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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 25

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 The parable of the ten virgins,

14 and of the talents.

31 Also the description of the last judgment.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Be likened unto ten virgins, &c. — In an inferior sense it has been supposed this parable may be applied to the state in which the Christian Church would be found at the coming of Christ to judge the Jewish nation, although its ultimate reference is admitted to be to the day of judgment. We do not, however, know that the state of the Hebrew Churches, or that of Jerusalem in particular, answered to the description of the parable. It is more satisfactory to consider it as relating solely to the day of final account, but SUGGESTED by the sudden coming of Christ to judge the Jews which was a type of his sudden second advent to judge the Church and the world. That it is the CHRISTIAN CHURCH, and not the Jewish nation, of which the parable speaks, is indicated by the introductory formula. Then shall THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN be likened unto ten virgins; for the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven,” always refers either to the Gospel dispensation, or that which is connected with it, as a part of its administration. As the parable is founded upon the customs observed at Jewish marriages, to state these will usefully serve to explain the literal sense of the parable. — After the marriage ceremony was performed and attested, it was customary for the bridegroom, in the evening, to conduct his spouse from her friends to his own home, in a procession rendered as brilliant and imposing as the circumstances of the bridegroom would allow.

His young female friends and relations were invited, and with lamps waited in a company near the house, till the bridegroom returned with the bride and her attendant friends: when, after the customary congratulations, those who were in waiting joined the train, and with acclamations, and other expressions of joy, proceeded to the bridegroom’s house, to the nuptial entertainment, which among persons of rank was of the most splendid and costly kind. The doors were then closed to prevent the intrusion of strangers. The following extract from Ward’s “View of the Hindoos” shows how unchanged many of the customs of the east remain, and strikingly illustrates this parable: — “At a marriage, the procession of which I saw some years ago, the bridegroom came from a distance, and the bride lived at Serampore, to which place the bridegroom was to come by water. After waiting two or three hours, at length, near midnight, it was announced, as if in the very words of Scripture, ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.’ All the persons employed now lighted their lamps, and ran with them in their hands to fill up their stations in the procession. Some of them had lost their lights, and were unprepared: but it was then too late to seek them, and the cavalcade moved forward to the house of the bride; at which place the company entered a large and splendidly illuminated area, before the house, covered with an awning, where a great multitude of friends, dressed in their best apparel, were seated upon mats. The bridegroom was carried in the arms of a friend, and placed on a superb seat in the midst of the company, where he sat a short time, and then went into the house, the door of which was immediately shut, and guarded by sepoys. I and others expostulated with the door- keepers, but in vain.”

The mystical meaning of the parable may be opened by the following remarks: —

1. The virgins represent not merely professed members of the Church, but persons who had all been under the influence of grace; and this view rendered the parable specially admonitory to the disciples, the professed friends of our Lord, to whom it was doubtless addressed. There was a time when the lamps of the whole ten virgins had been replenished with oil and were all burning; a time too when even the foolish virgins were at their post of duty, waiting for the bridegroom. The oil in the lamp, being of the same quality of that in the vessel, the fault of the five foolish virgins was that of not taking enough. There was deficiency of quantity; the delay of the bridegroom discovered the deficiency. The parable is specially designed to warn against resting in a superficial and partial piety. The mere number ten does not appear to involve any particular mystery; this number being a favourite indefinite term among the Jews.

2. Though all the persons represented by the ten virgins are to be considered as under the influence of grace, yet the work in the hearts of some of them was more deep and effectual than in the others, The terms wise and foolish, φρονιμοι and μωραι are to be understood in the sense of prudent foresight, and the contrary; and the first implies that steady regard to all future dangers and trials of grace which leads to a careful preparation for them. This is beautifully represented under the figure of the prudent virgins taking oil in their vessels with their lamps; for, although it is true that we can lay up no store of grace so as to render us less dependent upon the aid of God in future time than at the present hour, yet the vigorous use of our present spiritual strength, that is, of that moral power we derive from the influence of the Holy Spirit, so leads to those richer communications from God, and so strengthens the habit of holy decision in the will, and serves so to confirm the right and vigorous tendency of the affections, that he who is faithful to PRESENT grace does by that, constantly contribute to his FUTURE safety. — The foolish virgins, therefore, represent those who do not prudently look forward to the dangers and conflicts of future life, and so give up themselves fully to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ,” but sink into carelessness and lukewarmness of spirit. In this case the oil of the lamp burns out, and there is no supply in the vessel, because their hearts are withdrawn from the influence of God. Thus the principle of spiritual life perishes, and death cuts off the possibility of restoration for ever.

