LENTEN AND EASTER STUDY
Lesson 3; Matthew, Chapters 24-25
Jesus' Eschatological Sermon
Loving and patient Lord,
Help us to make our forty day Lenten journey an honest examination of conscience in which we reject those activities and thoughts that are not helpful in directing our lives toward a daily exercise in holiness. Give us the strength of will to deny all worldly influences that do not lead to holiness in word and deed so that we will be ready and able to offer our lives as a pure and holy sacrifice to Your Son as His faithful and humble servants. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, in our study of Jesus' last day of teaching to the crowds in Jerusalem. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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splendor of the temple's design was shown to Christ immediately after he had
warned of Jerusalem's desolation, as though to move him. Yet he said that
everything had to be destroyed and the scattered stones of its entire
foundation demolished, for an eternal temple was being consecrated as a
dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. This
eternal temple is the man who is made worthy of becoming God's habitation
through knowledge of the Son, confession of the Father and obedience to the
Hillary, Bishop of Poitiers (315-367 AD), On Matthew 25.1
Wednesday was Jesus' last teaching day in Jerusalem. The Pharisees had been continually frustrated in their attempts to discredit Jesus with the crowds and unknowingly spoke prophetically when they complained to one another, "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him" (Jn 12:19). Their words were ironically fulfilled when some Gentiles came to Philip and asked to meet with Jesus (Jn 12:20-22; in verse 21 "to see" has the implication of "meet with"). When Philip and Andrew, the two Jewish disciples who had Greek names, told Jesus some Greeks wanted to speak with Him, Jesus declares: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified ..." (Jn 12:23. In making this declaration, Jesus links His coming crucifixion to the extending of His Gospel message of salvation to the Gentile nations. It is also Jesus' announcement that the time for Him to personally gather in the "lost sheep" of Israel has come to an end. After a final homily, speaking of His Passion and glorification (Jn 12:24-36) and with God the Father's voice from heaven affirming the glorification of His name in Jesus' coming "hour" (Jn 12:28), Jesus left the Temple precincts and crossed the Kidron Valley with His Apostles to the Mt. of Olives.
Matthew Chapter 24 ~ The Beginning of Jesus' Eschatological Sermon: The destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Coming
Structure of Jesus' Eschatological Sermon (24:1-25:46)
Matthew 24:1-13 ~ The Destruction of the Temple and Beginning of Sorrows
1 Jesus left the temple area and was going away, when his disciples approached him to point out the temple buildings. 2 He said to them in reply, "You see all these things, do you not? Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down." 3 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, "Tell us when will this happen, and what sign will there be of your coming [parousia], and of the end of the age?" 4 Jesus said to them in reply, 5 "See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name saying, 'I am the Messiah,' and they will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for those things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. 8 All theses are the beginning of the labor pains. 9 Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come."
The Jerusalem Temple was a source of great pride to the Jews of Jesus' generation. To win the hearts of the people, Rome's appointed King of the Jews, the Idumaean Herod the Great, took the simple structure built by the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC and turned it into one of the most beautiful buildings of its time (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.11.1-7; Wars of the Jews, 1.21.1).
In predicting the destruction of the Temple in verses 1-2, Jesus was not expressing hostility to the Temple. Jesus had the most profound love and respect for His "Father's house," as He called the Temple (Jn 2:16).
Question: What are some examples of Jesus connection
to the Temple throughout His life?
Jesus recognized the Jerusalem Temple as God's dwelling-place among men and even identified Himself with the Temple by presenting Himself as God's definitive "dwelling-place among men" (Mt 12:6; Jn 2:19-21). But, on His last teaching day in Jerusalem, Jesus unites His prophecy of the Temple's destruction to the destruction of His own Body in His Passion. His death will become a sign of the future destruction of the Jerusalem Temple that will inaugurate the new and Final Age of mankind (see CCC 585-86, 593).
Jesus' prediction of the destruction of the Temple of His own Body and the raising up of His Body/Temple on the third day (Jn 2:19) will be used against Him at His trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, and He will be taunted with His claim as He suffers on the Cross (Mt 27:39-40; Mk 14:57-58).
Jesus' prophecy, 'Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down" was literally fulfilled when the Roman's destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.
Matthew 24:3 ~ As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, "Tell us when will this happen, and what sign will there be of your coming [parousia], and of the end of the age?"
