Matthew 25:1-13

This is a vital parable for us to study at this time in history, when many believe that Jesus may be returning soon. We might add to it the "parable of the talents" and what is said at the end of this chapter about gathering the sheep and goats on the "Day of Judgment". We have had two thousand years to “go into all the world and preach the gospel”. Many see the time as being ripe for final judgment, the passing away of the old heaven and earth and the appearance of a new heaven and earth to coincide with the marriage feast of the "Lamb of God" (Jesus). (Revelation 21:1-2)

When we ask Jesus to come into our lives and allow Him to be Lord over all that we think and do, giving us His strength in our weakness, then we can look forward with a great sense of excitement to what is about to happen. Think back to the time of Noah. (Genesis 6:5-8) All the people around him were in the dark about the coming flood and drowned in it, but he was given a warning and a means of escape (through building the ark) for both him and his family. In our time, we are seeing plenty of disasters and warning signs in nature. If we do not belong to Jesus (and, therefore do not know the Almighty God as our Father and the Holy Spirit as our counsellor), then we need to consider our future very seriously and very soon. (2 Peter 3:3-7)

According to the New Testament, there will be a number of signs to indicate when the "Day of the Lord" is near.

  • There will be an increase in the number of "impostors" from different religions and cults. (Matthew 24:5) These will be people who profess to be a reincarnation of Jesus and preach all sorts of lies. Mention is made of the "Anti-Christ": someone who will set up as a new religious leader and deceive many. (John 5:43; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12)
  • There will be "wars and rumours of wars". (Matthew 24: 6-7) We are told not to be alarmed. The Bible states that ethnic groups will rise against other ethnic groups all over the world.
  • There will be famines and earthquakes on a large scale. (Matthew 24:7-8) These are described as being the "beginning of the birth pains for the end". (However, they will be as nothing compared to the "Time of Tribulation" which will take place on the earth when the "Anti-Christ" has taken charge.)
  • There will be an increase in persecution of those who hold fast to the good news about Jesus Christ. Churches will fill with God's light, even as "the world" grows darker. (Matthew 24:9; 2 Timothy 3:12)
  • There will be an increase in false teaching within churches that will lead many into error. (Matthew 24:11; Matthew 24:24)
  • Society at large will see a growth in loose, personal morality, a degeneration of the family and ever-increasing pressure for material comforts. (2 Timothy 3:1-9)
  • Many peoples' love for God will grow cold because of the lawlessness in the world. (Matthew 24:10)
  • Many biblical scholars regard Jesus' picture of a fig tree coming to life as a prophecy that the people of Israel would become a nation once again. (Matthew 24:32)
  • Jesus Himself draws a parallel between the days of Noah (with people eating, drinking and marrying right up until the flood came) and the return of the "Son of Man" (Jesus). (Matthew 24:37-39)
  • It is also Jesus who says: “When you see all these things, you can know His return is very near, right at the door.” (Matthew 24:33)

The trumpet shall sound

When the apostle, Paul, was writing to many of the churches that he had founded, his priority was to urge the believers to live a life worthy of their calling in Jesus. Above all, he saw that people outside the kingdom of God would be convinced when they saw the love that believers had for one another. But he also wanted to reassure them about what would happen in the future - to underline the hope of resurrection that rested on the fact that Jesus had been raised from death and those who trusted in Him were "in Him" and could also expect to be raised with Him from death.

He said that, when Jesus returns, there will be a "commanding shout" - "the trumpet call of God". Then believers who have died will be raised up first, followed by those who are still physically alive. They will all be "caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air". (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18) (The theological term given to this event is "The Rapture".) Paul also echoes Jesus' comparison with the days of Noah, saying that: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night... But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light... stay alert and self-controlled.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) Jesus will return to the earth, in person and in power, at the end of the "Time of Tribulation", to prevent humanity destroy itself utterly. This will be a time of both judgement and blessing. Jesus Christ will judge sin and set up His eternal kingdom. (Isaiah 13:6-13; Joel 2:28-32; Zephaniah 1:14-18)

The ten virgins

In this story of ten young women - bridesmaids at a wedding - we are taught that every person is responsible for his or her own spiritual condition. No parable, by itself, completely describes our preparation, but each paints one part of the whole picture, so we need to pick up the warnings and apply them to our own lives. In Jewish culture, on the wedding day, the bridegroom went to the bride's house for the ceremony itself. Following that, the bride and groom, along with a great parade of friends and relatives, would return to the groom's house where a feast took place, often lasting a full week or more.

