“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 bridegroom! 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.
(Matthew 25:1-13 ESV)
From Jesus’ statements thus far we know that the exact time of His arrival cannot be known in advance but the general time of His arrival will be known by those who pay attention to the warning signs He’s told us would occur. In today’s passage Jesus reinforces this information, along with an admonishment to be ready, through the use of a parable based upon the three-part Jewish marriage process.
The first part of the marriage process was the arrangement by the parents who promised their children to each other. The second was the betrothal in which the man paid a dowry and he and the woman took vows. At this point they were legally married yet they did not consummate their marriage or live together. In fact they were likely separated for the entire time which could last many months. During the betrothal the husband would make preparations for his wife to join him. The third part was when the husband returned. He would be led to his wife by her attendants who carried lighted torches to light the way to her house. A multi-day feast would take place before he took his wife to their new home.
All of human history is unfolding according to this marriage process. Thousands of years ago God arranged for us to be with His son forever. Two-thousand years ago Jesus was betrothed to His bride – the church. He paid for us with His own blood (a dowry). He then departed to prepare a place for us in heaven [John 14:2-3]. We are now waiting for His return when He will take us away from here to be permanently in His presence. At that time we will be officially joined to Him in a wedding ceremony [Revelation 19:6-9].
But notice that not all of those who think they’ll be joining Jesus will be. Of the ten attendants, half were prepared for the bridegroom’s return. The other half were not and, in fact, were pretenders. They thought they were wise but it turns out they were foolish. They thought they had done the necessary things to be included but they hadn’t. In the end the door was shut and they were not allowed in because the bridegroom did not know them.
Such will be the case when Jesus returns. Some who think they will be going to heaven won’t be. This, of course, includes those who deny Jesus entirely. But it will also include some who claim to be Christians, as this parable teaches.
Many who consider themselves to be Christians are relying on their own good deeds to win favor with God. But that will not work [Matthew 7:22-23]. It is only by God’s grace – and nothing more – that we are saved [Ephesians 2:8-9]. When Jesus returns these people will realize that they, like the foolish attendants, were unprepared to meet Him.
Just like the door on the ark was shut by God denying entry to all who refused His invitation, when Jesus returns it will be too late [Genesis 7:15-16]. There will be no second chances. There is no purgatory. There will only be horror as those who rejected Jesus realize the enormous, eternal, and irreversible mistake they’ve made.
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