Prepared for His Return
November 12, 2023 |Prepared for His Return|Matthew 25:1-13
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We’ve spent quite a few weeks now looking at the encounters and teaching that Jesus had and did in the temple during his last week of ministry before the cross.
Last week we looked at Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders because they taught but did not follow it, preached but did not practice.
Immediately after that instruction to the crowd and his disciples, Jesus launches into seven woes aimed directly at the scribes and Pharisees, condemning their hypocrisy, their blindness, but mainly their hypocrisy. Six times he says (ESV) But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
The climax of this whole encounter is found in verse 37 of chapter 23.
Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV) 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Jesus now leaves the temple complex with his disciples.
Perhaps, not knowing what to say after his thorough rebuke of the religious leaders and his pronouncement on Jerusalem, the disciples call attention to the building of the temple itself and the surrounding area. In Mark, we have these words of one of his disciples.
Mark 13:1 (ESV) And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!
Matthew just says that his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.
If I could take a small creative liberty here, I imagine their thought process may have been something like this.
What about the temple? I get that the religious leaders are hypocrites, that Jerusalem herself is rebellious, but at least we have this beautiful temple.
And beautiful it was. It had taken 46 years to build this temple, it was adorned with gold and jewels, made with giant, well cut stone. It was an impressive display of the Jews dedication to the temple mount. It was central to their worship, their identity, and their lives. Of all these unstable things, at least we have the temple.
In light of this, even more shocking is Jesus’ answer. (ESV) “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Naturally, the disciples are confused and shocked. So much so that as they get out of town and onto the Mount of Olives, where Jesus sits down, they come to him and say, (ESV) “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Let us stop there for a minute, because we need to establish what they are asking. Specifically, how many questions they are asking.
The reality is that the disciples ask what they think is one question. The destruction of the temple, Jesus coming into His kingdom as the Messiah, and the end of the age were all one event in their mind.
Translated into English, it seems like three distinct questions.
When will the temple be destroyed?
What will be the sign of your coming?
What is the sign of the end of the age?
When we examine Jesus’ answer, particularly, as I understand it, in the Greek, Jesus answers two questions.
(Reformed Expository Commentary) First, when will the temple be destroyed, and second, what will be the sign that foretells both Jesus’ coming and the end of the age?
The challenge for the interpreter is that Jesus seemingly weaves some of these answers together, overlapping them in places which leads to many different interpretations and sequences taken from his teaching in Matthew 24.
The greatest distinguishing difference between the two questions is that Jesus tells the disciples exactly what to expect before the temple is destroyed and what to do in response to it, flee!
Because the church took this warning seriously, when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in AD70 by Rome, many Christians escaped to safety. However, concerning his coming and the end of the age he says, Matthew 24:36 (ESV) 36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
This marks at least, in part, his transition from the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple to his second coming or the culmination of the kingdom. One is coming within a generation, the other is in the hands of the Father.
I know that is a long introduction, but it is imperative that we understand the background of our text today. We are going to look at a parable found in the midst of Jesus’ answer to the questions of the disciples.
Jesus uses many different teaching methods in this discourse, he uses Noah and the days before the flood as illustrative of the second coming. He uses the picture of a faithful servant vs an evil one. He uses a parable of a group of ladies invited to accompany the bridegroom to the wedding feast, a parable of a master distributing talents to be used while he is away, and finally he uses a picture of a shepherd separating sheeps from goats as a picture of the final judgment that accompanies his second coming. Over the next three weeks, we will look at each of the parables Jesus gives in chapter 25, beginning this morning with the parable of the ten virgins, or ten maidens.
We find this parable at the beginning of chapter 25. Let’s read it together now.
Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV) 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 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.’ 10 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. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Understanding the context and reason for the parable helps us understand why Jesus gives it. He is warning his disciples to not worry about when he will return but that they are prepared for his return when it happens. Indeed, the same lesson is applicable for us this morning, a disciple of Jesus must be prepared for his return.
The question I want us to answer this morning is why? Why must we be prepared for his return? I believe in this parable and its application, Jesus gives us three reasons we must be prepared for his return as disciples.
Reason number one that disciples must be prepared for his return is…
…because it will be unexpected.
This is the lesson of every illustration and parable that Jesus uses up to and including the one we are looking at today.
