Be Prepared (Matthew 25:1-13)

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Matthew 25:1-13

Preparations for church events take a lot of planning, such as our high school and junior high who are at camp this weekend. There are ladies’ events, every Sunday the praise team does an awesome job leading us in singing–but it takes a ton of preparation to get ready for these things. But a lack of preparation can have dire consequences.

There was a dangerous men’s event a couple years back when the meal was planned out–it was all meat! Everything was good to go, except someone forgot the utensils. Fortunately it was men and they made it work.

When I was nine years old, my parents gave me an awesome gift for Christmas. It was a racing car set. It had two cars that raced around a figure eight track. It was the best gift ever, except they forgot to purchase batteries. The set didn’t come with a power cable–that was an extra that you had to purchase separately. So I needed 4 D-sized batteries, but the problem was in 1978 in New Zealand stores didn’t open on Christmas Day and they didn’t open the next day either, Boxing Day, another holiday. So I had to wait two whole sleeps to get batteries to play with my slot cars! My parents’ lack of preparation was a nightmare.

I think most of you wives love it when your husbands surprise you with a vacation getaway or a last-minute date, but the first thing that comes to your mind is whether you have everything you need. Do you have the right shoes, the right blouse, the right dress? Does the hotel have a hairdryer? (That’s what I’m concerned about.) Getaways are much better when the proper preparations are made–right?

Of course, there are times when the consequence of unpreparedness is far more serious, like when US forces at Pearl Harbor were far from prepared on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack and 2,400 people died. This was a tragedy that had terrible consequences. But I’ve got to tell you–the absolutely worst thing that anybody could ever be unprepared for is the coming of Christ. If a person is not ready when Christ comes, there are dire, eternal consequences.

The most important event in life that requires our ultimate preparation is the coming of Jesus, and He tells us so in Matthew 25. I want you to turn there please. In the first 13 verses of chapter 25, Jesus tells His disciples a parable that is meant to motivate them to always be ready for His return. And I think especially as we enter into 2017, this is going to be helpful for us to remember to be ready at all times to meet Jesus Christ, because Jesus could come back at any time.

Now just to set the stage for us, back in chapter 24 verse 3, the disciples asked Jesus a question. He had been talking about the future judgment of Jerusalem, and the disciples asked Jesus, “When will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”

They wanted to know what to expect when the world comes to an end, and when all these things would take place. So Jesus answers their questions by telling them a series of parables. And here in Matthew 25:1 to 13, we have one of those parables. Let’s take a look at it and I want to divide our time together this morning into three parts.

The Telling of the Parable

The Timing of the Parable

The Teaching of the Parable

We’re going to start first with the story itself–“The Telling of the Parable.”


This is Jesus speaking, and He says in chapter 25 verse 1, “’Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten bridesmaids, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.’” Jesus is describing here the Kingdom of Heaven. He says it ”will be comparable”–in other words, He’s talking about what the Kingdom will be like some time in the future. This is a description of a future kingdom. And He says this future Kingdom is going to be like ten bridesmaids.

Some of your translations may identify these as ten virgins–that’s okay, but the fact that they are virgins is not really what’s important. What’s important here is that these ten young, single girls are involved in a wedding ceremony and procession. They are bridesmaids who are looking forward to the coming of the bridegroom. They’re going to be in a wedding. What’s more exciting than that?

You’ll notice here (if you glance over the entire section) that the bride is not even mentioned in the story. That’s okay–we don’t need to know about the bride. The strength of the parable doesn’t depend upon the bride at all. The bridegroom is the central figure here, and therefore we’ll focus our attention on him.

And so in verse 1, there are ten bridesmaids and they are all looking forward to the bridegroom who, according to Jewish custom will soon leave the bride’s home in a great procession towards his own home, where the final parts of the wedding festivities will be conducted. And the ten girls have their lamps with them, because it’s nighttime and the lamps or torches would be needed to light the way when the bridal party makes their way from one home to another.

They go out to meet the bridegroom. In verse 2 it says, “Five of [the bridesmaids] were foolish, and five were wise.” Five were foolish, five were wise–what does that mean? What is foolishness and what is wisdom? Well generally speaking, throughout the Bible, wisdom and foolishness have little to do with knowledge and intellect or lack thereof.

