Does the Parable of the Talents Refer to Church-Age or Tribulation Believers?
My questions have to do with the Parable of the Talents found in Matt 25:14-30. In verses 21 and 23 we read, “Well done, good and faithful servant…” These are words we would all love to hear at the Judgment Seat of Christ. But is it good exegesis to apply these verses to believers today or is that just wishful thinking on our part? In essence who are the servants who will be given the opportunity to hear these words? Is it limited to the Tribulation saints or is there broader application? Let me explain my concerns.
In the context of Mathew 24 and 25, Jesus is answering two of the disciple’s questions: When will the temple be destroyed; and what are the signs of Christ’s second coming and the end of the age? The second question occupies most of the text and focuses on the Tribulation period. The parables immediately before and after the Parable of the Talents take place at the end of the Tribulation, or during the transition period between the Tribulation and the start of the Millennium. The preceding parable, the Parable of the Ten Virgins, focuses on the nation of Israel being ready for the imminent arrival of the Bridegroom and the wedding feast. The succeeding parable, the Sheep and Goats Judgment, concentrates on how people, believers and non-believers, treat the Jews who were undergoing extreme hardship and persecution during the Tribulation. We are neither Israel nor “sheep and goats.” Thus, these later two parables do not directly apply to the Church since we will be raptured and in the presence of the Lord.
In context then, I assume the Parable of the Talents takes place during the Tribulation, maybe near the end of it. The primary application and audience seems to be fairly narrow. It seems limited to a specific time, place, and number of people meaning only a few faithful Tribulation servants will have an opportunity to hear the much desired words, “Well done…”
I realize there are secondary applications of these parables, but I wonder if we are guilty of taking these verses out of context, giving them too broad a meaning, and misapplying them most of the time. Please help me with my understanding and application of this important parable. —MM, email
Excellent questions. You touch on a number of key questions related to hermeneutics, how we interpret the Bible.
It may sound like dodging your question, but my first suggestion is to look at Luke 19:11-17 (the Parable of the Minas) before looking at Matt 25:14-30. The reason is because both parables are discussing the same event and because Luke 19 is easier to understand. The analogy of faith is a principle of hermeneutics which says that we are to understand the difficult texts of Scripture (like Matt 25:14-30) in light of the simpler texts of Scripture (like Luke 19:11-27).
Both of the parables discuss three servants of Jesus whom He will judge when He returns. In both, two of the three servants are rewarded (though there is a difference in the amount of reward the second servant receives in each parable) and one is not rewarded. The third servant in each is rebuked for his failure to invest the money the Lord gave him.
In the Parable of the Minas there is another group present which is not discussed in the Parable of the Talents: the citizens of the Lord who hated Him and did not want Him to rule over them as their King (Luke 19:14, 27). First the Lord judges His servants (Luke 19:16-26), then He says, “‘But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me’” (Luke 19:27).
Slaying is done to the enemies, not the servants. The judgment of the third servant ends in verse 26. He is not slain. He has his opportunity to rule taken from him and given to the first servant. But he still is a servant and he gets into the kingdom.
Slaying refers to the second death of Rev 20:14, which is being cast into the lake of fire. The enemies suffer that fate. The third servant does not.
Zane Hodges has pointed out that there is clearly a sequence in the two judgments of Luke 19:11-27. The judgment of the believers (19:16-26) is over before the judgment of the unbelievers, the enemies, begins (Luke 19:27). Zane said that like Zech 9:9-10 there is a 1,000 year gap between Luke 19:26 and Luke 19:27. The servants are judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema) before the Millennium and the enemies at the Great White Throne after the Millennium (Rev 20:11-15).
Since the third servant in the Parable of the Talents is parallel to the third servant in the Parable of the Minas, we know the he represents an unfaithful Church-Age believer who is rebuked at the Judgment Seat of Christ and who will not reign in the life to come.
Now let’s consider Matthew 24:45– 25:31 in more detail. There are three parables there followed by the judgment of the sheep and the goats. Two judgments are presented back to back in Matt 25:14-30 and 31-46.
Zane Hodges suggests that the four sections alternate in terms of which age is in view. Two refer to the judgment of Church-Age believers (Matt 24:45-51 and Matt 25:14-30). Two refer to the judgment of believers, or believers and unbelievers, from the Tribulation (Matt 25:1-13 and 31-46).
Note that in the first three sections the people believe Jesus is coming again (which unbelievers rarely do). Moreover, all three are either called His servants (Matt 24:45, 46, 48, 49, 50; 25:14, 19, 21, 23, 26, 30), or they are called virgins who had been invited to dance at His wedding celebration (Matt 25:1, 7, 11). Even the “wicked and lazy servant” and “the unprofitable servant” (Matt 25:26, 30) are called servants.
