Watching and Ready for the Return of Christ

June 26, 2016 / No. 3834

Dear Radio Friends,
I invite you to take your Bibles and open them with me to the gospel of Matthew chapter 25. Our message today will be on the first thirteen verses of this chapter, the Parable of the Ten Virgins, five wise and five foolish.
At the beginning of Matthew 25, after Jesus gives His instruction on the end times in Matthew 24, He now applies it in Matthew 25. The Bible’s teaching on the end times is not primarily an intellectual exercise. It is not for us just to understand and comprehend with our minds and to be able to argue with those who differ about the things concerning, and the events that will happen in, the last days. But the primary purpose is practical. It is application to our lives—that you and I may know that Jesus is coming and that we be prepared for that, that we build our lives around it. To be ready for the coming of Jesus Christ is to be spiritually prepared. It is to have the heart of a bride whose husband is away and she is waiting and she is longing for him to return. That is the purpose of the parable here—to instruct us to watch and be ready and to wait for the coming of Jesus Christ.
Jesus uses a parable here to teach this. A parable is an earthly story with a spiritual and heavenly meaning. It is taken from something that is familiar in a person’s life. Jesus used things from His day and from the life of His audience to illustrate and to make His point very clear in the parables.
In this parable, the illustration is of a wedding. Certainly it was not an uncommon illustration to use in reference to the coming day of Jesus Christ. You find it elsewhere in Scripture. In Revelation 21 the church is the bride adorned for her husband. While it is true that we are not familiar with all the practices and details of a Jewish wedding, the truth comes out very clearly in this parable. We are familiar with weddings, and Jesus teaches us through this wedding what His main point is.
To understand a parable, we have to find the main point and we have to interpret the whole parable in light of that point. Jesus gives us the main point of this parable in verse 13 when He says, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” He teaches this parable in order to instruct us in our calling to watch because we do not know the day or the hour when He comes.
Matthew 25:1: “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” The bridegroom, of course, is Jesus Christ Himself. His bride is the church, and He comes to be married to His bride. The wedding day is the day of His return. All throughout history the church is waiting and longing for that day. She is like a woman that is engaged to a husband who is gone away, and when he returns, she will marry.
In this parable, we are not told anything about the bride. She is not important to the story here. Instead, we are introduced to these ten virgins who are invited guests and spectators at the wedding. These represent everyone in the earth who professes the name of Jesus and says that he is waiting for the return of Jesus Christ. These virgins do not represent the wicked world, which is not waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ, but the church—the people of God—in this world. It is very appropriate that they are called “virgins.” A virgin is one who keeps herself pure for her future husband. Spiritually, this is what the church does in the world. She does not have intercourse with the world. That is who we are in the world. We are God’s people in the world but not of the world.
These virgins are divided into two groups, verse 2. “And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.” What is wisdom? Wisdom is not just to know something, to have knowledge, but it is to use that knowledge in a beneficial and a profitable way. Wisdom is knowledge applied to a situation or a calling. A person who is a fool can also know. But what the fool does is that he ignores what he knows. In Psalm 14 we have the classic example of that when we read “the fool has said in his heart. There is no God.” He is a fool because he says this against better knowledge.
So, what divides these two groups of virgins is not that five of them know something that the other five do not, that five of them know that the bridegroom is coming while the others do not. It is not that the five know when he is coming and the others do not. All of them know the same thing, but five of them choose to ignore what they know. That is their folly. They know in their conscience that Jesus is coming. They know from the teaching of the Word of God that Jesus is coming. They are part of the church as virgins, but they do not care about this knowledge. This knowledge does not sanctify them, it does not prepare them, they are not ready for the coming of Jesus Christ. Instead, they sleep.
So we read in verse 3: “They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them.” They were not prepared. But, in contrast, the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Then, while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. Here is the great danger with regard to the coming of Jesus Christ—that we are not prepared and that we sleep.
We should not take the sleeping here as literal with regard to God’s people in the world. This sleeping does not refer to an inactivity, but a spiritual apathy and indifference towards the truth of the coming of Jesus Christ. An indifference to the gospel, an indifference to spiritual things, an indifference to the Word of God, an indifference to the return of Jesus Christ the Lord. That indifference is replaced with something else. Human beings are not empty-headed.
