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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven - See the notes at Matthew 3:2. The phrase here refers to his coming in the day of judgment.
Shall be likened - Or shall resemble. The meaning is, "When the Son of man returns to judgment, it will be as it was in the case of ten virgins in a marriage ceremony." The coming of Christ to receive his people to himself is often represented under the similitude of a marriage, the church being represented as his spouse or bride. The marriage relation is the most tender, firm, and endearing of any known on earth, and on this account it suitably represents the union of believers to Christ. See Matthew 9:15; John 3:29; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9; Ephesians 5:25-32.
Ten virgins - These virgins, doubtless, represent the church - a name given to it because it is pure and holy. See 2 Corinthians 11:2; Lamentations 1:15; Lamentations 2:13.
Which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom - The "lamps" used on such occasions were rather "torches" or "flambeaux." They were made by winding rags around pieces of iron or earthenware, sometimes hollowed so as to contain oil, and fastened to handles of wood. These torches were dipped in oil, and gave a large light. Marriage "ceremonies" in the East were conducted with great pomp and solemnity. The ceremony of marriage was performed commonly in the open air, on the banks of a stream. Both the bridegroom and bride were attended by friends. They were escorted in a palanquin. carried by four or more persons. After the ceremony of marriage succeeded a feast of seven days if the bride was a virgin, or three days if she was a widow. This feast was celebrated in her father's house. At the end of that time the bridegroom conducted the bride with great pomp and splendor to his own home.
This was done in the evening, or at night, Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 25:10; Jeremiah 33:11. Many friends and relations attended them; and besides those who went with them from the house of the bride, there was another company that came out from the house of the bridegroom to meet them and welcome them. These were probably female friends and relatives of the bridegroom, who went out to welcome him and his new companion to their home. These are the virgins mentioned in this parable. Not knowing precisely the time when the procession would come, they probably went out early, and waited until they should see indications of its approach. In the celebration of marriage in the East at the present day, many of the special customs of ancient times are observed. "At a Hindu marriage," says a modern missionary, "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, 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 in 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 doorkeepers, but in vain. Never was I so struck with our Lord's beautiful parable as at this moment - 'And the door was shut.'"
The journal of one of the American missionaries in Greece contains an account of an Armenian wedding which she attended; and, after describing the dresses and previous ceremonies, she says that at 12 o'clock at night precisely the cry was made by some of the attendants, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh;" and immediately five or six men set off to meet him.
Bridegroom - A newly-married man.
2And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
And five of them were wise - . The words "wise and foolish," here, refer only to their conduct; in regard to the oil. The one part was "wise" in taking oil, the other "foolish" in neglecting it. The conduct of those who were "wise" refers to those who are "prepared" for the coming of Christ - prepared by possessing real piety, and not being merely his professed followers. The conduct of those "without" oil expresses the conduct of those who profess to love him, but are destitute of true grace, and are therefore unprepared to meet him. Nothing can be argued from the number here in regard to the proportion of sincere Christians among professors. circumstances in parables are not to be pressed literally. They are necessary to keep up the story, and we must look chiefly or entirely to the scope or design of the parable to understand its meaning. In this parable the scope is to teach us to "watch" or be ready, Matthew 25:13. It is not to teach us the relative "number" of those who shall be saved and who shall not. In teaching us to "watch and to be ready," our Lord gives great additional interest by the circumstances of this narrative; but there is no authority for saying that he meant to teach that just half of professing Christians would be deceived. The moral certainty is that "nothing like" that number will be found to have been hypocrites.
Oil in their vessels - The five foolish virgins probably expected that the bridegroom would come immediately; they therefore made no provision for any delay. The wise virgins knew that the time of his coming was uncertain, and they therefore furnished themselves with oil. This was carried in "vessels," so that it could be poured on the torches when it was necessary.
Vessels - Cups, cans, or anything to hold oil.
3They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
The bridegroom tarried - That is, while they waited for him. It was uncertain at what time he would come. He delayed longer than they expected.
