The Literary Connection of Matthew 24 to Matthew 25

Jesus’ discourse on the last times in Matthew 24-25 is tightly connected and parallel in construction. This has important theological and pastoral ramifications. Let me demonstrate.

Two mini parables end chapter 24: the parable about the thief and the master of the house, and the parable about the faithful and wise servant who is doing what his master commanded when the master returns. What follows in chapter 25 is three large sections, two of them definitely parables, and the last section possibly a parable, or perhaps an extended metaphor. The first parable of chapter 25 is the parable of the ten virgins (five were wise in being prepared, five were foolish in being completely unprepared). The second parable is of the talents, again having wise servants (with the 5 and the 2 talents) and the foolish servant (with the 1 talent). The chapter ends up with the separation of all people into sheep and goats. For our purposes here, I want to point out the parallel order: the ultimate once-for-all preparedness of faith in Christ precedes and grounds the subsidiary preparedness of obedience. Faith is the foundation for obedience. The master of the house who is wise in watching for the intruder is the faithful servant doing what his master commanded when the master comes back, who is in turn the wise virgin who prepared by bringing extra oil, who in turn is the faithful servant multiplying his talents, and is the sheep at the end. The (implied) foolish master of the house who did not watch is the foolish servant who beat his fellow servants, who is the foolish virgin caught without oil, who in turn is the foolish servant who hid the talent in the ground, and is the goat at the end. There are two parallel threads here marking out (ultimately) the sheep and the goats.

Even further, however, notice that in both chapter 24 and chapter 25 the ultimate preparedness comes before and grounds the subsidiary preparedness of obedience. You have to be the wise master of the house in order to be expecting the master’s return and behaving accordingly. Similarly, in the parallel chapter 25, you have to be the wise virgin in order to be the wise servant multiplying talents. Faith always leads to obedience. It is the source of obedience. The indicative grounds the imperative, as it does in all of Paul’s letters, and as it does in the Ten Commandments.

Going back a bit further into chapter 24, we notice that Jesus is setting up these two threads by talking about preparedness: some will expect Jesus to come back any day, while others will treat it the same way as those sinners in Noah’s day. Going back even further, Jesus gives us signs of the times, some of which signs apply to the destruction of Jerusalem, while others apply to the end of the world (see the programmatic question of the disciples in verse 3). It all hangs together: prepare for the Lord’s coming by believing in Christ, and obeying Christ, and obeying Christ because you believe in Him.

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14 Comments

  1. May 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    I have always seen the final two parables in ch. 24 is illustrating the two distinct ways in which the two distinct events in the chapter will come to pass.

    After Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple it becomes clear that the disciples are lumping this event in with the end of the age. The whole rest of the discourse is Jesus attempting to distinguish these events, and he does so by explaining the distinct ways they will come to pass.

    The destruction of the temple will be preceded by a sign, namely, the abomination of desolation consisting of Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. “When you see it starting to happen, RUN!”

    The end of the age, on the other hand, will be unheralded, like lightning flashing frm the east to the west. Not even the Son of Man knows the day or hour.

    So the final two parables illustrate these two distinct things. The destruction of Jerusalem is illustrated by the parable of the fig tree: when you see it begun to bud, you know that summer is near, and when you see the city being surrounded by armies, you know that the temple’s destruction is near.

    But the second coming and end of the will be unheralded, just like a master who returns unexpectedly from a long journey and surprises his servants.

  2. paigebritton said,

    May 10, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Some thoughts…

    So both Lane and Jason are seeing literary patterns, but they’re organizing them along different lines —

    Lane groups the figures in the parables theologically,

    …and Jason organizes the events described according to different historical situations.

    I’m wondering:

    1. Are these two readings compatible?

    2. If so, is one necessarily primary, the first level of meaning that the original hearers would have gotten from Jesus (or the original readers from Matthew)?

    3. Is Lane reading as a preacher, and Jason as a historian? That is, does Lane’s reading adequately account for the historical situation, and does Jason’s translate well into pastoral instruction and exhortation?

    Thoughts?

  3. May 10, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Well, I wouldn’t want to devalue history or pastoral concerns, of course. My point was simply that the entirety of the Olivet discourse is about, as well as occasioned by, something that was going to happen, namely, the destruction of the temple. It’s clear that the disciples equated this with the end of the age, and it is clear (to me anyway) that they are wrong to do so.

    When seen this way, it becomes pretty evident that Jesus is trying to disassociate these two phenomena by showing that one will be clearly heralded by a sign and the other will not.

    And the two parables at the end fit perfectly into this reading, with the first being about a tree that we know will bear fruit because it buds in spring, and the second about a master who returns unannounced from a long journey.

    There are pastoral application here aplenty!

  4. Hugh McCann said,

    May 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Which bits are 70 AD prophecy and which are 21st Century or beyond prophecy?

    Partial preterists affirm there is a difference, while hyper preterists lump it all together in AD 70. How do we untangle the apparent skein?

    Finally, what’s further confounding is the fact that Jesus is talking to real people then and there (“you”), not merely talking past them for our benefit. Or is he?

  5. May 10, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Personally, I think that the part about the “abomination of desolation” is clearly referring to the destruction of the temple, as Luke makes explicit. But I have never been convinced by those who say that all the stuff about the “Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory” is also referring to 70AD.

    My take on the discourse allows that distinction, which is what initially made it attractive to me.

