In the Middle East it is traditional even today for the groom and a few close friends to go and retrieve the bride and bring her back to the house for the wedding feast. The men show up at the bride’s door and when she is ready they put her on the back of a riding animal and they walk back to the groom’s house with her. Now she might live across town or in a nearby village but they always take the long way back parading around to applause and cheers and shouts of congratulations from those that they pass in the streets much like when Leia and I got married we rode in a horse-drawn carriage down to the circle in Gettysburg where people could see you and wave and express their good wishes while the family and friends got ready to receive us at the reception. In the Middle East it always takes a long time for the couple to slowly make their way back to the reception at the groom’s home. Then when they are spotted down the street someone might shout “behold the bridegroom” and everyone gets in place to receive them at the house. It was at this point that the young women in today’s parable realized that they needed to service their lamps. Even today in Middle Eastern villages young unmarried women always carry lamps at night. The lamps are not shining at their feet so that they can see where they are walking but they hold them up so that everyone can see who they are, what they are doing and with whom and so that no one can harass them unseen. So carrying lamps is a matter of safety and reputation – for others are often thinking, “What might they be doing in the dark?” So all ten of these young unmarried women have their lamps. With that background, hear Jesus tell the story:
- Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
- Christ is warning you that many will not be ready when He comes again. You may immediately think of all those in the world who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. You may think of family and friends who have heard the gospel but you know are not ready for that day or at least wonder if they will be. However, Jesus is speaking not to and about those outside the church but to you who are in the church. You may think you know Jesus but if you really do know Him then you must be ready. One day the door will be shut and those who were not prepared will say, “Lord, lord, open to us” (Matt 25:11). They will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” (Matt 7:22). And then Jesus will declare to them, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt 25:12). He will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). Thus some who expect to enter the kingdom of heaven will not be ready and will find the door was shut.
- The other half of the main point that Jesus seeks to impress upon you with this parable is that you must be ready all the time for you know neither the day nor the hour when the door will shut. The young women in the parable did not know when the bridegroom would return. The wise young women knew it might be the middle of the night before the wedding party arrived, but the foolish young women didn’t plan for it to take so long. Thus Jesus is saying that you do not know when His return will be and need to be ready all of the time. This parable is part of a larger section of Jesus’ teaching on the end where among other things He has said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt 24:36) and “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt 24:42) and “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt 24:44). In the parable both the wise and the foolish became drowsy and slept, but at least the wise young women were prepared with an extra flask of oil. Yet despite the word of God repeatedly telling us that Jesus will come again on a day when we do not expect Him and at an hour we do not know (cf. Matt 24:40) there is a foolish fascination among many Christians today with wanting to calculate when Jesus will return rather than to watch for Him to come. You do not know when He will arrive and you will find the door was shut, so always be prepared. (Thus the main point of the parable is conveniently summarized for you in the last verse of the passage: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13). But the parable shows us something else about those preparations:)
- You can borrow many things from others in the church but you cannot borrow from the preparations of others for the coming of the Lord.
- The parable shows that you cannot borrow from the preparations of others for the coming of the Lord when the foolish young women were not able to borrow oil from the wise young women. You might have found this part of the story a little off-putting. After all, we think that sharing is a good thing. Christians often tell stories to their children to teach them to share and Christians do share many things with others both in the church and in the world, but this parable isn’t about five women who were unwilling to share their oil. The wise young women did not have enough oil to share with the foolish young women. The wise had enough for themselves. If they had shared their oil, then they too might not have been ready. Thus this is not something that they should be expected to share. The foolish were going to have to go find their own oil. Having flasks of oil is how the wise were prepared for the bridegroom to return at an unexpected hour. Therefore, if the story is showing that you cannot borrow someone else’s oil then it is saying that you cannot borrow from the preparations of others for the coming of the Lord. (The application of this observation is pretty straightforward:)
- You must take ownership of your own preparations for the coming of the Lord. It is a matter of personal responsibility. While you were still a child your parents made sure that you wore your coat when it was cold outside and took a flask of oil when you might be out late, but now you can no longer rely on their preparations for you. Now you are responsible for taking the flask of oil for your lamp. In other words, now you have to watch for Christ’s coming for yourself. You cannot rely on the preparations of your pastor, your elders, your deacons, your parents, or your peers. Before the door shuts, you personally need to be prepared. I would imagine that this is a major reason that some might expect to enter the kingdom of heaven but will not be ready. They will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” (Matt 7:22). And then Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). It is possible to think you are ready when really you are relying on someone else’s relationship with Jesus – not personally knowing Jesus but participating in the work of the church. This is the day to take inventory – to check to see if you have enough oil – that is, to examine yourself for personal faith in Jesus Christ and repentance unto life – for one day it will be too late. At that time the faithful and wise will inherit the earth, but the wicked and lawless and foolish will be swept away.