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New Wine for the End Times
The Olivetti Discourse
Matthew 24 and 25, often called the Olivetti Discourse, is considered by many as the best place to begin in Scripture when studying the end times. Books like Daniel and Revelation can be difficult to understand because they make use of visions. The interpretation of these visions can be very difficult, even when hints to the interpretation is given to Daniel by the angel and recorded in the book along with the vision. In stark contrast, the words of Jesus in the Olivetti Discourse come across as very straightforward and easy to understand.
Yet there is still a lot of debate with regard to the Olivetti Discourse. Thus, even the very basic starting point in the study of eschatology would seem to be riddled with disagreement. Many people want to stick with the Sermon on the Mount or Paul's letters and avoid any discussion about eschatology or the end times. But what if eschatology is the key to the proper understanding of the rest of Scripture? At this point most Christians would simply roll their eyes. In most any systematic theology text book, the chapter on eschatology is the last chapter in the book. Seminaries tend to have only one class on eschatology. And most preachers tend to avoid eschatology like the plague. The preachers who will talk about eschatology tend to only be dispensationalists. So those in the churches who are taught eschatology tend to get only one side of the debates.
The most important aspect of properly interpreting Scripture is to carefully consider context. Everyone knows how any writing, or even something verbally stated, can easily appear to have a very different meaning when it's taken out of context. Statements taken out of context have often been used to mislead the audience. But we tend to think of context as simply a broader view of the text we are reading. We try to not take a specific verse out of context. But can context also be culture? Can the context of New Testament Scripture be the Old Testament? After all, the Old Testament was their Bible. We should consider the words of Jesus and the disciples in the context of their own Bible.
To illustrate, consider the following true story. A Muslim lady asked my mother why we call Jesus "the lamb of God." Do we consider Jesus to be an animal? This was a good opportunity for my mother to explain a very important Christian teaching. If I say to a Christian that Jesus is "the lamb of God", it is understood that I'm not insulting Jesus by saying that he is an animal. But this is understood only because of the context of Scriptural background. Scriptural background can dramatically change what is being said. Likewise, if we do not consider Old Testament Scriptural context when reading the New Testament, we can dramatically misinterpret the words of Jesus and his disciples, including Paul.
Some will argue that Paul was not speaking to Jews but was speaking to Gentiles. Thus, Old Testament context should not matter when interpreting the words of Paul. However, Paul was a Pharisee. He would have taught the churches that he started from his own background as a Pharisee. We do not have this original teaching. All we have are letters that he wrote to these churches after they had been taught. So again, our only hope of truly understanding Paul is to interpret his words in the context of the Old Testament.
Others argue that the New Testament is a New Covenant and has thus vastly changed. It's also argued that the Old Testament was not properly understood by the Jews. Thus, it is argued that "the Old Testament is reinterpreted in the light of the New Testament." It's true that many things changed under the New Covenant. But even the New Covenant was originally prophesied in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:31). Things like circumcision, animal sacrifice, attending religious festivals, and dietary laws were explicitly changed in the New Testament. But we should still interpret the New Testament in the context of the Old Testament.
The biggest area where the New Testament can be misinterpreted because of Old Testament context is in terminology. The term "lamb of God" must be understood in the context of Scripture. Likewise, terms like Hades, the kingdom of God/heaven, inheriting the kingdom, salvation, and grace are all common every-day words that have religious overtones which depend on Scriptural understanding to find their meaning. For example, the word 'grace' literally means 'favor'. But it has religious overtones. The Old Testament must be used in interpreting the meaning of 'grace.' The word 'Hades' literally means 'grave.' But we know from the Old Testament that it's not just a place for the decaying body. It's a place for souls to rest, both the just and the unjust, while they await the resurrection.
Except for the word 'grace," all of these words are terms of eschatology. And they are common terms used in the New Testament. Thus, the culture of the New Testament Jews was very much centered on eschatology. They were looking for the coming Messiah, to establish the earthly Messianic reign, and to free Israel from being ruled by the Romans. Eschatology was by no means secondary in their religious understandings. When we read these terms in the New Testament, the meaning of these terms of eschatology must be interpreted in the context of their Scripture, which is the Old Testament. And if we do not interpret the New Testament in the context of the Old Testament, the misunderstood meanings of these words can vastly distort the meaning of the New Testament just like the meaning of the "lamb of God" would be vastly distorted if not interpreted in the context of Scripture.
Many people will readily agree that the New Testament must be interpreted in the context of the Old Testament. But in practice, we all have the strong tendency to interpret the New Testament in the context of our own traditions. Have you ever wondered why there are so many different denominational differences in what we believe, and yet we all read the same Bible? Why are we all so convinced that the interpretations we grew up with are correct, and the systems of interpretations held by all other Christian groups are incorrect?
Jehovah Witnesses come to the door. And those of us who are more familiar with Scripture invite them in so that we can show them why they are in error. But these discussions about Scripture never lead a Jehovah Witness to question what they believe. That's because they are reading Scripture in the context of what they have been taught, and we read Scripture in the context of what we have been taught. Each is very convinced of our interpretation because each spends a vast amount of time studying Scripture. Each is convinced that the other is in error. That's because everyone tends to read the New Testament in the context of their traditions. And in so doing, they reinforce their own traditional beliefs.
For example, we read the Sermon on the Mount. This is considered to be a very basic teaching of Jesus. And the way this sermon is interpreted is very much like the entire New Testament is interpreted. In the Sermon on the Mount, we read that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, that we certainly will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). So how much righteousness do you need in order to be saved? But is entering the kingdom really the same as salvation?
Based on our tradition, we interpret entering the kingdom of heaven as going to heaven and not hell when we die. But the Jews didn't believe they went to heaven or hell when they died. Our interpretation of “kingdom of heaven” is based on our own traditions. But the Jews would have gotten this term from Daniel. The kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is an earthly kingdom. Then, after interpreting this verse in the wrong context, we get into major disagreements between those who place more emphasis on Paul and salvation by grace alone, as opposed to those who place more emphasis on the words of Jesus and the need for holiness and Lordship or discipleship salvation.
