Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Signs of the Times (10) Matthew 24 and 25

Written by Rev. J.W. Wullschleger
Read: Matthew 25: 1-13

The message of the Parable of the Ten Virgins is the same as in the previous two parables, the Parable of the Householder and the Parable of the Good and the Evil Servant. The message exhorts to be watchful! Be prepared to meet Christ! The message of these parables is not a monotonous repetition, however. What our Lord said in the parable of the Good and the Evil Servant applies in a special way to ministers of the Gospel. He now applies the same message to all. Moreover, the need for being ready for ChristÕs coming is stressed more emphatically in this parable.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins Jesus tells us about a wedding. To understand the parable better we must know something of its background. Jewish custom was that marriages were ordinarily solemnized at night. That is why the brides-maids needed lamps. The bridegroom came accompanied by groomsmen and friends to go to the home of the bride where she was waiting for her beloved. When the bridegroom approached the home of the bride, the brides-maids went out to meet him. They did so with their lighted lamps. These lamps were made up of oil receptacles and wicks held aloft (like torches) by means of wooden poles as the brides-maids walked in procession-style. According to Jewish authorities, it was the custom in the East to carry about ten such lamps in a bridal procession. In Israel the number ten was the required number to be present at official gatherings, such as at a wedding ceremony. In this parable the ten virgins represent the number of those who go to meet the bridegroom, each carrying a lamp.

The truth expressed in this parable is that Christ is coming! He is compared to a bridegroom. We find this comparison not only in the Old Testament (think of the Song of Solomon), but also in the New Testament. Passages like Ephesians 5:25 and Revelation 22:17 make this very clear. In this parable the ten virgins represent the church on earth. The bride is not mentioned in this parable. The reason for this is that the focus is on the ten virgins. The ten brides-maids represent the visible church.

As pointed out in the parable, there is a profound difference among those who profess Christ. Some are wise; others are foolish. We do not know what the actual proportion is. Jesus is not teaching here that the church is equally divided between believers and unbelievers. Matthew Henry says that ÒIn judging of ourselves, we ought to remember that the gate is strait, and few find it; yet, in judging of others, we ought to remember that the Captain of our salvation brings many sons to glory.Ó

The parable makes clear why some are called foolish and others wise. The wise ones have oil, whereas the foolish ones do not have oil in their vessels. This describes the difference between those who have grace in their hearts, and those who do not have grace. Some make a profession of the Christian faith, but only with their mouth. Others, however, have true faith and love, which are expressed in their life. They have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them.

The ten brides-maids have gone out to meet the bridegroom. They have gone a little ways to meet the bridegroom so that when he arrives they can accompany him to the home of the bride. But the bridegroom tarries; he is late. They wait an hour, and another hour. But no bridegroom. When the hours creep by, the brides-maids get tired. The preparations and the excitement have made them sleepy. They try to stay awake, but that is very hard. They get drowsy and finally they all fall asleep.

Some interpret their sleep to mean the sleep of death. That is saying too much, however. Keeping in mind the main focus of the parable, we would rather interpret it as a condition of not being watchful on the part of the church. The slumbering and sleeping of the brides-maids signifies the infirmities of the best of GodÕs people. They are not as watchful as they should be. The others are lulled to sleep in a presumptive state of security while still in their sinful natural state.

All of a sudden, at midnight, the virgins wake up. They hear the cry, ÒBehold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him!Ó Who awakens them we are not told in the text.

Interestingly, according to Alfred Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, the ten virgins are pictured as still being at home, and not somewhere on the road. The people that awaken them are the people at the home. This does not change the meaning of the parable, but it does change the picture drastically! In this view the virgins did not light the lamps until the bridegroom came. There was no need for lighting them in a house that was lighted already. Consequently, the five foolish virgins did not have oil at all. Their request to the wise virgins to give them oil implies that they had no oil at all. Perhaps they thought that there would be a storage room in the house from which they would be supplied. They had no concerns or conception of any personal obligations.

There is something to be said for this explanation, but it calls up other questions. For instance, what does it mean that the ten virgins went forth (vs.1)? It suggests that they left the house before they fell asleep. And why did the foolish virgins say that their lamps were gone (or were going) out (vs.8)? Does that not imply there was some oil in their lamps?

There are pros and cons to either explanation and it does not make any difference in the interpretation. The point is that Christ will come at a time not looked for. For some His sudden coming will be unexpected, although they are prepared; but others will be totally unprepared at His coming.

The parable goes on to say that at the wake-up call, all the virgins arise and trim (prepare) their lamps. At this point the foolish ones find that they have been lacking in their preparation. There has been no preparation at all by them! Suddenly overcome with extreme fright, they turn to the wise virgins and ask them to share their oil with them. But the wise virgins do not have enough oil. Their lamps are going out. The wise ones refuse to give of their oil, for fear that there will not be enough for all of them. They counsel the foolish virgins to buy elsewhere.

The meaning of the parable is that the hypocrite will find out that his Christian profession will not serve him at all. It is not rooted in faith and love and true regeneration is lacking. It also teaches us that grace is a personal matter. We cannot receive it from others. The only One Who can and is willing to give it to us is the Lord! We must ask Him for it now and not at His coming! For then we are too late!

This is illustrated in the last part of the parable. While the foolish virgins go and buy, the bridegroom comes. Those who are ready, go in with him to the wedding. Then the door is shut. When the foolish virgins finally arrive--with or without oil, that is not important--they find themselves shut out. The bridegroom wonÕt let them in anymore.

This, we might say, is contrary to reality. An earthly bridegroom would not exclude them. At this point the parable gradually recedes to the background and reality begins to surface. Those who are not ready at the moment of ChristÕs return will be shut out from entering heaven. The words ÒI know you notÓ (vs.12) are an echo of the words in Matthew 7:23.

In this parable we all are admonished to be watchful, that is, to make sure that we have not only the lamps of a Christian confession, but also the oil of grace to feed our lamps and to keep them burning. We do not know when Christ will return or at what moment we will die. This we do know for sure, at that time the time of grace will be over. ÒWhere the tree falleth there it shall beÓ (Eccl.11:3). What about you and me? Will you be ready when the cry will be heard, ÒJesus comes, go out to meet HimÓ?

Questions for Discussion.
1. Can you explain the difference between an allegory and a parable?
2. Will there be a Òsecond chanceÓ for unbelievers after death?
3. Does Christ speak here exclusively about the condition of His church, as it will be in the end times?
4. Does the sleeping of the ten virgins characterize the situation of the church today? What would be the cause? And what is the cure?
5. How would you describe your own spiritual condition in the light of this parable?

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