“The parable of the talents” is another extremely important parable. It shows what is really required to enter the Kingdom of God. We find it in Matthew 25:14-30.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey (vv.14-15).
The “man” who traveled into a far country is Christ. The servants are those called into the Truth as Christians. They are required to be profitable. Jesus illustrated this by the goods that had been delivered into their hands-in this case large sums of money. Some modern translations regard a talent as a bag of gold. Whatever the value in modern terms, all were required to increase the amounts given them. In apportioning the money, the lord evaluated the skills of his servants and gave them amounts accordingly, that is, corresponding to their several abilities. One received five talents, another two, and the third received one.
God does not need for us to go into business in order to make money for Him. What needs to be realized here is that the talents God wants us to increase are actually spiritual in nature. The Apostle Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11. He refers to various talents as spiritual gifts which God gives as He wills. Thus, in the same way, the lord in the parable distributed talents. The spiritual talents of which Paul speaks are intended to profit everyone in the Church (v. 7). These gifts are distributed according to one’s natural ability. Not everyone is intended to do the same thing, and none is superior to the other.
Notice what happened in the parable. What did the servants do? “Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money” (Matt. 25:16-18). So, two of the servants doubled their investment, while the third made no effort. Like a pirate, he buried the talent so it could not be lost, but did absolutely nothing to increase it. At last the day of reckoning came. “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them” (v. 19).
What is the lesson here? Over the years God has called many to a knowledge of the Truth. They have been converted and baptized. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit, many have grown spiritually and overcome. But not all. Some have failed to grow spiritually. Some have not overcome. They have done nothing with the gifts and talents God has given. This is why the Apostle John warns: “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). So, the question we all need to ask is: Are we putting forth our best effort-that is, using our talents and abilities to honor God by producing the spiritual fruit that makes us a profitable servant?
What did the lord say to the profitable servants?
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matt. 25:20-23).
What is significant here is that the sum given to each of these servants was not important. What was important was that each had doubled his investment. He had made a profit, so to speak. Both men received the same reward. But what did the lord say to the third man?
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents (Matt. 25:24-28).
The fact is: This man was dishonest. Had he really believed what he said about his lord, he would not have buried his talent. He would have put it out to the lenders. This is why the lord said: “. . . Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury” (Matt. 25:26-27). The lord of the servant expected him to produce, but he used a hollow excuse. He was lazy and made no effort. His own testimony condemned him. What he had was taken away and given to a more worthy man. This is why the Lord said: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matt. 25:29).
Compared to the rewards to be meted out at the time Christ returns, this test of fidelity and loyalty to God was minuscule. This is why Jesus said: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10). Remember, the lord told the two profitable servants: “. . . Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:23). There is a serious responsibility given to those called of God. They must produce fruit. They must use their talents wisely and judiciously in glorifying God. They are required to put the Truth of God to practice in their lives.
If the unprofitable servant had merely doubled the one talent, he would have been rewarded the same as the others. Even that amount would have been acceptable. He was not required to accomplish as much as the others, but failed even to do that. What was the fate of the unprofitable servant? “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30). Being a Christian is a serious responsibility. It is not to be taken lightly. This parable illustrates what Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 16:27: “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” Works do not save us. Salvation is the gift of God (Rom. 6:23). But, the reward we receive in God’s Kingdom will be according to our works. Jesus said so. Do you believe Him? This parable shows that the fate of those who are unprofitable will be just as sure.
“The parable of the laborers” is the parable we should consider next. Jesus gave this parable in order to explain an important principle to Peter. Peter had just heard what Jesus told a rich young man. This was what precipitated Peter’s question. A look at Matthew 19:16-23 will help us to see what led to Peter’s question and why Jesus gave the parable.
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matt. 19:16-22).
This young man was not willing to give up his wealth. Jesus, observing him, said: “. . . Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:23-24).
This statement astounded the disciples (vv. 25-26). Peter was compelled to say: “. . . Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (v. 27).
. . . Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matt. 19:28-30).
Jesus’ answer is clear, except for the last verse. What did He mean, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first”? This is explained in the parable of the laborers.
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard (Matt. 20:1-2).
