Outline of Matthew 24-25 – The Olivet Discourse
I. Questions (Matthew 24:1-3)
II. Answers (Matthew 24:4-39)
A. The Signs (Matthew 24:4-35)
1. Summary of The Day of the Lord and preliminary events (Matthew 24:4-14)
2. Focus on the Great Tribulation (final 3 1/2 years of the Day of the Lord) (Matthew 24:15-35)
B. The Times (Matthew 24:36-44)
1. Nobody Knows when the Day of the Lord begins (Matthew 24:36-39)
2. Therefore, Be Ready for the Rapture! (Matthew 24:40-44)
III. Application (Matthew 24:45-25:46)
A. Faithful and Wise Servant (Matthew 24:45-51) – for church-age Elect
B. Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) – for the Tribulation Elect
C. Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) – for all Elect throughout time (cf. Matthew 24:31) – a.k.a. Bema
D. Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) – for all the nations at the beginning of the Millennium
The Faithful and Wise Servant (Matthew 24:45-51)
Some of the passages that cause the most confusion about our security in Christ are those that have to do with end times judgment. There are so many different judgments and so many results of these various judgments that some people confuse them with other things in the Christian life. One passage that clears all of this up is the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25.
In Matthew 24:3, the disciples come to Jesus when they are up on the Mount of Olives, and ask him what signs and events will precede His coming and the end of the age. Jesus answers their questions in Matthew 24:4-39. He begins in Matthew 24:4-35 by answering the question about what the signs will be. He first summarizes the entire Day of the Lord in verses 4-14, then zeros in on the last three and half years in Matthew 24:15-35. These final three and a half years are called the Great Tribulation, and culminate with Christ returning to earth and setting up his kingdom.
Having explained the signs of the end of the age, Jesus then talks about the timing – when this Day of the Lord (as talked about in Matthew 24:4-35) will come. He answers this question in verses 36-39. The answer is that nobody knows when the end will come. No human knows – not even Jesus Christ Himself knows (cf. Mark 13:32). Only God the Father knows. We all know the time is coming, we just don’t know when (cf. 1 Thess. 5; 2 Pet. 3).
Because nobody knows when that Day will begin, we must be ready. If we are not ready; if we are not prepared, the day will come and we may be left behind. This is what verses 40-44 refer to. I believe this is a clear reference to the rapture of the church (cf. notes from the NET Bible). There are many who believe that this does not refer to the rapture, but to a different event at the end of the tribulation period, but I believe it does refer to the rapture. Having answered their questions, Jesus now turns to providing some application. He told them what the signs and events of the tribulation would be, and then that we don’t know when that time will begin. He now wants to provide some application to his answers.
The Timing of the Day of the Lord (Matthew 24:45)
His first application is found in Matthew 24:45-51 and it concerns the timing of the Day of the Lord. This Day of the Lord begins with the rapture of the church. Jesus has just talked about the rapture, and so he begins by applying that truth to his disciples in Matthew 24:45. I must give credit to Zane Hodges for most of the truths I am about to present.
Matthew 24:45. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?
Hopefully all of us want to be that faithful and wise servant. This is how Jesus begins his application section. If you want to be a faithful and wise servant of Jesus Christ, then listen up! If you want to be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming, this section is for you. This verse goes on to say that it is such faithful and wise servants whom God will appoint to manage his household, and provide food for the family of God. I really like the way the New Living Translation renders this: “Who is a faithful, sensible servant, to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his household and feeding his family?”
God has ordered his family and arranged his household in such a way that only faithful and wise servants are given managerial positions in the household and the opportunity to provide nourishment for the family. Jesus is talking about more than just physical nourishment and oversight. I believe He is talking about Spiritual oversight. If you are a member of God’s household, you have been given a specific area of oversight that you are to take care of.
If you are faithful in this task while on this earth, you will be given greater responsibility and blessings in the eternal kingdom. This is what verses 46-47 say.
Blessings for the Faithful (Matthew 24:46-47)
Matthew 24:46-47. Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.
In other words, Christ has given us the responsibility to protect and provide for His family, for His church. That is a wonderful blessing in and of itself. If, when Jesus returns, He finds us persevering in our tasks, He will give us greater privilege and responsibility in the eternal kingdom.
All of us have been given gifts and duties and responsibilities while on this earth. They are wonderful blessings that make us feel useful and like we are contributing to something significant. If you ever feel useless in life, I would challenge you to rethink your priorities and really pray that God would reveal to you what He wants you to do on this earth. He has something specific in mind which only you can do, and life will seem empty until you discover and do it. And furthermore, if you discover and do it, when Christ returns, He will bless you greater responsibilities in heaven. This is a principle found everywhere in Scripture. This is just one of the many places.
