Monday, September 10, 2018


(1) Jesus’ story of the business man and his three slaves (Matt. 25:14-30)

Jesus tells the story of a business man who went on a trip, and before leaving gave 5 talents to one servant, 2 talents to another and 1 talent to the third. They were not given equal amounts because the business man knew that each one had different abilities. (Note that this parable is different than the one Jesus gave a week earlier, recorded in Luke 19). When he returned from his trip, he discovered that two of the servants had faithfully worked and each had doubled what had been given to them. Those servants then received identical rewards. Jesus’ point was not the total amount acquired, but the faithfulness of each. However, the third servant did nothing with his talent, with the result that judgment fell on him. He is then cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” So, who is this third servant?

(2) The context of Jesus’ story

This third servant has been a significant interpretive challenge for Bible students. Is he saved, or is he unsaved? Was he once saved and is now lost? Is he a believer who loses out on rewards, and perhaps participation, in the kingdom? This brief article simply cannot deal with all the viewpoints. But it is the viewpoint of this writer that the third servant is unsaved, and that his fate is that of an unsaved person, even though he is called a “servant.” As is often the case, the context is extremely significant. There are certain things that have led to this understanding.

 1. The understanding of “you” in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse

This parable is part of the Olivet Discourse where Jesus was answering the questions of His disciples related to the future of the nation of Israel. Jesus, in answering them, speaks of Israel, not the church and not of the gentiles. A key is the word “you” that is found in Matthew 23 through 25. Beginning in Matthew 23:33, and continuing on through chapter 25, He used the word “you” which refers to Israel, and always Israel. Sometimes “you” refers to the nation generally; sometimes it is a past generation in Israel and sometimes a future generation; sometimes Israel is represented by the Pharisees and other religious leaders and sometimes by the apostles. But “you” contextually is always focused on Israel. And so, when Jesus gave the six concluding parables for the purpose of application, He is still focused on the disciples’ concern; that of Israel’s future. So the primary application, including the present parable in Matthew 25:14-30, is on Israel. There is nothing in the text which shifts the subject to gentiles or the church. So, the three servants would in some way represent the people of Israel.

2. The Unique place of Israel in God’s plans and purposes

The nation of Israel is absolutely unique among the nations of the world. They, and they alone, are in a covenant relationship with the Lord.(1) This is not true of the Italians, the Chinese or even Americans. And uniquely, every single Israelite is included in the Abrahamic Covenant whether they are saved or unsaved. Even an unsaved Israelites was a “covenant man.” Was this not the great problem that both Jesus and John the Baptist had to deal with? It was convincing the Jews of their day that they had to be born again in order to enter the messianic kingdom. The belief of Jesus’ day, as the rabbis taught it, was that no descendant of Abraham (aside from an apostate) could be lost.(2)

But being Jewish was not enough, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus (John 3). When Jesus referred to Israelites as “sons of the kingdom”, He was focusing on the fact that the messianic kingdom belonged to the Jews by right of inheritance that came through the Abrahamic Covenant. Nicodemus understood that, but did not understand that Jews did not have a free pass into the messianic kingdom. Entrance into Messiah’s kingdom was not automatic, but they had to be born again, by which He was teaching that covenant people can be unsaved. Later, in Jesus’ powerful talk about “fathers” in John 8, He acknowledged that the leaders of Israel did indeed have Abraham as their physical father, but declared that their spiritual father was the Devil (John 8:37, 44). Jesus also spoke about the fate of the “sons of the kingdom” in such a way that they are viewed as unbelievers who will experience fiery punishment (note Matt. 13:41-42; 8:12). Paul, in Romans 9:6 said that “they are not all Israel who are descendant from Israel.” He stated that the Jews were people of great privilege, since they were in a covenant relationship with God and had unique blessings from Him (Rom. 3:1-2; 6:1-5). Yet, the majority in Israel were unbelievers. And this concept is seen time and again in the New Testament; where there are Israelites who believe and Israelites who do not believe, even though all were part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Dwight Pentecost correctly states: “apart from faith in Christ none of Abraham’s physical descendants could have a part in the kingdom. Those who heard the kingdom offer and then rejected the person of the King thereby excluded themselves from the kingdom.”(3)

3. Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” includes all Israelites

The concept of “servant” does not require that a servant is a believer. The concept of “servant” has an important place in the Old Testament, particularly in Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” section. Most Bible students know that Isaiah’s “servant of the Lord” gives wonderful truth about the Person of Jesus, particularly truth related to Him being the sin-bearer for all. But less known is that the nation of Israel is called “My servant” (Isa. 41:8; Exo. 19:5-6).(4) As God’s servant, Israel was to represent Him before the spiritually blind, idolatrous gentiles. Israel was to serve Him by being a light to the gentiles. As servants, they were responsible to the Lord, and they would be accountable to Him. But Israel became just as blind spiritually as the gentiles. They were seen as an unbelieving nation, though they were called “servant.” God declared: “Hear you deaf! And look, you blind that you might see. Who is blind but My servant, or so deaf as My messenger whom I send?” (Isa. 42:18-19). This clearly cannot refer to Jesus, but it certainly does tell us that national Israel was observed as spiritually blind (as in John 8). In the future, God will revive His servant Israel and will redeem them (Isa. 44:1-2, 21), but clearly in Isaiah 42 Israel is viewed as an unbelieving servant of the Lord. The third servant fits into this category.

