THROUGH THE NEEDLE’S EYE: A Worthless Slave

Matthew 24:36-25:46

The All-important Context

First, it is important to note that the parable is found within a larger context of what is commonly called “The Olivet Discourse.” Yahushua had been teaching in the temple, and as He walked out His disciples pointed out the temple buildings to Him. He then made the astounding statement that “not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2). Such a thing could only occur by means of a great catastrophe, and naturally Yahushua’ disciples wanted to know more. A short time later when they were together on the Mount of Olives, they privately inquired of Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). Yahushua subsequently foretold numerous signs that would precede the destruction of the temple (see Luke 21:12-24), His return, and the end of the age (see Matt. 24:4-42).

Yahushua’ obvious reason for foretelling the signs of His eminent return was so that His followers would be anticipating it and ready when it occurred (see Matt. 24:32-34, 42-44). As He continued, Yahushua repeatedly warned them about not being ready at His return, making it plain that such a danger was a real possibility. Note that Yahushua was speaking privately to His own disciples, not to unsaved people (see Matt. 24:3). Clearly, He did not want them to assume that they were guaranteed to be ready when He returned just because they were ready at that moment. This is so obvious from a cursory reading of the entire Olivet Discourse that it is amazing that anyone would attempt to refute it. Let us take a moment to read carefully Yahushua’ warning to His disciples, a warning that directly follows His foretelling the signs of His return and that directly precedes the Parable of the Ten Virgins and Parable of the Talents:

Therefore be on the alert, for you [My disciples to whom I am privately speaking] do not know which day your Lord [clearly, Yahushua is not speaking to the unsaved, as He is not the Lord of the unsaved] is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you [My disciples] be ready too [which indicates the possibility of their not being ready]; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you [My closest disciples] do not think He will.

Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, “My master is not coming for a long time,” and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth (Matt. 24:42-51, emphasis added).

How can anyone intelligently claim that Yahushua was only warning those who were presently unsaved to get ready for His coming? Obviously, Yahushua was warning those who were presently ready to remain ready. Yahushua used an example of a master and his slave to illustrate His relationship with His disciples. The slave in His example could not represent an unsaved person, because unsaved people are in no way slaves of Yahushua. They are rebels to the core.

Notice also that the slave in the example was obedient for a time, but he had a change of heart because he believed his master would be absent for a long time. That is, at one time he was ready, but he became unready. Those who have never been saved have never been ready for Christ’s return.

How did the slave in Christ’s story become unready? He began to act like an unsaved person, no longer loving his fellow slaves and also associating with drunkards (people whom Scripture states are unsaved; see 1 Cor. 6:9-10). When his master returned unexpectedly, he was assigned “a place with the hypocrites,” that is, among those who profess to be true but are actually false. In that place among the hypocrites, Yahushua said there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” obviously referring to hell.[1]

Yahushua made it very clear that one who is saved could ultimately forfeit his salvation. And how is such a thing possible? It is possible when belief changes to unbelief, resulting in a change of lifestyle. The fundamental problem of the slave in Yahushua’ example was that of faith. He did not believe that his master would return soon, and so he began to act like it, unconcerned if his life was pleasing to his master. Again, keep in mind that Yahushua was speaking to His own disciples. He was warning Peter, James, John and the rest. His words apply to every one of His disciples, past, present and future.

• THE NEXT PARABLE

To underscore this solemn warning, Yahushua then immediately told the Parable of Ten Virgins (see Matt. 25:1-13). Again, it was directed to the ears of His closest disciples, the only ones present when He shared it, and not to the unsaved. It is the story of ten women who were waiting for the arrival of a bridegroom, a common custom in Christ’s day. All ten took their oil lamps, but only five carried extra flasks of oil—just in case their lamps ran out of oil while they waited.

When the bridegroom, who was delayed in coming finally arrived, all ten trimmed their lamps, but the five who didn’t bring extra oil realized their lamps were going out. They had to run to an oil dealer to purchase what they lacked, and by the time they returned, the wedding feast was in progress and the door was shut. The five foolish virgins cried out, “Lord, lord, open up for us,” but he answered, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt. 25:12).

