The Tragedy of Unreadiness – Matthew 25:1-13

(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)

Faith Bible Church, NY

April 23, 1995

The Tragedy of Unreadiness

Matthew 25:1-13

A truth which we can believe is that the Lord Jesus Christ will bodily return to Earth in the future. The Scriptures tells us that Jesus currently is in heaven “preparing a dwelling place for us” (John 14) and “making intercession for us” (Hebrews), but that one day He will return “coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him.”

Over the last month we have been studying Matt.24 and the various signs that Jesus says will indicate that His return to set up His kingdom on Earth is near. We have pointed out that all the various signs spoken of in that chapter will be seen by the generation that is alive at the beginning of the tribulation, or as Matt. 24 puts it, those alive when the “beginning of birth pangs” start (vs. 8).

There will be wars and rumors of wars (6), famines and earthquakes in increasing number and severity (7), many who have professed Christ will become apostate in part because of the large number of false prophets (9-12), the gospel will be preached to the whole world by an angel (14 & Rev. 14:6,7), and then the Abomination of Desolation will be set up (15). After these events, such a time of tribulation will occur that nothing before it or after it will be equal to it (21). Immediately after those days of tribulation and prior to the Lord’s return there will be various signs in the heavens. Verse 29 describes them as “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” These events are described in Revelation, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah and other various places too.

The message of Chapter 24 is written specifically for the generation which will see all those signs, and which could be this one. But even if it turns out that there is still a generation or generations to come, there are strong messages and warnings here for us too. It is only after all these things occur that Jesus will return “with power and great glory.”

Those that truly belong to Jesus’ church will be removed from the earth prior to all these things. Theologians have named this event when God’s people are caught up to be with Him “the rapture.” We hold that it occurs sometime prior to the seven years of the Great Tribulation, also known as “the time of Jacob’s Troubles” and the 70th week of Daniel. 1 Thess 5:9 tells us that God has not appointed His children to wrath and the 70th week of Daniel is a time of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth. Based upon this verse and others we therefore conclude that the rapture occurs prior this time.

The Suddenness of His Coming

In the rest of chapter 24 Jesus gives various parables and illustrations about His coming and the need to be prepared for it because “the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” Though there will be many signs pointing out whatw is coming is near and that Jesus is standing at the door ready to return, as verse 33 describes, most people will pay no attention to the obvious. Just as in the days of Noah continued to live their normal lives doing their normal activities even though the ark Noah was building was a constant reminder that a big event was coming, people will ignore the signs given and continue in their normal activities of life (vs. 37-39). So it will seem that Jesus’ coming is sudden.

A friend of mine just moved from California to North Carolina. He has been telling everyone for 17 years that he was planning to move. He had been out of work for several months and was actively pursuing several jobs in other states, yet when he announced that he got a job in N. C. and had to be there in 10 days, everyone was shocked that it was “so sudden.” It was not sudden. The signs had been there for a long time and had increased, yet they ignored. So it is with Jesus’ return. The signs are ignored.

Jesus has taken great care to give ample warning in chapter 24 concerning His return. Everyone should be able to discern that the season of His return has come upon them in the same manner that they can tell summer is coming by the fact that the trees have leafed out. That is the point of the parable of the fig tree in verse 32. He warns over and over again to be prepared for His return, and says it specifically in verses 42 & 44. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” “For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” Ignoring the signs given will not be an excuse. The wicked will be taken away to judgement and cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (vs. 40,41,50 cf. 22:13).

In Chapter 24 the judgment comes suddenly upon the wicked when Jesus returns. His sudden return catches them off guard. For whatever reason, they thought they would still have time to clean themselves up and be ready for Him. Many are living that was today. They think they can clean up their act and get right with God anytime they want and they have plenty of time. They put off the claims of Christ saying they will deal with them later after they have “sowed their wild oats” and enjoyed the “pleasures of this world for a while.” But as Paul put it in Gal. 6, God is not mocked, whatever a man sows, that shall he reap whether to the flesh reaping its corruption, or to the Spirit reaping eternal life. Failure to heed God’s warnings is to risk certain destruction. No man knows the day that God will call him into account. Physical death is only one breath away for all of us. Chapter 24 contains the general warnings to all. But Jesus changes the target of His warnings in chapter 25.