All slumbered and slept - Waiting until near midnight, they fell into repose. This circumstance is not to be pressed to prove that all Christians will be asleep, or cold and careless, when the Lord Jesus shall come. "Many" may be so, but many, also, will be looking for his coming. This circumstance is designed simply to show more clearly the "duty of being ready," Matthew 25:13. It does not mean to affirm it "as a fact" that none will be ready.
6And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
At midnight - Later than was the usual custom, and hence, they had fallen asleep.
A cry made - Of those who were coming with the bridegroom.
7Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
Trimmed their lamps - Burning until midnight, the oil was exhausted: they gave a dim and obscure light. They trimmed them by removing the burnt parts of the linen or the torch, so that they would burn clear. It was needful, also, to dip them again in oil, or to pour oil upon them. This strikingly represents the conduct of most people at the approach of death. They then begin to make ready. They are alarmed, anxious, and trembling, and then they ask the aid of others, but often when it is forever too late.
8And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
9But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
10And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Went in with him to the marriage - The "marriage-feast." The marriage ceremony took place before the bride left her father's house, but a feast was given at the house of her husband, which was also called the "marriage," or a part of the marriage solemnities. This part of the parable doubtless represents the entrance of those who "are ready," or prepared, into the kingdom of God, when the Son of man shall come. They will be ready who have repented of their sins; who truly believe on the Lord Jesus; who live a holy life; and who wait for his coming. See Mark 16:16; John 5:24; Acts 3:19; Revelation 22:11; 2 Peter 3:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; 2 Timothy 4:6-8.
The door was shut - No more could be admitted to the marriage-feast. So, when the truly righteous shall all be received into heaven, the door will be closed against all others. There will be no room for preparation afterward, Revelation 22:11; Ecclesiastes 11:3; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Matthew 25:46.
11Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
Open unto us - This is not to be understood as implying that any will come after the righteous shall be admitted into the kingdom, and claim admission then. It is a part of the parable to illustrate the general truth inculcated, or to prepare the way for what is afterwards said, and to keep up the narrative and make it consistent.
12But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
I know you not - You were not in the company of those who attended me to the marriage-feast, and are unknown to me. Applied to professing Christians, having only a profession of religion, but no real piety, it means, I do not know or acknowledge you as Christians. I do not approve of you, or delight in you, or admit that you are my friends. The word "know" is often used in the sense of approving, loving, acknowledging as real friends and followers. See Matthew 7:23; Psalm 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:12.
13Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
Watch, therefore ... - This is the scope or design of the whole parable. This is the great truth that Christ wished to inculcate, and all parts of the parable are to be interpreted in reference to this admonition. Like the virgins, many are professedly going to meet the Bridegroom - the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the coming of the bridegroom, his advent will be sudden. It will be to many at an unexpected time. Many, even professing Christians, will be engaged in the business of the world; thoughtless about eternity; not expecting his approach, and not prepared. They will only profess to know him, but in works they will deny him. So death will come. All approaches of the Son of God to judge men are sudden, and to many unexpected. So many, when they shall see him coming, at death or the judgment, will begin, like the foolish virgins, to be active, and to prepare to die; but it will be too late. They that are ready will enter in, and heaven will be closed forever against all others. The "coming" of the Saviour is certain. The precise time "when" he will come is not certain. As the virgins should all have watched and been ready, so should we. They who are Christians should be ever watchful; and they who are not should lose no time to be ready, for in such an hour as they think not the Son of man shall come.
The Son of man cometh - This refers, doubtless, to his coming in the day of judgment. The circumstances of the parable do not seem at all to apply to his coming to destroy Jerusalem, but are aptly expressive of his advent to judge the world.
14For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
For the kingdom of heaven ... - The "parable of the talents" was spoken still further to illustrate the manner in which he would deal with people at his return to judgment. The words "the kingdom, of heaven" are not in the original, but are very properly inserted by the translators. The design of the parable is to teach that those who improve their talents or faculties in the cause of religion who improve them to their own salvation and in doing good to others shall be proportionally rewarded; but they who neglect their talents, and who neither secure their own salvation nor do good to others, will be punished. The kingdom of heaven is like such a man - that is, "God deals with people in his government as such a man did."
