“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”
1, 2. (a) What did Jesus reveal about the last days? (b) What questions will we discuss?
TRY to imagine Jesus sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple in Jerusalem. He is with four of his apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They pay close attention to Jesus as he tells them a thrilling prophecy about the future. The prophecy reveals what would happen during the last days of this wicked world when Jesus would rule in God’s Kingdom. Jesus tells them that during that exciting time, his “faithful and discreet slave” would represent him on earth and would give his followers spiritual food at the proper time.
2 Next, in that same prophecy, Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins. (Read Matthew 25:1-13.) In this article, we will discuss these questions: (1) What is the parable’s basic message? (2) How have faithful anointed ones applied the parable’s counsel, and what are the results? (3) How can each of us benefit from Jesus’ parable today?
WHAT IS THE PARABLE’S MESSAGE?
3. In the past, how has our literature explained the parable of the ten virgins, with what possible result?
3 In the previous article, we learned that in recent years, the faithful slave has adjusted the way certain Bible accounts are explained. The faithful slave now focuses more on practical lessons and less on possible symbolic or prophetic meanings. Take, for example, Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins. Our literature used to say that the lamps, the oil, and the flasks represented something or someone. Is it possible that by focusing on small details, the simple, urgent message of the parable was lost? The answer to that question is important.
The virgins must be ready with their lamps lit when the bridegroom comes
4. In the parable, how do we know (a) who is the bridegroom? (b) who are the virgins?
4 Let us examine the basic message in Jesus’ parable. First, think about the characters in the parable of the ten virgins. Who is the bridegroom? Jesus. We know this because earlier, Jesus referred to himself as the bridegroom. (Luke 5:34, 35) Who are the virgins? They are the “little flock” of anointed Christians. How do we know? In the parable, the virgins must be ready with their lamps lit when the bridegroom comes. Now note what Jesus said to his anointed followers: “Be dressed and ready and have your lamps burning, and you should be like men waiting for their master to return from the marriage.” (Luke 12:32, 35, 36) In addition, both the apostle Paul and the apostle John compared Christ’s anointed followers to chaste virgins. (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 14:4) So we can see that the counsel and warning found at Matthew 25:1-13 is directed to Jesus’ anointed followers.
5. How did Jesus reveal the time period when his parable would apply?
5 Next, what time period does Jesus’ counsel apply to? What Jesus said near the end of the parable helps us to know. He said: “The bridegroom came.” (Matthew 25:10) In the July 15, 2013, Watchtower, we learned that Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 refers eight times to Jesus’ “coming.” When Jesus refers to his “coming,” he is referring to the time during the great tribulation when he comes to judge and destroy this wicked world. So we can conclude that Jesus’ parable applies to the last days, but he will “come” during the great tribulation.
6. What is the basic message of the parable?
6 What basic message do we learn from this parable? Remember the context of the Bible account. In Matthew chapter 24, Jesus discussed “the faithful and discreet slave.” That slave would be a small group of anointed men who would take the lead among Christ’s followers during the last days. Jesus warned those men that they must remain faithful. In the next chapter, Jesus uses the parable of the ten virgins to counsel all his anointed followers in the last days. The message was to “keep on the watch” so that they would not lose their heavenly reward. (Matthew 25:13) Let us now examine the parable and see how the anointed have applied the counsel.
HOW HAVE THE ANOINTED APPLIED THE COUNSEL OF THE PARABLE?
7, 8. (a) Why were the discreet virgins ready? (b) How are the anointed prepared?
7 In the parable, Jesus emphasizes that unlike the foolish virgins, the discreet virgins were ready when the bridegroom came. Why? Because they were prepared and watchful. All ten virgins needed to remain alert and to keep their lamps burning during the night. Unlike the foolish virgins, the five discreet virgins were prepared because they brought extra oil along with their lamps. How have faithful anointed Christians prepared for Jesus’ arrival?
8 The anointed are prepared to fulfill their assignment until the end. They realize that their service to God will require giving up material comforts found in Satan’s world, but they are willing to do so. They are determined to serve Jehovah loyally, not because the end is near, but because they love him and his Son. They keep their integrity and do not allow the world’s materialistic, immoral, and selfish attitudes to affect them. Like the discreet virgins who were ready with their lamps, the anointed continue shining brightly, patiently waiting for the arrival of the Bridegroom, even if he may seem to be delayed.
Jesus warned the anointed to remain faithful
9. (a) What warning did Jesus give about drowsiness? (b) How have the anointed responded to the shout: “Here is the bridegroom”? (See also footnote.)
