“…his Bride has made herself ready…” (Rev. 19:7).
- Tomorrow will be a day of glorification for the saved.
- Our response to God’s grace will enable us to take our place as Christ’s eternal bride.
- We need to live ready for the return of Christ.
The more we learn about our future as believers, the more capable we become at living life the way our Lord wants us to live today. It is a life of faith, and that faith is toward God. It believes that God rewards those who seek after him.1 That reward includes a life-giving relationship with God today, but it also includes a change in our very nature, and results finally in a permanent destiny of holiness.
ready for a relationship with God
In my systematic theology I discussed how “the sinful human nature limits one’s capacity to love God as he should, and tends to redirect genuine love towards self or other lesser beings. Becoming a true Christian involves re-establishing this vertical relationship with God, and nurturing it for the rest of one’s life.”2 Marriage is an analogy for that relationship, as shown in the following scriptures:
- “For your Creator will be your husband; the LORD of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth.”3
- “Then I passed by you again and saw that you had reached the age for love. I spread my cloak over you and covered your nakedness. I swore a solemn oath to you and entered into a marriage covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.”4
- “And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD.”5
- “It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success.”6
- “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”7
- “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. … This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”8
Marriages are not eternal. The spouse that we have in this life will not be our spouse in the renewal that takes place at Christ’s second coming. Our Lord himself said that “in the resurrection (we) neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”9 But marriage is part of God’s plan for most of us now because he uses that relationship to teach us about our relationship with him. There are several ways that the marriage relationship informs us about our present and future relationship with Jesus.
- The bride is valuable to the bridegroom, and vice –versa.
- People gain satisfaction in bringing together successful couples.
- Happy couples view each other as rescuers.
- Marriage takes commitment and self-sacrifice.
- Most marriages produce offspring.
- The possibility of marriage leads some to make life changes.
- Mutual loyalty is essential for marriages to survive.
- Marriages are in danger because others may seek to break up the relationship.
- Longevity in a marriage suggests happiness and mutual appreciation.
- Pleasing one another becomes the norm in a good marriage.
The parable of the ten virgins
One place where Jesus teaches about being ready for him when he comes is the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. The virgins are not espoused to the bridegroom in the parable, they are just looking to be invited to the wedding feast. But the concept of living ready for the coming kingdom is the major teaching illustrated by the parable.
1 “At that time the kingdom from the sky will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were thoughtless, and five were intelligent. 3 Because when the thoughtless took their lamps, they took no oil for them, 4 but the intelligent took flasks of oil for their lamps. 5 Since the bridegroom was overdue, they all became sleepy and dozed off. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the thoughtless said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the intelligent answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go instead to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 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. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Honestly I am telling you, I do not know you.’ 13 So keep alert, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”10
WHY JESUS USED PARABLES LIKE THIS.
Parables are not a topic themselves. They were used to illustrate and explain something that had already been taught. The word parable means something placed alongside to explain. It is based on the combination of the Greek verb ballō, which means to place or throw something, and the preposition para, which means alongside.
Recently, when teaching in Africa, I used a photo of my family as a parable. I showed my students the photo, and then shared how the quality of my family has served to testify of the authenticity of my ministry. Some of the men said that their wives and families were actually opposed to their ministry, so we all surrounded them and prayed that God would change that.
WHAT JESUS HAD ALREADY TAUGHT ABOUT HIS SECOND COMING.
He had taught that his coming would bring judgment on some, rescue for others. He said “The harvest is the conclusion of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned up with fire, so will it be at the conclusion of the age. … The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.”11 This judgment is real, and we don’t do anyone a favour if we fail to warn them. But the good news is that the rescue we look forward to is real too.
He had commanded his disciples to be ready for his coming. He commanded them (and us) to “stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But be aware of this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed alert and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”12
He had answered his disciples’ three questions in detail about the timing of his coming.13
They asked when the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed. Jesus had told them that the temple would be destroyed, and that not one stone would be left upon another. The disciples could not imagine that happening. They asked him when these things would happen. He told them exactly when. He said they would happen within one generation. This could mean within the lifetimes of those who were listening to him, or it could be more specific – a 40 year period. Jesus predicted that in AD 30, and the Roman attack under General Titus began in 66 AD, and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD: exactly 40 years from Jesus’ prediction. Prophecy fulfilled.
They asked what his second coming would be like. They asked him what the sign of his coming would be. He didn’t avoid that question either. He told them his coming would not be gradual, or symbolic. It would be sudden and unmistakable. It would be like lightning flashing across the sky. Nobody misses lightning. He also used buzzards as an illustration. I was riding my bike on the Colonial Parkway this week, and I noticed a group of about seven buzzards in the woods just on the side of the road. I didn’t see a dead animal, but I knew it was there. The buzzards were visible signs. Sun darkened, stars shaking, Christ appearing in the sky, some people taken, others left – it will be obvious. He said it would be like Noah’s flood. Nobody is going to sleep through that.
They also asked how long the age would last between his first and second comings. Jesus did not give them a specific answer to that question. Instead, he explained that there would be a lot of signs to show people that they are still in that age between the advents. He called these the birth pangs. Birth pangs are signs that the baby is on his way, but they can last a long time. That was the point. Here is a list of birth pang signs taken from Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21:
- False messiahs.