Matthew 24:37-42 (ESV) 7 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
(As a parenthetical, despite what you may have been taught, verses 40 and 41 is not a proof text for the rapture of the church. In the context of Jesus’ words, those that were unaware and taken away in the judgment of the flood were the disobedient, rebellious ones, and the ones left behind were Noah and his family. Immediately Jesus applies this picture to two men in the field and two women working at the mill. There is no basis, Biblical or otherwise, for us to completely switch the meaning of taken and left to mean the exact opposite of the way Jesus just used it in the illustration.)
The illustration isn’t for a secret rapture of the church but rather to illustrate the suddenness of the Lord’s return. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
The second illustration has the same application.
Matthew 24:43-44 (ESV) 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
The third illustration has the same implication.
Matthew 24:45-51 (ESV) 45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Stay awake, be ready, for you do not know the day or the hour the Lord is coming.
When we say his return is unexpected, we do not mean we don’t know it is coming. He promised to return, we know that he is, but again and again he warns us not to be caught unexpectedly because it will happen when we least expect it.
Take Noah for example. We aren’t told how long Noah built the ark, there are some reasons that people say it could have been 120 years. We do know that it was not a quick project, and we also know that he proclaimed why he was building it. So it was not unexpected in that sense. But what Jesus says is as the days went on, people went on with their lives as though it would not happen.
Then one day, like any other day, it happened. There was no build up, no rain started, no flood came little by little, one day unexpectedly, it happened.
The servant knew his master would return eventually. But as it delayed and day rolled into day, he quit living like the master was going to come back and started acting like he had all the time in the world, and then suddenly and without warning the master shows up to find his servant disobedient. Expected but unexpected.
It is the same way in our parable today. All ten women knew the bridegroom was coming. Right? They had accepted the invitation, they had prepared their lamps, dressed in their wedding clothes, and came out to the appointed location. They expected him. But then, he delayed coming.
So they all became drowsy. The word likely means began to nod off. You’ve been there, trying to stay away for something important and your eyes start to get heavy. Maybe you jolt awake after a few seconds, stand up, try and shake the sleepiness off.
I have watched my kids do this trying to make it to midnight on New Year’s Eve. I have seen my wife do this during every movie we have ever watched.
What starts as excitement for the expected moment, becomes weariness as we wait for it to happen. Drowsiness becomes sleep and all the ladies fall asleep.
And as they sleep, the expected comes unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, a cry rings out. NOW!
The moment they have been waiting for has arrived.
This is consistently how the Bible describes the coming of the Lord.
Matthew 24:27 (ESV) 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 (ESV) 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Luke 21:34-36 (ESV) 34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Although you know lightning is coming when there is a storm, it nevertheless surprises us when it happens. Although you know there are thieves in this world, it nevertheless surprises you when you find you have been a victim of one, you know the Lord is coming, nevertheless, if you let the world weigh your heart down, lull you into sleep, you will be caught unexpectedly when he returns.
The first reason we are to be prepared is that the Lord’s return will be unexpected, the second is…
...because there will be no time to prepare once he comes.
In our parable, the women are awakened by the cry, it is time. Upon getting up they realize their lamps have burned down and they need attention. They all trim their wicks and get ready, but half of them realize they have made a mistake. They did not adequately prepare for the circumstance of the bridegroom being delayed. They do not have enough oil to replenish their lamps that are about to go out.
They plead with those who have brought extra oil, but it is useless. There is not enough to share, if they share, all their lamps will go out before they reach the wedding feast. Their only option is to try and go buy more oil, in the middle of the night, in time to meet the bridegroom, who is almost there. But notice, as futile as this effort is, they do it. Listen friends, there will be no one, when the trumpet calls, when the shout comes, that will not desire to be with the bridegroom. Even those with a loose connection to the church or even an idea of who Jesus is, will in that moment, bolt awake with a desire to be with him, but for those that are unprepared, it will be too late.
It is the same for all the previous illustrations. Once the rain started pouring, it was too late, God had shut the door. Once the master comes it is too late to straighten up. Once the thief has struck, it is too late to lock the door or secure the valuables.
Some of you think you have time to get right with God. But the reality is, if you do not want to be right with him now, you will not want to be right with him later, and when you are caught unexpectedly by his return, it will be too late. This is why the Bible says (ESV) Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Understand that, as I read it, there is nothing that must happen before Jesus returns. It could be at any moment. When it does, it will be too late to try and get right with him.
But the parable illustrates a slightly different kind of situation, doesn’t it?
The five foolish virgins, seemingly accepted the call to accompany the bridegroom with gladness, they made some preparations, they showed up, but ultimately they were not ready, because they did not endure.
What are we to make of this picture? If we compare this parable to others our Lord told us about the kingdom we find similar pictures.
