Preparing for the Coming of the Lord

Matt 25:1-13 – “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 “Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 “Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 “but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 “But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all those virgins arose 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, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 “But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Intro: This section of Matthew’s gospel included some of the most powerful teaching of Jesus. In His last visit to the city of Jerusalem, Jesus prophesies of its fall and destruction. He warns the disciples and encourages them to pay attention and be ready to flee the city (24:16-17). Later in chapter 25 Jesus speaks about His return to judge all nations (25:31-56). Sandwiched between Jesus teaching on these two phenomenal events are 3 parables. (the faithful and wicked servants, the 10 virgins, and the parable of the talents).

These three parables are different stories, but they all three have the same focus and contain common elements:

  • The Master’s coming is delayed.
  • One group is prepared; another group is not.
  • Preparedness vs. unpreparedness
  • The prepared are rewarded; the unprepared are punished.

These parables also share a common lesson: Because we do not know when to expect the Lord, we must be ready when He comes. We will consider this middle parable – parable of the ten virgins. This is one of the most allegorized parables in all of the NT. One commentator counted 15 separate elements of the story that have been assigned specific theological meaning – from the virgins, the oil, the lamps, even the marketplace where they went to buy more oil! This parable is simple, with a simple meaning. We must be prepared for the Lord’s coming.

I. Matt 25:1…ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Jesus’ story paints a familiar scene. Although we may not be able to reconstruct all that was involved in a Jewish wedding in Palestine during the time of Christ, the setting seems to be an event that commonly preceded the wedding ceremony. The groom would visit His future father-in-law’s house and pick up the bride to escort her to the ceremony. The friends of the couple, (particularly the bride) would accompany the groom in this procession. If it was at night, the bridesmaids would prepare torches to light the pathway to place of the ceremony.

A. These ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to come for his bride. They have all prepared lamps (lampas, GK), or torches fueled by oil in anticipation of the groom’s arrival.

B. Weddings are designed to start on time. They are usually well-planned events and those who are to take part have rehearsed their parts. Those who come want to see it happen. But this parable is not a lesson on weddings or even wedding planning. It is a lesson on preparedness. Jesus assigns preparedness vs. unpreparedness the character of wisdom foolishness.

C. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish (vs 2). It is a serious thing to call someone a fool. Jesus does not arbitrarily assign this character to these 5 ladies. Their foolishness becomes apparent in the event. We could not tell the difference at first – they all took lamps with oil in them. They all anticipated the bridegrooms arrival. No one was scoffing or saying that he was not coming. And when he did not come as planned, they ALL fell asleep. So why were 5 deemed to be foolish; and 5 wise?

1. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps (vs 3-4). The wise bridesmaids prepared for the unexpected. They considered the possibility that the wedding procession might be delayed, so they took more oil in their “vessels” (flasks). The “foolish” ones did not take any extra oil. Notice that this difference does not make a difference until the Bridegroom delays his coming. Then this single difference makes all the difference.

D. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps (vs 6-7). The timing was not what may have been expected (in the middle of the night), but it was entirely under the control of the bridegroom. The wedding procession would begin whenever he arrived.

1. All the ladies trim their lamps (dip their torches in oil, or put more oil in their lamps). It is then that the 5 foolish bridesmaids recognize their problem. They do not have enough. Maybe they can borrow some from the others? No, each one only has enough for themselves. They must go buy more.

2. But while they are gone, the procession begins, and the wedding party & 5 wise bridesmaids go into the ceremony. The door is shut.

3. What happens next may shock us. When the foolish ladies return with more oil, ready to join the others, they are refused entrance. Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ (Matt 25:11-12) the “He” here is the bridegroom. He alone has the prerogative to admit one to the wedding. But He refuses, and says “I do not know you”. It is too little, too late.

4. In the ending Jesus takes foolishness to a whole new level. These ladies made a fateful mistake, from which there was no remedy. They missed it all.

5. How can we interpret these words apart from the conclusion that preparing for the Lord’s return means DOING something? And that those who do not get in have failed to DO something they should have done? We do not merit our salvation – But it is conditional.

II. What can we learn? (As I mentioned, we must be careful not to over work this parable) The crucial mistake that the foolish make is not just their failure to prepare, or even a failure to make a reasonable preparation.

A. Preparing for the unexpected: The foolish Bridesmaids did not make preparations that would ensure their entrance whenever the Bridegroom came!

1. Jesus does not just tell us that He might come at an unexpected time, He assured it! Matt. 24:44 – “Therefore be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Jesus was not just saying that the unbelieving world would not expect His coming. He was talking to His disciples.

2. How do you have the Lord’s return planned? How do you visualize it? Is He going to come just after you decide to repent and deal with that sin in your life? After you settle down and make up your mind to live responsibly? This parable teaches us that Christians (those who know Jesus is returning) can fail to be continually prepared for His coming.

a. Peter tells us about the scoffers… 2 Pet 3:3-4 – knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (NKJ) This is the world’s position on the subject… It is not going to happen. Just ignore it and live as though there is no judgment to come.

b. But Peter goes on to make the point to the Christians… 2 Pet 3:10-12 – 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (NKJ)

c. Preparing for the Lord’s return demands a constant and conscious recognition of the event. It involves more than just knowing He is coming – the foolish ladies knew he was coming at sometime) We must look for it (expect it) and hasten it – Lenski says the idea of this word is eagerness – “eagerness is to fill the hearts”. We do not want to miss out.

B. Preparedness Demands Conscious Effort. The wise bridesmaids thought through the scenario of a delayed coming. More than that they considered with passion the importance of being a part of that wedding, at any cost. It is not a natural occurrence for Christians to be prepared – It takes effort and risk. There are obstacles to overcome, and temptations to face.

1. It involves learning and applying truth to our lives – being ready to repent and seek forgiveness. Learning to live like our Lord and for our Lord. “I fought the good fight, kept the faith, therefore there is laid up for me…”

2. It involves seeking spiritual things over physical things. Look at Luke 12 – The unpreparedness of the rich fool in vs. 20-23 – “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ 21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” 22 Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. 23 “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.

a. Jesus’ rebuke of anxiety in 22-31 was not just to prohibit useless worrying, but a positive command to turn our attention away for the physical so we can seek His kingdom FIRST. Then Jesus speaks about that unexpected coming of the Master: Luke 12:34-40 – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; 36 “and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 37 “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. 38 “And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 39 “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 40 “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

3. It involves the risk of appearing foolish. Just think how ridiculous it must have seemed to the other bridesmaids for these 5 to carry all those extra oil canisters around with them. Today truly devoted Christians are destined to appear fanatical, conservative, restrictive, and much too focused on something may never happen. But their concern about that one event is what defines their wisdom and their spirituality..

C. Preparedness is a Personal Responsibility: We cannot borrow the faith of someone else. There is no way to borrow a pure heart or a godly character in a crisis.

1. If you do not have it when you need it, you do not have it. Parents cannot fail to train their children in righteousness and then expect someone to magically rescue them in the moment of disaster.

2. Can you borrow another’s hope in the funeral home? The righteousness of others will not save you in judgment.

• Ezek 14:13-14 – Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. “Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord GOD. (NKJ)

• Ezek 18:20 – “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Conclusion: Was it such a big deal for them to miss one wedding? Wouldn’t the bridegroom relent and open the door to those who came late? Matt 25:10-12 – “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 “But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

God’s great plan will one day culminate in the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19, 21) and what a celebration that will be! For those who miss it there will be emptiness and darkness when the door is shut and they are outside. Are you prepared to meet your God?