“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)
There is clearly an urgency in this parable! Something inside everyone of us wants to not be one of those 5 young women who weren’t ready in the moment when suddenly the Bridegroom is here and there is no time to prepare or get ready any longer…
…And then “the door was shut.”
What terrible finality.
‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Jesus is clearly urging us to be ready, to be alert, to be watching, waiting for His return. No one listening to this parable would have wanted their experience to be that of these young women who had not prepared for the delayed yet imminent arrival of the bridegroom.
I have no doubt that this parable has been used many times to preach that we as believers in Jesus need to “be ready”, “keep our lamps filled with oil”, “tarry in prayer”, “be ever watchful”…
The problem is that this all too easily slips into a teaching which is not the gospel – the good news about a righteousness and a new relationship with the Father because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross alone.
You see, before you know it our salvation is not by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, it is no longer that we are saved by Jesus + nothing because we have added something! We need to keep our lamp full of oil or we need to be ready…
This is such a slippery slope towards trusting in our works our ability to stay ready, to be prepared and this is not what is being taught here by Jesus.
“But we need to persevere” – I here you say. I love what JI Packer has written in his Concise Theology concerning perseverance;
Let it first be said that in declaring the eternal security of God’s people it is clearer to speak of their preservation than, as is commonly done, of their perseverance. Perseverance means persistence under discouragement and contrary pressure. The assertion that believers persevere in faith and obedience despite everything is true, but the reason is that Jesus Christ through the Spirit persists in preserving them…
…Reformed theology echoes this emphasis. The Westminster Confession declares,
They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (XVII.1) The doctrine declares that the regenerate are saved through persevering in faith and Christian living to the end (Heb. 3:6; 6:11; 10:35–39), and that it is God who keeps them persevering. That does not mean that all who ever professed conversion will be saved. False professions are made; short-term enthusiasts fall away (Matt. 13:20–22); many who say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” will not be acknowledged (Matt. 7:21–23). Only those who show themselves to be regenerate by pursuing heart-holiness and true neighbor-love as they pass through this world are entitled to believe themselves secure in Christ. – JI Packer (Concise Theology)
Having believed in Jesus, we need to persevere, but it is God who preserves us, keeps us persevering to the end (1 Corinthians 1:8) and therefore we can be assured of our salvation and God can be glorified as the One who calls, saves, sanctifies and will glorify us (Romans 8:29-30).
Back to the parable…
There is a real urgency and a real finality in this parable, a warning that if ignored will be followed by being shut out with no opportunity for reversal.
So the real question is how does one get ready for the bridegroom’s return?
The answer is, by believing in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and your adoption as God’s child. If you have believed in Jesus already, then you ARE ready for His return!
The urgency and the appeal here is for those who have not yet accepted that Jesus is Lord and Saviour for all people can only prepare for His return before He returns. No one will in that moment of His return be able to suddenly prepare so as to gain access into the Kingdom, into the wedding supper of the Lamb.
Just as the young women who had not prepared earlier could not borrow oil in the moment, so too we cannot “borrow” or “ride on the coattails of” someone else’s faith. Each one of us needs to be prepared prior to that moment when suddenly the Bridegroom (Jesus) will appear.
I have always been struck by the contrast in the experience foretold in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. On the same day, in the same moment those who didn’t “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” will suffer wrath, will be afraid of King Jesus while at the same time those who had during their lives believed the gospel will be marvelling in the splendour and majesty of their King who has come. What a contrast. It sounds so similar to Jesus’ parable – some are delighting in a wedding feast and the Bridegroom who has come and others are outside a locked door.
The gospel invitation is for all; as Randy Alcorn says; “No man can get out of hell but each man can keep out of it.” The appeal is for all to get ready, and to do so now, today. It might appear as though the Bridegroom has been delayed but He will come suddenly.
So, how can people prepare?
By believing in Jesus Christ who is Lord and Saviour for the forgiveness of their sins and then by receiving God’s adoption of them as His beloved children (John 1:12).
Having believed in Jesus you then are like one of those young women who was ready, Father God sends His Holy Spirit to fill us, enabling us to walk with Him and for Him – we are ready, because we believed in Jesus.
As Angus Buchan always preaches; “good people (you could say ready people) don’t go to heaven, believers in Jesus do!”
If you have believed in Jesus, you are ready. Don’t read this parable wondering, worrying whether you will be ready when He returns, you are ready, already. So rest assured, thank God that He has made you ready and that He will preserve you to the end…
…And, invite everyone you can to come to Jesus to receive His free gift of righteousness and right relationship with God the Father through believing in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.