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The Ten Virgins: What It Means to Be Ready (Matthew 25:1-13)

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April 10, 2005 265

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish ones took their lamps, they did not take extra266 olive oil with them. 4 But the wise ones took flasks of olive oil with their lamps. 5 When the bridegroom was delayed a long time,267 they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is here! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 9 ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There won’t be enough for you and for us. Go instead to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they had gone to buy it, the bridegroom arrived, and those who were ready went inside with him to the wedding banquet. Then the door was shut. 11 Later, the other virgins came too, saying, ‘Lord, lord! Let us in!’ 12 But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you!’ 13 Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:1-13). 268

Introduction

How many of you have ever run out of gas? In most audiences, this would be nearly everyone. I cannot verify these statistics, so I caution you that they may be flawed. It would appear that every year at least a half million people call for help because they have run out of gas. Besides flat tires, dead batteries, and misplaced keys, running out of gas ranks right up there in the reasons why people call for roadside service. One might understand this happening a generation ago, when gas gauges were not entirely accurate, and when all the warning lights of our day were non-existent. But now we have warning messages that our fuel is running low (giving us perhaps an hour more of driving), and then additional progressively urgent warnings indicating just how many estimated miles of driving we have left. One must say that most people who run out of fuel are “without excuse.”

Why, then, do we do it, seemingly as often today as people did years ago, when all of the advantages of technology were not available? We’ll come back to this question at the end of our message. In our text, it is not gasoline that is lacking, but olive oil “ the fuel burned in the lamps of Jesus’ day. And, I believe we will discover that the five foolish virgins did not really “run out” of oil; they never had it.

The Context

Before we get to the parable, we would do well to remind ourselves of the context. In response to the disciples’ request to know what sign would signal our Lord’s coming and the end of the age (Matthew 24:3), Jesus spoke to them about the last days. He made it clear that the end would not come immediately, but only after considerable time and troubles (Matthew 24:4-31). Our Lord issued various warnings (Matthew 24:4-5, 10-11, 23-28), because during these troubled times there would be many interlopers, who would seek to turn men’s attention and affections away from Jesus, the true Messiah.

In verses 32-51 of chapter 24, Jesus speaks of what His disciples can and cannot know, and on the basis of both, He gives some specific words of instruction regarding the last times.

32 “Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 36 “But as for that day and hour no one knows it”not even the angels in heaven”except the Father alone. 37 For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 There will be two women grinding grain with a mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. 45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, 50 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, 51 and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:32-51).

The parable of the fig tree is employed to teach us that there are certain signs which indicate the “season” of His return. When the fig tree begins to sprout new leaves, we can be assured that summer is near. So, too, when we see “all these things” “ that is, the things Jesus has just described, including the abomination of desolation “ then we can be assured that the season of our Lord’s return is at hand. Just how broad is this time frame, this season? One generation in length (Matthew 24:34).

Although we are meant to recognize the “season” of our Lord’s return, we are not meant to know the exact time “ not the day nor the hour. This is consistent with God’s dealings with this world in the past. Specifically, we can see this in relation to the flood. No one “ not even Noah “ knew the exact day or hour that the flood would come. I believe we can safely say that at least Noah knew the season. We can see this when we read in Genesis 7:

13 On that very day Noah entered the ark, accompanied by his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, along with his wife and his sons’ three wives. 14 They entered, along with every living creature after its kind, every animal after its kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life came into the ark to Noah. 16 Those that entered were male and female, just as God commanded him. Then the Lord shut him in. 17 The flood engulfed the earth for forty days. As the waters increased, they lifted the ark and raised it above the earth (Genesis 7:12-17).

Noah had spent many years building the ark. He knew that the season for divine judgment was near, but he did not know the exact day. Then one day God gave orders to board the ark. It was God who closed the door, and then He sent the flood. The people of Noah’s day had no “early warning” that the flood was coming. When judgment came, it came quickly, and without warning; there was no opportunity for those under judgment to change their minds and to board the ark.

The same will be true in last days (Matthew 24:39). There will be no dramatic indications that “the day” or “the hour” (of judgment) has come. Two men will be in the field, going about their normal daily routine; one will be taken, the other will be left. Two women will be grinding grain, just as they normally would; one will be taken, the other will be left (Matthew 24:40-41).