Later in the Sermon on the Mount, we read that few find the narrow gate that leads life while many enter the wide gate that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Since we are reading Scripture in the context of tradition instead of the Old Testament, we again assume Jesus is talking about going to heaven or hell when you die. So we assume that the gate to life is heaven and the gate to destruction is hell. Thus, we assume that destruction is damnation. However, much of the context of the sermon is about possessions and money. We are taught to store our treasures in heaven instead of devoting our lives to the earning of money. We are taught to not constantly worry about food and clothing. Yet even in the context of the sermon itself, we never even consider the possibility that the destruction of the wide gate could literally be the destruction of property. That's how strong tradition influences our interpretations. It's no wonder that there are so many doctrinal systems out there even when we all read the same Bible.
Everyone is very convinced that their interpretation is the only correct interpretation because everyone has answers for all the problematic verses. But people don't seem to realize that all the other doctrinal systems out there also have answers for every verse. The more people become familiar and gain knowledge about how to explain the problematic verses, the more those explanations seem to become obvious and simple to them. But to others outside of those traditions, those explanations seem to be far-fetched. It's very difficult to swallow one's pride, forget one's own traditions, and instead seriously consider how New Testament Jews would have interpreted New Testament Scripture. Remember, the Old Testament was their only Bible.
The New Wine System uses the "grammatical/historical" approach to interpreting Old Testament prophecy. Scripture is interpreted as literally as is reasonable with reasonable use of figurative or symbolic speech only when it's obvious that figurative or symbolic speech was intentionally being used by the author. The New Testament Church, however, is not separated from Old Testament Israel. The Church is grafted into Israel, making the Church be Israel.
This approach to the interpretation of Scripture is the fundamental principle of hermeneutics for the New Wine System. This approach, however, only works when Old Testament Scripture is interpreted in the same way that the original authors and audience would have done. To many this may sound like an obvious statement. But the concept of "reinterpreting the Old Testament in light of the New Testament" will often go as far as interpreting Old Testament eschatology in ways the original authors would have never conceived.
There have been two major approaches for interpreting the Olivetti Discourse, and thus two approaches for interpreting eschatology in general. Unlike the New Wine System, both of these approaches are understood be unimportant with regard to the interpretation of the rest of the New Testament. Thus, eschatology has been the last chapter in a book on systematic theology. First, we will review these two traditional approaches to eschatology using the Olivetti Discourse. Then we will take a new look at the Olivetti Discourse using the New Wine System.
'Preterist' means past fulfillment. The preterist tends to look at prophetic Scripture as having been fulfilled in the first century. The fall of Jerusalem by the Romans, in 70 AD, is seen as fulfillment of the Olivetti Discourse. At this point in time, the Old Covenant is completely passed away to be replaced by the New Covenant. (Old Testament and New Testament means Old Covenant and New Covenant. Some old Bibles were labeled in this way.) Thus, Israel is replaced by the Church. This is very traditional in church history, and is called covenantalism. The doctrine of the Church replacing Israel was the high majority view of both Catholics and Protestants for most of church history, up until dispensationalism began around 1830. The Church is viewed as a continuation of the system of covenants between God and Man. Thus the Church is a continuation of Israel.
The preterist sees prophecy as very allegorical. Almost everything is fulfilled in the first coming of Christ and in the Church. Everything is centered on going to heaven or hell when you die. So there is no need for a Messianic earthly reign of Christ. The Messianic age, a very central theme of Old Testament prophecy, is simply viewed allegorically as the Church age. When Christ returns, we immediately have the general resurrection and then the new heavens and new earth. Since the dead are believed to already be in heaven or hell, the general resurrection is seen as simply the start of eternity, perhaps with better bodies.
Dispensationalism is usually viewed as the opposite of preterism and covenantalism. The dispensationalist is a futurist. Prophecies are interpreted much more literally. There is a literal Messianic earthly reign of Christ. Old Testament prophecies about the Messianic age are interpreted in very much the same way as ancient Jews would have interpreted Scripture.
But dispensationalism was developed relatively late in church history. It was assumed that eschatology does not affect the rest of the New Testament. Thus, the traditional interpretation of the New Testament, as primarily being about going to heaven or hell when you die, was never questioned. Ancient Old Testament Jewish eschatology, on the other hand, is not about going to heaven or hell when you die. In the Old Testament, both the righteous and the wicked go to Sheol. (Sheol means grave and is Hades in the New Testament.) Old Testament Jews believed that both the righteous and the wicked dead are in Hades and await the resurrection. It's about the resurrection of both the just and the unjust, followed by the Messianic earthly reign of the Messiah. In other words, ancient Old Testament Jewish eschatology is not very compatible with the traditional views of the New Testament. So how was this resolved?
How was this conflict resolved without the use of allegory and preterism? Dispensationalists believe the Church is a "parenthesis" between two dispensations of Israel. In other words, God's plan for Israel was put on hold during the age of the Church. Then God returns to his original plan for Israel. This allows the New Testament to be interpreted as being about a separate body of believers. The New Testament can be about Church without being in conflict with Old Testament eschatology. The New Testament is not interpreted in the context of the Old Testament, because it's about a different body of believers.
This "parenthesis" between two dispensations of Israel becomes the primary argument for the pre-tribulation rapture. The time of the great tribulation is seen as a time of transition between the world system of sin and the Messianic age to come. The Church must be removed from the world in order for this transition to take place. Thus, the Church goes to heaven as is traditionally believed. And Israel stays on earth just like Old Testament Jewish eschatology teaches. Of course there have been disagreements among dispensationalists as to whether these two bodies of believers are ever reunited. But the basic problem stems from trying to reconcile two very different systems of eschatology. One system says you go to heaven or hell when you die. The other says the dead are all asleep and await the resurrection. The dead, both the just and the unjust, will be resurrected to live here on the earth.
The New Wine System takes a different approach. The Church does not replace Israel. And prophecy is not interpreted using allegory and past fulfillment. But at the same time, the Church is not a "parenthesis" between two dispensations of Israel. The New Wine System simply allows the interpretation of the New Testament to be affected by Old Testament prophecy. In other words, the New Testament is interpreted in the context of the Old Testament, even if doing so challenges the traditional views of the New Testament. Under the New Wine System, the Gentile Church is grafted into Israel. We become a part of Israel. And Old Testament prophecy is literally fulfilled with all of Israel, both Jewish and Gentile.