This knowledge that these foolish virgins choose to put out of their minds, which foolish church members choose to put out of their minds, is replaced by something else. It is things that have to do with their earthly existence. This is another danger, is it not? Being caught up in worldly pursuits. In the previous chapter (24:37-39), Jesus says, “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” What were they doing? They were not really doing anything in itself wrong. They were eating and they were drinking and they were marrying. But the point is that this is all that they were doing. This is what their life was built around, and they slept, they closed their eyes to the reality of Jesus’ coming. That is the folly here.
How does that happen? In the parable, verse 5, “While the bridegroom tarried.” It seemed to the people, these five foolish virgins, that the bridegroom tarried. That seems to Christians, to church members, that Jesus tarries. In reality He does not. He comes quickly. He comes as quickly as He can. As we looked at the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ in this series of messages, we have seen that all of history is, in a sense, rushing towards the coming of Jesus Christ. The earthquakes, the famines, the pestilence, the turmoil among the nations, the secularism, the materialism, the lawlessness, the loving of pleasure—Jesus is not tarrying at all. All these things are working towards His coming. He is coming as quickly as He can. But our experience, from an earthly perspective, seems to be that it takes a long time. For centuries, Christians have been waiting for Jesus’ return.
Of course, the world throws this in our face. It looks at how we live and what we teach and it says, “Where is the promise of His coming?” The danger is that the hope of the Christian begins to wane and he starts to set his heart and affection on earthly things. So, we have to live by faith with regard to the coming of Jesus Christ, a faith that is informed by the Word of God so that we are watching and ready. These are the dangers here, that we sleep, that we are apathetic, that we are foolish.
Over against that is the calling to watch for the coming of Jesus Christ, which is represented here by the five wise virgins. What was their wisdom? First, their wisdom was this, that they knew that the bridegroom was coming, they kept that in their mind. They did not say, “Well, it doesn’t matter whether he comes or not.” They did not say, “It’s not true that he’s coming.” They did not say, “Well, our life in the present, this is what’s important. Let’s burn our oil in the present because we need light now.” But they looked forward. Sometimes the church and Christianity, in a way similar to the foolish virgins, can lose its focus in the world exactly because people begin to think Jesus is not coming. So, the focus of modern Christianity in many parts of evangelicalism is to improve the world, it is to preach a social gospel, it is to feed a hungry mouth. If at all there is the preaching of the gospel, it is not a message of the coming of Jesus Christ, but a message that has to do with how people feel—how do you feel and how does this make you feel. It is because the church is losing sight of the fact that Jesus Christ is coming again and that her calling in the world is spiritual and to preach the gospel in preparation for the day of Jesus’ coming.
The wise virgins kept this in the front of their minds: the bridegroom is coming. Because of this, they were ready, that is, they lived their lives in view of his coming. That is their wisdom. They took what they knew (the bridegroom is coming) and they used that to ready themselves for his coming. That is wisdom—for the Christian to know that Christ is coming and to build his entire life around that. The coming of Jesus Christ should affect everything in our lives: our work, our marriage, our family, how we live in these relationships, our friendships, the kinds of friends that we have, the things with which we entertain ourselves, what we do with education. We live in light of the coming day of the Lord Jesus Christ in everything. This affects what we do with our children. It affects how we use our time as Christians. That is wisdom—to live every aspect of our life in light of the coming day of the Lord. We are pilgrims and strangers here on the earth. Heaven is our home. All these things in the earth will melt with a fervent heat. It is all going to burn. So, do not set your heart on earthly things. This was the wisdom of the five wise virgins.
Then also this. They were alert and they were listening for the signs, the announcements of the coming of the bridegroom. We do not read specifically of announcements here, just one voice in verse 6: “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” The signs of the coming of Jesus Christ are all really announcements of the return of Jesus Christ. That has been my purpose in preaching this series of messages on the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful, gracious thing that Jesus Christ gives us these signs, that He tells us not only that He is coming and that He will come but that, in love, He says, “Hear the signs of My coming. I will come back, but I’m sending you these announcements.” That was the wisdom of these five wise virgins—they were listening, they were paying attention, they were ready for the return of Jesus Christ.
Yes, it is true that Jesus’ coming is as a thief in the night, for, as it is put here in verse 13, you do not know “the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” But that is exactly a reason for us to be alert, so that, as I Thessalonians 5 says, “that day will not overtake you as a thief.” That is wisdom.