After Jesus' prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple, He and the disciples left the city of Jerusalem, crossed the Kidron Valley Bridge and came to the Mt. of Olives. The disciples have already been told about His Passion, death and Resurrection which they understand will mark the close of the present age, and so they ask Him about His Parousia ("coming," "appearance"). They know that the destruction of the Temple is connected to His Parousia: Behold, your house [the Temple] will be abandoned. But I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord' (Lk 13:35; also see Mt 23:38).
St. Matthew usually writes about the future "coming" or "appearance" of Jesus using the term parousia (see Mt 24:3, 27, 37 and 39). The Greek term refers to the "coming" of a person or his presence as opposed to his absence (see Phil 2:12), or the arrival of a person at a destination (see 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 7:6-7; Phil 1:26). But in the ancient world it was also a technical term designating the arrival of a ruler to view his subjects and it is in this sense that the term is applied to Jesus' Second Advent/Coming at the end of the Final Age of mankind (see 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thes 4:15; 2 Thes 2:1; 2 Pt 3:12).(1)
In His homily Jesus speaks of both the end of the age of the Sinai Covenant that inaugurates the Messianic Age and the end of the Messianic Age that is the Final Age of Man and His Second Advent/Coming.
Question: Why was the Mt. of Olives an appropriate
place for Jesus to speak of the end of the age? See Zech 14:1-9 and Acts 1:8-12. The Jews understood that the Age of the Sinai Covenant would end with
the coming of the Messianic Age.
Answer: The 6th century BC prophet Zechariah spoke of both the destruction of Jerusalem and the Parousia of the Lord God. He said at the end of the Age that the Lord will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle. The city will fall and half the population will go into exile. Then the prophet said Yahweh will go against those nations, and when He returns His feet shall rest on the Mt. of Olives and the mountain will be split in half from east to west—from the Mt. of Olives to Jerusalem. At that time God will come with His holy ones. The Mt. of Olives is also the site of the Ascension and the place to which two angels told the disciples Jesus will return.
Question: What are the "signs" that Jesus gives them
in verses 4-14?
Many of the signs like wars, famines and earthquakes are disasters that occur regularly throughout the course of human history.(3) However, during Jesus' lifetime the success of the Roman Empire imposed a "Roman peace" over the territories they controlled.
When Jesus warns that All theses are the beginning of the labor pains, He is saying that the tribulation will not come suddenly but will build up over a period of time like a woman who feels the prolonged contractions of the coming birth of her child.
Matthew 24:9-11 ~ Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold.
It wouldn't have surprised the disciples to hear that persecution will come from the pagan Gentile nations, but it must have distressed them to hear that dissension and betrayal would come from within the community of the faithful, meaning both the Jewish community and the Jewish-Christian community (verses 10-12).
Question: Despite these dire predictions, what hope
does Jesus give His disciples in verses 13-14?
He wants them to continue their mission to the Gentile nations, which clearly makes this part of His homily about the temporal destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. St. Paul speaks of the Jewish persecution of Christians a part of God's plan until the "full number of the Gentiles comes in" at which time "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:25-26).
Since Jesus speaks of both the end of the Age of the Sinai Covenant with the beginning of the Messianic Age and the destruction of Jerusalem as well as the end of the Final Age of Man and His Second Advent within the same homily, it is difficult to know if the sign that the Gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth is a sign of His Second Advent or a sign of the destruction of Jerusalem. By 70 AD, the Gospel of salvation had been preached to the ends of the Roman Empire "the ends of the known world for the Jews. However, with the invention of mass media and the internet, we can truly say that today the Gospel of salvation has been preached to the ends of the earth.
Matthew 24:15-25 ~ The Great Tribulation of Jerusalem
15 "When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing on the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, 17 a person on the housetop must not go down to get things out of his house, 18 a person in the field must not return to get his cloak. 19 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days. 20 Pray that your flight not be in winter or on the Sabbath, 21 for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be. 22 And if those days had not been shortened, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect they will be shortened. 23 If anyone says to you then, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. 24 False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told it to you beforehand. 26 So if they say to you, 'He is in the desert,' do not go out there; if they say 'He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. 27 For just as lightening comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
Verse 22 sets the events described during the lifetimes of the disciples. The "saved" refers to temporal salvation. In the return of the Messiah there is an end to time as we know it, but since Jesus says "for the sake of the elect" the tribulation will be shortened He is speaking of ending the tribulation for the sake of the Church so His disciples can continue with their mission to spread the Gospel of salvation.
Question: What is Jesus' warning in verses 16-21?
