Watching For Christ’s Return
January 4, 2015 / No. 3757
Dear Radio Friends,
The year 2015 is here. God has spared us to see another new year—a year that brings us just a bit closer to the second coming of Jesus Christ.
As with each new year, we look forward to another year of life in this world. But as we do, the Bible reminds us that we must also look forward to the coming of Christ in this new year. We may not place our affections and sights on the things of this world. This world does not last. It comes to an end and everything in it will perish! We must set our sights on that which is permanent—something that never ends. The kingdom of heaven awaits us.
This is the subject of the parable we consider today. Jesus speaks this parable in Matthew 25:1-13. There we read:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, 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; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
This parable speaks clearly of the coming of Christ, who is our bridegroom, and the need to watch for that coming diligently without growing weary. And that has everything to do with the new year that is upon us. In this year to come we must watch for Christ’s coming! Whether He actually arrives is not of the essence. We must still watch.
This is the second of three parables that Jesus spoke at this time. Christ had left Jerusalem the night before. He was finished warning her. On this particular day He spent His time alone with His disciples on the Mount of Olives. The next day Christ would be taken captive and led to the cross. It was of utmost importance that He forewarn His disciples about His second coming and the end of the world. When would He come? Of that day and hour no man knows. He comes quickly and suddenly, but when he comes no one knows. The first of the three parables Christ spoke warned of this. But in this parable Jesus now enjoins His people to watch for that return. He does it by means of a story of a wedding and ten virgins who were called to wait for the coming of the bridegroom. Again, this is a most fitting picture.
WATCHING FOR CHRIST’S RETURN
I. The Coming of the Groom
Jesus describes a common event in this parable: a wedding. However, the type of wedding He describes is probably not all that familiar to us. According to the custom of Jesus’ day, early in the morning of the wedding, the bridegroom and a number of chosen friends would retreat to some unknown and secluded place. While they were gone, the bride would go with her maidens to the home of her future husband and there prepare the house and herself for the wedding. Late in the day, usually when it was turning dark, the bridegroom would return with his friends to meet his bride. It was this coming of the bridegroom that is the focus of attention for the wedding party. There was a person who was posted along the way who, at the sight of the returning bridegroom would cry out in warning to the bride and her maidens: “Behold, the bridegroom cometh! Go ye out to meet him!” The maidens would then trim their lamps (light their lanterns) that would light the way, and they would escort the bride along the dark path that led to the meeting of the bridegroom. The bride and groom would then return the rest of the way with the bridal attendants amidst laughter and song. Once having returned to the house, the wedding ceremony would take place followed by the celebration.
Those were the activities of the wedding to which Christ refers in our text. Obviously, He does not concern Himself with the wedding ceremony as such or the wedding feast. He focuses our attention on what happens before the wedding. We learn of the coming of the bridegroom and the coming of the bride to meet him.
But this is not all. Christ focuses our attention primarily on the maidens of the bride who were called to carry their lamps to light the way. There were ten maidens, all of whom, of course, represented the bride. They belonged to her wedding party and were therefore representative of her. These maidens were virgins. They were pure and unspotted young ladies who had kept themselves from fornication. It was not as if these young maidens were an exception to the rule. Unmarried women are called to remain pure and chaste. These virgins were not called so by Christ, therefore, because they were an exception to the rule. But they are called virgins because, as such, they represented the bride herself, who was pure and holy.
Yet, these details, though necessary to the parable, as we will see, are not what attracts our attention to these ten virgins. What does is the action of these virgins as regards their lamps. Five of them were wise, in that, prior to the return of the bridegroom, they had seen to it that their lamps were filled with oil. They were therefore ready for the return of the bridegroom. The call that he was returning did not catch them unprepared. On the other hand, there were five foolish virgins. These young ladies squandered their day and failed even to take any thought to their lamps, which were empty. When the call that the bridegroom was coming rang forth, they were not ready to meet him. In their foolishness, they asked the wise maidens for oil from their lamps. These virgins answered them, “Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” The foolish virgins then ran to get oil, but by the time they returned, the bridegroom had come and was gone. The wedding had already begun and the doors to the house were shut and locked. When these foolish virgins then tried to enter, they were turned away. They had not been true friends of the bridegroom. They had been poor representatives of the bride. So, the answer was harsh to them: “I know you not!” They did not enter into the great wedding of that day.