But what happens if we do not live faithfully? What happens if we fail in our God given responsibilities? Verse 51 answers this question, and it has led many people to believe that such unfaithful servants lose their salvation. But before Jesus talks about that, He first wants to talk about how these servants of his degenerated into wickedness and rebellious living.
Becoming an Unfaithful Servant (Matthew 24:48-49)
Matthew 24:48 explains the first step in becoming an unfaithful servant.
Matthew 24:48. But if that evil servant says in his heart, “My master is delaying his coming.”
Jesus is very clear that this evil servant was the faithful servant of verses 45-47. Though this servant was at one time faithful, he has become evil and unfaithful. Notice that this evil servant still thinks of Christ as His master and His Lord. He is committed to the Mastery and Lordship of Jesus Christ in His life. Notice also that this evil servant still believes that Jesus is coming again. He has not stopped believing in Christ’s return. He doesn’t says, “My master is not coming.” He says, “My master is delaying his coming.” He simply began to believe that Christ had delayed His coming.
If this parable takes place after the rapture of the church, during the tribulation, it is hard to see how Christ can condemn the sentiment of this evil servant. Such a statement about Christ’s delay is perfectly normal and expected if a person is living in the midst of the tribulation. If I were in the early months or years of the tribulation, I would know that Christ’s physical coming was still years away. It is delayed.
In fact, this is exactly the response of the Ten Virgins in the next parable (Matthew 25:1-13) who are symbolic of Tribulation Saints. Yet they are not condemned for such beliefs. Instead, they are allowed to rest and sleep until they hear the midnight call. There is nothing wrong with a Tribulation Saint saying, “My Lord’s coming is six years off” as long as they are ready when the call to action rings forth.
But what is so bad about saying now that Christ has delayed his coming? It seems so innocent. We hear so much today that it doesn’t matter very much what you believe about when Christ is returning. But if we can trust what Jesus says here, it matters very much what we believe about it. If you adopt a belief that Christ’s coming is still years away, then watch out! You are on the track to becoming an evil servant. There are many teachings and teachers today who argue that several things must happen before Christ will return for His church. They teach that the return of Christ for His church in the rapture is not imminent.
One of these teachings is that of postmillennialism. It means “after the millennium.” This is the teaching that Christ will not return to earth until after the millennium. According to this teaching, the Millennium will be a time of peace and prosperity upon the entire earth. It will be the Golden Age of the church. The whole world will be evangelized and Christianized. All rulers will be Christians, and everybody will go to church and read their Bibles. And after a certain length of time in this Golden Age, only then will Christ return.
If Postmillennialism is true, then Christ’s coming is still many, many years away, maybe thousands. For we are nowhere near entering into a Golden Age of Christianity. If anything, the world just keeps getting worse. For this reason, there are very few postmillennial teachers today. It was a very popular view in the Nineteenth century, but two world wars and all of the atrocities that have taken place in the past 50 years or so has really put a damper on postmillennial teachings. Nevertheless, there are still a few postmillennial teachers out there who teach that the Lord delays his coming.
There are two other views on when Christ will return in relation to the Millennium. Amillennialism teaches that there will be no literal millennium, and no literal tribulation period either, and so Christ can return at any moment.
Then there is Premillennialism. This is the view that Christ will return before the Millennium. You would think that all Premillennialists would also believe that Christ can return at any moment. But that is not the case. You see, Premillennialists are the only ones who also believe in a literal, seven year tribulation. Those who are Postmillennial and Amillennial say that there won’t be a tribulation, or that it has already happened, or that we are in it right now.
But most who are Premillennial teach that before the 1000 year reign of Christ begins, there is a seven year period of time called the Tribulation. If you have read the Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye “Left Behind” series, you are familiar with a fictional account of what may happen during this period. Among those who are Premillennial, and who hold to a seven year Tribulation period, there are three basic views on when Christ will rapture his church (Four actually if you count the Pre-Wrath, but I group that with Mid-Trib). One is that it the rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation. The Second view is that the rapture occurs in the middle of the Tribulation. The Third View is that the rapture occurs that beginning of the Tribulation.
Now, of those three views, which one is the only one that allows for the imminent return of Jesus Christ? Which of those views is the only view which says that Christ could come today, or tomorrow? Not the Posttribulational view, for even if the tribulation started tomorrow, we would have seven years before the rapture. Not the Midtribulational view either, for if the Tribulation began tomorrow, we would have about 3 or 4 years before the rapture. There are only two views which allow for the imminent return of Jesus Christ – the Amillennial view – which says there is no literal 1000 year reign of Christ or 7 year tribulation, and the Premillennial-Pretribulational view.