3. The eternal union of Christ with his faithful Church is represented under the figure of marriage. In the same metaphorical language the covenant relation of Jehovah and the Jewish people is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament; and some of the most striking passages of the prophets, expressive both of tenderness and reproof, are founded upon it. There are also predictions in the Old Testament of the union of the evangelical Church with Christ, that spiritual Church, composed of believers of all nations, which was to succeed that founded on natural descent from Abraham. Of this the forty-fifth psalm is a beautiful example. Here, in the parable before us, the subject is the union of Christ with his Church, glorified in heaven. She is to be brought to the house of the bridegroom “adorned as a bride for her husband,” arrayed in all the beauty and glory of grace and purity, to be united for ever with him, and to receive all the expressions of his love, and to render them back with entire and unabated; affection.

4. The tarrying of the bridegroom represents the delay of Christ’s second advent. — That day was made known to no man. The first disciples appear therefore to have felt that it might come at any moment, at least after the destruction of Jerusalem, or be combined with that event. The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, mentions the falling away which should come first, in order to correct an error into which they had fallen in supposing that that day was “at hand;” and St. Peter, when rebuking the scoffers of his age, while he seems to justify the use of expressions common probably in the discourses of the first preachers when they exhorted to preparation for that event, by referring the delay to God’s “long suffering;” and yet hints its delay by remarking that the lapse of ages could make no difference in the purposes of God, seeing that with him “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The whole mode of speaking on this subject was adapted to PRACTICAL purposes, and wisely connected the day of our death with the day of final judgment; because the apostles all taught that after death there could be no redemption for the wicked, and the righteous could not lapse from their state of security. Ages have indeed passed, and the Bridegroom still tarries; but every serious mind will live under the influence of the most solemn thoughts of that day; because of the uncertainty of life, and the equal certainty that in the same moral state in which death transmits him into the eternal world, the day of final account must find him.

5. It is added, they all slumbered and slept. Those interpreters who consider these words as intimating that all, even the most vigilant, are subject to religious decays, and are apt to fall into a slumbering and lukewarm state, do not appear to consider that their interpretation involves the absurdity of supposing that those persons whose hearts are abundantly furnished with holy affection, which is undoubtedly indicated by the wise virgins having made provision of oil in their vessels, can sink into this supposed state of religious indifference, and that equally with others; for whatever this slumbering and sleeping may signify, it is expressly said to have happened to the wise and foolish virgins alike: they ALL slumbered and slept. This view also allows the SAFETY of an unwatchful and lukewarm state of mind, contrary to the constant doctrine of Christ. Add to this, that no fault is ascribed either to the wise or foolish, virgins for slumbering and sleeping while the bridegroom tarried; but the praise of the former was, that they had prudently taken oil in their vessels with their lamps, and the fatal fault of the latter that they had neglected this necessary provision. Such an interpretation cannot, therefore, be maintained, and the scope and design of the parable requires us to understand slumbering and sleeping to represent DEATH. While the Bridegroom tarries, the successive generations of Christians, whether prepared or not for their Lord’s coming, sleep in death; and it is the last day only that shall fully declare which of them have taken oil in their vessels; that is, whose hearts are in a state of preparedness to hail his second advent with joy, and to enter into his everlasting kingdom.

6. The sudden appearance of Christ at the last day, and the pomp of it, is figured by the coming of the bridegroom. The gates are suddenly thrown open; the light of the torches of the attendants flashes at once upon the darkness of midnight: those who precede cry, “The bridegroom cometh!” then follows the splendour of the procession itself, which, among the opulent, was elaborate and imposing: these were all images familiar to the Jews, and wonderfully adapted to impress the imagination and to fix the moral of the whole. There is no reason to conclude from this that Christ will come to judgment literally at midnight; but this time is here mentioned to intimate the delay of Christ’s coming; for it was long before midnight that the ceremony described in the parable usually took place. Several circumstances are introduced into the parable which must be interpreted in their general import, and not strictly, as if every particular had a mystical meaning, and nothing was to be left to complete the narrative and to give it grace and action. This discrimination is essential to the sober interpretation of all parables, and particularly to this. We shall not, however, stray beyond this limit, if we consider the arising of the virgins as representing the resurrection from the dead, and the trimming of the lamps, by pouring in oil, and thus as the word εκοσμησαν signifies, putting them in order for the purpose of meeting the bridegroom, as the resumption of that profession of devotedness to Christ, and attention to the duty of “waiting for his appearing,” which they had assumed during this life.

