“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”—MATT. 25:13.
1, 2. (a) What did Jesus reveal about the last days? (b) What questions will we consider?
IT MUST have been a remarkable thing to sit there on the Mount of Olives—overlooking the temple in Jerusalem—when Jesus uttered one of his most fascinating prophecies. Peter, Andrew, James, and John paid rapt attention as Jesus cast his prophetic gaze far, far into the future. He told them a great deal about the last days of this wicked world system, the time when he would be ruling in God’s Kingdom. He told them that during that climactic time, his “faithful and discreet slave” would represent him on earth, giving his servants the timely spiritual nourishment they needed.—Matt. 24:45-47.
2 Next, in that same prophecy, Jesus related the parable of the ten virgins. (Read Matthew 25:1-13.) Let us focus on these questions: (1) What is that parable’s basic message? (2) How have faithful anointed ones applied the parable’s counsel, and with what results? (3) How can each of us benefit from Jesus’ parable today?
WHAT IS THE PARABLE’S MESSAGE?
3. In the past, our literature has taken what approach to the parable of the ten virgins, with what possible result?
3 We noted in the preceding article that over recent decades, the faithful slave has gradually come to explain the Scriptures with less emphasis on symbolic prophetic pictures and more on practical application. In the past, our literature at times assigned specific symbolic meanings even to small details of Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins, including the lamps, the oil, the flasks, and so forth. Is it possible, though, that we were allowing the spotlight to shift from the parable’s simple, urgent message? As we will see, the answer is of vital importance.
4. In the parable, how can we discern the identity of (a) the bridegroom? (b) the virgins?
4 Let us take a look at Jesus’ basic message in this parable. First, consider the main characters. Who is the bridegroom of the parable? Clearly, Jesus was talking about himself. Why, on a different occasion, he even referred to himself as the bridegroom! (Luke 5:34, 35) What about the virgins? In the parable, Jesus says that the virgins have the responsibility to be ready with their lamps lit when the bridegroom arrives. Note the similar directions that Jesus gave to his “little flock” of anointed followers: “Be dressed and ready and have your lamps burning, and you should be like men waiting for their master to return from the marriage.” (Luke 12:32, 35, 36) Furthermore, both the apostle Paul and the apostle John were inspired to liken Christ’s anointed followers to chaste virgins. (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 14:4) Clearly, Jesus intended the parable recorded at Matthew 25:1-13 as counsel and a warning to his anointed followers.
5. How did Jesus indicate the time period when his parable would apply?
5 Next, consider the time frame. To what time period did Jesus’ counsel apply? Jesus supplies us with a clear time indicator toward the end of the parable: “The bridegroom came.” (Matt. 25:10) As was discussed in the July 15, 2013, issue of this journal, Jesus’ prophecy recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 contains eight references to his “coming”; in each case, a form of the same Greek word is used. In every instance, Jesus was referring to the time during the great tribulation when he will come to carry out the judging work and then the destruction of this world system of things. Evidently, then, this parable applies during the last days, but its climax comes during the great tribulation.
6. In light of the context, what is the basic message of the parable?
6 What is the parable’s basic message? Remember the context. Jesus had just discussed his “faithful and discreet slave.” That slave would prove to be a small group of anointed men who would take the lead among Christ’s followers during the last days. Jesus warned those men that they must remain faithful. Next, he broadened his focus and gave this parable to admonish all his anointed followers in the last days to “keep on the watch” lest they miss out on their precious reward. (Matt. 25:13) Let us now go through the parable and see how the anointed have applied its counsel.
HOW HAVE THE ANOINTED APPLIED THE COUNSEL OF THE PARABLE?
7, 8. (a) The discreet virgins proved ready because of what two qualities? (b) How have the anointed proved to be prepared?
