“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (Matthew 25:1).
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Matthew 24 is followed by three parables, which speak of servants preparing for Christ’s return, servants during the first phase of His presence, and the world during the glorious phase of his presence.
Wise and Foolish Virgins
The first of these parables is of virgins anticipating the return of Christ the bridegroom (25:1-13). None expected it to take so long (many centuries), but some had the wisdom to prepare, just in case. The oil that gave light from the lamps represents the holy Spirit of God, which gives us light (1 John 1:5).
An oil lamp with either a charred wick or too little oil alternately generates puffs of smoke and light. (Do we sometimes generate
more heat than light?) Trim the wick and the oil-filled lamp burns bright and steady. Watchers need to increase the oil of the holy spirit, lest we be among the foolish virgins.
The foolish virgins are nevertheless still virgins. Yet without enough “oil,” they may depict some who think, Once in grace, always in grace (but compare Galatians 5:4). So when the call goes forth, “Come out of [Babylon], my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues”, they are not ready to act on it. No punishment is administered to them, but they lose the privilege of being with the bridegroom at “the marriage feast.” These foolish virgins would seem to correspond well to the “great multitude” of Revelation 7:9-17, 19:1-3, 6, and also, the Levites of Ezekiel 44:10-14.
Many have looked for Christ’s imminent return: the first century (John 21:23), AD 1000, 1843, etc., but where was the return of the Jews to Israel, and the “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation [since the Flood]” (Daniel 12:1)? With each disappointment, some lost their zeal, while others continued to proclaim Christ and his sacrifice, and the coming Kingdom for the world redeemed by Him.
The call, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him”, anticipates the bridegroom’s return (25:6, 10). Thus, we might
well look for fulfillment in Christian history. There was a “secret presence” movement in England already in the 1820s, which spread to America in the 1830s. When the anticipated 1843 and 1844 passed with nothing notable, some became discouraged, while others continued active without knowing when Christ
would return. Not until October 1878 did the Jews begin returning in earnest (already 43% of “the sons of thy people” — world Jewry — have now returned). Not until World War
I (1914-1918) did we clearly see “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation”, and which continues through economic depression, more war, and revolutions.
The Bible gives us several time prophecies. Therefore, it is not wrong to try to understand them. Still, we are cautioned to “Watch” for the evidences, and to continue a consecrated life.
Lesson. We must develop a character to make “parousia” knowledge useful.
The parable of the talents is of a man (representing Jesus) who goes into another country (heaven) and gives his servants various talents of money to work with and make a profit. Two servants double their money, but the third is fearful and simply holds it for safe keeping. Much later their lord returns and rewards the two who had gained, but the unprofitable servant is scolded and cast out.
The unprofitable servant should have at least put the talent out to the bankers that he might have gained a little interest. Applied to the Christian, it suggests that if we are unwilling (or
unable) to work directly for the Lord, we should put our effort into helping others who do. We may be tempted not only to bury our abilities in worldly pursuits but also to build an organization, a creed or required rituals.
The expression, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is used seven times in the New Testament (6 times in Matthew), usually about
things at the end of the Gospel Age. It seems likely it is those who angrily gnash their teeth that cause the others to weep. Whether the expression applies specifically at the Armageddon battle, or the entire century-plus “time of trouble” in which we live, may be left to the reader to decide. Yet, clearly “weeping and gnashing of teeth” would not describe a condition of “second death.”
Lesson. We are to do what we can for our Lord or at least help others to do it.
Sheep and Goats
The parable of sheep and goats begins when “the Son of man shall come in his glory.” (This and similar expressions are used seven times in the gospels, not referring to his coming for wrath against the nations, but referring to his reign in the resurrection kingdom. “All the angels with him” could suggest the completed faithful church.) The world then will not be judged by what they say but by what they learn to do for others. All who learn righteousness and mercy will be rewarded on earth with
The penalty for those who remain selfish, however few they may be, is to be “the eternal fire,” or “eternal punishment” (25:41, 46). This is the “lake of fire” symbol in Revelation (19:20, 20:10,14,15, 21:8), which is twice identified as “the second death.” Gehenna is another word for it, used twelve times, ten times as a warning to the church in the Gospel Age, and twice as a warning to the Pharisees (Matthew 25:15, 33). (Second death is not used as
a warning to Sadducees, because they did not believe in a resurrection and would not understand a “second” death. “Second death” is extinction, oblivion, which is certainly an “eternal punishment.” There is no need to redefine it as “eternal torture.”)
When someone died, whenever possible he was buried in a mnemeion (equivalent to Hebrew qeber), a marked grave, or sepulcher. (J. H. Thayer defines mnemeion as “any visible object for preserving or recalling the memory of any person or thing; a memorial, monument … specifically a sepulchral monument … Luke 11:47.” The Jehovah’s Witness organization was not incorrect in translating it “memorial tomb.” RV, ASV and several others translate it simply “tomb.”)
If a man had been so bad that people wished not to remember him, they could throw the body into the Valley of Hinnom (Greek, Gehenna), where fire and worms would destroy any evidence of him (Mark 9:42-48). Hence, the word Gehenna came to symbolize second death — oblivion.
Note that whenever sheep and goats are being driven along, it is a single goat that gets out in front and leads the way. Thus, when Satan is set loose at the end of the thousand-year kingdom of Christ, the “Gog and Magog” wicked element need not be numerous. It is “the nations,” reformed and faithful, who will be as “the sand of the sea,” recalling the promise that
Jehovah God swore unto Abraham, “in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves” (Revelation 20:8;
Genesis 22:17-18 ASV margin).
Lesson. Faith without doing is dead — and will be so in Christ’s Kingdom. Further lessons are left as an exercise to the reader.