He was never satisfied. Even though he graduated from West Point at the top of his class, Douglas MacArthur was not satisfied. While his buddies were out practicing their golf swing, he was in the libraries looking up books on military tactics. He was out visiting historic battle fields so he could picture how it happened. "Okay, they charged from here, they retreated there. How did it work? What went wrong. What went right." That was his hobby. He wanted to be prepared for whatever might happen in his life. In fact, he got to thinking one day, "You know, if I'm leading a battle and I get appendicitis, that's not going to be good." So he went and had his appendix taken out. He insisted they take it out. "I don't want to have that trouble." This is why he was such an effective general in the Pacific theater during World War II. He was ready for the crisis before it happened. He was known as living in the present, yet being prepared for the future by what he had learned from the past struggles of others.
It is not only possible for a Christian to be just as prepared for the coming of Jesus and to have such a commitment to the cause. It is not only possible, it is required!
The disciples had been asking Jesus about the signs of the end of the world. And Jesus finally answered their questions and... You're familiar with Matthew 24, one of our favorite chapters in the Bible, you know: All these signs of the end, signs of Christ's coming. But then, after chapter 24 He started telling them parables about His coming. If you take chapter 24 without chapter 25 you've missed the whole point. Because Jesus tells them, "These are the signs of the end, but here's something more important than that." And He gives them a series of parables teaching them about being prepared for His coming no matter what is happening or what is not happening around us. Today, we will look into one of these fascinating stories.
Turn to Matthew 25. This is the story of the ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom to appear. As you read the Bible over and over again, there's a theme that's got to start coming out to you. The Bible is not just a story about a great controversy. The Bible is a huge love story about a groom looking for His bride throughout the whole Scripture. And this is no exception here. But we're going to talk about that concept in a few weeks.
Matthew 25:1. "At that time... What time? The time of the end in Chapter 24. At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
"At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!'
"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, "Give us some or your oil; our lamps are going out.'
"'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
"but while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with Him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
"Later the others also came . 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'
"But He replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.'"
In order to understand this parable, it is necessary to understand what a Jewish wedding was like during this time. Notice, that in this story, it is the groom who is the center of attention. In the male dominated society of Jesus' day, that was the way of life. Not any more. Now it is the bride who is the center of attention. Everyone waits for her arrival. You've been to weddings. People come up and light candles, but they keep turning around and looking, right? "Is she in the windows yet? Is she back there by the door yet?" Everybody is looking for the bride! Everyone stands when she enters the room. Everyone stares at her beautiful dress. This is considered to be her day. The groom, on the other hand, is just the guy who comes in through the side door. He comes over here and stands sweating and praying that he is not about to faint. And the pastor has his foot on his shoelaces so he can't leave. That's what it's all about. Everybody looks at him as a minor addition to the ceremony. He is the guy that is lucky enough to have won her heart. I like it our way.
But in Jesus' day, it was the groom for whom everyone waited with bated breath. Can you picture that? "The bride's in there. Where is the groom?" It sounds so odd. Part of the wedding celebration was a feast that followed the actual wedding ceremony. That is what Jesus speaks of here. A wedding consisted of two ceremonies, the wedding and the wedding feast. We might be tempted to compare it to today's wedding and then the reception. But unlike today, where all you have to wait for is the photographer to get done. In Jesus' day you might have to wait several months between the wedding and the wedding feast. The official wedding took place when the Groom and the bride's father haggled over a bride price, the "mohar." They had to figure out, "Okay, what does she wear?" And she felt more loved the longer her father held out. She also felt more loved by how much the bridegroom was willing to give for her. Then a dinner was called. Just family and a few friends to celebrate the acceptance of the mohar. A blessing by the father on the bride was pronounced, hoping they would have many children and then everybody went to their own house, including the bride and including the groom. The bride went to her father's house and the groom went to his father's house. It might be several months before the wedding feast that ended the whole process. But during this time, they were considered to be husband and wife, although they did not live together. It was a lot more in depth than today's engagements. This was considered that they were wed, but the only way to get out of this was to get a divorce during the betrothal stage. That might add some light on the story of Mary and Joseph and what they were going through.
At the designated time of the marriage, it became a much larger celebration. This was when the groom came to fetch his bride. Finally after weeks or months of waiting. This was often done in the evening. He would lead a procession from his father's house to her father's house. There, he would be met by his bride and her bride's maids who would add their lights to the procession that led back to the groom's father's house for the marriage feast. Then the couple would not go on a honeymoon but would hold open-house for at least a week of festivities where everybody came and went for a week or more depending on how much money they had, no honeymoon. They just had everybody in for that week.
This is the context of this parable of Jesus. I can picture Jesus trying to explain the need of being prepared to His disciples when such a wedding procession went by, providing the perfect illustration to what He was explaining.
Let's look at the symbolism in this story starting with verse 1. Matthew 25:1. "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom."
