Some background to the Matthew's Gospel will set the context to the parable of the talents. Context is important. It helps you to understand the first audience and the cultural and historical setting of the passage. Doing so does not discount application of the text to your life; rather it enriches it.
The first Gospel is attributed to Matthew, Levi the tax collector, who became a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 9:9, Mk. 2:14). As a tax collector Matthew could read and write. And in the ancient world this was not a common skill. Prior to Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1440 very few people had access to expensive books; and the Internet was certainly not around. So most couldn't read or write. Scribes, Levites, tax collectors and other professionals had the skill. So in those days if you wanted a contract written you went to a scribe. There is also no reason to think this Gospel was written many decades after the ascension. While on earth Jesus was mysterious and taught in parables, when He had gone the mysteries of the Kingdom were to be published. Matthew, the man of words, did exactly that. Historically the written Word followed shortly after every great work of God. Jews and now Christians are people of the book. Shortly after the Holy Spirit's mighty work of leaving the Temple and resting on the Church, at Pentecost, the 3,000 converts needed the teachings of Jesus. Copies of Matthew's Gospel were probably circulating the Church a month or so thereafter.
Matthew knew the Old Testament inside out. He wrote to a Jewish and Jewish-Christian audience. It is evident he assumed his readers knew the Old Testament and Jewish customs. Often he does not stop to explain Jewish customs - e.g. he does not explain the lengthening of the tassels on the corners of Israelite garments in Matt. 23:5, he assumes his readers knew the background of Numbers 15. Jews knew the Old Testament through studying it for hours every Sabbath at the Synagogue. And they sang the Psalms whenever walking about. Matthew writes a very Jewish Gospel, relying on the audience to know the Old Testament. He writes to the Jew first. And this Jewish backdrop is important for us 21st century Christians to consider. If you do not, you simply miss the fullness and continuity of God's Word. Context is important. In 1890 Emil Schürer stated it this way: "no incident in the gospel story, no word in the preaching of Jesus Christ, is intelligible apart from its setting in Jewish history." You cannot understand the New Testament apart from the Old. Israel's history is our history, for we are the new Israel.
Summary of the text
So let's jump into the sandals of first century Jews. How would they have understood a story about a master who went away, left responsibilities to his slaves and returned to hold them accountable? Every Jew would have "understood [it], in the Judaism of Jesus' day, as a story about God and Israel." Those first hearers would have understood the unfaithful slave to be Israel. This is what landed Jesus in hot water with the religious leaders of the day. They knew He was speaking of them. Through parables Jesus taught that Israel had blown it. She was entrusted with the Law of Moses, was given the Temple and was to be a light to the world. Instead she buried her talents. Now the Master had returned to hold her to account. In Matthew 24:34 Jesus promised that if the Jews did not repent in one generation the Temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. This is the first century context. Jesus was speaking to the Jews first. This does not rob anything from its application to us today. We, Christ's body walk in the steps of the Master.
This parable centres on God's ownership of creation and Him delegating stewardship of it to man. Everything we possess belongs to God and must be used in obedience to His Word. Note that each servant knows the Master. Each is in Christ's body, the Church. And when the Master returns He judges each person's performance as a steward. Their works did not save them, rather they pointed to the relationship with Jesus. This is the Reformed, Biblical order: grace then law, salvation leads to obedience. By the blood of Jesus God saves you and then gives you the power to be obedient. Faith comes before obedience. On the day of reckoning the obedient slaves receive the Master's inheritance while the disobedient are disinherited. To put it another way; by baptism you enter the Church, Christ's body, the Kingdom and those who are faithful to their baptismal promises are the obedient slaves.
