Tag Archives: Matthew 25

Three things that must happen before Jesus returns – Matthew 23:37-39; Matthew 24:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:3

Although there are many things that will occur before Jesus returns, there are three that must occur. 

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

In a previous post titled “Jesus’ return will be visible to everyone,” I discussed my understanding of Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 and the reason for my conclusion that Jesus’ return – His second coming – will be visible to everyone – that “all will mourn when they see Him coming on the clouds” (Matthew 24:30). In a subsequent post titled, “Those ‘taken’ when Jesus returns may not be Christians,” I pointed out how my understanding of Matthew 24:36 — 25:46 has led me to conclude that what follows Jesus’ return will result in immediate, dire, and permanent consequences for those unprepared, that those “taken” (or as translated in Luke 17:26-27, those “destroyed”) when Jesus returns will be unbelievers (those who have not put their trust in Christ), and that those “left” or “left behind” will be Christians.

There has been lots of speculation over the years about what signs will indicate that the return of Jesus is imminent and that the final set of end time events are about to occur. Although Scripture does tell us some things that will occur before Jesus returns (for example, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars … nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:6-7), as I see it today, there are only three things that Scripture says must occur before Jesus returns :

  • The Jews must acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (Matthew 23:37-39).
  • The Gospel must be preached to all the nations (Matthew 24:14).
  • The man of lawlessness must be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

In the sections below, I will provide my understanding of the passages above and how I think the prophecies in them will be fulfilled.

The Jews must acknowledge that Jesus is Lord  

After Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week He was to be crucified, He spent some time talking on the Temple Mount to those who had gathered there to celebrate Passover. Some of Jesus’ harshest words while there were reserved for teachers of the law and Pharisees who were hostile towards Him (Matthew 23:1-36). Jesus called them hypocrites, blind guides, white-washed tombs, and snakes – a “brood of vipers” who killed or flogged the “prophets and sages and teachers” sent to them (vs. 33-34). Jesus then said this:

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39). 

Because of their rejection of Him and the prophets that preceded Him, Jesus said that their house would be left desolate.

Then, after leaving the temple area, Jesus told His disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed – that not one stone would be left upon another (Matthew 24:1-2). The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., and I believe it was this event that Jesus was referring to when He said that their house would be left desolate and not one stone would be left upon another. Furthermore, since the account of Jesus’ second coming in Matthew 24:30 and the verses that follow seem to be referring to the only time Jesus returns, then what Jesus said would happen at that time was not going to occur until they, the Jews, acknowledge that He is Lord.

But does Scripture tell us what events might trigger the Jews’ acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord and what happens when they do? I believe that it does – in the prophecies recorded in the book of Zechariah.

Zechariah prophesied beginning around 520 B.C. during the time when the temple was being rebuilt by the Jews following its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. One of God’s goals when He spoke to the Jews through Zechariah was to encourage them to keep on with the task of rebuilding God’s house – His temple – in spite of the difficulties they encountered in doing so. God also told them about a time when He was going to provide a means for their spiritual redemption – a time when someone called “The Branch” would “remove the sin of this land in a single day” (Zechariah 3:8-9), a prophecy that I believe was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified.

Zechariah 12 provides a glimpse of what was going to happen to the Jews in what was in their future at that time and undoubtedly still is in ours. Here are the first five verses:

1 The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares: 2 “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. 3 On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. 4 On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,” declares the Lord. “I will keep a watchful eye over Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations. 5 Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God’” (Zechariah 12:1-5).

This passage seems to be describing a time when the Jews will be surrounded by enemies that are bent on their destruction. The Jews’ enemies will be unable to destroy them however but will end up harming themselves when they attempt to. As a consequence of this, the Jews will recognize that they are being protected – that they are strong – “because the Lord Almighty is their God” (vs. 5).

Zechariah 12 continues by describing more of what will happen on that day:

6 “On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves. They will consume all the surrounding peoples right and left, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place.

“The Lord will save the dwellings of Judah first, so that the honor of the house of David and of Jerusalem’s inhabitants may not be greater than that of Judah. 8 On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12:6-9).

These verses seem to be indicating that God will not just protect the Jews from their enemies; there will come a time when God will give the Jews the ability to defeat their enemies – a time when He sets out to “destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem” (vs. 9).