Both the wise and the foolish virgins arose for this purpose; but it is to be remarked, that the wise only were able thus to rekindle their lamps, as they only had provided oil for this purpose, of which the others were destitute; and thus we are taught that those only whom the sanctifying grace of God has put into a state of due preparation for eternity will be able to resume even their profession. This lamp, the outward visible sign of connection with Christ, is in all others for ever quenched by death, and can never again be lighted up. The oil, the small measure of grace, which once supplied its flame, is consumed; the vessel of the heart, which ought to have been replenished with it, is empty; and the opportunity for obtaining a supply is past. This last most important point of instruction is illustrated by what follows; which must be understood as intended simply to inculcate this general truth. For we are not to suppose that there is anything in the case of persons found unprepared for the second coming of our Lord, to answer minutely to the application of the foolish virgins to the wise to give them of their oil, as though they should apply to them for grace; or in the answer, “Go unto them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” The general and solemn admonition and moral of this part of the parable is, that the case of all who, at the second coming of Christ, are found destitute of holy preparation for that event, will be as utterly hopeless as that of the five virgins who, when the cry, “The bridegroom cometh!” was already heard, should attempt to purchase oil, when the time would not admit of its being obtained before the bridegroom had entered his house, and the doors were shut. The period, midnight, when the dealers in oil were not likely to be found at their shops, and the small space of time which remained to resort to them had they been there, rendered success impossible; and it is this impossibility of repairing a previous neglect of salvation, when Christ shall come in his glory, which is the great lesson intended to be conveyed.

Verse 10

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The instruction impressed by the result of the whole cannot be misunderstood. They that were ready went in with him unto the marriage.

Heaven is prepared only for those who are rendered “meet” for it by sanctifying grace; and the shutting of the door denotes the eternal exclusion of all others. Nor can a former profession of discipleship, nor even former experience of any degree of grace, if lost, like the consumed oil of the lamp, avail as a plea for admission, should even such pleas be made. When the five foolish virgins made their earnest application, the stern reply of a slighted Saviour was, I know you not; that is, I APPROVE or regard you not, and therefore disown you, though my professed friends. This sense of the verb rendered “to know,” answers to the Hebrew ירע , rendered by the Septuagint γενοισκειν , in Nahum 1:7, “The Lord knoweth them that trust in him;” he regards them with affection. To the whole our Lord adds the general moral, Watch, therefo r e, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh; where by watchfulness is meant all that is implied by the prudence and foresight of the wise virgins; a steady regard to the certainty of Christ’s coming, however long delayed, and full and suitable preparation for it. Where these do not meet, the habit of true Christian watchfulness is not acquired; and the result must be fatal. Those who have searched the rabbinical writings have produced one or two parables bearing some imperfect similarity to this fine parable of our Lord; but which, instead of being the source, as they pretend, from which his was drawn, bear, like most other examples of this kind, internal evidence of being poor imitations, in which, however, both the spirit and grace are entirely lost.” How greatly,” we are gravely told by those who adopted this notion, “are the Jewish parables improved in coming through the hands of Christ!” We should rather say, How greatly are Christ’s parables spoiled in passing through the hands of Jewish doctors!

Verse 14

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling, &c. — Our translators have supplied the ellipsis here by the kingdom of heaven; others prefer the Son of man. The former is, however, the usual form of introduction to such parables. As the necessity of deep personal and persevering piety had been inculcated by the former parable; this is designed to impress upon Christians the necessary duty of public usefulness, the neglect of which would be equally fatal to the soul. A parable somewhat similar is recorded by St. Luke, but it was spoken on another occasion, in the house of Zaccheus. This, like the former, was delivered on the mount of Olives, three days before the last passover. Both, however, are grounded upon a custom which still prevails in some parts of the east, for masters to intrust capital to their servants, even when slaves to trade with, the proceeds of which are rendered to the master, but rewards are bestowed upon the most diligent and successful. Among the Jews, as Maimonides informs us, when “a master went out of the land of Israel, he could not take his servants with him, unless they pleased.” The most profitable manner of employing them during his absence would therefore often be in trading.

His goods. — Τα υπαρχοντα , used for property of any kind.

Verse 15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Five talents, &c. — The talent of silver is doubtless here meant;

which at its lowest estimate was equal to 187 l. 10 s.; at its highest, 342 l. 3 s.9 d.

