply them to the characters in these parables.
hamartia—falling short of the target
paraptoma—falling instead of standing
plemmeleia---singing out of tune
All of us dread sins of omission. It is so hard to know if we have done enough of what we are supposed to do. Our feelings of inadequacy are expressed in our dreams. We're just not ready.
* missed the plane, or can’t find the reservation, or lost the tickets.
* got up to make a speech and couldn’t find the notes, or went to take the final exam and hadn't done any studying, couldn’t remember the answers.
* stood naked in the doctor’s waiting room, looking for a magazine or a chart to cover one's self.
* lost, and couldn't find the way out of back streets and abandoned buildings.
*can’t move, can’t run, can’t wake up.
*There is a chasm widening between me and my loved one.
These are generic dreams, common to all. We should get these feelings out in the open. They express existential angst, our deep-seated anxiety. People are happy to tell you that they are good, feel fine and morally strong. But their dreams give the silent witness to weakness and inability. They should help us in our witness to our neighbors as well as in our own lives.
Mercifully, God knows, He forgives both kinds of sin, sins of disobedience and sins of inadequacy and after pointing out these feelings to us, provides us with answers, instructions and strength to face the future with confidence and integrity.
“…if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” IJn.1:9, KJV
”Occupy till I come.” Lk.19:13 KJV
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour....” Matt.25:13
“Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore….” Eph.6:13–14
“Therefore you also must be ready…..” Matt.24:44
It’s not that hard. Work with what God gave you. Keep your spiritual house safe and your armor on. If you are a leader, feed your people. If He gave you joy and light, give it out. If He gave you money, multiply it—and give it back. Care for the least of His children.
Be ready--with God's help--and stand there.