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Jesus' Teaching Readiness and Judgment

Following Jesus' teaching on signs
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Jesus has just sketched out for the disciples a description of The Tribulation. It’s a description that extends from Matthew 24:1 to Matthew 24:31 - a total of 31 verses in all. Volume I of this series exposited the first fourteen verses - skipping over verses 15-31 - which we’ll pick up in later volumes.

Here, beginning with verse 32, Jesus turns from a description of the Tribulation to a different but related matter:

How can we prepare ourselves for both The Tribulation itself and the judgment that follows?

His answer is spelled out in a series of six parables beginning with Matthew 24:32 and continuing to the end of Matthew Chapter 25.

The first parable, the Parable of the Fig Tree, serves only to establish the backdrop for the second and third parables - and, therefore, adds nothing substantive to the answer Jesus is laying out. The second and sixth parables are addressed to mankind generally; while the third, fourth, and fifth parables are addressed to believers. However, all six parables revolve around the single issue of readiness and judgment.

An Inclusio

What we have here, therefore, is a classic “inclusio,” a literary device that brackets one set of topics between a second, but related, set of topics.

Inclusio

Matters to Keep in Mind

Several matters need to be kept in mind as we work our way through a verse by verse exposition of each of the parables - some of which have been spelled out in Volume I ...

  • There’s nothing new about the criteria delineated in the six parables. The same criteria are elucidated in many other passages of scripture as well - passages that bear no relationship whatsoever to The Tribulation. It’s just that the issue of readiness and judgment is so overwhelmingly salient in both the lead-up to The Tribulation and The Tribulation itself.
  • The Tribulation Jesus has just finished describing is not what it’s usually made out to be: a time of God’s wrath only. It’s first and foremost a time of God’s grace - his last call to mankind to repent and be saved. Tribulation is, after all, the prod God uses to turn sinners to himself; consequently, the “bottom line” of tribulation is not wrath, but grace and salvation.
  • During The Tribulation, God will bring to a climax the church’s mission ...

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

Matt. 24:14

  • More souls will be brought to Christ during The Tribulation than any other time in church history.

After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands...

Rev. 7:9

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, Who are these arrayed in white robes? and where do they come from?

And I said unto him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Rev. 7:13-14

  • Believers who follow through with their obligation to witness - notwithstanding the persecution and suffering it always entails (see Volume 1) - will be admitted to a special circle of intimacy and awarded the privilege of ruling alongside Christ in the coming Kingdom (see Volume I).
  • Those who refuse to live up to their obligation - who draw back - whose faith fails - will suffer the crushing trauma of being denied that inestimable privilege (see Volume I). And it’s in this light that many of the terms used in these parables must be interpreted; e.g., “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” “shut out,” “outer darkness,” etc.

Tribulationitsimpact

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Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is close at hand:

So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Matthew 24:32-33

Parable of the Fig Tree - The Importance of Signs

Again, bear in mind that Jesus has just finished a long description of the Tribulation - with a special emphasis on the signs that will herald its approach. Why the emphasis on signs? Because that’s what prompted the disciples to question Jesus in the first place.

And as he sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

Matt. 24:3

In light of the context, then, the fig tree here in verses 32 and 33 symbolizes the entire complex of signs Jesus has just spelled out for the disciples - and its branches symbolize each of the specific signs. When, therefore, the branches begin to bud and leaves begin to sprout - meaning the signs begin to appear - both The Tribulation and The Second Coming are fast approaching.

It’s important to note that Jesus uses the word “summer,” a whole season, to depict the notion of timing here in verse 32 - nothing more specific than that.

... you know that summer is close at hand

Matthew 24:32

... and that’s in keeping with what Jesus tells his disciples later on in verse 36 - where he makes it clear that God won’t reveal the exact timing - its day and hour.

But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Matt. 24:36

Macro not Micro

In short, the signs Jesus has delineated are “macro,” not “micro.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the word “summer” - a season - in verse 32 leaves us to drift about in a sea of ambiguity. That’s because verse 33 narrows its definition considerably...

So likewise you, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

Matthew 24:33

We know, then, that at the very least the word “summer”- depicting a whole season - means “even at the doors.” That brings us to Matthew 24:34.