The Olivetti Discourse is the best place to start when studying eschatology. The debates between preterists and dispensationalists come about as a result of comparing Matthew's account with Luke's account. Because of their overall similarities, most scholars hold that it's the same discourse. The most noticeable difference in Luke's account is where Jesus says to watch for the armies to surround Jerusalem and to know that its desolation is near. The people are taken as prisoners to all the nations. This obviously happened in 70 AD when Rome destroyed Jerusalem. But in Matthew's account, Jesus says to watch for the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel. Thus, the nature of the abomination of desolation becomes highly debated. If these are actually two accounts of the same discourse, then the abomination of desolation must have occurred in 70 AD.
Matthew 24:15-16 "When, therefore, you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), (16) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Luke 21:20-21 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is at hand. (21) Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let those who are in the midst of her depart. Let those who are in the country not enter therein.
Should the abomination of desolation be considered as fulfilled in 70 AD? Or is the abomination of desolation a future event that will happen just prior to the second coming of Christ? This question is foundational to understanding the difference between the preterist and the futurist. (Preterism means past fulfilment.)
The first camp is preterism. The second camp is futurism. Futurists tend to lean toward a more literal and future interpretation of most Bible prophecy. Some futurists argue that Matthew 24 and Luke 21 represent two different discourses. Or some might say they are the same discourse but fulfilled twice. Some futurists believe that even Luke’s account is strictly fulfilled in the future.
I believe Luke's account to be more about 70 AD. Matthew's and Mark's accounts are primarily focused on the future time just prior to the second coming of Christ. So they are two different discourses. This question becomes even more complex when one considers the question that was asked by the disciples. The entire Olivetti Discourse is in response to this question.
Matthew 24:1-3 Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way. His disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. (2) But he answered them, "You see all of these things, don't you? Most certainly I tell you, there will not be left here one stone on another, that will not be thrown down." (3) As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Did the disciples ask one question or two questions? The disciples asked, "When will these things be?" These things, by context, is the destruction of the temple that occurred in 70 AD. The disciples also asked, "What is the sign of your coming, and the end of the age?" Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples at that time. The destruction of the temple would have been perceived as very apocalyptic. They were assuming that the temple would be destroyed at the end of the age. And they were assuming that Christ would return at that same time.
Preterists argue that the destruction of the temple, or the Romans entering the temple, was the abomination of desolation. However, the disciples would have understood what Jesus meant by the abomination of desolation because they were Jews and observed Hanukkah. This is the celebration of the cleansing of the temple after the abomination of 168 BC. A statue of Zeus was set up by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The book of Maccabees calls the stone structure an abomination. And Daniel 11:31 prophesied the event calling it the abomination of desolation. Jesus was saying that the event of 168 BC will happen again.
The preterist will argue that the end of the age, the abomination of desolation, and the return of Christ did in fact happen in 70 AD. The futurist argues the disciples may have assumed the temple would be destroyed when Christ returns, but that Jesus was really talking about two separate times. But did Jesus intentionally allow the disciples to be deceived in this way? Some preterists go as far as arguing that to be a futurist is to require that Jesus lied to the disciples.
Another perceived problem is Jesus' statement, "This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." This statement is given in both Matthew's account and Luke's account. Did all these things happen in the generation of Christ? Full Preterists will quickly point to this verse and say that Jesus has already returned, and that he returned in 70 AD. Futurists generally interpret "this generation" as the generation of the end times. But how can that be logically argued based on the text?
When we read Matthew 24, Jesus tells us to watch for the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel. But when we look at the account in Luke 21, we get the preterist perspective. Instead of the abomination of desolation, it speaks of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, and its desolation being near. Obviously this was fulfilled in 70 AD.
The key to the problem is found in the original question. All of Matthew 24 and 25 was in answer to this question. The disciples were wandering through the temple, looking at the buildings. Jesus had just left the temple. The disciples caught up with him and called his attention to the buildings. Jesus said, "Do you see all these things?" He asked, "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (verse 2, NIV).
The disciples were in culture shock. The temple was the greatest and most important thing they had ever known. Its construction had started before they were born and was still under way. The construction of this temple was not finished until 64 AD, just six years before it was destroyed. From the disciple’s point of view, its destruction must be the end times. The group went up the Mount of Olives. One would think that ask they walked, they were probably speechless.
"As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. 'Tell us,' they said, 'when will all this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'" (verse 3, NIV). "All this,” that would happen, was the destruction of the temple. "Not one stone here will be left on another." This is one question. Another question is, "what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" There are two fulfillments to the prophecy. One is when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The other is when Jesus returns at the end of the age. The prophecy is true about both times. I don't believe the disciples actually understood that they were asking more than one question. But prophecy is prophecy. God's word is God's word. You ask the question, you get the answer to the question(s) you ask.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus gives this speech in private to the disciples, up on the Mount of Olives. If you read Luke’s account, without letting Matthew’s account influence what you read, the speech is given in the temple. Luke’s account was a warning to the people in Jerusalem. Matthew’s account is a private warning to the disciples and the Church.
In Matthew’s account, we are told to watch for the abomination of desolation. In Luke’s account, we are told to watch for the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies. Which one did Jesus say? If both accounts are of the same speech, then we have a problem of Scriptural accuracy. The text does not say, “the abomination of desolation which is the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies.” That’s not what the text says. One text says one thing, and the other text says the other thing. There are other examples of multiple accounts of the same event, as seen by different disciples. But the question of whether he said to watch for the abomination or for the surrounding of Jerusalem is a more than just different perspective of the same event. On the argument of Scriptural inerrancy alone, it must have been two different speeches.
So Matthew’s account must be more about the end time generation. And Luke’s account must be more about the generation of Jesus. In Luke’s account, the statement "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" is our clue that the prophecy skips over time. It skips over the times of the Gentiles. From Luke's perspective, everything before this statement is about the generation of Jesus, and everything after this statement is about the end time generation.
