Jesus declared about Himself in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by Me.” What He is saying is that through Him is the way of life, real life, abundant life, spiritual life. He said in John 10:10 “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” He isn’t talking about having a good life, or living the good life, receiving material blessings from God. When He speaks about abundant life He is talking about spiritual life. And to have spiritual life Jesus said you must be born again, in the spirit, by the Spirit.
Now that point was made in the parable we looked at last week, the parable of the 10 virgins. Five were foolish, five were wise. Five had oil for their lamps, five did not have oil. And we said last week that the oil represented the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. Those virgins that did not have the Spirit did not enter into the marriage supper. Those that did have the Spirit entered into the celebration of the bridegroom. And that was illustrative of the fact that if you do not have the Spirit of Christ you are not His. Paul said in Romans 8:9 “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” So he makes it plain that having or not having the Spirit of Christ is the qualifying factor for entry into the fullness of life in the kingdom of heaven.
In the next section of the Olivet Discourse, directly following the parable of the 10 virgins, Jesus gave another parable. He makes this next parable contingent upon the statement at the end of the parable of the 10 virgins which is vs 13, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” I say He makes the next parable contingent upon that statement, because He is emphasizing the sudden appearance of His second coming. At the second coming it will precipitate a judgment upon the life of man, either to be found belonging to Him, or not.
Jesus describes that event in vs 31, directly following this parable. “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.”
This parable of the talents then is given to illustrate that judgment. It is given to illustrate the fact that Christ’s second appearing will precipitate a judgement of the living and the dead; the truly spiritual life and the natural life. Those that have spiritual life will enter into the joy of the Lord. Those that do not have spiritual life will be cast out into outer darkness.
Now it’s important to realize at the outset that is what Jesus is talking about here. Because the common misconception is that this parable has something to do with being judged by what we have done with whatever natural talents that we might have. And obviously, the word talent that is used in the parable has led to that misunderstanding. It also feeds into our own narcissistic view of Christianity. The view that tends to equate Christianity with what we deem to be physical blessings, which we think is God giving us things such as prosperity or some special giftedness by which we can play the piano, or play guitar, or sing or any number of other things we tend to think of as talents or abilities.
Now I do believe that we are going to be judged to some degree on what we have done with our lives in regards to our stewardship of our money, time, opportunities, responsibilities and abilities. Paul said in Romans 14:12 “ So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” And Jesus said the same thing in Matt. 12:36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”
But even though it is true that we shall give an account for every word and deed, I don’t believe that is what Jesus is referring to specifically here. What I think He is specifically referring to here is the judgement that will determine that have real spiritual life, and those that do not. To use Christ’s own analogies, it is the judgement of the sheep and the goats, the wise virgins and the foolish virgins, the house built on the rock and the house built on sand, the wheat and the tares.
In this sermon, Jesus is illustrating the nature of the kingdom of heaven. It is the kingdom over which Christ rules, but not everyone in it has submitted to Him as Lord. Those that have receive an inheritance in the kingdom. They belong to Christ. They are born of God, sons and daughters of God. Those that have not submitted to Him as Lord and King will at His return be judged by the King, and then they will be cast out of the kingdom into outer darkness.
Jesus gives three parables to illustrate the principle of His coming again in judgment. The first was given in chapter 24, the parable of the fig tree. When you see the branches budding, know that summer is near, and He is near, right at the door. The point being the suddenness of Christ’s appearing.
The second parable is the parable of the ten virgins. And we saw that the criteria for being ready when He appears is that you have the Spirit of Christ indwelling in you. Now the third parable of the talents illustrates that same principle from another perspective. This parable illustrates the criteria for being ready when He appears is that you have spiritual life. If you are truly born again of the Spirit then you will have life in the spirit, and that spiritual life will be evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit.
Now let’s consider the parable to see how Jesus presents this truth and this warning to be ready for His appearing. Jesus says, “For [it is] just like a man [about] to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.” The word “it” refers to the kingdom of heaven. He is making an analogy to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus isn’t trying to say everything that can be said about the kingdom of heaven. This is not going to be an all inclusive statement here that will answer every question concerning the kingdom. But He is presenting really just a couple of principle aspects of it here.