CommensurateMeanings

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Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

Matthew 24:34

The word “generation” has stirred up a great deal of controversy - some of it rather heated. And that’s because it’s a very elastic term - and often indicates different time-spans. In some passages, it delimits a forty year span of time (e.g., Numbers 32:13); in other passages, it is reckoned at one hundred and twenty years (Genesis 15:13-16); in still other passages, twenty years is indicated, and, last of all, in others, it simply means “contemporaries.”

But whatever its meaning in other passages of scripture, its meaning here in verse 34 is obviously controlled by verse 33. In short, just as the word “summer” in verse 32 is controlled by the phrase “even at the doors” in verse 33, so too is the word “generation” in verse 34. All three terms are clearly commensurate with each other.

The bottom line is obvious: when the signs Jesus spelled out in Matthew 24 begin to appear, The Tribulation and The Second Coming are just over the horizon.

Matthew 24:35

Then, to emphasize their reliability, Jesus goes on to say...

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Matt. 24:35

Clearly, Jesus wants the church to lend credibility to the signs he has just delineated. He’s saying, “You can count on these signs to mean precisely what I’ve indicated - that when they appear, The Tribulation and the Second Coming are just over the hill.”

However, in the very next verse, as we’ve already noted, he goes on to stress that the signs are “macro,” not “micro” - that they delimit seasons, not days and hours.

Matthew 24:36

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Matthew 24:36

Both Predictable and Unpredictable

The macro nature of the signs means the timing of The Tribulation is both predictable and unpredictable - meaning once the signs begin to appear we can know generally that The Tribulation is about to occur, but not exactly.

The Parable of the Fig Tree has now set the stage for the two parables that follow: a parable drawn from the story of the flood (verses 36-39) and the Parable of the Faithful Servant and the Unfaithful Servant (verses 43-51) - both of which revolve around the signs Jesus has spelled out in Matthew 24.

The first parable is addressed to mankind generally - both believers and unbelievers. It begins the inclusio.

Matthew 24:37-39

But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark,

And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Matthew 24:37-39

Parable of the Flood - The Signs will be ignored

The bottom line here is quite distressing: though the signs Jesus has sketched out will be glaringly obvious, there’s every likelihood that when they appear they’ll be largely ignored. Why? Because mankind will be so deeply engrossed in the “here and now.” That’s the meaning of this parable.

The emphasis here is not on the wickedness of Noah’s generation - which is what some commentators suggest; it’s on “life as usual.” That’s why Jesus has chosen the phrase “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” - a phrase that calls to mind the routine events of daily living. Indeed, in Luke’s account of the same teaching, Jesus adds to the parable a brief, one sentence description of Sodom that makes that perfectly clear...

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded...

Luke 17:28

Life as usual!

We need to pay close attention to what Jesus is saying: it’s life itself that will cause mankind to ignore the signs heralding the approach of The Tribulation - the emotional and intellectual investment we all commit to it - to “making ends meet,” saving for retirement, pulling together enough money to take that long-dreamed of vacation, getting the kids through school, signing them up for soccer, keeping our marriages on track, moving up the corporate ladder, having friends over for dinner, building a room addition, planting a garden, cleaning the swimming pool.

Nothing sinful in and of itself - just the “daily stuff of life.”

It’s a simple but often overlooked truth: our lives become so crowded with the ordinary that the extraordinary is often disregarded. We don’t have time to consider its meaning. We brush on by it - assuring ourselves that it will pass - that it’s nothing more than an anomalous blip. We convince ourselves that it’s not the extraordinary that will lead to disaster, it’s failure to stay focused on the ordinary. And so “we keep on with the keeping on.”

It’s not that Noah’s contemporaries were unaware that he was building an ark. After all, it took Noah close to seventy years to complete it. Nor were they unaware of why Noah was building it - that God had warned him of impending judgment. Indeed, we’re told in 2 Peter 2:5 that Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” - clearly implying that he repeatedly warned his contemporaries that judgment was imminent.

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly...

2 Pet. 2:5

Jesus is telling us that anyone who is invested in the “here and now” - whose life is consumed in making a living, raising a family, and pursuing the “good life” - he’s apt to overlook the import of the signs when they begin to appear.

... and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away ...

Matt. 24:39

The meaning here is not that they didn’t hear the warnings, it’s that they didn’t heed the warnings - they lent them no credibility. They were too caught up in the “affairs of life” - too absorbed in holding together “home and hearth.” “Life as usual” grinds on - and we become so deeply entrenched in it that even the loudest alarm bells are tuned out. Once again, it’s not that we don’t hear the alarm bells when they sound, it’s that we don’t heed them; they have no meaning for us - not really. We play down their significance. And if occasionally we do give the whole matter some thought, it’s cursory at best.