The Jewish Wedding Festival

Jesus gives two more parables before continuing in 25:31 His description of what the judgement that will occur at His coming. Both parables are given to warn those who claim to be part of God’s family, but really are not. This is not a new theme for Jesus. He has warned about false professions of faith before. The first parable, our subject this morning, is set in the occasion of a Jewish wedding. Let me explain the normal events of such a wedding before we continue.

A Jewish marriage of that time consisted of three parts. The first part being the what we might call the marriage arrangement or the engagement. This was done between the fathers of the two who were to be married. Arranged marriages sound very strange to us and maybe even like a terrible thing, but actually they had a lot of positives. And having three children of my own and seeing, as a pastor, the disastrous marriages people get themselves into, arranged marriages sound even better! While there were some fathers that made arrangements for financial or social gain, most fathers were very considerate of their children’s desires too. In most cases a son would ask his father to arrange to get a certain girl for him as a wife. That girls father would check out that boy to make sure he had the character qualities to be a good husband for his daughter, and he would find out her desires as well. The two fathers would then make an agreement as to what the dowry, obligations, and arrangements would be.

The second event in the marriage process was the betrothal. This was a legal union brought about by the exchange of marriage vows between the bride and groom before family members and the dowry being given for the bride. The dowry was usually money, property, jewels, or other valuable items that were to be a financial protection to the woman should her husband die. The couple that was betrothed was considered legally married, though they did not live together. The groom would then spend several months to a year preparing for his wife by establishing himself in his trade or farming and preparing a place for them to live. This could be quite an undertaking when you consider that most men married when they were 16 or 17 with 20 being the outside limit. For the betrothal to be broken there had to be a legal divorce. If the groom died during that period, the bride was considered a widow. Unfaithfulness was adultery even though the marriage itself had not been consummated.

The third part in a marriage was the wedding feast. This is what Jesus is dealing with in His parable. The entire community could be involved in this celebration, which could last up to a week. The festivities began with a bridal procession. The groom and his friends would come to the brides house where she and her bridesmaids were waiting. The whole party would then parade through the streets proclaiming that the wedding feast was about to begin. They would eventually arrive at the groom’s home, or another place prepared for them. These wedding processions usually occurred at night with the wedding attendants carrying lamps or torches to light the way and to attract attention. At the end of the feast the couple would be left alone for the first time to consummate the marriage, and they would then live together from that point on.

With that in mind, follow along as I ready the parable in verses 1-13.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to met him.’ Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, saying, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. And later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

The Point of the Parable

The point of this parable, like many others is often missed because so many people try to understand parables by making every little detail of it mean something. Allegorical interpreters give some mystical meaning to every facet, which gives them much room for speculation and imagination as well as the appearance of being spiritually superior. Devotional writers tend to want to draw out some application from all the details. Because of this, many details are left out. We are not told where the virgins fall asleep, we are not told who announces the grooms arrival, and the bride is never mentioned. Liberal commentators claim that this is a clumsy and confused teaching effort of Jesus. But for Jesus, the story is complete and clear to make His point. Much detail was left out because they have no bearing on His point. We must be careful to interpret any detail in this parable or any other parable to match the main point and not stretch them.

The truth that Jesus is illustrating in this parable is in keeping with the theme that He presented at the end of chapter 24. In fact, notice that Jesus introduces it in verse 1 saying, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps,” etc. He concludes the parable in verse 13 saying the same thing He did in 24:42,44. The parable illustrates the truth that Jesus is coming at a time when people do not expect Him. He will reward the righteous and judge sinners. People must be ready for Him then, for there will be no more chances after that.

The virgins, or young maidens, attend the bride according to Jewish custom, and all seem the same at first. Each one had their lamp, and in this case a lamp that would have had been attached to a pole. Some have suggested they had torches, but the word here is for a lamp, not a torch. Each of the ten also came for the same purpose, to meet the bridegroom. They are to be an illustration of the kingdom of heaven. They were waiting for the bridegroom the same way that the church awaits the return of Jesus, her espoused groom.

The outward appearance was the same, but inwardly they were different. Our text says five were foolish and five were wise. In the same way those professing to be the people of God have always been a mixture. In Israel there were those who were circumcised outwardly demonstrating outward identity with God’s people, yet their hearts were far from Him (Isa. 29:13). Those that truly belonged to God were “circumcised of heart” (Deut 10:16). That is what Paul refers to in Romans 9:6 when he says that not all Israel who are from Israel. There are physical descendants and spiritual descendants. In the church there are tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:25f), wolves among the shepherds (Acts 20:29), and false prophets among the true (2 Pet. 2:1)

The significance of there being 10 virgins is simply that it was the customary number. The foolish are mentioned first because the parable places the emphasis upon them and the consequences to them.

