Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.Ch. Matthew 25:1-13. The Parable of the Ten Virgins
In St Matthew only.
1. Then] In the Last Day—the time just spoken of.
the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins] The condition of the Church at the End of the World shall be like the condition of the ten virgins described in the parable.
This parable is another warning for the disciples of Christ “to watch.” Like the rest of the discourse it is primarily addressed to the Apostles, and after them to the pastors of the Church, who are posted as sentinels for the coming of Christ; lastly, to all Christians. Whatever interpretation may be put on the lesser incidents they must be subordinated to the lesson of the parable—vigilance, and the reason for vigilance—the certainty of the event, and the uncertainty as to the time of its occurrence.
their lamps] Either like the familiar Roman lamps carried in the hand or attached to staves, or else torches which were sometimes fed with oil.
to meet the bridegroom] The usual Jewish custom was for the “friends of the bridegroom” to conduct the bride to her husband’s home; and when the procession arrived, the bridegroom went forth to lead the bride across the threshold (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. ad loc., and Dr Ginsburg in Kitto’s Cycl. of Bib. Lit.). The imagery of the parable, however, implies that the bridegroom himself went to fetch his bride perhaps from a great distance, while a group of maidens await his return ready to welcome him in Oriental fashion with lamps and flambeaux.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.2. wise] The word is used of prudence or practical intelligence, a characteristic of the steward, ch. Matthew 24:45, and Luke 16:8.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:3. They that were foolish took their lamps] All watch for their Lord, but some only—“the wise”—with true intensity and with due provision for the watch. The foolish virgins have sufficient oil if the Lord come quickly; not sufficient for long and patient expectation. It is a rebuke to shallow religion that dies away when the excitement passes.
The oil seems to mean generally the perfection of the Christian life or preparedness for the Lord’s coming.
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.5. the bridegroom] The thought of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church is hardly appropriate here, for in the parable the maidens, and not the bride, are the expectant Church. The thought of the “children of the bridechamber,” ch. Matthew 9:15, is a nearer parallel.
they all slumbered and slept] Sleep represents the ignorance as to the time of Christ’s coming; it is not to be interpreted of unwatchfulness, it is not a guilty or imprudent sleep, as in the parable of the thief coming by night (ch. Matthew 24:43).
slumbered and slept] Rather, “nodded” from drowsiness, and fell asleep.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.6. there was a cry made] Literally, “there is a cry made.”
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.7. trimmed their lamps] By addition of oil, and by clearing the fibres with a needle.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.8. are gone out] Rather, “are going out.” Even the foolish virgins had not been quite unwatchful, they were nearly ready for the Lord’s appearing.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.9. lest there be not enough for us and you] The bridal procession was still to be made in which there would be need of burning lamps. The wise cannot impart their oil:—an incident necessary to the leading idea of the parable;—nothing can make up for unreadiness at the last moment. This point has been adduced as an argument against works of supererogation.
Not so; lest there be not] Accepting a variation in the text adopted by Lachmann and Tregelles and Meyer, translate “Not so;” (which now comes into the text,) “there will surely not be enough,” &c.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.10. went in with him to the marriage] Rather, to the marriage feast. The happiness of the blest is often described by the image of a great supper, cp. ch. Matthew 26:29.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.11. Lord, Lord, open to us] Cp. ch. Matthew 7:22-23.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.13. Watch therefore] Our Lord’s explanation of the parable, shewing the true purport of it.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.14. into a far country] These words do not occur in the original, the word translated “travelling into a far country,” is rendered in the next verse “took his journey.”
delivered unto them his goods] Cp. Mark 13:34. “A man taking a far journey, who left his house and gave authority (rather, his authority) to his servants, and to every man his work.” Christ in His absence gives to each a portion of His own authority and of His own work on earth.
A great deal of the commerce of antiquity was managed by slaves, who were thus often entrusted with responsible functions (cp. ch. Matthew 24:45). In this case they are expected to use their Master’s money in trade or in cultivation of the soil, and to make as large an increase as possible.
14–30. The Parable of the Talents, in this Gospel only
The parable of the Pounds, Luke 19:12-27, is similar, but there are important points of distinction; (1) in regard to the occasions on which the two parables are given; (2) in the special incidents of each.
The lesson is still partly of watchfulness, it is still in the first instance for the apostles. But fresh thoughts enter into this parable: (1) There is work to be done in the time of waiting; the watching must not be idle or unemployed; (2) Even the least talented is responsible.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.15. unto one he gave five talents] In the parable of the Pounds or “minæ,” (Luke 19) each subject receives one pound. Here the truth is indicated that there is variety in the services wrought for God in respect of dignity and of difficulty. More will be required of the influential and enlightened than of the ignorant and poor. “Nemo urgetur ultra quam potest” (Bengel).
talents] See ch. Matthew 18:24. It is from this parable that the word “talents” has passed into modern languages in the sense of “abilities,” or “mental gifts.”