We have only to consider the resurrection of Israel - a deafening alarm bell - a glaringly obvious sign emblazoned across the skies - and how little real thought is paid it - not just by unbelievers, but by believers as well.

Matthew 24:40-44

Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

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.

Matthew 24:40-44

Various Addenda to the Parable of the Flood

What we have here is a series of follow-ups on the parable Jesus has just recounted. They aren’t parables in their own right: they’re far too brief and truncated. They’re more like commentaries - more like “editor’s notes.”

The first two verses, 40 and 41, are meant to remind us that The Tribulation is two dimensional - that it entails both salvation and judgment - with some persons bound over to salvation and others to judgment. It’s senseless to read anything more than that into these two verses. There just isn’t enough to justify it - and, in my opinion, those who do run the risk of imposing their personal bias on the Biblical text.

In all likelihood, verses 40 and 41 hearken back to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares - which tells us that men and women holding down the same jobs and engaged in the same pursuits - perhaps even from the same families - will face different fates when God reaps his final harvest.

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Matt. 13:24-30

The next verse, verse 42, is also an obvious follow-up to the Parable of the Flood - an addendum of sorts; and, in addition, it serves as a lead-in to verses 43 and 44.

Again: the Predictable and Unpredictable Nature of the Signs

Verse 42 reminds us that the signs heralding The Tribulation and the Second Coming are “macro” in nature, not “micro;” it tells us that though we can know generally (the season) when The Tribulation is about to occur, we can never know exactly (the day and the hour). Consequently, there’s always the need to both watch and be prepared.

In verse 43 Jesus likens both The Tribulation and the Second Coming to a “burglary.” That’s because he wants to arrest our attention - to grab us by the nape of the neck and hold on - to drive home his point: Watch and be prepared! Because, like a burglary, what’s at stake is terrible loss - in the words of the parable, “if you’re not prepared, your house will be broken up.”

Verse 44 serves to underscore verse 43. And, once again, notice the word Jesus uses in verse 44.

Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

Matt. 24:44

As in verse 42, it’s the word “hour” - emphasizing once again that though the “season” can be known, the exact “hour” can’t be known.

Matthew 24:45-51

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.

Matt. 24:45-51

Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants: A Believer’s Watchfulness

We now move on to the Parable of the Faithful and the Unfaithful Servant.

The Parable of the Flood is addressed to all mankin. It tells us that ...

“If you’re too invested in the ‘here and now,’ you’ll overlook the signs heralding The Tribulation - regardless of how glaringly obvious they might be.”

This parable sounds exactly the same warning, but addresses it more specifically to believers. Jesus is saying ...

“It goes for you as well. You’re just as susceptible. You too can become so absorbed in pursuing the ‘good life,’ that you’ll disregard the signs heralding The Tribulation and will, consequently, be caught off guard and unprepared when it occurs.“

The word translated “servant” is “doulos” - which is more properly translated “slave.” The word “meat” translates the word “trofh” - which is better translated “wage” or “salary.” But here’s the “rub”: a slave isn’t paid a wage - which leaves us with an inconsistency - specifically, a slave paid a wage. Why the apparent inconsistency? It’s because a believer’s relationship to Christ is cast in the guise of both a slave and a servant. On the one hand, we’re slaves who are obligated to serve God with no thought of being thanked or paid a wage...

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which belong to God.

1 Cor. 6:20

But which of you, having a slave plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?

And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward you shall eat and drink?

Does he thank that slave because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not.

Luke 17:7-9

On the other hand, however, we are servants whom God intends to pay well for faithfully discharging our responsibilities.

If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward (misthos - wage).

1 Cor. 3:14

The Faithful Servant

The servant/slave here in verse 45 has been put in charge of certain household responsibilities - which, of course, is true of all believers. Every one of us - no exceptions - has been assigned certain tasks in the church - and we will, at the proper time, be paid well for faithfully attending to those tasks.

And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward (misthos - wage) is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

Rev. 22:12

Clearly, we aren’t talking here about salvation - which is a gift, not a reward. Salvation can never be earned. It does not originate in merit - or what the Bible calls “works;” it originates in the grace and mercy of God.