All others fall into the danger of Matthew 24:48 by saying that the Lord delays his coming. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that it doesn’t matter what view you hold. It does matter. There is great danger in holding a view which delays the coming of our Lord. Why is there such danger in these other views? Because if you believe that Christ’s return is still years away, there is the temptation to slack off in your Christian life a bit. There is a temptation to coast for a while. There is a temptation to let a few things slip. To not clean up your act.
When was the last time you had someone over for dinner? Let’s say you have invited them to come over tomorrow night at 6:00. Depending on your cooking ability, around 4:00 or 4:30, you might start preparing the meal. Depending on how clean you like your house, you will also start preparing the meal. This is because you are preparing for the coming of your guest. As 6:00 draws near, you shift into frantic mode to get everything done that needs to be done for when they arrive. But how much would this picture change if the dinner date was still a month off? You’d have microwave popcorn and a coke for dinner. You’d walk about in your sweat pants and slippers all night. You wouldn’t shower or shave. You allow the sweeping and dusting to wait a few days. They are not coming for a while month – you can let things go. You’ve got time.
But what if you invited them to come for dinner and you said, “Just show up whenever you want to. I will be ready”? What would you do then? You would always have to be on the alert. You would always have to keep the house clean. You would always have to have a meal ready. You say, “Not me. If someone’s going to show up unannounced and expect me to have a clean house and meal prepared, they can forget it. They’ll have to settle for a dirty house, me in my pajamas, and a peanut butter sandwich.” That might be true if it was a family member, or a neighbor, or someone from church here.
But what if it was President Bush? What if he called and said, “Sometime this month, I’m going to come over for dinner. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific about when I’m coming, but you’ll just have to be ready.” What would you do then? You’d be ready. So it is with Jesus Christ. He wants us always to be ready. He wants us always to keep our spiritual homes clean, and keep spiritual clothes clean. He wants us always to be doing what He has called us to do. And the only way we will do this, is if we think He could come for us at any moment.
Look what could happen in Matthew 24:49 if we do not live with this conviction that Christ could show up at anytime.
Matthew 24:49. and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards.
This evil servant, who was a faithful servant, began to travel down the road to failure when he says that Christ is delaying his return. He begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards. The first thing he does is to abuse his fellow servants. And the next thing we know he is eating and drinking with drunkards. There is a progression here. First there is an error in regard to the Lord: the Lord is delaying his coming. Then there is an error in regard to the Lord’s people. He begins to abuse them. Finally, there is an error in regard to himself. He begins to eat and drink with drunkards. First, he loses the sense of imminency. Then he loses the spirit of love. Finally, he loses the capacity for self-control. In of the word of God, there is no greater incentive to faithful living than the realization that the Lord Jesus Christ may come back at any time. When that realization is lost, much else is lost with it.
I heard a story many years ago about a preacher who was on the West Coast. He had a considerable gift from God to teach the Word of God. Somehow he got involved in a romantic affair with a woman in his church, though he was already a married man. He was able to keep the affair hidden for some time, but eventually it was discovered, and he had to resign from the pastorate. When asked what lesson he wanted to pass on to other Christians and other pastors, this man answered, “When you stop walking with God, you are walking on the edge of a precipice.”
Jesus says something very similar here with one slight addition. When you stop walking in the belief of the imminent return of Jesus Christ, you are walking on the edge of a precipice. It is so easy to fall over into a life of resentment, jealously, envy, self-indulgence and worldliness. Look at this evil servant. He made a simple change in his theological beliefs, but it had profound effects on his behavior and life. Not only that, but on his eternal significance as well. Look what Christ says of him in Matthew 24:50-51.
Judgment of the Unfaithful Servant (Matthew 24:50-51)
Matthew 24:50-51. the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
What is Christ talking about here? There are three consequences to living as an unfaithful servant when Jesus Christ returns. First, such unfaithful servants will be cut in two. At first, it sounds as if Jesus pulls out a huge broadsword, and slices the person right through the middle. It is a very graphic image. But we must remember that it is an image. It is very obviously a metaphor – a figure of speech. It is a picture of how Christ punishes these unfaithful servants. But what is it a picture of?