Then, this was their wisdom too, that they kept oil in their lamps so that they could keep their lamps burning. That is, from a spiritual point of view, they kept on giving a witness of a light in the midst of darkness. In Matthew 5 Jesus says, “Ye are the light of the world. Don’t hide your light under a bushel.” You see, all ten of these virgins had lamps. But five of them let their lamps go out. They did not refuel them. They did not care about having a burning lamp in the midst of darkness. Because of this, they were not ready.
You see, this is how we are to keep ourselves ready for the day of Jesus Christ and for His return, by keeping on in the Christian life and by that giving light and a testimony in the midst of the world. In fact, is not this even why He tarries? In Matthew 24:14 He says, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” We are left in the world as a witness, your witness. You have been translated by God into the kingdom of light so that you might show forth His light and, by your good works, others be gained to Christ. So, by our witness, we are engaged in an activity that shows our longing for the day of Jesus Christ. This was their wisdom.
Then also, we should see that this preparation for the day of Jesus Christ goes much deeper. It is not just knowing that Jesus is coming and doing something in light of that, but we have here in the figure of oil in the lamps a sign of the Holy Spirit. Oil, in the Scriptures, always represents the Holy Spirit. You see, it is by the Spirit of God and by the grace of God that we are kept ready in this world for the day of Jesus Christ. The Spirit gives to us a new life in Jesus Christ. He creates in us a longing for Jesus Christ. He fills us with a love for Jesus Christ. He sets our heart on heavenly things. This is the preparation that we need for the day of Jesus Christ, especially a spiritual preparation. The Spirit is pleased to use the Word of God to prepare us for this.
That is my prayer, my hope as I brought these messages to you from the Word of God concerning the return of Jesus Christ, that the Spirit may use the truth to prepare your hearts and to keep you watching for the day of Jesus Christ, that these spiritual realities concerning things that are eternal go deep into your souls. In Luke 21, a parallel passage to the one here in Matthew, where Jesus speaks of the spiritual aspect of being prepared for His return, He says (v. 34), “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” “Surfeiting” has the idea of being slowly numbed by the things of this world. Jesus says, “You must stay spiritually alert.” That is the preparation of wisdom. In verse 35 of Luke 21, He continues, “For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.” The day of Jesus Christ’s return will be a surprise, unexpected for those who are caught up in the things of this world. So, in verse 36, He says, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always.” There is a spiritual preparation, a praying, as we watch for the day of Jesus Christ.
This is wisdom with regard to the coming of Jesus Christ: that we know that He is coming, that because of this we are ready for His coming, that we stay alert to the announcements of His coming, that we keep on giving light in the midst of this dark world, and that we watch and pray and are spiritually prepared for His return.
The whole point of the parable here is to bring home the urgency of this. In verse 13: “Ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” The temptation for all of us is to sleep. Look at verse 5: “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” Not just the foolish, but also the wise were tempted to sleep. The urgency is brought out in the remainder of the parable from verse 6 through verse 12. There is only one call. At midnight there was a call made: “Behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” You must be ready when that call comes, when the trump of God sounds. There will no longer be any time to prepare for His return.
Second, the urgency is brought out here in verses 7-10 when we see that these five foolish virgins who were not prepared tried to depend on the others. The foolish asked the wise in verse 8: “Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came.”
This teaches us that we cannot depend on others in that day. You yourself must be ready for the return of Jesus Christ. You must not depend on the church or institution to which you belong. You must not depend on the family or the home in which you were raised. You yourself must be ready for the day of Jesus Christ.
That is important because verses 11 and 12 bring home this urgency in another way. Jesus comes, not as a Bridegroom to all, but as a Judge to some. The foolish went out and bought their oil. They came back and they said (v. 11): “Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” This not knowing is His judgment.
So the urgency is brought out here. There is one call; we must not depend on others; Jesus comes as a Judge of some. The urgency is especially this: that we do not know the day or the hour. We have to keep on watching, we have to feel the urgency of being prepared. That is the point. May God, by His grace, ever prepare us and keep us watching for the day of His return.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we are thankful for the Bible’s teaching on the end times, the signs of Jesus’ coming, and the teaching to prepare us for His return. Ever, Lord, keep us watchful. Keep us from the world and being consumed with the things of this world or tempted or lured by the ways of this world. Help us, Lord, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as a bride that waits for her husband, to long for Him, to love Him and to live our lives in light of that day when He will return. We pray it, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.