The statement, "this generation shall not pass away," is applied to the adult generation of Jesus, and also to our adult generation today. Israel became a nation again in 1948, right after World War II. The baby boom generation that was born right after World War II had just reached adult age when Israel regained Jerusalem in 1967.
Basically, what we have here is a timeline as follows:
1. The adult generation of Jesus, that didn't pass away before 70 AD.
2. The time of the Gentiles, when Jerusalem would be trampled on by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.
3. The baby-boom generation, born when Israel became a nation (1948), and as adults, saw the Jews regain Jerusalem (1967).
The statement, "This generation shall certainly not pass away until all these things have happened," is applied to both generations! And the time in between both generations is a continuation of the time of the Gentiles and the trampling of Jerusalem. If you were born after World War II, the baby boom generation, you should live long enough to see the return of Christ Jesus.
Many Christians have not studied the details of Matthew 24 and will not always recognize the verse, "When, therefore, you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)" (Matthew 24:15). But the vast majority of all Christians have heard, "No man knows the day or the hour." Dispensationalists use this verse to argue the pre-tribulation rapture, saying that it can happen at any moment. Preterists do not believe in a future great tribulation and reign of the antichrist. So they also believe the return of Christ can happen at any moment. Everyone is quick to argue that any anticipated date for Christ's return would have to be wrong. Yet Daniel seems to give the exact number of days from the abomination of desolation.
Daniel 12:11-12 ESV And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. (12) Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days.
Preterists have various theories for their interpretation of this verse, including some day-is-a-year theories. But the most obvious and straight-forward interpretation is in the context of verse 2, which is about the resurrection. From the abomination of desolation until the resurrection is 1290 days. Of course this is a futurist interpretation. But how does this square with "no man knows the day or the hour?"
Dispensationalists are quick to say that "no man knows" refers to the pre-tribulation rapture. And 1290 days after the abomination of desolation would be post-tribulation. So dispensationalists argue that men will know the day of the post-tribulation resurrection, but not the pre-tribulation rapture. Yet "no man knows" appears only five verses after the post-tribulation appearing of Christ (Matthew 24:31). And the text of Matthew 24 does not mention a pre-tribulation rapture. Thus, dispensationalists have a very big problem with context. "No man knows the day or the hour" of what? Well, Christ's return of course. But the only mention of Christ's return in the passage is post-tribulation. So how is "no man knows" reconciled with the 1290 days of Daniel 12? The answer can clearly be seen when Matthew 24 is interpreted in the context of Daniel 12.
As stated earlier at the start of this chapter, context can dramatically change the meaning of Scripture. Our examination of Matthew 24 in the context of Daniel 12 will illustrate a very big principle of the New Wine System. New Testament Scripture must be interpreted in the context of the Old Testament. The New Wine System is all about the application of Old Testament Jewish eschatology to the New Testament Church. When the New Testament is interpreted in its proper context, all the problems of Scripture which have divided the churches over the centuries simply disappear.
The disciples asked a question: "When will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?" Jesus responds by saying:
Matthew 24:15-16 NIV "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel--let the reader understand-- (16) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
The ESV puts the phrase "let the reader understand" in parenthesis. For this reason, the NIV was used. Most translations make "let the reader understand" be red-letter, indicating that these are words spoken by Christ. At least one translation makes the words black, indicating that Matthew inserted the words as a comment. But Mark has the exact same words in the exact same place. It's unlikely that Matthew and Mark both inserted the exact same comment.
Most people interpret the action that should be done "when you see" as fleeing to the mountains. But the more immediate thing that should occur "when you see" is "let the reader understand." This is generally interpreted like a parenthesis. But I think that's because Daniel 12 is not really taken into account. The Greek word in verse 16 means "then, at that time". In other words, I think Jesus was saying that when we see the abomination then the reader should understand. And, at that time, those in Judea should flee to the mountains. So it's really two things: understanding Daniel and those in Judah fleeing. This means that understanding about a specific thing written in Daniel does not occur until the abomination, or at least until the generation of the end times.
Most people don't think too much about "let the reader understand." Usually it's thought of as understanding of what event really is the abomination. But the problem with this view is that it's not taking into account what the reader is reading. Jesus cannot be talking about reading Matthew, because Matthew had not yet been written when Jesus said these words. He had to have been talking about the reader of Daniel. So we must look to Daniel in order to see what it is we hope to understand. And of course we look in Daniel at the places that talk about the abomination of desolation. In other words, this passage is crying out for being interpreted in context of Daniel.
Generally, at this point, people go to Daniel 9 and point out that the abomination is in the middle of the seven-year period. So they take it no further. But the vision of Daniel 10-12 speaks of the abomination twice. The first, in Daniel 11:31, had already been fulfilled in 168 BC. The disciples would have known about it because they celebrated Hanukkah. It was a statue of Zeus on the temple mount. And in the verse (above) in Matthew 24, Jesus says, "when you see standing in the holy place." So Jesus seems to be asking the disciples to watch for something that they would have understood. They were to watch for a statue on the temple grounds to happen again. This is helpful in understanding that Jesus was thinking more about Daniel 10-12 than Daniel 9. Daniel 11:31 is the only place in Daniel that records the prior abomination of 168 BC. The future occurrence of the abomination, in the very same vision, is in Daniel 12:11. Thus, it becomes clear that the vision of Daniel 10-12 is the vision of Daniel that should primarily serve as context for the interpretation of Matthew 24.
So far, this is probably nothing new. The point here is that we are on the right track of using Daniel 12 as background for Matthew 24. Now let's proceed to do just that. Also, Daniel 12:1 speaks directly about the great tribulation. So again, this chapter has many more parallels to Matthew 24 than does Daniel 9.
Remember that the disciples asked a question, "When will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?" An almost identical question was asked in Daniel 12.
Daniel 12:6 NIV One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, "How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?"
What astonishing things? By context, it's the resurrection of verse 2 and some information about the age to come in verse 3. In other words, when learning about the resurrection, or the second coming of Christ, or the end of the age, the natural question to ask is, "When will it happen?" When the disciples asked the question, Jesus was simply making reference back to Daniel where the same question was asked! And both passages speak of the abomination of desolation as the major sign for which to watch!
