People procrastinate, sometimes about vitally important matters. In this parable, Matthew 25:1–13, Jesus encourages, even commands, you to be prepared and to keep watch for his coming.
Beware of the folly of being unprepared. The kingdom of heaven will be like ten young women. There are details we do not know about first century weddings. Jesus’ focus is on the coming of the groom and on the wisdom or folly, respectively, of five of the bridesmaids. Apparently they attended the bride, and when the groom arrived to take her to his home for the wedding feast, accompanied the procession with their lights. Don’t read significance into details that are simply part of the story. (Don’t try to find specific meanings for the lamps, the oil, and the drowsing that the girls did.) This parable uses Biblical imagery. The messianic kingdom had been compared to a banquet, Isaiah 25. Jesus had told a parable of king giving a wedding feast, Matthew 22:1–14. Particularly in the prophets (see Hosea) the relationship between Israel and the Lord was compared to marriage. Thus it is not inappropriate for the Messiah to come as the bridegroom. See Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 21:1–2. Note the future tense with which Jesus introduces the parable. Five of the bridesmaids were ready, and five were foolishly unprepared. There are consequences for being unprepared. This is a parable, but central to its point is the truth that Jesus Christ is coming. He will appear. That truth cannot be jettisoned without discarding the faith itself. “It is all-important that we today confront ourselves with the implications for faith and hope of the sustained witness of the New Testament respecting the advent…. [I]f anything is integral to the New Testament, to the witness of our Lord, and to apostolic Christianity, it is the faith, as also the hope, that world history is moving to the grand climax of the believer’s assurance and expectation, the return of the exalted Saviour, the Lord of glory, to terminate this age and usher in the age to come, a return in all the majesty that is his as King of kings and Lord of lords. An adjustment of the gospel that discards this tenet of faith and hope is an abandonment of Christianity, and the proponents of it ought to have the candour to acknowledge that the relevance for which they contend is not a version of the Christian faith but its contradiction.” (Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 1, p. 90)
The folly of being unprepared excludes you from the kingdom. The arrival of the bridegroom makes the extent of preparation clear. As the lights are going out, the wise maidens replenish them, the foolish ones find that they are short on oil. Instead of welcoming the groom, the five foolish girls head to town to attempt to buy more oil. The foolish girls had procrastinated, and the arrival of the groom found them unprepared. By the time they caught up with the wedding party, it had already entered the banquet hall and the door was shut. Despite their persistent calling, the words of the groom echo with incredible sadness: “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you!” Beware of procrastinating, of assuming that there will always be some time in the future to prepare for the coming of the bridegroom. Don’t live with the assumption that you will have time to make last minute changes in your life before Christ returns or before you stand before him in death. Beware, lest those words be spoken by him about you.
Keep watch, and enter the banquet. Keep watch! The time of the coming of the Son of Man is unknown, see Matthew 24:36,37. Your responsibility is to be prepared. The command to keep watch, given the context of this parable, involves not so much speculation about the date of Christ’s return, as a commitment to be faithfully carrying out the responsibilities he has given you. Real wisdom includes knowing that there are things that you do not know, such as the time of Christ’s return. Avoid the fatal mistake of overconfidence. “The whole of this parable seems to mean… that ‘although the Son of Man should yet delay his coming, we ought always to be watchful.’” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, pages 512–513) Prepare for the responsibilities that God has assigned to you. Live daily as his covenant people. Regardless of when he comes, may he find you ready. As the church of Jesus Christ, you are busy now with the process of adorning yourself for your bridegroom. Just as a bride hopes to have everything just right for the big day, so ask yourself whether what you are doing adds to or detracts from the splendor of the bride. Does it make the church more or less attractive to her Groom?
Enjoy the feast! Don’t ignore the undercurrent of excitement and anticipation in this parable. The cry at midnight is a joyful one. The procession leads to a wedding banquet, a meal of celebration. Jesus’ imagery is not accidental. The Lord shows his covenant fellowship with his people by celebrating with them at a meal. That was true in Isaiah 25, it was seen in Exodus 24:9–11 (an anticipation of the Lord’s Supper). When Jesus gave a sacrament to remember his saving death and resurrection in your place, he made it his Supper. The symbolic meal of which you partake this morning anticipates the eternal, heavenly feast in store for the redeemed. It is not that your wisdom or faithfulness earns you a place in the banquet. Rather, you are an undeserving guest. But, because you have been summoned to the eternal feast, conduct your life wisely. Keep watch for the return of the Lord.
Procrastinate, if you must, about unimportant details of your life. But when it comes to the invitation to enter the great wedding feast, show the wisdom to put the honor of the groom above all else. Be prepared for his coming. Keep watch, and look forward to the feast of fellowship with him.