Timing is always important! It is true in everything from knowing when to buy or to sell shares of stock; or when to negotiate the best price on the lease or purchase of a car; or to lock in the lowest possible interest rate on a mortgage. Good timing can save you multiplied thousands of dollars, or earn them. It can be the difference in whether you get the position you interviewed for, or someone else does because they were more prompt in following up. In so many situations, timing makes an enormous difference in the outcome. This morning’s d’rasha is about recognizing the times, and especially about being prepared for that most significant future moment in all of history. May the Lord our God help us, both to understand and to act on what we hear this morning.
Because human beings tend to think in pictures, we sometimes learn and remember a truth better when it is taught to us through a story, or by the use of images, symbols or metaphors. This is why the prophets of Israel, and Messiah Yeshua Himself often employed parables. This morning will conclude our teaching series on the parables of Yeshua. The first of the three parables we will read is found in Mark 13, at the tail end of the Olivet Discourse – Yeshua’s prophecy/instruction about the End of the Age.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.”
One of the most well-known symbols for Israel is that of the fig tree. It is one of the country’s indigenous and plentiful fruits. Dried figs are a delicious treat! And excuse the pun, but fig trees fig-ure prominently throughout Scripture. The Bible sometimes uses agricultural symbols to represent Israel. The inspired writers used imagery of some of the indigenous trees and fruits of the land to stand for the nation. For example, in Psalm 80 Asaph speaks of God as having brought a “vine” out of Egypt and, after driving out the nations, “planting” that vine in the land.
Figs and fig trees, as symbols, go all the way back to Gan Eden. Having rebelled against the Creator and eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve suddenly were ashamed of their nakedness. Moses tells us that, in a vain attempt to deal with the embarrassment, our two first parents sewed fig leaves together as coverings. So, fig trees were there in Eden, and their leaves are a symbol, if you will, of man’s futile self-efforts to overcome the effects of sin.
The fig tree in this parable is the symbol, and the sprouting of leaves is evidence of where we are in the cycle of seasons. This parable is about knowing the season we are in. So also when you see these things… What things? Looking back on what Messiah has just taught, the ‘things’ (signs of His approaching) include:
- Rise of false prophets / false Messiahs leading many into deception
- Wars will increase worldwide
- Earthquakes and famines will increase
- Hatred will intensify against Yeshua’s followers worldwide
- Betrayal of believers, even by own family, to imprisonment / death
- The Temple will be desecrated again (as in 167 BC – Antiochus IV)
- Tribulation unlike anything in the history of the world (vs. 19 / Dan. 12:1)
- Signs of darkness, gloom in the heavens
Many of these things have already begun to take place, about which Yeshua said they were not the end, but rather the onset of labor pains. The most obvious sign signaling the season we are in, was the rebirth of Israel in 1948. If the fig tree is a symbol for Israel, then May 14, 1948 represented the putting forth of its leaves. As of yet there is no Temple, but that will come about soon enough.
Adonai revealed (Daniel 12:11) that from the time of the desecration of that Temple, there would be 1,290 days (3.5 years) of tribulation such as the world has never seen, and that those who persevere in their faith through to the 1,335th day would be greatly blessed. And because of how bad it will be, Yeshua reminds us that we should take heart, since it means His return is right at hand!
The world seems to be going mad right before our eyes; and our own country is in disarray. But our eyes need to be riveted heavenward, because things will get much worse than they are now, and if we are going to persevere in the Faith, we cannot afford to be distracted from our Master, or from fulfilling His assignment to us.
“Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore, stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
This parable invokes a scenario quite familiar to Yeshua’s First Century audience; The owner of an estate and his servants, most notably, the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper has one job: watch the door. Keep intruders out, welcome expected guests; see that provisions are made.
While we are admonished to recognize the season, Yeshua told us in no uncertain terms (and on multiple occasions) that we do not know (according to verse 32, not even He knows) when exactly His return will occur. Yet we must be found faithful, obediently carrying out His directive, at His return.
There are two mistakes people make about the unknown time of Yeshua’s return. The first is to begin to think that since we don’t know, then it doesn’t really matter when. That leads to complacency and procrastination, so that we aren’t going out and making disciples. We let our guard down, go into spiritual drift, and it will not go well for us upon His sudden return.
The second mistake goes to the other extreme, but has the same negative net effect: people aren’t evangelized or discipled. What is that second mistake? It is to obsess about the timing of His return; that though we don’t know when He is coming, somehow we’ve got to try and figure it out. It leads to people over-interpreting every news headline to be a sign of the end times. We become so fixated on ‘when’ that we neglect our calling.