According to his several ability. — According to his capacity and opportunity to employ the money to advantage. The talents represent the various gifts, and opportunities for employing them for the benefit of mankind, which are furnished to each individual; for our Lord graciously accounts the good we do to others to be using our gifts and opportunities to his profit as the great Master and proprietor of all. Thus a fine view is opened of the benevolence of God: what is done to promote the happiness and salvation of any of his creatures, he regards as done to himself. Variously were the supernatural gifts by which many of the first Christians were distinguished, bestowed upon them, — “to one, the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge, to another faith, to another the gift of healing, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy,” &c.; but this “manifestation of the Spirit was given to every man to profit withal,” that is, to promote the conversion and edification of men. The ordinary gifts had then and still have the same variety. Knowledge, eloquence, and influence, or the capacity of attaining them, and favourable opportunities of employing them and improving them by use, are dispensed indifferently by an infinite and infallible wisdom. And it is here to be remarked that as every servant had at least one talent, so, as every Christian is a servant of Christ, and has his work assigned him, not only that of his own salvation, but the work of serving others, he has the means of usefulness assigned to him and though in a lower degree than some, yet at the lowest in a large measure: for this is indicated by the one talent, which, though but one, was no inconsiderable sum. Every Christian, however humble, has by his example, his sound and savoury speech,” seasoned with grace, ministering grace to the hearers,” and by taking his part in some service of usefulness, the power by God’s blessing, to promote not merely some temporal interest of others, in which his ability may be very limited, but that which is connected with the soul and with eternity.

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Other five talents, &c. — As wealth, rightly and industriously occupied, produces wealth, so it is with him who rightly, diligently, and prayerfully uses, for the spiritual benefit of others, those gracious gifts with which our Lord has put him in trust. The communication of religious knowledge produces religious knowledge, and that both in himself and others. The influence of piety exerted on others increases our own, and usually is successful as to many of those for whose spiritual good we are seriously and earnestly concerned; and he who is strenuously and affectionately desirous of saving others, both “saves himself and them that hear him,” So glorious is this vocation of the true servants of Christ; and with the potentiality of producing such effects, so criminal is he that despises even the one talent, which when employed might lead to such results.

Verse 18

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And hid his lord’s money. — He neglected to trade with it, as being slothful; and he hid it in the earth, that it might be safe, and so be returned to his master, which he vainly hoped would screen him from punishment, though it might deprive him of reward; in which he was influenced, as the sequel shows, by a slavish fear, and false apprehensions of difficulty and danger, and was without the animating desire of approbation and reward, and the courage to seek them through a difficult path. This servant appears to represent a numerous class of professing Christians who are so far influenced by the apprehension of Christ’s displeasure at last, as to avoid all direct ABUSE of the talents of various kinds intrusted to them, but are not roused into exertion and zeal either by right views of the danger to which neglect and indifference in the cause of Christ expose them, nor animated by the noble desire of approving themselves to their Lord, and of attaining the honours and larger rewards of the eternal world. They run not for this prize, because they possess not spirituality enough to value it. For their excuses see what follows.

Verse 19

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

After a long time, &c. — Even until the day of final account, the reckoning is delayed. But then it takes place; and here the following circumstances are to be noticed: —

1. That “every one shall give account of himself to God.” He reckoneth with them SEVERALLY, one by one; for though the last judgment may not be in its formality particular to any one, it will be so really both from the secret consciousness which each one has, that the Judge is dealing with him according to his merits, and from the exact apportionment of the reward or the penalty. In effect and reality it will be the same as though every individual had a personal and particular trial, and an express decision on his formally stated case.

2. That the account required is exact and strict. This is indicated by the phrase, και συναιρει μετ’ αυτων λογον , and reckoneth, compares or adjusts the account, with them; his own gifts, and the use to which they were to be applied, and the increase which was required as the result, strictly compared with the actual use and improvement, or otherwise, of what had been intrusted to each servant.

3. That in each case the capital, had been doubled by the faithful servants: Behold, I have gained beside them FIVE talents more; — behold, I have gained TWO other talents beside them. This was successful trading, and is designed to show the abundant increase of good which would be produced in the world by an entire fidelity in the discharge of all the active duties of the Christian life. This is a most animating motive to excite the zeal of Christians; and it is confirmed by fact. The decline of religion in the world has in all ages resulted, not so much from the obstinacy of the wicked, as from the slothfulness of Christ’s servants.