But what is it in Daniel that we are to understand? In Daniel, the question was asked and answered! Here is the answer to the question about when in the future the resurrection will happen:
Daniel 12:7 NIV The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, "It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed."
Most people scratch their heads, wondering how this answers the question as to when it will happen. Many theologians have even reinterpreted the question itself, forcing it to be something like how long will it take once it begins. That is done because the "time, times, and half a time" is interpreted as three and a half years. But that's not literally the question. And the literal question is much more what most people want to ask.
Daniel didn't understand the answer to the question. And over the centuries theologians misinterpret both the question and the answer, thinking they understand better than Daniel. Here is Daniel stating that he didn't understand, and the response given to Daniel:
Daniel 12:8-10 NIV I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, "My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?" (9) He replied, "Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. (10) Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.
Daniel was wise, but he didn't understand the answer to the question. He was not supposed to understand the answer. In other words, not even the wise will understand the answer until the time of the end. And the wicked will never understand. Only the wise, at that time, will understand the answer to the question. And the answer is specifically regarding how long it will be, from the time of Daniel, until the resurrection.
But the very next verse gives us the sign. At that point, the wise will know for sure how many days it will be.
Daniel 12:11-12 NIV "From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. (12) Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.
(Yet the previous answer to the question actually does answer the question, telling the wise how long it will be from the time of Daniel. The time, times, and half a time are talking about the millennial week - not three and a half years. And you also have to understand verse 3 to see that "these astonishing things" includes the entire 1000-year reign. The power of the holy people is not broken until the 1000-year reign comes to a close.)
So, by context, the resurrection is 1290 days from the abomination. (The rapture is 45 days later because those who are alive have to "wait for and reach" the end of the 1335 days. But those who are dead don't have to wait.)
So the wise will know the day of the resurrection when they see the abomination. Again, Jesus said, "When you see the abomination ... let the reader understand." When the wise see the abomination, they will understand the answer to the question. They will know the very date of the resurrection. But the wicked will not know the day or the hour (time) of the resurrection.
Jesus said that not even the angels (currently) know the day or the time. That's because in Daniel, it was an angel that asked the question!
Those who unknowingly change the verb tense, and interpret Jesus words as "no man [will ever] know the day or the hour" are thus unknowingly putting themselves into the category of the wicked who will never understand the answer to the question asked in Daniel and later by the disciples: "When will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?"
With this contextual background, the parable of the wicked servant becomes much clearer. It's the parable where the wicked servant does not know the day or the hour when the thief in the night comes.
Also, this is where Jesus gets the terms, "wise" and "wicked" in the Olivetti Discourse of Matthew 24-25. Four parables are given in this same discourse, starting with the thief-in-the-night parable. Some parables use the term "wise" and "foolish". Others use "wise" and "wicked." Is Jesus really substituting "foolish" for "wicked" in some cases? Or can a distinction between "foolish" and "wicked" be understood from the Old Testament context of Daniel 12?
Daniel 12:2-3 ESV And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (3) And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
I switched to ESV here because the NIV uses the word "multitudes" for "many" in verse 2. The NIV is the only translation that does this. In the Hebrew, the word really does mean "many."
Many means not all. Many are raised to life. But not all are raised. Of those who are raised, some are raised to everlasting life. Others are raised to "shame and everlasting contempt.
Young's literal says they are raised to "reproaches--to abhorrence age-during". The Hebrew word for "reproaches" was often used to describe Israel. It's shameful, but forgivable. The Hebrew word for "abhorrence" is used only one other time in the Old Testament. It's in relation to the "worm that does not die", which is a metaphor for staying in the grave. It's not being forgiven. The "abhorrence" is everlasting. However, the "reproaches" is not stated as being everlasting.
Now, let's go back and read verse 3 again. (Back to the NIV):
Daniel 12:3 NIV Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
Those who are wise will shine like the stars. The stars is often used to mean angels, even elsewhere in Daniel. In other words, the wise will have spiritual bodies that can glow like the bodies of angels.
Also, those who are wise lead others to righteousness. The Hebrew word for "wise" also means teacher. Who do they lead to righteousness? Who do they teach? Obviously they teach and lead the others who are resurrected to "reproaches--to abhorrence age-during". During this age to come, some will respond and submit themselves to Christ's reign and the teaching of the wise. Others will not and will wind up eternally in "abhorrence".
Thus, there are three types of people in the grave. Many are resurrected, but not all. The wicked will not be resurrected. (They "come to life" later on, after the age to come, to be cast into the lake of fire.) The wise and the foolish are resurrected. The wise will lead the foolish to righteousness. This winds up shedding lots of light on the parables of Jesus about the wise, the foolish, and the wicked. And it shows how the parables are grossly misinterpreted since they are not put into the context of the Old Testament.
Jesus also uses the term "foolish" in other places like the Sermon on the Mount. So the Sermon on the Mount is also grossly misinterpreted because of not understanding the context of Old Testament Jewish eschatology.
Jesus said that no one knows the day or the time (hour). In other words, the answer to the question was still sealed. But the wise reader of Daniel will understand at the time of the end. The wise reader of Daniel will know the very day of the resurrection when we see the abomination. It is 1290 days later (Daniel 12:11). We will be able to mark it on the calendar.
Jesus is not saying that no one will ever know. That's a different verb tense. He is just saying that no one knew at that time. The Greek word for "no one knows" only speaks of the past. Nothing is being said about the future. Here is Young's Literal Translation of the verse:
Matthew 24:36 YLT And concerning that day and the hour no one hath known -- not even the messengers of the heavens -- except my Father only;
Jesus said not even the angels knew the day. This comes from the fact that it was an angel who asked the question in Daniel 12. The wicked will not know of the day or the time (hour) but the wise will know when the day will come before it happens.
What about knowing the hour? Most likely Jesus was not speaking about a 60-minute hour. The terms “day and hour,” in English, are usually seen as the specific hour of a specific day. But the point Jesus is making is that no one, at that time, knew the answer to the question. Not even Christ, at that time, knew when He would return. (He probably does know now.) The Greek word “hour” often means a time, not the hour of a specific day. For example, in John 2:4, Jesus said “My hour has not yet come.” It’s the same Greek word. Jesus was saying the time for his ministry had not yet come. The NIV translates the same verse as “My time has not yet come.” Likewise, Matthew 24:36 could be translated as, “But no one hath known of that day and time , not even the angels.”