Answer: His warning is by the time the desolation of the Temple takes place they must flee Jerusalem without stopping to gather anything.
The abomination of desolation in verse 15 is the Hebrew expression found in Daniel 9:27; 11:31 and 12:11, which was a parody on the name of the false god whose worship was set up in the Temple by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV in 167 BC (Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, page 336). Matthew's parenthetical comment let the reader understand means the reader should try to find a historical link to that previous event recorded by the prophet Daniel. The Roman emperor Nero announced his intention of setting up a statue of himself in the Jerusalem Temple, but died before he could make good on his threat.
Matthew 24:20 ~ Pray that your flight not be in winter or on the Sabbath, 21 for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be.
Jesus' dramatic words depict the magnitude of the suffering. Travel in winter was difficult because of the seasonal rains, muddy roads, and the wadis (normally dry stream beds) travelers would have to cross being overfilled with water. Jesus mentions the Sabbath because it was a day for entering into God's rest in worship when no work and no travel was permitted—a religious Jew would face a crisis of conscience in choosing to keep the Sabbath or to ignore his religious obligations in order to flee disaster. Josephus, an eyewitness to the events, records that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD was literally the end of the world for the Jews.
St. Matthew provides the detail that the abomination takes place "in the holy place" of the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple proper was divined into two sacred spaces:
St. Luke interprets the event that brings about the profaning of the Temple as imminent when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near (Lk 21:20). Biblical scholars and biblical historians see this event fulfilled in the four Roman legions composed of soldiers from across the Roman world that surrounded and then destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. This event was followed by the profaning of the Temple when General Titus entering the Holy Place with his commanders and the Roman soldiers carrying the pagan images of their ensigns into the Temple and displaying them there while they offered pagan sacrifices (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6.4.7; 6.6.1).
Matthew 24:21 ~ for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be.
The "abomination of desolation" in the Temple, the imagery of the coming of the "Son of Man" and now the wording in verse 21 all recalls images from the book of the prophet Daniel. The visions Daniel receives reach their climax in chapter 12: At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people. It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others will be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever (Dan 12:1-3).
Matthew 24:22 ~ And if those days had not been shortened, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect they will be shortened. Jesus' implied promise is that those days of tribulation will be shortened so the faithful elect will be saved from destruction and the spreading of the Gospel of salvation will continue. Harrington points out that Matthew uses the grammatical structure known as the "divine passive" in this verse, pointing to an act of God (Gospel of Matthew, page 337).
Question: In the Old Testament to whom does "the
elect" or "the chosen ones" refer? To whom does Jesus refer to as His
"elect"? See Dt 7:6-11; Rom 11:5-7.
Answer: "The elect" in the O.T. are the children of Israel who God called into covenant with Him and who must live in obedience to His commands. Jesus is referring to the "elect" of the new Israel "the "faithful remnant" of Jews who He chose to become the New Covenant community of believers.
Matthew 24:23-26 ~ If anyone says to you then, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. 24 False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told it to you beforehand. 26 So if they say to you, 'He is in the desert,' do not go out there; if they say 'He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.
In a repeat of verse 5 Jesus speaks again of false messiahs and prophets. Josephus records that there were false prophets and false messiahs (those Jews claiming to be God's leaders of the people) leading up to and during the revolt against Rome (The Jewish Wars, 2.13.5; 2.17.1-10; 4.3.2, 8-9; 4.7.1; also see Acts 5:35-39). Verse 26 reveals that this will not be a hidden event.
Matthew 24:27-28 ~ "For just as lightening comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
Lightening in the sky is the sign of a coming storm. The sign of the coming judgment will be as clear an event as the lightening that announces a storm.
Matthew 24:28 ~ Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. The literal translation is "eagles will gather."
It is a common sight for birds of prey to gather over an exposed corpse. The point of Jesus' little proverb is to emphasize the clear and public viewing of the results of the tribulation when the Son of Man comes in judgment on Jesus' generation of Jerusalem as promised in Matthew 23:36. It is the place and the people who gathered around His corpse.
Matthew 24:29-31 ~ The Parousia of the Son of Man
29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the one end of the heavens to the other."
