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encouragement theology

The Final Judgment

Thoughts from Matthew 25…

Are you ready for Jesus to return?

Shortly before He left the earth, Jesus told a story to His closest friends. A rich man went away on a journey, leaving part of his fortune with three of his stewards. The first steward was efficient, doubling his master’s return on his investment. The second steward was not as efficient, yet he still was able to bring his master a sizable return. But the third steward hated his master. Expecting the master to never return, he hid his share away, making plans to keep it for himself. 

But the master did return and asked for an accounting of his assets. He commended the first two stewards for their diligence and return on the investments given to them. But the final steward responded with hostility until he was stripped of all his belongings and sentenced to severe punishment.

Jesus then compared this message with the judgment on the world. After the final suffering of the world (see here), Jesus will come back to earth and divide all of the people who remain. His true followers will have demonstrated their faith by caring for the persecuted believers, including feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the destitute, and visiting the prisoners and infirmed. They will be blessed by God and welcomed into His kingdom.

By contrast, those who have refused Jesus Christ will have demonstrated their true hearts by their lack of compassion. Regardless of their words and their appearances, they never knew Jesus Christ. They will be cursed, and sent to eternal punishment.

These were Jesus’ final words about His return. How do these two scenes fit with the rest of Jesus’ words? How do they fit with the rest of Scripture?

The Warning of the Stewards

Matthew 25:13-30
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Jesus taught this parable (known as the “Parable of the Talents”) to His disciples so that they would be ready for His return.a Like the previous parable of the ten bridesmaids (see here), the first two servants were prepared for the master’s return while the final servant didn’t expect to see him. The believing servants were ready for their master, while the unbelieving servant had hidden away his master’s fortune, hoping to keep it for himself. 

Like the servants with the talents, we are all entrusted with gifts from God.b Some of us may be industrious and highly efficient, much like the first servant with the five talents. Others of us are like the second servant with the two talents. We may not be the most efficient, yet we still serve the Lord and have results from what He has given to us.

For those who believe in Jesus Christ but fear that they have never produced anything worthwhile for Him, remember that our responsibility is to abide in Jesus Christ and He will produce the results. See the study on John 15 here for more details.

But the tragedy in this parable is the third servant, who receives only one talent. Instead of using the money entrusted to him, he dug a hole in the ground and hid it. These actions show, not a level of security for the master’s money, but rather the servant’s selfishness and greed. He was hiding it away, hoping to keep it for himself. He had lost faith in his master, as shown by his criticism upon the master’s return, and likely never believed that he was coming back.c 

While this parable applies to us in our day-to-day lives, it is more than just how we use the gifts that God has given to us. It is about how we will respond when He returns. We will all stand before God’s judgment seat where we will be rewarded for how we served Him, or punished if we refused to believe Him.

2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

The Test of True Belief

Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 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. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Immediately after teaching His disciples the parable of the talents, Jesus taught about His judgement on the nations when He returns.d Just as in the parable, where the servants showed their belief in their master by how they invested His money, so the people of the earth will show their belief in Jesus Christ by how they treated the persecuted Christians.e

After teaching the parables, Jesus returned to end times events, continuing with the events immediately after His return (as described Matthew 24:29-31). He will return in the clouds and will gather His elect from heaven. He will then sit on His throne and gather all the peoples of the world, dividing them between the believing “sheep” and the unbelieving “goats” (Matthew 25:31-32). Therefore, the ones being judged in this scene are all the people who survived the great tribulation, as taught in Matthew 24:15-28.f See the notes here for more details about the great tribulation and Jesus’ return.

We know from other Scripture that acts of mercy do not save us (Titus 3:5, Romans 4:5, Ephesians 2:8-9), so Jesus is not simply saving the sheep because they had compassion. Nor is He condemning the goats to eternal punishment for their lack of caring for the needy. Rather, their compassion reflects their true faith in Jesus Christ. Those who believe in Him will show that belief by their actions. This is the same message that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (see here), and to the Rich Young Ruler (see here). You demonstrate your faith by your works.

“Failure to have compassion on the poorest and weakest suffering one is failure to minister to Christ Himself, for He makes their cause His own.” – H.A. Ironside2

James 2:14-17
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Conclusion

Are you ready for Jesus to return? He promised to come back at a time that we don’t expect!

And when he returns, how will He receive us? Will he receive us like the first steward, who made a great return for his master and was richly rewarded for his diligence? Will he receive us like the second steward, who wasn’t as diligent and hard-working as the first, but was still faithful to his master? Or will we be like the final steward, who didn’t even believe his master was returning, was so caught up in himself and was taken by surprise?

Or, to put it in a different perspective, how will we react when Jesus returns? Will we be like the faithful stewards who could respond with joy to see their master once again? Or will we be like the unbelieving steward, who kept all his assets to himself, regarding his master with hatred and hostility?

If we say we believe in Jesus Christ, do our actions follow our words? Do we merely say we believe in Jesus, yet refuse to care for His destitute children? Or is our belief in Him genuine, letting the love of Jesus Christ show through us, not only in our words but in our actions? Jesus said when we loved the least of these, we loved Him.

There is one truth that comes through both of these scenes. From the small parable to the end of the world, Jesus will return and we will answer to Him, not for what we say or what we think, but for what we do. He is not asking for a great argument of his merit, or a statement of belief. He is asking, quite simply, “What did you do for me?”

When we look at God‘s Word — and God does not lie — we are not saved by our good deeds. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!

Yet our faith is not real if we don’t show it. If we just sit around and say that we believe in Jesus Christ, never to act on our beliefs, then it was never real to us. Just like the bridegroom to the foolish bridesmaids, Jesus will say “I never knew you.”

