Are You Ready? (Parables in Matthew 25)
by Kent Rufo
The great Advent message: Jesus is coming again…soon! Do you believe this? This has been our denomination’s great mission: to spread the great news about His soon return. The second coming of our Lord has such a substantial place in our hearts that it even resides within our denominational name. We are the ones who believe in the seventh day Sabbath and the imminent return of Jesus Christ (to take us home to be with Him). Along with this Advent message to “be ready for Jesus is coming back”, I believe that He was giving the “formula” (I use this word cautiously because I don’t want to imply that following this method will guarantee salvation) on how we are to be ready. It seems more than probable that Jesus was laying this all out in the three parables of Matthew 25. Quite possibly Jesus was telling us that there is more to “being ready” than to giving up jewelry, becoming vegan and running to the mountains.
I personally have attended several “Revelation seminars” that have discussed the return of the Messiah with all walks of faith. I’ve seen people come to experience the love of the Savior for the first time. I’ve also seen some eyes opened when they see in Scripture that we truly are in the last days of human history as we know it. In these seminars the theme of “be ready, for your maker is coming soon” is spread throughout. Starting with Daniel 8 and the 1844 proclamation and ending with final parts of Revelation, Jesus’ message is “I am coming back…soon!”
One of the “staple” texts used to show the imminence of Jesus’ return comes from His own lips in Matthew 24. He gives signs and clues which identify the last days of history. He then makes a statement that should ring in all believers’ ears: “Therefore, be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming…For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” (verse 42 and 44). “BE READY”! This is Jesus’ counsel so we might want to take it seriously.
As you might notice, the word “therefore” is used in Matthew 24:42 (quoted above), which implies the previous context is important. In verses 40 and 41 there are differentiations between two people: two men in a field and then two women in a mill. Both examples have one being taken and the other “left behind” (I’m definitely not advocating secret rapture here). Obviously there must be something that the Lord sees different between the two groups of people, hence, this is why one is taken and the other is left. Actually, Jesus seems to use this same type of parable all throughout Matthew 25. What I now plan to show is that the three parables of Matthew 25 and this parable of “one taken and one left” are actually different parables stating the same thing. They are characterizing who these people are (see below).
|Two in a Field/Mill||10 Virgins||Talents||Sheep and Goats|
Before I proceed in comparing the parables it is imperative that we remember that these are only parables. They have a message yet are not to be taken as totally literal.
The method I will take in comparing the parables is by going backwards, first comparing the sheep/goats with the good stewards/bad stewards. First of all, it seems that Jesus is talking about “believers” in all of these parables. Both sheep and goats, the animals of illustration, were animals used in sacrifice. They were known to be associated with the Sanctuary services. They are both seen by the Christian world as good-standing Christians. They all probably attend church regularly. They all try to abstain from cursing and they all try smiling at people. But the difference is that the sheep use what they have to bless others’ lives. They apparently care more about the “least of these” than themselves. As for the goats, they probably would have given these things if it was actually going to Jesus, but since it was just to the “least of these” they had better things to do with their resources (time, money, food, etc.). This seems to allude to a real desire to help others, rather just to gain points with the Judge. The goats have a skewed view of who the Judge is and what pleases Him. They think that just abstaining from things is what “prepares” them for Him. But the Judge reveals that He desires His children to give what they have to bless the lives of less fortunate. In a less detailed way, this skewed view of the Master seems to be the problem with the wicked steward. The good stewards use what they have been given for the Master’s work. In return they are blessed doubly. (Remember: this is only a parable which states they are blessed financially but this type of person could be blessed in other ways) As for the wicked steward, he keeps what has been given for himself. Sure, he is planning to return it to the Master, but just to avoid punishment. He, along with the goats, is more concerned with abstaining from “evil things” than with proactively using what the Master has given him to bless others. And the result is the same for the goats and for this wicked steward.
Now to the Virgins. Just like the other two parables, they are connected to the Judge, Master and in this case, the Bridegroom. These are believers in God and His return (not atheists). Both sets of virgins are waiting for His return. The problem is that one group has enough oil for the delay and the other group just brought enough in the case of no delay by the Bridegroom. Traditionally, we have taught that the oil is the Holy Spirit and that the wise virgins just had more Holy Spirit than the others. This just doesn’t make sense. This would imply that there is a Holy Spirit “meter” that if you don’t reach it then Jesus will not take you to be with Him. Rather it makes more sense to keep this in its parable context and in context with the other parables. First of all, what makes the wise virgins wise? Was it just because they brought extra oil? Could it be possible that just like the other parables, these virgins have used all that they have to bless others, and hence they are blessed with extra oil? The Greek term phronimos is what is translated as wise. The interesting thing about this word is that the etymology (root word) of this term is the Greek word phren, which primarily means “midriff or diaphragm areas; the parts of the heart”. This word could imply one who is compassionate from the innermost parts. In context with the parables, they are the same as the sheep and the good stewards. The reason they have more oil than the foolish virgins is because they bless others and in return have been blessed in return. So now you ask, if they were so generous why didn’t they share their oil with the foolish ones? Again, remember that this is a parable and what is called oil might not actually be able to be shared. The irony is that the foolish virgins feel like they can ask the wise virgins for their extra oil probably implying that they know the wise virgins are extra generous. Also, this seems to imply that the wicked are more concerned with themselves being ready than others. They were willing to take others’ oil to be ready even at risk of the other virgins not being ready anymore. The root of the foolish virgins is SELFISHNESS. They only care for what happens to themselves, not others.
In conclusion, I propose that all of these parables in Matthew 25 actually illustrate the two men in the field and the two women at the mill. What Jesus is doing is saying that there will be two sets of people but they are all “believers”. They are people you will be familiar with. You will see them regularly at church. You will be on church board with them. You will play Rook and eat popcorn together on Saturday nights. But in the proceeding parables Jesus spells out what will be the difference (that He sees) between the two groups: one group will give all that they have to bless other peoples’ lives and the other group is only concerned with themselves.