... the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rom. 6:23

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Eph. 2:8 -9

We know from Volume I that Christ has reserved a special circle of intimacy for believers who have faithfully witnessed in his behalf - believers who will be “knighted” for their service and raised up (exanastasis not merely anastasis) to rule alongside him in the coming kingdom. That’s what explains verse 47...

Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.

Matt. 24:47

In short, Jesus is saying that at the right time (“in due season” - verse 45) believers who have faithfully discharged their obligations will be rewarded - meaning justly compensated.

The Unfaithful Servant

Beginning with verse 48, Jesus takes up the matter of an unfaithful servant - whom he calls an “evil servant.”

But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming...

Matt. 24:48

Two words here in verse 48 need to noted: (1) the word “if” and (2) the word “that.”

  1. The word “if” (“ean”) is used to preface a conditional clause - introducing a sentence that describes a possibility, an option, another choice.
  2. The word “that” (“ekeinos”) is best translated “this self-same” or “this very one,” and is used to obviate the possibility of confusing the identity of various individuals.

Taken together, what we have is “If, on the other hand, this very person.” Retranslating verse 48 with this in mind...

If, on the other hand, this very same servant says in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming...

Matt. 24:48

In short, we aren’t talking about two separate individuals here in this parable - one in verse 45 and another in verse 48, but two possible choices facing the same individual ...

  1. a path of belief and faithfulness - a path that leads to reward; and
  2. a path of unbelief and fickle self-absorption - leading to loss.

It’s exactly what we find Paul warning believers about in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15...

Every man’s (speaking to believers) work (his service in behalf of Christ) shall be made manifest (its worth will be judged and revealed): for the day (the day of judgment when Christ returns) shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

If any man’s work abide (passes judgment) which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward (misthos - wage).

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

1 Cor. 3:13-15

And what underlies a believer’s faithlessness? The parable clearly indicates it’s because he has lost sight of the Second Coming ...

... My lord delays his coming ...

Matt. 24:48

... an attitude that leads to faithlessness, abuse, and dissipation.

And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken...

Matt. 24:49

In short, he invests himself completely in the “here and now” - and becomes absorbed in its excesses as well as its simple pleasures - so much so that he can’t be distinguished from unbelievers - meaning he has lost his witness.

And how often have we run across this tragedy! Believers - professing Christians - for whom, in the words of Josh McDowell, “sufficient evidence arising from their lives can’t be amassed to prove that they’re Christians.”

Summarizing

Once again...

  • How important are the signs? Very! If we, as believers, fail to pay them heed, there's every liklihood that we’ll be caught unawares and therefore unprepared.
  • Why would we fail to lend them any significance when they begin to appear? For the same reason spelled out in the Parable of the Flood: we’ve become absorbed in the pursuit of the good life.

What we have here is nothing more complicated than the outworking of a simple principle Jesus spelled out at the very beginning of his ministry ...

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Matt. 6:24

... a principle believers all too often don’t take to heart.

Three Confusing Terms

Finally, we need to get to the bottom of three phrases found in the last verse of this parable...

And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 24:51

The three phrases are, of course...

  1. “cut him asunder”
  2. “appoint him his portion with the hypocrites,” and, finally,
  3. “weeping and gnashing of teeth”

These three phrases have led some commentators to insist that the unfaithful servant here in this parable has either (1) forfeited his salvation; or (2) was never saved in the first place. Neither of which is true.

Much of the confusion - most especially the confusion swirling about the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (“klauqmos kai o brugmos ton odonton”) - arises from the mistaken belief that the meaning of a word or phrase never varies. And though it is true that occasionally a word or a phrase acquires a fixed “technical” meaning, that’s quite rare. Anyone versed in linguistics knows that.

More frequently, the meaning of a word or phrase is very elastic. We have only to remind ourselves of the different meanings the Bible gives the word “generation” - sometimes delimiting a time span of just twenty years, sometimes forty years, sometimes one hundred and twenty years, and sometimes it means nothing more than “contemporary.”

More to the point is the word “sanctify” (“agiazo”) - which means only to “set apart” - without necessarily meaning “set apart unto God” implying salvation - which is how most Christians, and some commentators, take it. 1 Corinthians 7:14 is a good example.

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband...

1 Cor. 7:14

Here we have an unbelieving husband “sanctified” by his believing wife and an unbelieving wife “sanctified” by her believing husband. It’s certainly clear, however, that Paul does not mean that the salvation of a wife necessarily leads to the salvation of her husband or visa versa. The question is always: “Sanctified unto what?”