His own servants - That is, such of them as he judged to be worthy of such a trust. These represent the apostles, Christian ministers, professing Christians, and perhaps all people. The going into a far country may represent the Lord Jesus going into heaven. He has given to all talents to improve, Ephesians 4:8; Ephesians 2:12.
His goods - His property representing the offices, abilities, and opportunities for doing good, which he has given to his professed followers.
15And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
Five talents - See the notes at Matthew 18:24. The word "talents" here is used to denote indefinitely "a large sum," and is designed to refer to the endowments conferred on people. We have retained in our language the word "talent" as referring to the abilities or gifts of men.
According to his several ability - According to the ability of each one. According as he saw each one was adapted to improve it. So in the church and the world. God gives people stations which he judges them adapted to fill, and requires them to fill them. He makes "distinctions" among people in regard to abilities, and in the powers and opportunities of usefulness, requiring them only to occupy those stations, and to discharge their duties there, 1 Corinthians 4:7.
16Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
The two who had received most employed their money in trade, and by honest industry doubled it before their master returned, representing the conduct of those who make a good improvement of their abilities, and employ them in doing good.
17And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
Digged in the earth ... - This represents the conduct of those who neglect the abilities that God has given, and fail to do what he has required. This is done often:
1. On the plea that they do not occupy a high station.
2. That they have slender abilities, and can do little good.
3. As it was in this case, that God had not given them as much as he did others, and they will therefore do nothing.
These pleas are without foundation; because:
1. God does not require us to do as much as those who have greater abilities; but this is not a reason why we should do nothing, 2 Corinthians 8:12.
2. Any situation is honorable, and may be useful, where God has placed us; and though humble, yet in that we may do much good, 1Co. 12:11-31.
3. People of slender abilities may often do more good in the world than people of much greater talents. It is rather a warm heart than a strong head which is required to do good. A humble Christian, by his life, example, and conversation, may often do much more good than "is" done by those in more elevated stations and with far greater gifts.
We are not to suppose by this, however, that our Saviour meant to teach that only those of feeble talents neglected their duty. The parable does not require us to do this; and the Fact is, perhaps, that those most highly endowed are the farthest from properly improving their talents.
19After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
After a long time ... - By the return of the lord of those servants to reckon with them is denoted the return of Christ to call people to an account for the manner in which they have improved their talents. See Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Acts 1:11; Acts 17:31.
Reckon with them - To reckon is to settle accounts. Here it means to inquire into their faithfulness, and to reward or punish them accordingly.
20And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
I have gained - Gained by trading or by honest industry, Matthew 25:16.
21His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Ruler over many things - I will promote thee to greater honors and to more important trusts.
Joy of thy lord - In the meantime share the pleasures and enjoyments of his palace; be his companion, and receive the rewards which he has promised thee. "The joy of his lord" may mean either the festivals and rejoicings at his return, or the rewards which his lord had prepared for his faithful servants. Applied to Christians, it means that they who rightly improve their talents will, at the return of Christ, be promoted to great honors in heaven, and be partakers of the joys of their Lord in the world of glory. See Matthew 25:34; also 1 John 2:28.
22He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
The one talent - The design of this part of the parable is to show that no one is excused for neglecting his duty because he has few talents. God will require of him only according to his ability, 1 Corinthians 4:2; Luke 12:48; 2 Corinthians 8:12.
A hard man - Of a sordid, griping disposition; taking advantage of the poor, and oppressing them.
Reaping ... - This is indicative of an avaricious and overbearing disposition; compelling the poor to sow for him, and reaping all the benefit himself.
Hast not strawed - The word "straw" means to "scatter" - as people scatter seed in sowing it. It may mean, also, to "ventilate," or to "fan by ventilating" or winnowing. As "sowing" the seed is mentioned just before, it may be that this refers to gathering grain fanned or winnowed by others, while he did nothing - indicating, also, a hard or sordid disposition.
25And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
I was afraid - I feared lest, by some accident, thy talent would be lost if I put it out to trade, and that I should be severely punished by a hard master. I therefore kept it laid up safely, and hid it where it could not be lost.