4. That faithful services shall be publicly acknowledged and rewarded by Christ at his second advent. There was indeed no meritorious claim to peculiar distinction in the approved servants. They themselves were the lord’s property; the money with which they traded was his; their time, abilities, and activity, equally belonged to him; yet here we see that “no work of faith, or labour of love,” shall be forgotten. Commendation from the lips of such a Being, the acceptance of our persons and services by Him whose “favour is better than life,” and the joys of heaven must, from their nature, be, not rewards of merit, but of stupendous grace. They are therefore subjects of promise to encourage us to fidelity, sustain us against temptation, and to show the regard which God has to all that is benevolent and holy in his creatures by stamping, it with the seal of his munificent bounty.

5. The manner of conferring the reward, and its exalted nature are also to be noted. Well done, ευ , a word of force and emphasis; the word, indeed, with which the spectators, at any public performance or exercise, expressed their applause. Here it is pronounced by the Judge himself. I will make thee ruler over many things. The servant is now to be raised into the condition of a ruler; and the few things committed to him on earth, as a laborious and responsible trust, are heightened into many things put into his power to regulate and enjoy. Heaven is a place of order and government. This is indicated in various parts of the New Testament, though with their nature and laws we are not acquainted. It is implied in the words, “I will make thee ruler over many things,” set thee over a greater and more honourable charge, where the heightened capacity shall still have employment, and be still exalted by it; and where the loftier service of Christ, in a more perfect form, shall bring still higher felicity. Enter into the joy of thy Lord, εις την χαραν του κυριου σου . Some take χαρα to signify a feast or entertainment; and the honour to be, that the servant is permitted to sit down with his royal Master. But though under this metaphor the heavenly reward is sometimes exhibited, we have a much better exposition of the phrase in the words of St. Paul, who, speaking of Christ, says that “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross,” &c. That JOY was the glorification of his humanity in body and soul; and into that joy the faithful servant shall come, he too shall be glorified in his own person, and be like Christ. Thus he shall enter into joy; “enter,” says an old writer, “as it were, into an abyss, a sea of joy, be every way surrounded with it, and dwell in it for ever.” The same reward is conferred upon him who was faithful in the two talents. The trust was less, the “ability” smaller, but the principle of fidelity the same in both; and therefore the language of the rewarding judge the same. The absolute equality of the future rewards of the redeemed does not, perhaps, follow from this. The reward, however, is the same in kind, and equally felicitous, as filling the capacity with joy that has no deficiency.

6. The case of him that buried his one talent next presents itself. The excuses he makes for his conduct are not to be understood as describing any thing which shall be alleged at the great day of account; but as intended by our Lord to open the false views upon which the slothful palliate and disguise their neglects, and which, in the end, lead to so fatal a result. I knew that thou art a hard man, σκληρος , severe and unreasonable in thy demands upon thy servants, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering, collecting corn, where thou hast not strewed, or scattered seed; that is, exacting more from thy servants than they have ability to perform, or ought to be required of them. The key to this allegation of the slothful servant is to be found in the scope of the parable. Its design, as above stated, is to inculcate active usefulness; but our Lord had not hidden it from his disciples that the consequence of their fidelity and diligence in this respect would, in this world, be great reproach, persecution, and suffering, and that the true disciple must “deny himself and take up the cross.” It is to these difficulties and sufferings in Christ’s service that the slothful servant alludes. As this was the service, the master was concluded to be a hard man, and to make harsh, and most unreasonable demands. The principle of sloth would magnify the difficulty, by looking at that alone, losing sight of the promised help and consolation; and a base, cowardly spirit would shrink from the danger. Hence those false views of Christ and his service were generated in the soul and led to the desertion of duty. And I was afraid; yet this very fear ought to have roused his slothful spirit into exertion; but it was fear without love.

So far, however, it operated, that he hid the talent in the earth to keep it safe; he did not misemploy, though he did not employ it; and for this negative virtue, such is the inconsistent reasoning of a deceived heart, he hoped even from him whom he esteemed a hard master to escape punishment: Lo, there thou hast that is thine. To this pretence how many answer! That many professed Christians are too slothful to be useful, is a melancholy fact; their talent is buried, their time, their abilities, their opportunities of doing good neglected; and the true reason will be found in the secret hard thoughts they have of the severity of Christ’s service, and the difficulties, reproaches, and inconveniences to which it must expose them if they fully engage in it, and carry on an offensive warfare against the evils of the world, and endeavour strenuously to attain the highest degrees of salvation themselves and bring others into the same state. They shun therefore the cross, they evade difficulties, they retire into themselves, they put their light under a bushel, and hide their talent in the earth; and because they are not positively profane and wicked, because they do not absolutely abuse and mis-employ their advantages, they still hope to escape condemnation. But what is the decision? The slothful servant is judged as a wicked servant. He is silenced upon his own principles: if the master was indeed severe and exacting, he ought at least, from his professed fear of him, to have put his money to the exchangers, that it might be rendered back with usury, or interest. He ought to have made some effort to improve the talent, though small and imperfect; and the absence of this showed that the true principle of fidelity was wanting, not only in degree, but altogether. His talent is taken from him, all his means and opportunities of getting good and doing good, and that for ever. These are multiplied to him who had the ten talents, but to the negligent they are for ever lost; and, as unprofitable, he is cast into outer darkness and torment. Weighty here are the words of Baxter: “Unprofitableness and omission of duty is damnable; unfaithfulness in us who are but stewards and servants. To do no harm is praise fit for a stone, and not for a man.”