Likewise, the word “seal” simply means to “stamp with a mark” - implying sometimes ownership and sometimes a fixed destiny and sometimes both. Many Christians assume that anyone “sealed” has been saved - and that’s the end of it. But that’s not true. The question is always: “sealed unto whom and for what purpose?”

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

Dr. Darrell Bock points out that the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is a common Jewish idiom describing emotional trauma. It especially describes the grief and remorse arising from a terrible loss. That much is fixed; but what’s not fixed is the nature of the loss - what exactly it consists of; and to suggest here in verse 51 that it means “loss of salvation” is without foundation.

Yes, the faithless servant here in verse 51 has suffered a terrible loss - that much is obvious; but to insist that it’s his salvation is just plain wrong - especially in light of 1 Corinthians 3:15...

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

1 Cor. 3:15

Clearly, what we have here in 1 Corinthians 3:15 is a believer whose salvation is assured ...

... he himself shall be saved...

1 Cor. 3:15

... but a believer who has undergone a terrible trauma: both the word “suffer” and the phrase “so as by fire” make that clear.

Can anyone doubt that though he’s a believer he won’t wail over the loss he has suffered - meaning “weep and gnash his teeth” - especially the more he comes to grips with what exactly it is that he has forfeited:

  • access to the circle of intimacy Christ has reserved exclusively for those who have served him faithfully and
  • the privilege of ruling alongside him in the coming kingdom (see Volume I).

“Weeping and gnashing of teeth” also describes the sense of shame that will engulf an unfaithful believer when Christ returns. In short, an unfaithful believer will grieve not only over the loss he has suffered but over the shame that will sweep over him - an unspeakable shame.

And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.

1 John 2:28

The Greek word that’s translated “ashamed” (“aischunomai”) is especially forceful - and is used to convey the sense of “shrinking back in humiliation.” Imagine, standing before Christ at his return - seeing him face to face - gazing at the wounds he suffered in our behalf ...

And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain (sfazo - slaughtered), having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

Rev. 5:6

... and finally coming to grips with all the anguish he underwent at the Cross and the love that prompted it - and knowing that we’d suffered nothing in his behalf - that when called upon to testify to his goodness and mercy, we’d kept quiet. Can anyone doubt that the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” isn’t “over the top” - that a less impassioned description wouldn’t be appropriate? Using a well-worn French idiom: Je m’en doute un peu!

Cut Him Asunder

The phrase “cut him asunder” is merely another idiom describing the horror an unfaithful believer will face when Christ returns. Many idioms are not meant to describe actual facts, but feelings. Again, anyone versed in linguistics knows that.

  • You’re coming apart at the seams.
  • I’m beside myself.
  • I’m on the edge of my seat.
  • Get a grip on yourself.
  • I could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.

There’s no doubt here that the phrase “cut him asunder” describes an actual fact, a judgment, but the focus is not on what that judgment actually is, but on what it feels like. It feels like being “cut asunder.”

Appoint Him His Portion with the Hypocrites

The phrase “appoint him his portion with the hypocrites” is less idiomatic. Here we do have a phrase that’s more descriptive of an event than a feeling. And it’s entirely consistent with what an unfaithful believer is - he is, in point of fact, a hypocrite.

The word “hypocrite” translates a Greek word the meaning of which doesn’t quite line up with a one to one translation into English. In English, a hypocrite is anyone who behaves contrary to his convictions. But in Greek, the stress isn’t on convictions; it’s on pretense. The word hearkens back to the masks Greek actors wore in public plays. In short, an unfaithful believer is masking who he in fact actually is - a child of God. Though he’s not an unbeliever, he’s behaving like one. That’s what it means to be a hypocrite; and that’s also what it means to be unfaithful.

Summarizing

An unfaithful believer will enjoy no intimacy with Christ when he returns nor will he be awarded the privilege of ruling alongside Christ in the Millennial Kingdom.

  • That’s what it means to “appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.”
  • It’s also what it means to be “cut asunder;” and, finally,
  • it’s also what leads to a remorse so grievous that “weeping and gnashing teeth” is not just likely to occur, but is inevitable

It’s the fate of all unfaithful believers. It’s a crushing loss. “But,” you say, “I thought at Christ’s return all believers would share the same privileges and be accorded the same level of intimacy with their Savior?” Think again!