Wisdom and foolishness have everything to do with action, not education. What I mean by that is this–foolish people are those who know what to do and don’t do it. Wise people are those who know what to do and actually do it. So here we have five of each–five foolish bridesmaids who knew what to do and didn’t do it. And five wise bridesmaids who knew what to do and actually did it.

Look at verse 3, “For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them.” What a stupid thing to do. Everyone knows a lamp needs oil to burn–even we know that, and we don’t even use lamps these days. If you don’t bring oil for your lamp, it’s like bringing a flashlight with no batteries. It’s like setting out on a long road trip with no gas in the tank.

These foolish girls didn’t take their task that seriously. They didn’t plan ahead with appropriate action. They only made partial preparations. They knew they needed oil, but they didn’t bring any. They knew what they needed to do, but they didn’t actually do it. They were fools.

Verse 4, “But the wise took oil in flasks along with their lamps.” The wise girls planned ahead. They were prepared. They knew that their torches needed oil and so they got some oil. They knew what they needed to do, and they actually did it. They were wise.

Now while the bridegroom was delaying, the [bridesmaids] ALL got drowsy and began to sleep” (verse 5). Notice all ten girls went to sleep. In fact, if you look at this parable so far, you’ll notice that the ten bridesmaids were similar in very many respects. Think about this–all ten girls intended to meet the bridegroom. They all brought their own lamps. They all looked forward to taking part. They all thought they were in the wedding party. Here in verse 5, they all fell asleep when the groom was delayed.

So many similarities–in verse 7 (we’ll get there in a moment), they all wake up and prepare their lamps when the groom becomes ready. I want you to log this observation away for later. The ten bridesmaids where similar in many respects.

Now Jesus doesn’t tell us why the bridegroom is delayed–it doesn’t really matter. It is the prerogative of brides and grooms to work to their own timetable, right? Everyone knows that. Everyone else is expected to work to their schedule on the big day, and the same is true here. One thing is true though–with all this extra time, the unprepared girls should have taken the opportunity to get ready, but they didn’t. They came with no oil and they didn’t try to remedy the situation at all.

So in verse 6, “But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” There was no warning–just a sudden call to action. All of the bridesmaids were now expected to do their duty. In verse 7 it says, “Then all those bridesmaids rose and trimmed their lamps.” They all spring into action.

Even the foolish, unprepared girls are excited. They’re thrilled that the time has finally come. They want to be involved in the ceremony. So they jump to their feet. But lo and behold, in verse 8, “The foolish [girls] said to the wise [girls], ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’”

And it’s only now, after all their wasted time and wasted opportunity that the foolish bridesmaids even think about oil. They knew they needed oil at the beginning of the day, but they didn’t bother bringing any of their own. So now they are desperately trying to get oil from those who had made the proper preparations.

Now listen to one point of clarification here–it’s not that the foolish girls started with enough oil and now it’s all gone because the groom delayed so long. That’s not it. The point of the story is that they didn’t have oil in the first place. They should have been ready for the groom, no matter whether He was quick in coming or long in coming. They should have been prepared for every eventuality.

But they weren’t, so they try to get oil from others. Verse 9, “But the wise [girls] answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’” These wise girls are strong here. They’re like, “No, this is our oil. You need to get your own.”

And at first, their answer seems quite mean, doesn’t it? Why couldn’t they just share their oil? But you know what? The wise bridesmaids are not looking out for themselves. They’re looking out for the bridegroom, who is depending upon them. This is not a selfish decision. This is not five mean girls keeping out the five unfortunates.

This is a further manifestation of the wisdom of the five bridesmaids who had the groom’s best interests at heart. They’re looking out for Him. They know if they try to share, there won’t be enough, and the whole ceremony will come to a sudden halt. So they tell the unprepared girls to go buy their own oil.

But the reality is that it would be almost impossible to find oil-sellers at this time of the night. It’ll be like trying to get some In-N-Out at 2 in the morning when you have that urge for a burger fix. It’s not going to happen at 2 am! And in this case, at the very least it’s going to take them a really long time to find the oil.

Verse 10, “And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.” The word used here indicates that the door was shut to stay shut. Only the prepared bridesmaids were allowed to enter. Only those who were found ready for the groom went in.

The unprepared girls, who didn’t show any foresight, didn’t show any real concern for the needs of the bridegroom, were shut out of the festivities forever. Now they protested, of course. This is what is so sad. They felt like they should be included. They really believed they qualified for entry. They argued that they should be let in.

