“He gave five talents to one, two to another, and one to still another.”—MATTHEW 25:15.
1, 2. Why did Jesus tell the parable of the talents?
JESUS told the parable of the talents to make clear to his anointed followers what their responsibility is. But that parable affects all of Jesus’ disciples. So whether we have the hope of living in heaven or on earth, we need to understand the meaning of this parable.
2 When did Jesus tell the parable? It was while he was giving his disciples a sign that would show that he had become King and that the time of the end had begun. (Matthew 24:3) So the parable of the talents is part of that sign and is being fulfilled in our time.
3 When Jesus told the parable of the talents, he told three other parables that were also part of the sign of the time of the end. All these parables describe specific qualities that his followers must have. We can read these parables at Matthew 24:45 to 25:46. The first parable is about the faithful slave, the small group of anointed ones who have the responsibility to teach Jehovah’s people. They need to be faithful and discreet.* (See footnote.) The following parable is about the ten virgins. In it, Jesus warned all the anointed ones that they would need to be prepared and watchful because they would not know the day or the hour when he would come.* (See footnote.) Next, Jesus told the parable of the talents to teach all the anointed ones that they would need to work hard in caring for their Christian responsibilities. Then, Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats, which focuses on those who would have the hope of living on earth. He emphasized that they must be loyal and do all they can to help his anointed brothers.* (See footnote.) This article will explain the meaning of the parable of the talents.
A MAN GIVES HIS SLAVES A LOT OF MONEY
4, 5. Whom does the man in the parable refer to, and what is a talent?
4 Read Matthew 25:14-30. In the parable of the talents, Jesus talked about a man who went on a journey. In a similar parable, Jesus spoke about a man who went on a journey to become a king.* (See footnote.) (Luke 19:12) Our publications have said for many years that in both parables this man refers to Jesus, who went to heaven in the year 33. But Jesus did not immediately become King when he went to heaven. He waited until 1914, when his enemies were “placed as a stool for his feet.”—Hebrews 10:12, 13.
5 Jesus said that the man in the parable had eight talents. That was a lot of money.* (See footnote.) Before the man went away, he gave this money to his slaves. He told them to use it to make more money for him. Just as the money was very valuable to that man, there was something that was very valuable to Jesus. What was that? It was the work he did while he was on earth.
“Lift up your eyes and view the fields, that they are white for harvesting”
6, 7. What do the talents refer to?
6 The preaching work was very important to Jesus. As a result of his preaching, many became his disciples. (Read Luke 4:43.) But he knew that there was more work to do and that more people would accept the good news. In fact, he told his disciples: “Lift up your eyes and view the fields, that they are white for harvesting.” (John 4:35-38) A good farmer would not abandon a field that was ready to be harvested. Jesus had the same attitude. So just before he returned to heaven, Jesus commanded his followers: “Go, therefore, and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:18-20) In this way, Jesus gave them a precious treasure, the important responsibility to preach.—2 Corinthians 4:7.
7 Like the man who gave his money to his slaves, Jesus gave his anointed followers the work of making disciples. (Matthew 25:14) So the talents refer to the responsibility to preach and make disciples.
8. Even though each slave received a different amount of money, what did the master expect?
8 Jesus said that the master gave five talents to the first slave, two talents to the second slave, and one talent to the third slave. (Matthew 25:15) The master gave each slave a different amount of money, but he expected all of them to do their best to make more money for him. In the same way, Jesus expected his anointed followers to do their best in the preaching work. (Matthew 22:37; Colossians 3:23) At Pentecost in the year 33, Jesus’ followers began making disciples of people of all nations. And when we read the Bible book of Acts, we see clearly how hard they worked.* (See footnote.)—Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20.
THE SLAVES USE THE TALENTS IN THE TIME OF THE END
9. (a) What did the two faithful slaves do with the money, and what do we learn from that? (b) What must those who hope to live on earth do?
9 The first two slaves, who used their master’s money well, refer to the faithful anointed brothers and sisters during the time of the end. Especially since 1919, they have been doing their best in the preaching work. In the parable, each of the two slaves received a different amount of money, but this does not mean that there are two different groups of faithful anointed ones. Both slaves worked hard and doubled the money. But are the anointed the only ones who must work hard in the preaching and teaching work? No. Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats teaches us that those who hope to live forever on earth must help his anointed brothers with the preaching work and be loyal to them. They feel that it is an honor to help them. Yes, Jehovah’s people are “one flock,” and they all work hard to preach and make disciples.—John 10:16.