Verse 27

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The exchangers. — They were called τραπεζιται , from the table which was placed before them; and not only exchanged one kind of coin for another, for the accommodation of foreigners, or those going into foreign countries, but acted as bankers, taking money, and giving interest upon it.

Verse 29

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Unto every one that hath shall be given, &c. — To have, εχειν , is here employed in the sense of to use well, or profitably; and to have not, signifies “not to possess to any valuable end.” This is therefore the rule of the Divine government, that those who profitably use what is committed to them shall be esteemed worthy of a higher trust; and those who neglect to improve their advantages shall be deprived of them.

From him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. — This form of speaking is found in other writers. Aristotle, in his Ethics, remarks “that he who has this or that, and makes no use of it, may not improperly be said both to have it and not to have it: οστε και εχειν πως και μη εχειν .” So also Plautus quotes a proverbial saying as to the avaricious, that “what they have, they have not; and what they have not they have as an evil;” quod habes ne habeas, et illud quod nunc non habes, habeas malum. And Juvenal: —

Nil habuit Codrus, et tamen illud Perdidit infelix totum nihil.

“Codrus had nothing, and yet all that nothing the wretch has lost.” The Jews also have proverbs of a similar import to the former part of this axiomatic moral which our Lord subjoins to this parable. “The blessed God gives not wisdom but to him that has or uses wisdom.” “If one adds, it is added to him; and if he lessens, it is lessened to him.”

Verse 30

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The unprofitable servant. — Those who take αχρειον in the general sense of bad or wicked, lose sight of the scope of the parable itself. That this servant was bad is true, but in a particular sense, because he was UNPROFITABLE through his sloth. — The proper meaning of αχρειος is therefore useless.

Verse 31

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, &c. — To the two parables just given, our Lord adds in conclusion a magnificent and solemn description of that second advent to which he had referred under the veil of figurative language as the coming of the bridegroom, and the return of a master from a far country to reckon with his servants. So far therefore, as the same event is spoken of in the following verses, in express terms, which had previously been couched under metaphor, this description may be considered as explanatory of the two preceding parables. Still as by each of these parables there is a particular moral enforced, so this more elaborate and particular description of the general judgment has its particular point of instruction. As the parable of the virgins was designed to inculcate the deep and persevering piety of the heart, and that of the talents the duty of active religious usefulness, so this scenic representation of the judgment appears to have been designed particularly to impress upon his followers the duty of works of mercy; and the three taken together complete the picture of the truly Christian man. As the lamp is supplied with oil from the vessel, so his profession of Christ’s religion is grounded in a renewed state of heart, kept under the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit; as the laborious and faithful servants rightly apply and profitably use their talents, whether five or two, so he employs his powers and opportunities in the service of Christ for the enlargement of his kingdom of grace among men; and as delivered by the transforming spirit of the religion he has cordially embraced from all malevolence, avarice, and selfishness, he does good, not only to the souls but to the bodies of men, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, receiving strangers, and visiting the sick and the captive. — Thus does our Lord unfold by this series of striking discourses the hallowing nature and practical influence of his religion, in contrast with those earthly and carnal views which the Jews entertained of the dispensation to be established by Messiah at his coming.

— To renew the heart, to connect outward godliness with its principles and affections as its source, to make saved man the instrument of saving others by his charitable sympathy and exertions, and to open the springs of a true benevolence, so that they might flow forth in all works of mercy and kindness to the destitute and miserable — these were to be the glorious effects of his spiritual dominion established over the hearts of men, these his victories and triumphs, and these the tests of a true discipleship and a well founded hope of eternal life. To such as bear these characters and bring forth these fruit, only, he looks with acceptance; and the cultivation of them he urges by all those arousing motives which can be drawn from his approbation, or from his blessing or curse in that day in which he shall come to judge the world.

