Article of the Month

July 2014

THE PARABLE of the TALENTS


The many verses from Matthew 24:1 through Matthew 25:46 form what is frequently called “Our Lord’s Great Prophecy.”  The 24th chapter stands as a summary of the age that was to intervene between Jesus’ two advents, and also as a description of the “harvest” (Matthew 13:39) with which that age would end.  It is during this “harvest” of the Gospel Age that Jesus would be invisibly present before establishing the peaceable kingdom on earth for which he taught us to pray (Matthew 6:10).  These verses include one parable relative to the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland state.  It is the parable of the Fig Tree (Matthew 24:32-34) — a parable which came to its fulfillment in the middle of the 20th Century.  (See Article of the Month for April, 2008.)


The end of the “Great Prophecy” consists of three parables (Matthew 25:1-46).  They are attached to this great prophetic treatise in order to show three things:

1.) THE PARABLE of the WISE and FOOLISH VIRGINS (Matthew 25:1-13) is given to show experiences and lessons among Jesus’ disciples leading into and progressing through the “harvest” period.  Just as the Great Prophecy of Chapter 24 focused on the return and secret presence of Jesus, this parable focuses on how his disciples discern that return and how they develop from the great truths which then become manifest. It is a prophetic parable.
2.) THE PARABLE of the TALENTS (Matthew 25:1-30), however, is not a prophetic parable.  It is a lesson parable.  Jesus gave it in order to impress upon his disciples a standard of judgment that he would use in evaluating them as being or not being worthy of being part of THE CHRIST (the 144,000) once the age ends.  Thus, this parable applies to the whole age, not just the harvest.  But its focus is in explaining how, at the end of the age, reckonings of faithfulness would be adjudicated.
3.) THE PARABLE of the SHEEP and GOATS (Matthew 25:31-46) is much the same as the Talents parable, EXCEPT, this parable is not about or for his disciples.  Jesus ends this great sermon with this parable to show the standard of judgment for the world of mankind in the earthly kingdom during the Millennial Age — the age which follows his selection of his body members — the age which is the very objective of all that he and his Church have worked for:  the Kingdom of God on earth.  (See Article of the Month for June, 2014.)




—  The Talents Parable  —


In one great sense, the Parable of the Talents is an EXPLANATION of factors in the virgins parable that precedes it.  In the Ten Virgins Parable, the wise virgins were ready to be accepted as part of the Bride of Christ.  What made them ready?
In that parable, their readiness was portrayed by having their vessels full of oil — their beings saturated with the Holy Spirit.


In this Talent Parable, that quality of having our beings saturated with the Holy Spirit is symbolized in part by our faithful usage of what the Lord has given us to work with.  It is important to notice that this parable begins, “For it is just like…”  (Matthew 25:14).  It is clear that Jesus is, with these words, connecting the two parables:  the first, prophetic; the second, practical.



(Please follow the text in your Bible as the explanation unfolds.
In this article, our references are from the New American Standard translation.)


Verses 14 and 15 show us the entire Gospel Age during which Jesus would be absent, but also during which he would entrust his disciples to use faithfully all that he would give them.  


In the 15th verse, we see that we all do not receive the same abilities.  A “talent” in those days was MONEY.  It was about $1,000 in silver content, although its buying power was likely considerably more.  But our language has evolved, and “talent” now no longer means money, but, rather, special ability.  This languge evolution is actually quite appropriate.  This is, after all, a parable, not a literal account.  Jesus didn’t give all of his disciples varying amounts of cash — although some Christians have received wealth as a part of their stewardship.  But we all have received abilities to serve our Lord; thus the modern meaning of “talent” (which grew out of this parable) is most appropriate.


There is no favoritism shown when one disciple receives ten talents, one receives two talents, and one receives only a single talent.  As the verse clearly explains:  “each according to his own ability.”  Jesus is not being unfair.  He is giving to each of us exactly what we can handle.  To do otherwise would be unfair.  To ask a pint bottle to carry a quart of liquid would be absurd.  But to ask each of us to function within our limitations is eminently reasonable.  This verse is meant to be a comfort, not a comparison.  It is reassurance from Jesus that none of us is being asked to do anything beyond our capacity.  It also reassures that faithfulness is not reliant upon capacity.


