The Bridegroom Is Coming!
Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 25:1-13
One of the happiest moments in any culture is a wedding. I’m sure there is some grouchy culture out there that hates weddings, but almost always they are times of celebration with beautiful dresses, fancy decorations, and big parties. As such, weddings capture the imagination, which is why so many of our great stories include a wedding.
You probably noticed that Jesus uses a wedding scene in the parable we are studying today. Like other wedding stories, he creates a powerful scene. But unlike so many other wedding stories, Jesus’s wedding story does not end with “And they lived happily ever after.” On the one hand, Jesus uses this wedding story to offer great hope to those who are in Christ. But mostly, he uses a wedding scene to lovingly but firmly warn us about the consequences of not being ready for his return.
So this morning, we get to study a fascinating parable that makes a relatively simple point but that is full of significance for us. But before we get to that point we need to begin by establishing…
I. The Context of the Parable (v. 1)
I’d like to set the table for the rest of our study by emphasizing three truths about the context of this parable. First…
Jesus is continuing to exhort us regarding preparations for his return. Remember that since 24:32, Jesus has been challenging us regarding how to be ready for his return at the end of the Tribulation.
And this focus continues in our text. In v. 1 Jesus says that he is talking about “the kingdom of heaven,” which he will establish after his return. Therefore, Jesus is especially challenging those who will be alive at the end of the Tribulation when he returns. They need to be ready to meet the Lord so they can enter his kingdom.
However there is still a lot of significance for us in what Jesus says, because none of us knows how much time we have. The rapture could occur at any moment, and Christians would suddenly be in the Lord’s presence.
And James 4:14 states, “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” So no matter how healthy or young we may be, none of us are guaranteed another day on this earth. Therefore, the Scriptures urge us to live every day as if it could be our last, with no regrets. The 2nd truth about the context…
Jesus uses Jewish wedding customs to illustrate his point. Therefore, we need to understand some Jewish wedding customs to get the full picture. In particular, there were 3 stages to the typical Jewish wedding. The first stage was the engagement. Typically the father of the bride and the groom would make an agreement.
And the 2nd stage was betrothal. This was the wedding ceremony. The bride and the groom would exchange vows in the presence of family and friends. Afterwards, they were legally married; however, they didn’t immediately consummate the wedding or live together. Instead, the groom would prepare his home to receive his bride. This could take up to a year.
And once he was ready, the 3rd stage was the wedding feast, which is the focus of this parable. It was a big event, and typically everyone in the village was invited. Beforehand the bride and her bridesmaids would get dressed up and wait for the groom at her parents’ home. Then the festivities would begin when the groom and his groomsmen paraded through town to the bride’s house, where he would take his bride.
Then the bride, the groom and the wedding party would parade through town on the way to the wedding feast. After several days the bride and groom were finally left alone. Again, this parable will especially draw on this 3rd The 3rd truth about the context is…
We must stay focused on the main point. It’s very important when you study a parable that Jesus’ parables typically focus on a single application. That’s different from an allegory like Pilgrim’s Progress where pretty much detail has some kind of deeper meaning, and the read it well you have to find that deeper significance.
But we shouldn’t interpret the parables this way, because Jesus typically makes a single point in each parable. Therefore, it’s our job to find that main point and to stay focused on it. And in 13, Jesus tells us precisely what his point is (read). Jesus is challenging us to always be ready for his return.
So resist the urge to assign significance to every little detail of this parable. Instead, stay focused on Jesus’ message. With this foundation, let’s dive into the parable. Notice first…
II. The Character of the Virgins (vv. 1–4)
Verse 1 states that this parable is about 10 virgins. In keeping with what I just said, there is no significance to the number 10 or to the fact that they are virgins. These girls are simply attendants to the bride.
And the bridegroom has announced that he is coming get his bride, so these ladies have gone to the bride’s house to prepare. You can imagine the excitement in the air, as these ladies get dressed and then eagerly await the groom’s arrival.
However, the 10 bridesmaids didn’t all make the same preparations, because they didn’t have the same character (read v. 2). Specifically, v. 3 says…
The 5 foolish bridesmaids were unprepared for a delay (v. 3). Most likely Jesus is not describing the kind of oil lamps that we are familiar with, because there is another Greek word that would typically be used for a lantern. Instead, Jesus is probably talking about torches. These torches would consist of a long pole and cloth wrapped tightly around the top of the pole. And then they would soak the cloth in olive oil and light the torch.
And these torches were very important to the wedding parade. Their light was part of the show, and they also identified the members of the wedding party. So those torches were very important for honoring the newlyweds and for honoring the bridal party.