What was the lesson Yahushua was trying to communicate in this parable? That is obvious. He ended the parable by saying to His disciples, “Be on the alert then, for you [My disciples] do not know the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13, emphasis added). Yahushua wanted them to be ready for His return, which proves that there existed the possibility that they might not be ready, otherwise He would have had no reason to warn them.

Notice that all ten virgins were ready initially. Had the bridegroom arrived earlier, they would have made it into the wedding feast. All ten were anticipating the appearance of the bridegroom and specifically waiting for Him.

Could the five foolish virgins perhaps represent those who have never believed? That seems improbable to say the least. Are unbelievers waiting with believers for the return of the bridegroom? If the five foolish virgins represent those who were never saved, what was Yahushua’ purpose in telling His own disciples this parable and ending it with a warning to them to be on the alert since they didn’t know when He would return? His point to His disciples was obvious: You don’t want to be like the five foolish virgins! For these reasons, the five foolish virgins must represent believers who were initially ready for Christ’s return, but who become unready, the same point Yahushua had just made in his example of the unfaithful slave. Contextually and exegetically, that is the only reasonable interpretation.

Those who theorize that the unfaithful slave and five foolish virgins represent those who were never truly saved must satisfactorily explain why Yahushua used both illustrations to warn His own disciples to be ready at all times for His return. That is impossible to do.

• THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS

Finally, we come to the Parable of the Talents, which immediately follows and mirrors the same theme as the Parable of Ten Virgins and the example of the unfaithful slave, as well as underscores Yahushua’ repeated message to be ready for His return. It begins with the conjunction for, linking it to what Christ has just said. The Parable of the Talents however, like Yahushua’ foretelling of the judgment of the sheep and goats which follows it, emphasizes to an even greater degree what one must do to be ready for His return—in light of everyone’s future personal judgment. Let us read what Christ said:

For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the ground, and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. And the one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, “Master, you entrusted five talents to me; see, I have gained five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.” The one also who had received the two talents came up and said, “Master, you entrusted to me two talents; see, I have gained two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.” But his master answered and said to him, “You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.” For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. “And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:14-30).

The first item of importance is the identity of the slave who was given the one talent. Does he represent a saved or unsaved person? He obviously represents an unsaved person at the end of the parable, because his master called him a “wicked, lazy” and “worthless slave,” and then cast him into outer darkness to weep and gnash his teeth. Does he, however, at the beginning of the parable, represent a person who is saved?

I am persuaded that he represents a saved person at the beginning of the parable for several reasons.

First, because he was indeed a slave of the master, just as much as the other two slaves were (see Matt. 25:14). Their master was also his master (see Matt. 25:18-19, 26). The same master that had entrusted them with talents entrusted him with a talent. The only difference between the three slaves was the number of talents entrusted to each one. In every other respect they had the same relationship with the master. Yahushua, of course, does not have a Lord/slave relationship with unsaved people because they are rebels against Him.

Second, there is nothing within the parable that would indicate that the man was unsaved at the beginning of the parable. In fact, if the final verse of the parable, which tells about the man being cast into hell, had not been included, many would conclude that the one-talent slave represents a disobedient Christian, just as saved as the other two slaves. Read the entire parable except for the last verse to see what I mean. The primary reason commentators jump to the conclusion that the one-talent slave was unsaved at the beginning is because their theology doesn’t allow for any other possibility. If the man was unsaved at the end, then he must never have been saved, they say.

Third, Yahushua was still speaking to His closest disciples as He related the Parable of the Talents. He began the parable by saying to them, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves…” (Matt. 25:13-14, emphasis mine). The parable following that introduction was an obvious warning to them: You don’t want to be like the one-talent slave who buried his talent in the ground. Again, if such a thing were impossible, Yahushua would not have warned them of the possibility.