  6. Hugh McCann said,

    May 10, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks, Jason.

    I recall R.C. Sproul’s video series, ‘The Last Days According to Jesus’ as being helpful, but it’s been years since I’ve seen it.

  7. rfwhite said,

    May 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I’m with Jason.

    It seems to me that, in the Olivet Discourse, the judgments against both Jerusalem and the present creation are presented side by side in the context, the former judgment being a microcosmic version of the latter, macrocosmic judgment, and foreshadowing it. The phenomenon at work in the Olivet Discourse may be what we could call “stereoscoping” (cf. “stereoscopic, stereophonic”). (Arguably a similar stereoscopic presentation is at work in Revelation, in which we have what we might call “the Olivet Discourse of John.”)

    Presuming for the sake of argument that both the judgments of Jerusalem and the present creation are mentioned in the Discourse, one thing that makes discerning the distinctions between them so challenging is the fact that they both follow the paradigm of the flood judgment. Generally, though, we can begin identifying the distinctions by attention to temporal (e.g., “the beginning of birth pangs” vs. “the end” thereof) and geographical (e.g., “in Judea” vs. “from the four winds”) markers in the text.

    As Jason has urged, it seems to me that Jesus’ agenda in the Discourse was, in part, to get the disciples to disassociate Jerusalem’s (near) destruction from creation’s (distant) destruction. Jesus bases the disassociation on, among other things, this observation: before,/i> creation’s destruction and separate from the city’s destruction, the gospel of the kingdom must go to all the nations so that, once the destruction of the heavens and earth comes, the elect remnant from all those nations may be gathered from the four winds of the earth.

    Further, the premise of both judgments (national and creational) is the preaching of the gospel unto the salvation of the appointed remnant. In other words, Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question in the Discourse is that they must keep this straight: whether they contemplate the destruction (judgment) of the national temple or the creational temple, the destruction of either temple presupposes the completed evangelization of the peoples associated with each (the Jewish nation, first, and the Gentile nations, thereafter) and the concomitant salvation of the elect remnant in each. This observation does not answer every question, of course, but it seems to help.

    And, to tie all this back to part of Lane’s post, the admonitions and instruction given in Matt 24:32-25:30 // Mark 13:28-37 // Luke 21:29-36 might be reduced to this: between now and the end of the age, don’t be afraid (be courageous); don’t be mislead (be discerning); don’t be surprised (be alert).

  8. rfwhite said,

    May 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Sorry, Mr. Moderator. The botched line in #7 should read before creation’s destruction and separate from the city’s destruction … .

  9. Hugh McCann said,

    May 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Are we justified to be assuming, or, to be “Presuming for the sake of argument that both the judgments of Jerusalem and the present creation are mentioned in the Discourse”?

    I’ve always read it thus, but am wondering anew what in Matt 24-25 indicates distant futurity (i.e., “creation’s (distant) destruction”)?

    Or do we have to read that into this from other passages?

  10. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 10, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Hugh: but am wondering anew what in Matt 24-25 indicates distant futurity (i.e., “creation’s (distant) destruction”)?

    Perhaps 24.14 and 24.31?

  11. Jerry said,

    May 10, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Hi Jeff: •Mt 24:14

    Maybe Lk 2:1; Acts 20:26; Col 1:6; Col 1:23

  12. Drew said,

    May 11, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Hi, all.

    I’m a novice in blog commenting and most things eschatological, but I’ve really enjoyed this discussion. I’ve recently been in a conversation with a friend who interprets all individuals in Mt. 24:45-25:30 as Christians: faithful/wise servant and wicked servant; wise virgins and foolish virgins; five- and two-talent servants and one-talent servant. His suggestion is that because they are servants in the household, invitees to the wedding feast, and steward servants, they must all be Christians, but those that are wicked/foolish/slothful are simply Christians not prepared for the Lord’s return or faithful with what they have been given and are chastised accordingly. My memory gets a little fuzzy about what he suggests this punishment is.

    I have never heard this interpretation before, and it runs contrary to what I hold and believe is the traditional view of Jesus’ teachings as concerning distinctions between Christians and non-Christians. Are any of you familiar with my friend’s view? Do you offer any specific objections to his claims or have any advice for me on how to address them? Thanks for the stimulating and consistently Christ-exalting discussion.

    Drew

  13. paigebritton said,

    May 11, 2011 at 6:21 am

    Hi, Drew,
    You may want to point out to your friend that Jesus was speaking to Jews, and often in his parables a division is implied between the Jews who accept him and those who reject him. That is, they are all part of the “household” of Israel (whether depicted as servants or as family members, as in the parable of the Lost Son), but there is a division in the household brought about by Jesus showing up and demanding full allegiance.

    If a preacher were to take these parables and apply them to the church, which preachers often do, he can get away with it only to a certain extent: if there is an ultimate cutting off, as with the unprepared virgins and the goats, then he’d have to say those folks never really were Christians, to be consistent with what we know of how God works in salvation (since no one can ever snatch God’s sheep out of his hand, John 10:29). So one generalized application of the passages would be to warn people about being complacent re. their faith.

    Of course, an Arminian theology (salvation being ultimately man’s choice) would support your friend’s interpretation, which would mean that there’s a more deeply-rooted theological problem than just the exegesis of Matt. 24-25!

    Hope those thoughts are helpful.
    pax,
    Paige B.

  14. Jeff Cagle said,

    May 11, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Jerry, interesting.


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