Matthew 25:1-13

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

Keep in Mind

Keep in mind that these parables are about readiness for The Tribulation and the Judgment that follows. That’s the single issue around which they all revolve. Let’s quickly summarize ...

  • The Parable of the Flood underscores the importance of the signs - but at the same time warns us that those signs will be largely ignored. Why? Because mankind will be too fixated on the “here and now” - too absorbed in daily living to lend them any credibility.
  • Unbelievers caught off guard - that’s not unexpected. But what about believers? Could they too be caught off guard? The answer is “Yes.” That’s why Jesus adds the next parable, the Parable of the Faithful and the Unfaithful Servant. It’s addressed specifically to believers, not unbelievers. The same dynamic that’s likely to trip up unbelievers is just as likely to trip up believers if they don’t stay focused on Christ’s return and the signs heralding its approach.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins - A Believers Walk

The next parable, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, is likewise addressed to believers. But here the subject is a believer’s walk - meaning his relationship with the Lord. In short, a believer’s readiness for The Tribulation and the judgment that follows is predicated not only on his watchfulness, but his walk with the Lord. In this parable, Jesus clearly warns believers that though they hear the “midnight cry” - meaning they lend credibility to the signs of his return - they won’t be able to respond unless they’ve cultivated an intimate relationship with Christ. That’s what this parable is all about.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

Matthew 25:1

All Ten Are Believers

Many commentators become fixated on the word “virgin” - insisting that it symbolizes a believer. However, the Greek word, "parthenos” simply means an unmarried woman - a maiden; and not always an unmarried chaste woman. Even in the New Testament, Paul distinguishes between a virgin, parthenon, and a chaste virgin, "parthenon agehe" (2 Cor. 11:2). Therefore, though the word “virgin” suggests that what we have here are ten believers, it’s not decisive in and of itself.

But that’s not the end of it. There’s more. The word “lamp” is also quite suggestive. Each of the young maidens has a lamp - and each lamp is lit - at least initially. Throughout the New Testament, a lighted lamp is frequently used to symbolize both believers and the church as a whole. For example...

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matt. 5:16

Ye are the light of the world...

Matt. 5:14

...but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light...

Eph. 5:8

...and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.

Rev. 1:20

Not only that, but all ten are on their way to meet the bridegroom - which is hardly what we’d expect of an unbeliever.

Add it all together ...

  • “virgin,”
  • “lit lamps,”
  • “going to meet the bridegroom”

... and we can be quite certain that what we have here are ten, not just five, believers.

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.

Matthew 25:2-4

The Real Difference

Verse 3 tells us that the five foolish virgins took no oil with them; but that doesn’t mean they had no oil at all, only that they had no extra oil. The five wise virgins, on the other hand took an extra supply of oil with them - in a pouch that travelers at night frequently carried to assure a sufficient supply. In short, the five foolish virgins didn’t bother to fill their vessels - meaning their pouches - with extra oil. They filled only their lamps.

Consider carefully: what distinguishes the five wise virgins from the five foolish virgins is neither...

  • that the five wise had lamps that were lit and the five foolish had lamps that were unlit - because that’s not true; nor
  • that the five wise had oil and the five foolish didn’t - because that also is not true.

No, what distinguishes them is that the five foolish didn’t have enough oil.

Moving on now to the next verse...

While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

Matthew 25:5

Verse 5 adds very little to the parable - only that the wait was longer than anticipated. It’s useless to speculate about the meaning of the phrase “they all slumbered and slept.” It may mean that during Jesus’ long absence believers are expected to carry on with their lives. But that’s a highly tentative suggestion. There’s too little here to justify it. Once again, linguists are quick to point out that not all the details of a parable add any interpretive substance, only color and drama.

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh...

Matthew 25:6a

Verse 6a is key to the meaning of the parable as a whole - and, in addition, clearly reveals the parable’s harmony, meaning its essential unity, with the two previous parables.

All Ten Hear the Midnight Cry - But Only Five Can Respond

Notice that all ten virgins hear the “midnight cry.” In light of the two previous parables, that’s quite significant. In both the Parable of the Flood and the Parable of the Faithful Servant and the Unfaithful Servant that was the issue: hearing - meaning lending significance to the signs heralding the Second Coming. The bottom line here is simple: watching for Christ’s return is vital; it’s a first step; but it’s not enough. There’s more to being prepared than just that. All ten hear the midnight cry, but only five are able to respond to the accompanying command ...

