“He gave five talents to one, two to another, and one to still another.”—MATT. 25:15.
1, 2. Why did Jesus give the illustration of the talents?
IN THE parable of the talents, Jesus clearly reveals an obligation resting on his anointed followers. We need to understand the meaning of this parable, for it affects all true Christians, whether they have the hope of a heavenly reward or of an earthly one.
2 Jesus gave the parable of the talents as part of the answer to his disciples’ question about “the sign of [his] presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 24:3) Thus, the parable finds its fulfillment in our time and is part of the sign that Jesus is present and ruling as King.
3 The parable of the talents is one of four related illustrations recorded at Matthew 24:45 to 25:46. The other three—about the faithful and discreet slave, the ten virgins, and the sheep and the goats—are also part of Jesus’ answer to the question about the sign of his presence. In all four illustrations, Jesus highlights traits that would distinguish his true followers in these last days. The illustrations about the slave, the virgins, and the talents are directed to his anointed followers. In the illustration involving the faithful slave, Jesus highlights the need for the small group of anointed ones entrusted with feeding his domestics during the last days to be faithful and discreet. In the parable of the virgins, Jesus stresses that all his anointed followers would need to be prepared and to be vigilant, knowing that Jesus is coming but not knowing the day or the hour. In the parable of the talents, Jesus shows that the anointed would need to be diligent in carrying out their Christian responsibilities. Jesus directs the final illustration, the parable of the sheep and the goats, to those with an earthly hope. He emphasizes that they would have to be loyal and give full support to Jesus’ anointed brothers on earth.* Let us now focus on the illustration of the talents.
THE MASTER GIVES HIS SLAVES A FORTUNE
4, 5. Whom does the man, or the master, picture, and what is a literal talent worth?
4 Read Matthew 25:14-30. Our publications have long explained that the man, or the master, in the illustration is Jesus and that he traveled abroad when he ascended to heaven in 33 C.E. In an earlier parable, Jesus reveals his purpose of traveling abroad, namely, “to secure kingly power for himself.” (Luke 19:12) Jesus did not immediately secure full Kingdom power when he got back to heaven.* Instead, he “sat down at the right hand of God, from then on waiting until his enemies should be placed as a stool for his feet.”—Heb. 10:12, 13.
5 The man in the illustration possessed eight talents, a huge fortune in those days.* Before traveling abroad, he distributed the talents among his slaves, expecting them to do business while he was gone. Like that man, Jesus possessed something of great value before he ascended to heaven. What was that? The answer has to do with his life’s work.
6, 7. What do the talents symbolize?
6 Jesus attached great importance to his preaching and teaching work. (Read Luke 4:43.) By means of it, he cultivated a field that had rich potential. Earlier, he told his disciples: “Lift up your eyes and view the fields, that they are white for harvesting.” (John 4:35-38) He had in mind the ingathering of many other honesthearted ones who would become his disciples. Like a good farmer, Jesus would not leave unattended a field that was ripe for harvesting. Hence, shortly after his resurrection and before his ascension to heaven, he gave his disciples the weighty commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples.” (Matt. 28:18-20) Jesus thus entrusted them with a precious treasure, the Christian ministry.—2 Cor. 4:7.
7 What, then, may we conclude? When giving his followers the commission to make disciples, Jesus was, in effect, committing to them “his belongings”—his talents. (Matt. 25:14) Put simply, the talents refer to the responsibility to preach and make disciples.
8. Even though each slave received a different number of talents, what did the master expect?
8 The parable of the talents reveals that the master gave to one slave five talents, to another two, and to still another just one. (Matt. 25:15) Although each slave received a different number, the master expected all of them to be diligent in using the talents, that is, in serving to the best of their ability in the ministry. (Matt. 22:37; Col. 3:23) In the first century, starting at Pentecost 33 C.E., Christ’s followers began doing business with the talents. Their diligence in the preaching and disciple-making work is well-documented in the Bible book of Acts.*—Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20.
DOING BUSINESS WITH THE TALENTS IN THE TIME OF THE END
9. (a) What did the two faithful slaves do with the talents, and what does that indicate? (b) What role do the “other sheep” play?
9 In the time of the end, particularly from 1919 on, Christ’s faithful anointed slaves on earth have been doing business with the Master’s talents. Like the first two slaves, anointed brothers and sisters have done their best with what they have. There is no need to speculate about who received the five talents and who received the two talents. In the illustration, both slaves doubled what the master gave them, so both were equally diligent. What role do those with the earthly hope play? An important one! Jesus’ illustration of the sheep and the goats teaches us that those with the earthly hope have the honor of loyally supporting Jesus’ anointed brothers in the preaching and teaching work. During these critical last days, the two groups work together as “one flock” in zealously carrying out the work of making disciples.—John 10:16.
