Our Savior was still seated with His disciples upon the Mount of Olives (chapter 24:3), and the instructive parable which opens this chapter was spoken by Him as a continuation of the discourse which we were studying in the closing words of the last chapter. It is evidently intended to set forth, under a familiar picture, the need of preparation for the King’s glorious appearing when He returns at that great unknown hour to claim His Bride. To those of us who will not be alive at Christ’s Second Advent, the midnight cry – “Go ye out to meet him” – will sound forth at the hour of death.
In harmony with the customs of the times in which our Savior ministered on this earth, the Bridegroom in His parable is represented as having gone to the house of the Bride’s father, from which He would conduct her to her future home. The parable opens at the point where some of His professed friends are waiting to join the marriage-procession, and accompany Him home so that they may enter in with Him to the wedding-feast. Thus is the visible Church of Christ waiting for the coming of her Lord. There did not seem to be much difference in the external appearance of the “ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” They were all virgins, they all took their lamps, and they all went forth to meet the Bridegroom. They all made a profession of attachment to Him, which led them to separate themselves from their other companions and acquaintances, so that they might go forth to meet Him on His wedding-night. There was, however, a vital and essential difference between them: “five of them were wise, and five were foolish.”
We read that the foolish virgins took their lamps with them, but they brought no oil along. It is the lack of the oil of grace that is the fatal flaw in many professing Christians’ lamps. Many have a name of being alive, but they do not have the life of God within their souls. The wise virgins, on the other hand, did take oil with their lamps.
“While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” Even in true believers, the delay in Christ’s coming often causes disappointment, weariness, and lethargy; and His Church falls fast asleep, when she ought to be watching for her Lord. But “at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him!” That midnight cry startled the sleepers. The suddenness of the alarm made them all start to their feet, and begin to examine and trim their lamps. They could not go to meet the Bridegroom without carrying a light, for that was an essential part of their preparation for joining the King’s marriage-procession. The five virgins who had “oil in their vessels with their lamps” soon finished their trimming, and were ready to start; but those who had lamps without oil were unable to perform the necessary trimming. The foolish virgins now began to value what they had before despised; they had been so foolish as to think that oil was unnecessary, but now they saw that it was the “one thing needful.” Hence their request to their wiser companions, but the wise girls had no oil to give away. They gave the best advice they could under the circumstances, although it was of no avail: “Go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” There is a proper place where the oil can be bought at the right time. We are bidden to “buy the truth”; and grace is sold in God’s market on Gospel-terms, “without money and without price.” But when the midnight-cry is heard, the day of grace has closed; and buying and selling are over forever.
“While they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.” Undoubtedly, there are true deathbed repentances; but it is to be feared that in the great majority of cases, people who wake up so late to a true conviction of their condition will find that while they go to buy the long-despised grace, “the bridegroom” will come. And when that door is shut, it will never be opened again. When they came knocking at the door, the Bridegroom “answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” The Good Shepherd says, “I know mine own, and mine own know me” (John 10:14). Those whom Jesus Christ knows in this sense, He loves; and they love Him because He has first loved them. The foolish virgins had professed to be the Bridegroom’s friends, yet they were proved to not even be His acquaintances. May none of us ever hear that terrible death-sentence from the blessed lips of the Heavenly Bridegroom: “I know you not!”
“Watch therefore,” says the Savior as He concluded this parable; “for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh!” Our Lord again enjoins upon His followers the duty of watchfulness, as in chapter 24:42; and He repeats, in a slightly-altered form, the reason previously given: “For ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” The time of the end is hidden; and shall not be known until the King shall suddenly appear “in the clouds of heaven, in power and great glory.” It should be our one great concern, therefore, to be sure that we shall be ready to meet Him whenever He does come!