I know you agree, but it bears mention. It would be odd, even misleading, to call unregenerate people servants of Christ and virgins. And there is no teaching anywhere in Scripture that suggests that unbelievers are given stewardships by God.
While the idea of accountability certainly is evident in Matt 25:1-12 and 31-46 for believers in the Tribulation, it should be noted that nothing is said or even implied about stewardship in either passage. However, stewardship is the point of both Matt 24:45-51 and Matt 25:1430. In the first the servant is in charge of a house. In the third the servants are given money and were expected to invest it and bring a good return on investment, clearly a stewardship. But that is very much a Church-Age idea. Paul said, “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Cor 4:12). I believe those words to Church-Age believers are essentially what those two parables are about.
(I’m not saying that Tribulation saints aren’t also stewards. What I’m saying is that there is nothing remotely about stewardship in either Matt 25:1-12 or 25:31-46.)
In all three the point is that believers need to be watchful in light of Christ’s soon return and the Bema (Matt 24:4548; 25:13, 29-30). However, in only one of the three parables do the people in question know when the Lord is returning. Only in the Parable of the Ten Virgins do they hear the midnight cry (the abomination at the middle of the Tribulation). They know based on Scripture that the time of Jacob’s Trouble is 7 years long and hence the Lord will return exactly 3.5 years after the midnight cry.
Of course, the application the Lord gives in Matt 25:13 to watchfulness (compare Matt 24:42-24, immediately before the first parable, suggesting it too deals with Church-Age believers) is directed to His listeners who would soon be in the Church-Age, and to Church-Age believers who would read Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew 25:13 is not part of the parable per se. We in the Church Age are to be watchful for He is coming like a thief in the night, with no indication of the timing (Matt 24:43).
I should add that there are lots of similarities between (1) Matt 24:45-51 and (3) Matt 25:14-30 which are not found in (2) Matt 25:1-13 and (4) Matt 25:31-46:
1&3: called servants 11 times
2&4: not called servants even once, but called virgins and sheep
1&3: given a stewardship
2&4: no mention of stewardship
1&3: nothing related to the Tribulation
2&4: midnight cry and return of Christ with Him sitting on His throne
Those textual clues strongly suggest that the arrangement goes back and forth from Church Age to Tribulation to Church Age to Tribulation.
In summary, the Parable of the Talents, like the Parable of the Minas, looks at the Judgment Seat of Christ when ChurchAge believers will be judged. That will occur sometime between the Rapture and the start of the Millennium.
You did not ask about the weeping and gnashing of teeth or the expression “the outer darkness.” I believe you are familiar with what we have published on those questions since you indicate you see the people in the Parable of the Talents as believers. For more information, consult our website (www.faithalone.org) for articles.
I know that’s a long answer, but your questions cannot be answered quickly without skipping important details. —Bob
Are Adulterers Excluded from Christ’s Kingdom?
Regarding the advice you gave concerning the brother who was living with his girlfriend [see Jan/Feb 2014 issue], what kind of thinking process results in your inexcusable advice to explain to the brother that there are no threats of hell for him anymore as he is now saved. For a person who continues to practice sexual immorality, there is every reason to counsel the opposite: that according to Scripture, no adulterers will enter heaven. The indication is that he
has not yet repented. Stated so strongly in both Galatians and Revelation that adulterers will not enter heaven, how can you oppose such Scriptures? –DP, Email
I sympathize with your objection, but can’t agree with it. Although I admire that you’re trying to appeal to Scripture, I’m afraid you are actually misquoting and misunderstanding the passages you are referring to.
First, repentance is not a condition for eternal salvation. John tells us many times that if we believe in Jesus, we have eternal life (e.g., John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35; 11:26). But we never find a single occurrence of the word repentance in the whole Gospel of John. And in the two books that tell us how to be justified before God, Galatians never mentions repentance at all, and there is only one use of repentance in Romans (Rom 2:5), and even then it is not stated as a condition for justification. John and Paul both make faith the one and only condition for having eternal life. Repentance is important for growing in the Christian life, and for temporal salvation, but not for eternal salvation.
Scond, I should point out that we believe in the doctrine of eternal security (John 3:16; 10:28-30). So, once someone believes in Jesus for everlasting life, it is a present possession, and he can never perish eternally. Even someone living in adultery cannot lose everlasting life. Once he has it, he has it forever.
