Matthew 24 and 25
In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus reveals important truths about end times and about how to be prepared. In a sense, these chapters were Christ’s teaching on last-day events. At the same time, He looks to the more immediate future and sees the impending destruction of Jerusalem, a tragedy of catastrophic proportions for His people.
But in Christ’s words to His disciples, He speaks also to His followers in the generations to come, including and especially the last one—the one that will be alive when He returns. Jesus doesn’t paint a pretty picture either. Wars, rumors of wars, pestilence, false christs, and persecution—this will be the lot of the world, and the lot of His church. Amazingly enough, looking back through time, we can see just how accurate His predictions were. Therefore, we can trust Him for the predictions not yet fulfilled in our lifetime.
But Jesus didn’t just warn about what was coming. In Matthew 25 He also told parables that, if heeded, will prepare His people for when He, the “ ‘Son of man,’ ” returns. Yes, hard times will come, but He will prepare a people to meet Him when He does come back.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 19.
In the final days before the Cross, the disciples spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Imagine them hearing Jesus say that the temple will be destroyed. Who knows exactly what went on in their minds, but the questions that the disciples asked afterward indicate that they linked the destruction of the temple with “ ‘the end of the world’ ” (Matt. 24:3).
Matthew 24:1–25 makes it clear that, among other things, Christ is concerned with deceptions that will confuse His people through the ages and into the end time. Among those deceptions will be false prophets and false christs. Some will come claiming to represent Christ (false prophets), and some will come claiming to be Christ. And the terrible thing is, people will believe them, too.
We have seen a sad but powerful confirmation of the Word of God. All through history, and even in our day, deceivers have indeed come, saying, “I am the Christ.” What a remarkable prophecy! Living in the time that we do, we can survey the long centuries of history and see (in ways those who lived in Christ’s time couldn’t) just how accurate that prediction was. We shouldn’t be surprised, either, if deceptions like these only increase as we near the final crisis.
Also, in the context of affirmation of faith, look at how Jesus depicted the state of the world. At various times in earth’s history since Christ, people placed their hope in things they believed would eliminate or at least greatly reduce the sufferings and woe of humanity. Be it political movements or technology or science or reason—at one time or another people have placed great hope that these things would usher in a utopia here on earth. As the painful witness of history has shown again and again, these hopes always have proven illfounded. The world today is just as Jesus said it would be. Christ’s words, spoken almost two thousand years ago, show just how misguided those hopes really have been.
Christ’s concern for His people in the end time includes a global deception that causes nations to oppose the true faith and to impose a false worship on the world. Those who stand firm will face hatred, tribulation, and even death.
“None but those who have fortified the mind with the truths of the Bible will stand through the last great conflict.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 593. This statement means that all who fortify their minds with biblical truths will not be swept away in any of the end-time deceptions. They have to be grounded in what truth is for this time; otherwise, the deceptions will overwhelm them.
As important as it is to be grounded intellectually in the Word of God, according to Jesus that is still not enough to be able to stand amid the trials that we will face. We have to do what we have learned; that is, we have to obey the truth as it is in Jesus. In the parable above, both builders heard the sayings of Jesus. The difference between them, between enduring and not enduring, was obeying what Jesus had taught. Why does the one who obeys stand and the one who doesn’t obey fall? What difference does obedience make in keeping a person steady in the faith?
In His great discourse on the end time, Christ points to “the abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15), an image from the book of Daniel (Dan. 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).
God declared something an “abomination” when it was a serious violation of His law, such as idolatry (Deut. 27:15) or immoral sexual practices (Lev. 18:22). Hence, this “abomination of desolation” involved some sort of religious apostasy.
These two texts make it clear that Jesus’ prediction includes, in a more immediate sense, the terrible destruction that would come upon Jerusalem in a.d. 70, when pagan Rome would destroy not only the city but the sacred temple, as well.
However, there is a second fulfillment of this prophecy in which the more immediate events, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, stood as a type of future, end-time events. “Christ saw in Jerusalem a symbol of the world hardened in unbelief and rebellion, and hastening on to meet the retributive judgments of God.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 22.
In Daniel 12:11 and Daniel 11:31, the “abomination of desolation” appears in connection with the latter phase of Rome, the papal phase, in which an alternative system of mediation and salvation has been set up—one which seeks to usurp what Christ had done for us, and indeed continues to do for us now in the heavenly sanctuary.
