QUESTIONS & RESPONSES
♦ What is the oil of the lamp Matthew 25:4, and what are the talents 25:15.
On March 22, 2012, we received the following inquiry:
“What is the oil of the lamp Matthew 25:4, and what are the talents 25:15.”
To the author, we thank you for your inquiry. It appears that you are diligently searching Jesus’ words for understanding. That is commendable. However, there is need for some caution when we are looking at parables. Let’s first consider what a parable is and how Jesus used them, as well as what a parable is not.
A parable as used by Jesus was a method of teaching a multitude of people of varying intellects and temperaments. It is hard to speak different words for each class of hearer, but you can tell a story to convey your teaching and each group, even each individual, will be able to make his own interpretation in accordance with his or her own intellectual and spiritual endowments.
Parables stimulate the imagination, challenge the discrimination and provoke critical thinking. They promote sympathy without arousing antagonism and they evade much prejudice, putting new truth gracefully into the mind, all without provoking self-defense or personal resentment. They enable the teacher to present new and even startling truths while at the same time largely avoiding all controversy and outward clashing with tradition and established authority. Thus, parables are an effective teaching tool, but not expressions of direct truth.
And although parables are often confused with allegories, all parables are not allegorical. Allegories are stories where each feature has some hidden meaning. And when we seek to interpret an allegory, we give a precise meaning to each element. It is important to understand that Jesus did not give allegories; he gave parables.
Nevertheless, when we are interpreting parables for the purpose of making some specific point, we are allowed to “allegorize” them, but we must understand that the interpretation we give is only instructive – not absolute truth.
For example, in Letter No. 4 and Letter No. 5 in “The Seven Letters to the Seven Congregation” we used two parables, and presented them in an allegorical fashion. We made the point Jesus was intending to convey without greatly offending anyone. The interpretation illustrated the need for all anointed Christians to accept their brothers. That was the point of the parable and the audience we were writing to understood that point and, we are told, gained a great deal of benefit from it. Now, with that in mind, let’s address your question.
Because “oil” is a common word and “talent” as used in Bible times referred to a monetary unit, we suspect you are asking us how are we to interpret those terms as utilized in the parables. Keeping in mind what we explained above about the purpose and use of parables, we will first show you what is the purpose of the parable – the lesson Jesus was teaching. The parable reads:
“Then the kingdom of the heavens will become like ten virgins that took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet. For the foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, whereas the discreet took oil in their receptacles with their lamps. While the bridegroom was delaying, they all nodded and went to sleep. Right in the middle of the night there arose a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Be on you way out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and put their lamps in order. The foolish said to the discreet, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are about to go out.’ The discreet answered with the words, ‘Perhaps there may not be quite enough for us and you. Be on your way, instead, to those who sell it and buy for yourselves.’ While they were going off to buy, the bridegroom arrived, and the virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterwards the rest of the virgins also came, saying, ‘Sir, sir, open to us!’ In answer he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you.’ “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:1-14
The lesson Jesus was teaching is set forth in the last verse: stay watchful and do not serve God based on a prescribed day or hour because we do not know when the day or the hour we are waiting for will arrive. According to the Bible, that is what Jesus was teaching – watchfulness and readiness.
Now, if we chose to, we could attempt to “allegorize” the parable and give a title to the five discreet virgins, the five foolish virgins, the oil, the receptacles, the lamps, the bridegroom, the night crier, those who sell oil, the marriage feast, and the shut door. It might be an entertaining and instructive endeavor, or it might become a complicated and misguided debacle. Some parables are simply not suitable to be “allegorized.” This may be one of them.
Remember, our challenge as Christians is to get to know Jesus, get to understand what he believed, imitate him, and do the work he commissioned. As you read the parable, what do you think Jesus was trying to tell YOU? If the word “oil” stands out in your mind, contemplate that and remain watchful and ready. If the word “virgin” stands out in your mind, contemplate that and remain watchful and ready. If the word “lamp” stands out in your mind, contemplate that and remain watchful and ready, etc.