Speaking of the future messianic hope, God told the prophet Haggai: I will shake the heavens and the earth; I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms, destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations (Hag 2:21-22). In verse 29 Jesus uses apocalyptic language to express the serious consequences of the "Day of the Lord" when all creation will signal the coming of the Son of Man and the course of human history is altered. This is the same imagery the prophet Joel uses in Joel 3:1-5, a passage St. Peter quoted from in his homily on Pentecost Sunday when he said the day Joel wrote about had come: And I will work wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: blood, fire, and cloud of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and splendid day of the Lord, and it shall be that everyone shall be saved who calls on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:19-21). Also see similar language in the books of other Old Testament prophets (Is 13:10; 34:4; Ez 32:7; Amos 8:9; Joel 2:10, 31; Hag 2:6, 31; 21).
The inspired writer of the letter of Hebrews wrote of Jesus as the mediator of the new covenant in context of the tribulation after His Ascension and later in His return: See that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much more in our case if we turn away from the one who warns from heaven. His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, "I will once more shake not only earth but heaven." That phrase, "once more," points to the removal of shaken, created things, so that what is unshaken may remain. Therefore, we who are receiving the unshakable kingdom should have gratitude, with which we should offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:25-29).
In using these phrases, Jesus may be referring to the prophecy in Zechariah 12:10-12 which refers to the Messiah's death and the nations of the earth mourning and to Daniel 7:13-14 in which a divine "Son of Man" ascends on the glory cloud to take His place beside the "Ancient of Days" as the ruler of all earthly nations.
Matthew 24:31 ~ And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the one end of the heavens to the other."
The gathering of God's "elect" is also described in the Old Testament (Dt 30:4; Is 11:11, 16; 27:12; Ez 39:27). God's elect, the children of Israel were gathered for each day's march to the Promised Land by the trumpet signal (Num 10:1-7), but in this passage the trumpet blast is the sign of the gathering of God's elect from the ends of the earth where they have been scattered.
Question: In addition to gathering the elect, what other
duty is assigned the angels in Matthew 13:41-42?
Answer: The angels are also charged with collecting the wicked for punishment. They are in charge of the harvest of souls.
A trumpet blast in Isaiah 27:13 describes in eschatological language the gathering in of the lost of Israel from the Gentile nations of Assyria and Egypt. And in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, St. Paul describes the Parousia of the Christ and the gathering of the elect: For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.
In this next section of His discourse, Jesus will tell four parables. These are His last parables on His last teaching day in Jerusalem. The theme of each parable is "watchfulness."
Matthew 24:32-35 ~ The Time of His Coming in the Parable
of the Fig Tree
32 "Learn a lesson [parabole =parable] from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leavens, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates. 34 Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
Again Jesus is using an image of the Old Testament prophets in the image of the fig tree. Unlike most trees in the Holy Land, the fig tree sheds it leavens in winter. When the fig tree begins producing leaves and buds it is a sign that summer is coming.
Matthew 23:33 ~ In the same way, when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates.
Question: Who is the "he" who is near?
Answer: Jesus, the Son of Man in verse 30.
Since the reference is to Jesus' generation in verse 34, the "these things" that must take place must refer to His death and resurrection after which will come the tribulation of Jerusalem followed by the Son of Man coming in judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple to fulfill His prophecy in 24:2.
Jesus solemn saying Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away in verse 35 are reminiscent of Isaiah 40:8: Though the grass withers and the flower wilts, the word of our God stands forever. Verses 34-35, the references to "these things" and "heaven and earth," also recalls His promise in Matthew 5:18: Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place, a reference to His Passion, death and resurrection when the old Law of the Sinai Covenant will be fulfilled.
Matthew 24:36-44 ~ Warning to Be Alert for the Day and
36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man. 38 In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. 39 They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming [Parousia] of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. 43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. 44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
There are three possible interpretations:
Question: Who knows the day and hour of the exact
coming of the Son of Man in the glory of His Second Advent? See verse 36 and
Answer: Only God the Father knows.
It is therefore foolish for people to speculate about His imminent coming. It is better to live as though He is coming in the next minute and to keep one's life continually "right" with God. As Jesus warns in 24:22-23, if anyone tells you he knows when Jesus is coming, avoid that person because he is a false prophet.
Question: What is the point of comparison between the
Second Coming of Jesus and the days of Noah in verses 37-39?
Answer: The point is the unexpected nature of the final crisis. In the days of Noah, people were doing all the common things people do up to the moment they were swept away in judgment.
