Be Vigilant and Be Diligent!
“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”—MATTHEW 25:13.
1. To what was the apostle John looking forward?
IN THE last dialogue in the Bible, Jesus promised: “I am coming quickly.” His apostle John replied: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” The apostle had no doubt that Jesus would come. John was among the apostles who had asked Jesus: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence [Greek, pa·rou·siʹa] and of the conclusion of the system of things?” Yes, John confidently looked forward to Jesus’ future presence.—Revelation 22:20; Matthew 24:3.
2. As to Jesus’ presence, what is the situation in the churches?
2 Such confidence is rare nowadays. Many churches have an official doctrine about Jesus’ “coming,” but few of their members really expect it. They live accordingly. The book The Parousia in the New Testament notes: “There is little positive integration of the Parousia hope into the life, thought and work of the church. . . . The intense urgency with which the church should undertake its tasks of repentance and of missionary proclamation of the gospel, is weakened if not entirely lost.” But not to everyone!
3. (a) How do true Christians feel about the pa·rou·siʹa? (b) What in particular shall we now consider?
3 Jesus’ true disciples are eagerly awaiting the end of the present wicked system of things. While loyally doing so, we need to keep the right outlook toward all that is involved in Jesus’ presence and act accordingly. That will enable us to ‘endure to the end and be saved.’ (Matthew 24:13) In the course of giving the prophecy that we find in Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus provided wise advice that we can apply, to our lasting benefit. Chapter 25 contains parables that you likely know, including the one about ten virgins (the wise and the foolish virgins) and the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:1-30) How can we benefit from those illustrations?
Be Vigilant, as the Five Virgins Were!
4. What is the gist of the parable of the virgins?
4 You may wish to reread the parable of the virgins, found at Matthew 25:1-13. The setting is a grand Jewish wedding in which the groom goes to the house of the bride’s father to escort her to the groom’s home (or to his father’s). Such a procession might include musicians and singers, and the time of its arrival would not be known precisely. In the parable, ten virgins waited into the night for the groom’s arrival. Five had foolishly not brought enough lamp oil and thus had to go and buy more. The other five had wisely brought extra oil in receptacles so that they could refill their lamps if necessary during the wait. Only these five were on hand and ready when the groom arrived. Hence, only they were allowed to enter the feast. When the five foolish virgins returned, it was too late for them to enter.
5. What scriptures shed light on the figurative meaning of the parable of the virgins?
5 Many aspects of this parable can be understood as being symbolic. For example, the Scriptures speak of Jesus as a bridegroom. (John 3:28-30) Jesus likened himself to a king’s son for whom a marriage feast was prepared. (Matthew 22:1-14) And the Bible compares Christ to a husband. (Ephesians 5:23) Interestingly, while anointed Christians are elsewhere described as the “bride” of Christ, the parable does not mention a bride. (John 3:29; Revelation 19:7; 21:2, 9) It does, though, speak of ten virgins, and the anointed are elsewhere likened to a virgin promised in marriage to Christ.—2 Corinthians 11:2.*
6. Jesus gave what exhortation when concluding the parable of the virgins?
6 Aside from such details and any prophetic applications, there certainly are fine principles that we can learn from this parable. For instance, note that Jesus closed it with the words: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.” So the parable conveys the need for each of us to be vigilant, to be alert to the approaching end of this wicked system. This end is unquestionably coming, even though we cannot pinpoint a date. In this regard, note the attitudes manifested by the two groups of virgins.
7. In what sense did five of the virgins in the parable prove to be foolish?
7 Jesus said: “Five of them were foolish.” Was that because they did not believe that the groom was coming? Were they off pursuing pleasures? Or were they deceived? None of those. Jesus said that these five “went out to meet the bridegroom.” They knew that he was coming, and they wanted to be involved, even to share in the “marriage feast.” Yet, were they sufficiently prepared? They waited a while for him, until “the middle of the night,” but they were not prepared for his arrival whenever that would be—whether earlier or later than they initially expected.