The application is now spelled out in verses 42-44. Since no one can know the day or the hour that the Lord will come, we must be constantly in a state of alertness, ready at any moment. Jesus illustrates His point with the example of a burglary. If the owner of the home had known the hour when the burglary would occur, he would have made sure to prevent it. But, in fact, he did not know the hour. One might even conjecture that he was not even aware that a burglary would take place. Thus, it caught him off guard, to his loss.

We might illustrate the need for readiness in a different way. Firemen are trained and equipped to fight fires. They know there will be fires, but they don’t know when. And so they are in a constant state of readiness, even when they sleep. Their clothing is all laid out so they can quickly dress and get to the fire. Sometimes I see the fire truck outside the grocery store where I shop. The firemen are in the store, buying food. But they also have their portable radios in hand, ready to rush out if word of a fire is received.

We, too, must be ready, Jesus tells us. We do not know the hour of His return, and more than this, the coming of the Son of Man will be at a time that we don’t expect. From the context of chapter 24, I am tempted to think that while His return will be preceded by very difficult days, the actual day of His return will appear to be trouble-free, much like the day Noah and his family entered the ark. (I’ll bet the sky was blue and clear all day long.) When Jesus returns, people will be going about their normal routines because there will be no sign of imminent danger. We therefore must be ready at all times.

Just what does being alert look like? In Matthew 24:45-51, Jesus describes how He desires to find His disciples when He does return “ going about the tasks He has assigned them. The “faithful and wise slave” knows that his master may not return for some time, but he also knows that he has been instructed to feed and care for his fellow slaves (Matthew 24:45). And so he uses the time of his master’s absence to fulfill his mission. And because this is his normal routine, his master will find him at his appointed work when he returns, even though the hour of his return is unknown (Matthew 24:46-47). The evil slave interprets his master’s prolonged delay very differently. He concludes that his master’s return is yet in the distant future. He may also assume that he will be given some forewarning, so that he will have time to “clean up his act” in time to look good for his master. And so he misappropriates his master’s resources and ignores his master’s instructions. Instead of caring for his fellow slaves by feeding them, he feeds himself and his cronies, indulging himself and others in that which should be given to his fellow slaves. This man will be cut in two and assigned to hell with his fellow hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:48-51).

The Parable of the Ten Virgins

There are several things we need to consider before we attempt to interpret this parable. First, we need to recognize that this is a selective account. There are many details omitted. From where is the groom coming? Where are the virgins waiting? What will happen there? What role do the lamps play in this ceremony and celebration? And, perhaps most notable, where is the bride? She is never mentioned. It is obviously the groom who is central to this story (after all, it is about the coming of the Messiah at the end of the age).

Second, we may not be looking at a typical wedding. I doubt that in most wedding celebrations the groom would exclude bridesmaids for forgetting to bring oil for their lamps. I doubt that arriving late, as five of the virgins did, would keep them from gaining entrance to the celebration. This seems to be a rather exceptional situation, and not a typical event. Thus, knowledge of how wedding ceremonies were conducted in those days (largely gained from sources outside the Bible) will not prove that helpful. This extra-biblical information is not the key to understanding our text.

Third, we need to set aside our 20th century assumptions about weddings, bridesmaids and lamps. Specifically, we must not think of these lamps in terms that are familiar to us. The word which is used for “lamp” here (lampas) is not the normal term for “lamp” in Matthew, or in the New Testament. It is used five times in this parable of the virgins in Matthew 25, once in John 18:3, once in Acts 20:8, and twice in Revelation (4:5; 8:10). The lampas is more of a torch, a larger, brighter “lamp” than that which is normally used inside a house. In John 18:3, the lampas was the torch held by those who came in the night to arrest Jesus near the Garden of Gethsemane. There were many of these larger lamps in the room where Paul was teaching in Acts 20:8 (thus the extra warmth which must have contributed to the young man’s sleepiness and fatal fall).

From what I have learned, this lampas was not like any of the oil lamps my wife has collected. There was no glass chimney, no neat wick or adjusting device, and no attached tank in which oil would be stored. It was more like a large, flat, bowl, with a rag or rope-like “wick.” Apparently this kind of lamp could be attached to a pole, and used as an outdoor torch to illuminate one’s steps in the darkness. The word “trim,” employed by almost every translation, is a word which is found ten times in the King James Version, but only once (here in Matthew 25:7) is it rendered “trim.” This gives us a modern-day mental image of a bridesmaid (virgin) adjusting the wick upward in her glass-topped lamp, lighting it with a match. I think she was preparing the lamp by fixing it to a pole and then lighting the rag or primitive wick.

