I, along with others who listen in and attend weekly online Bible studies received a challenge from Pastor Steve Ellis of the Church of the Servant King about an article in the January/February 2017 issue of “Grace in Focus”, the monthly magazine of the Grace Evangelical Society. The feature article is about the ten virgin parable of Matthew 25:1-13, by Bob Wilkin. Below, I have shared my thoughts regarding this parable:
Before continuing, it will make more sense to read the feature article so you are able to see all that I am referring to.
In reading over this article on the ten virgin parable, and from a few other things that I have seen from “Free Grace” (FG) folks in other publications, their problem is the same as that of their arch-nemeses, the “Lordship Salvationists” (LS): They do not “rightly divide” when it comes to dispensational distinctives.
The FG group sees correctly the fact that believers are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24), and that “to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). They correctly see and stand on these and other truths that are distinctive to the revelation given to Paul, but they overlay and force them into interpretations of passages in the Gospels that have Israel, the nation, in view. Then these passages can become “sanctification” passages, and all become about “rewards”, and positions in the kingdom.
The LS group more correctly sees the gravity of what the Lord teaches in the gospels, but forces it into the present dispensation of the grace of God and Paul’s epistles to change, modify, or qualify the truth that the Lord revealed to Paul from heaven.
The passage in question:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And 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. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. (Matthew 25:1-13)
The first question to be asked here, before moving on to an interpretation and application or proper understanding of this passage is its use in discussing the “role of works in the final judgment”. I would take a step back and ask whether this passage has anything to do with the final judgment before using it to discuss that. This passage starts at Matthew 24:4 where the Lord is answering the question about the sign of His coming and the end of the age, taking the end of the age to mean the end of the “times of the gentiles”. Chapter 25 begins with “then will the kingdom of heaven be likened to…”, signaling that the Lord is still discussing the same thing, the coming of the Son of Man, i.e., the setting up of the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ on earth. This passage does have everything to do with entering in to that Kingdom.
This section of the “Olivet Discourse” on the importance of “watching” begins at 24:42:
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:42-51)
In verse 45, the Lord speaks of the one who is made ruler over His household. In Mattthew 23:2, He says of the scribes and Pharisees that they sit it Moses’ seat, in other words, they are the leaders of the Jewish people. Peter speaks of them as rulers in Acts 3:17. The leaders of the people are supposed to be watching for the Lord and leading the people in doing so as well. They should have been doing this at the time of His “first advent” as well. The test of the rulers of His household will be whether they are doing that, or whether they are living carelessly and wickedly while mistreating their fellowservants. Matthew 23 is full of “woes” on the scribes and Pharisees who “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men” (vs. 13) and “devour widows’ houses” while making long prayers (vs. 14). They are “hypocrites” (vs.15), “blind guides” (vs.16), “children of hell” (vs. 15), “fools and blind” (vs.17, 19), and are like “whited sepulchres” (vs. 27). The question of the “faithful and wise servant”, when the Son of Man comes, is will he be watching, or will he be just like the scribes and Pharisees during the Lord’s earthly ministry when the kingdom of heaven was “at hand”. The hypocrites would get what was coming to them.
It is important to note here that the coming of the Son of Man always is in reference to His coming to establish His earthly reign, never “the rapture”, or the mid-point of Daniel’s 70th week, or the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. The “rapture” is not spoken of at all in this passage or anywhere else in the gospels. That was still a mystery hid in God that Paul revealed. (1 Corinthians 15:51, Ephesians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Now, getting back to the ten virgins: The author seems to stress the point that the virgins had to represent believers or they would not have been invited. Israel, and the people of Israel are called the children of the kingdom in Matthew 8:12, and this in the context of being cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and knashing of teeth. This is absolutely those who were invited to the kingdom and invited to take part being barred entrance!
Five of the virgins had enough oil to “endure to the end” without their love “waxing cold” (Matthew 24:12–13). They were wise, just as the wise builder in Matthew 7:24-27. They heard His word: “Watch, for ye know not what hour the Son of man cometh”, and they did what was expected. They built their “house upon the rock”. The other five were foolish. They did not have enough oil for their lamps, and apparently did not care, because they went to sleep. See Proverbs 6:4, 10&11. They built their “house upon the sand”. They did not do what was expected. They did not have the fuel to endure to the end, and rather than doing what was necessary, buying it, they slept.
The bridegroom came at midnight, so the foolish virgins had to run out to try and find oil AT MIDNIGHT! No one is selling oil at midnight, and if there is, they needed to have it before the bridegroom came, not when he came. The bridegroom was delayed, so they should have been ready a long time ago, but they were careless and still not ready. It brings to mind the scoffers that Peter talked about:
…Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. (2 Peter 3:4)
They are just like the hypocrites, waiting on the Lord’s salvation, the coming of the Son of Man, but are not ready when He comes. This is the house on the sand. This is the proper context to understand “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 20).
So verse 13 ends with the point of all of this—to watch—faithfully.
It is a mistake to put any of this into the present day of salvation, and to put qualifications and caveats from it onto free justification by grace. It is also a mistake to force free justification by grace through faith alone into this and turn this into a “sanctification and rewards” chapter. The gravity of it is real for those at the end of the age (times of the gentiles) when the Son of Man comes to be faithful in their watch and endure to the end.
But now we are living in the “day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2), where the message is reconciliation by the cross. There is an important point to remember now though:
…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Everything about virginal torch dances that the author discusses in this article is irrelevant. The passage has bite and should keep it. The issue is absolutely about entering the kingdom and is about a time when God will again turn His attention to His covenant people, Israel.
One more important note: There is no command in scripture that I am aware of about “harmonizing”. There is one about “rightly dividing” to be a workman approved by God—2 Timothy 2:15.