What He is presenting is the certainty of the Lord’s return, the judgment that will happen at His return, and the fruit that will be evident in the life of the Christian. So Jesus says it is like a man who is about to go on a journey. He is obviously wealthy, and he has a lot of slaves. And he entrusts his possessions to his slaves. This idea of entrusting his possessions is something that we have trouble understanding what it’s analogous to. I would suggest that “his possessions” indicates something of great value.
Look at vs 15; “To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” Now this word translated as “talent” is the source of a lot of misunderstanding. What a talent refers to is the highest standard of money that was known to the Jews. A talent was worth about fifteen years’ wages of a laborer. Today a talent might represent as much as a million dollars. So it’s a very considerable amount of money that the man entrusts to his slaves. We should recognize that in that day, a slave was often much more than a field hand. They could include any kind of work. In this case, these slaves were some sort of managers of the man’s estate.
What the talent represents then is not an ability, it’s not prosperity or wealth, it’s not what we might call a talent like playing an instrument or being able to perform in some way, but it represents an immense spiritual treasure. And we learned in previous parables of the pearl of great price, or the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, that the greatest spiritual treasure is spiritual life, the abundant life, eternal life. So the talent entrusted to each slave represents being given exposure to the light of the gospel which when received by faith, brings about spiritual life.
Now there are a number of elements about the story that if you try to find a direct correlation to from a spiritual point of view, you’re going to run into trouble. No matter what your template is for interpreting the parable, there are some elements that are going to cause difficulty in finding a direct parallel to the Christian life. We have seen this same difficulty in previously studied parables. So as we have said in our previous studies, we should look for the major point that is being taught, and avoid trying to draw allegorical applications from every dramatic detail.
That’s especially true in this case, as Jesus says one was given five talents, one was given two, and another one. To add even further confusion, Jesus says that they were given according to their own abilities.
The best way that I think we need to see this is that Jesus is the parallel of the master of the estate. Jesus is the King of the kingdom, the Lord who then gives the truth of the gospel, the light of the gospel, to man. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. So the saving truth, the gospel of Jesus Christ is given to men. And some people are given more exposure to the truth than others.
In other words, He is speaking of the privilege and responsibility of being exposed to the truth of God, to the gospel of Christ. And some people are fives, they’ve been given tremendous privilege. Most of us would have to be considered at least a five on this particular scale, because we have been given great privilege in hearing the Gospel and having been taught the gospel.
On the other hand, there are some people who would be on the level of the one who received one talent. Their exposure to the gospel was more limited. But they still received enough light to believe and to be held accountable for what they knew. Romans 1 teaches that even those who only had the witness of creation had enough light so that they are without excuse. So the talent represents exposure to the light of the gospel.
And so you have a person’s exposure, and their faith, and their responsibility to respond to the light they have recieved, and you can find a parallel there with the number of talents that God gives to each. We have differing privileges spiritually in being exposed to the Gospel. Some have heard it simply and perhaps infrequently. Others have heard it in fully and completely many times and are the more privileged ones. And that privilege results in a corresponding degree of our responsibility.
When Jesus says that they were given talents according to their ability, I think you can draw an analogy from their ability to their degree of faith. Jesus speaks often of a little faith, or of great faith, or according to one’s faith. So there is an element of being given in proportion to faith.
So in the parable, the man given five talents immediately uses that to make five more talents. The man with two talents likewise puts his to work to make two more talents. But the man who has one talent, Jesus says went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
The first two show a 100% return on the investment given to them. That’s an illustration of saving faith. It receives the gift of spiritual life, and that faith results in regeneration. A new life is born and a new life is lived. Being born of the Spirit they now walk in the Spirit. There is a biblical principle of progressive sanctification. As you learn more, you respond more, you grow more, you mature more in your faith. The seed that was planted in good ground springs up and bears fruit. Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “You shall know them by their fruit.” So there is a response of faith, which proportionally produces spiritual life.
The slave that only received one talent though, he went away and buried it in the ground. Now there’s the mark of a false servant. There is no response of faith on his part. He heard it, but he buried the truth. He pushed it to the back burner of his mind. And consequently there is no fruit. He illustrates the one who given privilege does not return the opportunity given to him, does not take advantage of it, does not use it. When he hears the Gospel, he doesn’t respond to it by faith. But even though he’s heard it on a limited basis, he is still responsible.