Look at verse 11, “Later the other bridesmaids also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’” See, they are pleading with the groom to gain entry? And they say, “Lord, lord,” which, by the way, tells us that they understood who was in control here. They fully knew who made the rules in this situation. They knew that their lives were in the control of the bridegroom, because they addressed Him as their lord–their master.

Verse 12, “But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’” Whoa, what a shock! The Lord says, “No, you’re not getting in here! I don’t even know you!” It’s reminiscent of Matthew 7:21, where Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.’”

And He explains, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (verses 22 and 23).

It’s very clear, isn’t it, that on that final day there are going to be many people–many people who think they’re headed right into the Kingdom of Heaven, who are going to be shocked to hear that Jesus doesn’t recognize them at all? And despite all their good deeds, all their religious actions, partial preparations, and supposed Christian service, Jesus only sees them as people who practice lawlessness.

They think they are good moral people, but He says, “No, you are lawless!” And He says it with finality! See that phrase there in verse 12, “‘Truly I say to you’”? It carries the force of a judicial verdict. The Master is not going to change His mind. There’s not going to be an opportunity to appeal. There are no second chances.

He says, “I do not know you,” which is not so much a literal statement of non-acquaintance, but rather a statement of disassociation. The Lord disassociates with these foolish bridesmaids because they never got themselves ready for His arrival. Oh, they wanted to be in the wedding party and they counted themselves within the group of bridesmaids.

They probably enjoyed great friendships with the other bridesmaids. They thought they knew the groom. They really believed they should get in. But they didn’t bother to take His arrival seriously. They didn’t bother to get themselves ready. So now the Lord says, “I don’t even know you!”

This is a moment of sheer terror as the five unprepared girls realize the folly of their actions. They should have been ready, but they weren’t. And then comes verse 13, where we find the moral of the story. Jesus says in verse 13, “’Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.’” In other words, “Be prepared!” You don’t know when the Lord is coming back, so be continually prepared–be in a state of readiness always.

Listen folks–when it comes down to it, a lack of foresight is inexcusable. On that day, ignorance will not be a defense for neglect. This is the point of the whole parable. This is the main command in the passage. Be ready, be alert, be prepared! It’s got nothing to do with staying awake, because remember, all ten bridesmaids slept in verse 5. Sleeping was not the issue here. Being prepared when the time comes–that is the issue.

Jesus said it in chapter 24, verse 42, “’Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.’” And then again in verse 44, “’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.’” No one knows when the Lord, the Son of Man, the Bridegroom is going to return. But they must be ready when He does.


Now that’s the story–it’s a challenging story, isn’t it? And the point of the story seems pretty clear–some people who think they know Jesus really do. And some other people who think they know Jesus really don’t. But there is an interpretive question here that needs to be answered, and the question is this: “To whom does this passage refer? Who is Jesus describing by this parable?”

We know the bridegroom is Jesus Himself–that’s easy to figure out. But who exactly are these ten girls? Who do they represent? And to answer to that question, I want us to look for a moment at the timing of the parable. I want us to look at the context of the story and the verses that led up to Jesus giving this lesson, because the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is located inside a longer sermon preached by Jesus, starting back in chapter 24.

I want to show you how this begins, so let’s go back to Matthew 24–please turn there with me. The day is just a few days before the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus has been ministering in Jerusalem in preparation for His death and resurrection. Look at verse 1 of chapter 24, “Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.’”

Now wait, that statement from Jesus right there would have been a total shock to the disciples. That would have blown them away, because they fully expected Jesus, their Messiah, to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem in their lifetime. That’s why they’d been hanging around with Him for three years. So this prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem was a huge shock to them.

And so in verse 3, “As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives, directly opposite the city of Jerusalem with the Temple in full view and the disciples want to know when the Temple will be destroyed and what is going to be the sign of His coming.

So to answer their question, Jesus preaches a sermon called the Olivet Discourse and it goes from Matthew 24 all the way through chapter 25. This is what He says–and remember Jesus is telling the disciples what will be the sign of His coming. Verse 5, a time is coming when some people will claim to be Christ. Verse 6, there will be wars but don’t worry–that is not yet the end. Verse 7, there are going to be wars, famines, and earthquakes. But verse 8, all of this is just the start–this is merely the beginning of birth pains. Things are going to get much worse for the Jews.

Then look at verse 15. “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” Stop right there–what is this “abomination of desolation” that Daniel described way back in the Old Testament?