Harrington notes that the verb paralambanetai "taken away" in verse 40 has eschatological overtones (The Gospel of Matthew, page 342). The point of the two people doing the same tasks with one "taken" and the other "left behind" points out not only the common theme of daily life that will be suddenly ended in the crisis but also the division that will come about "when the Son of Man comes" in judgment (see Jesus' teaching on division in Mt 10:34-35). Protestants have interpreted this passage to suggest the faithful believers will be taken into heaven but the others who have not accepted the Gospel message of salvation will be left to endure the final tribulation. However, the passage does not say which are the better off "the taken or those left behind. This theory does not agree with other passages in Scripture about the Second Advent while will immediately be followed by the final judgment of both the righteous and the wicked (i.e., Rev 20:11-15). Then too, these verses may be referring to the end of the Jewish revolt. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Romans sold almost a million Jews into slavery causing a catastrophic division of the people.
Matthew 25:42-44 ~ Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. 43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. 44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
Jesus urges vigilance since the exact time is unknown. The comparison of such an unexpected event to a thief plundering a man's house appears five times in the New Testament (Mt 24:43; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pt 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15. In verse 44 Jesus urges all of us "men and women of every generation to be prepared for His coming "in the hour of our death and in the final hour for all mankind.
After prophesying the judgment of Jerusalem and the visible coming of His Messianic reign, Jesus will end His discourse by telling three more parables concerning the ultimate fate of all men and women. These parables focus on the need for constant vigilance before the promised end time event, the time of whose arrival no one but the Father knows (Mt 24:36). Like Jesus' other discourses in the Gospel of Matthew this last discourses ends in an eschatological (end times) parable.
Matthew 24:45-51 ~ The Parable of the Two Stewards
45 "Who, then, is the faithful and prudent [wise] servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant [steward] whom his master on his arrival finds doing so. 47 Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. 48 But if that wicked servant says himself, 'My master is long delayed,' 49 and so begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, 50 the servant's master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour 51 and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Question: What are the two favorable characteristics
of the servant the master has put in charge of his household?
Answer: His is both faithful and prudent/wise.
The adjective pistos/faithful in the sense of one who is trustworthy and reliable is frequently used as the ideal characteristic of a Christian leader (see 1 Cor 4:1-2, 17; Col 1:7; Eph 6:21; Tit 1:9).
In Numbers 12:7 Moses is identified as the chief servant God placed over His household, the Old Covenant Church. In Hebrews 3:1-6 the inspired writer compares Moses and Christ. Jesus, "who was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all his house" but he goes on to say that Moses was faithful as a servant while Christ was faithful as a divine Son placed over God's house, the Church.
In ancient times, the chief servant who ruled in his master's name over the household was the master's steward or vicar in the case of kings.
Question: Please answer Jesus' question in verse 45: Who,
then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of
his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Who is
the chief servant/steward who has the authority over Jesus' household, the
Church? What is the "food" and what is the "proper time"?
Answer: St. Peter and his successors, the Popes of the Catholic Church are the stewards of the household founded by God, His Church; although the reference could also be to the stewards/pastors of each faith community. The "food" that is distributed is the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist and the proper time is the Mass.
The chief servant could be the leader of the universal household of God, the Church, or he could even be the leader of individual households that are faith communities within the Body of Christ.
Question: What is the reward of the trustworthy
Answer: His responsibilities will increase.
The mention of "fellow servants" in verse 49 signals that the chief servant/steward is himself a servant.
This parable is a warning to all successors of St. Peter who are the chief stewards over God's household.
Question: What are the two possible outcomes for
God/the Master's stewards?
Answer: They will either receive blessings for faithful service in governing God's household/the Church and feeding the members of His household at the proper time, or they will be judged and condemned for their mistreatment of the servants who serve under their leadership and will be cast into Hell/Gehenna.
Jesus has spoken often of the eternal fire of Gehenna as the destination for those who reject God's gift of salvation. The Church affirms the existence of Hell and its eternity of separation from God (see CCC 1033-37).
The unfaithful Christian servant/steward will be cast out into Gehenna, the place of punishment where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Jesus' warning is not only for the Popes of the Catholic Church but for all Christian leaders.
Question: What is the connection to The Pharisees and
scribes in Matthew 23:15 and 33 and those persons mentioned in Matthew 8:11-12;
13:42, 50; 22:13 and 23:37?