Zechariah 12 then describes how the Jews will respond when God defeats their enemies:

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives” (Zechariah 12:10-14).

These verses seem to be describing a spiritual awakening that takes place among the Jews after they are physically saved by God from those who are attempting to destroy them. It’s at this point that they realize that by demanding that Jesus be crucified centuries earlier that they pierced their messiah, the One who by grace is now saving them. It’s at this point that they perhaps say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” a conclusion that seems to be confirmed in these verses:

9 … I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9).

It’s interesting to note the emphasis in Zechariah 12:10-14 on the grieving, weeping, and mourning that takes place when the Jews see Jesus coming to rescue them. This could be part of the cacophony of mourning that takes place when “all the peoples of the earth … mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 24:30). John seems to be making this same conclusion in the opening verses of his revelation regarding the end-times when he recorded this:

 7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen” (Revelation 1:7).

All will mourn when they see Jesus coming in the clouds. I believe this will include those who have made a commitment to Christ and those who have not, Jews and non-Jews alike. The cause of the Jews’ mourning when Jesus returns could be their grief when they recognize the part they played in the death of their messiah. Christians may mourn when they recognize that there will be no more opportunities for them to bring friends or family into a saving relationship with Jesus. Nonbelievers may mourn when they realize that it’s too late for them to make a different choice regarding Jesus and that for them, what follows will be immediate, dire, and permanent.

The Gospel must be preached to all the nations

In response to His disciples’ question about what signs would precede His return (Matthew 24:3), Jesus said this:

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). 

Jesus said that He would not return until everyone has an opportunity to hear the Gospel message. Some believe that this prophecy will be fulfilled when the Bible, or at least the New Testament, is translated into every language on earth. Others believe is will be fulfilled when the technical means for communicating the Gospel at a single moment is available everywhere. But note that both these understandings of this prophecy conclude that its fulfillment will come through human efforts.

There is another possibility about who is doing the preaching of the Gospel in this passage that does not require human efforts for its fulfillment. Note what is prophesied in this passage:

6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:6-7). 

The proclamation of the Gospel in this passage is done an angel, not by humans, and it occurs immediately before “the hour of judgment” (vs. 7). What’s interesting is what follows after the proclamation of the Gospel by this angel:

14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.  

17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia (Revelation 14:14-20). 

Note the image in this passage of “one like the son of man” seated on “a white cloud.” I believe that this is describing the same event prophesied in Matthew 24:30, a time when “all the peoples of the earth … see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” I also believe that the reaping and harvesting described in this passage is the same event prophesied Matthew 24:31 when the elect are gathered “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” And I believe that the judgment that this passage describes as “the great winepress of God’s wrath” is the same judgment described in the parables in Matthew 24:26 — 25:46 culminating in the separation of sheep from goats, a time when “they [the unrighteous] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

Because of the similarity between the images found in Revelation 14:14-20 and the ones in Matthew 24:30-31 and the verses that follow, I believe that they are describing the same event – the one and only second-coming of Jesus. But if this is so, then why are these images of Jesus’ return in the middle of Revelation rather than at the end? The answer to that question is that that chapters 4 thru 19 of Revelation may not be providing us with a chronological time-line of end-time events. Instead, what these chapters could be providing us with are at least three different narratives of those events each ending with a different representation of what happens when Jesus returns. The first narrative could be chapters 4-11; the second chapters 12-14; the third chapters 15-19. I will elaborate on these divisions in the book of Revelation in a subsequent post. My conclusion regarding this may make more sense once I start discussing how finding the same symbols in different passages can be a clue about which ones may be describing the same events.

By the way, even though it could be an angel and not humans who fulfill the prophecy that the Gospel will be preached to all the nations before Jesus returns, I have no objection to those who feel called to take the Gospel to all nations and who are working hard to do so. That is a commendable and worthwhile pursuit even if the actual fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 will be accomplished through the voices of an angel and not by the hands men.

The man of lawlessness must be revealed

1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

It seems that there were some Christians Paul was ministering to that thought that Jesus had already returned and that they had been left behind. Paul responded by telling them that the end would not come – the Lord would not return – “until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (vs. 3). Paul then said that when the lawless one is revealed that “the Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] with the breath of his mouth and destroy [him] by the splendor of his coming” (vs. 8).