Listen, you could hear it on a level of five talents and not respond. You could hear it on a level of two and not respond. And if you wonder why it is the one talent person that doesn’t respond, it is because the Lord wants to illustrate that the person who would be seem to be the most excusable is not excusable.
If the person with the five-level privilege doesn’t respond, someone might think that God condemned him because he was angry that he wasted such privilege, because he was especially guilty, and so we might assume that hell is only for people who having had great privilege waste it. And so to make sure that that isn’t implied, the Lord picks the one who had only a very limited privilege and lets us know that being cast out of the kingdom will happen to people who waste even a limited privilege. Every person exposed to the Gospel, if they have at all been exposed to the saving truth of Jesus Christ, are inexcusable if they waste that opportunity.
Then, in the parable Jesus says that the day of reckoning comes. The master returns and he calls his slaves to give an account of themselves. Vs19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.”
The implication there is that the Lord is telling them His coming will be delayed, just like in vs 5 where he said the bridegroom was delayed. Those are veiled ways of telling the disciples that the consummation of the kingdom will not be as soon as they think it is. After a long time, the Lord is going to come. And during the time before he comes, men and women are going to be given the privilege of the gospel, some on a level of five, some on a level of two, some on a level of one. But there will be a day when the Lord comes back to settle accounts.
“The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’” Notice that Jesus incorporates the idea of faith as the response of the life that bore fruit. It’s faithfulness to the degree of exposure. To the degree that you acted in response to the knowledge you received, then you are regarded as faithful in a few things.
And because you were faithful in a few things, you will be given more. You will be given more light, more opportunity, more responsibility. At the consummation of the kingdom, when we enter into the age of eternity with the Lord, it will not be a just an eternity of blissful nothingness, of no activity, no productiveness, no service. But it will be a time of continued service to the Lord, but on a larger scale. We will rule and reign with Christ. I don’t know what that will look like exactly, but it will be greater than the service that we rendered here. Greater in position, greater in scope, greater in duration. And our responsibility there will be proportionate to what we achieved in this life. It’s hard to understand. The scripture says, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”
Well, Jesus says that the man who had received two talents produced two more talents, and he received the same commendation and reward as the man who had received five. But then the time came for the man who had received one to give an account. He said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’”
So this man produces nothing. He buried that which the Lord had given him. He bore no fruit in keeping with the measure of what had been entrusted to him. He did not enjoin that light given him with faith. He recognized enough to be culpable for doing nothing with the knowledge that he had.
Notice also that its not bad enough that he did nothing, but he also impugns the character of his master. He finds fault with God’s justice. We see that often in our culture today. “I can’t believe in a God that allows such and such to happen in the world.” Rather than seeing in themselves the problem of unbelief, they want to blame their unbelief on God’s character and try to say that He is the problem, not them. He says, “you’re a hard man.” You are too judgmental. You are not loving enough. You are not merciful enough. You expect too much.”
vs 26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no [seed.] Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my [money] back with interest. ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’”
He says, “You wicked and lazy servant. You recognized enough of the truth concerning Me to have done something. But instead you pursued your evil pursuits. You just took the talent and stuck it in the ground. You blocked it out. You made no use of the gospel because it got in your way, the way of your wickedness and the way of your own lifestyle.
Jesus said the master said to the slave, “If you really believed these things about me, reaping where I have not sown, then why didn’t you put that talent in the bank so you could have at least made interest on it?” In other words, even a little faith would have resulted in some degree of return. But this guy didn’t respond at all. He did nothing.
So Jesus concludes this teaching with a summary principle. He says in vs29 “For to everyone who has, [more] shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” If you respond in faith, you believe what you have been shown, then God gives you more knowledge, more privilege, more life. But if you do not have, even what you have shall be taken away. That speaks of the judgment. If you do not have spiritual life, then the life which you do have, the temporal, natural life, will be taken away.
That life which will be taken away is our physical life. And Jesus relates that judgment in the parable to the man who had one talent, saying, “Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That is death, spiritual and physical death, separated by outer darkness from the kingdom of heaven, separated forever from spiritual life in Christ.
The warning should be clear. Jesus has stated it again and again, and illustrated it three times in parables. “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour when the Lord will come. But He is coming, and on that day He will settle accounts. and to everyone who has, [more] shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. … 31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. … “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; … “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
I pray that you have responded to the light of the gospel by faith, and evidence the fruit of righteousness in your life so that you will be found faithful when He comes.