The bridesmaids are pictured as waiting for the parade, looking forward to taking part in the wedding banquet and ready, with their lamps, to form a guard of honour. But the groom is delayed and doesn't come when they expected him. Five of them are unprepared for this eventuality and their lamps run out of oil. They try to borrow some, then run off to buy more oil but, by the time they return, it is too late to join the feast.

This is an illustration of Jesus coming back to the earth for His bride, but finding that some people are neither expecting Him nor prepared for His return. (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:32) When Jesus returns to take His people to heaven, He will catch away those of us who are prepared for His coming and take us to heaven for the marriage feast of the Lamb. Each young woman had a lamp, which was lit, representing the fact that they were all professing Christians. (Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 6:23) The image of "oil" is often used in the Bible to describe the power and the person of the Holy Spirit. “If any do not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9; Mark 4:14-20) Spiritual preparation cannot be bought or borrowed at the last minute. Our relationship with God must be our own. God has warned us, both through His word and by His Spirit within us, that Jesus is coming back soon. Are we ready?

Failing to plan is planning to fail

All of the young women had lamps that were lit. Apparently, they were all Christians and had been invited to Jesus' wedding. However, when the moment came, half of them:

  • were not overflowing with the oil of the Holy Spirit;
  • were half-hearted in their own preparations for Jesus' return;
  • did not consider that their lights might not last;
  • enjoyed the company of the others but didn't fully share their beliefs;
  • were more focused on their immediate lives than thinking about the future;
  • had their priorities all wrong;
  • thought that they could rely on the spirituality of others.

The bridegroom was slower to arrive than they had expected. Similarly, churches today seem to have lost sight of the fact that Jesus could return at any moment. People have become weary of waiting and even fallen asleep. Amongst some, there is a coldness of heart - certainly no burning love for the bridegroom - to the point where they simply no longer believe that there is going to be a wedding! Instead, people give themselves to the rituals and ceremonies of religion. There is plenty of activity, but no intense desire for Jesus Christ or willingness to allow Him to be Lord in their lives. It is the oil that makes the difference! Many believers quite like to be around “on-fire” Christians and to hear about all the amazing miracles that God is doing for them. It is wonderful to have a Spirit-filled, faith-talking, Bible-believing friend when things in your life get tough. However, the time comes for all of us to realise that we are just living the Christian life in our own strength and have let the "oil" run low. We have to spend time with God for ourselves and receive a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit if we are truly to have the flame of His love burning in our hearts.

Which of us wants to be a "goat" and hear Jesus say to us: “I don’t know you” - especially when we then have no opportunity to change the situation? The foolish bridesmaids were excluded from the marriage feast because the bridegroom did not know them or recognise them. Suddenly deciding that they now really wanted to enter was not enough. They needed to know Him personally, having been obedient to His word and spent time sitting at His feet. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Jesus gave a similar warning in the parable of the great feast. (Luke 14:16-24) Loads of invitations had been sent out to all and sundry, so why didn’t those who had been invited want to go? They had all become too involved in the busy-ness of daily life. They had allowed other things to become too important to them. We need to learn to focus our attention and affection on the things of God instead of the things of the world. This is not our home and not our final destination. We need to remember constantly that we are on our way to heaven. We should be looking towards our new home, so that we don’t get entangled in the affairs of this world and our own preoccupations. We can’t afford to get so caught up in the world’s activities that we can’t hear what He is telling us to do.

How can we be ready?

  • Keep on being filled continually with the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
  • Live holy and godly lives. (2 Peter 3:11-15)
  • Watch for the signs and be ready. (Mark 13:35-37)
  • Prioritise and arrange our lives so that God is first in everything. (Matthew 22:37)
  • Never be lacking in zeal. (Romans 12:11)
  • Fear God! (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Psalm 19:9; Matthew 10:28; Philippians 2:12-13)
  • Seek first (and above all else) God’s kingdom. (Matthew 6:33)
  • Be passionate for Jesus. (Matthew 22:37)

“Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

We can be God’s lamp to the world if we walk with a pure lifestyle and allow the oil of the Holy Spirit to fill us to overflowing. Then the glory of God will shine through us and expose the darkness in peoples’ lives, whilst also giving direction to those who are looking for hope. (2 Corinthians 4:6) God’s will is that, in every age, true believers are watching with tiptoe excitement for Jesus to come again and take them to be with Him. It could be today! Do we not want Him to find us occupied in His service and actively looking for His arrival? (Matthew 24:42)

Watch an amazing and challenging testimony about being ready by Simon Guillebaud in Burundi.

READY?  (This link will open a YouTube film in a separate tab.)

Finally, READ Matthew 24:36-51; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

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