The virgins are symbolic of people who profess a pure faith in Jesus. These would be people who are like you and me. We come to church. We call ourselves Christians. We're sincere.
These virgins are carrying lamps which represent God's Word. Psalm 119:105 says, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. So these Christians, these ten virgins, have truth. They have the Word of God, the Lamp. Their truth is guiding their way and helping others to see that the Bridegroom is coming. "Hey, a wedding is about to happen. Let's all get ready!" And that is our job as Christians: to share the Truth, to shed the light so others see that Jesus is coming. Jesus, is of course, the Bridegroom.
Verse 2. "Five of them were foolish and five were wise."
We find two classes of sincere people waiting for the coming of Jesus. But, five of them are foolish in their sincerity. five of them are wise. The Greek word for foolish used here is "morai," which is the feminine version of the word "moros." Did you ever wonder where the word "moron" came from? Now you know. It's a Geek word, a fine word there. Why were five of these virgins morons?
Verses 3,4. "The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps."
Oil, throughout Scripture, is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Having truth in our heads without the Holy Spirit in our hearts is the equivalent to being a moron. It's like having a flashlight with dead batteries, useless. Maybe even cumbersome. "Why am I carrying this around? It doesn't work!"
Back before railway crossing lights came on automatically, a man was hired to sit in a booth to listen for the train coming so he could go out and wave his lantern to warn cars that a train was coming. At one such crossing, a car load of young people was hit by a train and all were killed. At the trial, the crossing guard was questioned. "Did you wave your lantern to warn the driver of the car?" "Yes, your honor." Long after the trial, he was overheard expressing how relieved he was that the judge didn't ask him if the lantern was lit. What good is a lantern when there is no oil?
Some have said that the foolish virgins represent hypocrites in the church. But this is not so. Hypocrites are those who appear to be something that they are not. It comes from the Greek word, "Actor." These virgins are genuinely looking for the coming of Jesus. I don't believe this to be the case. Hypocrites are those who pretend to be something they are not. These virgins are people who are genuinely looking for the coming of Jesus. And this is what should stir up my heart. These are genuine seekers after Jesus, but who are not prepared because the Holy Spirit is not found abundantly in their hearts. It is the Holy Spirit that guides us into a personal relationship with Jesus. These are people who are content to have a superficial relationship with Jesus.
Verse 5. "The Bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy, and fell asleep."
Here, Jesus is giving a subtle message to His disciples and to us. He is warning that His coming will seem delayed and that many will grow weary of waiting. Notice, all ten of the virgins fell asleep. All were weary. This describes the condition of the last day church: the Laodicean church. Earthly necessities go on. Life goes on. We still go to school, we still go to work. We still have families. It's impossible to remain at a heightened sense of alert all the time. But there's a difference between being alert and being ready.
Verse 6. "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'"
Notice, this event happens at the darkest part of the night. Jesus will come when this world is in it's darkest hour. It often takes a crisis to see who is really prepared and who is not. All ten virgins were surprised but five were prepared. When Jesus comes, the church is going to be surprised that it happened right then, no matter how much we know. "Wow! It happened now!" Only half of them are going to be prepared according to this parable. That's something to think about. You know, heros are not people who go into battle thinking that they are going to do something heroic. They are people who are simply there and prepared to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.
Verses 7-9. "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'"
The five wise virgins are not being selfish. No one can receive the Holy Spirit for or from another. Character cannot be given away to someone else. Philippians 2:12 says, ...Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Verse 10. "But while they were on their way to buy oil, the bridegroom arrived."
Did you notice something that seems ridiculous? The foolish virgins actually went out trying to buy oil. This is Jerusalem at midnight! No shops are open. There is no oil for sale. There are no 24-hour Wal-marts around the corner. There is no oil to be had. Everything is closed up. The point is, to look for the Holy Spirit at the last minute is going to be fruitless. There goes the notion that some have that they can wait till they see the signs of the end being fulfilled to get their relationship with Jesus right! This is the danger of concentrating on last-day events when our relationship with Jesus is not personal. Many have been lulled into a since of security with their knowledge of Bible prophecy. But remember, according to this parable, the whole church is surprised at the appearance of Christ! This is the warning that Jesus is giving to His disciples. "Yes, I showed you the signs of the coming, but more important than that, Be prepared at all times.
Continuing with verse 10. "The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.'
Don't let anyone fool you by talking about a secret rapture, about being left behind for a second chance. There comes a time when the door is shut. Our second chance is today. This is the day the Lord has made, let us love Him today. Let us have a relationship with Him today. Don't put off to tomorrow. Don't procrastinate. If you procrastinate on everything like I do, don't procrastinate on this. This is the day to become prepared to meet Jesus!
Verse 11. "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'"
We have heard of this scenario being played out all through Scripture, haven't we, starting with Noah's Ark. "Hey, let us in, it's raining!" "Sorry, I can't. The door is shut." The door could not be opened. The next verse is something we have read elsewhere as well.
