One of Jesus’ most extended discourses was prompted by the simplest of questions. When he foretold the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its temple, his disciples asked him how they would know the event was drawing near. He offered them a series of signs and concluded the discourse, in Matthew 25, with a series of parables, encouraging his hearers to be ready for the event.
James Montgomery Boice correctly notes that these parables “are not about people who have no use for Christ or his gospel. They are about people who are part of what we would call the visible church.” Speaking not only to the Twelve, but also to his broader religious followers, he warned that many might believe they are ready for judgement but find that they are not.
This is the basic message of the parable of the virgins. Ten virgins went out to meet the bridegroom, but only five were properly prepared. When five ran out of oil for their lamps, they hurried off to get more oil. Sadly, they missed the groom’s arrival and were therefore excluded from the wedding banquet. Jesus concluded, “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” (v. 13, CSB).
The specific day and hour that Jesus was referencing was the day of Jerusalem’s destruction. His hearers needed to be prepared for that act of judgement if they would enter into the eternal wedding banquet with the Lord. While “the day or the hour” referenced here is in our distant past, the basic principle of preparedness for judgement remains.
We all face a day of judgement. The writer to the Hebrews linked judgement with death. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement” (9:27). But, as the disciples did not know the day or the hour of judgement, so we do not know the day or hour of our death and subsequent judgement. The parable of the virgins offers us at least three warnings as we think about future judgement.
First, God’s judgement is (often) sudden and unexpected. The virgins needed to be in a state of perpetual readiness because they did not know when the groom may come. So it (often) is with death. It may be a generalisation, but it is probably true more often than not. Death frequently takes us by surprise. At the very least, we should recognise its potential to do so and therefore prepare at all times to face judgement. None of us has a promise of tomorrow. Death can come at any time and we must always prepare to face it.
Second, death and its attendant judgement are inherently discriminatory. There were two distinct groups of virgins in the parable: prepared and unprepared. Their respective destinies were sealed: Five were invited to join the feast, while the remaining five were not. There was no opportunity given after the groom’s arrival, as there will be no further opportunity for repentance after death. Death seals the fate of all people and separates, for all eternity, believers from unbelievers.
Third, and very sadly, the rejected are often surprised at their fate. It was their own fault that they were unprepared, but the foolish virgins objected vociferously at being left out. They were shocked that they were excluded, even though it was their own fault that they were not prepared for the groom’s arrival.
Taken together, these three warnings highlight a vital principle: We must be prepared for judgement. We don’t know the day of our death. We don’t know the day of Christ’s return. We do know that a day of judgement is coming, and we can only be ready for it dependent on what we do with Christ.
These words were spoken to those who professed to be followers of Christ. As a follower of Christ, ask yourself this morning whether you are truly ready to face him. Are you prepared for judgement?