Skip to Content

What is the Parable of the Talents? Bible Story and Meaning

This page/post may contain affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate, as well as an affiliate of other programs, this means if you purchase something using these links, I will receive a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you! For more detailed information, please visit our Affiliate Disclaimer page

The parable of the talents is one of many, many indirect teachings of Jesus throughout his long journey of ministry on the earth. This story of a rich man and his servants reflects our own experience as Jesus’ disciples awaiting his return and judgment. 

There are three main lessons that we can learn from this reflection and apply to our daily stewardship of what God has blessed us with, no matter how big or small. In this articles we will go through the parable as it is told in Matthew’s gospel, unpack the symbolism of the characters, and look into those three big takeaways as they apply to the Christian today. 

cartoon of rich man and three servants holding bag of money with the text parable of the talents Bible story and meaning

The Parable of the Talents

In Matthew’s gospel, specifically chapters 24 and 25, we are given a glimpse into the heart of Jesus. We see a perfect blend of love and perfect holiness as He prepares to leave his people in Israel via his death and resurrection. During this crucial time, Jesus’ last days among his disciples, Jesus delivers final warnings, prophecies, and encouragement to His followers. It is within this context that the powerful Parable of the Talents is told in Matthew 25:14-30.

The parable of the talents is one of many of Jesus’ parables found in the word of God that he used as an indirect teaching method. This parable is a teaching on what the kingdom of heaven will be like as the last days approach, and the second coming of Jesus finally restores the heavens and the earth to God’s original design of perfect harmony.

The parable of the talents is as follows: 

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”

Matthew 25:14-15 (ESV)

Talents were a unit of currency in biblical times, whether these are talents of gold worth a lot of money, or something else worth a little, we do not know. Nonetheless, these servants had a responsibility as we will see later on. In these verses, Jesus lays out the foundation of the parable, introducing the master and his servants. The first servant is given five talents (units of money), the second servant is given two talents, and the third servant is given just one talent. 

This distribution of the talents was not randomized, but intentional. The phrase “to each according to his ability” means, as put by Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, that the talents were distributed accordingly “as he saw each one was adapted to improve it”. So the first servant receiving the most talents mean the master saw the most potential in him to build upon the currency. 

“He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and his his master’s money.”

Matthew 25:16-18 (ESV)

This next section of the story proves that the master was correct in his assessment of his servant’s abilities. The servant that had five talents, as well as the servant with the two talents, invested and traded until they made double the amount they were originally given. 

The third servant, with just one talent, hid the money instead of building upon it. Whether this is out of pure laziness or fear, we do not know yet. We will see his justification for his actions, or lack-there-of, when his master confronts him. 

“Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'”

Matthew 25:19-23 (ESV)

Here we see the beginning of the reunion between the servants and their master. The first two servants are able to approach their master confidently, as they have worked hard, and succeeded, to double his currency in the time he has been away. 

Upon seeing the hard work and success of the first and second servant, the master says to them “well done good and faithful servant” and promises a reward of more responsibility, being in charge of many things, as well as sharing in his joys alongside him. 

“He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”

Matthew 25:24-27 (ESV)

Now a less happy ending for the third servant who his his master’s money away. He tried to justify his lack of action by stating that he was afraid of the master’s character trait of being a “hard man,” which the servant perceives as harshness, and reaping where he does not sow, meaning he benefits from action that is not his own. 

This clearly did not go over well with the master who had quite the opposite reaction to this servant than the first two. He calls the servant slothful (lazy), and wicked, telling him he should have done what the other servants did and multiplied the talents, not despite his being a harsh man, but because of it. 

“So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For or everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

Matthew 25:28-30 (ESV)

The master continues in his response to the lazy servant by making him give his one talent to the first servant, who has 10. He then bans the worthless slave into the “outer darkness” where there will be sorrow and anger (weeping and gnashing of teeth). 

This concludes the telling of the parable and teaching on the kingdom of God. 

What is the Parable of the Talents? Bible Story and Meaning 1


In order to find the application of this parable of the talents, we must first understand who the characters – the master, the servants, and even the talents – represent. 

Without further ado, the master, who gives out talents to his servants, according to their ability, and then goes away for a time, represents Jesus. Just as the master gave out talents, Jesus gave the message of the Gospel, and a mission with it. 

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

It is after his ministry, that he concludes with the great commission after his death and resurrection, that Jesus also goes away for a time. We do not know when his return will be, but he has clear expectations of what is to be done with what he left behind while he is gone. 

Second, the servants directly represent Jesus’ disciples, who received this teaching in the moment, as well as the rest of Jesus’ teaching and the command to spread it. That means that the servants also indirectly represent me and you – followers of Christ today.

Just as the disciples spent the rest of their lives awaiting Jesus’ return, so are you and I. Just as the disciples were given a mission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth, so have you and I. 

And lastly, the talents. The talents in this parable symbolize the abilities, belongings, and spiritual gifts of the disciples, as well as you and I. Every follower of Jesus has been given certain talents (in the literal sense) as well as spiritual gifts from God that we are to use in the mission to advance the gospel. This goes for our belongings as well, as nothing we have is actually our own, but rather a gift from God that we are to be stewards over. 

“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.”

Deuteronomy 10:14 (ESV)

So what do we do with this?

Lessons of the Parable

The meaning of the parable of the talents teaches us 3 important lessons on stewardship: with more blessings comes more responsibility, the judgement of our stewardship is inevitable and eminent, and there will be no excuse for laziness. 

Stewardship is defined as the job of supervising or taking care of something, such as an organization or property. However, that is merely a secular definition. I believe there is a deeper level to biblical stewardship. 

There are also definitions of stewardship, such as on, that use the term surrogate. This surrogacy adds a new perspective to what it means for us to be God’s stewards. It is like we are a surrogate of God’s as we interact with the world around, acting on his behalf, in his image. 