That is thine - There is what properly belongs to thee. There is the original talent that thou gavest me, and that is all that can be reasonably required. Observe here:
1. That this expresses exactly the feelings of all sinners. God, in their view, is hard, cruel, unjust.
2. All the excuses of sinners are excuses for indolence and sin, and the effect is to cheat themselves out of heaven. The effect of this excuse was that the reward was lost, and such will always be the result of the excuses of sinners for not doing their duty.
3. Sinners grudge everything to God. They are never willing to be liberal toward him but are stinted and close; and if they give, they do it with hard feelings, and say that that is all that he can claim.
26His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Slothful - Indolent, lazy, who had done nothing. God will judge people not merely for doing wrong, but for not "doing" right. See Matthew 25:45. That servant was "wicked," because he had such an opinion of his master; he had shown that he was slothful by not making good use of the talent, Matthew 25:27.
Thou knewest ... - This should be understood, and might have been translated, as a question. If you knew that I was Such a man you ought to have acted accordingly, so as to have escaped punishment. Didst thou know that I reap, etc.? Then thou shouldst have given my money to the exchangers, etc. This is not intended to "admit" that he was such a man, but to convict the slothful servant of guilt and folly in not having been prepared to meet him.
27Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
The exchangers - The "exchangers" were persons who were in the habit of borrowing money, or receiving it on deposit at a low rate of interest, to be loaned to others at higher interest. They commonly sat by "tables" in the temple, with money ready to exchange or loan. See Matthew 21:12. This money was left with the servant, not to exchange, nor to increase it by any such idle means, but by honest industry and merchandise; but since he was too indolent for that, he ought at least to have loaned it to the exchangers, that his master might have received some benefit from it.
With usury - With interest, increase, or gain. The word "usury," in our language, has a bad signification, meaning unlawful or exorbitant interest. This was contrary to the law, Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36. The original means "gain," increase, or lawful interest.
28Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
29For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
For unto every one that hath shall be given - See the notes at Matthew 13:12. This seems to be a proverbial expression. It means, whosoever rightly improves what is committed to him shall receive more, or shall be rewarded; but he that misimproves what is committed to him shall not be rewarded. In pecuniary matters in the literal sense of this parable they who improve their money by industry or merchandise increase it. They who do not who are indolent or vicious lose what they did possess, and it goes into the hands of the faithful and industrious. In the spiritual sense of the parable it means that they who are faithful shall be rewarded - not, however, that anything shall be taken from the unfaithful and given to them; and it means also that the unfaithful and indolent shall be taken away from their privileges and punished.
30And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And cast ... - See the notes at Matthew 8:12. The spiritual meaning of the parable may be thus summed up:
1. The servants of God are not all endowed with equal gifts and talents.
2. All, whatever may be their ability, are bound to employ their talents in promoting his honor, and in a proper improvement of them.
3. By employing their talents in a proper manner, they improve and strengthen them.
4. They will be judged according to the improvements which they have made.
5. All sinners look on God as a hard master, and as unreasonable and tyrannical.
6. People will be judged not merely for "doing wrong, but for neglecting to do right."
7. If the servant who kept the talent entire without injuring it, and who returned it to his master as he received it, was nevertheless judged, condemned, and cast away, what must they expect who abuse their talents, destroy by drunkenness and lust the noble faculties conferred on them, and squander the property that might be employed in advancing the interests of morals and religion!
31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
When the Son of man ... - This is in answer to the question which the disciples proposed to Jesus respecting the end of the world, Matthew 24:3. That this refers to the last judgment, and not, as some have supposed, to the destruction of Jerusalem, appears:
1. From the fact that it was in answer to an express inquiry respecting "the end" of the world.
2. "All nations" were to be assembled, which did not take place at the destruction of Jerusalem.
3. A separation was to take place between the righteous and the wicked, which was not done at Jerusalem.
4. The rewards and punishments are declared to be "eternal."
None of these things took place at the destruction of Jerusalem.
In his glory - In his own proper honor. With his glorified body, and as the head and king of the universe, Acts 1:11; Ephesians 1:20-22; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25, 1 Corinthians 15:52.
The throne of his glory - This means, in the language of the Hebrews, his glorious or splendid throne. It is not to be taken literally, as if there would be a material throne or seat for the King of Zion. It expresses the idea that he will come "as a king and judge" to assemble his subjects before him, and to appoint them their rewards.