8. How did five of the virgins in the parable prove to be discreet?
8 The other five—those whom Jesus called discreet—also went out with lighted lamps, expecting the groom’s arrival. They had to wait too, but they were “discreet.” The Greek word translated “discreet” can convey the sense of being “prudent, sensible, practically wise.” These five proved that they were discreet by bringing receptacles with extra oil to refill their lamps if necessary. In fact, they were so focused on being ready for the groom that they would not give away their oil. Such vigilance was not misplaced, as is proved by their being present and completely prepared when the groom arrived. These who “were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.”
9, 10. What is the point of the parable of the virgins, and what questions should we ask ourselves?
9 Jesus was not offering a lesson in wedding decorum, nor was he giving counsel about sharing. His point was: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.” Ask yourself, ‘Am I truly vigilant with regard to Jesus’ presence?’ We believe that Jesus now reigns in heaven, but how focused are we on the reality that ‘the Son of man will soon come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’? (Matthew 24:30) By “the middle of the night,” the groom’s arrival certainly was closer than when the virgins first went out to meet him. Similarly, the Son of man’s arrival to destroy the present wicked system is closer than when we began looking forward to his coming. (Romans 13:11-14) Have we maintained our vigilance, being even more vigilant as that time draws closer?
10 To obey the command “keep on the watch” requires constant vigilance. Five virgins let their oil run out and went to buy more. A Christian today might similarly be distracted so that he is not fully prepared for Jesus’ imminent arrival. It happened to some first-century Christians. It can happen to some today. So let us ask ourselves, ‘Is it happening to me?’—1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; Hebrews 2:1; 3:12; 12:3; Revelation 16:15.
Be Diligent as the End Nears
11. What parable did Jesus next give, and to what was it similar?
11 In his next parable, Jesus did more than urge his followers to be vigilant. After telling of the wise and the foolish virgins, he related the illustration of the talents. (Read Matthew 25:14-30.) In many respects this resembles his earlier parable of the minas, which Jesus gave because many “were imagining that the kingdom of God was going to display itself instantly.”—Luke 19:11-27.
12. What is the gist of the parable of the talents?
12 In the parable of the talents, Jesus told of a man who, prior to making a journey abroad, summoned three slaves. To one he committed five talents, to another two, and to the last just one—“to each one according to his own ability.” Likely, this meant a silver talent, a standard amount then worth what a laborer would earn in 14 years—a lot of money! When the man returned, he had the slaves account for what they did during the “long time” that he was away. The first two slaves had doubled the value of what was entrusted to them. He said “well done,” promised each one more responsibility, and concluded: “Enter into the joy of your master.” Claiming that the master was extremely demanding, the slave with one talent had not put the talent to any profitable use. He hid the money, not even depositing it with bankers to earn interest. The master termed him “wicked and sluggish” because he had worked against his master’s interests. Consequently, the talent was taken from him, and he was put outside “where his weeping and the gnashing of his teeth” would be.
13. How did Jesus prove to be like the master in the parable?
13 Again, details of this can be understood in a symbolic sense. For example, Jesus, pictured by the man traveling abroad, would leave his disciples, go to heaven, and wait a long time until he received kingly power.* (Psalm 110:1-4; Acts 2:34-36; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 10:12, 13) Again, though, we can perceive a broader lesson or principle that all of us ought to apply in our lives. What is that?
14. The parable of the talents emphasizes what vital need?
14 Whether our hope is that of immortal life in heaven or of everlasting life on a paradise earth, it is clear from Jesus’ parable that we should be exerting ourselves in Christian activities. In fact, the message of this parable can be summed up in a word: diligence. The apostles set the pattern from Pentecost 33 C.E. onward. We read: “With many other words [Peter] bore thorough witness and kept exhorting them, saying: ‘Get saved from this crooked generation.’” (Acts 2:40-42) And what excellent returns he had on his efforts! As others joined the apostles in the Christian preaching work, they too were diligent, with the good news “increasing in all the world.”—Colossians 1:3-6, 23; 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.