Well, Daniel described a day when a powerful man would come to Jerusalem and break a seven-year contract with the Israelite nation. He would break this contract halfway through the seven-year agreement. He would destroy the city and leave Jerusalem desolate. He would desecrate the Temple by sacrificing an unclean pig there. He would offend the Jews greatly.

You can read all about it in Daniel 9. He would set himself up as God and demand to be worshipped by the people. And he will set about to eradicate the Jewish nation from that time onward. Revelation 13 explains that these events are going to take place in the future seven-year Tribulation, which is yet still to happen.

So Jesus tells His disciples this is going to take place in Jerusalem. This anti-Christ–this imposter will start a war against Israel, and if anyone is present in Judea at that time, they better flee to the mountains. They better get out of there to save their lives. Then look at verse 21, “’For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.’”

A great Tribulation is going to occur like nothing the world has ever seen before. Now remember, the disciples had asked when Jesus was going to come back again and Jesus is answering by describing these terrible events, which have yet to take place. And then after all these terrible times have come about, look at verse 29.

“’But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars [probably meteors] will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [Planets, stars, meteors, and asteroids will alter their flight paths]. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.’”

So the Son of Man–Jesus Himself will come back to Earth after the seven years of Tribulation. And when He comes, He’s going to deal out judgment to the peoples of the earth. And at that time, there will be two groups of people on Earth. There will be Jews and Gentiles and Christ is going to judge both groups at that time. And those judgments are described throughout the rest of Matthew 24 and 25.

According to Matthew 24 and 25, He’s going to judge the Jews by three criteria:

1)  Their stewardship of Christ’s resources–that’s what the parable of the two servants teaches us in 24:45 to 51

2)  Their preparedness–that’s what the parable of the ten bridesmaids teaches us in 25:1 to 13

3)  And their faithfulness–that’s what the parable of the talents teaches us in 25:14 to 30

And then after Jesus has judged the Jews, according to Matthew 25:31 to 46, Jesus is going to judge the Gentiles according to how they treated Jews during the Tribulation time–that’s the sheep and the goat judgment. So what does that all mean for our parable today? What does it mean for the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids? It means this:

If you look at the whole context, Jesus is describing a future day when He is going to return.

First, there’s going to be a seven-year period of Tribulation when God tries to get the attention of His chosen nation, Israel. After that seven-year Tribulation is complete, Jesus will return to Earth, but when He comes it’s going to be a huge surprise.

Like the ten sleeping bridesmaids, the nation of Israel is going to be taken by surprise when the bridegroom finally comes. Once they’ve been aroused from their slumber, some Jews will be found ready with their lamps burning with plenty of oil. Some Jews will be found unprepared because they didn’t make the necessary plans.

So who exactly are the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25? They are Jews living at the time of the future seven-year Tribulation. Some of these Jews will be ready for their Messiah and some of them will not. And Jesus is telling this parable to motivate Israel to be ready for His return when He comes again as the Messiah-King to set up His eternal Kingdom on Earth.

And so the question for us is this–if this parable has direct application to the Jews living during the time of the future seven-year Tribulation, what does it mean to us? Do these thirteen verses have anything to say to those of us living in the United States of America in 2017, or should we close our Bibles, discard this passage, and just leave it at that?

Is there something we can learn? Is there something that should challenge us too? Is there some lesson for us to hear as well? I believe there is–there is something for us. I believe that the same reminder for Jews to be ready for Christ applies to us today in a very similar way by extension. Granted, Matthew 25:1 to 13 is a warning to future Jews, but we need to hear the same admonition!

Listen, we may not be waiting specifically for the Second Coming of Christ, but we are waiting to meet Christ. And we will meet Him in one of two ways–some of us will meet Him when we die and some of us will meet Him in the air when He comes to rapture His Church. But either way, you and I better be prepared, because both death and the Rapture are going to take us by surprise.

We don’t know when these things will take place–it’s going to be a shock, so we better be ready. So let me try to distill down some practical application for you. I want to move finally to the teaching of the parable. Let’s try to bring this home.


We’ve looked at the telling of the parable. We’ve looked at the timing of the parable. Let’s look now at the teaching of the parable. What are the implications for you and me? I believe there are at least six–let’s take a look at these. And by the way, these apply to everyone who is expecting to go to Heaven.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s death that suddenly takes you, or whether the Lord comes to rapture the Church. Or if a Jew at a future date during the Tribulation is reading this passage, these lessons apply to all of us.