10. What is a powerful feature of the sign of Jesus’ presence?
10 The Master rightly expects results. As previously mentioned, his faithful disciples in the first century certainly increased his belongings. What about in this time of the end when the parable of the talents finds its fulfillment? Jesus’ faithful, hardworking servants have carried out the greatest preaching and disciple-making work in history. Their collective effort has resulted in hundreds of thousands of new disciples being added to the ranks of Kingdom proclaimers each year, making the preaching and teaching work an outstanding feature of the sign of Jesus’ presence in Kingdom power. Surely their Master must be pleased!
WHEN WILL THE MASTER COME TO SETTLE ACCOUNTS?
11. What leads us to conclude that Jesus will settle accounts during the great tribulation?
11 Jesus will come to settle accounts with his slaves toward the end of the great tribulation just ahead. What leads us to this conclusion? In his prophecy recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus repeatedly mentioned his coming. Referring to the judgment during the great tribulation, he said that people “will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” He urged his followers living in the last days to be vigilant, saying: “You do not know on what day your Lord is coming” and “the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it.” (Matt. 24:30, 42, 44) Hence, when Jesus said that “the master of those slaves came and settled accounts,” he was evidently referring to the time when he will come to execute judgment at the end of this system.*—Matt. 25:19.
12, 13. (a) How does the master respond to the first two slaves, and why? (b) When do anointed ones receive their final sealing? (See the box “Rendering an Account at Death.”) (c) What reward will those judged as sheep receive?
12 According to the parable, when the master comes, he finds that the first two slaves—the one given five talents and the one given two—have proved faithful, each doubling his talents. The master says the same thing to both slaves: “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things.” (Matt. 25:21, 23) What, then, may we expect when the Master, the glorified Jesus, comes for judgment in the future?
13 Those represented by the first two slaves—his hardworking anointed disciples—will already have received their final sealing before the great tribulation breaks out. (Rev. 7:1-3) Before Armageddon, Jesus will give them their promised heavenly reward. Those with the earthly hope who supported Christ’s brothers in the preaching work will have been judged as sheep and will be granted the privilege of living in the earthly realm of the Kingdom.—Matt. 25:34.
A WICKED AND SLUGGISH SLAVE
14, 15. Was Jesus indicating that a large number of his anointed brothers would prove to be wicked and sluggish? Explain.
14 In the parable, the last slave buried his talent instead of doing business with it or even depositing it with the bankers. This slave showed a bad spirit, for he deliberately worked against the master’s interests. The master rightly pronounced him “wicked and sluggish.” The master took the talent away from him and gave it to the one who had ten. The wicked slave was then thrown “out into the darkness outside.” “There is where his weeping and the gnashing of his teeth” would be.—Matt. 25:24-30; Luke 19:22, 23.
15 One of the master’s three slaves hid his talent, so was Jesus here indicating that one third of his anointed followers would prove to be wicked and sluggish? No. Consider the context. In the illustration of the faithful and discreet slave, Jesus spoke of an evil slave who beat his fellow slaves. Jesus was not there foretelling that an evil slave class would arise. Rather, he was warning the faithful slave not to display the traits of an evil slave. Similarly, in the illustration of the ten virgins, Jesus was not indicating that half of his anointed followers would be like the five foolish virgins. Instead, he was warning his spiritual brothers about what would happen if they lost their sense of vigilance and did not prove to be prepared.* In this context, it seems reasonable to conclude that in the illustration of the talents, Jesus was not saying that a large number of his anointed brothers during the last days would be wicked and sluggish. Rather, Jesus was warning his anointed followers of the need to remain diligent—to ‘do business’ with their talent—and avoid the attitudes and actions of a wicked slave.—Matt. 25:16.
16. (a) What lessons do we learn from the parable of the talents? (b) How has this article refined our understanding of the parable of the talents? (See the box “Understanding the Illustration of the Talents.”)
16 What two lessons do we learn from the parable of the talents? First, the Master, Christ, has entrusted his anointed slaves with something that he views as precious—the commission to preach and make disciples. Second, Christ expects all of us to be diligent in the preaching work. If we are, we can be sure that the Master will reward our faith, vigilance, and loyalty.—Matt. 25:21, 23, 34.
The identity of the faithful and discreet slave is discussed in The Watchtower, July 15, 2013, pages 21-22, paragraphs 8-10. The identity of the virgins is explained in the preceding article in this magazine. The illustration of the sheep and the goats is explained in The Watchtower, October 15, 1995, pages 23-28, and in the article following this one in this magazine.
In Jesus’ day, a talent was equivalent to about 6,000 denarii. Earning a denarius a day, the average worker had to labor some 20 years to earn just one talent.
After the death of the apostles, Satan fomented apostasy, which flourished for many centuries. During that time, there were no sustained efforts to fulfill the commission to make genuine disciples of Christ. But that would all change during “the harvest,” that is, the last days. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) See The Watchtower, July 15, 2013, pages 9-12.
See paragraph 13 of the article “Will You ‘Keep on the Watch’?” in this issue.