I will go through the text using a covenantal lens. Why? According to 2 Corinthians 1:20 "all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus." These promises are God's covenants and they help us to see the big picture flow of Scripture. I will use five aspects to look at the text:
1. God is the sovereign owner of creation.
2. God sets aside His people and gives them stewardship of creation.
3. Each person adopts a plan of action that is faithful or unfaithful to the Bible.
4. God returns in judgment and requires a final reckoning.
5. There is a system of inheritance and disinheritance.
Let's get into the text:
1. God is the sovereign owner of creation
Verse 14 – "It (the Kingdom of God) will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them." God always came to His people, gave them His Word and then left them to work it out into the world. As they went astray prophets were sent to call Israel back to the Word. But Israel disobeyed, beat and killed the prophets. Finally, in the last days of the Old Covenant/Testament God sent Jesus. That wicked perverted Israelite generation killed the Son. But He rose again and gave the Israelites a second chance to repent (recorded in the book of Acts). Jesus is that Master who went on a long journey. After His resurrection and ascension to the Father's right hand His Kingdom has come and He entrusts its worldwide expansion to His slaves.
Now, God always owned His creation. Psalm 50 says God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He owns all. Psalm 89:11 declares; "the heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all its fullness, You have founded them." God is the sovereign creator/owner. He delegated stewardship to the first Adam who was to faithfully obey God and receive rule/authority. Rather, Adam snatched at autonomous, self rule without faithful obedience and gave the kingdoms of this world to Satan. But history has changed things. God has come and transformed things. The Old World has crumbled away and the New World, blossomed when the Second Adam ascended to Heaven and received all the kingdoms of the world as His inheritance per Psalm 2:8. Jesus, the suffering servant, overcame Satan on Calvary to be enthroned as ruler of the kings of the world per Revelation 1:5. All Kingdoms of this world now belong to our God and His Christ per Revelation 11:15. Satan is now bound from deceiving the nations per Revelation 20:2-3. And the new King has given the responsibility for building His Kingdom to His Church. He has left you and me to disciple the nations, to bring His rule and reign to bear over all of life. So Jesus, the true and faithful "husband does safely trust in [His wife], so that he shall have no need of spoil" (Proverbs 31:11). The Church, Christ's bride, is the ultimate Proverbs 31 wife.
Now, in the Old Covenant the Kingdom of God was limited to the earth or land of Israel. The dirt in Palestine was the only holy ground. In the New the land or earth promises are extended to the whole world per Romans 4:13. Jesus Christ is the New Temple and all in Him are transformed. You are clumps of dirt in the Holy Land. No longer is Palestine the only holy land – since Christ's resurrection, ascension and destruction of the Old World in AD 70 the whole world becomes holy as Christians go and gather in the name of Jesus. Through the Gospel the whole world is won back to God and given to man to rule (John 3:16-17).
God is the sovereign owner of creation.
2. God sets aside His people and gives them stewardship of creation
A single talent was a small fortune; it was what a slave might hope to earn in half a lifetime. Thus, from verses 14 & 15 we also gather that Jesus entrusts all of His property, the world, to His bride. Every nation of the world must be discipled. This starts with faithfulness as an individual then extends to faithfulness as families, communities and nations. There is much work and it is up to you and me to be faithfully obedient with our talents.
From the beginning God delegated administration of the world. Adam and Eve were to reign and rule creation (Genesis 1:26). This rule was to be received through faithful obedience to God's Word. It was to flow downstream from Eden to the ends of the earth. However, Adam chose to grasp at rule without first maturing through obedience. By obeying God Adam would have grown up and be given the robe or office of rule. Unlike Joseph he chose to obtain rule immaturely. He grabbed at it instead of dying to self. He blew it. And in history Israel continued to blow it. However, Jesus came as the Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47) and man has grown up in Him. Christ faithfully obeyed to the cross and received rule and inheritance. This sets the pattern for Christianity: death leads to life; suffering for Christ leads to resurrection. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. Kingdom growth in your life, your family, your Church, your work and nation; comes by you dying to yourself as Jesus did. Only then will He resurrect you to serve Him all the more. Dying to self is painful; it requires you to sacrifice what you desire for obedience to God's Word.