Fourth, we need to rid ourselves of the false conception that the five foolish virgins ran out of oil. The text is clear on this point; the five foolish virgins never brought any oil with them. A footnote in the NET Bible indicates that the word “extra” is not found in the Greek text, but has been supplied because the context implies it. I don’t think so at all. Surely the author is able to clearly supply this detail, so crucial to the interpretation of this parable. But he did not. Why do we wish to think they brought any oil with them? Perhaps it is because we read that the virgins claimed that their lamps were “going out” in verse 8. Would they all have been burning their torches for lighting the inside of the house where they all waited and slept? Would there not be the normal lighting in that place? Why would all five run out at the same time, just when they were preparing their lamps?

I would understand that the lamps were transported without oil in them. If they traveled in the daylight, these lamps would not have been needed on their journey to the wedding place. The reason the wise virgins brought oil was because the oil was carried in flasks and added to the lamps at the time of need. There must have been some residue of oil on the rag or wick of the five empty lamps, which quickly burned out, only moments after being lit. This would explain why all five torches went out at the same time. Perhaps, too, these foolish virgins minimized their foolishness by describing their plight as “running out” so as to look less foolish.

Not only is the text clear about the foolish virgins bringing no oil with them, it is difficult to interpret the parable if, indeed, they did run out of oil. The difference between the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins is salvation. These five foolish virgins were not once saved, but then “ran out” of salvation. They were lost, and never had it. They never had oil. They were just empty lamps. They looked useful, they seemed to give promise of light, but they never produced it. Let us not seek to supply what the author has purposefully omitted (any oil) in a way that makes us feel better about the story. We are not supposed to feel good about these five foolish, oil-less virgins.

With these things in mind, let us seek to paraphrase the story. There was a wedding, to which ten young virgins were invited as participants. It would seem that in some way they were instructed to bring lamps, so that at the right time they could form or lead some kind of torchlight procession. All ten virgins brought their lamps, but only five brought the necessary oil as well. They all waited for the groom to arrive. Time passed and darkness set in. The groom tarried longer than expected and so all ten bridesmaids (virgins) slept until he arrived. Suddenly, at midnight someone cried out that the groom was approaching. All ten virgins are awakened by this cry, and they begin to prepare their lamps for ceremonial service. The need for these lamps is now particularly obvious (it is midnight, pitch dark). The five foolish virgins ask the five wise virgins to share their oil, but their request is denied. It wasn’t that the five wise virgins didn’t care; it was because there would not be enough oil for all ten lamps. Better to have a torchlight parade with five working lamps than with ten non-functioning, lightless, lamps. The foolish virgins were told to go purchase their own oil, which they did. But during their absence the torchlight parade took place, and the groom, accompanied by the five wise virgins entered the celebration hall. The doors were then closed. Later, the five foolish virgins arrived, with oil, but it was too late. That part of the festivities had already been completed. There was no need for the services of these five virgins, and they were not allowed to enter and join in the wedding celebration. Even though the five virgins pled, “Lord, Lord … ,” they were sent away with the words, “I do not know you!” Our Lord then concludes this parable by applying it to His disciples (and thus the church). He urges His disciples to stay alert, because they, too, do not know the day or the hour of His return.

As we consider the interpretation and application of this parable, we should begin by observing that it is but one of several parables in this discourse. All of the parables have to do with what we do and do not know about the coming of Christ at the end of the age. Jesus assures us that we should be able to discern the season (the general time-frame) of His return (Matthew 24:32-34). One particularly significant indicator of the season is the abomination of desolation and Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:29-31). But while we may know the season (within the span of a generation), we cannot and will not know the day nor the hour of His return. Because we do not know precisely when He will return, we must be constantly in a state of alertness. We must be ready. This parable is about being ready. It highlights one aspect of what it means to be ready.

All of the parables in this discourse have to do with being ready for His return, but we are seeking to discern the unique message of this parable. What is it that this parable teaches or underscores that we don’t find in the other parables in this passage? In a moment I will make some observations which should help us identify the unique message of this parable. But first, let’s consider what this parable shares in common with the other parables in this section.