“And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

Colossians 3:10 (ESV)

Biblical stewardship is not an optional responsibility for Christians. “We’re required to impact, care for, utilize, and manage the affairs of creation in whatever way God brings us into contact with it.” This “involves going “all in” with our time, effort, sacrifice, talents, and resources — and when I say “our,” the truth is, they’re all His anyway. That’s why being good stewards is such a crucial part of the Christian lifestyle.“.

“John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”

John 3:27 (ESV)

Jesus’ telling of the parable of the talents teaches us three crucial lessons underneath the umbrella of our biblical responsibility to be good stewards. 

The first lesson we can learn and use to become better stewards of what God has given us, is that with more blessing comes more responsibility. The first servant was given five talents, which was the most out of all of them, because the master knew that he could handle it the best. In the same way does God give the most to those he knows can handle it the best, even if they do not think so themselves.

For example, God doesn’t bless everybody with a big number in their bank account, or on their paycheck. Those that he does, are expected to use it to grow the kingdom of God and thus the kingdom of Heaven, not just for fun personal use. If they buy a big house, it should be used for his glory, such as hosting those in need. If they travel with it, they should be travelling for His glory, proclaiming the good news of the gospel to the world. 

This does not mean that financially blessed people are not allowed to use their money for fun or general lifestyle things. It is all about the heart and the intention behind it. If you are spending more on earthly things that will not last in the end at the expense of your spending on things of eternal value, such as giving to your local church, that is where the problem arises. In the end, how your stewardship looks is between you and God. 

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)

This also does not mean that those who have less are exempt from using what they have for the glory of God – nor are they any less blessed. Our money is the Lord’s money, no matter the amount. Just as each servant was given a different amount of talents, so is each follower of Jesus given different abilities, passions, belongings, spiritual gifts, etc. Each servant was expected to build upon and multiply what they were originally given, no matter how much it was, and so are we. 

What is the Parable of the Talents? Bible Story and Meaning 2

Not only are each and every one of us called to be good stewards of the possessions and talents God has given us, our stewardship will be judged; and that judgement is inevitable and eminent. 

Remember, the master in the story is symbolic of Jesus. The master left for a time, leaving his servants behind with talents and expectations. Jesus has left his servants behind as well, you and I every other temple of the Holy Spirit, with God-given abilities and circumstances that he has laid out clear expectations for. 

The master returned and confronted his servants, both the faithful and unfaithful. He rewarded the good works of the first two servants who multiplied their talents, and punished the unprofitable servant for his lack of works. When we meet God and Jesus face-to-face, whether that be through Jesus’ second coming, or through the death of our earthly bodies, we too will be confronted with our works and stewardship, good or bad. 

We do not know when this will be. Either the second coming of the Son of Man or the end of your earthly life could be 10 years from now, 50 years from now, or even tomorrow. The face to face meeting with God in all of his glory WILL happen. 

On that day, do you want to hear ‘Well done good and faithful servant’ and be welcomed into the presence of the Heavenly Father, or ‘You wicked and slothful servant!’ and be cast out away from Him? This will be determined based on who’s behavior you mimicked. Was it the behavior of the faithful slave(s), or the third slave’s behavior?

Now, it is not our works that save us, as the apostle Paul clearly lays out in his letter to the church at Ephesus (Ephesians 2: 8-9). However, we are called to use our time on this earth to store up treasures in heaven, which is done through our good works for the glory of God. 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

As well as this, we are told in James that faith without works is dead. Again, this does not mean that our works are what brings us salvation, but rather that, if you have do truly have faith, are a true believer of God, you will inevitably bear fruit in the form of works.  

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?… So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

James 2:14, 17 (ESV)

Let this convict us! If we take a look at our lives as we walk with Christ and do not see works that are of good use to the kingdom of God, are we truly walking with Christ? Our works, our stewardship of what has been given to us, is a natural outflowing of our personal experience with the saving grace of God that left the Holy Spirit behind to dwell in us. 

Finally, there is no reason or worldly logic that we can offer in the presence of the Heavenly Father that will excuse our laziness and lack of zeal to fulfill the great mission He has bestowed upon us. 

The lazy slave of the story thought he had the perfect excuse for not putting his talents to good use as his peers had done. But we see how that turned out. Not only did it not work, his excuse got completely turned around onto him. The master told him that his very reason for not investing and trading his talent is exactly what should have motivated him to do so!

Is this not the same for our stewardship of our own “talents” as we do our part to fulfill our mission? Maybe you are afraid, just like the slothful servant was, to put your God-given circumstances to use because you don’t want to mess it up and make God mad, as He is a God of wrath. It is that very wrath of God that should motivate you to get to work despite the worldly anxiety or fear, because he will be all the more wrathful if we just sit comfortably on what was intended to bring him glory. 

We are indeed called by the word of God to fear God. But again, that fear is not one that stifles our works, but lights a fire beneath them. 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

Proverbs 9:10

The point of the parable of the talents is a great, insightful teaching for those that have been justified by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. After justification comes the lifelong process of sanctification where we become more and more like the image of Christ. No one will ever reach the pure perfection of our savior, but every day can be one step closer to a perfect relationship between creation and creator, as it was originally designed to be.

May all of these things be exactly the motivation, conviction, or simple understanding that you needed today to grow in your daily sanctification through the Holy Spirit of God. 

You may enjoy this video: Parable of the Talents: Can God Trust You with More?

Or one of these recommended resources:

The Servant With One Talent: Five Success Principles from the Greatest Parable Ever Told by Michael V. Ivanov

Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John F. MacArthur

Live Deeply: A Study of the Parables of Jesus by Lenya Heitzig, Penny Rose

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.