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.16. went and traded] i. e. went on a journey. The ideas of trade and travelling were very nearly connected in ancient times, as the Greek words for traffic shew. In Matthew 25:18 went=departed.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.19. After a long time] Another hint that the second coming of Christ would be long deferred.
reckoneth with them] In order to have his stipulated share of the profits.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.20. moe] for more, the reading of the Authorised Version (1611), altered in later editions. Cp. Shaks. ful. Cæs. ii. 1:
“Bru. Is he alone?
Luc. No, sir, there are moe with him.”
(Bible Word-Book, p. 321).
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.21. ruler over many things] The privileges of heaven shall be in proportion to the services wrought on earth.
enter thou into the joy of thy lord] Either (1) share the life of happiness which thy lord enjoys, and which shall be the reward of thy zeal; or (2) the joyous feast; as in the last parable; cp. also Esther 9:18-19. (See especially the LXX. version).
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:24. came and said] This slave anticipates his lord’s condemnation; “qui s’excuse s’accuse.”
gathering where thou hast not strawed] i. e. “gathering into the garner from another’s threshing-floor where thou hast not winnowed” (Meyer); so, “exacting interest where thou hast invested no money.” The accusation was false, but the lord takes his slave at his word, “thou oughtest therefore,” for that very reason.
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.27. put my money] It was not thine own.
to the exchangers] i. e. “to the bankers,” literally, to those who stand at tables, (Lat. mensarii), because the bankers had tables before them. This was the very least the slave could have done, to make money in this way required no personal exertion or intelligence.
with usury] In modern language “with interest.”
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.29. The thought conveyed by this verse is true, even in worldly matters: talents not used pass away from their possessor: and the strenuous worker seems to gather to himself what is lost by the idle. Demosthenes says (Php 1:5) “the possessions of the negligent belong of right to those who will endure toil and danger.”
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.31–46. The Day of Judgment
32. all nations] Either (1) all the nations of the world, including the Jews; or (2) all the Gentiles. The almost invariable use of τὰ ἔθνη to signify the Gentiles; the unconsciousness of service to Christ shewn by just and unjust alike; the simplicity of the standard proposed by the Judge, favour the second interpretation. On the other hand the special warning to the Apostles, and to the Jewish race, in the previous parts of the discourse render it probable that Jews and Christians are not excluded from this picture of the judgment. The unconsciousness of the judged may be referred not to ignorance of Christ, but to unconsciousness that in relieving the distressed they were actually relieving Christ. The simplicity of the standard may be intended to include what is called “natural” religion, as well as revealed religion. The nations are judged by a standard of justice which all recognise. (Read Romans 1:18-20; Romans 2:9-16.)
as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats] “The sheep and goats are always seen together under the same shepherd and in company; yet they never trespass on the domain of each other.… When folded together at night they may always be seen gathered in distinct groups; and so, round the wells they appear instinctively to classify themselves apart, as they wait for the troughs to be filled.”—Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, pp. 89, 90. The goat was not in evil repute in the East, as contrasted with the sheep; on the contrary, the he-goat was a symbol of dignity, so that the point of analogy is merely the separation between the sheep and the goats.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:34. the King] “Appellatio majestatis plena solisque piis læta,” Bengel, who also points out the correspondence between the sentence passed on the just, and that passed on the unjust, Matthew 25:41.
ye blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom
prepared for you from
the foundation of the world.
Depart from me,
prepared for the devil and his angels
ye blessed of my Father] Observe that the words, “of my Father,” do not follow “ye cursed,” Matthew 25:41. The blessing comes from God, the curse is brought by the sinner on himself.
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:35, 36. There is a climax in this enumeration. The first three are recognised duties, the last three are voluntary acts of self-forgetting love. Common humanity would move a man to relieve his bitterest foe when perishing by hunger or by thirst (see Romans 12:20). Oriental custom required at least a bare hospitality. But to clothe the naked implies a liberal and loving spirit, to visit the sick is an act of spontaneous self-sacrifice, to go to the wretched outcasts in prison was perhaps an unheard of act of charity in those days; it was to enter places horrible and foul beyond description; Sallust, speaking of the Tullianum (the state prison at Rome), says “incultu, tenebris, odore fæda atque terribilis ejus facies est.”
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.40. ye have done it unto me] This unconscious personal service of Christ may be contrasted with the conscious but unreal knowledge of Christ assumed by false prophets; see Luke 13:26.
Christ identifies Himself with His Church, as in His words to Saul, “Why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4).
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.45. Inasmuch as ye did it not] Men will be judged not only for evil done, but for good left undone.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.46. The same Greek word (aiônios) is translated everlasting (punishment) and (life) eternal; also in each case the adjective in the Greek text follows the noun—the place of emphasis. The adjective aiônios (eternal) = of or belonging to (1) an aiôn or period, (a) past, (b) present, (c) future, or (2) to a succession of aiôns or periods. It does not, therefore, in itself=“unending.” But life eternal, which is “to know the true God and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3), can only be conceived of as unending and infinite; cp. “Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die” (Habakkuk 1:12).
punishment] (Greek, kolasis), not “vengeance,” but punishment that checks or reforms.