Today, we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ words on His return, His second coming. Phil introduced this section of Scripture well last week when he said that these next three weeks (last week, today, and next week) will “force us to examine how we are living our lives in view of God’s eventual return”, or if we are at all.
I won’t lie to you, the topic of Christ’s return, the tribulation that He describes here, the eerie songs I grew up with (I’ve had “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” on repeat in my brain this week); all of this combined to make me feel pretty uneasy and perhaps even terrified at the thought of Christ’s return.
Even today’s passage has some pretty haunting tones. But rest assured, we are going to walk through this story that Jesus tells us today and be challenged, yes, but it also made me realize the beautiful hope we have in knowing Christ. The main point I want you to remember today is this: Being prepared for the second coming of Christ is entirely dependent on knowing and being known by Christ.
Matthew 25:1-13 is a story that Jesus tells in the middle of a few other stories outlining what the Kingdom of God will be like at the time of His return. Something to remember as we read and really wonder about this story is that it is not the only story Jesus tells to describe what will happen at His second coming and why. This is one angle, one aspect, one facet of a bigger picture.
So, when reading a parable, it’s important to ask “what question is this story trying to answer?” Don’t try and stretch the story to tell you details that it was never meant to. When these three weeks in the discourse of Jesus’ second coming have passed, I encourage you to read all of Matthew 24 and 25 in one sitting – just to get that bigger picture, all the facets Jesus is presenting here.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
What do we know? How would you answer the following questions about the details of this story? Who, what, where, when? This is a story of comparison.
Who is being compared? Five wise bridesmaids, five foolish bridesmaids; the unprepared vs. the prepared.
What’s the same? Bridesmaids, waiting for the groom, all have lamps, all fall asleep.
What’s different? Five have oil, five do not.
What is the outcome? This is where we get to the heart of it, why any of the being prepared or not being prepared matters. The prepared are enjoying a marriage feast while the unprepared get this response from the groom, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” And the door is shut in their face.
Which would you prefer? This is what haunts me. The bridesmaids don’t look any different from the outside, they are all friends of the groom, but their unpreparedness leads to this response from the groom, from Jesus, “I don’t know you.”
This is where I started asking myself and Jesus all sorts of questions this week:
How do I make sure that I’m known? I don’t want a door slammed in my face!
How do I stay prepared?
What is the oil? What IS the oil? I need that oil!! I felt desperate to answer that question – I just need to figure out the conundrum of the oil, get whatever it symbolizes and then I’ll be good to go. No doors shut in my face for eternity. I maybe got a little fixated on deciphering the oil thing. I got a little frantic, like I was chasing down the last roll of toilet paper in the city. Then I realized, that’s not even the biggest point that distinguishes the two groups. What is it that the groom, Jesus, says to the five virgins waiting at the door, “Leave, you don’t have any oil”? No! He says, “I don’t know you.” That’s what it really comes down to. Jesus knows the five in the banquet and He doesn’t know the other five waiting at the door.
“I don’t know you.” Jesus says. Do these words sound familiar to you? There’s a few other times in the gospels that Jesus uses these words to respond to those trying to enter into eternity with Him.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of the Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Someone asked Him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, “make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘sir, open the door for us.’”
But He will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.”
Then you will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”
But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers.”
“I don’t know you.” In John 17:3 Jesus lays it out pretty clearly, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” That’s it. That’s eternal life.
Being prepared to enter eternity with Jesus, being prepared for the second coming of Jesus and walking in His Kingdom with Him now comes down to this. Are you known by Christ? Do you know Christ? And through Christ, do you know and walk in the will of the Father?
How? How are we to know if we truly know Christ? There are many who came to the door pleading with their good works done in the very name of Jesus (casting out demons, prophesying, performing mighty works) and Jesus turns them away, “I never knew you.”
It’s not about doing for Jesus, it’s about being with Jesus. Jesus responds with a statement of relationship to all the good things these people have done, “I don’t know you.” It’s not about what you did. It all comes down to relationship.
You may still be asking, “But how? How do I know Jesus?” Well, Jesus gives us a pretty good clue in this story.
I know I told you not to get hung up on the oil thing, but it turns out the oil is pretty helpful in making way for our knowing of Jesus. You’ll notice that although it comes down to Jesus’ words, “I don’t know you” at the door, only the ones with oil made it inside to be known by the groom.
So, what is the oil? What do you think it is?
There’s a few different theories out there but the most commonly held thought is that the oil represents the Holy Spirit, and I can agree with that idea. The oil, the Holy Spirit, makes the way for these women to be part of the procession and the marriage feast, ultimately being known to the groom.
Listen to Jesus’ description of what is promised in the Holy Spirit: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” John 16:12-15
And from John 14:15-17, 23-27
“If you love me, keep my commands, and I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth […]” Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own, they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”
Yes, the Holy Spirit—the oil—makes the way, guides us, leads us into truth; reminds us of who Jesus is and what He has said; leads us to the heart, the will, the intentions of the Father. And through the Holy Spirit we can know Jesus and through Jesus, we can be known by the Father.
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.’”
It’s all about knowing and walking in the ways of Jesus because of our love for Him. Did you notice the words from John 14 earlier? “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” That sounds like true knowing. That sounds like deep relationship. Our actions as disciples should not be grounded in fear but in love for Jesus who leads us to the Father spurred on by the Holy Spirit.
Being prepared for the second coming of Christ, being prepared for an eternity with Christ, means knowing and being known by Christ now. It means loving Jesus and walking in the will of the Father now. It means listening for the Holy Spirit to lead us into this truth and action now.
You do have a choice. It’s not just a game of Russian Roulette to see if you’ll get the door closed in your face for eternity. What choice did the bridesmaids have? Were they going to take oil with them or not? Were they going to acknowledge that they needed something outside of themselves to sustain them, to make the way for them?
We can’t make our way into eternity with Christ on our own merits or ingenuity, as we learned from the foolish bridesmaids. We have a choice: as a disciple, will you surrender yourself to the pursuit of knowing and loving Jesus, allowing yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit into the intentions of the Father?
If this is new language for you and you haven’t made a decision before today to step into relationship—not just doing things for, but relationship with God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)—it’s not hard. Just say “Yes. Yes, I want to walk in relationship with God and grow in the knowing and loving of Jesus.” The Holy Spirit is there with you, you can ask for help, to be led into the truth and ways of Jesus. I would encourage you to start by reading the book of John in the Bible. The Bible has been the most significant tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit in my life, to lead me into truth and remind me of the ways of Jesus and the Father. Start with the Bible, if you know another follower of Jesus, reach out to them and let them know of your decision today (if you don’t, reach out to us; send us a message via our website or Facebook; we would love to walk with you).
Will you surrender yourself to the pursuit of knowing and loving Jesus allowing yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit into the intentions of the Father? Will you choose to know and be known by Jesus? For this is eternal life.
What is your first response when reading this story? What are the feelings and thoughts that come first to the surface? Is there anything that makes you uncomfortable?
How do you experience the Holy Spirit leading you to Jesus?
What questions do you have when you read this story? Would you be willing to ask Jesus those questions in prayer?