Increasingly these days, God’s people pray for His Son to return. That’s appropriate and biblical—we are not of this world (John 17:14), and we have been commanded to fix our hearts in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21). And as the culture around us descends daily into immoral chaos, we should be grateful that our hope is not in this life (1 Peter 1:3–5). We long to be free of this world and its corruption—to enjoy the perfect intimacy and unending blessedness of an eternity with God.
But there is much more to being prepared for Christ’s return than simply yearning for it. As the Lord’s parable of the talents in Matthew 25 illustrates, we have work to do.
Entrusted with Responsibility
The parable pictures a man (evidently a wealthy man) who is making preparations for a long journey: “[The kingdom of heaven] is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. 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” (Matthew 25:14–15).
The imagery is clear. The man going on the journey represents Christ. The time he is away on his journey pictures the time between Christ’s ascension into heaven and His bodily return. The servants are professing believers. The talents represent a wide range of spiritual opportunities, privileges, and resources—including natural abilities, spiritual gifts, material things, ministry responsibilities, and other blessings God has given us as stewards. And He will eventually call us to account for that stewardship.
In the parable the fact that this man had three slaves who acted as his stewards suggests that he was immensely wealthy. The slaves entrusted with this responsibility were not common laborers but educated servants who had shown shrewd business abilities. They correspond to upper-level corporate employees in modern culture. They would have been well educated and highly skilled in the master’s affairs. In effect he gave them power of attorney to act on his behalf with regard to the possessions he entrusted to them. Their duty was to manage the master’s wealth, not merely hold it for him until he returned.
A talent is a measure of weight, not a coin or currency denomination. We’re not told whether these were talents of gold or talents of silver (because the actual value is immaterial to Jesus’ point). Either way, however, the talent was a large measure; so a large responsibility, and a large monetary value, was given to each of the three stewards. The talents would be weighed and put into bags. One bag weighed five talents, another two, and the third one.
Notice that the master gave the stewards responsibility in keeping with their abilities. The man with the greatest potential received the greatest responsibility. The owner knew his slaves intimately, and he carefully gave each man only the level of responsibility he knew he could be accountable for. There’s probably no special significance in the fact that Jesus mentions only three levels of responsibility here. In the nearly identical parable of the minas in Luke 19, the nobleman calls ten servants and gives them ten equal shares of money. Here Christ expressly states that this man gave his slaves responsibility commensurate with their abilities. The fact that all three received differing amounts seems to suggest only that everyone is differently skilled or gifted. In a church of six hundred people, there can be six hundred different levels of spiritual ability. And God entrusts different levels of responsibility to each person, depending on our giftedness. God intimately knows our abilities because He is the one who has sovereignly gifted us for service (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7), and He graciously assigns our responsibilities accordingly.
Our Reaction to Responsibility
The response of the three servants reveals each one’s true character. “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 a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money” (Matthew 25:16–18).
Two slaves were faithful, embraced the responsibility they had been given, and set to work. The third slave was both lazy and unprincipled. He did nothing with his master’s money. He buried it in the ground and either remained idle or took advantage of his master’s absence to pursue his own self-interests.
The two faithful servants represent genuine believers whose supreme desire is to serve God. The third servant represents someone who pretends loyalty to Christ but in reality squanders spiritual opportunity, declines to serve the Lord, and serves himself instead.
The trading done by these servants involved investment of the master’s resources, not at all unlike the trading that takes place in the stock market today. The verb tenses used suggest they were trading the whole time of the master’s absence; they did not merely make one successful trade and then sit idle the rest of the time. They were trading and re-trading as long as the owner was away.
Their trading met with good success; both managed to double their investment while the master was away. The slave who started with five gained five more, and the slave who started with two gained two more. Although one slave was originally given less and therefore had less to work with, he was equally diligent, and his diligence paid off in an equal proportion.
The third slave, however, simply buried his talent. Perhaps he originally planned to dig it up later and try to cover his indolence with some last-minute investing but just never got around to it. Or maybe he hoped the slaves who invested would lose money and he would come off looking good by comparison. Whatever he was thinking, it is obvious that he was more interested in doing whatever he wanted to do than in fulfilling his duty to the master.
But hiding his master’s talent in the ground was a guarantee that those resources would never earn any profit. His behavior was “wicked” (v. 26). He showed great disregard for his duty to the master. He had not been given the money to guard it or hide it but to put it to work for the master’s good. Instead, he chose to ignore his duty and to behave as if he were not even accountable to the master. But he would face a reckoning when the master returned.
Rewarding the Responsible
The master was gone “a long time” (v. 19). Perhaps the servant who buried the talent began to think his master would not return. The longer the master delayed, the more comfortable the unfaithful servant felt in his disobedience. But the master did finally return, and evidently he returned suddenly and unexpectedly. Upon his arrival the stewards were all summoned to give account.
Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.”
Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, “Master, you entrusted two talents to me. 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.” (vv. 19–23)
Notice that the reckoning is not a contest to see who had earned the largest amount. Though one man earned five talents and the other two, they both earned the same rate of return. Their profits were widely differing sums, but the percentage of profit was the same. Entrusted with unequal amounts in the first place, they had shown a similar faithfulness in how they managed their respective stewardships. And they both received exactly the same praise and the same reward from the master—the man with two talents no less than the five-talent steward.
Likewise, in the eternal reckoning many believers who may have had lowly positions and meager abilities on earth will be praised and rewarded for being faithful with what they had. They will be elevated to positions alongside equally faithful Christians who had greater abilities and therefore accomplished more spectacular things. If the level of faithfulness is the same, the reward will be the same. The slightly-gifted day laborer who lives a faithful life and wins his neighbors and family to Christ will hear the same “Well done!” as the supremely gifted preacher who was also faithful and was used by God to win thousands to Christ. “Each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8)—not according to the results.
Notice that the master’s response to the two faithful servants was gracious, kind, and generous. Notice, too, that the servants’ reward was an expanded sphere of service. Because they had made the most of an opportunity to serve him, he rewarded them with more opportunity to serve, and this was an opportunity of the most joyous kind: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
That is a picture of heaven, which will be filled with even greater opportunities for service than we can possibly imagine here on earth. But heaven’s service will be utterly devoid of the drudgery and toil we often associate with our earthly labors. That sphere of service will be filled with unadulterated joy—the joy of the Lord.
The master’s response, “I will put you in charge of many things” (vv. 21, 23), evokes the same idea conveyed in Jesus’ promise to the church at Laodicea: “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne” (Revelation 3:21). That suggests that we will be joint rulers with Christ, not only in the earthly millennial kingdom, but also in some sense in the King’s eternal realm. To the disciples, just before His arrest, Christ said, “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28–30). So earthly faithfulness results in heavenly reward, and the heavenly reward involves an expanded sphere of service, joint authority with Christ, and the undiluted joy of heaven. Several of Jesus’ parables made a similar point (cf. Matthew 24:47; Luke 12:44; 19:17–19).
Heaven will not be boring. The service we render to Christ there will be filled with unimaginable delights. Finally loosed from the tyranny of sin, we will find our service to Christ the most pleasurable, lively, joyous privilege imaginable. Christ Himself suggests this when He has the master in the parable say, “Enter into the joy of your master.” The joy is as much a part of the faithful servants’ reward as the increased sphere of service.
(Adapted from The Second Coming.)