Verse 12. "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'"
Doesn't this remind you of Matthew 7:21 and 22? "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from Me you evildoers!'"
This was an unexpected denial. "What do You mean, you never knew me? I've been good. I went to church every week. I waited for You. I helped others see the way." These virgins; their lamps had once been lit. At one time, they had born the truth that the Bridegroom was coming. But their lamps went out. They did not really know the Bridegroom. They were professing to be bridesmaids but had not been in the bridal procession. In those days, if you did not have a lamp that was burning brightly as you joined the wedding procession, you were not welcome. They could not see who you were. "Now, who are you? Where's the light? I can't see you. Are you trying to crash this party? Or are you going to come in and rob us of the wedding gifts? Who are you? Only those who knew the Bridegroom and were thus prepared to meet Him could ever enter the festivities.
So verse 13 says, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."
It was Jeff and Janelle's first date. Janelle was quite excited. Jeff was a nice guy. She was expecting Jeff to show up at Six o'clock. She was dressed up. She was ready. She went through extra preparation. She looked good. But, when seven o'clock came, and he still hadn't come, she figured she had been stood up. He was an hour late. And, so in despair, she went to her room, put on her pajamas, went down to the kitchen, grabbed a bag of potato chips, grabbed her dog and went and sat in front of the television. At eight o'clock the doorbell rang. Guess who. It was Jeff. He looked at her in surprise. There she was, standing there in her pajamas, with a bag of chips and the dog at her heels, and he said, "What? I'm two hours late and you're still not ready?" Jesus is saying, "Don't let My return sneak up on you. You might think I'm late, but just be ready all the time." How are we to be ready all the time?
A few years ago, 20th Century Fox advertised in the New York papers to fill a vacancy in its sales force. One applicant replied: "I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesman if you will stop in to see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair. And I will have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore, will be no more than my usual workday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective employer." From among more than 1500 applicants, this guy got the job. Because they knew that this is the way he is all the time. He's genuine. This is the way he lives.
This is the kind of person who is prepared for the coming King, a person whose life reflects his love for his Savior. It's a lifestyle.
Being ready is not a life spent figuring out when and how Jesus is coming, its not a passive life spent watching the skies, and its not being sequestered away from the world or standing on a mountaintop singing hymns and checking our watches. A lot of people seem to focus on the judgement scene as something that is scary and awful, "Be ready or else." They teach fear and terror at the Lord's coming.
Jesus told this parable just days before his arrest. It was meant to reassure his frightened disciples, to give them courage and hope in facing the future. Notice that the setting of this parable is the joy of a wedding celebration - not the sadness of a funeral. For Christians, the coming of Jesus is good news, not bad. If we believe, if we know and walk with Jesus now, then it describes the joyful coming of a close friend. It's the happy excitement of a festive celebration, which is hardly reason or cause for fear and dread.
To those who already know the Bridegroom, this marks the fulfillment of our heart's deepest desire and delight.
This parable is also a stark reminder to those who have grown lax, who choose to ignore and refuse God's ongoing call, who are content to go no further than yesterday's faith. That's what the virgins were relying on; yesterday's oil. But it ran out.
There is a lot more to the Christian life than just showing up. There's a lot more than just smiles and warm fuzzy feelings.
I overheard a lady in Bilo the other day after Thanksgiving tell her friend, "If I eat another piece of leftover turkey this week, I'll grow tail-feathers!"
Is that all we have to give our King? The leftovers of our lives? If so, we are running out of oil! Jesus requires the first fruits of our lives, not the leftover time that we have, not the leftover talents that we have, not our leftover treasure. He wants the firstfruits. He wants our first love.
The call is to be ready and prepared with oil for our lamps, and that oil is our deepening relationship growing daily in Jesus. The oil is our lives lived usefully and faithfully, as we have been called and equipped for God's service. Our call is to wait and be ready, prepared no matter what the future holds for us. It means to grow deeper, more faithful with the Lord.
Not like this button that I'm wearing today. I've shown you before, I think. It says, "Jesus is coming! Look Busy!" Unfortunately, my faith has been that way. If I look busy enough, I'm okay. NO! I had to quote it because it's a coffee advertisement. "Life is short...stay awake!" Or as Jesus said, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."
"The Bridegroom cometh. He has paid the mora, the bride-price. Do you know how much it cost Him? Everything. His life! For somebody that loves me that much, I want to have my lamp lit when He gets here. I want to be ready when He comes. And I want to be ready to follow Him to His Father's place. That's going to be one big party.
Sources: Books Matthew by George R. Knight Christ's Object Lessons by Ellen G. White Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim Sermons Be Ready - Persevere by Norm Story Be Prepared by Scott Weber The Ten Virgins by John Williams III Be Prepared by Christopher Raiford
Hymn of Praise: #132, O Come, All Ye Faithful Scripture: Matthew 25:10-13 Hymn of Response: #599, Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers
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last updated 12/8/2002 by Bob Beckett.