7 Jesus’ parable stresses that the discreet virgins, unlike the foolish, were ready for the bridegroom’s coming. Why? Because of two qualities: preparedness and vigilance. The virgins, assigned to this nighttime vigil to wait for the arrival of the bridegroom, needed to keep their lamps burning and to remain alert throughout the long hours until the exciting event. Unlike the foolish ones, though, five virgins truly prepared themselves, bringing extra oil in their flasks along with their lamps. Have faithful anointed ones likewise proved to be prepared?
8 They have indeed! Throughout the last days, anointed Christians have acted like those discreet virgins, prepared to carry out their assignment faithfully until the end. They count the cost of faithful service, realizing from the outset that their assignment will mean giving up many of the material advantages available in Satan’s world. They devote themselves exclusively to Jehovah and serve him, not with some date or deadline in mind, but out of love and loyalty to him and to his Son. They maintain their integrity, refusing to adopt the spirit of this wicked world and its materialistic, immoral, and selfish attitudes. They thus remain ready, steadily shining as illuminators, undaunted by any apparent delay in the arrival of the Bridegroom.—Phil. 2:15.
9. (a) How did Jesus warn about the natural tendency toward drowsiness? (b) How have the anointed responded to the shout: “Here is the bridegroom”? (See also footnote.)
9 The second quality that helps those virgins to be ready is vigilance. Would it be possible for individual anointed Christians to get sleepy during a long nighttime vigil? Indeed. Note that Jesus says of the ten virgins that “they all became drowsy and fell asleep” during the apparent delay of the bridegroom. Jesus knew well that even a willing, eager spirit may be hampered by the weakness of the flesh. Faithful anointed ones have heeded that implied warning and have worked ever harder to remain vigilant, watchful. In the parable, all the virgins responded to the nighttime shout: “Here is the bridegroom!” But only the vigilant ones endured to the end. (Matt. 25:5, 6; 26:41) What about faithful anointed ones today? Throughout the last days, they have responded to strong evidence that, in effect, cries out, “Here is the bridegroom”—just about to come. They have also endured, keeping ever ready for the Bridegroom to arrive.* However, the climax of the parable focuses on a more specific period of time. How so?
REWARD FOR THE DISCREET AND PUNISHMENT FOR THE FOOLISH
10. The verbal exchange between the discreet and the foolish virgins raises what puzzling question?
10 Perhaps the most puzzling part of the parable comes near the end, in the verbal exchange between the foolish and the discreet virgins. (Read Matthew 25:8, 9.) That exchange raises this question: “When in the history of God’s people would faithful ones refuse help to some who asked for it?” The solution to the puzzle presents itself when we again consider the time frame. Recall our clarified understanding that Jesus, the Bridegroom, comes to render judgment near the end of the great tribulation. Is it not likely, then, that this part of the parable focuses on what happens just prior to that climactic judgment? It would seem so, for by that time the anointed will have received their final sealing.
11. (a) What will happen just before the start of the great tribulation? (b) What did the discreet virgins mean when they directed the foolish ones to the sellers of oil?
11 So, then, before the great tribulation starts, all the faithful anointed on earth will have received their final sealing. (Rev. 7:1-4) From then on, their calling is sure. But think about the years before the tribulation begins. What would happen to anointed ones who failed to remain watchful, who lost their integrity? They would lose their heavenly reward. Obviously, they would receive no final sealing prior to the start of the tribulation. By that time, other faithful ones would be anointed. When the tribulation starts, the foolish ones might be shocked to see the destruction of Babylon the Great. It may be only at that point that they realize that they are not ready for the arrival of the Bridegroom. At that late hour, if they in desperation ask for help, what would happen? Jesus’ parable gives us the grim answer. The discreet virgins refused to give up their oil for the sake of the foolish, telling them to go instead to the sellers of oil. Remember, though, it was “in the middle of the night.” Would they be able to find sellers of oil at that hour? No. It would simply be too late.
12. (a) During the great tribulation, what grim experience will befall any who were once anointed but lost their integrity before the final sealing? (b) What is the end for those who prove to be like the foolish virgins?