Note also that Jesus discriminates when delegating. Verse 15 says; "to one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey." Egalitarianism demands everyone is absolutely equal in roles and responsibilities. It is the 20th and 21st centuries' biggest lie. Christ gives talents or kingdom responsibilities according to people's ability. A "one-size fits all" approach is Satanic. As a slave of Christ do not envy or covet the talents of other slaves; rather put your hand to the plough and work diligently with what you have been given. God has created each of us differently and "much will be expected of those to whom much has been given" (Luke 12:48).
King Jesus delegates administration of creation to His Church.
3. Each representative adopts a plan of action
Each of the three slaves takes action with the Master's money. "In [this] parable, He does not tell the servants what to do with this money. He leaves this up to them. They are responsible." Jesus uses means to develop His Kingdom. Each slave must use their God given abilities to increase the owner's capital. This does not imply a kingdom of anarchy or lawlessness. All kingdoms have rules that are religious at root. Christ's Kingdom rules are written in His Word (Gen to Rev). There is no neutrality in Kingdom building and life. You either subject yourself to King Jesus' rules or someone else's. The obedient slave applies the Word of God to all of his life.
Verses 16 to 19 tells us how these slaves went to work: "the man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money." Each adopted a plan of action. The two faithful servants were productive and "put his money to work." They traded with the Master's capital. And the unfaithful slave buried his talent in disobedience.
Each of you in the Church adopts either a faithful or unfaithful life plan for the talents Jesus has given you. Do not bury what Christ has given you. The only successful life plan is one that takes all of God's Word and applies it to all of life.
4. God returns and requires a final reckoning
Verse 19 tells us that; "after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them." Note that the Master is away for a long time. Why? Well the nations are to be discipled prior to His return "for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" per 1 Corinthians 15:25. There is still a long while until all the nations of this world have been discipled to come under the direct authority of Christ in history. Don't be fooled into the modern "we live in the last days" madness. Jesus will only return when the nations are discipled. This is bigger than the western world. The last days written of in the New Testament refers to the fading of the Old Testament. They are the last days of the Temple system and the segregation of Jew and Gentile.
When Jesus returns He holds each slave accountable for the talents given them. You will be held accountable for the responsibilities God has given you as a man, woman, child, husband, wife, grandparent, employee, labourer, manager, business owner, homemaker etc. All of life is religious and is important to Jesus. All types of work that do not break God's commands are important to the King. You can either be a faithfully obedient employee, manger, business owner, labourer, homemaker etc, or an unfaithful one. And God will hold you accountable. In the New Covenant there is a priesthood of all believers, so your work is important to king Jesus and His Kingdom.
Verse 19 should also change your perspective on history and the future. Because the Master is away for a long time we ought to have a long-term view of the future. Our work as men, women, fathers, mothers and grandparents must be with an inter-generational goal. You must be planning for future generations of Christians and how your work now will benefit them. This means building a family culture that is multi-generational. Parents; are you praying for a godly husband or wife for your children? Are you praying for faithful grand and great, great grandchildren? Singles, are you praying for a God honouring husband or wife? Are you praying for children and generations to come who will serve king Jesus? If not, start today. Forget modern pop-culture of short term, instant gratification and build for future generations of faithful grandchildren. How? Through being a faithful obedient slave of Christ, dying to self and structuring your family life on His Word. The Bible must shape everything you do. It must define your life choices, family life, working attitude, ministry focus and everything else. What you believe must come out of your fingertips.
Why, because God returns and He will hold you accountable.
5. Finally, there is a system of inheritance and disinheritance
When the Master returns He says to the faithful slaves: "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness" (verses 21 & 23). The slave who refuses to use what he is given hears: "You wicked, lazy servant... Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (verses 26 & 28-30).