This parable, like all the others in this section, Jesus tells to His disciples privately (see Matthew 24:3). So far as I can tell, neither the crowds nor the Jewish religious leadership are present. This is private instruction, for those who are followers Jesus, or who think they are. We should keep in mind that Judas was among the twelve who heard this parable, and he was not a true believer (John 6:64, 70-71; 13:2, 10-11, 18-20).

This parable, like the others in this section, instructs us to be ready, when Jesus returns to this earth (compare Matthew 24:42, 44, 50; 25:13).

This parable is consistent with the rest of this discourse in that it indicates that the Lord’s return will not be nearly as soon as the disciples suppose.

While the people were listening to these things, Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately (Luke 19:11).

“When the bridegroom was delayed a long time, they all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matthew 25:5; compare 24:6, 48).

This parable, like the others, portrays the return of Christ as sudden and unexpected (compare Matthew 24:37-41, 43, 50; 25:5-6). In part, it is unexpected because so much time has passed.

This parable, like the others, is based upon the premise that we do not know the day nor the hour of our Lord’s return:

“Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13; compare 24:26, 42-44, 50).

This parable, like the others, indicates that the Lord’s coming will distinguish one group of people from another (compare Matthew 24:37-41, 45-51; 25:1-12, 31-46). The one group enters in with our Lord, to enjoy fellowship with Him. The other group is kept out, and assigned to eternal torment.

This parable, like others in this section, indicates that this distinction between believers and unbelievers, between those who will enter the kingdom of heaven and those who will be confined in hell, may not be apparent until the coming of Christ. It is at the second coming, when men stand before our Lord, that their true spiritual status (and thus their destiny) is known. Several times in the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that there will be some surprises (regarding who is in the kingdom and who is not) when He returns.

The Unique Contribution of the Parable of the Ten Virgins

What, then, is the unique contribution of the parable of the ten virgins? Several clues to the unique message of this parable should be noted. First, we see that this parable describes what the “kingdom of heaven” will be like at the time of the second coming. Some would say (and I would agree) that this parable describes the condition of the church at the second coming. Jesus is speaking here (as in this entire discourse) to His disciples; He is not speaking to His adversaries, the Jewish religious leaders, nor to the crowds. Thus, this parable, like the others in this section, should serve as a warning to the church.

Second, we should observe that for some period of time the five foolish virgins were almost indistinguishable from the five wise virgins. The five foolish virgins addressed the groom as “Lord” twice (Matthew 25:11). The five foolish virgins looked just like the five wise virgins. They all were invited to the wedding celebration, and they all came, expecting to participate in the wedding. The five virgins were not different from the five wise virgins, except for one thing “ the foolish virgins brought their lamps but no oil.

Third, none of the ten virgins knew when the groom would arrive, and all ten slept when he took longer than expected to arrive. We do not find the five foolish virgins asleep, while the five wise virgins are busily at work. All slept, and all were awakened by the news of the groom’s approach. The emphasis here is not really on working, as it is in the earlier and later parables. This is because our salvation is not the result of our works, but of His work on Calvary (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Fourth, we are initially surprised (and even disappointed) that the five wise virgins will not share their oil with the foolish virgins. This is not because the five wise virgins were selfish. In the context of the story, sharing their oil may have meant that all ten would run short of oil. But when we come to the interpretation of this parable, we can see that the saved cannot share what they have in Christ with the lost. The lost will not enter heaven based on the salvation others have received. Each person is accountable for his own choices (see Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20; Jeremiah 31:29-30).

Fifth, we find it emphasized here that once our Lord returns, there is neither the time nor the opportunity for the five foolish virgins to change their course of unbelief. There is a “point of no return,” after which one’s rejection of Christ cannot be reversed. For some, this “point of no return” is death:

27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 28 so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28, emphasis mine).

For others (for those who are alive), the second coming of Christ will be the point of no return. We see this in 2 Thessalonians 2:

8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his arrival. 9 The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, 10 and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. 11 Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. 12 And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

In our text, the five foolish virgins are not given the time to reverse their folly, once the groom has come. They had their opportunity, and they lost it. Now it is too late.