12 Likewise, during the great tribulation, faithful anointed ones cannot help any who had turned unfaithful. There will be no help available. It will simply be too late. What end, then, will such ones face? Jesus explains what happened when the foolish virgins went off on their futile errand: “The bridegroom came. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.” When Christ comes in his glory near the end of the tribulation, he will gather his faithful anointed ones to heaven. (Matt. 24:31; 25:10; John 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:17) The door will, indeed, be shut to the unfaithful ones, who prove to be like the foolish virgins. They may, in effect, cry out: “Sir, Sir, open to us!” But they receive an answer like the one that so many goatlike ones receive in that hour of judgment: “I tell you the truth, I do not know you.” How sad!—Matt. 7:21-23; 25:11, 12.
13. (a) Why is there no need to conclude that many of Christ’s anointed followers will prove unfaithful? (b) Why may Jesus’ words of warning also be taken as an expression of his confidence? (See opening image.)
13 In view of the foregoing, what may we conclude? Was Jesus saying that many of his anointed servants would prove unfaithful and need to be replaced? No. Remember, he had just warned his “faithful and discreet slave” never to turn into an evil slave. That did not mean that he expected such an outcome. Similarly, this parable conveys a powerful warning. Just as five virgins were foolish and five were discreet, each anointed one has the full capacity to choose either a course of preparedness and vigilance or a course of folly and unfaithfulness. The apostle Paul was inspired to make a similar point when addressing his anointed fellow Christians. (Read Hebrews 6:4-9; compare Deuteronomy 30:19.) Note that Paul’s warning was very firm, but he followed it up with a loving expression of his confidence that “better things” lay ahead of his Christian brothers and sisters. Likewise, the warning in Jesus’ parable is given with loving confidence. Christ knows that each of his anointed servants can remain faithful and receive the thrilling reward!
HOW CAN CHRIST’S “OTHER SHEEP” BENEFIT?
14. Why can those of the “other sheep” also benefit from the parable of the ten virgins?
14 Because Jesus directed the parable of the ten virgins to his anointed followers, should we conclude that this passage contains no benefit for Christ’s “other sheep”? (John 10:16) Far from it! Remember, the message of the parable is simple: “Keep on the watch.” Does that apply only to the anointed? Jesus once said: “What I say to you, I say to all: Keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:37) Jesus requires all his followers to prepare their hearts for faithful service and to meet the same standard of watchfulness. So all Christians follow the lead set by the anointed in this regard, imitating their good example and putting the ministry first in life. Each of us may also keep in mind that the foolish virgins asked the discreet ones to give up some of their oil. Their vain request reminds us that no one can be faithful for us, can stay in the truth for us, or can keep on the watch for us. Each of us will answer to the righteous Judge whom Jehovah has appointed. We must be ready. And he is coming soon!
The request to get some oil reminds us that no one can be faithful for us or stay watchful for us
15. Why is the prospect of the marriage of Christ to his bride thrilling for all true Christians?
15 All Christians may also benefit from the main event in Jesus’ parable. After all, who of us is not excited about that prospective marriage? The anointed will be there in heaven; after the war of Armageddon, they will become Christ’s bride. (Rev. 19:7-9) Everyone then on earth will benefit from that heavenly marriage, for it guarantees a perfect government for all. Whatever our hope for the future, whether heavenly or earthly, let us be resolved to learn the vital lesson of the parable of the ten virgins. Let us prove ready by preparing our hearts and keeping steadfast, ever vigilant, so that we may enjoy the glorious future that Jehovah has in store for us!
In the parable, there is a distinct interval between the shout, “Here is the bridegroom!” (verse 6) and the actual coming, or arrival, of the bridegroom (verse 10). Throughout the last days, vigilant anointed ones have discerned the sign of Jesus’ presence. They thus know that he is “here”—ruling in Kingdom power. They face the challenge of enduring until his coming, or arrival.