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“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” —Matthew 25:1 NKJV
The kingdom of heaven embraces the entire sphere of Christian profession. In this parable, told in Matthew 25:1-13, we find the kingdom of heaven likened unto ten virgins who, having taken their lamps, went forth to meet the bridegroom. Here we have those who have heard the Word and have taken a position in this world in contrast to either the Jews, who worship the one true God, or to the heathen, who worship any number of false gods. They have taken on the Christian religion as a profession and therefore are responsible on this basis.
We find in these verses a limited sphere occupied by those who took their lamps of testimony – whether true or false, wise or foolish – and according to their profession they will have to give account to God. It is clearly not the whole world spoken of here, nor their receiving or rejecting the gospel testimony. Rather, it is a picture of those who have accepted it, even though their acceptance may be merely an outward expression. Here it is not a question of having spiritual life, but of occupying a position in the world as being identified with this rejected One to whom they now bear witness. Such a witness can only be rightly done in the energy of the Holy Spirit, as symbolized by the oil. It is in this way that the wise and the foolish are distinguished, for to all outward appearances there is no difference. All had lamps, slept, and arose to trim their lamps; but the dark night made manifest their true condition and also displayed the desperate need of the foolish virgins. They had no oil. What a sad awakening it is for those who call, “Lord, Lord,” only to hear the answer, “I do not know you.”
The foolish turned to the wise, seeing that the wise possessed what the foolish had not, only to be directed then to the true source where their need could be met. In Revelation 3:18 we have similar counsel given to those who are mere professors: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”
We understand from Paul’s epistles that the character of the testimony in the present Church period is heavenly. The calling, position and hope are heavenly because heaven is the place where Christ has gone in virtue of having finished the work of redemption on the cross. It is in Christ that all truth is centered, and therefore it is to His blessed Person that we are called to render testimony.
In Matthew 25 we see the virgins going forth to meet the bridegroom. There was an energy seen at the beginning, leaving all behind in order to meet Him. It is not so much His coming, but the One who is coming – the Person! This is what characterized the early church. They waited for the Son from heaven, even Jesus. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Each of the four items mentioned in this verse has to do with Christ. We read in Ephesians 4:21: “As the truth is in Jesus.” The fellowship is that of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9). In the breaking of bread we show forth the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:23-26), and we pray in His Name (Jn. 16:22-27). These passages show how completely the life of the early church was formed by the One whom they were following. What a bright testimony this was – only to be quickly marred. Already in the apostle’s day, Paul wrote, “All those in Asia have turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15). John was led to write, “You have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4). Very soon the virgins all slept.
For hundreds of years the professing church was in this sad state. Already in its early history, the presence of the Holy Spirit was set aside and substituted by man’s arrangements, only to introduce deadness – a mere form without the power of the Holy Spirit. The result was that Christ was displaced and the power and value of His work were denied. The heavenly position of the believer was lost sight of and with this came a settling down to the level of this world. The blessed hope of His return was given up, and soon all slumbered and slept. Value was placed upon man’s work to obtain righteousness and favor with God, rather than upon Christ’s finished work as an accomplished righteousness and the basis of one’s acceptance with God. In short, the ministry committed to the apostle Paul was soon unknown.
Since our parable of the ten virgins is general in nature, what lesson do we have here for the individual? It is this: Although in its broad outlines we are part of the professing body of Christendom, this professing body is composed of individuals – each one being a contributor to the general condition. Each individual is either true or false, wise or foolish, thereby raising or lowering the general condition. Not one of us who has taken upon himself the name of the Lord Jesus Christ can dismiss his responsibility that is associated with that name and position. “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46 NKJV).
What could possibly change this state of things when all slept? It surely is not by man’s efforts, but only by the Spirit of God whose presence and work testify of Christ and glorify Him. “At midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’” (Mt. 25:6). When was this cry made and the truth of Paul’s ministry recovered to the Church? When was the hope of the Lord’s return announced again, as well as other truths relative to the position and calling of the Church?
This clearly did not happen during the Reformation, although unquestionably that was a work of God in giving His Word to the people and in preaching justification by faith. It was about 180 years ago that an awakening took place in many places and countries which affected all of Christendom. The evidence of this is found in many publications still in print, not only from the pens of those whom God used in spreading these truths, but also from those who rejected them. The nature and unity of the Church, its heavenly calling and hope, the coming of the Lord for and with His own, and many other truths were recovered and loudly proclaimed.
The effect was that many Christians separated themselves from their unscriptural associations and gathered together simply as Christians on the ground of the one Body, unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. They owned the presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst to guide and direct. Spiritual gifts were recognized, not by man’s appointment, but as given by Christ, the ascended Head of the Church, for the edification of the people of God. This truly was a trimming of the lamps. Everything inconsistent with a going forth to meet the Bridegroom was cut off. These Christians were characterized by simplicity and unworldliness.
Mere profession could not carry this light. The energy was lacking. They might trim their lamps to bring them into outward conformity, but this does not give light. Oil is needed – the power of the Holy Spirit. The foolish turned to the wise for oil only to reveal their folly, even as Simon in Acts 8 was willing to pay money to have the power to communicate the Holy Spirit to others by the laying on of his hands. He thought that the gift of God might be purchased with money. In this it is not man’s place to give, but to receive. “I counsel you to buy from Me” (Rev. 3:18), and the terms of this transaction are laid down in Isaiah 55:1: “Without money and without price.”
It is clear that we do not have the gospel presented in the words of the wise virgins, but a warning. We desire to press this message upon the conscience of any who are relying upon something other than the work of God in their souls. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9). These words are unmistakably clear. You may belong to the best church organization on earth and be the most zealous religious worker to be found, but if you do not have the Spirit of Christ you do not belong to Him. All your good works are worthless for they are nothing but dead works, an empty profession. You may compare yourself with other professing Christians and come to the conclusion that you are better than they. You have committed no “big sins,” as people say. But remember, when the foolish virgins came and said, “Lord, Lord, open to us!” the solemn reply was, “I do not know you.” Have you come to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation?
There is also a solemn warning in this parable for each one who sincerely loves our Lord. The midnight cry has been sounded, “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him.” How has this affected us? Has the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ brought about a response in our hearts? Have we earnestly replied, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”? Is this accompanied by a separated walk and devotion to Him? Do our behavior and dress speak of separation rather than conformity to the world? This world is guilty of having crucified the Lord of Glory. Can we then join hands with this Christ-rejecting world and at the same time render a faithful testimony to Him? We cannot and we must not! In the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, “the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14 KJV). “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13 NKJV).
As the Bridegroom, our Lord’s interests are centered in His own. He knows them that are truly His, He calls His own sheep by name, and He goes before them. He alone is worthy of our hearts’ affections. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28).
By Jacob Redekop