Answer: Matthew places the unfaithful Christian leader in the same class as the failed Jewish leaders (Mt 23:15, 33), the unfaithful Israelite "children of the kingdom" (Mt 8:11-12), those who reject God's call to salvation and become the children of the evil one/Satan Mt 13:42), the wicked that the angels separate from the righteous (Mt 13:50), and the wedding guest who came to the banquet but did not come in the garment of grace (Mt 22:13), when they face Divine Judgment, all these will be cast into the outer darkness, into the fiery furnace of Gehenna where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Matthew will use the expressing "wailing and grinding of teeth" for Gehenna one more time in Jesus' description of the Last Judgment in 25:31, for a total of six times.
Matthew Chapter 25 ~ Eschatological Discourse Continued
Matthew 25:1-13 ~ The Parable of the Ten Virgins
1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, 4 but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' 7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.' 10 While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. 11 Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!' 12 But he said in reply, 'amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The word used to describe the ten women in the parable is parthenos in the Greek, which means "virgin." It is the same word used for Mary in Matthew 1:23 and in the Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14. This is a parable concerned with the necessity of watchfulness but it is also another "kingdom of heaven" parable.
The virgins are waiting for the bridegroom to take them to the marriage feast. In the Greek text the word for marriage is plural, gamos. It is the Christian tradition that Christ is the Bridegroom of His Church who is His faithful and virginal Bride (see Mt 9:15; Jn 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:21-33; Rev 21:2, 9 and 22:17).
Question: If the Bridegroom is Christ, who are the
virgins in the parable, what do the oil lamps represent, and where is the
wedding feast? See Rev 19:5-9.
The virgins represent the Christian communities waiting for the Bridegroom, who is Jesus, to take them to the wedding feast, which is the heavenly marriage supper of the Lamb: "Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment." (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.) Then the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb" (Rev 19:7-9).
In the parable, all the virgins have oil lamps which they must keep burning as they await the coming of the Bridegroom. The flames of the oil lamps probably represent the spiritual light of the Holy Spirit giving life to the Church. Fire is a symbol of the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Exodus out of Egypt, the children of Israel were guided by the fiery pillar, and in the Jerusalem Temple, the seven burning oil lamps of the golden Menorah represented the presence of God's spirit in the Sanctuary. In the New Testament, St. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the Christ who will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lk 1:17; 3:16). Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said "I came to cast fire upon the earth and would that it were already kindled!" (Lk 12:49). On Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit possessed the New Covenant community praying in the Upper Room in the form of tongues of fire (Acts 2:3-4), and St. Paul warns Christians "do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thes 5:19; also see CCC 696).
In the parable the bridegroom is delayed in his coming. This delay is similar to the delay of the return of the Master in the parable of the two servants and is a reminder that we do not know when Christ, our Bridegroom, will return.
Question: What is the contrast between the virgins in
Answer: Five virgins, half the Christian communities, are prudent and watchful. They are the Christian communities or individual Christians who are vigilant in keeping their lives right with God in preparation for the Parousia of the Christ. But only half the virgins/Christian communities are prepared for the coming of the bridegroom—the ill-prepared virgins miss the coming of the bridegroom and cannot enter the wedding feast.
see Mt 22:11-14 for the parable of the wedding guest who was also not prepared).
Matthew 25:10 ~ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.
Like the door of the Ark that closed at the coming of the flood, the door to the Kingdom of Heaven will be closed to those who do not prepare for the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride the Church.
11 Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!' 12 But he said in reply, 'amen, I say to you, I do not know you.'
Question: What warning did Jesus give in Matthew 7:21-23 that is repeated in this parable?
Answer: Not everyone who calls Jesus "Lord" will enter the gates of heaven but only those who do the will of God the Father.
In Matthew 7:23 the Greek verb is different but the meaning is the same.
Jesus response to those who failed in their obedience is that He never knew them. "Knowing" someone intimately in the Bible is either through sexual intimacy or the intimacy of covenant kinship. Jesus' rejection of the foolish virgins/failed Christians is because they never committed to the intimacy of covenant union with the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
Matthew 25:13 ~ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The warning that has been given throughout His discourse is repeated once again—be prepared and be vigilant because you do not know the day or hour when Christ will come for the Church as a whole and for you as an individual.
Matthew 25:14-30 ~ The Parable of the Talents
14 It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately 16 the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. 17 Likewise, the one who received two made another two. 18 But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.' 21 His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.' 22 [Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.' 23 His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.' 24 Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; 25 so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.' 26 His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? 28 Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'"
The "man" in the parable is referred to as kyrios, "Lord" ten times in verses 18, 19, 20, 21 (twice), 22, 23 (twice), 24 and 26.
Question: In the parable who is the man and what is
his journey? Who are his servants, what do the talents represent and when does
the "master" return?