Daniel 8, particularly verses 9–12, helps to place these events in their historical context, with a two-phased Roman power. The first phase, seen in the little horn’s rapid horizontal expansion (Dan. 8:9), shows the vast empire of pagan Rome. In the second phase (Dan. 8:10–12) the little horn grows vertically, casting down some of the stars (persecuting God’s people) and magnifying itself to the “prince of the host” (Dan. 8:11), Jesus. This represents the papal phase, which rose out of the collapse of the pagan Roman Empire but still remains Rome. (That’s why one symbol, the little horn, represents both phases of the same power.) The judgment in Daniel 7:9, 10, the cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14, and the signs in the heavens of Matthew 24:29 all signal God’s intervention for His people in the last days.
After His discourse in Matthew 24 about the signs of His coming, in Matthew 25 Jesus talks about how to be prepared for it.
Jesus starts this phase of His discourse by talking about ten virgins. The fact that they are called “ ‘virgins’ ” suggests they represent those who profess to be Christians. They are not on Satan’s side of the controversy. Instead, they are likened to “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 25:1). But in the end time, they all sleep (Matt. 25:5), even though Christ already has warned about keeping watch (Matt. 24:42), or staying awake so they will be ready when He returns.
All ten virgins have lamps, and all go out to meet the bridegroom, which means that they all are looking forward to His coming. There is a delay, and all of these believers in His coming fall asleep. Suddenly, in the dead of night, they all are awakened: the bridegroom is coming (Matt. 25:1–6).
The foolish virgins are startled, unprepared. Why? One version says “ ‘our lamps are gone out’ ” (Matt. 25:8). Other versions, true to the Greek original, say the lamps are “ ‘going out.’ ” There is still a flickering flame. The women still have a little oil, but not enough to be prepared to meet Christ.
What, then, is the problem?
These virgins represent Christians who are waiting for Christ to return but who have a superficial experience with Him. They have some oil, some working of the Spirit in their lives, but it is merely flickering; they are satisfied with little when they needed much. “The Spirit works upon man’s heart, according to his desire and consent implanting in him a new nature; but the class represented by the foolish virgins have been content with a superficial work. They do not know God. They have not studied His character; they have not held communion with Him; therefore they do not know how to trust, how to look and live. Their service to God degenerates into a form.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 411.
Although Jesus told a different parable here from the one just before, both talk about being ready for the return of Christ. Both deal with those who were ready and those who weren’t. And both show the fate of those who, through their own spiritual neglect, faced eternal loss.
Just as the oil represents the Holy Spirit for the ten virgins, so the “ ‘bag’ ” or “ ‘bags of gold’ ” (Matt. 25:15, NIV) represent talents, which is the Greek word (talanta) in the original language. “The talents represent special gifts of the Spirit, together with all natural endowments.”— The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 510.
All the servants in the parable had received goods from their master. Notice, too, that they were the master’s goods (Matt. 25:14), which were entrusted to them “ ‘each according to his own ability’ ” (Matt. 25:15, NKJV). The gifts given to the servants were given in trust; in a real sense, these servants were stewards of what they didn’t own but were responsible for. That’s why, when the master came back, he “ ‘settled accounts with them’ ” (Matt. 25:19, NKJV).
Spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 12:1–11, 28–31; Eph. 4:11). There is good news, therefore, for those who think they have the least gift. Gifts are never received without the Giver. So these people receive their gifts by receiving the greatest gift—the Holy Spirit. The gifts are already ours in Christ, but our actual possession depends upon our reception of the Holy Spirit and surrender to Him. Here is where the unprofitable servant made his mistake. He had been given a gift but did nothing with it. He left his gift unimproved. He didn’t make an effort to take what he had been graciously given and do something with it. As a result Jesus called him “ ‘wicked and lazy’ ” (Matt. 25:26, NKJV), a powerful condemnation.
Further Thought: “The man who received the one talent ‘went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.’
“It was the one with the smallest gift who left his talent unimproved. In this is given a warning to all who feel that the smallness of their endowments excuses them from service for Christ. If they could do some great thing, how gladly would they undertake it; but because they can serve only in little things, they think themselves justified in doing nothing. In this they err. The Lord in His distribution of gifts is testing character. The man who neglected to improve his talent proved himself an unfaithful servant. Had he received five talents, he would have buried them as he buried the one. His misuse of the one talent showed that he despised the gifts of heaven.
“ ‘ He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.’ Luke 16:10. The importance of the little things is often underrated because they are small; but they supply much of the actual discipline of life. There are really no nonessentials in the Christian’s life. Our character building will be full of peril while we underrate the importance of the little things.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 355, 356.