15. In what special way should we be applying the thrust of the parable of the talents?
15 Bear in mind the context of this parable—a prophecy about Jesus’ presence. We have ample confirmation that Jesus’ pa·rou·siʹa is in progress and will soon reach a climax. Recall the connection Jesus made between “the end” and the work Christians need to do: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) With this in mind, which sort of slave do we resemble? Ask yourself: ‘Would there be reason to conclude that I am like the slave who hid what was entrusted to him, perhaps while he took care of his own personal concerns? Or is it clear that I am like those who were good and faithful? Am I totally committed to increasing the Master’s interests on every occasion?’
Vigilant and Diligent During His Presence
16. What message do the two parables that we have discussed hold for you?
16 Yes, aside from their figurative and prophetic meaning, these two parables present us with clear encouragement that comes from the mouth of Jesus himself. His message is this: Be vigilant; be diligent, especially when the sign of Christ’s pa·rou·siʹa is seen. That is now. So are we really being vigilant and diligent?
17, 18. What did the disciple James counsel concerning Jesus’ presence?
17 Jesus’ half brother James was not on the Mount of Olives to hear Jesus’ prophecy; but he later learned of it, and he clearly grasped its import. He wrote: “Exercise patience, therefore, brothers, until the presence of the Lord. Look! The farmer keeps waiting for the precious fruit of the earth, exercising patience over it until he gets the early rain and the late rain. You too exercise patience; make your hearts firm, because the presence of the Lord has drawn close.”—James 5:7, 8.
18 Having given assurance that God will judge adversely those who misuse their riches, James urged Christians not to be impatient while waiting for Jehovah to act. An impatient Christian might become vindictive, as if he himself had to right the wrongs committed. That should not be, though, because the time of judgment is certain to arrive. The example of a farmer illustrates that, as James explained.
19. An Israelite farmer could exercise what sort of patience?
19 An Israelite farmer who planted seed had to wait, first for the blade to appear, then for the plant to mature, and finally for the harvest. (Luke 8:5-8; John 4:35) Over those months, there was time and perhaps cause for some anxiety. Would the early rains come and be ample? What of the later rains? Might insects or a storm kill the plants? (Compare Joel 1:4; 2:23-25.) Nonetheless, overall an Israelite farmer could trust Jehovah and the natural cycles he has set in place. (Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24) The farmer’s patience could really amount to confident expectation. In faith he knew that what he was waiting for would come. It really would!
20. How can we manifest patience in harmony with James’ counsel?
20 While a farmer might have some knowledge of when the harvest will be, first-century Christians could not calculate when Jesus’ presence would be. It was certain to come, though. James wrote: “The presence [Greek, pa·rou·siʹa] of the Lord has drawn close.” At the time James penned those words, the large-scale, or global, sign of Christ’s presence was not yet in evidence. But it is now! So how should we feel in this period? The sign is actually visible. We see it. We can say with assurance, ‘I see the sign being fulfilled.’ We can confidently say, ‘The presence of the Lord is here, and its climax is at hand.’
21. What are we absolutely resolved to do?
21 Since that is the case, we have especially strong reason to take to heart and apply the fundamental lessons of Jesus’ two parables that we have discussed. He said: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13) Now is unquestionably the time for us to be zealous in our Christian service. Let us show daily in our lives that we understand Jesus’ point. Let us be vigilant! Let us be diligent!
As to symbolic details of the parable, see God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, pages 169-211, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Do You Recall?
□ What key message have you drawn from the parable of the wise and the foolish virgins?
□ By means of the parable of the talents, what fundamental advice is Jesus offering to you?
□ In what sense is your patience relative to the pa·rou·siʹa like that of an Israelite farmer?
□ Why is this an especially exciting and challenging time in which to be living?
[Pictures on page 23]
What lessons do you learn from the parable of the virgins and that of the talents?