Notice, the faithfully obedient slaves are given more responsibilities and invited into Jesus' joy. The unfaithful is cast out of the Kingdom. Notice that there is growth. Either you are maturing in obedience or you are "immaturing" in disobedience. You cannot get away from growth. History is moving forward and you either move forward faithfully or unfaithfully. Those who mature in Christ are given more responsibility. Servitude leads to kingship. If you desire to faithfully lead your family, the Church or in your workplace you must first serve. Biblical authority and rule is given, not taken. Snatching at it is ungodly.
Faithfulness then obedience
You cannot work your own salvation. All of your works are like filthy rags to God if you are not covered by the blood of the Lamb. Faith precedes obedience. You cannot obey God without Him giving you faith. The battle with sin and Satan is won through the blood of the Lamb. When praying always first ask God to cover you with Jesus' blood and then give you the power to obey His Word.
Matthew's Gospel tells the story of Israel and her rejection of God. Ultimately Jesus is Israel, He is the prophets that are sent to call her to be faithful servants of the covenant. Israel refuses and beats or kills each messenger. Finally God comes in flesh. The Father sends the Son to call Israel to repentance. But Israel rejects her creator, the Son of God, the Priest, Prophet and King, and crucifies Him. Persecuting the prophets is terrible but killing the Son is even worse. But God keeps coming back. He is the faithful husband whose wife is chasing after others. Matthew's Gospel is a deep romantic comedy. The Father of Israel comes as the Son of Israel and Israel rejects and crucifies Him. It would be a horror story it ended there. Through the resurrection God does not allow Israel to have the final say. Death brings new life and His bride is won again. The true Israel is transformed into the Church, Jesus' body, His bride. You are God's people, are you a faithful servant of Christ or do you bay for His blood? Matthew's Gospel story tells you that God is faithful to His covenant and will accept you no matter how many times you have to repent. He requires you to be faithful to His Word. When you sin you are to repent, seek His forgiveness and then walk forward in faithful obedience. Be a faithful slave of Christ.
I preached this semron at the Bay Christian Church, you listen to the sermon here.
 France, R T, The Gospel of Matthew, 2007, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 15.
 Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press, accessed 12 May 2011: http://inventors.about.com/od/gstartinventors/a/Gutenberg.htm.
 Jordan, J B, Toward a chiastic understanding of the Gospel According to Matthew, Part 1, 1997, Biblical Horizons: http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/biblical-horizons/no-94-toward-a-chiastic-understanding-of-the-gospel-according-to-matthew-part-1/. As cited in Bull, M, Totus Christus – A biblical theology of the Whole Christ, 2009, Review Edition, Bull Artistry, Katoomba, NSW, p. 736.
 Leithart, P J, The Four – A Survey of the Gospels, 2010, Canon Press, Moscow, Idaho, pp. 117-118. Much of this introduction was gleaned from this book.
 Schürer, E, A History of The Jewish People In The Time of Jesus Christ, First Division, Political History of Palestine, From B.C. 175 to A.D. 135, 2nd Edition, 2010, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, Peabody, p. 1.
 Wright, N T, Matthew For Everyone, Part 2, 2002, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, p. 137.
 Wright, N T, 2002, op cit., p. 138.
 North, G, Priorities and Dominion - An Economic Commentary on Matthew, 2003, Dominion Educational Ministries, Inc., Harrisonburg, Virginia, p. 535. Available here: http://www.garynorth.com/Matthew.pdf.
 These points are adapted from Sutton, R, That You May Prosper, Dominion by Covenant, 1992, Institute for Christian Economics, Tyler, Texas, pp. 21-118.
 In Romans 4:13 the promise to Abraham and his offspring is extended from the land/earth to the whole world. "For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." This is also a fulfilment of Genesis 17:4-6. All the land promises are in Christ realised in the whole world.
 Op. cit., France, R T, 2007, pp. 953-954.
 North, G, Why You Must Create a Budget - Jesus' Parable of the Talents, cited here: http://www.deliverancefromdebt.com/public/218.cfm.
 Leithart, P J, 2010, op cit., pp. 1301-31.