Fourth, the context before this parable supports such an interpretation. The preceding Parable of Ten Virgins was a warning to Yahushua’ disciples to stay ready. They should not copy the five foolish virgins, who were initially ready, but who became unready. The example of the unfaithful slave directly before that was also a clear warning to Yahushua’ disciples to stay ready. They should not imitate the unfaithful slave, who was initially ready, but who also became unready. Moreover, just seconds before He related the Parable of the Talents, Yahushua emphatically warned His own disciples three separate times to be ready for His return:

Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming….For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will…. Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Matt. 24:42, 44; 25:13, emphasis added).

All this being so, it seems only reasonable to conclude that the one-talent slave represents a person who was saved initially, but who forfeited his salvation by his unfaithfulness. He abandoned the faith he once possessed, and his lack of any fruitfulness proved it. Yahushua’ message to His disciples was and still is obvious: I am about to depart from this world. I’m entrusting you with opportunities, abilities and gifts. I will eventually return, so always be ready. The way to be ready is to be fruitful. You don’t want to be like the one-talent slave. That would have dire consequences.

• AN OBJECTION ANSWERED

But doesn’t the one-talent slave’s attitude about his master indicate that he was unsaved? Do not his words, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” (Matt. 25:24), reveal that he really didn’t know the Lord?

Please note that the one-talent slave made that statement when his master returned, and he apparently possessed that same attitude when he originally buried his talent. But that does not prove that he was never a slave. Nor does it prove that he always possessed such an attitude or that he represents a person who was never saved. If it proves anything at all about his spiritual state, it only proves that he was on dangerous ground from the time he buried his talent. Even after burying it, however, he could have unburied it at any time before his master’s return to begin using it wisely.

Of greater significance, however, is the fact that the master agreed with the one-talent slave’s description of himself, affirming that he was indeed a “hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed” (see Matt. 25:24). But such a description is certainly not appropriate for Yahushua! Yahushua does not reap where He does not sow, nor does He gather where He scatters no seed, both of which would be equivalent to stealing. For this reason, we can safely assume that this particular detail of the parable is of no spiritual significance. As I pointed out to Mr. Wolfer, every parable reaches a point where the similarities between details in the parable and spiritual truths end. Surely we have come to that point. The only similarities between Yahushua and the parable’s master are that both would be absent for a while, both entrusted their servants with special gifts, and both, when they returned, would reward or punish their servants depending upon their faithfulness in bearing fruit. But that is where the similarities end. Yahushua is not just a man; He has more than three slaves; He has not entrusted us with bars of silver (the “talents” of Yahushua’ day); He did not just “go on a journey.” Moreover, He does not reap where he hasn’t sowed, as that would be sinful. Thus, trying to determine the one-talent slave’s spiritual status by means of his description of his master is unjustified.

• THE APPLICATION TO US

Keeping all of this in mind, we recognize that the Parable of the Talents is just as applicable to us as it was to Peter, James and John. There exists the possibility that we, like they, could imitate the one-talent slave and not be ready when Yahushua returns. The way to avoid being like the unfaithful slave is to make certain that we are using our “talents” for the Lord’s purposes, bringing a return on His “investment.”

To many people, this may sound like salvation by works. However, as I’ve said before, their error is in separating what cannot be divided—faith and works. Many suppose that faith and works oppose each other, like repelling magnets. The truth is that true faith and true works of righteousness cannot be torn apart. Each is embodied within the other, and if either is removed, the other ceases to exist. Those who continue to believe in Yahushua continue to obey Yahushua. Those who don’t continue to obey Yahushua prove they no longer believe in Yahushua. Faith works. Believers obey.

In this parable, what do the talents represent, and what are the returns that Yahushua expects from us? Do the talents represent our investment capital? Do the returns represent the increasing value of our shares of Mr. Wolfer’s recommended mutual funds?

No, the talents of which Yahushua spoke must represent more than wealth alone, because Yahushua entrusts us with much more than that. They must represent anything and everything that God entrusts to us, including opportunities for service, spiritual gifts and abilities, natural talents, and of course, wealth. All of these things are gifts from God for which we must one day give an account. Scripture declares,

We have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:9-10; see also Rom. 12:1-8; 14:10-12; 1 Pet. 4:10).