The 1290 days prior to the resurrection can be considered as the “time” of Christ’s return. It fits the context because in verses 15-29 Jesus speaks of the time of great tribulation. It’s this entire time-period, of which he has spoken, that is in answer to the disciples’ question. It’s the entire time-period of the great tribulation that no one hath known when will come. The unknown day is the day Christ will appear in the clouds. The unknown hour is the time-period which precedes that day. When we see the time of the great tribulation, we will also know the day of the resurrection. It will be 1290 days after the “abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” (verse 15 of this chapter and Daniel 12:11).
Daniel 12:11 ESV
Matthew 24:21 NKJV
Matthew 24:36 NKJV
An angel asked the question.
Matthew 24:42 NKJV
Right now, neither the wise nor the wicked know the time of Christ's return. So we are told to watch and get ready. All generations are to expect the soon return of Christ in their lifetimes. But the wise know from Scripture that the great tribulation comes first. When Christians are persecuted, we tend to either abandon the faith, or we mature to the point where even our very lives are as nothing compared to our [agape] love of Christ. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:9). Not all generations are persecuted. If, however, we hope and expect Christ to return in our lifetimes, yet we know that great tribulation must come first, we can mature in Christ, even without the great tribulation. As a matter of fact, we must mature before the great tribulation comes, or we may not be able to endure to the end. In this same context, Jesus says that those who endure to the end of the great tribulation will be saved (Mark 13:13).
Expectation of great tribulation helps us mature in Christ by pointing us to obedience. Doing the work of the Father is another way to mature. Spending lots of time in prayer with the Father, praying for holiness, also helps bring maturity in Christ. But most Christians today miss out on the blessing of reading Revelation (Revelation 1:1-3), and taking it to heart. Most Christians today believe they will either skip over the events of Revelation, or they water it down by saying the events of Revelation are only symbolic of tribulation in all generations.
After giving the signs of his return, Jesus tells four parables that relate to his coming and the end of the age. First, Jesus tells us a parable about the thief in the night. The wise servant feeds his fellow servants at the proper time. The wise are mature in Christ. They have an [agape] love for Christ, and walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:9). They feed others by leading them in the ways of Christ Jesus and helping them mature. Jesus says that when he returns, the wise servant will be put in charge of all his possessions.
This strongly implies that there are others who are not wise. But they are not wicked either. Being put in charge of all Christ’s possessions is the same as being put in charge of Christ's cities (Luke 19:17-19). The wise will lead many to righteousness. Right now, the wise don't know the day of Christ’s return. But we mature in Christ anyway. Those who mature in Christ now will have a great advantage over those who try and mature when the great tribulation arrives.
Then there is the wicked servant. He mistreats his fellow servants. He appears to be a leader in Christ's household. But he distorts Christ's teaching for his own benefit. The wicked will not understand the answer to the question. The wicked servant will not know the day even at the time of the end (Matthew 24:42-44, 50, Daniel 12:10). The wicked servant is assigned a place with the hypocrites (Matthew 24:51). Jesus considered the Pharisees and teachers of the law to be hypocrites. They proclaimed to know God, but they denied the very works of God’s miracles. They are therefore considered wicked.
Thus, Jesus is comparing the wicked servants during the entire Church age with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He is saying that these leaders of both covenants use religion for their own benefits. They might understand some of God’s truths. But their selfish motivations get in the way.
Throughout Church history, starting with the Gnostics, there have been wicked servants who have distorted Christ’s teaching for their own selfish benefit. The wicked servant thinks that he knows Christ. He thinks he will be saved. But he will have the same fate as some of the Pharisees who knew that Jesus is the Christ because of the miracles, yet they plotted to kill him. Those who have been given an undeniable understanding of God’s revelations, yet in their hardened hearts have rejected Christ’s Lordship over their lives, commit the unpardonable sin. They will not be resurrected when Christ returns. It’s all about a hardened heart so that you no longer hear Christ’s voice. The wicked servant knew his Master was coming. Yet he beat his fellow servants.
This parable of the wise and wicked servant teaches that we must be ready, because we don’t know when Christ will return. A careful examination of the parable, however, shows that it’s the wicked servant that will not know the day or the time (verse 50). This is consistent with Daniel 12:8-11, in which it’s only the wicked who will not understand when the time of the end comes. The wise will understand the answer to the question. The wise will know that the resurrection is 1290 days after the abomination of desolation (Daniel 12:11).
Getting ready for Christ to return is not simply a matter of professing faith in Christ for salvation. One can be saved, yet not be ready for Christ to return. The wise are ready, but the foolish are not. Getting ready for Christ to return involves overcoming sin and doing Christ’s work to further the Kingdom. (This can be seen in the parables that follow.) Getting ready involves becoming wise in Christ. We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ.
In this same parable, Christ’s return is compared to a thief who comes in the night (Matthew 24:43). We will go through each of the uses of this symbol and see that the context of this symbol always echoes back to the parable’s teachings. It’s the wicked who will not know the day and time when Christ returns.
Knowing the day, for the wise, is equivalent to being ready for Christ to return. Being ready for Christ to return involves becoming wise, and not foolish. It’s not just about professing Christ as Savior. It’s about overcoming sin and being a full-fledged servant, doing the will of the Father, no matter the cost.
Also, we must keep in mind that Christ returns as a thief in the night only once. We must remember the context of this parable. Notice that the master of the house (Christ) returns like a thief during an unknown hour in the night.
Matthew 24:42-44 NKJV Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. (43) But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. (44) Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Read the start of this parable carefully. Clearly, it’s about the second coming of Christ. By the context of the passage, does the second coming of Christ happen at a “secret” time before the great tribulation? Or does the coming of Christ happen immediately following the great tribulation? The only coming of Christ that’s mentioned in the context of this parable is the coming after the great tribulation. Just a few verses before this parable we read:
Matthew 24:27-31 NKJV For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (28) For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (29) " Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (30) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (31) And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
This is the only coming of Christ that is mentioned in the context. Therefore, the coming of Christ which is after the tribulation must be Christ’s return as a thief in the night. The symbolism of a thief is not talking about an unknown time for the wise servant. It’s taking about an unknown time for the wicked.
