Monday, October 22, 2012

The Teachings of Jesus (VI), Week 43: Jesus' authority challenged - The Parable of the Virgins (Matt 25:1-13)

"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, 'Here is the bridgeroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 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.' 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. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. "(Matt 25:1-13)

Last week I asserted that, in order for Jesus to be telling the truth, the Olivet Prophesy had to be fulfilled within the generation of His listeners. Then He proceeds to warn them to be ready and looking for the event, lest they miss it. He did so through the use of two parables--one here and one which we shall see next week.

But while the Olivet Discourse was, I believe, clearly in reference only to the destruction of the Temple, I think that these two parables are both valuable for us looking toward the Second Coming as well. For the concepts, as you shall see, apply to us today every bit as much as to His disciples looking for the destruction of the Temple that He prophesied.

In the parable of the Virgins, Jesus uses the example of a young Jewish woman preparing for her wedding. In a Jewish wedding, there were three stages: engagement (a formal arrangement is agreed upon by the fathers), betrothal (a ceremony where mutual promises are made and the groom leaves to prepare a room at his father's lands for her), and marriage (one year later, when the groom returns at an unexpected time to take her).

In the parable, the first two things are complete. Jesus also used the Jewish wedding customs when He discussed His return. One could liken the Old Covenant to the engagement, and Jesus' death/resurrection as the betrothal. Indeed in John 14, Jesus says that He is going to prepare a place for us at His father's house, a clear reference to a Jewish betrothal.

Thus, in this parable we see the virgins as being in the same position as we are: the groom (Jesus, for us) has left us after the betrothal, but promises to come back at a time that we do not know.

Now typically in a Jewish wedding, according to the Talmud, there were ten lamps in the bridal procession: hence, here, ten virgins acting as bridesmaids for the bride. Five of them were wise and prepared, stockpiling enough oil to keep their lamps burning on the trip between the bride's house and the groom's house; the other five, however, were foolish and unprepared.

Note that oil is often a symbol of the Holy Spirit; thus you could well say that the five wise virgins are those who accepted Christ and His Spirit, while the five foolish were those who knew He would be returning but did not accept Him.

When the groom arrives suddenly, the wise are prepared and enter into the feast, while the foolish are left out as they attempt to "buy" their way in.

Likewise, when Jesus returns, those of us who have wisely accepted Christ will find ourselves on a procession into the banquet-hall, while those who were foolish will find themselves desperately trying to "buy" the oil (i.e., earn their way in due to good works). They will fail.

This message, based on its context, was probably a reminder for the disciples to prepare for the Temple's destruction and rely upon the Holy Spirit rather than their works/sacrifices; but it serves as a great message of salvation for us today, too, as we look forward to Jesus' return like virgins with lamps, wondering whether we truly have the oil or not.