Some who are in this speculative mindset see every new form of technology as a satanic conspiracy. I remember that when credit cards were first introduced, some Christians were adamant that it was the mark of the beast, since it represented a ‘cashless society’ (meanwhile, Scripture doesn’t say the antichrist institutes a cashless society; only that people won’t be able to buy or sell without his mark; nothing about the means of exchange). Next, it was the UPC (Universal Product Code) label on all products, which are scanned and used to track sales and inventory; some Christians declared that to be the ‘mark of the beast’. More recently, microchip implants have been argued to be the mark of the beast. It is a distraction, and, frankly, it strips us of credibility, like the boy who cried ‘wolf!’.
Some even begin dabbling dangerously in Gematria (Hebrew numerology), and other forms of spiritual speculation. And all the while, Messiah’s directive that we go out and make disciples gets lost in the mix, because we’ve become distracted, trying to figure out the great mystery of the timing of His return. We must learn to be content to not know some things. Ultimately, it’s a simple, logical equation:
- a) The Scriptures say we must be ready for Yeshua’s coming
- b) The Scriptures say we cannot know when Yeshua is coming.
- c) We must be ready at all times for Yeshua’s coming
And, like the doorkeeper, you had one job.
This brings us to the third of our three parables this morning: Matthew 25:1-13. It is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and a wedding. Let me introduce this parable with some comments.
Did you know there’s a Jewish wedding feast to take place in Heaven? It’s true! In fact, the Scriptures are filled with examples of God portrayed as a Husband, and Israel His bride. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For your Husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts… (Isa. 54:5). Jeremiah declared, “…Thus says the Lord, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness…’” (Jer. 2:2).
Weddings in ancient Israel required the bride-to-be to continually be on the alert for the shout announcing the bridegroom’s arrival. The bridegroom could come for his bride at any hour of day or night, just as Messiah’s return will come suddenly, and for most, unexpectedly! And His return will bring about final judgment.
God’s judgment has never come without due notice and repeated warnings to those needing to repent. Some, wisely, heed those warnings. Others go on about their lives, complacently and even arrogantly, indifferent to the prospect of Divine Judgment, and will be caught completely off-guard when it comes.
Yeshua compared His return to an approaching wedding. Now weddings are happy events, and there’s nothing more joyful than a Jewish wedding. But be warned, this parable speaks of judgment and exclusion – those who will be shut out of the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
This refers to the virgins going out, each from their own home, and converging at the home of the bride-to-be. This was Jewish custom in preparation for a wedding. From the moment a bridegroom and bride sealed their betrothal with a cup of wine, the bride had to be in a constant state of readiness, while the bridegroom went “to prepare a place” for her (a bridal chamber typically adjoining the home of his parents). The bridesmaids would join the bride-to-be in waiting at her home, day by day, alert and listening for the shout of the bridegroom’s sudden coming.
Each bridesmaid brought her own lamp to the bride’s home. The lamps for such occasions were more like torches, a lamp put atop a hollowed-out pole, which also held a supply of oil. Such lamps were indispensable! After all, suppose the bridegroom came for his bride at night; there were no street lights, no porch lights. Without lamps, travel by night would have been difficult (picture dirt roads, rocks and ruts).
And we have here ten virgins. Ten was the customary number of witnesses needed to comprise a quorum for official and for ceremonial purposes. But the parable centers around the contrast in the character of these virgins.
Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
One might think the five foolish virgins to simply have been stupid. Not so! It was not stupidity, but presumption that characterizes their folly. They either presumed the bride’s family would supply the oil for them, or they presumed they would have more than ample time to purchase oil for whenever that day would come.
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.
This is one aspect of the parable that has been widely misunderstood. There was nothing sinful in their growing drowsy. Remember, the five wise virgins fell asleep, too. The bridegroom delayed His return for her. Their wisdom wasn’t about staying awake, but about being prepared. In this fallen world, we often feel like Messiah’s return is long overdue. Yeshua gave several parables about the seeming delay of His Second Coming, and that many people will be caught off-guard, unprepared and unbelieving at that time.
But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
This doesn’t mean Yeshua’s return will be at midnight, or even at night. The point is, almost everyone will have become comfortable and drowsy – not expecting Him. It will be a surprise to almost everyone. The question is, will that shofar blast be a delightful surprise or a terrifying realization? Will it be the welcoming to the great Wedding Feast of Heaven, or a summons to appear before the Judgment Seat? That depends on you. But make no mistake about it, His coming for us is as certain as that of a young man in love and eagerly preparing that place for his bride-to-be. You can be sure that the moment he gets the okay from his father, he will not waste one minute, but send for his bride!
And so, in our parable, the shout is heard in the middle of the night, and the bride and her companions quickly awaken and assemble themselves for the procession to the place of the wedding. Just one little problem…
Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’
Of course, their lamps were going out – they hadn’t brought any of their own oil. Let me state again that it was not stupidity, but presumption. They presumed that oil would be supplied to them, and when it wasn’t the case, they procrastinated and made no effort to obtain any. They apparently didn’t think it was all that urgent. Now the time was at hand, and they were caught completely unprepared.