The wicked, even the wicked servants in the churches, will miss the signs and will not know when the great tribulation is underway. That's because it's not going to be great tribulation for the world. For the world, it will be a time of "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage," (verse 39), like the days of Noah before the flood. It's great tribulation for the true Church. The wicked, even in the churches, will wind up being part of the world, and will also be "eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage." They, like the rest of the world, will be surprised at the coming destruction.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 - 5:4 NKJV (4:16) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (4:17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (4:18) Therefore comfort one another with these words. (5:1) But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. (5:2) For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. (5:3) For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. (5:4) But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.
The wise are not in darkness, that the day should surprise us like a thief. Notice that Paul speaks of Christ returning as a thief in the night in the same context as the rapture verse, which is about Christ returning in the clouds with the angels, the trumpet sounding, and our being gathered to him. This is a very similar description that we read in Matthew 24:27-31. Paul makes it clear that it’s not the righteous that will be caught unaware. It’s the people of the world who will be saying “peace and security.” And Jesus said the same thing about the unknown day and time. He said it would be like the days of Noah. The world did not know when the rains would come. But Noah and his family (the wise) knew the day and time when the sudden destruction that would come. They went into the ark before the rains began.
Matthew 24:36-39 NKJV "But of that day and hour [time] no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. (37) But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (38) For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, (39) and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
When does Christ return as a thief in the night? As we have shown, it’s not a “secret” coming before the great tribulation. This is verified by the following use of the thief in the night symbolism:
Revelation 16:15-16 NKJV "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame." (16) And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.
This verse is after the sixth bowl of wrath, before Armageddon. As Matthew 24 teaches, Christ returns as a thief in the night (verses 42-44) after the great tribulation of those days (verse 27-31).
Here is an earlier use of the thief in the night symbolism in Revelation. This is written to one of the seven churches in Revelation.
Revelation 3:3 NKJV Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour [time] I will come upon you.
The Greek word used here for “watch” is the same Greek word used for “watch” in Matthew 24.
Here again we see that watching and being ready is not about simply being saved. It’s about holiness. Those who become wise, and not foolish, through maturity in Christ, are those who will not be caught by surprise at Christ’s return. Christ is saying this to Christians, at churches, who have already professed faith in Christ for salvation. For those who remain foolish and do not repent, Christ will return as a thief in the night. Does this mean they lose their salvation? No, but as the following parable shows, they will not get into the wedding banquet. Jesus told this parable right after he told the thief in the night parable.
After the parable of the wise or wicked servant, Jesus tells us the parable of the ten virgins. The five virgins are wise and five are foolish. Notice that the foolish are not wicked. They are simply foolish. All ten wait for the bridegroom. All ten are asleep when the bridegroom arrives. But only the wise are “ready” to enter the wedding banquet. From the overall context of these two chapters, to be "ready" means you are mature in Christ. The wise walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:9), and are able to enter the wedding banquet with their glorified bodies. The wise have an [agape] love for Christ. Only the wise are gathered into the clouds, at the rapture after the tribulation.
Traditionally, this parable has been associated with salvation. Many believe that only the wise virgins are saved. But in order to make this case, one would have to show why salvation is determined by the amount of oil that one has. The amount of oil is the only difference mentioned between the wise and the foolish. It’s not a matter of being asleep when Christ returns. Both groups are asleep when the bridegroom comes. The foolish have some oil, because their lamps are burning. But they do not have enough oil. The question then is, what does the oil represent? How much is needed?
If one believes the parable is about salvation, and if the oil represents faith in Christ, then one would have to ask how much faith is required for salvation. Again, the foolish have oil, but not enough. If the oil represents works, then those who believe the parable is about salvation would have to say that salvation is by works. The parable simply does not fit our doctrine of salvation by grace through faith.
Or, one might believe the oil is holiness. Again, how much holiness is required for salvation? How much oil is needed for salvation? No matter how you interpret the oil, it must be something that comes in various quantities or amounts. If salvation is a free gift, the amount of oil that we have cannot be a measure of whether or not one is saved.
The better approach is to realize that the parable is not about whether or not we will be resurrected (saved from death). The parable is only about getting into the wedding banquet. The oil is the Holy Spirit. We are the light of the world. The oil of the Holy Spirit lights our lamps. As we do the works our Father gives us, we are filled more and more with the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that our light can shine. We need the Holy Spirit in order to do the Father’s works. Otherwise, we are simply doing our own works. Doing the Father’s works brings us a deeper filling of the Holy Spirit, which brings about holiness. In other words, one very effective way to overcome sin is to do the works the Father has given us to do.
Those who make a continual practice of doing the Father’s works are the elect. They are the saints. Those who are caught up in our day-to-day activities, required of us by the world we live in, are the foolish virgins. They will be saved because they believe in Christ to save them. And they do some works, and receive some of the oil of the Holy Spirit. But when Christ returns, they will not have enough. This oil is something the foolish will not be able to ask the wise to give them. It’s not that their works are payment for getting into the wedding banquet. It’s that the works produce holiness in us because we get filled with the Holy Spirit. We must be “completely sanctified” (1 Thess. 3:13, 5:23) by the time of Christ’s return in order to get into the wedding banquet.
Salvation is a free gift. But to inherit the kingdom requires a lot of work. A lot of oil is required to inherit the kingdom. That’s why in the parable, the wise say the foolish must go to the market to buy more oil. No, we can’t literally buy the Holy Spirit with money. We can’t buy holiness with money. And we certainly can’t buy salvation. But we can do the works of holiness. Just as we work for money, we work to get holy. These must be works that we do out of joy, because we love the Father and we love our neighbors. Doing the Father’s work brings the Holy Spirit to help. As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we overcome sin. Doing the Father’s work causes us to overcome sin and to become holy. Therefore, the parable depicts the oil as costing money.
The wise are the elect. The wise are the saints. But the foolish are still saved. The foolish virgins wait for the bridegroom. They have called on the name of the Lord to save them. They believe in Christ. They believe that Christ was raised from the dead. And they confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord. Hence, they are saved (Romans 10:9). But they don't get into the wedding banquet. They are saved, but they are not saints. They do not inherit the kingdom.