#1  Christ’s arrival is greatly anticipated

Meeting Christ for the first time ought to be thought of as a joyful event–one that we all greatly anticipate. We should be looking forward to seeing Christ just like we look forward to a wedding celebration. It’s going to be awesome! It’s going to be better than a wedding. It’s going to be the best celebration ever when we meet our Lord Jesus Christ face-to-face!

I can’t wait to meet my closest friend. I can’t wait to feel His embrace. I want it to happen today–now! We ought to talk about it all the time. We ought to be excited! Get pumped up! Get ready!

#2  Christ’s delay will be long

Just like wedding parties take their time–they seem to have their own schedule, so too does Christ have His own schedule which only the Father knows. And it shouldn’t surprise us that the delay could be long. Listen–it’s been 2,000 years so far. But don’t be discouraged and don’t be wooed into a false sense of security, because while His delay is long, He is going to come, and when he comes . . .

#3  Christ’s return will be sudden

There will be no warning. Oh there may be some general signs. We may have a general idea. But when it comes down to the day and the hour, no one knows. It’s going to be unexpected. It will take us by surprise. There will be no chance to make last minute preparations.

#4  Christ’s salvation can’t be transferred

Those people who are prepared to meet Christ can’t give you what you need if you’re unprepared. No one else will be able to help you. No one else can give you their oil. And you won’t be able to go out quickly to find oil. You won’t be able to make last-minute preparations, because the time will be too late. Christ comes and there is no last-minute rescue.

#5  Christ’s judgment will be irrevocable

Once He shuts the door, you cannot find another way in. You can’t buy entrance. You can’t barter your way in. You can’t appeal to God. His only words to you will be, “Depart from Me. I don’t even know you.” He’s not going to change His mind. And that takes us to number 6.

#6  Christ’s Kingdom is for the prepared

Christ’s Kingdom is only open to those who get themselves ready. Listen to me carefully–the Kingdom of Heaven is not for those who simply respond to an invitation–all of the bridesmaids had done that. The Kingdom of Heaven is not for those who simply make a confession–all of the bridesmaids would have said they were part of the bridal party.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not for those who merely express some affection–all of the bridesmaids would have had positive sentiments towards the groom. The Kingdom of Heaven is only for those who are prepared and remain prepared until He comes. The only way to be ready for Jesus is to be ready always.

The Christian life is not a sprint–it’s a marathon. It’s not a raging bonfire that slowly runs out of heat and eventually pitters out to nothing–it’s a constant flame that burns for Christ’s glory. It’s not a lukewarm love for Christ–it’s a burning hot desire to give anything, even your own life for the sake of Christ.

It’s not a life that looks outwardly Christian, it’s a transformed heart that really pleases God who knows all things. It’s a Christian who not only starts the race, but finishes stronger than when they started. It’s a believer who matures and grows and serves and sacrifices and fights temptation.

It’s not a person who’s always looking for the easy way through life, it’s a sojourner who is passing through this evil world. It’s not a permanent resident who loves his current surroundings and wants to sit around and enjoy them. A genuine Christian is not someone who just passes time without serious—and I mean serious thought and action regarding the coming Kingdom of Jesus.

John Pleasnick said it last week–a genuine Christian invests their life in preparations for eternity. Is that you? Are you ready for Christ to come? Are you prepared to meet Him? I talk to people all the time who claim to be Christians, who have no assurance of salvation because they are only outwardly righteous, but on the inside they know they are just as sinful as ever. And yet they go on fooling themselves, dinking around with church, thinking that everything is okay when it’s not.

What a sad reality! Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Test yourselves to see if you’re in the faith. Examine yourselves.” Will you do that today to make sure you pass the test? Listen to these famous quotes:

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”–Benjamin Franklin

“Everyone has a will to win, but very few have the will to prepare to win.”–Vince Lombardi

“The separation is in the preparation.”–Russell Wilson

And these guys are talking about insignificantly small matters like establishing a nation and winning sports games. But listen, meeting Jesus is way more important than that! Therefore, preparation for that day is way more important.  In this lifetime, it’s the only thing that matters. And Jesus Himself said it best in Matthew 24:44, “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.” Are you ready? Let’s pray.

About Nigel Shailer

A pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church and head of the counseling ministry.

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