The bridegroom comes! 25:1-13
In the parable of the ten virgins we learn that the dawning of God's eternal reign can be compared to the situation where a bridegroom arrives late to a wedding and some of the assisting maidens are caught unprepared. Therefore keep awake, otherwise you will be caught out.
v1. In chapters 24 and 25 Matthew draws together Jesus' teachings on his "coming and the end of the age." At this point Matthew records the parable of the ten bridesmaids. As a kingdom parable it reminds us that the day of the coming kingdom is close at hand. The parable describes a typical Jewish wedding. The bridegroom prepares at his parent's home and the bride at her parent's home. The bridegroom then processes to the bride's parent's home where the festivities begin. In the early evening the bride, groom and guests then process to the grooms home. On the way they are joined by the bridesmaids, although probably just for this story. All members of the party must provide their own lamps.
v2-5. Some of the bridesmaids are foolish because they are unprepared for the groom's coming. As with all parables, it is tempting to turn this story into an allegory, assigning meaning to every element. Is the bridegroom Christ? Is the delay referring to Christ's delayed return? Is the oil good works, the Holy Spirit or the grace of God,....? We are best to look for the central idea and leave it at that. In the day of judgment, many will be caught out.
v6-9. The shout rings out and the bridegroom comes. The bridesmaids prepare to light up, but five have no oil. The preparedness of the five wise bridesmaids cannot help the ones who are unprepared.
v10-12. The bridegroom appears and the wise enter with the wedding party. The foolish bridesmaids are locked out and cannot enter, for the groom does not know them.
v13. Matthew draws out an important point from the parable by quoting one of Jesus' sayings about the coming Son of Man, cf. 24:42. The message is "keep awake", be vigilant. The gospel demands faith, ongoing day-by-day, crisis by crisis, faith as we await the coming day.
The good oil
"Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning, burning, burning.... give me oil in my lamp I pray..... keep me burning till the break of day."
Any person who has ever attended a church youth group has, at some time or other, sung this chorus. Like most Christian songs it carries a message. It mouths a desire that is common to believers. Using the imagery of the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids we ask the Lord for the good oil so that our lamps won't go out. When the brilliance of the coming day bursts upon us, may our lamp be burning brightly.
It's not hard to see that the imagery is slightly off target. In the parable, the wise bridesmaids had brought oil in preparation of the coming groom, while the foolish girls had brought none, or was it not enough? At any rate, when the groom arrived the foolish bridesmaids were unprepared and so didn't get into the wedding feast. So, what's the message? "Be on guard, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
Scratch any believer and under their skin you will find an eternal fear. When the day of judgment comes, will we have the good oil, or enough of the good oil, to see us through that day? Could we run out of oil and be left behind? So, what is the oil? We probably shouldn't be asking the question because the parable isn't about oil, but anyway, choruses are choruses! Is it faithfulness to Christ's teaching, godly living, faith in Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, baptism, the grace of God.....?
When interpreting these types of parables we are better off if we don't try to identify the different elements. We should just look for the main thrust of the parable. God's eternal reign in Jesus has burst in upon and life as we know it is rushing to its climax. In response to this reality we must put our faith in Jesus. But as day merges into day, that faith can fade, such that in the end many will find themselves outside of the heavenly feast. So Jesus warns us, "stay awake" - "keep your faith alive." Day-by-day let us renew our faith in Jesus, hold firmly to him, never let him go.
How must we be prepared for the terrible day?
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