As to the next parable you referred to in Matthew 25:14-30 of the “talents” we direct you to our response in Question and Response March 5, 2012. We did not therein attempt to “allegorize” the parable in all its features, but we were able to glean important and instructive information. We saw the lesson to be: Whatever asset you have that can be used in the Father’s service, use it and be diligent about doing so, because failure to do so will result in great disappointment to you and your future hopes. Notice how this is explained in verse 29 and 30:
“For to everyone that has, more will be given and he will have abundance; but as for him that does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw the good-for-nothing slave out into the darkness outside. There is where [his] weeping and the gnashing of [his] teeth will be.’” – Matthew 25:29-30
Our point is to not screen the gnats, but to focus on the big picture. When considering any parable, try to discern the lesson Jesus was teaching. Engage yourself in the exciting and fulfilling adventure of spiritual insight and growth rather than mere theological understanding.
If you would like more clarification on this issue, please feel free to write again.
♦ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
On March 5, 2012, we received the following inquiry:
“Can you explain Mark 8:38. For whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he arrives in the glory of the Father with the holy angels.”
To the author, we thank you for visiting the site and submitting your inquiry; however, we are not clear on what it is you are asking. To us, the scripture appears rather straightforward and not in need of further explanation. On the other hand, if your question is not ‘what does this mean,’ but rather ‘when will this occur,’ our response is: we do not know. Nevertheless, your inquiry provides us with an opportunity to address a very important subject that we believe will be helpful to the entire Body. With that spirit in mind, here is our response:
We are finding that many of our brothers and sisters are very concerned about future events. They are perhaps thinking of Jesus’ admonition:
“Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.” – Luke 21:36
or the parable of the ten virgins, where we are counseled:
“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:13
It is commendable that we are taking this counsel to heart, but we want to be careful not to turn our wakefulness into negativism – what we should avoid – as opposed to positivism – what we can actively do.
If we elect positivism, we will be focused on doing the work the Christ set out for us, namely serving as ambassadors. (See our series of articles “Ambassadors Substituting for Christ” for a discussion of this work.) Whereas, if we elect negativism, we will be in fearful expectation and worried about what might happen, much like the “sluggish slave” spoken of in the parable of the Talents at Matthew 25:14-30. We encourage you to read that account.
The “sluggish slave” buried the one talent he was given in the ground and waited in fearful expectation of his master’s return. His excuse was that he ‘knew his master to be an exacting man.’ And true to his negative expectation, and in harmony with his fearful inaction, his master was displeased, and the slave suffered.
The other two slaves were called “good and faithful slaves” because they “immediately” went to work increasing the master’s interests. These faithful slaves were not fearful of their master’s return. They did, in fact, ‘know him’ as the joyful master that he was.
It appears to us that neither were the faithful slaves worried about the timing of their master’s return, for whenever he would return, the master would receive an increase. In fact, the longer the master was delayed, the greater the increase. And true to their expectation, and in harmony with their industrious action, their master was pleased with their results and so welcomed them into his “joy.”
This is a lesson for us, namely, let us not be worried about when the master will return. And let us not worry about what will happen to “sluggish slaves,” for what has that to do with us who are industrious and faithful?
We take the counsel of positivism suggested by Paul and Timothy:
“Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” – Philippians 4:8
We let go of anxiety as counseled by our Master:
“Keep on, then seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to you. So, never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.” – Matthew 7:33-34
And we live our lives in joyful expectation of our Master’s return – whenever that day arrives. Notwithstanding the above, if we have not satisfactorily answered your question, please write to us again.
♦ Parable of the Sheep and Goat (Matthew 25:31-46)
On March 8, 2012, we received the following inquiries:
“Questions about the parable of the sheep and goats. In Matthew 25:37, 38 sheep says: "when did we see you?" Why do the sheep [say] this, they already know the meaning of the parable today, and know that Jesus speaks of the anointed ones. So why do they ask when did we see you?”
“Question 2. Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, 45 "one of the least of These my brethren." Why does not Jesus say, my brothers, why he say one of the least?”
To the author, we thank you for your inquiry, but we are a bit at a loss. The first question as phrased, presents a problem for anyone trying to provide an answer. It is incongruous. What you are basically asking is ‘why do the people in the parable do what they do in the parable if they already know what the parable meant before the parable was spoken.’ Perhaps you can see why we are unable to answer the question as posed.
Having said that, and keeping in mind that this site is about revealing that all Christians have one hope – the heavenly hope – we presume that your question is meant to address this assertion and perhaps suggest that the sheep must not be anointed since anointed Christians would not ask that question.
The second question appears to us to be making the same suggestion, namely that by Jesus referring to the “least of these,” that perhaps there are two classes of “brethren.” Based on these presumptions, we will provide a response. If, however, we have misunderstood your questions, please feel free to write us back with a clarification.
