As the Lord sat with some of the disciples in the twilight on the Mount of Olives, looking down upon Jerusalem, He spoke three parables.
He told them about ten virgins who were waiting to meet a bridegroom as he brought home his bride to the marriage supper. For it was the custom in that country for the bride to be brought with rejoicing to the bridegroom's house, and many friends joined the glad procession. In the parable it was at night, and the virgins had their lamps. The lamps most commonly used were little earthen saucers, covered over except a hole near the middle where the oil was poured in and a hole at one end where the wick was lighted. They burned olive oil. Let me read you the story, and you will see why some of the virgins are called wise and some foolish. (Matthew 25:1-13)
What does the parable mean? The first line tells us that it is a lesson of the kingdom of heaven. You will see that the marriage feast means heaven, and verse 13 makes it plain that the coming of the bridegroom is the coming of the Lord, as He comes for each one of us and calls us to the other world. But some are ready and able to go in to the marriage and some are not. They have no oil. What can it mean; empty lamps, no oil? What is the oil which is so necessary for heaven? The oil of love to the Lord and one another. If we do not gain it in this world, shall we be able to gain it when we die?
Another parable was about a man who traveled into a far country, and before leaving home gave money to his servants to make use of until he came back again. A talent was a great sum of money. To one servant he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; for he knew what amount each one was able to make good use of. And what did the servants do with the money? What could they tell their master when, after a long time, he came back and reckoned with them? Listen and I will read you this story. (Verses 14-30) As you hear the story you will see that the master in the parable is the Lord, and that we are the servants who have abilities of many kinds entrusted to us to use. The talent was a weight of silver equal to more than a thousand dollars. It is from this parable that all abilities are called talents.
Plainly all talents are given us to use for the Lord, and not to be kept idle. What happens to talents that are well used, as knowledge or strength or skill of any kind? They increase, and faithful use of them prepares us for still larger uses in the other world. And what becomes of knowledge and other talents if we do not use them? We forget the knowledge, we lose the ability, in the other world if not in this. In heaven knowledge and all good things are given only to those who will use them well.
The other story is about a shepherd with his sheep and goats. This story explains itself as it goes along. It says plainly that the shepherd is the Lord. Do you know a Psalm which calls the Lord a shepherd? And in the Psalm who are the sheep that He leads in green pastures and beside still waters, and protects with His rod and staff? Often sheep and goats follow the same shepherd, the sheep feeding in the softer grass in the valley and the goats climbing the rocky hillside. In the story we think of the shepherd coming at evening to the fold and separating the sheep from the goats, each to go to their own place for the night. So the Lord separates us when we go to the other world. The story tells us who the two kinds of people are. They are those who have done good, kind things and loved to do them, and those who have not done good, kind things, or have done them only for show. See, as I read the story, which kind of people are called sheep, and which are called goats. You will see, too, which kind the Lord wishes us to be, and which can live in heaven. (Verses 31-46)
1. What were the ten virgins waiting for? Why could some go in to the feast and others not? What is the oil that we must have, to be ready for heaven?
2. What did the man give to his servants before taking his journey? What did he expect them to do with it?
3. What will become of knowledge that we do not make use of?
4. Who are meant by the sheep in the parable, and who by the goats? When are they separated?
5. How can we do any good, kind thing to the Lord?
The chapter is made up of three lessons of the judgment: the parables of the oil, and of the talents, and the lesson of the sheep and goats, which is hardly a parable, but a picture full of beautiful representatives. Each relates particularly to one element of character: Oil is the type of love, the silver talent is the type of knowledge, and the story of the sheep and goats relates to works, and shows the difference between works that prepare for heaven and those that do not. The meaning of each parable has been in a general way suggested. Take each by itself and consider a few particulars which will make the lesson more full.
Virgins represent those who love truth and desire to live from the Lord. (R.620) Here the ten virgins represent those who are really in this desire and also those who only appear to be in it. The oil is the love of the Lord and goodness. The lamps and vessels represent the outward forms of faith and life which should contain and express the love. The sleeping of all describes the dullness of our spiritual faculties in this life. The inability to borrow oil or to buy it in time to enter with the bridegroom suggests the impossibility after death of gaining a heavenly love if we have not gained it in life in this world; one cannot live and love for another. The closing of the door and the refusal of the bridegroom express no unwillingness of the Lord to give the joys of heaven, but the impossibility of enjoying heaven if the love of heaven is not in the heart. We know neither the day nor the hour when the Lord will come for each one. If the life of heaven is within our natural life, we are watchful and always ready. (E. 675; R. 158; A. 4635-4638)
The traveling of the man into a far country describes the Lord's seeming remoteness, in order that we may be free in serving Him. The silver committed to each one represents strictly the spiritual knowledge which the Lord gives to each one of us to use. The five talents and two talents describe different qualities of knowledge, the five meaning knowledge received in an innocent, childlike way, and the two, knowledge received in a more intellectual, youthful way. Each sum was doubled, which suggests the adding to each knowledge its appropriate goodness as it is faithfully used. The one talent means knowledge which remains alone; it is not used and is not joined with goodness. The words to the servant with one talent show that we ought to use the knowledge that is given us, even if it seems a hard duty and the Lord severe. Blessing will follow. Knowledge that is not used is not remembered in the other world. The giving of the one talent to him who had ten, suggests, among other things, that even from a bad person one may learn a truth and put it to good use. (E. 675 A. 7770; P. 16, 17)
The nations are gathered for judgment. The word "nations" refers to kinds of human affection, and it is by this that men are judged. Sheep are types of innocent affection; goats in a good sense have a similar meaning, but with this difference, that sheep represent a more tender, loving innocence, and goats innocence of a more intellectual kind. So in a bad sense goats may mean the mere knowledge of good life without genuine goodness. The sheep are on the right hand, for this hand means the power of love in actions, while the left hand means thought without love. The works of charity named represent also works of spiritual charity, of ministry to men's souls. The hungry and thirsty are those who desire goodness and truth. The stranger or sojourner is one who is willing to be instructed. The naked are those who know that they have nothing of goodness and truth. The sick and in prison are those who feel that they are in evil and falsity. The good are called to the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The Lord's purpose for them is realized. The evil also have their place, and the Lord's care attends them, but it is not the fulfillment of His purpose. (A. 4807-4810, 4954-4959, 5063-5071)