Sixth, the outcome is either heaven or hell, and thus the key element is salvation. The wording of the five foolish virgins in our text is all too familiar to the reader of Matthew’s Gospel:

11 “Later, the other virgins came too, saying, ‘Lord, lord! Let us in!’ 12 But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you!’” (Matthew 25:11-12, emphasis mine)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven”only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23, emphasis mine)

Taking Matthew’s words literally (and not supplying words for him), I read that the difference between the foolish virgins and the wise virgins was one thing: the wise virgins had oil for their lamps, while the foolish virgins did not. The wise virgins had the opportunity to obtain oil, and did so. The foolish virgins had plenty of opportunity to procure oil, but did not.

It is possible to be in close contact with Christ, and with Christians, and yet not be saved. I am reminded of a similar passage in the Gospel of Luke:

23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” So he said to them, 24 “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, ‘Lord, let us in!’ But he will answer you, ‘I don’t know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will reply, ‘I don’t know where you come from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God. 30 But indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:23-27, emphasis mine).

Jesus is warning us in this parable that there will be a number of people who look like Christians, who associate with Christians, and who even think they are Christians, who will be shocked to learn that they are not saved at the return of our Lord. What a sobering thought. This text is not seeking to create uncertainty and doubt in the heart of the Christian. It is not seeking to rob the Christian of his assurance. But it is seeking to warn those who have a false assurance, but not salvation. In the last days, just as in Jesus’ time and today, there will be those who appear to be Christians, but are not:

“Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

60 Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” 61 When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” 66 After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer (John 6:60-66).

1 But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 5 They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these (2 Timothy 3:1-5, emphasis mine).

Jesus wants us to be careful about assuming we are saved, if indeed we are not. It is for this reason that the apostles challenge us to examine ourselves, to be sure we are in the faith:

5 Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you”unless, indeed, you fail the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)

1 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have experienced the Lord’s kindness (1 Peter 2:1-3).

We dare not assume that every one who claims to trust in Jesus is genuinely saved:

15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

28 Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. 29 I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears (Acts 20:28-31).

12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

We should remember that when Jesus spoke these words of warning in the parable of the ten virgins, Judas was among the disciples, and Judas was not a believer. Surely his true spiritual condition came as a great shock to the eleven.

I believe that the five foolish virgins had no oil for the very same reasons people continue to run out of gas, even when the flashing message on their instrument panel tells them they are. First, men don’t believe the warning signs. They don’t think things are as bad as they are reported to be. “I must have more gas than that!” Or, “I’ve gotten this same message before, and I’ve always been able to get to the gas station before running out.”

The Bible says that we are all sinners, under divine condemnation, condemned to hell:

9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one,

11 there is no one who understands,

there is no one who seeks God.

12 All have turned away, together they have become worthless;

there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”

13 “Their throats are open graves,

they deceive with their tongues,

the poison of asps is under their lips.”

14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,

16 ruin and misery are in their paths,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-18).

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

The Bible says that we are dead in our sins, and thus unable to save ourselves:

1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest … (Ephesians 2:1-3).

The Bible says that we cannot be saved by doing good works, but only through the work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).

The only way of salvation is for men to acknowledge their sin and to trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary:

But to all who have received him”those who believe in his name”he has given the right to become God’s children (John 1:12).

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed” 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:21-26).

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ”by grace you are saved!” 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Those who run out of gas (or refuse to buy oil) are the people who refuse to heed the warnings of God’s Word and the invitation of salvation through faith in Jesus. Those who don’t purchase fuel are those who don’t think they need it, at least at the moment.

Second, those who run out of gas are lulled into a false confidence by the fact that everything appears to be fine at the moment. The engine is running smoothly; there are no preliminary chugs or sputtering of the engine. And so we feel confident in our choice not to purchase fuel. Jesus told us that He would come at a time when we did not expect Him (Matthew 24:44). Apparently our Lord’s coming will be at a rather peaceful time, when there are no indications of trouble ahead. This is the way it was in the days of Noah. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. He will come at a time when it seems we are doing just fine.

Third, those who run out of fuel are those who wrongly suppose that they still have plenty of time to get it later. We know when our gas gauge is low. Good grief, we can see the flashing lights on the dash. But we lull ourselves into thinking that there is still plenty of time to deal with the problem. There will surely be another gas station ahead, and not too far. This false confidence has gotten many people into trouble. Those who think they will have other chances to come to faith in Jesus are making a very dangerous assumption. The coming of our Lord will be sudden and unexpected, and when He comes, all chances of changing our course have been forfeited. The coming of our Lord ends our opportunity to turn to Him in faith, and it seals our doom.