With those lessons made, “he went on his journey.”  Jesus allowed the age of his absence for all who are called to demonstrate what they think of their privileges.


In verses 16-18 we see that Christians throughout the age would use their talents in one of two ways — they would either grow in their appreciation of what they have received, or they would stagnate and be satisfied to dote on what they had received —much like buying a precious painting and then locking it in a safe where no one could see it, but bragging that we own it!


There are some interesting and worthwhile details to consider in these verses.  Verse 16 begins with the word “Immediately.” Verse 17 implies the same zeal on the part of the two-talented disciple — “In the same manner.”  Excitement over service to the Lord and his cause will be a hallmark of the faithful.  This is not to imply that all personalities of the faithful will be alike.  Some will be exhuberantly outgoing; some will be cautious and deliberate.  But all will be “immediate” in the sense of “My Lord’s service is my joy.  It takes precedence over all else I must do.”


The faithful “trade” with their talents, and they “gain more.”  The trading represents the USING of opportunities.  Inevitably, opportunities USED result in opportunities INCREASED.  This is Jesus’ saying to the faithful, “If you appreciate what you have received from me, I will give you even more to appreciate.”


But, what about the third disciple?  Remember, his problem is not that he only received one talent.  His one talent could have been just as rewarding and valuable as the talents given to the others.  His problem is not that he didn’t think his talent was valuable.  He did think it was valuable — so valuable that his main concern seemed to be that it would be lost or stolen.  Among other character weaknesses in this disciple, we can see LACK OF FAITH.  He obviously did not trust the Master’s ability to protect and guide his stewardship.  He also plainly misunderstood the point of his talent.  It was not given to him as a gift to be admired.  It was given to him as a tool to be used.  Too many Christians have felt the privilege of being endowed with knowledge, but they have not felt the privilege of using that endowment other than on self.  True Christianity is an OUTWARD religion.  It gives, and in true giving, it receives back in a multiplicity of blessings.  This poor deluded disciple thought he received the Master’s goods to PROTECT them, and to return them as received.  If that were the case, the Master could simply have kept them himself and not gambled on his disciples’ stewardship.


Verse 19 brings us to the end of the age — much the same as the shutting of the door in the Virgins Parable (Matthew 25:10).  Jesus, at the close of the age, comes to complete his Bride and to deal with all who have been his consecrated disciples during the Gospel Age.


In verses 20-23 we see the satisfying success of the ten-talented and the two-talented disciples.  Their stories are identical except for quantity.  This is important.  It is not how much we accomplish; it is that we have accomplished within our means.  Both disciples report that they have shown appreciation by GROWING.  It is character growth that constitutes our judgment.  We show appreciation for what we have received by investing it or applying it.  The Master wanted this very thing:  character growth — growth into a likeness of him.  He commends their zeal and grants them a future “of many things” — a charge of the wealth he will distribute in the Kingdom to all the world of mankind.  Jesus summarizes this work as being entering into “the joy of your master.”  The faithful, with Jesus, will joyfully bless all of the families of the earth.


Verse 24 looks at the deluded disciple.  The first mistake he reveals about himself is that he didn’t understand his master.  When we compare verse 24 to verse 26, we see how the SAME WORDS can have two completely different meanings.  The disciple says, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.”  He’s actually BLAMING his failure on the Master’s character!


In verse 26, Jesus acknowledges that he reaped where he did not sow, and gathered where he scattered no seed.  He does not acknowledge that he is “a hard man.”  The disciple misinterpreted his Master.  There is nothing “hard” about the Master.  But this particular disciple misinterpreted the reason for the talent.  According to his own admission in verse 25, “I was afraid.”  The entire basis of his consecration was wrong!  He pictured Jesus as exacting perfections and unreasonable expectations.  He pictured Jesus as standing over him just waiting for him to make a mistake!  The other two disciples pictured Jesus as generous and loving, and that he supplied them with talents in order to bless others and to be blessed in doing so.  So, the unfaithful disciple, due to his misunderstanding of his Master’s character, says “I hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.”  This was his second mistake.  He simply did not understand his commission.


