Friday, March 13, 2009

The Virgins and the Bridegroom

Christians of every generation have been interested in the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. And no surprise: the second coming of Christ has been the hope of the church in every age.

by Ray Hollenbach

Jesus Himself instructed us to “keep awake” and be aware of the signs of the times:

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: "Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!"

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out."

'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'

But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
— Matthew 25: 1-13

In this parable Jesus gives his disciples the assurance of his return and provides instructions for how they should order their lives in light of the promise of his coming. His message was not only for them; it is for us as well. What can we learn from the Lord’s story?

From the very opening words of the parable we can discover something about the community of faith: we wait together for his return. His coming will certainly involve personal accountability as Jesus returns to judge each person, but until he arrives we are called to remain in community.

It is a fact demonstrated in every century and every culture: Christians flourish in community and wither when they attempt the Christian life on their own. We have a duty to await the bridegroom together.

The young women in this story also carry lanterns. It is a beautiful image of those pure in their faith, filled with expectancy, acting in obedience to the Lord’s command to be the light of the world. Jesus said, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5). But he also said to his followers, "You are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14).

In his absence he wants us to carry God’s light
. In a world darkened by sin we are the evidence that a new day is coming. For some people trapped in the darkness of depression or disobedience, we may be the only light they see. And the light we carry is not our own, it comes from the Spirit he has given us.

Jesus spoke of the oil that enabled the lamps to burn. Throughout the Scripture oil is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that He would not leave us alone. While He is away he provides his Holy Spirit to comfort and empower his disciples.

In this parable it is the oil that gives the lanterns their light, and the virgins must trim the lamps. This speaks of our devotion and fervor. We have a responsibility to trim our lamps. No one can do it for us. We alone must be sure that we steward the precious resource of his presence in the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul reminded us that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and instructed those who waited for the Lord’s return, "do not to put out the Spirit’s fire."

This passage also reminds us that things may take a little longer than we might expect. The bridegroom was a long time coming. He was delayed so long that both the wise and the foolish both fell asleep, but we are still commanded to be ready for his return at any moment.

Ultimately, only the Father knows the day and the hour of the Son’s return. While we recognize along with the Psalmist that our times are in his hands, we also need to recognize that the End Times are most definitely in his hands.

Much has been made of the end of Jesus' parable. When word finally comes that his return is at hand, the foolish virgins must leave to find more oil, and they eventually find themselves on the outside looking in.

This verse can be the source of argument and division or we can take from it one sure lesson: instead of fearing the words, "I don't know you," we can prepare now for the assurance that the door to the feast will be open to us.

Have we made Jesus both Savior and Lord of our lives? Do we guard the gift of the Spirit given to us? Do we look eagerly to the day of his coming?

The end of this parable is the beginning of the wedding feast. And Christ Himself has made a way for all to come and dine. The second coming is really the beginning: the beginning of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Will you be ready?