A talent was a very large sum. One commentator has estimated a single talent was worth the wage of a common laborer for fifteen years. A talent was equal in value to 6,000 Greek drachmas (Fr. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, "money," page 583). You may recall that the double drachma was the amount due for the Temple tax (Mt 18:24-27); therefore, the talent amounts in the parable represent an enormous amount of money in the ancient world. God is generous in giving spiritual gifts to His covenant children, and like the man in the parable, He calibrates those spiritual gifts according to the abilities of the disciple/servant.(5) However, He expects those gifts to be used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven on earth—the Church.
Notice that Jesus congratulated both the servant with many spiritual gifts and the one with less spiritual gifts. Each servant was judged according to his ability to use the gifts he had received. All the servants are professed believers and members of the covenant.
Question: What was the excuse of the failed servant
and what was his punishment? Compare and contrast the failed servant's fate to
the fate of the faithful servants.
Answer: The failed servant admitted that he knew what God required for those in covenant with Him, but he neglected his spiritual gifts, making the excuse that if he buried the gift he believed he couldn't fail. The Master/Jesus did not accept his excuse. The failed servant received the opposite of the faithful servants. Instead of "entering in" he was "cast out" and was consigned to a state of eternal separation from God in Gehenna/Hell, the place of "wailing and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 25:26-27 ~ His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?'
God calls men and women to salvation even outside the Church —where He did not plant and scatter seed. The failed servant knew the scope of God's call to salvation but ignored his obligation to help with the harvest. The least he could have done would have been to invest his wealth —the temporal gift of money that was also a blessing from God —into the spread of the Gospel by financially supporting the Church.
"Wailing and gnashing of teeth" is a term that Matthew has used seven times (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13, 24:51 25:30 and for the last time in 25:30). The expression vividly describes the frustration and anguish felt by those souls who have been, through their own unrepented sins, excluded from the Master's joy in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew 25:29 ~ For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Jesus/the Master promises that those who use their spiritual gifts to serve the Church and to advance the Kingdom will receive more gifts to enrich their lives in the service of Jesus Christ, while those who neglect their spiritual gifts will loose what they were initially given.
The perspective of Jesus' homily now changes. The theme of watchfulness for the return of the Master and the final accounting that will take place when the Master returns in the last parable sets the stage for Jesus' final teaching on Wednesday of His last week in Jerusalem —Jesus' Second Advent and the end of the world as we know it. Some scholars see this last part of Jesus' discourse as a final parable.
Matthew 25:31-46 ~ The Last Judgment
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 32 and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' 37 Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' 40 And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' 41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' 44 Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison and not minister to your needs?' 45 He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' 46 And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Jesus concludes His homily with a vision of the Last Judgment when the Son of Man judges all the people of every nation on the earth. This is the same vision the prophet Daniel witnessed: As the visions of the night continued, I saw one like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven. When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him. He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:13-14).
The Church teaches that there will be an individual judgment at the end of each person's life on earth (Heb 9:27; CCC 1021-22). However, at the end of time, Christ will return in glory as He has promised. His return will signal the resurrection of the dead that will be followed by the Last Judgment (CCC 1038, 1040). This is the event St. John describes when he wrote: Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation (Jn 5:28-29; see CCC 1038-41).
Matthew 25:32 ~ and all the nations will be assembled before him.
The words "all nations" suggests that is Last Judgment after the Second Advent of Christ and the resurrection of the dead at the end of the world (see Rev 20:11-15).
And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. It was the practice in the Holy Land and that region of the world today to keep both sheep and goats in the same flock, but the shepherd had to separate them at night and take the goats into a warmer enclosure since their coats were not sufficiently heavy to keep them warm (Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, page 206). However, these sheep and goats are from the same flock —either the same flock of covenant believers or the same flock of mankind. This teaching recalls the prophecy of Ezekiel: As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats (Ez 34:17). In the Last Judgment all nations of the earth will face judgment including the Christians of God's flock and all others from the nations of the earth.
Question: Who is the Son of Man? Why does He sit in
judgment over the nations of the earth? See Ez 39:21; Dan 7:13-14; Mt 25:31,
34, 40; Rom 2:9-10; 1 Cor 6:2-3; 1 Pt 4:17.
Answer: Jesus is the Son of Man and divine King of the nations in Daniel's vision in 7:13-14. Since He has been given power by God to Father over the nations of the earth, He has the right to judge the nations at the end of the Age of Man.