The foolish virgins asked the prudent to give them some of their supply, and at first glance it seems uncharitable that the wise virgins decline to share their oil. But in reality, it was just common sense not to split that supply in half. Otherwise everybody’s lamp would go out prematurely, and then you’d have the whole wedding party trying to make their way in the dark. That would be a disaster!
There’s a pithy saying: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”? The wise virgins suggest the others go purchase oil from one of the local shops. You might think it absurd to suggest that anyone go at midnight to conduct business. But some scholars argue that on festive occasions like a community wedding, it was not unheard of for oil and lamp merchants to be set up and ready to do business at night – particularly since their products would be in demand. What choice did they have? The wedding party was at hand, and lamps were necessary for the bridal procession. So, off they went to buy oil.
And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut.
Nobody had counted on the bridegroom coming so quickly! Yet here he was, and it would have been improper to keep him and those already gathered at the place of the banquet waiting. So those who were ready left with him, journeying together with great joy to the wedding feast. They went in and the door was shut.
Hollywood movies aside, there is no crashing a wedding banquet! Weddings are not open parties where whoever wants to can just drop in. A wedding is a formal event, and it is by invitation. Not only had these virgins been invited, but had been given the honor of being the companions of the bride. Yet the five foolish ones didn’t care enough to prepare themselves. They didn’t take the impending wedding or the intent of the groom seriously. The door was shut!
Now, let’s unpack the parable. The Bridegroom is Messiah and the Bride is the community of believers, the wedding is the Great Ingathering in Heaven (called in The Revelation “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb”). When those doors are shut, nobody else is getting in. That means you do whatever is necessary now to be prepared for That Day. If you think you can afford to put it off, you are mistaken, and there are no second chances, as we learn from verses 11 and 12.
Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’
This wasn’t cold-hearted indifference, it was proper protocol. Had the five foolish virgins been part of the wedding procession, they would have entered with the bridegroom. But the door was shut, and was not to be opened again. Since they weren’t at the bride’s home when he came for her, why would he be expected to recognize their voices, or even their faces? Weddings were joyful but also serious occasions. You needed to be there promptly; it was regarded as a serious social offense to refuse the invitation, or to not show up. In essence, the foolish virgins ‘no-showed’. Their actions exhibited disdain for the bridegroom and for the occasion itself, and it was altogether appropriate that they be excluded.
One scholar suggests that the saying “I do not know you” was a formula used by rabbis to keep certain disciples (those who had fallen out of favor) at a distance.
Yeshua sums up the meaning of the parable in verse 13.
Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
This was not mere storytelling. The parable was meant to be understood as having reference to the Kingdom of Heaven. So, let me conclude by reviewing the main components. Messiah is the Bridegroom. We, Messiah’s Holy Community of Jews and Gentiles, are the Bride. Our assembly is like the house, the place of waiting for His return. He has betrothed us to Himself and gone to prepare a place for us. And He will return very suddenly and unexpectedly for us.
If you are wise, you have your own oil. That means you have entered into the New Covenant relationship with God through Messiah Yeshua, and have received the Holy Spirit. Those who are foolish may tell themselves that walking into a building where believers gather is sufficient – that maybe it’ll be okay because your spouse is a believer, or your parents are believers, or your friends. To think that way is to be unprepared. Merely showing up at the bride’s home (this place) doesn’t mean you’ll be admitted to the wedding banquet. This parable clearly demonstrates that merit cannot be transferred. Wives cannot transfer any to their husbands. Parents cannot transfer any to their children. It is an all-or-nothing proposition. Your faith must be your own. You either have oil in yourself or you don’t. And you don’t get oil from the house, you get it from the Lord.
To unbelieving friends or relatives who are tuned in to our live stream, let me say something that is of ultimate importance for your soul. Without Yeshua, you are not okay. If you do not repent of unbelief, you will be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. I like to be friendly, but a real friend speaks the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable to hear. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Prov. 27:6). Please forgive me if, along the way, I have been too ‘friendly’ and not enough of a friend.
To those who are putting this off: if you’re waiting until the 11th hour to repent, you better hope you don’t die at 10:30.
From David Robert Anderson:
The story goes that three devils set out to conquer the world. The first devil went around proclaiming the message, “There is no God!” But even though some people acted as if there were no God, they knew in their hearts that this message was not true. The second devil announced, “There is no sin!” And again, although many people acted as if the message were true, they knew deep down that it wasn’t. The third devil was smarter than the other two. He did not attempt to change people’s beliefs. He made no attempt to argue against their deepest convictions. He simply said, “There is no hurry.”
Rabbi Paul admonished us, saying, Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold TODAY is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Will today will be your day?
 See Matthew: New International Biblical Commentary, Robert H. Mounce, Ó 1985 Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, pg. 233. Mounce cites Schweizer’s suggestion that in a rural village on a festive occasion, many people would have been up and about, including merchants looking to profit from it.