I find this passage difficult to dissect. It’s not clear who the man of lawlessness is, only that his works will “be in accordance with how Satan works” (vs. 9). The passage does say that he will pretend to be God (vs. 4), and that many will buy into this deception (vs. 10). It also indicates that God will send “a powerful delusion” so that the ones who delight in wickedness “will believe the lie” (vs. 11).

There are many beliefs that have cropped up over the years that fit the deception described in these verses. It seems that every generation has been confronted by one or more who claim to be God. Although I don’t know how these lies will be exposed, it does appear that just before Jesus returns that everyone will have a clear understanding who is behind them. Once this is apparent, Jesus will defeat this enemy “with the breath of his mouth.”

Why it matters

4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:4-13). 

There are many things that Jesus says will occur before He returns. The above passages records some of them.There will be “wars and rumors of wars”; there will be “famines and earthquakes in various places”; many “false prophets will appear and deceive many people”; many will “turn away from the faith.” None of these things should alarm us however. They have happened, are happening, and will continue to happen. Having an inordinate concern about them may draw our attention away from what matters more.

It seems to me that there are only three events that must occur before Jesus returns. And none of them will be preceded by signs that they are about to occur. We don’t know what conditions will result in the Jews as a whole turning their hearts to Jesus;  we don’t know what circumstances will precede the proclamation of the Gospel to every nation by an angel; we don’t know what will lead to the nature of the man of lawlessness being revealed. And since we don’t know how or when these events will take place, speculation regarding them will for the most part be unprofitable.

Perhaps it’s best in this regard to heed Jesus’ advice. He said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42). He also said, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). One can perhaps best prepare for the return of Jesus not by fruitless speculation about how the events preceding it will unfold but instead by understanding the need for patience, endurance, obedience, perseverance, and faithfulness as we wait for that day.

That is how I see it today.

When Jesus returns, it won’t be Christians who are “taken away” – Matthew 24:36-41

Who those “left behind” when Jesus’ returns will actually be.

(All Scriptures cited come from the NIV2011 version of the Bible)

In a previous article titled “Jesus’ Return Will Be Visible to Everyone,” I discussed the importance of interpreting Jesus’ discourse about the end times in Matthew 24:1-30 and Luke 21:5-28 in light of the two questions His disciples were asking at that time: “When will the temple be destroyed?” and “What will be the signs of your coming?” I asserted that since the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. that this was most likely when the prophecies regarding the destruction of the temple in these passages as well as the one in Daniel 9:25-27 were fulfilled. I also pointed out that Jesus said that His return – His second coming – will be visible to everyone and that all will mourn when they see Him coming in the clouds (Matthew 24:30).

In this article I will provide support for my conclusion that Jesus’ return will be followed by immediate, permanent, and dire consequences for those unprepared for it, and that the “taken” when this happens will be those who do not have a saving relationship with Jesus.

One is taken and one is left

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:36-41).

The first thing to note about the above passage is that it begins with the words, “about that day.” I believe that the “day” it is referring to is the day when Jesus returns – the day when “all the peoples of the earth … see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 24:30). What follows is what I believe are some symbolic representations of this event and what will happen immediately afterwards.

Portions of the above passage are often used to support the belief that when Jesus returns that He will remove all believers from the face of the earth and will leave behind those who don’t believe in Him. This event is commonly referred to as the “Rapture of the Church.” Those who hold to this view often associate believers with the “taken” in the above passage and say that those who are “left” or “left behind” are unbelievers. They then claim that what follows the “Rapture of the Church” will be seven years of tribulation ending with another return of Jesus – another “second coming.”

One of the difficulties I have with the above understanding of this passage is that it requires two second-comings of Jesus: one that is unseen by those “left behind” and another seven years later. But as I noted earlier, it seems clear when reading Matthew 24:30 as well Luke 21:27 that when Jesus returns that everyone will see Him coming in the clouds; it will not be a secret nor will it will be hidden from anyone. If this is so, then either the above passage is referring to the final “second coming” of Jesus or there is only one “second coming” and the verses above as well as the ones that follow are describing what will happen at that time.