Christ here again calls himself the Son of man, not simply in reference to his human nature, but as God-man Mediator, in allusion to the prophecy of Daniel, where under this title, he is represented as receiving a universal kingdom. Of this kingdom, the last act is to judge the world, and to distribute the rewards and penalties of eternity. — This Son of man comes therefore not in his humility, nor even in his spiritual power and invisible, gracious influence, but personally in that visible glory in which he now “sitteth at the right hand of God.” And all the holy angels with him, to give greater splendour to the solemn pomp; to take their part in gathering together the elect; and to be the spectators of a scene which is to minister instruction and admonition to them for ever. Then shall he sit as a Sovereign and a Judge upon the throne of his glory? a Hebraism for his glorious throne. The same imagery we have in Revelation 20:11, “And I saw a great white,” or dazzling “throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.”

Verse 32

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Before him shall be gathered all nations. — So that this is clearly the general and final judgment; not merely the Jewish nation or the Christian Church is to be judged, but all nations; those who shall then be alive; and “the dead, small and great, stand before God.” Here is not only an assembled world, but the assembled generations of the world, from the beginning of time, placed at his bar, awaiting his sentence. Merely human writers have nothing so awfully sublime as this; for they had no distinct knowledge of the great facts here described in language so clear and simple as could never have been used but by HIM to whom the mysterious solemnities of the future were all clearly known.

He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd, &c. — This is done with unerring penetration, and with infinite equity, the vast multitude moving to the right hand or to the left under the influence of his mighty power; the consciousness of each answering to the impulse, and, as to the wicked, withering every effort at resistance. The metaphor is taken from the shepherds of ancient times, who kept the sheep and goats in different flocks, and hastily separated them when they became mingled together. A similar metaphor we have in Ezekiel 34:17: “Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he-goats.”

Verse 33

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. — The former represent the righteous, and the latter the wicked, but not for any resemblance of qualifies; on which supposition many absurd allegories have been formed by imaginative commentators. The idea intended to be conveyed appears to be simply that of as complete and obvious a separation between the good and the bad, as between a flock of sheep and a flock of goats. The designation of the wicked, as goats, would be, however, very forcible to a Jew; the same Hebrew word being used both for a goat and an evil spirit, or demon. With the Jews, the right hand, and left hand, in judicial proceedings, were highly significant. Maimonides states that in the sanhedrim two scribes stood before the judges, one on the right, the other on the left; and that the scribe on the right hand wrote the sentence of acquittal, and the scribe on the left hand the sentence of condemnation. Agreeably to which they have a saying, “There is a right hand and a left hand with the Lord; they that are on the right hand are for absolution, and they that are on the left hand are for condemnation.” They are not, however, alone in this. — Plato, in his description of the judgment, which takes place in the invisible state, represents the judges as assigning the right hand to the just, and the left hand to the unjust.

Verse 34

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The King say. — Our Lord, by calling him the King, again shows the nature of his kingdom, and tacitly corrects the prevalent errors of the Jews, the influence of which still obscured the judgment of the disciples, and rendered them inapt to receive spiritual views. Messiah is indeed a King; but he is here seen, not distributing earthly but heavenly rewards; not inflicting temporal but eternal punishments; not establishing an external dominion over men’s persons, but prostrating their whole souls before him in holy love, or guilty dread; not setting up a visible kingdom on earth, but welcoming the righteous into the celestial and hallowed glories of the kingdom of his Father; not honouring his companions and subjects in arms after a warfare of “confused noise and garments rolled in blood,” but crowning those who had by the strength of his grace overcome themselves, the world, and sin.

From the foundation of the world. — This phrase signifies from the creation of the world, and refers us to the designs and counsels of God in eternity. It was his eternal purpose to raise to the felicity of heaven all who should truly believe in Christ, and endure faithful to the end of life. For them, AS BELIEVERS, not as a specific number selected arbitrarily from the mass of mankind, this state of “glory, honour, and immortality,” here figuratively called a kingdom, was prepared. The creating power of God has produced and arranged it, and the entrance of our Saviour into “the holy places,” with his own blood, has claimed it in behalf of all who embrace his universal offer of grace and eternal salvation. Heaven thus opens its gates for fallen man whose sin forfeited the inheritance of paradise; and whosoever, will may enter, in the way, and on the gracious conditions which are laid down in the holy Gospel.