It is not hard for us to understand the spiritual significance of this parable. Christ gives this warning in verse 13, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” This parable is meant to say something to us about Christ’s return. The wedding represents the marriage of the church and Christ. Christ is portrayed in various places in Scripture as a bridegroom. Both Old and New Testaments make extensive references either to God or to Christ as the bridegroom and to the church as the bride.
That, of course, is the significance of the ten virgins as well. Though the bride is not mentioned in particular in this parable, nevertheless the maidens here represent the bride. Together they make up the party of the bride. Therefore, these virgins signify the church. This is why they are referred to as virgins. They are holy and unspotted—pure. So also is the church. The church is pure and holy—unspotted with the filth and disobedience of unbelief. The church is a body of people God has called out of the darkness of this world and cleansed and sanctified in the blood of Christ. She is, therefore, a virgin—consecrated and dedicated to be holy unto God. She is also the wife to Christ. She loves Him and obeys Him and cherishes Him as the apple of her eye. This chastity of the church, of course, is found in the fact that Christ has died for her and made her holy. But she is holy—in Christ. She is pure and undefiled. A virgin. So we have a picture of the relationship of Christ and the church.
The wedding itself refers to that time when all of the church will be gathered in to that great wedding feast at the end of time. When the bridegroom, Jesus Christ returns, at the end of time, He and His church will be united in marriage. During the period of the New Testament, Christ, the bridegroom, is in heaven. He is, as it were, in that secluded place which we cannot yet find. At the end of time He leaves his throne in heaven and returns to earth to take His bride with Him to heaven and there celebrate eternally with her. But that return of Christ does not come without warning. The cry rings out through the ages, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh! Go ye to meet Him!” The church itself cries out this warning through the preaching of the gospel—that cry is heard today at the outset of the year 2015. So the events of this wedding and the coming of the bridegroom fit this great spiritual truth well.
So also does the symbolism that surrounds the ten virgins: five wise and five foolish. The number ten makes reference to the church in her entirety, in her completeness. God calls His church out of this world, and every member of that church is chosen by Him. He sees and knows that church as a whole. But there are five foolish virgins that make up that church as well as five wise virgins. Obviously, not all of these virgins were believers. The parable therefore considers Christ’s church from the viewpoint of the church as institute. The church as she becomes manifest in this world in the church institute is not made up exclusively of believers. Into the church creep foolish virgins who look like church and act like church but which are in fact unbelievers. During the development of the church in this world they are mixed together with those who believe. But in the end of time the door to heaven is shut against them. Though they called themselves church, they were not concerned about the coming of Christ.
II. The Need to Watch
But we want to back up a moment and consider the most important aspect of this parable. As we enter into the new year we hear the clarion call: “Behold, the bridegroom cometh!” Christ warns us, in verse 13: “Watch, because you do not know the day or the hour when Christ returns.”
There is an urgency to this call—a real urgency that Jesus points out in the parable. We read in verses 5, 6: “ While the bridegroom tarried, [the virgins] all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” It was midnight already and the bridegroom had not yet come. He tarried. The bridegroom was supposed to return when it was just turning dark at the beginning of the evening. But this bridegroom tarried. He waited until the stroke of midnight. Things were dark, and most people were in bed and fast asleep. All ten of these virgins fell asleep too, both the foolish and the wise. They awoke only at the sound of the cry.
We hear the shout today: Christ comes! But we have been waiting a long time for that return, haven’t we? Christ told us some 2,000 years ago that He would come again. But He has not come. And the times are getting pretty dark too. The night of unbelief and sin surrounds us. The temptations of this world and all its allurements and comforts surround us. It is so easy for us to fall asleep to things spiritual, is it not? It is so easy to place our sights on the things here below and to forget about this one important fact: the bridegroom comes! So, we slowly nod off to sleep and we no longer are attuned to things of the kingdom of heaven! Well, the call goes forth at the beginning of the new year: “Behold!” Wake up and open your eyes! Look and see: Christ is coming! When that call goes forth, then we do wake up. We rise out of our slumber and remember why we are waiting. We go forth to meet the bridegroom.