Our time, talents and treasures are a stewardship from God, and if we selfishly bury those gifts in the ground, not using them as God intended, we stand in grave spiritual danger, just like the one-talent slave.

God expects that we will use His gifts to love Him and our neighbor. If we believe in Yahushua, that is exactly what we will do. If we don’t, we expose our unbelief and reveal our hypocrisy. Yahushua couldn’t have emphasized this solemn fact any more graphically than He did by what He said directly after the Parable of the Talents. There He tells of the future judgment that will occur when He returns. The theme is still the same—Be ready for His coming. Although I quoted these words in the previous chapters, let us consider His words within their context:

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, saying, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:31-46).

Remember that Yahushua was still speaking to His closest disciples. His theme had not changed. He wants His followers to be fruitful, thus always ready for His return. The goats in this passage clearly correspond to the one-talent servant, the five foolish virgins and the unfaithful slave in the three preceding passages. Like all of them, the goats weren’t ready to give an account before the Master at His coming. In this foretelling of future judgment, Yahushua underscores everything He has just been saying. The message couldn’t be clearer: You don’t want to be among the goats at this future judgment. Therefore, use your time and treasures to show your love for Me by loving My brethren. If you do, you validate your profession of faith. If you don’t, you reveal that you are not really Mine.

Notice that every good work Yahushua mentioned requires the sacrifice of one’s time or money. None of them require any supernatural gifts. Practically anyone can do them. Every one of them is a simple act of loving one’s neighbor as himself. All of them are indicative of a love for the Master, so that by doing them, one fulfills the two greatest commandments and exhibits his living faith.

The question is, how many of today’s professing Christians, if they would stand at this judgment right now, would be counted among the goats? How many would be exposed as complete hypocrites, because they never, or only on rare occasions, have done what Yahushua unmistakably said marks all true Christians? Although they had time to acquire money and spend it selfishly, they had no time or money to assist those with desperate needs who were members of their own (supposed) spiritual family.

• THE HARDNESS OF SOME PROFESSING CHRISTIANS’ HEARTS

Incredibly, I’ve found that when I preach about this very judgment, there are always some (often many) professing Christians who dismiss me as a legalist. Yet all I’m doing is telling them what Yahushua plainly taught. If I’m a legalist, then so is He. The truth is, Yahushua has told us about a future test that is impossible for us to avoid. He’s also told us what we must do to pass that test, and we’re still unprepared. We think Yahushua is mistaken, even though He will be the Judge at the judgment. We imagine that we can be saved by a faith that has no works—a faith that exists nowhere in the universe—a faith that is an utter impossibility.

As you would suspect, strange, elaborate, and perverse interpretations have been suggested to soften or explain away the obvious message that is found in Christ’s foretelling of the sheep and goats judgment. For example, some claim that we will somehow be exempt from this judgment. They say that it applies only to those people who are alive when Christ returns at the end of the seven-year tribulation.

Even if such an interpretation is true, what makes us think we will be judged by different criteria than the sheep and goats? Can it only be said of those Christians who are alive when Christ returns that they know they have passed from death to life because they love the brethren (see 1 John 3:14)? Is it only that final group of Christians who can be identified as Christ’s disciples by their love (see John 13:35)? No, love is what identifies all Christians of all time. Additionally, all of us shall be judged by our works (see Matt. 12:36-37; John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:12-13), because our works are what validate our faith. To write off the sheep and goats judgment as being irrelevant to us is a foolish error. If you would have asked Peter, James or John if they thought what Yahushua said about the sheep and goats applied to them, they would have answered in the affirmative. Yahushua was speaking to them, warning them to be ready for His return.