A key question about Matthew 24:36-41 is therefore who are the ones “taken” and who are those that are “left.” It should be noted that the word “taken” can have two different meanings in this respect. It can mean to be taken away – to be taken somewhere else. But it can also mean to lose something – to lose one’s life for example. We use the latter meaning when someone dies and we say that they were taken from us or that their life was taken from them.

It’s interesting when trying to understand who the “taken” are in the above passage to note how Luke records the same discourse. Here’s his version:

26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. 27 Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27).

While Matthew said that the “flood came and took them all away” (Matt. 24:39), Luke said that “the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27). It would not be unreasonable to conclude based on comparing the two versions that to be “taken” means to be “destroyed” and that therefore those who are “taken” in Matthew’s account are unbelievers – those who are not followers of Jesus.

Additional support for the conclusion that those “taken” are unbelievers and the ones “left” or “left behind” are followers of Christ comes from noting Jesus’ use of pronouns when referring to those taken. Jesus said that in the days before the flood that “people were eating and drinking … up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away” (Matt. 24:38-39). Note that the only “they” in these verses are the “people” who were eating and drinking in the days of Noah. Noah is an individual and the passage doesn’t say that he was taken away; it says that they were taken away. Although some have tried to reconcile this by noting that Noah’s family also entered the ark and that this could be the “they” the passage is referring to, this insertion of Noah’s family into the passage is arbitrary and is not supported by the text.

Although I believe that the above arguments are adequate to support the conclusion that the “taken” in Matthew 24:36-41 are unbelievers and that those “left” or “left behind” are Christians, the parables that follow provide additional support that those “taken” are unbelievers and not Christians and that therefore being among those “taken” is not a good thing.

Some Principles for Interpreting Parables

What follows Matthew 24:36-41 are five parables that describe in symbolic language what will happen when Jesus returns. The first is the parable of the thief (Matthew 24:42-44); the second is the parable of the unfaithful servant (Matthew 24:45-51); the third is the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13); the fourth is the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30); the fifth is the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

One principle I use when I see parables grouped in this fashion is to look for what is similar in each and to discount what is not. As I do this, I try not to get so bogged down in the details of the parables that I miss the point the speaker was trying to make. The message in this respect is not found so much in the events described but in the what point is being conveyed through them. I look for what’s common in the parables and use this to help me determine what their combined message may be.

Here are the common elements I’ve found in these five parables:

  1. Each describes some event that happens unexpectedly or without notice.
  2. Each describes a measure that is used to determine the fate of those affected by it.
  3. Each states or implies what happens to those unprepared for the event.
  4. Each states or implies what happens to those prepared for it.

In the sections that follow, I will point out how each of the above elements are in evidence in these five parables.

The Parable of the Thief

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:42-44).         

This parable compares the return of Jesus to a thief coming in the night. What’s interesting is that this picture of Jesus coming as a thief shows up elsewhere in Scripture including in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, and Revelation 16:15. In a future article, I intend to note how looking for where the same symbols (like the thief) show up in different passages can help us understand which ones may be describing the same event. For now I’ll just point out what parts of this parable align with the common elements described earlier:

  1. The Event: A thief comes in the night. No-one knows when he is coming.
  2. The Measure: Keeping watch; being ready.
  3. Those Unprepared: Their house is broken into. What’s implied is that something of value is taken from them.
  4. Those Prepared: Unknown. What’s implied is that their house is not broken into and they lose nothing.

The Parable of the Unfaithful Servant

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:42-51).

This parable describes what happens to a servant who is entrusted with his master’s household while the master is away. Here is what aligns with the common elements described earlier:

  1. The Event: A master who put his household in charge of a servant returns unexpectedly after a long absence.
  2. The Measure: How the servant treated his fellow servants while his master was absent.
  3. Those Unprepared: Cut to pieces and assigned a place “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  4. Those Prepared: Put in charge of all of his master’s possessions.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.    

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’                                            

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.    

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’  

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13).

This parable begins with the words, “At that time.” I believe that these words were included to make sure the reader knows it is linked to the event Jesus was referring to in Matthew 24:30 – the time when He returns. In this parable, ten virgins are waiting with lamps for the coming of a bridegroom so that they can attend his wedding banquet. Some have insufficient oil for their lamps and while shopping for more, the bridegroom arrives. Here are the portions of this parable that align with the common elements of the others:

  1. The Event: A bridegroom who was “a long time in coming” shows up without notice.
  2. The Measure: To be ready for his return by having enough oil for their lamps.
  3. Those Unprepared: They were shut out of the wedding banquet and disowned.
  4. Those Prepared: They were welcomed into to the wedding banquet.