- Wars, revolutions, and international strife.
- Famines, earthquakes, pestilences.
- Fearful events, great signs from heaven.
- Apostasy and schism.
- Persecution, false prophets.
- Increased wickedness, Love growing cold, family betrayal.
- Gospel preached to all nations.
Not one of these is a sign of the immediate end of the age. Instead, all the signs show that we are still living in that age. Jesus wanted his disciples – and we who are also living in that age – to live ready for its end. Snodgrass writes that “parables about the future are not intended to satisfy curiosity. They are intended to alter life in the present. By focusing on judgment and the Master’s return, the focus of these parables is to encourage faithfulness, wisdom and preparation.”14
HOW THE PARABLE OF THE VIRGINS EXPLAINS WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE READY.
Not everyone is as ready as she thinks she is (2). All of the young ladies thought that they were ready for the big party, but only some of them were. For most parties today, that does not really matter. But for the second coming, it matters. We cannot afford to be unprepared for that. Those who are not invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb will by default be doing battle with the angels at Armageddon – a battle they will lose. Ultimately, they will be thrown into the lake of fire, and suffer the second death.
The real difference is not the oil, but the relationship (12). Some people get hung up on the symbol. I’ve been taught all my life that the oil was a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and it was. But in this parable, the oil stands for the preparation itself. When the bridegroom explains why he was denying them entrance, he didn’t blame it on their lack of oil. He said he didn’t know them. The question we should be asking is not what we can bring to the party. The question is will the host recognize us? Those he does not acknowledge will weep and gnash their teeth because they were unprepared for his coming.15
The thoughtless had lamps, but they started going out (8). Some people are trusting in their ministries to get them into the party. Jesus had told his disciples that they are the light of the world. The lamps seem to speak to that reality. But sharing God’s glory by influencing the world around us is not our qualification. Nobody does enough for their works to count toward their eternal destiny.
Those who were ready went in, and the door was shut (10). This tells me that the grace that the LORD offers us today to come to him is a limited time offer. If we fail to respond to his invitation today, we will not get a second chance on the coming day. There will be no restoration for those who are unprepared. There will be only remorse, shame, agony and death.
The Christian life is a marathon, not a short sprint (5). We all know people who make great starts in their attempts to live the Christian life, but then get sidetracked by some failure. The intelligent virgins in Jesus’ story were ready to wait for as long as it took. They did not have a plan B. The thoughtless virgins were OK with waiting for a while, but if the party were delayed too long, they would think of other options. Like Abraham’s wife, Sarah, in the Old Testament, when the promised baby did not come, she introduced her maid, Hagar, into the picture. Bad choice. We need to stick with God’s plan A, no matter how long it takes.
SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR LIVING READY TODAY.
Invest yourself in the coming kingdom . Jesus gave another parable – that of the talents — to encourage us to invest ourselves in the kingdom that will appear when the king does. We invest in the kingdom by getting into the word of God, which describes it. We invest in the kingdom by fellowshipping with the King. We invest in the kingdom by fellowshipping with other kingdom citizens.
Serve Christ by serving others. Both the parable of the talents, and that of the sheep & goats encourage us to serve others and meet other people’s needs. That is one way to prepare for eternity. The light shining from our lamps is light that helps other to see the God we belong to.
Resist shortcuts to righteousness. The intelligent virgins were willing to pay the full price of admission. They knew that they would only have one chance of joining the party, so they invested in the extra oil that they would need in order to be ready when the bridegroom made his appearance.
Eliminate distractions. Jesus had taught in the parable of the soils that some people would make a good start in the kingdom, but then would be sidetracked by other desires and worries. 16 The intelligent virgins stayed on target.
Be real. The parable of the sheep & goats shows us that not everyone who looks and sounds like an authentic Christian is really an authentic Christian. In fact, there was a long period of time when all ten virgins appeared to be ready for the party.
Sometimes the words of Jesus are designed to comfort the troubled, and sometimes they are designed to trouble the comfortable. I hope you have been troubled by what you have read; I know I have been troubled writing it. If this message has challenged you in your Christian walk, get together with some other Christians you respect and talk and pray about it. Take advantage of the time you have to recommit yourself to living ready for our Lord’s return.
LORD, we are in this for as long as it takes. We commit ourselves to living ready today and every day until you burst through the clouds. Show us how to make ourselves ready for your coming kingdom.
- Hebrews 11:6.
- Jefferson Vann, An Advent Christian Systematic Theology. (Kindle Direct Publishing, 2014). ch. 6.
- Isaiah 54:5 NLT.
- Ezekiel 16:8 NET.
- Hosea 2:19-20 NRSV.
- John 3:29 NLT.
- 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 NIV.
- Ephesians 5:25-27, 32 ESV.
- Matthew 22:30 ESV.
- Matthew 25:1-13.
- Matthew 13:39-40, 49.
- Matthew 24:42-44.
- Matthew 24:3.
- K. R. Snodgrass, “Parable.” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 600.
- Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28.
- Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8.