The illustration at Matthew 25:31-46 (encompassing both of your scriptural references) is meant to explain the basis for certain people inheriting the kingdom, and certain other people going into “everlasting cutting off” or death. Please note at the outset that there are two options: (1) an inheritance in the kingdom; or (2) death. Since an inheritance only goes to sons, this illustration is about the heavenly hope. The idea or provision for an earthly hope is not mentioned.
As to why the sons of the kingdom would ask “when did we see you,” and why Jesus would refer to “the least of these,” the illustration appears to be emphasizing the importance of showing brotherly love to all Christ’s brothers (who are also our brothers). In other words, we cannot be selective about which ones of our brothers we will love and support.
As humans, we have a tendency to be drawn to the more well-to-do, or the more knowledgeable, or the more beautiful, or the more skilled among us. Or we might be committed to only our small circle of family and friends, and reject or ignore the remainder. Jesus was admonishing us to widen out in our affections and look upon the entire brotherhood with the eyes of the spirit, seeing Jesus in each of them, even the lesser ones among us.
Thus, we see the illustration as a tool to broaden our spiritual perspective and appreciation for the entire brotherhood. We do not see it as providing any support to a “two hope” theory.
We hope we have adequately responded to your questions. Again, if we have misunderstood you, please feel free to write us with a further clarification.
♦ In Matthew 24:49, what does it mean to “beat his fellow the slaves?”
On May 1, 2012, we received the following inquiry:
“It's something I do not understand, read Matthew 24:49. What does it mean to beat his fellow slaves? and what it means to eat and drink with the drinkers?”
To the author, thank you for this inquiry and the opportunity to discuss this very important scriptural reference. There has been so many misunderstandings and misstatements about what this scripture means. We feel honored to defend the teaching of Jesus Christ in this matter. The scripture you refer to says:
“and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards” – Matthew 24:49
It is part of a discourse by Jesus where he responds to a question from his disciples:
“Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” – Matthew 24:3
In response, Jesus tells them many things to look for and warned them to keep on the watch because the “Son of man” would arrive at a time when they are not expecting him. (Matthew 24:4-44)
Then, Jesus used a parable about not tiring out, which includes the scriptural reference you are concerned with. As a preliminary matter, please understand that this is not a prophesy. It is a parable. It is not a statement about what will occur in the future. It is an example of two different attitudes that might arise as we wait for the master’s return. Here is the first attitude:
“Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.” –Matthew 24:45-47
And here is the second attitude:
“But if ever that evil slave should say in his heart, ‘My master is delaying,’ and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect and in an hour that he does not know, and will punish him with the greatest severity and will assign him his part with the hypocrites. There is where [his] weeping and the gnashing of [his] teeth will be.” – Matthew 24:48-51
In the parallel scripture in Luke, we learn that the apostle Peter asked a question that is not contained in Matthew’s account:
“Then Peter said: “Lord, are you saying this illustration to us or also to all?” And the Lord said: “Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one, whom his master will appoint over his body of attendants to keep giving them their measure of food supplies at the proper time?” – Luke 12:41-42
And in the parallel scripture in Mark, we learn the answer:
“But what I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.” – Mark 13:37
So, we learn from this parable that it is possible that some of Jesus’ disciples would be faithfully at work caring for the household; and that some, who began faithful, could grow impatient and instead of caring for the household, would begin beating them into submission.
It reminds us of the illustration of a babysitter who was entrusted with caring for a child. The sitter did well at first, but as the night grew on and the parents were delayed, the sitter grew tired and impatient for the parent’s return. When the child became restless and started crying, instead of checking for a wet diaper, providing food or drink, cuddling the child, or seeking some way to comfort the child, the sitter began yelling and eventually beating the child in an effort to ‘shut him up.’ To the sitter, he had worked all night and done enough. It was time for the parents to come home and care for their own child. All he could see to do was to use physical force to beat the child to submission.
In Jesus’ parable, the once faithful slave went so far as to “eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards.” This was not a case of sharing a meal with sinners in an effort to preach the good news as Jesus often did; but of ‘partying’ and having a sharing with persons who had no intention of repenting – confirmed drunkards.
Thus, we believe the message of the parable is: Don’t grow tired of doing the work Jesus set out for us to do. Don’t turn our backs and become involved in matters that detract and distract from the Kingdom message. Don’t reject the sincere cries for help from our brothers. Don’t fail to provide comfort to one another. And don’t become impatient with one another.