Our Savior had just been speaking of Himself as the Heavenly Bridegroom; and now, in the next parable, He compares Himself to “a man travelling into a far country.” The word traveling suggests that our Lord has only gone away for a season, and that He will return when His purpose in going into the “far country” is accomplished. When He went back from earth to heaven, it was a long journey; but He did not leave His servants without necessary supplies during His absence. He “called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.” The servants were His, and the goods were also His. His servants could not claim either their persons or their possessions to be their own; all belonged to their Lord, and were to be used for Him. He did not entrust to each servant the same quantity of goods. “Unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one.” He was the Judge of the ability of each of His servants, and He made no mistake in His allotment of the talents to them. We may rest assured that if we are the Lord’s servants, He has bestowed upon us as many talents as we can rightly use – and quite as many as we shall be able to account for when He returns! This parable, like that of the ten virgins, is speaking of nominal Christians – all who are or profess to be the servants of Christ. The “talents” represented a certain weight of money in our Savior’s day; but they represent anything and everything that our Lord has given to us for us to use here on earth, as His stewards.
“After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.” There is a reckoning-day coming, even though “a long time” may elapse. Jesus is coming back from the far country where He has gone; and as His stewards, we must be prepared at any moment for Him to come and call us to account for the talents with which He has endowed each of us. Two of the servants in the parable doubled the talents that had been entrusted to them, and they were commended and rewarded. He who is faithful to his Lord shall have greater opportunities of proving his loyalty and devotion in a higher sphere; and in addition, he shall share the bliss of his Lord’s return. But the servant who had received one talent had done nothing during his master’s absence except bury it in the earth. His excuse was self-condemning. He said that he knew that his Master was a hard man, reaping where he had not sown, and gathering where he had not strawed; yet he confessed that the talent which he brought back had been given to him by this master whom he falsely represented as severe and unreasonable. The Master took the “wicked and slothful servant” on his own ground, and condemned him out of his own mouth. Supposing the servant’s words about his Master’s character had been true, what ought he to have done? If he was afraid to trade with his Master’s talent on his own responsibility, he might have taken it to the bankers; for they would have at least kept it securely, and added interest to it while it was deposited with them. Our talent must not be buried in the earth, but it must be invested wherever it will bring to Him the best return when He comes again. But losing the talent that had remained idle was only a small part of the doom of “the unprofitable servant.” His Master ordered him to be “cast into outer darkness,” and his punishment is indicated by that often-repeated refrain of our Savior’s revelation of the horrors that await lost souls: “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In the last parable that is written down for us in this chapter, we have the King’s own description of the Day of Judgment. He told His hearers of the glorious throne which He would occupy in the day when He would return as the Royal and Universal Judge of mankind. Behind the Kingly Judge, “all the holy angels” shall be ranged, rank on rank – an innumerable and glorious bodyguard – to grace the court of their enthroned Lord on the Day of the last great assize. And at His bidding, they shall remove from His presence all whom He shall condemn. “Before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” In the last Great Day of the Lord, every human being that has ever existed upon the face of the globe shall be gathered before the Judgment-seat of Christ. And there will be only two groups of people – one on the right hand of the Judge, and the other on His left. There will be no middle group on that Day; just as in God’s sight, there is no third party even now. All our names are either in the Lamb’s Book of Life, or in the Judge’s Book of Death.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!” And He will dwell with great delight upon the details of His servants’ kindnesses that were rendered to Himself, even though they were done for “the least” of His afflicted and persecuted people. Are we, then, to be saved by our works after all? By no means! Yet our works are the evidences of our being saved. Our everlasting future depends upon a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ! But by ministering to His poor brethren, out of love for Him, we show that we are truly the subjects of that distinguishing grace which makes us different from the children of this world.
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Every word in the King’s sentence upon those on His left hand will strike terror into their hearts. O how sad! To be banished from Christ’s loving presence is hell indeed. Men may think lightly now of their lack of love for Christ, and of their neglect to care for His poor brothers and sisters; but their conduct will appear in another light in the blaze of the Last Great Day.
This separation between the sheep and the goats will indeed be eternal and unalterable. May the Lord our God grant that none of us may be on the wrong side of Christ’s glorious throne on that Great Last Day!
O Lord Jesus, since we “know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh,” we are renewing our earnest entreaties for grace to keep us in watchful readiness for that time when You shall suddenly appear as our King! Give us grace that we may always have our lamps ready, so that we may be ready to meet You whenever the midnight-cry is heard: “Behold, the bridegroom cometh!” Amen.
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