“At that time.” This is one of the times when chapter headings are not helpful, but actually hinder understanding the Bible. Matthew 25 continues Jesus’ teaching that he started in Matthew 24:4. From Matthew 24:4 all the way to the end of Matthew 25 (Matt. 25:46), is one long answer to the question asked to him by the Apostles: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3). Jesus gives a basic overall chronology of some major end-times events, such as the wars, earthquakes, tribulation, him coming in the clouds down to earth, then gathering all the nations before him and judging them at the sheep and goat judgment. But understanding the chronology of the end times is “head knowledge.” It is nice to know, even important to know, but neither knowing it nor being ignorant of it will change it—the things Jesus spoke of will come to pass.
However, there are some very important facts we need to know and must keep in mind, and so in the middle of explaining to the Apostles how some major end-times events will play out, Jesus adds some very pointed parables to drive home the fact that we must take this life very seriously.
The first parable is of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). The point of that parable is that there will be a time when the door to salvation will be closed and so “now is the day of salvation.” Now is a time to be prepared for the future (exemplified by the wise virgins), because when Jesus finally comes (exemplified by the bridegroom) the time of salvation is over. At that time the unsaved people will realize they have been foolish and want to get into the kingdom (exemplified by the marriage feast) but they will not be able to get in; the door will be closed (Matt. 25:10-12). Those who have been obedient (Matt. 24:46) and wise (Matt. 25:2) will get to enter. The evil and foolish will be shut out, and “there will be sobbing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 24:51). The message of the parable is get saved now “because you do not know the day or hour” when Judgment day comes, and when it does the invitation to be saved will no longer be offered; it will then be the time of judgment (Matt. 25:13). Jesus taught this same truth in Luke 13:22-30, but in Luke he taught it plainly, without using a parable.
The second parable in Matthew 25 is the parable of the talents. The emphasis of the parable of the talents is that people will be rewarded according to their works. It is similar to the first in that there is a time to be wise and do what it takes to get saved and that time will come to an end. But the emphasis of the parable is that at some unknown point in the future the Lord will come and judgment will begin, and people will be either rewarded or punished depending on how they lived their life. A major difference between the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents is that in the parable of the talents, Jesus teaches that even the people who are saved will be judged (evaluated) and then rewarded according to their works.
In the parable of the virgins, the issue was salvation, and that a person was either allowed in the wedding feast or was closed out (in which case the Lake of Fire would be their end). In the parable of the talents even the saved are judged, and they are then rewarded differently according to what they had done in their life. This is a huge lesson. Many people think that “being saved” is the goal, and as long as you are saved you have “made it.” That is far from the truth.
People will have different positions in the kingdom: some will have charge of “many things” (Matt. 25:21-23), and some will not. There is no reason to have little in the future kingdom of Jesus Christ. All he asks for is that we “seek first the kingdom of God” and obey Him. We should all make his work and his agenda more important than our own. If we do that, we “will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11 NIV). If we do not, and are ashamed of him (as demonstrated by the way we behave), “the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). It is our decision to be saved or not, and it is our decision to obey him or not. Let’s be like the wise virgins and the “good and faithful” servants, and get saved and be richly rewarded. It will be more than worth it.
“will be like.” Often parables have the phrase “is like” (Matt. 13:24, 31, 33, 44), but this parable is about a future event, so “will be like” is accurate.
“virgins.” The Greek word is parthenos (#3933 παρθένος), and it most properly means “virgin.” Since girls were usually married between 12 and 14 years of age, these girls were likely in their early teens. Scripture does not say how these ten were chosen, and there are a lot of things about marriages in that culture that we do not know today. One thing that is unstated but implied is that even people who are young by today’s standards are expected to know to do what is right.