It is the investment of the three stewards that show their level of faith in their master. 

It is the compassion of the people at the judgment that shows their level of faith in Jesus Christ. 

Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats by how they acted on their beliefs. 

The final destiny of the faithful stewards, and of the compassionate sheep, is the kingdom of Jesus Christ. They trusted in him and demonstrated their trust by their actions. But also, the ultimate destiny of the unfaithful servant, and of the unbelieving goats, is eternal punishment, the same punishment that has been prepared for the devil and his angels.

When Jesus returns, will he find you faithful, or fighting against him?

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

Previous post: Be Ready!


References

[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 25:14-46, pages 285-292

[2] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 25, The King Reveals the Future, Part 2

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 25:14-46, pages 75-76

[4] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book V, CHAPTER VII: EVENING OF THE THIRD DAY IN PASSION-WEEK-ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES-LAST PARABLES: TO THE DISCIPLES CONCERNING THE LAST THINGS-THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS-THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS-SUPPLEMENTARY PARABLE OF THE MINAS AND THE KING’S RECKONING WITH HIS SERVANTS AND HIS REBELLIOUS CITIZENS (St. Matt. 25: 1-13; St. Matt. 25: 14-30; St. Luke 19: 11-28.), https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/lifetimes.x.vii.html

[5] Doug Bookman, Life of Christ, Audio Series, Lecture 12, https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/harmony-of-the-gospels/31-jesus-silences-his-enemies-and-the-olivet-discourse.html

[6] John MacArthur, The Tragedy of Wasted Opportunity, Part 1, Matthew 25:14-19, Aug 5, 1984

[7] John MacArthur, The Tragedy of Wasted Opportunity, Part 2, Matthew 25:19-30, Aug 12, 1984

[8] John MacArthur, The Judgment of the Nations, Part 1, Matthew 25:31-32a, Sep 9, 1984

[9] John MacArthur, The Judgment of the Nations, Part 2, Matthew 25:32a, Sep 16, 1984

[10] John MacArthur, The Judgment of the Nations, Part 3, Matthew 25:32b-46, Sep 23, 1984

[11] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Matthew 25:14-46, pages 1174-1176

[12] D.A. Carson, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Zondervan, 2010, Matthew 25:14-46


Notes

[a] The parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is very similar to the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11-27. Although there are a lot of similarities in the content between the two parables, they are two separate parables, given at different times for different reasons.

  • The number of servants and distribution per servant is different between the two parables. The talent was about 60 times more valuable than a mina.11
  • The parable of the talents (Matthew) was given to the twelve apostles during the passion week (likely Tuesday); the parable of the minas (Luke) was given to a larger audience while He was traveling to Jerusalem before that week. 
  • The parable of the talents (Matthew) was to help His disciples wait for His return; the parable of the minas (Luke) was to illustrate that Jesus was not going to bring in the kingdom when He arrived at Jerusalem (Luke 19:11).
  • The parable of the minas (Luke) also includes the national rejection of Jesus Christ and their subsequent judgement (Luke 19:14, 27).

[b] Many commentators have discussed what the “talents” represent in the parable, whether they are skills, material gifts, privileges, or opportunities. In Jesus’ day, the talent was a measurement of weight and was used to measure the quantity of precious metals. The talent could be gold, silver, or bronze (see here for a similar discussion with the parable of the unforgiving servant). But Jesus’ point isn’t about the type or quantity of the talents, but rather about the servants’ faithfulness. We are responsible for everything God has given us, whether they be any of the above blessings. 

“We must not limit this to the administration of His Word, nor to the Holy Ministry, although these may have been pre-eminently in view. It refers generally to all that a man has, wherewith to serve Christ; for, all that the Christian has – his time, money, opportunities, talents, or learning (and not only ‘the Word’), is Christ’s, and is entrusted to us, not for custody, but to trade withal for the absent Master – to further the progress of His Kingdom.” – Edersheim4

[c] The servant accuses the master of “reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” (Matthew 25:24). The master’s response seems at first like he confirms the servant’s accusations (e.g. “yes, I did”), but then why would Jesus give such negative attributes to a character who represents God? However, the master’s response should be better understood as a hypothetical answer. The master is saying, “If you really believed that I reap where I did not sow and gathered where I did not plant, then you should have invested my money!” If the servant really believed that the master was that hard, then he should have known that he wouldn’t tolerate the servant’s laziness!4 11

[d] Scripture clearly shows three judgements upon mankind at the end times:

  • The judgment of nations (Matthew 25:31-46) — those living believers and unbelievers when Jesus Christ returns. Takes place after the tribulation.
  • The Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) — the judgement of all unbelievers (those who are not in the book of life). Takes place after the millennial kingdom.
  • The judgment of believers (known as the the “Bema Seat”, from the Greek word for “judgement seat”, bema, βῆμα) (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10) — the future judgement for all believers, judging the believer’s works.

[e] Jesus commends the sheep because they helped “one of the least of these my brothers”. Of particular interest here is the phrase, “my brothers”, indicating that Jesus is commending the sheep for how they treated destitute Christians (“brothers” indicates believers, as in John 20:17, Hebrews 2:11). Since this judgment is occurring after the tribulation, the “brothers” here are most likely the Christians who have been severely persecuted during the tribulation. 

However, there is also a broader application to the “least of these” beyond the persecuted Christians. The Lord’s rebuke to the goats does not qualify the “least of these” to only include brothers. Moreover, those who truly believe Jesus Christ will show mercy to the lost (see Matthew 9:12-13).

[f] The sheep, who believe in Jesus Christ, are promised a kingdom prepared for them from “from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). This shows that these same sheep must be the “elect” during the tribulation (Matthew 24:22, 24).

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