Matthew 25:1-13

Signs of the End of the Age
Matthew 25:1-13
Intro: To understand this passage, it is necessary to learn ancient Israelite wedding customs and some middle eastern culture. Jesus makes one singular point in His story. We must not miss it. This parable focuses on preparations for a wedding banquet that will take place in the home of the groom. A large crowd of family and friends fills the house and pours out into the street in front of the dwelling. As the crowd is gathering, the groom and several close friends are making their way to the home of the bride, which is presumed to be across town or even in a nearby village. From there the groom collects his bride and escorts her back to his family home where the rest of the wedding party awaits, and the marriage feast will be held. Those waiting at the groom’s house for the wedding celebration would meet the bride for the first time at the party. They would not know her or where she lived. The mystery made for a fun surprise. (Several of the ancient Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts of this parable specifically mention the groom and the bride). This reading of the story fits traditional village life and is likely original. Regardless, it is implied that the bride is with the groom. When she was ready, she would be placed on a horse or donkey, and the groom, along with his friends, would form a disorganized, impromptu, exuberant parade. 

This happy group would take the longest possible route back to the groom’s home, deliberately wandering through as many streets of the village as possible so that as many citizens as possible could see them and cheer them as they passed.

illus: My first ministry job was as a children’s pastor and assistant youth pastor. The first big assignment my pastor gave me was the pre-VBS publicity parade in Brookhollow neighborhood. May 1993 on the Sunday afternoon before VBS began. Even the youth pastor thought it was a lame idea, but he counseled me to celebrate it the tradition because “the old people love it.” I was given no detail or pointers. I was just told: “You will be leading our VBS parade.” Did I mention that I was 18 years old? We lined up the floats and ATVs and banners on cars and the candy to throw to the residents and off we went. Since I was in the lead car, I drove down the streets (apparently too quickly). That parade went by in warp speed and was over in about 10 minutes. People complained that it went by too fast, but no one told me what pace to drive. The next year, there was no pre-VBS parade. I killed the tradition!

In traditional village life in the middle east, weddings take place during the seven months of the hot and cloudless summer. At the groom’s home some of the crowd would therefore wait in the street as they anticipate the arrival of the meandering wedding party.

Matt 25:1 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom [and the bride].  
Matt 25:2 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
Matt 25:3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,
Matt 25:4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  

The parable takes place at night, and among the guests are ten young women. Each of them has a lamp, and of course all ten lamps are lit. 

It is one thing for young men to roam about at night without lamps. Starlight or moonlight is usually bright enough to see by in the dry, clear air of the middle east. 

But women, young and old, always carry lamps. Their reputation, and in some cases their personal safety, depends on the lamps. For young unmarried women to move around in the dark without carrying lamps is unthinkable! 

What might they be doing in the dark and with whom? Also, with a lamp, no one can harass them unseen.

Village women do not carry such lamps conveniently close to the ground (like a flashlight) so that they can see the street. Instead, they carry them directly in front of their faces so that all can witness who they are and where they are going.

The ten virgins are very circumspect in their behavior. All have lamps, and each of the lamps is burning. But there are differences among them. Half of them have brought extra olive oil with them in small flasks, while the other five have not taken this precaution.

Matt 25:5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 

The parade winds very slowly through the village, and it takes much longer than these ten young women anticipate.

Because of their youth, they are inexperienced, and this may even be their first wedding party invitation. 

The wiser virgins realize that it could be the middle of the night before the wedding party arrives at the groom’s ancestral home.

The young women become drowsy, carefully placing their burning lamps on a window ledge and doze off inside or outside the house. It will be a long night.

At last, the lead of the parade enters the alley, and the cry goes out…

Matt 25:6 And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’
Matt 25:7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.

Guests and family still in the house rush into the street. The ten virgins wake up quickly, recognizing that some time has passed and begin to “trim their lamps.” The loose unattached wicks must be adjusted, and the oil reservoirs inside the lamps replenished.

To their horror, five of the women suddenly realize their mistake. Their lamps are almost out of olive oil, and they have no reserves. 

The other five take out their little clay flasks and calmly replenish their lamps.

Matt 25:8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
Matt 25:9 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.’

The five foolish virgins crowd around them demanding oil. Politely (and no doubt firmly) they are in effect told, “We don’t have enough for ourselves – and as for you – solve your own little problems!” 

The five foolish virgins stomp off to beg, borrow, or buy a bit of oil. They are irritated and desperate and embarrassed. 

Everyone knows everyone in such villages, so acquiring a little oil from someone is not a problem – even in the middle of the night.