What was he saying?  His words probably summarize what has been the attitude of many sincere but deluded disciples throughout the age.  When Jesus planted the seeds of Christianity, he expected them to grow!  He didn’t dole out seeds expecting someone to return them to him saying, “See!  Your seeds are as good as new — still in the same bag you gave to me.”  Jesus didn’t give us great truths for us to admire them.  Nor did he give them to us to protect them.  Nor did he give them to us so that we could brag that we have them.  Everything that we have been given spiritually is to the end that we can edify others and change self.  This is the investment Jesus wanted.


When Jesus said he reaped where he did not sow and gathered where he scattered no seed (25:26), he meant that he expected us to spread and to nurture what he gave us.  This does not make him “a hard man,” as the disciple suggested.  It makes him a loving nurturer who wants to see PROGRESS in those he loves.  The idea of loving Christian principles and doctrines without utilizing them for growth and edification, he characterizes as “wicked” and “lazy.”  In verse 27, Jesus emphasizes this need for some kind of return on his investment in us by saying that the disciple could at least have put the funds in an interest-bearing account instead of burying them.  


Thus, when the disciple said that Jesus reaped where he didn’t sow and gathered where he didn’t scatter, he was looking at Jesus as greedy and demanding.  But when Jesus acknowledges the reaping where he didn’t sow and gathering where he didn’t scatter, he was looking at those traits as the epitome of LOVE, not hardness.  God and Jesus both expect their words not to return void, but to PROSPER where they are sent.  (Isaiah 55:11)


Thus the parable ends with the wasteful disciple losing the very gems (opportunities) he was first given.  His talent was given so that he could be grown into success.  As it is written, “The bride hath made herself ready.”  (Revelation 19:7)


Verse 30 sounds like a harsh summary.  This disciple is worthless as far as becoming part of the bride of Christ is concerned.  The loss of that privilege is summarized as “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  To this very day, severe disappointment is often shown by the clenching of the teeth together — often accompanied by tightly closed eyes and a severe grimace.  The loss is worth weeping over.  This disciple apparently falls into that class of unsuccessful disciples known as the “Great Multitude.”  (See Revelation 7:9, 13, 14, 17.)  They will find that “God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.”  (See Article of the Month for August, 2008.)


“Outer darkness” is a lack of light.  The word “outer” suggests the darkness outside of spiritual light.  In other words, such disciples as this have lost the light of why they were blessed with a talent BECAUSE they use fleshly or worldly (“outer”) reasonings.  God, before their deaths, allows them to experience for their good how terrible it is in the world as compared to being in the light of the fellowship of the saints.  Hence, Revelation 7:14 says they “come out of great tribulation.”  Their “outer darkness” experience makes them “wash their robes.”  Paul explains the same experience in I Corinthians 5:5 where he says such a person is delivered “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” — hence, the wiping away of tears.


The unfaithful disciple has his opportunities (talents) given to the ten-talented disciple.  This may seem peculiar, but it is not.  Opportunities should go to those who use them best and can handle them.  The world has a saying:  “If you want to get something done, give it to the man who is busiest.”  The ten-talented disciple has proven his ability to handle much; so give him more!  Would anyone object if Satan’s talent were given to Jesus?


Verse 29 accentuates the above lesson — “an abundance” will go to the one who will use it best for the blessing of others.  From the selfish, all will be taken because they do not bless others.  This is very much like the lesson for the world in the next parable, the Sheep and Goats.


The interconnections between the parts of this long sermon by Jesus (Matthew 24 and 25) are quite inspiring as they become clear.  We tend to get lost in detail and to lose the inspiration of seeing the broad vista.  Both detail and large overview are important for our understanding.


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