All the virgins slept. Oh yes, even believers have a tendency to doze off while waiting for Christ’s return. That is not good, but it is true. Yet they are wise! How so? Their lamps are trimmed! They have oil in them. They are prepared to meet their bridegroom. They shake the sleep from their eyes when they hear the call and they go forth spiritually prepared to meet the bridegroom. This is what must characterize us in this new year, fellow believers! We must hear the call and be prepared.
How are we to be prepared for the coming of Christ, our bridegroom? First of all, we are to watch for His coming! That is what Christ enjoins us at the end of this parable. You see, there are various signs of Christ’s coming for which we need to watch. There are signs in nature we must watch. We must see them in the great disasters that befall our world. There are signs in the nations, both in government and in society. We must see the abounding lawlessness and the wars and threats of wars. We must see how this world in which we live is heading toward the development of that worldwide kingdom of man we call antichrist. There are signs in the church. The gospel is being preached throughout the world on the one hand, and, on the other, there is abounding apostasy. These too will tend toward the development of the antichrist! We must keep our eyes open to these signs and be spiritually sensitive to them.
But there is another way in which we must be prepared for the coming of Christ. The church and her saints must live as a virgin! We must keep ourselves holy and chaste before our God. We may not fornicate with the gods of our present society and world. We may not serve the heathen idols of the wicked, nor may we serve the money and the luxuries of our present society. We may not compromise with error and lie. We may not walk in the sin and unbelief of our present society. We must remain holy unto the Lord. And this applies to every area of our lives! On the contrary, we must keep our eyes focused on heaven and the life that awaits us there. That is where our affections must be placed in this year to come.
That, then, is how we must prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ in the year to come. It is not something we do in the far off future. It is something we do in 2015! We watch for the signs, and we live as a holy people in this world! That is our calling in 2015. “Behold, the bridegroom comes! Go out to meet Him!”
Certainly, we may not be as the foolish virgins, who failed to prepare themselves for the coming of the bridegroom. They had all day. All day they could have gone and filled their lamps. But they waited, and then fell asleep without at all preparing themselves for the coming of the bridegroom. Maybe they had a false conception of the coming of the bridegroom. Who knows? Certainly they did not take seriously the fact that the bridegroom tarried. They did not prepare for his return. So also there are the foolish in the church today. They are warned just as everyone else. But these people are foolish. A wise person knows the reality and adapts his life to fit that reality. He knows Christ returns so he adapts the way he lives to watch for that return. But a foolish person in the church knows the reality that Christ returns, but fails to adapt his lifestyle in the world to conform to that reality. Instead of watching for the signs, he is naive to it all. He does not look around him with discerning eyes at all. Sometimes such people are totally indifferent to the return of Christ and the end of the world. Ah, the end of time and Christ’s return is not for thousands of years yet, they think! There is no spiritual perception. They do not worry themselves over Christ’s return. They do not have the spiritual eyes to see how this world and everything in it is quickly funneling toward that return of Christ and the end of the world.
Others refuse to lead a chaste and holy life. They become totally caught up in the riches and pleasures and even the lusts of this present life. Instead of separating themselves from the world, they blend themselves together with the world. This is what makes them so foolish. For that reason, when Christ comes they will not be prepared or watching. Christ’s coming will catch them unawares.
III. The Fruit of Watching
That was indeed the end of the foolish virgins: the door was shut to them. They could not enter into the wedding feast. And when they said something to the doorkeeper, the voice was heard, “I know you not!” Their end was utter destruction and darkness.
But the fruit of watching in this year to come is the joy of entering into the wedding feast! That wedding celebration of Christ and His church will take place in heaven when Christ returns again. This present world will be destroyed when He returns, and a new heavens and earth will be ushered in. There God’s people will eat and drink around the table set for them at the wedding feast of the Lamb and His bride. Watch, people of God! Christ comes! And when He does, hear him say: Enter into the joy of my rest!