Some claim that the sheep and goats judgment is a judgment just of nations, not people, depending on how they treated Israel during the future seven-year tribulation. This interpretation is so far-fetched that it is a wonder anyone has the nerve to present it seriously. According to Yahushua, this judgment determines one’s eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell (see Matt. 25:46). In light of all that Scripture teaches, are we actually to believe that at some time in the future, some people will be cast into hell forever because they lived in a nation whose government was opposed to Israel for seven years? And are we to believe that others will receive eternal life because they lived in a nation that was kind to Israel for seven years?

• THE TRUE TEST OF FAITH

May I also point out that Yahushua did not ask these sheep and goats what church they attended. He didn’t ask them about their theology concerning the Trinity. He didn’t question if they were Republican or Democrat. He didn’t quiz them about their eschatology. He didn’t ask if they ever prayed the sinner’s prayer or possessed assurance of their salvation. He didn’t ask for their baptismal certificate. He didn’t ask which TV preacher or Christian music group was their favorite. He didn’t ask if they believed in Him. He only cared if they loved His brethren and expressed that love by meeting pressing needs. Their eternal salvation depended on what they did and didn’t do, because that is what clearly revealed their faith or unbelief.

QUESTION: How much do you love Yahushua? Answer: How much do you sacrifice for the sake of His poor brethren? When you do it for them, you do it for Yahushua. It is just that simple.

ASK YOURSELF: If I were to stand at this judgment at this moment and be judged by the same criteria, would I be among the sheep or goats? If your answer is “goats,” then you are a goat. You are unprepared to stand before Yahushua. If He came back at this moment, you would spend eternity in hell. All that Yahushua said in the Parable of the Talents, the Parable of the Five Foolish Virgins, and the example of the unfaithful slave, He was saying to warn you. Don’t wait another second. Fall on your face before God and cry out for His forgiveness and transforming grace. Repent of a lifestyle of breaking the greatest commandments. Believe in Yahushua. Begin following Him, even if other people think you are crazy.

Following Yahushua clearly includes feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, helping those in distress, and visiting the sick and imprisoned, among other things. So give as generously as you can of your time and money to meet pressing, essential needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. The majority of them live in developing nations. Don’t lay up treasures on earth; lay them up in heaven. Those are the returns that Yahushua expects from His investment in you, not the ever-increasing value of your share of Mr. Wolfer’s recommended mutual funds.

Perhaps the best maxim on stewardship was one coined by John Wesley, Anglican evangelist and unintentional founder of the Methodist Church. Wesley taught the early Methodists regarding money: “Earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can.”

Good stewards are not lazy, but work hard to earn what they can reasonably, so they have more to give. They, of course, must earn their money lawfully, keeping a good conscience and not being so devoted to their vocation that their devotion to the Lord or His commandments is neglected in any way.

Good stewards also save all they can. That is, they are frugal and use wisdom in their financial affairs. They don’t spend needlessly, and they deny themselves the nonessentials in order to have more to give.

Finally, having earned all they can and saved all they can, good stewards give all they can. They don’t limit themselves to giving just ten percent, but give 99% if God enables them. Wesley lived what he preached, subsisting on a small portion of the large income he received from the sale of his books. His devotion to the greatest commandments even affected his diet. He ate only what was necessary to sustain his strength and health, in order not to rob someone who needed a touch of Christ’s love that he could not have otherwise supplied. He died owning very little.

• THE CONCLUSION

What does the Parable of the Talents have to do with what Yahushua taught about money, possessions and stewardship? We must all give an account one day for what we’ve done with the money that God has entrusted to us. If we’ve been unfaithful, proving ourselves to be poor stewards, using for ourselves what God intended that we use for His glory, we’re unprepared to stand before Him. We’re professing Christians but practicing atheists.

[1] Incredibly, some who subscribe to the doctrine of unconditional eternal security claim that the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth is representative of a temporary state in heaven where unfaithful believers will mourn their loss of rewards! This is a perfect example of the truth, “It takes a scholar to misunderstand what is clear to a child.” Anyone who takes a few minutes to research and study how Yahushua used the phrases “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and “outer darkness” must conclude that such expressions are always a reference to hell.

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