Dr. Helen Falls taught missions at our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for a generation. She was a delight in every way. Once she walked into an early morning faculty meeting and was greeted by Professor Tom Delaughter. Making idle conversation, he said, “Helen, got any oil in your lamp?” She quipped, “Certainly. I’m no foolish virgin!”
Those straight-laced professors are still chuckling about that.
We all know this as “The Parable of the Ten Virgins,” but could we update our terminology just a tad. “Virgin” in our society brings up images of an upstart airline, a store that sells CDs and DVDs, and spinsters, those unmarried ladies sometimes referred to as “unplucked blossoms.” None of this conveys what the term meant when the Lord told the story.
These are simply young Hebrew women who are waiting for the groom’s party to arrive so the bridal festivities can get underway. Think of them as bridesmaids. The groom will be bringing his buddies with him–unmarried young men, get it?–and everyone knows that weddings are great places for single young adults to meet other single young adults. A long time before eHarmony came along, this was how they matched up.
They’re waiting for the bridegroom and all those he is bringing with him.
Sound familiar, Christian?
What has the Lord just been talking about? In the preceding chapter–Matthew 24–the Lord is speaking of His return to Earth. Granted, since He has not left in the first place, His listeners barely have a clue as to what He’s talking about. Only after the resurrection did these things fall into place.
And what is His point?
Throughout that chapter, He has been stressing one thing:
–“No one knows the day nor the hour, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (24:36)
–“You do not know what day your Lord will come.” (24:43)
–“The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” (24:44)
–“The Master…will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.” (24:50)
Chapter 25 goes seamlessly forward, without a break in the action, into this parable of the ten bridesmaids.
Keep it in context, Bible teacher and preacher. Don’t miss the setting, otherwise you will miss the point.
And what is the point, let us ask once more just because we can!?
The thrust of this parable: SINCE NO ONE KNOWS WHEN THE LORD WILL RETURN, YOU WOULD DO WELL TO PREPARE FOR THE LONG HAUL.
Take along extra batteries for your lights, additional sandwiches for the journey, a jacket for the night air, a spare tire for your car.
You get the idea.
Some will think this is all going to happen momentarily (the Lord’s return). It might. But you never know. You would do well to prepare for a long wait.
When the maids went out to meet the groom’s party, they could have found them a hundred yards from the front door. Or it could have been miles.
You remember how they did weddings in those days, don’t you?
Couples were betrothed first, the equivalent of our engagements. They were not officially married and continued to live apart, but they were as promised to one another as they would ever be. During this time, perhaps a full year, the groom works to earn a living or build a house or do other things necessary to begin a family. When he is ready, he sends word, brings his entourage to the bride’s house, and the festivities begin. They complete their vows, they eat, they laugh, they sing. This goes on for days and nights, we are told. Finally, when the food gives out or the parties are exhausted or the in-laws grow impatient with the whole business, it’s all over and everyone goes their separate ways. The new bride and groom head for their home and life goes forward.
Someone please explain to me how the interpretation of this parable came to imply that “the Lord may return any moment now, so stop what you are doing and start watching.”
Untold numbers of God’s beloved (and deluded) children have done this over the centuries. Some sold all they could, gave away all they had left, and took their families to mountaintops to await the Lord’s return on an appointed day. In most cases, this was the result of the false teachings of some self-proclaimed prophet.
Such false prophecies not only scam faithful believers, but it contradicts our Lord’s teachings, holds our message up to ridicule by the world, and sidetracks the true mandate of the church to be salt and light and good-news-bearers.
Finally, just in case anyone missed the point, Jesus ends this parable with words already ringing in the ears of His disciples: “Therefore, keep watch, for you do not know the day or the hour.” (25:13)
The next time a Mister Whisenant comes along, putting out his pamphlets on “why the world will end in 1988”–that’s what he did and he was wrong, you might have noticed–do not sit idly by and be silent. Speak up.
You do not have to argue with him or to “answer a fool according to his folly.” All you have to do is say, “Therefore, watch, for you do not know the day or the hour.” Period. More eloquent than any fine reasoning of ours.
Therefore, just do your job. Live your life for Jesus. Love your God, love your neighbor, and be faithful to your church.
Pray for your community and love your friends into the Kingdom.
But refuse to get into the sidetracking speculation about when Jesus will come back to earth. It’s a little ruse the devil pulls on Christians to divert them from their real business.
If you know your Bible, you know the Scriptures actually deal with this matter, of how some believers assume the Lord’s return will be so quick there’s no point in doing anything but waiting. I Thessalonians and II Peter were written to refute that.
“Therefore my beloved brothers, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, inasmuch as you know your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:58)
Couldn’t have said it better myself!