The foolishness of the first five is seen immediately. For whatever reason, they did not bring oil for their lamps. Whether they were thinking oil would be provided for them or that they would have ample warning so as to go and purchase the oil at the last minute is unimportant to the story. The fact is, in their foolishness they did not prepare properly. They were waiting to join the wedding procession without having oil for their lamps. The wise on the other hand had prepared properly and were ready.

Next we find that for some unknown reason the bridegroom was delaying. Speculation on why he was delaying adds nothing to the story. The ten bridesmaids knew that he would come soon, they just did not know at what hour.

In some ways Jesus has delayed a long time in returning, yet He knows exactly why. He does not have to explain it to us while we wait. He has given enough information to know that we are to be prepared and be ready for Him at whatever hour He does finally come.

As time went on, the ten grew drowsy and fell asleep. No condemnation is given to either the foolish or the wise for sleeping. What this detail does add to the text is that the foolish had more than ample time to prepare themselves. The time delayed so long that they had even fallen asleep, apparently in the false assurance that when the time came they would get the needed oil from somewhere. The five wise could rest quietly in confident assurance that when the bridegroom arrived, they were already ready.

Such is the case today for there are many that claim to be part of Christ’s church, part of Jesus body here on earth. They are self deceived and quietly rest in the false assurance that they are prepared to meet Jesus. We would like to think that if they only knew their predicament they would prepare themselves quickly, but like the five foolish bridesmaids in the parable, they evidence that they are ready is right before them, yet they do not see it. Will not someone wake they up and point it out to them? Maybe this message will do that for someone today.

As the ten are sleeping, suddenly the announcement comes: “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The moment has come at last. They grab their lamps and light them ready to join the wedding procession and the festivities that will follow. Only then does the foolishness of the first five become apparent to all. They have no oil and a wick without oil will not stay lit. Quickly they try to beg some off of the wise, but each one has to be prepared themselves. Each lamp only contains enough oil for what one person will need. There is none to share. Hurry, the prudent say, go to the market quickly and buy some oil. Don’t delay any longer.

Is there any analogy here that we have to purchase our own salvation? No, Jesus has already purchased it for us. The call here is to come purchase in the manner Isaiah 55:1 – “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, A leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, And a nation which knows you not will run to you, Because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you. Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.

The 5 left to purchase oil, but while they were gone the bridegroom arrived. The 5 wise virgins joined the wedding procession, arrived at the place of the wedding feast and the doors were shut behind them.

The Tragedy of Self-Deception

Sometime later the five foolish virgins arrived. The text does not tell us whether they were able to purchase the oil or not and in reality it would not matter at that point because the wedding procession was over and neither the oil nor they were needed any longer. They called out and tried to get someone to open the door. They were respectful calling for the “lord” of the house, but their calling was in vain. The lord of the house came and answered their call, but it was too late. The door was shut, the wedding party and entered, and if they were supposed to have been part of it why didn’t they arrive with it? “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” There is nothing about you that indicates that you belong here.

That is the final tragedy of self-deception and why Jesus warns in verse 13, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day or the hour.”

Are you on the alert? Are you prepared? True, the text is specific for the generation alive during the tribulation, but the principle still in the present. In terms of the events of chapter 24 there is still time to make sure you are prepared, but in terms of when you will be called into account. All of us are just one heartbeat away from entering eternity. Are you ready to stand before God the judge?

If you think you are ready, what is the basis for that belief. The five foolish virgins thought themselves ready. The self-righteous preachers and miracle workers Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7:21-23 thought they were ready having prophesied, cast our demons and performed miracles in the Jesus’ name, but Jesus said to them, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

Are you trusting in your abilities or in Jesus? Is your faith in something you have done? That you prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, raised your hand, etc., or in who Jesus is and what He has done? Is your vessel empty like the lamps of the five foolish virgins, or does the Holy Spirit dwell inside you? If you claim to have the Holy Spirit, then what evidence is there? Are you convicted of sin? Do you confess those sins? Do you strive to live in righteousness in order to bring praise and glory to God’s name, or your own? Can you rest in peace with the confidence of the five wise maidens, or is it the false assurance of the five foolish? Paul says in 2 Cor. 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless you fail the test?” Are you ready? Can you past the test? Don’t be caught in the tragedy of unreadiness.


For comments, please e-mail  Church office