So before the bridegroom arrives, all the virgins look dressed and ready. But Jesus says they were not all the same. 5 of them were foolish. Specifically, they demonstrated their foolishness by not bringing enough oil in case the bridegroom was delayed. Again, we need to be careful not to read more into this than there is. Jesus simply says these girls demonstrate their foolish hearts by not preparing for a delay. In contrast…
The 5 wise bridesmaids were prepared for a delay (v. 4). Jesus characterizes these 5 ladies as wise, and he uses the same Greek adjective (numphios) that he used in 24:45 of the wise servant. Just like the wise servant revealed his character by doing his master’s will, the wise bridesmaids reveal their character by planning ahead. Specifically, they brought extra oil, in case the bridegroom didn’t come immediately.
Again, we need to be careful not to read more into this than we should. We don’t need to figure out what the oil represents, and Jesus isn’t saying that you need to have an emergency fund in the bank or extra food in the garage. He is simply saying that these girls revealed their hearts by how they prepared or failed to prepare. And as we go the significance of this will become clearer. Then the story continues in vv. 5–9 with…
III. The Announcement of the Bridegroom (vv. 5–9)
I think we can all imagine the scene at the bride’s home that afternoon and evening. It’s hectic as the girls prepare for the wedding feast, but there is great excitement in the air. Finally they are ready, and they are probably expecting the bridegroom to come in the early evening, but he doesn’t come. And the time continues to drag on.
Again, we do have to be careful about assigning significance to the details of a parable, but I believe Jesus is hinting at the fact that he may not return as soon as the disciples expected. After all, Jesus has already hinted at a delay in the illustration of Noah’s generation and in the parable of the faithful and wise servant. This would be significant in the coming years, because the disciples seem to have just assumed that Jesus would return very quickly. So Jesus is preparing them fact that he might not return immediately.
So returning to the story, the evening continues to drag on. Eager anticipation turns into sitting around making small talk, and eventually small talk turns into heavy eyes. Finally everyone is asleep. That’s not bad, because both the wise and the foolish are sleeping; rather, it’s natural when the hour is late.
But then late at night (the Greek term doesn’t have to mean exactly at midnight), the whole house is suddenly awakened by a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him.” Peaceful sleep turns into sheer craziness as the girls fix their hair, fix their dresses, and “trimmed their lamps.” And the process of trimming the lamps reveals the differences among the bridesmaids. On the one hand…
The wise virgins were prepared. Trimming the lamps involved removing the burnt edges of the cloth, soaking the remaining cloth in oil, and then lighting the torches. And since the wise virgins are prepared, there’s no panic. They trim their lamps, light them on fire, and then they eagerly stand at the door ready to join the parade and go to the feast. It’s an exciting, happy moment for them. But the foolish virgins didn’t share their excitement. Instead, panic sets in becasue…
The foolish virgins were unprepared. The foolish virgins also trim their torches, but when they try to light them, they just smolder a bit, because there is little oil left in the cloth. They immediately panic as they realize that they are in trouble. If they don’t get some oil, they won’t be able to participate in the parade.
In desperation they beg the wise virgins for some of their oil (v. 8). But the wise virgins reply ( 9), “No…” We might think that this is a pretty cold response, but it’s actually quite smart. If they shared their oil, there wouldn’t be enough to keep any of the torches burning through the end of the parade and none of the 10 girls would be allowed to enter. So instead, they urge the 5 foolish virgins to quickly go buy more oil, because that’s there only hope for participating in the parade.
Since Jesus includes this detail about the foolish pleading for help from the wise, I’m confident that Jesus is trying to make a point. Specifically, every individual is personally responsible to prepare for the Kingdom. We will all stand before the Lord based on our own preparation, not someone else’s.
Therefore, no one will enter heaven because their parents were godly or because they grew up in a wonderful church or because they lived in a Christian community or nation. No, each of us will stand or fall based on whether or not we are ready. Specifically we will stand or fall based on whether or not we have received Christ as Savior.
And if you are in Christ, you don’t have to fear death or Christ’s return. No you can look forward to them with the same excitement and anticipation as the wise bridesmaids, because you are secure in Christ. But if you are not in Christ, you will someday share the foolish bridesmaid’s panic and terror.
So if you have never come to Christ for salvation, do not wait until it is too late. Don’t put it off until a more convenient time, because you don’t know how much time you have. This could be your last opportunity to receive the gospel, so receive Christ today. If you do, you can leave confidence no matter what surprises are ahead. Returning to the parable vv. 10–12 then describe…
IV. The Arrival of the Bridegroom (vv. 10–12): Notice first…
The wise bridesmaids entered the feast (v. 10). While the foolish bridesmaids are off trying to buy oil, the groom arrives at the house. And for the wise bridesmaids, it’s a wonderful occasion. They get to participate in the joyful parade through town, and then they get to enter the feast at the bridegroom’s house where they celebrate for several days.