4. “Outer darkness”, “wailing and gnashing of teeth” refers to the unsaved

The third servant is to be cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” These were common Jewish images which spoke of the fate of the unrighteous.(5) This same imagery is used by Matthew elsewhere as he recorded the words of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 8:10-12; 13:41-42, 49-50; 22:13; also Luke 13:28). All are in agreement that the verses in Matthew 13 and Luke 13 refer to unsaved people. And there is no compelling reason to assume a radically different application in the other four passages. It would seem to be strange and confusing if Jesus used the same term to refer to the fate of unbelievers and then applied them to a believer.

“Outer darkness” are words normally associated with the fate of unbelievers. The word “outer” points to a realm where unbelievers are, as in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 where they are described as “outsiders” (Note also Rev. 22:15 and Col. 4:5). In the Scriptures, light is often contrasted with “darkness”; and darkness is regularly associated with hell, the unsaved and Satan (e.g. Jude 1:13; 2 Pet. 2:17; Col. 1:12-13). Darkness is just not associated with the fate of believers.

The master is said to “cast” or “throw” the servant into the outer darkness. The word “cast” (Grk. ballow) often speaks of a forcible act, something that is not passive or gentle.(6) Jesus often used ballow to speak about throwing something; such as throwing into gehenna (Matt. 5:29), throwing into prison (Matt. 18:30) and throwing on a sickbed (Rev. 2:22). It is simply difficult to line up these words with actions taken by the Lord Jesus against those who have placed their trust in Him, and who are part of His “bride”, the church. These words are saying that the third servant is removed, excluded from, the messianic kingdom. It would be strange of the Lord to use these words to talk about His own believing servants without some clear explanation. These words, we are convinced, point to the third servant as being an unbeliever.

“Wailing and gnashing of teeth” is a phrase used by Matthew, but also by Luke as he describes the intense anger of the religious leaders who stoned Stephen (Acts 7:54). Louw and Nida say that this is an “expression of an emotion such as anger or of pain and suffering.” And they note this is an idiom “to express and manifest intense anger; to be furious.”(7) This phrase has consistently been viewed by Christian expositors as giving the fate and reaction of one who is an unbeliever. And, it may be that the unbeliever will react with hatred as well as pain when they are sentenced; perhaps, much like the reaction of the unbelievers under the judgment of God during the final judgments of the bowls (Rev. 16:9, 11, 21).

5. Other interpretations of the third servant

There are those that have proposed that this third servant is a believer and the story is looking at the fate of a sinning believer who will end up in eternal punishment. Those theologies which teach that salvation can be lost see support for their position in these passages. But if one holds to the eternal security of the believer in Christ, then this is not a credible interpretation. It is simply beyond the scope of this article to deal with that subject. It is discussed elsewhere.(8) Believers are eternally secure.

Others who believe in eternal security relegate the third servant to the “professed believer” category. It seems that could possibly apply only if they recognize that the third servant contextually is referring to Israelites, sons of the kingdom/covenant, who see themselves as covenant men but are unregenerate.

Still others who hold to eternal security view the third servant as representing believers who suffer terrible loss at the judgment seat.(9) They do not see this as the loss of salvation but exclusion from the messianic kingdom and/or their reaction to the loss of rewards. But that position fails to give adequate recognition to the context of Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse” in interpreting the parable. Furthermore, this view that sees exclusion from the messianic kingdom (the wedding feast) has a very difficult time explaining the absence of people making up the “bride of Christ” from her own wedding feast. Jesus and the “bride” were married in heaven in Revelation 19:7-8 and this is followed by the wedding feast on the earth. Marriage is to unite two, and it is quite strange that almost immediately after the marriage there is going to be the exclusion of many for some period of time, perhaps even 1,000 years.

It seems far better, because of context, to see the third servant as an unbelieving Israelite, of which there were many in the days of Christ and the Apostles.

(1) Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006) 35-78.

(2) Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 180.

(3) Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 191.

(4) Victor Buksbazen, The Prophet Isaiah, (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 2012), 336-349.

(5) R.T.France, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 156. L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology IV (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1964), 430-431.

(6) Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960), 74; Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press).130.

(7) Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), I. 254, 762.

(8) Paul Benware, The Believers Payday, Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 199-209.

(9) Hal M. Haller, Matthew in the Grace New Testament Commentary, (Denton, TX, 2010), 117, 120. Joseph Dillow, Reign of the Servant Kings, (Hayesville, NC: 1993), 351.