The coming of our Lord was not to be immediate, as the disciples supposed, but at a much more distant time. But when He does come, it will be without warning, and at a time we don’t expect Him. When He comes, our fate is sealed, and there will be no opportunity to change our minds then. We must therefore be prepared now (and from now on) by acknowledging our sins, our helplessness, our need for salvation, and by trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in our place. Being ready means, among other things (and especially in this parable), trusting in Jesus, and having our sins forgiven.

Must we wait until the coming of our Lord to learn, much to our dismay, that we were not really saved? God wants us to know for certain that we are saved. He wants us to be fully assured that our sins are forgiven and that we have a salvation that is certain. He wants us to be confident, because we are saved and we know it:

27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one” (John 10:27-30).

13 And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)”when you believed in Christ”you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Because of this, in fact, I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day (2 Timothy 1:12).

13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him (1 John 5:13-15).

At the second coming, we may be surprised that some whom we thought to be saved were not, but there is no need for us to be surprised. God has given us His Word, and on the basis of His Word, we find that there are certain confirmations and “vital signs” that assure us of our salvation in Christ.

First, there is the promise of His Word that all who believe in Jesus Christ as God’s provision for our sins will be saved:

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away (John 6:37).

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:8-13).

9 If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God that he has testified concerning his Son. 10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:9-12).

What I want you to see is that salvation is the work of God. He accomplished it through the death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son. He made it known through His Word. He calls upon us to believe in Jesus, assuring us that if we place our trust in Him, we are saved forever. We are sealed by His Spirit, and we are kept for the final day, just as our salvation is kept for us. It is not any work of ours that saves us, but Jesus, in whom we must place our trust.

There are a number of manifestations of our new life in Christ “ vital signs, if you would “ that reassure us that we are His children, who have been plucked from the path to eternal destruction (hell) and have been placed on the path to heaven.

Those who have come to a saving faith have entered into a radically new and different way of life. Their actual conversion may not have been as dramatic as that of the Apostle Paul (see Acts 9:1-22), but they have come from death to life, and from the pursuit of sin to the pursuit of God. Those who have experienced salvation now enter into the process of sanctification, whereby the old man (the old “me”) is put to death, and the new man (the new “me” in Christ) continues to be conformed to the image of Christ:

20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away”look, what is new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image”in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth (Ephesians 4:17-24).

7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, 8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:7-8).

Those who are Christians no longer fear death, as they once did as unbelievers:

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:21-23).

Those who are Christians have a hunger for God’s Word:

1 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have experienced the Lord’s kindness (1 Peter 2:1-3).

Those who are Christians now see spiritual truths, to which they were blind as unbelievers:

14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds, 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:14-18).

3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, 4 among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Those who are Christians have the internal witness of the Spirit:

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ)”if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:14-17).

Those who are Christians desire to know Christ more intimately:

8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things”indeed, I regard them as dung!”that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness”a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death (Philippians 3:8-10).

Those who are Christians are happy to leave this life behind, and yearn for the day when Christ returns:

13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

20 But our citizenship is in heaven”and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

My friend, do these things which characterize Christians characterize you? Do you have these “vital signs” of spiritual life? If not, then confess your sin and trust in what Jesus did for you on the cross of Calvary. He bore your punishment, and He offers you His righteousness and eternal life. Don’t wait until it is too late to acknowledge that you have no oil (are not saved). Trust Him now.

1 Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. 3 Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. 5 For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. 6 So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. 9 For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).


265 Copyright © 2005 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 77 in the Studies in the Gospel of Matthew series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 10, 2005.

266 The word “extra” is not in the original text, and in my opinion it should not be supplied here. More on this later.

267 I’m not sure I like the rendering “was delayed.” This could be read in such a way as to see our Lord’s delay as being imposed on Him by His circumstances. If this delay is the will of the Father, it makes more sense. It is interesting to note that the only other time this term is used in Matthew is in 24:48, where the evil slave says to himself, “My master is staying away a long time.” I’m inclined to see the same nuance in chapter 25. The Lord tarries longer than expected; He is not delayed.

268 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)