32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And before him ... - At his coming to judgment the world will be burned up, 2 Peter 3:10, 2 Peter 3:12; Revelation 20:11. The dead in Christ that is, all true Christians - will be raised up from their graves, 1 Thessalonians 4:16. The living will be changed - i. e., will be made like the glorified bodies of those that are raised from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:52-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:17. All the wicked will rise and come forth to judgment, John 5:28-29; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 13:41-42; Revelation 20:13. Then shall the world be judged, the righteous saved, and the wicked punished.
And he shall separate ... - Shall determine respecting their character, and shall appoint them their doom accordingly.
33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Shall set the sheep ... - By "the sheep" are denoted, here, the righteous. The name is given to them because the sheep is an emblem of innocence and harmlessness. See John 10:7, John 10:14-16, John 10:27; Psalm 100:3; Psalm 74:1; Psalm 23:1-6.
On the right hand - The right hand is the place of honor, and denotes the situation of those who are honored, or those who are virtuous. See Ecclesiastes 10:2; Ephesians 1:20; Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:25, Acts 2:33.
The goats - The wicked. See Ezekiel 34:17.
The left - That is, the left hand. This was the place of dishonor, denoting condemnation. See Ecclesiastes 10:2.
34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
The King - That is, the Lord Jesus, the King of Zion and of the universe, now acting as Judge, Luke 19:38; John 18:37; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16.
Blessed of my Father - Made happy or raised to felicity by my Father. See the notes at Matthew 5:3.
Inherit the kingdom - Receive "as heirs" the kingdom, or be received there as the sons of God. Christians are often called heirs of God, Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:6-7; Hebrews 1:14; 1 John 3:2.
Prepared for you ... - That is, "designed" for you, or appointed for you. The phrase "from the foundation of the world" is used to denote that this was appointed for them in the beginning; that God has no new plan; that the rewards which he will now confer on them he always intended to confer. Christ says to the righteous that the kingdom was prepared for "them." Of course, God meant to confer it on "them." They were individuals, and it follows that He intended to bestow His salvation on them as individuals. Accordingly, the salvation of His people is universally represented as the result of the free gift of God, according to His own pleasure, bestowed on individuals, and by a plan which is eternal, Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; John 6:37. This is right and consistent with justice; because:
1. All people are by nature equally undeserving.
2. Bestowing favors on one does not do injustice to another, where neither deserves favor. Pardoning one criminal is not injuring another. Bestowing great talents on Locke, Newton, or Paul did not injure me.
3. If it is right for God to give eternal life to his people, or to admit them to heaven, it was right to "determine" to do it, which is but another way of saying that God resolved from all eternity to "do right."
4. Those who perish choose the paths which lead to death, and will not be saved by the merits of Jesus. No blame can be charged on God if he does not save them against their will, John 5:40; Mark 16:15-16.
35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
I was an hungered - The union between Christ and his people is the most tender and endearing of all connections. It is represented by the closest unions of which we have knowledge, John 15:4-6; Ephesians 5:23-32; 1 Corinthians 6:15. This is a union - not physical, but moral; a union of feelings, interests, plans, destiny; or, in other words, he and his people have similar feelings, love the same objects, share the same trials, and inherit the same blessedness, John 14:19; Revelation 3:5, Revelation 3:21; Romans 8:17. Hence, he considers favors shown to his people as shown to himself, and will reward them accordingly, Matthew 10:40, Matthew 10:42. They show attachment to him, and love to his cause. By showing kindness to the poor, the needy, and the sick, they show that they possess his spirit, for he did it when on earth; they evince attachment to him, for he was poor and needy; and they show that they have the proper spirit to outfit them for heaven, 1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:17; James 2:1-5; Mark 9:41.
Was a stranger - The word "stranger" means a foreigner or traveler; in our language, one unknown to us. To receive such to the rites of hospitality was, in Eastern countries, where there were few or no public houses, a great virtue. See Genesis 18:1-8; Hebrews 8:2.
Took me in - Into your house. Received me kindly.