Verse 35

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For I was a hungered, &c. — After this general sublime description of the pomp and solemnity of the final judgment, our Lord proceeds to give the reasons for this public acknowledgment of the righteous, and the equally public disowning of the wicked. These reasons, it is, however, to be remarked, are not the only ones in either case. — Neither are the wicked punished solely because they have been fruitless in works of mercy, nor the righteous solely because they have abounded in them. They are taken in each case as manifestations of CHARACTER; and they are specified to show the importance attached to them, and that where religion is not PRACTICAL, it is wholly false and delusive. That benevolent actions, separate from true charity, which is the love of God and man, cannot avail, we have the express testimony of St. Paul, who teaches that if a man “give all his goods to feed the poor, and have not charity,” in the principle, “it profiteth him nothing;” while on the other hand St. James instructs us in the equally important truth, that “faith without works is dead,” and therefore unsaying. The three great ends of Christ’s religion are, to reconcile men to God, to renew the heart in righteousness, and to inspire that universal philanthropy which shall lead to the most beneficent acts of mercy to others; and as he had inculcated other virtues in preceding parables under the sanction of eternal rewards and punishments, so now, that he may present the picture of “the man of God made perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work,” he exhibits the FRUITFUL faith and charity of his people in their practical benevolence, and confers upon their good works the high rewards of his kingdom.

Verse 36

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And ye visited me. — The word επισκεπτομαι signifies not only to look upon, but to look after; that is, to take care of, or relieve; and may comprehend the administration of both spiritual and temporal comfort.

And ye came unto me. — With sympathy and aid, either to sustain in prison or to devise means to obtain liberation from it.

Verse 37

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Lord, when saw we thee a hungered? &c. — The manner in which the case was put, as though they had ministered to the Lord himself personally, excites their astonishment; and their modest forgetfulness of their own works, and the total absence of all idea of merit from their minds, rendering what was said more mysterious than it would otherwise have been, are circumstances finely touched; and with infinite skill they are made to gave the greater force to the affecting truth, that what is done for the relief and comfort of persons in penury, sickness, and trouble, he regards as done to himself! Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. The benevolence of Christ could have no stronger a demonstration than this identification of himself with all poor and troubled persons throughout the world, and in all ages; and no motive to their charitable relief can be so moving and efficacious with us as this. It affords one of many instances, that when Christian morals are the same in substance as those taught by the wiser heathen, the former are not only presented unto us under more definite views, but enforced by motives beyond comparison more powerful. They have at once the authority of God, and the persuasive influence which results from an appeal to our purest and most influential affections. Those who restrain the term brethren to poor and destitute Christians, have no warrant from the words or from the scope of the discourse. To narrow up the obligations of beneficence to those of our own faith would have been rather in the spirit of Judaism than according to the liberal and expansive genius of Christianity; and it would greatly tend to that, were we taught to consider that those acts of mercy which are done “to the household of faith” are the only works of that kind which shall be noticed and rewarded at the last day. The term brethren is therefore to be taken in its largest sense for all mankind. By taking upon him our nature, Christ became the brother of every man, and even in his exalted and glorified state, recognizes us under that relation.

Verse 41

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Prepared for the devil and his angels. — He does not say that this everlasting fire was prepared for these evil spirits, as the kingdom of heaven was prepared for the righteous, “from the foundation of the world;” that is, from eternity, as a part of the counsel and design of God. But simply, that it is prepared for the devil and his angels, but contrary to that gracious purpose for which they were created. A glorious heaven they found prepared for them the moment they sprang into existence; and it was not until they actually fell, that Divine vengeance kindled up in one dark and doleful part of the universe an everlasting fire for the punishment of the disobedient. Into this same fire, and in company with these rebellious spirits, shall all the wicked be at last driven from the presence of Him who had never been to then an unrelenting Judge, had they not rejected him as a merciful and gracious Saviour.

Verse 46

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, &c. — These words are decisive of the doctrine of the eternity of the punishment of the wicked; and no reasonings of men, the supposed certain indications from assumed principles of the Divine government, can avail against their clear and unequivocal meaning. Even Wakefield, a Socinian commentator, has noticed and admitted their force. It is observable that the same word of time is here employed by the evangelist to denote the punishment of the wicked, and the happiness of the just, in a future state; they are equally called EVERLASTING. Nor is there any passage in the whole New Testament which can be urged in defence of what is usually, denominated the “proper eternity of hell torments,” with greater propriety than the text before us.

No one disputes the endless duration of the happiness reserved for the righteous in heaven; and why should the eternity of future punishment be controverted more than that, when the term applied to the duration of both is not merely of a similar import, but actually THE SAME?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 25". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-25.html.
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