The householder is an obvious reference to God. The vineyard is the nation of Israel (Isa. 5:1-7). The parable illustrates how God has been actively at work with Israel since they were first appointed as His people. The parable likens this period of time to a day. The parable illustrates that laborers went to work at varying times.
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive (Matt. 20: 3-7).
So, around 6:00 AM the laborers started to work. Commentaries point out that a “penny” is equal to a day’s wages. The laborers all agreed to work for this amount. It was fair. Around 9:00 AM more laborers were sent into the field. And yet others again at noon, and at 3:00 PM. Still others went to work for the same pay at 5:00 PM. All agreed to work for a day’s wages-every man, regardless of the time he started to work.
So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day (Matt. 20:8-12).
Shortly after 6:00 PM, when the time of reckoning came, all received the same amount. Those who had worked long hours grumbled. They felt they deserved more. Since the parable is about the Kingdom of God (v. 1), the “penny” represents the reward one will receive for his labor and fidelity to God. This reward will be given to those who enter the Kingdom of God. We cannot earn salvation by our works. Eternal life is the gift of God (Rom. 6:23). But remember, Jesus said: “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27). The disgruntled laborers had become mercenary. They saw that the goodman had given an equal amount to all and felt they should be given more.
What did the goodman tell them?
But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matt. 20:13-16).
The goodman had chosen to give a higher proportionate reward to these last laborers. So will it be when God institutes His Kingdom upon this earth. Over the years God has called some to His service early in life. Others are called late in life. Some have been faithful to their calling for many years. Others, called late in life, have only a few years to serve. Regardless of the time called, God will grant the same reward to all. Those who are faithful and overcome will enter the Kingdom of God. But what did Jesus mean by the final statement, “. . . for many be called, but few chosen” (v. 16)? Who are the chosen? The parable gives us a clue. What was wrong with the disgruntled laborers? The goodman said they had an evil eye (v. 15). The eye is a symbol of the mind (Matt. 6:23). The result of an evil mind is an evil person (Matt.12:35, Mark 7:21-23, 1 Tim 6:10). Men who are evil will not be allowed in God’s Kingdom (Matt. 7:17-23, John 5:28-29). Those chosen to enter that kingdom are the ones who serve God loyally and faithfully, with a heart full of love and appreciation toward Him, and toward their fellows. In the end the sulky laborers resented the goodman as well as their fellow laborers. Their spirit was not right. They were not appreciative for the opportunity they had been given. They had worked from dawn to dark, but when the time of reckoning came, the goodman discerned that they were evil. Not so for those who came to work later in the day; they had no resentment for the goodman’s kindness toward all the laborers. Here is the lesson: God’s favor is not given to evil men! The parable is a warning. It teaches that we must never resent God for the kindness He manifests to others.
Another parable, “the parable of the fig tree,” again emphasizes the importance of producing fruit. We find it in Luke 13:6-9, but it is introduced by what some Galileans told Christ. “There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (Luke 13:1). Jesus seized the opportunity to make a point:
And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-5).
Then He went on to give the parable:
. . . A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down (Luke 13:6-9).
Why did Jesus give this parable? Many people believe that whatever evil befalls others, it must be the result of some sin. A modern view, which is of pagan origin, is that evil results from bad karma. The fact is: Evil befalls people for a number of reasons, perhaps due to their own carelessness, or the carelessness of others. The Bible indicates that people often suffer due to circumstances alone. The Bible calls it “time and chance.” “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” (Eccl 9:11). Evil, therefore, is not necessarily the result of sin. Here is the point Jesus makes. The nation of Israel is likened to a fig tree. “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time. . . ” (Hos. 9:10). It takes a fig tree about three years to produce fruit. The “certain man” in the parable represents God. In the parable the fig tree was not producing fruit. But the “man” was willing to give it another chance. If it did not produce, then it would be destroyed.
How does God view man in this light? Speaking to the people of His day, Jesus said: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matt. 21:43). The nation of Israel did not produce the spiritual fruit God desired. Today there is a spiritual body-the Church-comprised of many members. Individually, each member must produce the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23, Rom. 6:22). What happens to those who fail to produce these fruits? Here is the answer: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). We should all recognize this serious warning. This is what the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9 tells us.