I want to add one other observation about this parable before I move onto the next. I noted earlier that when interpreting parables that are grouped like this that I look for what’s common and discount what is not. Since this is the only parable in this group that mentions a wedding, the fact that it does so is not important. In my opinion, it is not describing anything that has to do with what some call the “marriage supper of the Lamb” or the “marriage of the Lamb to His bride.” The message Jesus was trying to convey through this parable is not found in the event itself but in the similarities between it and the other parables it is grouped with.

The Parable of the Talents

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’  

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’          

22 The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’  

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’      

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’      

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.  

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:14-30).

This parable describes what happens when a master returns after a long journey. Before the journey, he gave each of servants some wealth (or talents). When he returns, he asks for an accounting from each of his servants regarding what they did with what he gave them. Here are the portions that align with the common elements of the others:

  1. The Event: A master entrusts his servants with different amounts of wealth. After a long absence, he returns.
  2. The Measure: What they did with what he left in their care.
  3. Those Unprepared: They are taken into the darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
  4. Those Prepared: They are given more.

Like the parable of the ten virgins, I believe that the event described in this passage has little to do with the point Jesus trying to make. In my opinion, it’s not a promise that our gifts will be multiplied if we use them wisely during this life. What’s important is not the event itself but how its message parallels what is being conveyed through the other parables.

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’    

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’      

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’    

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’    

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’        

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’      

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).

This passage begins with the words, “When the Son of Man comes.” Like similar terminology found in the other parables, I believe that this was included to show that it is elaborating on the event described in Matthew 24:30 – Jesus’ return – so that the reader knows it is referring to what will happen after this occurs. Here is what fits the common elements of the other parables:

  1. The Event: The return of Jesus and the final destination of both “sheep” and “goats.”
  2. The Measure: If ones’ actions are aligned with what Jesus considers important.
  3. Those Unprepared: They will be sent away to eternal punishment.
  4. Those Prepared: They will receive eternal life.

I don’t believe that Jesus’ intent when telling this parable was to indicate that our works will be used to determine our eternal destination. We are not saved by our works; we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Concluding that this parable  is describing the means upon which one gains eternal life is in my opinion beyond the scope of what Jesus or Matthew intended. I don’t believe that this parable and the ones that precede tell us how we are saved. Their purpose is to warn us that if our relationship with Jesus is not right – if we is not prepared for His return at all times – if we are not saved – than we may find ourselves falling short of what is required to be able to spend eternity with Jesus and may end up spending it in a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Considering the Message as a Whole

Here are some things that I believe Jesus was trying to communicate as a whole through what is recorded in Matthew 24:36 — 25:46:

  • His return will come at a time when it is unexpected. Although there are some things that must happen before Jesus returns (the topic of my next article), there is no way to know exactly when the day or time of His return will be. It’s also impossible to know what conditions will immediately precede it. We therefore have to be prepared for His return at all times knowing that it could occur at anytime.
  • What follows His return will result in immediate, permanent, and dire consequences for those unprepared. There is no gap of time between Jesus’ return and what follows; there is no second chance for those not ready for that day; there will be no additional opportunity for them to repent and do what is right in God’s eyes. There will on the other hand be immediate, permanent, and good consequences for those who are prepared for His return – those who have put their faith and trust in Him.
  • When He returns, it will not be a good thing to be among those who are “taken”.

The understanding that Jesus’ return is followed immediately by a time of judgment reinforces the urgency of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:42 when He said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” If we knew the day Jesus was returning, we could prepare for it at the last moment. Since we don’t, we have to be prepared for it at all times.

And so, I believe that the “taken” in Matthew 24:40-41 are nonbelievers who are taken to a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” because of their rejection of Jesus. They, as Luke 17:37 notes, are destroyed. The ones left behind – the ones not destroyed – are those who have prepared for the coming of Jesus by putting their faith and trust in Him and by living in a way that honors Him.

That’s my understanding of Matthew 24:36 — 25:46, as I see it today.