In context, this feast clearly represents the Kingdom that Christ will establish after his return. It is the magnificent kingdom that God promised Israel throughout the OT. And thinking especially of the Tribulation saints who will endure so much, it is going to be a welcome relief.
Serving Christ will be terribly costly for them during the Tribulation, as they struggle to survive. But when they see Christ, and they enter his kingdom, they will be so grateful that they received the gospel and that they endured in anticipation of Christ’s return. As I said last week, you will never give more to God in this life, and he will return in the next. He is always worth every cost. But the story does not end so well for the foolish bridesmaids because…
The foolish bridesmaids missed the feast (vv. 11–12). When the foolish bridesmaids returned from buying oil, everyone was gone. So in a panic they hurried to the bridegroom’s home, hoping to join the celebration. However, when they arrive, the door is already shut. I imagine them pounding on the door, and 11 says they are pleading, “Lord, Lord…”
Typically, they wouldn’t refer to the bridegroom as “Lord,” so at this point, Jesus begins the shift from the parable to his interaction with the lost at the final judgment.
And the shift continues in v. 12. The bridegroom comes to the door, and normally, he would probably let the girls in. After all, the whole community was typically invited to these celebrations. However, Jesus wants to make a very significant point regarding entrance to the kingdom. As a result, notice the bridegroom’s somber reply (read).
The words of the bridegroom call to mind Jesus’ warning in Luke 13:22–30. Hopefully you noticed the parallels between this text and ours. Jesus is again talking about entrance into the kingdom, and he is very clear that most will miss the kingdom. That’s not surprising, but what is a bit jarring is that many will be surprised that they are not allowed to enter. According to v. 26, they will think that they knew the Lord, but Jesus says, “I never knew you.”
Jesus is just as blunt in Matthew 7:21–23. What’s startling about v. 22 is that Jesus is talking about people who will appear spiritually impressive. They will think that they know the Lord. And notice that they didn’t lose their salvation. No Jesus says, “I never knew you.” So what is Jesus’ point?
To put it bluntly, just because someone thinks they are right with God doesn’t mean he is a Christian. Just because someone identifies with the church, looks spiritual, and even participates in ministry, does not mean he is a Christian. Quite the opposite, many people who identify outwardly with Christ are not truly his children.
So all 3 of these passages call us to heed Paul’s command in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.” Now, I’ll say up front that I don’t naturally like to talk about this, because when I was a kid, I was plagued by unfounded doubts about my salvation, because I was looking for assurance in the wrong places, specifically in how I felt. It was miserable and destructive, so I hate to see genuine Christians plagued with unfounded doubts. If you have a similar struggle, I would love to talk with you sometime about the proper grounds of assurance.
But on the other hand, it would be tragic if someone in this room has a false assurance. He or she is absolutely confident that they are ready to meet the Lord, but they are actually on their way to hell, because they have never truly been born again.
So I want to ask you, “Do you believe the gospel?” Are resting in Christ alone as your hope of eternal life? And is the gospel making a difference in how you live? I’m not asking if you are perfect, but do you feel the conviction of the Spirit? Do you grieve over your sin and long to obey God’s will? And do you love the brethren. 1 John says that these are the kinds of fruit that true spiritual life produces.
If you have them, rejoice and be confident that are saved. But if not, it doesn’t matter if you know all the answers and can talk the talk, you need to talk with someone and make sure you are truly saved and ready to meet the Lord. You do not want to end up like the foolish bridesmaids—locked out from the Kingdom of Christ. Notice finally in v. 13…
V. The Application of the Parable (v. 13)
Jesus essentially repeats the same command he gave in 24:42. Again he warns the Tribulation generation and all of that we don’t know when Jesus is coming, so we must “watch.” Again, this doesn’t mean that we sit on a secluded hillside, and look up at the sky. It means that we make sure we are saved and that by God’s grace we are faithfully serving the Lord with no regrets.
So if you are in Christ, I think it’s important to emphasize that you will never find yourself in the position of the foolish bridesmaids. Someday you will feast in the presence of the Lord, and it will be awesome. See that prize very clearly, and stay motivated to keep going. Christ is worth it.
But while we don’t need to fear missing the kingdom, we still have our own day of accountability coming. 2 Corinthians 5:10 states, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
So are you preparing well for that day? Don’t stumble through your Christian life, constantly getting tripped up by the cares of this world and sinful passions. No, seize the day!
Commit your energy to studying God’s Word with a heart to know and worship your Savior. Glorify him by walking in holiness and love. Make the church a priority, so that your soul is fed and so that you are impacting those around you. There is so much to be gained and so much to be done, if you will commit to the church. And be a witness to those around you. I’m sure you know people who would be shut out if Christ came today. You don’t know how much time they have or that you have, so share the gospel with boldness and love. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the house in which the Son of Man is coming.”