Third, you seem to have a different understanding of the nature of salvation than we do. You wrote: “according to Scripture, no adulterers will enter heaven.” That’s not true. What Paul actually says is,
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10, emphasis added).
Notice that while you talk about entering heaven (and thereby imply this is an eternal life/eternal death issue), Paul actually writes about inheriting the kingdom. Heaven is not in view here. This is the Millennial kingdom that Christ will set up on earth, with the capital being Jerusalem. So that’s the first thing to recognize.
Also, you should note that Paul isn’t talking about the conditions for entering the kingdom. He is speaking about the conditions for inheriting the kingdom. If you aren’t a Dispensationalist, then you probably won’t know the difference between “entering” and “inheriting” the kingdom. And you may not know about the more basic difference between “eternal life” and “eternal rewards.” If not, I would encourage you to do word studies on both. Simply put, everyone who believes in Jesus for eternal life will enter the kingdom, but only those Christians who are faithful will inherit it. Some Christians are more faithful than others, and will be rewarded with greater responsibility in the kingdom (Luke 19:17 versus Luke 19:19). Some will rule over ten cities (Luke 19:17), some over five (Luke 19:19), and some over none at all (Luke 19:2026). Just read the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27).
So, coming back to the original question about the believer living in adultery: believers cannot lose everlasting life. All believers will enter the Millennial kingdom. But believers who live in rebellion against God will not receive an inheritance in the kingdom. —Shawn
Must We Strive for Everlasting Life?
Can anyone please comment on Luke 13:22-30? I’ve looked at a lot of commentaries, and most seem to talk about how agonizomai (strive) is used, and claim that it is not easy to get to heaven and we must strive with God. Example:
Those that would enter in at the strait gate must strive to enter. It is a hard matter to get to heaven, and a point that will not be gained without a great deal of care and pains, of difficulty and diligence. We must strive with God in prayer, wrestle as Jacob, strive against sin and Satan. We must strive in every duty of religion; strive with our own hearts, agonizesthe—“Be in an agony; strive as those that run for a prize; excite and exert ourselves to the utmost.”
Why does Jesus seem to contradict Himself between passages like this and John 3:16? I’m not claiming He is…I just don’t understand.
I see so much evidence for salvation by belief alone in some verses, and then verses like this seem to indicate we must work hard. I don’t want to take anything away from the message of salvation by Jesus alone, but what else is this passage suggesting?
I asked someone who preaches on grace alone, and he just said it was to unbelievers…but the person asking the question addressed Jesus as Lord…
I’m just confused. I want to get this right, and I hope someone can help clarify for me. Thank you. —BH, Facebook
Excellent question. You’re right that the idea that the Lord is teaching that we must work hard, understood to mean working hard doing good works that please God, in order to gain everlasting life, is clearly false. Not only does John 3:16 contradict that, so do John 6:28-29, Acts 16:31, Rom 4:4-5, Eph 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, and so many other texts.
The Lord was, however, teaching that striving may well be necessary in order to be saved (v 23), that is, in order to enter the narrow gate, which is the gate to everlasting life (vv 23-28). The issue is not striving to do good works, the issue is striving to find the way by which to enter. Since there are two ways, one narrow and one broad, and since most people are on the broad way, it stands to reason that it may take effort to find the truth. Most evangelistic messages are false and will not save.
Compare Luke 13:27 with Matt 7:23. The issue in Matt 7:21-23 is doing the will of the Father, which in terms of salvation is believing in His Son (see John 6:28-29, 39-40).
In both cases the persons involved call Jesus “Lord.” That in no way proves or even suggests that these are believers. If this is the Great White Throne Judgment, surely people being judged would speak respectfully to the Judge. After all, they want to get into His kingdom. So they call Him Lord. But if they did not believe in Him for everlasting life (1 Tim 1:16) in this life (John 11:26), they are not in the Book of Life and will miss the kingdom (Rev 20:15).
Of course, Jesus was speaking to Jews steeped in Rabbinic legalism. For them to come to faith might well involve a search. Compare John 5:39-40; 7:17; Acts 17:11. If a person is willing to come to Christ in faith, then the Lord will open his eyes to the message of life.
Today in the U.S., the situation is very similar. If you talk to 100 pastors, surely 90 will tell you that in order to be born again you must turn from your sins, commit your life to Christ, obey Him, and persevere till death in obedience and faith. Anything short of that means that you either lost everlasting life or proved you never really had it in the first place. Striving to find the saving message is something many have had to do over the years, especially those of us who were steeped in legalism.
Eternal life is a free gift which is received simply by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, discovering that it really is that simple may require striving on the part of unbelievers.
I hope that helps. —Bob
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