Last month, in our article entitled “Life is Like a Contest,” we stated that every one of us, whether we like it or not (if we are believers), is enrolled in a life race. Our born-again experience enters us into that race, but the sanctification process where we “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling” is how we finish that race. (Philippians 3:14)
In order to finish well, God has given each of us different talents, abilities and giftings. The question is: What have we done with these talents? Have we used them wisely? Or have we squandered them or even, at times, buried them?
This, of course, brings us to the Parable of the Ten Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. This is the second of the several Mat-thew passages that speak about “the kingdom of Heaven,” “being cast out of fellowship,” the “outer darkness” (or the darkness outside) and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Before we begin, let’s remember Acts 17:11: “They [the Bereans] received the Word with all readiness of mind, [but then] they searched the Scriptures daily whether those things were so.” This Scripture exhorts us to be “open” to new ideas and new ways of looking at particular verses, but then prayerfully take these new interpretations back to the Word of God to con-firm them.
This parable is definitely one of those Scriptures where we want to do as the Bereans did.
An Explanation and a Little History
Also before we examine the Parable of the Ten Talents, we need to have a little background. Who exactly was the book of Matthew written to and why.
Dwight Pentecost wrote in his book Things to Come, “The purpose of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew was to record the presentation of Jesus Christ as Messiah; to trace the opposition to Him and His offered kingdom by the nation and to record the official and final rejection of that King and kingdom by Israel.”
The Kingdom of Heaven was offered to Israel by not only John in Matthew 3:2, but also by Jesus for three and a half years.1 Israel, however, rejected not only the coming kingdom, but also its King (Matthew 11:2–16:12). And thus, Christ announced to the Jewish leaders of that day that He was going to turn His attention to another (holy) nation—“a nation bringing forth fruits thereof”; i.e., “the church” (Matthew 21:43).
Even though the church did not exist yet, Christ had previously spoken of it in Matthew 16:18-19. The church is that “holy nation” of 1 Peter 2:9 whose main purpose is to bring forth “fruit” with a view toward occupying positions of responsibility in the coming Millennium. This new nation is described as a “chosen generation” and “a royal priesthood.”
Consequently, because of Israel’s rejection, the Messianic Kingdom was postponed, but will be reoffered to them during the Tribulation. (See Hosea 5:15; Romans 11:13–21; Galatians 3:6–14.) Christ pointed out that since Israel failed as stewards of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, many will be destroyed and their city leveled. A “new nation” will then be ap-pointed to take their place, but on the condition of bearing “fruit.” Now, let’s read the Parable and see how it fits into this background.
The Parable of the Ten Talents: Matthew 25:14-30
Jesus tells the parable like this:
“14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. 16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
“19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
“24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
“26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: 27 Thou oughtest there-fore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The master was very upset at this servant and in verse 26 he says: “You wicked (Strong’s #4190, meaning hurtful in influence, but not in character) and slothful (unprofitable) servant, you knew I reaped where I sowed not and gathered where I did not winnow, therefore you ought to have put my money with the exchangers [bankers]. Then I could have at least gotten some interest from it. Therefore, I am going to take the one talent I gave you and give it to my servant who has ten talents. For everyone that has shall be given more; but to him who has not, even that which he has will be taken away.
As a consequence, in verse 30 he says, “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness (the darkness outside) where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (profound regret).”
Comments by Theologians
Charles Stanley talks about the above parable and its mention of “outer darkness” in his book Eternal Security where he says, “The final verse of this parable is so severe that many commentators assume it is a description of hell. It is not! Keep in mind that this is a parable. A parable makes one central point. The point of this parable is that in God’s future kingdom, those who were faithful in this life will be rewarded, and those who were not, will lose any potential reward. Some will be given more privileges and responsibility while others will have none...The outer darkness refers to ‘being thrown outside a building into the dark’ and in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (emphasis added)2
Kenneth Wuest in his Expanded Translation of the Greek New Testament says, “The outer darkness is the darkness that is outside of the King’s banqueting house.” In other words, it is not hell!3
Erwin Lutzer, in his book Your Eternal Reward, says, “These warnings are addressed to believers.”... “God does not let His children get by with disobedience even though their place in heaven is secured and their transgressions legally forgiven.”4
Thayer’s Greek/English Lexicon says that the outer darkness is, “the darkness outside the limits of the lighted palace.”5 It’s evidentially a space in the kingdom, but outside the circle of men and women whose faithfulness earned them a special rank. Again, among the privileges of the overcomers is nearness to Christ. The opposite of this is the darkness outside of His presence. The unprofitable servant is simply being excluded from the light and the joy of the feast with the Lord. One either enters into the joy of the Lord and is included; or one is cast out from that joy and is excluded from the fellow-ship.6
Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, in his wonderful commentary, The Complete Word Study New Testament (with Parallel Greek) comments on “the outer darkness” and the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
He says: “These terms may be applied to believers who have failed the Lord in their service...In this instance, the “outer darkness” may be a reference to a place or a position of far less rewards for the servants who proved themselves less diligent than those who used and exercised their talents to the fullest. The expression would then refer to the degrees of the enjoyment of heaven rather than referring to hell...
“Entrance into heaven is gained by accepting Christ’s sacrifice for justification, but a person’s rewards in heaven will be determined by what he did for Christ here on earth. (Matthew 5:3-12; 7:21-23; Luke 6:20-26; Acts 10:4, 31; Romans 2:1-16; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 John 4:17). The Christian’s faithfulness to his tasks and responsibilities in the world is considered of such paramount importance that the same metaphor, the “outer darkness,” that was used by the Lord to indicate the punishment of the unbeliever for his rejection of God’s salvation, is also used of the believer who does not live in obedience to the light he has received. In the case of the non-believer, it will be a punishment of fire and burning (Matthew 13:30; John 15:6). In the case of the believer, it will be weeping or expressing sorrow over not having used the opportunities God provided. The phrase “gnashing of teeth” indicates anger at oneself for ignoring the marvelous opportunities that he had on earth.” (emphasis added)7
Warren Wiersbe in his Bible Exposition Commentary says (speaking of “weeping and gnashing of teeth): “...we need not see this treatment as punishment in hell, but rather the deep remorse of a man who was an unfaithful servant. He grieves deeply in the darkness outside of the King’s palace, but he is still a servant and thus, will be welcomed back into the King’s estate. The man was dealt with by the Lord, lost his opportunity for service and gained no praise or reward. To me, this is outer darkness!”8
And finally, Tony Evans in The Prophecy Study Bible quotes Zane Hodges as saying: “Every Christian will be rewarded based on his words, deeds and faithfulness. Those Christians who are unfaithful (Matthew 25:28-30) will have their rewards taken from them and given to those who were faithful and they will be cast out into outer darkness, the place where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The outer darkness described in this passage is likely a lesser state in God’s kingdom.”9
Before you become unnerved by the terms “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which many of us have always associated with hell or the lake of fire, it’s important to remember that there are other places in the Bible that speak of Christians “walking in darkness.” One of them is 1 John 2:10-11, “He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him, but he that hateth his brother is in darkness and walketh in darkness and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.”
John is talking about a believer here because he refers to him as “a brother” (verse 7). The word darkness here is the same Greek word that is used in the above Matthew parable, and it has nothing at all to do with hell or the lake of fire.
Next month, we will continue our comments about the Par-able of the Ten Talents and see what being “cast into the outer darkness” really means. To be continued: “Comments About the Parable of the Ten Talents.” This article has been excerpted in part from Chuck and Nan’s new book The Kingdom, Power and Glory.