Naked - Poorly clothed. Among the Jews they were called "naked" who were clad in poor raiment, or who had on only the "tunic" or inner garment, without any outer garment. See the Matthew 5:40 note; also Acts 19:16 note; Mark 14:51-52 notes; Job 22:6 note; Isaiah 58:7 note.
36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
Then shall the righteous ... - This answer is indicative of humility - a deep sense of their being unworthy such commendation. They will feel that their poor acts of kindness have come so far short of what they should have been that they have no claim to praise or reward. It is not, however, to be supposed that in the day of judgment this will be actually "said" by the righteous, but that this would be a proper expression of their feelings.
38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
One of the least of these - One of the obscurest, the least known, the poorest, the most despised and afflicted.
My brethren - Either those who are Christians, whom he condescends to call brethren, or those who are afflicted, poor, and persecuted, who are his brethren and companions in suffering, and who suffer as he did on earth. See Hebrews 2:11; Matthew 12:50. How great is the condescension and kindness of the Judge of the world, thus to reward our actions, and to consider what we have done to the poor as done to him!
41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
On the left hand - The wicked.
Ye cursed - That is, you who are devoted to destruction, whose characters deserve everlasting punishment, and who are about to enter into it. "To curse" is the opposite of "to bless." It implies a negation of all the blessings of heaven, and a positive infliction of eternal sufferings.
Everlasting fire - "Fire," here, is used to denote punishment. The image is employed to express extreme suffering, as a death by burning is one of the most horrible that can be conceived. The image was taken, probably, from the fires burning in the Valley of Hinnom. See the notes at Matthew 5:22. It has been asked whether the wicked will be burned in literal fire, and the common impression has been that they will be. Respecting that, however, it is to be observed:
1. that the main truth intended to be taught refers not to the manner of suffering, but to the certainty and intensity of it.
2. that the design, therefore, was to present an image of terrific and appalling suffering - an image well represented by fire
3. that this image was well known to the Jews Isaiah 66:24, and therefore expressed the idea in a very strong manner.
4. that all the truth that Christ intended to convey appears to be expressed in the certainty, intensity, and eternity of future torment.
5. that there is no distinct affirmation respecting the mode of that punishment, where the mode was the subject of discourse.
6. that to us it is a subject of comparatively little consequence what will be the mode of punishment.
The fact that the wicked will be eternally punished, cursed of God, should awe every spirit, and lead every man to strive most earnestly to secure his salvation. As, however, the "body" will be raised, it is not unreasonable to suppose that a mode of punishment will be adopted suited to the body - perhaps bearing some analogy to suffering here, in its various forms of flames, and racks, and cold, and heat, and disease, and ungratified desire, and remorse - perhaps the concentration of all earthly woes, all that makes man miserable here, poured upon the naked body and spirit of the wicked in hell forever and ever.
Prepared for the devil - The devil is the prince of evil spirits. This place of punishment was suited for him when he rebelled against God, Jde 1:6; Revelation 12:8-9.
His angels - His messengers, his servants, or those angels that he drew off from heaven by his rebellion, and whom he has employed as his "messengers" to do evil. The word may extend also to all his followers - fallen angels or people. There is a remarkable difference between the manner in which the righteous will be addressed, and the wicked. Christ will say to the one that the kingdom was prepared for them; to the other, that the fire was not prepared for "them," but for another race of beings. they will inherit it because they have the same character "as the devil," and are therefore suited to the same place - not because it was originally "prepared for them."
42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
Inasmuch as ye did it not ... - By not doing good to the "followers" of Christ, they showed that they had no real love to Him. By not doing good to the poor and needy, to the stranger and the prisoner, they showed that they had not his spirit, and were not like him, and were unfit for his kingdom. Let it be observed here that the public ground of their condemnation is the neglect of duty, or because "they did it not." We are not to suppose that they will not also be condemned for their open and positive sins. See Romans 2:9; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5-6; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Revelation 21:8; Psalm 9:17. But their neglect of doing good to him and his people may be the "public" reason of condemning them:
1. Because he wished to give pre-eminence to those virtues, to excite his followers to do them.
2. People should be punished for neglect as well as for positive sin. Sin is a violation of the law, or refusing to do what God commands.