But now the scene dramatically changes as the unprepared virgins have exited the stage.

Matt 25:10 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. 

In the meantime, the groom and his new bride arrive and the entire crowd sweeps into the house, and the door is swiftly shut. (After all, it is the middle of the night).

Matt 25:11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’
Matt 25:12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

In the final scene at the end of the story, the shortsighted crowd of five women finally acquire some oil. They get their lamps working again and arrive back at the house. 

“Sir! Open the door for us!” they shout from outside. “Sorry,” replies the groom, “I don’t think I know you.”

Matt 25:13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” 

As is often the case, the hearer/reader of the parable is left hanging. 

Does the bridegroom relent and let them in? We are not told. The locked door is what the unprepared virgins deserve. 

We don’t know if their pleas from outside the party ever get them inside the house. In middle eastern culture the word “no” is never an answer, instead it is a pause in the negotiations. The reader is left to finish the play. What, then, is the story all about?

Ethical applications:

1.    What about borrowing resources?

The faithful borrow many things from each other. But they cannot borrow their own preparations for the coming of the kingdom. 

Biblical conversion and the discipleship that follows can be neither loaned nor borrowed. Each believer must participate in the kingdom with his or her own resources. 

2.    What about the long haul?

Life in the kingdom of God requires commitment to the very end. Advanced planning is necessary, and reserves must be on hand. 

Matt 24:12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
Matt 24:13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved.

illus: Got a phone call this week from an old friend. We were teenagers in the same youth group/church. He and his wife have been visiting our church the last several weeks. He called to tell me they would not be at church the next two Sundays, but we should be alarmed. They will be in Texas comforting his sister on the anniversary of her husband’s death. “We want to join GCC. We’ve been married for seven years and have tried 10 different churches. This is the first one my wife looks forward to attending!”

There is neither instant discipleship nor instant maturing in the fullness of the kingdom. The wise, thoughtful women knew it might be a long night and prepared accordingly. 

When things go wrong because of poor judgment and other inadequacies, the resulting problems cannot be solved by shouting orders at neighbors and at the Lord the way the foolish virgins did.

When short of oil they screamed at their friends, “Give us some oil!” When they arrived late and found the door locked, they cried to bridegroom, “Lord, Lord, Open to us!”

This will not fly. 

These five foolish young women are like the rich man in the story of Lazarus, who mistreated Lazarus day after day. They both died and the rich man found himself in hell while Lazarus was taken by the angels to the safety of Abraham’s bosom.  

The rich man then began giving orders!

He commanded Abraham to send Lazarus down with a drink of water because he (the rich man) was thirsty. When that did not work, he made a second demand. “Send Lazarus to my brothers to warn them.” 

The rich man expected Abraham to carry out these orders. Lazarus was expected to jump at the chance of becoming either a table waiter or a messenger boy for the very man who had neglected him for years! 

In the kingdom of God, barking orders at others is neither appropriate nor acceptable, especially when trying to solve problems created by our own inadequacies and faults. 

Theological implications:

(a)    Jesus is disappointed by lack of readiness.

In His ministry, Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God and was disappointed that many around Him, who had been waiting for the kingdom to be revealed, were not prepared for it when it arrived.

Believers like Anna, Simeon, and Nicodemus, and the 12 were mostly ready. The priesthood and the citizens of Jesus’ hometown and most of the Pharisees were not. The shepherds were ready. King Herod was not. 

To what does the parable point?

This parable clearly looks forward to the Return of Christ which will result in the consummation of all things, when the Messiah will come to His own, and His own will receive Him at the marriage supper of the Lamb. 

Rev 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.

He knows fully well that some who come to the banquet, and are deliberately waiting for His arrival, will not be ready when He appears. 

For every believer, on a personal level, that meeting with the Lord will occur at the time of death. The parable is a challenge for all of us. Are you ready? Or will He be disappointed?

(b)    The kingdom has a door that can and does close.

For all who are committed to the host of the banquet, the door of the banquet is open. But near the end of the parable the door is closed. 

The foolish virgins, who stand for casual, conviction-less disciples, reveal that religious failure will result in suffering and rejection on the Last Day. 

This parable warns that the time of the arrival of the bridegroom to His wedding feast is unknown. Speculating about its timing is pointless.

Mark 13:32 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Jesus is the returning bridegroom who will arrive joyfully at the end of the age. He will extend a warm welcome to all the guests who have patiently awaited His coming and are duly prepared for His arrival. 

Blessed are those whose lamps are faithfully kept burning as they watch and wait for His appearing.