If you think carefully, you will remember that many places throughout Scripture, the Word of God is compared to a Sword (Eph. 6:17; Rev. 19:15; Heb. 4:12). Hebrews 4:12-13 is especially helpful. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
For every unfaithful Christian, for every unfaithful servant, there is coming a moment of deep and intense spiritual pain when the thoughts and attitudes and intentions of our heart are laid bare before our Master and Savior Jesus Christ. Our actions will be judged by the standard of the Word of God, which is the Sword of the Spirit. The Word of God will lay bear, like a penetrating sword, the inner motives of our hearts. For such servants, it will be as if they were cut in two.
Every one of us has secrets. Each of us has things we do not want brought out into the open. But such things will not be hidden from the Lord. When a Christian who has not been faithful stands before the judgment seat of Christ, God will expose Him. It will seem to that servant that God is taking a sword and tearing him open. All of the unfaithful actions and motives will come to light. Paul says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Knowing therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). The judgment seat of Christ can be, for the faithful servant, a wonderful time of celebration and rejoicing. But for the unfaithful servant, it will be a time of immense embarrassment.
And then, if possible, things get worse. After being cut asunder, they will then be be appointed their portion with the hypocrites. (The parallel passage, Luke 12:48, should read that the wicked servant is assigned his place with the unfaithful, not with the unbelievers as most translations have it.) He will be appointed his portion with the hypocrites, because a hypocrite is exactly what he was. He is still in heaven, but he does not get blessing and honor in heaven. While on earth, he had been given a position of responsibility. He was to tend the house of God, and feed the people of God. But because he lacked the fear of God, or the belief of Christ’s imminent return, he failed in his designated tasks.
He presented himself as a servant of Christ, even talking about Jesus his Lord and Master. Even telling others that Jesus was coming again. But when he was supposed to care for other people, he struck them and beat them. He was supposed to feed other people, but he spent his time in money on his own appetites. This does not mean he was not a Christian. It means that rather than serving Christ, he served only himself. The judgment seat of Christ is a time when the masks come off and the true you is revealed. They will be appointed their potion. This is what is described in the last part of the verse.
Third and finally, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is not a reference to hell, but is terminology expressing deep and profound regret. Also, nowhere in Scripture do we read that this is eternal weeping and everlasting regret. No, a time is coming when every tear will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4). This weeping does not go on forever. But there will be a period of time where all they can do is weep and gnash their teeth because of the profound shame and regret they experience.
I am convinced that if we live in sin for any length of time, the sin nature digs in deep and gets a stronghold on that part of our life. Our hearts become hardened in that area. Our conscience becomes seared. After a while, we just learn to ignore the pangs of guilt that the Spirit shoots our way. I know Christians, as you probably do to, who I am convinced they are genuine Christians, but who have an area of sin in their life for which they have never shed a tear. They have never admitted they were wrong. They have never repented of. The sin nature has built up such a wall, that only the severest chastisement of God would be able to break through.
If this divine discipline does not come in this life, if their heart does not soften, if they do not weep and wail and mourn for the sin they have become accustomed to, they will come face to face with their failure before the judgment seat of Christ. And then, they will have no sin nature to erect a wall. There will be no opportunity to numb the pain with alcohol and drugs or recreation and entertainment.
Imagine standing before Christ, and having him point out a hardened pattern of sin in which you walked for many years, but for which you never repented, never shed a tear. Oh, the tears will come then. We will see our sin the way he sees it. We will be sinless. We will have no sin nature. We will be repulsed by sin. We will be sensitive in ways we have never been sensitive again. And to think that we lived in such filth for years and years, but never shed a tear over it. Well, then the tears will come. If we stand before Christ in all of His glory, and look at our life, and see only sin and rebellion and wicked living, it will break our hearts. To think that He died for me, and rather than live for Him, I lived only for myself. It will be a moment of intense sorrow and profound regret.
I shudder to think what tears may come in my own life. I pray that I might cry now.
That’s what a passage like this really comes down to. Everybody, every Christian, will experience this sword cutting them in two, this feeling of being a hypocrite, this weeping and gnashing of teeth. But the choice of when you experience this is up to you. Will you repent now, and weep now? If you put it off, and say there is still time, the Lord may come at an hour you are not expecting, and then you will shed tears of regret and sorrow before Him. When you step out of this body, and into the blazing light of glory, you may wish that you could live your life over again. But it will be too late. You thought you had plenty of time. You did not love or care for your fellow servants. You lived a life of pleasure and entertainment. You will wish you could do it all over again, but you can’t.
Have you ever stopped to think that today may be the last day you have to live for Christ? Or tomorrow? Or the day after? And when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Keep your eyes fixed on the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. It could be today.