10. What is one part of the sign that proves we are living in the time of the end?
10 Jesus expects all his followers to work hard to make more disciples. That is what his disciples did in the first century. In this time of the end, when Jesus’ parable about the talents is being fulfilled, are his followers doing this work? Yes, never before have so many people heard the good news and become disciples! Because of the hard work that is being done by all of Jesus’ followers, hundreds of thousands of people are getting baptized each year. And they too join in the preaching work. All this activity and the good results clearly show that the preaching work is an important part of the sign Jesus gave about the time of the end. No doubt, Jesus is pleased with his workers!
WHEN WILL THE MASTER COME?
11. How do we know that Jesus will come during the great tribulation?
11 Jesus said: “After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” (Matthew 25:19) The Master, Jesus, will do this toward the end of the great tribulation. How do we know that? In his prophecy found in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus said many times that he is coming. For example, he said that people “will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” This refers to the time during the great tribulation when Jesus will judge people. He also warned his followers living in the time of the end to be watchful. He said: “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.” (Matthew 24:30, 42, 44) So in the parable of the talents, Jesus was also referring to the time when he will come to judge people and destroy Satan’s world.*—See footnote.
12, 13. (a) What does the master say to the two slaves, and why? (b) When do anointed ones receive their final sealing? (See also the box “Judged As Worthy When They Die.”) (c) What reward will those who supported the anointed receive?
12 When the master came back from his journey, he saw that the slave with five talents had earned five more and the slave with two talents had earned two more. The master told each of them: “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things.” (Matthew 25:21, 23) What will the Master, Jesus, do when he comes in the future?
13 Just before the great tribulation, God will give his final approval to the hardworking anointed ones who are still on earth at that time. This is their final sealing. (Revelation 7:1-3) Then, before Armageddon, Jesus will reward them by raising them to heaven. But what about those with the hope of living on earth who supported the anointed in the preaching work? They will have been judged as sheep. And they will be rewarded with life on earth under the rule of God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 25:34.
A WICKED AND LAZY SLAVE
14, 15. Was Jesus saying that many anointed ones would become wicked and lazy? Explain.
14 The parable also mentions the slave who had one talent. He did not use it to make more money for his master or put it in the bank to earn interest. Instead, he buried the money. The master said that the slave was wicked and lazy. He took the talent away from the wicked slave and gave it to the first slave. Then he threw the wicked slave out “into the darkness,” and there the slave cried in despair.—Matthew 25:24-30; Luke 19:22, 23.
15 When Jesus said that one of the three slaves was wicked and lazy, he did not mean that one third of the anointed ones would be like that slave. We know this by comparing this parable with two others. In the parable of the faithful and discreet slave, Jesus mentioned an evil slave who persecuted the other slaves. Jesus did not mean that those who are part of the faithful and discreet slave would become evil. Instead, he was warning those anointed ones that they should not become like the evil slave. Then, in the parable of the ten virgins, Jesus mentioned five foolish virgins. He was not saying that half of those who are anointed would be foolish. Instead, Jesus was warning about what would happen if they were not prepared and watchful.* (See footnote.) Similarly, in the parable of the talents, Jesus was not saying that many of the anointed ones during the last days would be wicked and lazy. No, he was warning the anointed ones not to become like a wicked slave but to continue working hard in the preaching work.—Matthew 25:16.
Jesus will reward all his disciples who work hard in the preaching work
16. (a) What two lessons do we learn from the parable of the talents? (b) How has this article helped us to understand the parable of the talents? (See the box “How Should We Understand the Parable of the Talents?”)
16 What two lessons do we learn from the parable of the talents? First, Jesus gave his anointed disciples a precious treasure, the important responsibility to preach and make disciples. Second, Jesus expects all of us to work hard in the preaching work. If we endure faithfully in this work and remain obedient and loyal to Jesus, we can be sure that he will reward us.—Matthew 25:21, 23, 34.
The Watchtower, July 15, 2013, pages 21-22, paragraphs 8-10, explains who the faithful and discreet slave is.
The previous article in this magazine explains who the virgins are.
The parable of the sheep and the goats is explained in The Watchtower, October 15, 1995, pages 23-28, and in the next article in this magazine.
In Jesus’ time, one talent was the amount of money a worker earned in 20 years.
Soon after the apostles died, the apostasy spread to all congregations. For many centuries, very little was done in the preaching work. But during “the harvest,” or the time of the end, the preaching work would begin again. (Matthew 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 magazine.