The declaration of Jesus' kingship began in Matthew's genealogy and the infancy narrative (Mt 1:1, 20; 2:2, 13-14) and will be ironically proclaimed in the Passion narrative (Mt 27:11, 29, 37, 42). Some scholars interpret this passage to mean that there will be a separate judgment for believers as opposed to non-believers. Others suggest there is a separate judgment for Jews and Gentiles which seems unlikely since the New Covenant puts an end to the Old Covenant under which the Jews were promised a future salvation through obedience to the Law (see Heb 10:8-10). Salvation under obedience to the commands and prohibitions of the Sinai Covenant is no longer possible since the Temple has been destroyed. If there is a separate judgment for the people of God and non-believers, this passage suggest the path to salvation for those who never heard the Gospel of salvation is their good deeds which they render to Christ by service to the oppressed and poor, including Christians (see Rom chapter 2).
The Church lists the kind acts described verses 35-36 among "the works of mercy" (CCC 2447). The Church imitates Christ's love for the poor and oppressed as "part of her constant tradition" (CCC 2444). St. John Chrysostom reminded his congregation that all the material blessings we enjoy are from God, and we should not look upon them as ours alone: Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs (Homilies in Lazaro 2.5).
Question: Who are the sheep and who are the goats?
Answer: The sheep are those who demonstrated their love for Christ by extending that love to those who suffer in the world. The goats are those who are either indifferent or refused to acknowledge their duty towards those who suffer.
Question: What is the King's judgment of the sheep
who demonstrate their love of God in loving others as opposed to the goats?
Answer: The sheep are placed on the King's right "the place of honor "and the goats are on the left. The sheep inherit eternal life in the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world while the goats are sent into eternal punishment.
Jesus identifies with the poor and the oppressed and makes the Christian's outpouring of active love toward those who suffer a condition for entering His Kingdom. We cannot hope of an eternal reward without loving God and love of God is tied to love and concern for our brothers and sisters in the family of mankind (CCC 2443). St. John wrote in 1 John 3:14-15: We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murdered, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him (see CCC 544, 1033).
Matthew 26:1-1 ~ When Jesus finished all these words, he said to his disciples, 2 "You know that in two days' time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."
Jesus' final homily in Matthew's Gospel ends like the other four with a statement using the verb teleo, "finished." Jesus and His disciples left their vantage point on the Mt. of Olives across from the beautiful Jerusalem Temple that was the symbol of Old Covenant worship. They withdrew to the village of Bethany where Jesus had His last dinner with His friends before the Passover sacrifice the next day and the beginning of His walk to the Cross.
Question for group discussion:
Each of us has been given spiritual gifts to advance the Kingdom, but it is our obligation to discover those gifts and put them to use. What are your spiritual gifts and what are you doing to use those gifts to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ? At the Last Judgment, which servant judgment do you think you will receive?
1. Jesus' parousia is not only promised in His Second Advent. His presence continues with His Church spiritually and sacramentally (Mt 8:20; 28:20; Jn 6:53-58; 1 Cor 10:16). His sacramental parousia is acknowledged in the sacrifice of the Mass when the faithful proclaim "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD."
2. False messiah's are not men claiming to be Jesus men but claiming to be God's anointed; see Acts 5:6 and Josephus' list of men claiming to be the messiah during the Jewish Revolt against Rome (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.85-87; 20.97-99, 167-72, 188).
3. Acts 11:28 reports a famine that is also recorded in secular histories in the late 40's AD (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.101). In the same period there were also a series of earthquakes in Judea, Syria, and other parts of the Roman Empire (see Tacitus, Annals, 12.43.58; Pliny the elder, Natural History, 2.84; Seneca, Natural Questions, 6.1; 7.28. In reporting on a huge storm and an earthquake during the Jewish revolt against Rome, Josephus saw these as signs of disaster to come: These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and anyone would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming (The Jewish Wars, 4.4.5).
4. Translations that have the word "candles" are in error. The tallow candle was an invention of the Celts in central Europe.
5. The use of the monetary sum of the talent united to the theme of the parable resulted in the use of the term "talent" to describe the gift of a person's natural ability to do something (Harrington, page 352).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (*indicates Scripture is either paraphrased or quoted in the citation)
585*, 586, 593
1029*, 1720*, 2683*
544*, 1033*, 1373, 2447*, 2831*
331, 671*, 678*, 1038
678, 1397*, 1825*, 1932, 2449*
598*, 1825*, 2463