3. Nothing better shows the true state of the heart than the proper performance of those duties, and the true character can be as well tested by neglecting them as by open crimes.
If it is asked how the pagan who never heard of the name of Christ can be justly condemned in this manner, it may be answered:
1. that Christ acknowledges all the poor, and needy, and strangers of every land, as his brethren. See Matthew 25:40.
2. that by neglecting the duties of charity they show that they have not his spirit are not like him.
3. that these duties are clearly made known by conscience and by the light of nature, as well as by revelation, and people may therefore be condemned for the neglect of them.
4. that they are not condemned for not believing in Christ, of whom they have not heard, but for a wrong spirit, neglect of duty, open crime; for being unlike Christ, and therefore unfit for heaven.
One of the least of these - These on my right hand. My brethren. Those who are saved.
46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
And these shall go away - These "persons." Many, holding the doctrine of universal salvation have contended that God would punish sin only. Christ says that "those on his left hand," shall go away - not "sins," but "sinners." Besides, sin, as an abstract thing, cannot be punished. Sin is nothing but an "act" - the act of a transgressor, and, to be reached at all, it must be reached by punishing the offender himself.
Into everlasting punishment - The original word translated here as "punishment" means torment, or suffering inflicted for crime. The noun is used but in one other place in the New Testament - 1 John 4:18; "Fear hath 'torment.'" The verb from which the noun is derived is twice used - Acts 4:21; 2 Peter 2:9. In all these places it denotes anguish, suffering, punishment. It does not mean simply a "state or condition," but absolute, positive suffering; and if this word does not teach it, no word "could" express the idea that the wicked would suffer. It has been contended that the sufferings of the wicked will not be eternal or without end. It is not the purpose of these notes to enter into debates of that kind further than to ascertain the meaning of the language used by the sacred writers. In regard to the meaning of the word "everlasting" in this place, it is to be observed:
1. that the literal meaning of the word expresses absolute eternity - "always belong," Matthew 18:8; Matthew 19:16; Mark 3:29; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 5:9.
2. that the obvious and plain interpretation of the word demands this signification in this place. The original word - αἰώνιον aionion - is employed in the New Testament 66 times. Of these, in 51 instances it is used of the happiness of the righteous; in two, of God's existence; in six, of the church and the Messiah's kingdom; and in the remaining seven, of the future punishment of the wicked. If in these seven instances we attach to the word the idea of limited duration, consistency requires that the same idea of limited duration should be given it in the 51 cases of its application to the future glory of the righteous, and the two instances of its application to God's existence, and the six eases of its appropriation to the future reign of the Messiah and the glory and perpetuity of the church. But no one will presume to deny that in these instances it denotes unlimited duration, and therefore, in accordance with the sound laws of interpretation and of language itself, the same sense of unlimited duration must be given it when used of future punishment - Owen, in loc.
3. that, admitting that it was the Saviour's design always to teach this doctrine, this would be "the very word" to express it; and if this does not teach it, it could not be taught.
4. that it is not taught in any plainer manner in any confession of faith on the globe; and if this may be explained away, all those may be.
5. that our Saviour knew that this would be so understood by nine-tenths of the world; and if he did not mean to teach it, he has knowingly led them into error, and his honesty cannot be vindicated.
6. that he knew that the doctrine was calculated to produce "fear and terror;" and if he was benevolent, and actually used language calculated to produce this fear and terror, his conduct cannot be vindicated in exciting unnecessary alarms.
7. that the word used here is the same in the original as that used to express the eternal life of the righteous; if one can be proved to be limited in duration, the other can by the same arguments. "The proof that the righteous will be happy forever is precisely the same, and no other, than that the wicked will, be miserable forever."
8. that it is confirmed by many other passages of Scripture, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Luke 16:26; Revelation 14:11; Psalm 9:17; Isaiah 33:14; Mark 16:16; John 3:36.
Life eternal - Man by sin has plunged himself into death, temporal, spiritual, eternal. Christ, by coming and dying, has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light, 2 Timothy 1:10. "Life" is the opposite of death. It denotes, here, freedom from death, and positive holiness and happiness forever.