Overall, the parable is telling us to continue providing spiritual food to one another at the proper time (Matthew 24:45) which is the uplifting message of the Kingdom as Jesus’ taught it – the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. The admonition is not for just a few of us. ‘What he says, he says to us all.’ (Mark 13:37)
♦ Who is left on earth after the separating of the sheep and the goat?
On February 26, 2014, we received the following comment and inquiry translated from a French speaking visitor:
“What I wanted to say, When Jesus comes, he will gather the nations into two groups, good and bad. Evil will be destroyed and the good will be resurrected as sons of God who will go to heaven. There will be no one on earth. By the end of the 1000 years (Rev. 19:7) Satan will make war with the nations on earth. Question, just where these did these nations come from since the second resurrection has not started. These 1000 years during which they are to restore the land after (2 Peter 3:10-12) + (2 Peter 3: 13) + (Revelation 21:1). Who put these people to be on the earth for 1000 years?”
To the author, thank you for your email. We understand your dilemma based on the current understanding of these prophetic words. As you may know, we hesitate in answering questions having to do with the fulfillment of Bible prophecy because those types of answers are all speculation.
The problem man has in coming up with accurate interpretations is that there is so much about our universe that is not revealed. For example, the Governing Body claims that the 24 elders (Revelation 19:4) and the 144,000 (Revelation 14:1) are the same group viewed from different perspectives. (The Watchtower, January 1, 2007, page 26, paragraph 10.) How can they come up with such a ridiculous interpretation? The answer is: because they do not know all the various groups of personalities that exist in heaven. They believe there is Jehovah, Jesus, Gabriel, some angels and, in the future, some resurrected humans. So, they have to interpret all the prophetic characters according to their limited knowledge. They have not opened their minds enough to encompass the reality that they do not know everything or that mankind in general is not fully conversant in universe affairs. For all we know, the heavens could be teaming with innumerable types of beings with unimagined responsibilities, who, for the first time, are revealed to man symbolically in the book of Revelation. Thus, humility would, and should, cause every human to exercise extreme caution when it comes to Biblical prophecy.
Having said that, we can tell you that we suspect the separating of sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46), or wheat and weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), occurs after a dispensational resurrection. To us, it seems like Jesus is referring to what he will do as a part of the resurrection and judgment of ‘the righteous and the unrighteous’ as spoken of in these scriptures:
“Do not be amazed at this, for the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” – John 5:28-29
“And I have hope toward God, which hope these men also look forward to, that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” – Acts 24:15
When we think about it, it seems premature to judge someone as a sheep or a goat, or a wheat or a weed, until they have fully exhausted their time on earth. Think of the ‘evil doer’ who hung alongside Jesus.
“Then one of the criminals hanging there began to speak abusively to him, saying: ‘You are the Christ, are you not? Save yourself and us too!’ In response the other rebuked him, saying: ‘Do you not fear God at all, now that you have received the same judgment? And we rightly so, for we are getting back what we deserve for the things we did; but this man did nothing wrong.’ Then he said: ‘Jesus, remember me when you get into your Kingdom.’ And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.’” – Luke 23:39-43
Had he been called to judgment before his death, we wonder if he would have been so thoroughly saved. No matter how stubborn or resistant people are at the moment, they can do a complete turnaround in the next moment. That is one of the reasons why murder is so detestable. No one has the right to arbitrarily take away another’s time and opportunity to find God and become reconciled to Him before their physical bodies wear out.
At the end of a dispensation, a resurrection can occur that does not disturb those who are still living on earth. We wonder if the vast majority of those on earth would even be aware of such an event, since the promised resurrection is a resurrection to heavenly life. (See The Promised Resurrection.) The only Biblical reference we have as to dispensational resurrections is what apparently occurred after Jesus’ death, as we discussed in Question and Response 7/28/13b. In this instance, most of the population was not even aware of the true meaning of what was occurring.
So, you see, brother, there is great need for caution and an even greater need for patience. Allow matters to work themselves out according to the Father’s plan and focus on those things you can clearly understand and have a measure of control over – yourself and your ministry. Have absolute confidence in the goodness and fairness of the Father.
“But just as it is written: “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor have there been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9
And know that whatever the future holds, your hope is secure.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
We also want to add that what we have written above is not doctrine. It is one way that we view these matters, but we remain ever open to the possibility that we are mistaken and that the parables of the sheep and goat, and the wheat and weeds, have entirely different meanings.