They are the seed sown on the rocky ground, they are the seed sown on the thorny ground.
Matthew 13:20-22 (ESV) 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Do not think because one time you made a profession of faith that you are prepared to meet Jesus.
A one time response or an initial response to the word is not evidence that you are prepared to meet Jesus, according to Jesus. The evidence that you are prepared to meet him is in a persevering faith.
Article V of the Baptist Faith and Message says it this way.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
We should not confuse the issue before us by trying to allegorize every detail in this parable as some have done. We must let the main application Jesus makes drive our understanding.
The parable serves to illustrate two kinds of people. Those who are genuinely ready to meet the bridegroom because they have wisely prepared and those who appear ready but are not in fact ready to meet the bridegroom because they have been foolish.
So we have not illustrated two kinds of Christians, one who endures and one who does not.
We have illustrated two kinds of responses to Christ, those who forsake everything and call on him as Lord for all the days of their life and those who may outwardly respond for a season but ultimately are unchanged by their profession.
To go beyond that is, I think, to do violence to the immediate text, as well as the surrounding examples and parables.
So far we have looked at two reasons we are to be prepared: one, the Lord’s return will be unexpected, two, because there will be no time to prepare once he returns. Finally this morning we come to the third reason we must be prepared for his return. Disciples must be prepared for his return…
...because if we are not prepared we will not enter in with him.
We will not spend much time here, but this is clearly seen in our text.
Matthew 25:11-12 (ESV) Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
What truly terrifying words.
The bridegroom says, In truth, all I can say is that I do not know you, with the implication that the door will not be opened after it is shut.
This is not the first time Jesus used these words in a parable concerning the kingdom of God.
Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV) 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
But they were invited, were they not?
But, Lord, Lord, we were invited to the wedding feasts.
In what way?
We are lamp carriers for your procession.
Then why are you not inside?
Because we ran out of oil and had to go buy more.
I’m sorry, it is too late, the procession has happened, the door has been shut, these five I know, but you five I do not. And so the story ends, the five foolish virgins excluded from the wedding party, shut out of the kingdom of Heaven. And as the story ends, Jesus makes the pointed application.
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Watch- literally keep awake!
Therefore- since this is the way the kingdom of heaven is like
Always be ready, why?
For- because, you do not know the day nor the hour.
Why does that matter? Because if you are not prepared, you will not go in with the bridegroom.
The third reason Jesus says his disciples must be prepared for his return is that only those who are ready will enter into his kingdom on the final day. There will be many standing outside who thought they were prepared, many who think they deserve to come in, but ultimately, those who find themselves on the outside will be hopelessly and finally separated from the Lord.
What does this look like for you today?
First, understand the bible never talks about inviting Jesus into your heart. Rather it says we must repent, turn from trusting in ourselves, turn from living life our way and for ourselves, and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, given for our sins, raised for our life, and that through faith in him, and him alone, we are saved. And if we are indeed saved, our lives are changed from the inside out.
There is evidence and fruit that comes from our salvation.
Second, understand additionally, if you are saved, you cannot lose your salvation. Once you are known by Christ and know Christ you are eternally sealed against the day.
The problem is that there are many who claim to know Jesus but their life does not bear the evidence. They are, in fact, not ready to meet Jesus face to face at his return.
Here is the challenge in Jesus’ parable.
If Jesus returned right now, would he find you fully trusting in Him, living in obedience to Him, and joyfully expecting His return or would he find you wholly unprepared to meet him?
I want you to do an exercise with me this morning, close your eyes.
Let your mind take you back through this last week. Knowing that Jesus could have come back at any time during that time, were you ready to meet him in each and every moment or would you have been caught by surprise, possibly embarrassed, and radically unprepared to meet him?
Open your eyes. If the answer to that question is yes, praise the Lord. Brothers and sisters, keep up the good fight, knowing that one of these days when Jesus returns it will be a glorious day for you.
If the answer to that question is no. There were moments where you let the world lull you to sleep, that you took your eyes off of Jesus, then pray that God would help you recognize those and by the power of his Spirit to work in those areas, in those moments, so that at every moment you would be ready to meet the Lord.
If the answer to that question is no because you know that there was not one moment in this last week that you would have been prepared to meet the Lord, in fact, you know that you are not prepared this morning, please do not leave this place without seeking the Lord while he may be found.
Jesus warned his disciples to be ready for his return because it will be unexpected, because it will be too late to decide to follow him then, and because the matter of your eternal state will have already been settled.
This is the same warning I would pray that you would heed this morning. Jesus is coming, will you be ready to meet him?