Justin, a reader of Temple Study, brought to my attention that there may be more temple imagery in Matthew 25 than just the parable of the ten virgins. Indeed, the parable of the talents has some striking shadows and allusions to the temple too. In the same spirit Elder Robbins likened the parable of the ten virgins to our modern temple, let’s take a look at the parable of the talents “with the temple in mind” ((Lynn G. Robbins, “Oil in Our Lamps,” Ensign, Jun 2007, 44-48)). There may be many interpretations of these parables. The parable of the talents has often been attributed to how we use the talents, skills and blessings we’ve been given of God on the earth. But when we think specifically of the temple, these are some of the things that come to my mind:
Coming to Know the Lord
The parable starts in verse 14:
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.
The man, of course, represents the Lord. That Christ traveled into a “far country” is taught clearly in the scriptures, in that he condescended from his throne on high to come to this earth to work out the salvation of mankind (1 Nephi 11). Going from a sphere of flames of divine glory to the humble circumstances of the babe born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger (a feeding trough for animals) is quite a distance.
Christ came to “call” all of us to repentance, to follow Him, and to partake of the gift of eternal life. But as we noted yesterday, “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). We will see why some are not chosen.
What is particularly intriguing here is that the Lord gave something to his servants as a means to test them (see also Abraham 3:25).
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. (v. 15)
Christ entrusted some things to his servants that are very special, to see what they would do with them, termed “his goods” or “talents.” These goods or talents are not to be equated with “filthy lucre,” but are symbolic of something else of special significance, still physically given to his followers, disciples, or servants. That it was not the talents themselves that made them important, but what they represented, how they were kept, used, and returned to the Lord, will be seen in the next verses.
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. (v. 16-18)
The Gate of Heaven
Here comes the test. What did the disciples of Christ do with the goods that He had given them? A time of reckoning or judgment always comes. Did they do with the goods what was appropriate? Did they keep the covenant the Lord had made with them?
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. (v. 19)
The Lord returned to his disciples, to receive the goods back which He had given them, and to test to see how they had used them.
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. (v. 20-21)
The first disciple was true and faithful to the talents that he had been given of the Lord, and upon giving them back to the Lord was allowed into the Lord’s presence, the celestial kingdom, to be made a ruler, a king and a priest.
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. (v. 22-23)
The second disciple was also true and faithful to those gifts and agreements that the Lord had given him, and to the extent that he was able, kept the covenant. Upon giving them to the Lord, the Lord allowed the servant to pass into the presence of God, to receive his exaltation.
The Unprofitable Servant
Then the third disciple arrives at the gate of the Lord to be tested.
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. (v. 24-25)
This disciple was not true and faithful to the talents given him, and did not that which was appropriate with them. He broke the covenants, denied the gifts, defiled that which was holy. He allowed the temptations of the adversary to make him afraid and lose his faith. His use of the talent was not acceptable to the Lord.
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. (v. 26-27)
This servant knew what he had to do. He had been given the same talents as the others. He knew the agreements and promises he had made with the Lord. He knew he should have kept the covenants. But he “would not” (Matt. 23:37; D&C 43:24). He went and digged a hole in the ground and hid the talent to safeguard it. Indeed, this servant reminds us of the rich man who stored his riches in barns, and when they were filled built greater barns to accumulate the goods which had been given him, and imparted them not with his neighbors (Luke 12:18). Surely his retirement was going to be quite comfortable (Luke 12:19). But the Lord said,
Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:20-21)
Then comes the recompense.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
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.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (v. 28-30)
This servant was unprofitable. He did not those things he should have with the covenants which he had made with the Lord. Therefore, all the gifts that could have been his, indeed “all that the Father hath,” was taken from this servant and given to him who kept the covenant. He was rejected from that entrance into the presence of the Lord. Having the original talent to give back to the Lord at that heavenly gate was not enough, but it was how he had used it, and how he had kept the covenant that was associated with it. This cannot be stressed enough. The talent alone was meaningless without the covenant. The servant was damned, a full stop of progression in the eternities, forever blocked by “the angels who stand as sentinels” ((Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:31)).
The temple imagery throughout this parable stands out to me like never before, but I had never made or read the connection previously.
Part 3 will be about the parable of the sheep and the goats.
This was awesome! I’d never thought of it in this way. No wonder they council us to go again and again to the temple.
Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks Aaron. I had never before heard the parable of the talents in a temple context, and when it was pointed out to me in passing I immediately made the connection. It was really eye opening.
It’s interesting to think of the talent being “the endowment.”
I have also enjoyed thinking of the super-valuable gift that the Lord gives many of us is children (talent = familial-child). We should help them to find spouses and be sealed to those partners in the temple. Thus our one talent becomes two.