... go ye out to meet him.

Matt. 25:6b

Why? The answer is provided in the next two verses...

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.

Matt. 25:7-8

Verse 7 tells us that all ten virgins arose and, in preparation to meet him, trimmed their lamps. It’s a process of (1) cutting off the charred residue at the end of a wick and (2) making sure there’s enough oil in the lamp to keep it burning. It’s what anyone living at the time would have done after a lamp had been burning for several hours.

The phrase in verse 7, “their lamps,” should read “their very own lamps” - which is what the word “eauton” means in the phrase “tas lampadas eauton.” It’s meant to stress that the lamps are the personal property of each of the respective virgins.

The five foolish virgins now discover they haven’t brought a sufficient supply of oil to keep their lamps burning - that, consequently, their lamps are going out.

The translation here in verse 8 is incorrect: it’s not that the lamps “have gone out;” it’s that they “are going out.” The Greek word “sbennuntai” is not cast in the past tense, but in the continuous present tense - what in English we’d call the imperfect tense - indicating that the flame is flickering, but that it’s not altogether extinguished.

The bottom line here is simple: though the five foolish virgins have heard the midnight cry, they won’t be able to respond to it unless they can replenish their supply of oil. So they desperately turn to the five wise virgins and ask them to share their oil. But the five wise turn down their request.

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.

Matt. 25:9

Believers Can’t Borrow on Each Other’s Walk

Some commentators have become almost obsessed with getting a handle on the motive prompting the five wise virgins to reject the request: it seems so selfish. But that’s not the issue at hand. Again, what we have here in the first part of verse 9 is color and drama, not interpretive substance. The interpretive substance is found in the follow-up clause “go ... and buy for yourselves.” What Jesus is saying is simple: believers can’t borrow on each other’s personal relationship with God. It’s an answer that has already been hinted at in verse 5 - with its stress on personal responsibility (“their very own lamps” - tas lampadas eauton).

We’re now able to unravel the essential meaning of the parable:

  • the oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit;
  • the amount of oil symbolizes a believers walk with the Lord - meaning the five wise virgins, whose vessels are filled, have cultivated a personal relationship with Christ - a relationship that’s rich and deeply profound; on the other hand, the five foolish virgins, whose vessels are not filled, have neglected to cultivate a personal relationship with the Lord. Their walk is superficial and perfunctory.
  • The five wise virgins don’t share their oil with the five foolish virgins simply because believers can’t borrow on each other’s relationship with Christ. It’s a wholly personal matter. In the very words Jesus uses in the parable ...

... but go ye rather ... and buy for yourselves

Matt. 25:9

The five foolish virgins represent, therefore, believers who - though they’re attuned to the signs of the Second Coming and are watching for Christ’s return - have, nevertheless, failed to develop a personal relationship with him.

It’s in this sense, that Christ tells them in verse 12 “I know you not.”

What we’ve unravelled thus far guides our interpretation of the last three verses, verses 10-12

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.

Matt. 25:10 -12

The two clauses in verses 10 and 12 ...

  1. “The door was shut;” and
  2. “I know you not.”

... are no different from the three idioms we ran across in Matthew 24:51 ...

  1. “cut him asunder”
  2. “appoint him his portion with the hypocrites,” and, finally,
  3. “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

They’re idiomatic expressions Jesus uses to get across to his disciples what an unfaithful believer will face at the Second coming...

  • Because he failed to remain true to his witness, he will be denied the privilege of ruling alongside Christ in the Millennial Kingdom.
  • Because he failed to cultivate a personal relationship with Christ, he will bear the shame of hearing him say, “I know you not.”

Clearly, the marriage here in this parable symbolizes the joy ...

  • of being “knighted” by Christ (see Volume I) to rule alongside him, and
  • the intimacy that entails.

Let’s move on now to Matthew 25:13 ...

Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Matt. 25:13

It simply underscores once again the need to watch; here, however, its meaning has been clearly expanded to include the sense of putting to good use the time God has allotted us to deepen our walk with him.

The Marriage Paradigm - What it means

Marriage is a paradigm that’s frequently used throughout the scriptures, but especially in the parables; nevertheless, its exact meaning is not fixed. It changes considerably from passage to passage and from parable to parable; moreover, the roles assigned believers taking part in the marriage often fluctuate as well.

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