Jesus tells the foolish, "I don't know you. Watch therefore, for you don't know the day nor the hour [time]" (Matthew 25:12-13 ESV). This is not to say they go to hell. That’s simply an assumption that has been made out of the belief that death is the end of the journey, sealing his or her fate. For Christ to say, “I never knew you,” is simply to say you have not developed a discipleship relationship with Christ, to become like Christ. He knows us as we get to know Him.
Matthew 7:21-23 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) Many will tell me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?' (23) Then I will tell them, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.'
This is another case where Jesus said, “I never knew you.” Those who will say “Lord, Lord” are foolish virgins. These ministers prophecy in Christ’s name. That simply means they preach the Gospel. They preach in the name of Jesus. They even seem to do many mighty works in Christ’s name, such as casting out demons. Surely they believe that Christ was raised from the dead. Surely they profess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. So they are saved, but Jesus never knew them.
They are surprised that Jesus says, “I never knew you.” Therefore their belief in Christ is honest. They really do believe they will be in the wedding banquet. But they do not mature in Christ. Does Christ deny salvation to those who honestly believe in Him, but because they are deceived, they don’t mature in Christ? They will be resurrected (saved from the grave.) But they will not be able to enter the wedding banquet. They will be surprised that they will not inherit the kingdom.
Jesus tells the foolish virgins to watch because we do not know the day or the time. To watch for Christ's return is to believe that he can return in our lifetimes. But this entails firm knowledge that the great tribulation must come first. Otherwise, the hopeful watch does not develop maturity. Many of the foolish virgins today believe that Christ will come in our lifetimes. But they don't believe the great tribulation must come first. So their watching does not produce maturity. Those who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture think they will be able to skip over the coming great tribulation.
Others, who don't believe in the millennium, generally also do not believe in the literal interpretation of Revelation. They believe that Christ could return at any moment, without the reign of the antichrist. So again, their watching does not produce maturity. This is not to say that no one who believes these doctrines will mature. Maturity primarily comes from the sanctification of the Holy Spirit as we seek to obey the depths of the Ten Commandments, which is to love God and to love our neighbors. This is primarily accomplished by doing the works that the Father has for us to do out of love. Thus, maturity comes from working in God’s purpose for our lives. We must walk as Jesus walked.
Next, Jesus tells us a parable about three servants who are given talents. The number of talents given is according to their abilities to generate more talents. The servant with five talents and the servant with two talents are both rewarded by being put in charge of many things. The servant given one talent does not invest the talent, and winds up being condemned when Christ returns. There is an almost identical parable in Luke 19:11-27. Here the servants are put in charge of cities.
We must interpret this parable like the ancient Jews would have interpreted it. They expected, when the Messiah comes, that Israel will rule the world. Jesus would never have used this parable if that belief was false. The teaching in the parable is telling us what we must do in order to have high-ranking positions during the Messianic reign. We don’t work for the motivation of power. But the parable does teach that Christ’s servants will have this “authority over cities.”
The servant with just one talent failed to invest what he was given. Christ condemns that man as wicked. The problem was not that the servant failed to earn money. Jesus is not preaching salvation by works. The problem was in the man's attitude toward Christ. He hardened his heart against Christ and did not hear is Mater’s voice. He didn't apply the ability he had been given, because he didn't really love his Master.
Matthew 25:24b-26a NIV '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. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'" His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant!
This wicked servant was thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verse 30). He will not be resurrected when Christ returns. He knew about Christ. But he hates his Master. The wicked servant has knowingly rejected Christ.
Those who are wise are those who work with the gifts they have been given to advance the kingdom. This work must be motivated by a deep and growing love for Christ. Those who do know Christ, but deep in their hearts actively reject him, wind up suffering the fate of the wicked. This parable is a strong warning against any rejection of Christ. The foolish of the world will be those who have either not yet accepted Christ, or who have not yet matured in Christ. But if one's heart hardens against Christ, then they become the wicked.
The parable of the sheep and the goats is traditionally interpreted as involving two groups of people. The sheep are judged as righteous for their good works. The goats are judged as unrighteous for their lack of good works. This leaves some theologians scratching their heads and wondering what ever happened to salvation by grace alone. They say Jesus and Paul had different gospels. But the parable can be better understood if it's interpreted the way an ancient Jew would have understood it to be read.
Matthew 25:31 says this judgment happens when Jesus comes in his glory and sits on his throne. In other words, this is during the Messianic reign. Verse 2 says all the nations will be gathered before him. The ancient Jews would not have understood Israel to be part of the nations. In other words, this is a judgment of the nations and not of Israel. The people of true Israel are the chosen ones who will bring the good news to the nations during the Messianic reign.
In this parable, Christ calls the chosen ones his brothers (Matthew 25:40). Christ’s brothers are the true Israel, including Gentiles. The sheep and the goats are not judged so much for their good works involving each other. They are judged by their good works involving the brothers of Christ. In verse 40 Jesus said, "Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." This is not so much a judgment of works as it is a judgment of their attitude about Christians. Their attitude about Christians reflects their attitude about Christ. This is the primary teaching of the parable. The wicked are primarily condemned because of their hardened hearts toward Christ. With a hardened heart toward Christ, they will not be able to mature in Christ during the Messianic reign. This is not a judgment that happens immediately when Christ sets up his kingdom. It’s about what will most likely happen during the course of the millennium.
So the parable has three groups of people. The brothers are the wise. The wise will receive spiritual bodies at the resurrection. This judgment happens after the resurrection during the Messianic reign. With spiritual bodies, the wise will not be subject to further judgment that could lead to the lake of fire. Therefore, the wise cannot be either the sheep or the goats. Looking at it the way an ancient Jew would have understood it, the wise are a part of Israel, not a part of the nations. The sheep, therefore, are the foolish who become wise, and the goats are the foolish who become wicked. In other words, the sheep and the goats are still under judgment, even after being resurrected. As we will see in the next chapter, they are raised to a resurrection of judgment. This is not a resurrection of damnation.