9 The discreet virgins were also ready for the bridegroom’s arrival because they were watchful. But in the parable, all ten virgins “became drowsy and fell asleep” while waiting for the bridegroom who seemed to be delayed. So is it possible for anointed Christians today to “fall asleep,” that is, to become distracted while waiting for Christ’s arrival? Yes. Jesus knew that even a person who is willing and eager could become weak and distracted while waiting for his arrival. So faithful anointed Christians have worked even harder to keep on the watch. How so? In the parable, all ten virgins responded to the shout: “Here is the bridegroom!” But only the discreet virgins remained watchful. (Matthew 25:5, 6; 26:41) Similarly, during the last days, faithful anointed Christians have responded to the shout: “Here is the bridegroom!” They have accepted the strong evidence that Jesus is about to come, and they are ready for his arrival. * (See footnote.) Let us next examine the end of Jesus’ parable, which focuses on a specific time period.
REWARD FOR THE DISCREET AND PUNISHMENT FOR THE FOOLISH
10. What might we ask about the conversation between the discreet virgins and the foolish virgins?
10 Near the end of the parable, the foolish virgins ask the discreet virgins to give them oil for their lamps. But the discreet virgins refuse to help. (Read Matthew 25:8, 9.) But when have faithful anointed Christians ever refused to help someone in need? Remember the time period that the parable applies to. Jesus, the Bridegroom, comes to judge near the end of the great tribulation. So it is likely that the conversation refers to what happens just before the end of the great tribulation. Why do we say so? Because by that time, the anointed will have received their final sealing.
11. (a) What will happen just before the start of the great tribulation? (b) What did the discreet virgins mean by telling the foolish virgins to go and buy oil?
11 So, then, before the great tribulation starts, all the faithful anointed on earth will have received their final sealing. (Revelation 7:1-4) From then on, it is certain that they will go to heaven. But think about the years before the great tribulation. What would happen to anointed ones who did not keep on the watch and became unfaithful? They would not receive a final sealing. By that time, other faithful Christians would be anointed. Once the tribulation begins, the foolish ones may be shocked to see Babylon the Great destroyed. It may only be then that they realize they are not ready for Jesus’ arrival. At that time, what would happen if they asked for help? The answer is in the parable. The discreet virgins refused to give their oil to the foolish virgins and instead told them to go and buy oil. Since it was “in the middle of the night,” there was no one to sell oil to them. It was too late!
12. (a) During the great tribulation, what will happen to any who were once anointed but who became unfaithful before the final sealing? (b) What will happen to those who are like the foolish virgins?
12 During the great tribulation, faithful anointed ones cannot help anyone who became unfaithful. It will be too late. So, what will happen to the unfaithful? Notice what happened to the foolish virgins who went off to buy oil: “The bridegroom came. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.” When Jesus comes in his glory near the end of the great tribulation, he will gather the faithful anointed ones to heaven. (Matthew 24:31; 25:10; John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17) However, Jesus will reject the unfaithful ones. Like the foolish virgins, they may say: “Sir, Sir, open to us!” But how will Jesus respond? Sadly, he will give them the same answer that he will give to many goatlike ones: “I tell you the truth, I do not know you.”
Each anointed Christian must choose to be prepared and watchful
13. (a) Why is there no need to conclude that many of Christ’s anointed followers will become unfaithful? (b) Why can we say that Jesus’ parable reveals his confidence in anointed Christians? (See opening picture.)
13 Was Jesus saying that many of the anointed will become unfaithful and need to be replaced? No. In Matthew chapter 24, we read that Jesus warned the faithful and discreet slave not to turn into an evil slave. This did not mean that he expected to see that happen. Similarly, the parable of the ten virgins is a warning. Just as five virgins were foolish and five were discreet, each anointed Christian must choose to be prepared and watchful. Otherwise, he or she could become foolish and unfaithful. Paul gave a similar warning to his anointed brothers and sisters. (Read Hebrews 6:4-9; compare Deuteronomy 30:19.) His warning was direct, but he also had confidence that his brothers and sisters would receive their reward. The warning in the parable of the ten virgins reveals that Jesus had similar confidence in the anointed. He knows that each of his anointed servants can remain faithful and receive the wonderful reward!
HOW CAN CHRIST’S “OTHER SHEEP” BENEFIT?
14. Why can the “other sheep” also benefit from the parable of the ten virgins?
14 Jesus’ parable was directed to anointed Christians. But can the “other sheep” also benefit from Jesus’ parable? (John 10:16) Yes! The message of the parable is simple: “Keep on the watch.” And Jesus once said: “What I say to you, I say to all: Keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:37) Jesus requires that all his disciples be prepared and watchful. And all Christians can imitate the good example of the anointed, who put the ministry first in their lives. Remember that the foolish virgins asked the discreet virgins to give them some of their oil. Their request was not granted. That reminds us that it is up to each of us to remain faithful to God, to be prepared, and to keep on the watch. No one can do that for us. Each of us is accountable to the righteous Judge, Jesus Christ, who is coming soon. So we must be ready!
No one can be faithful for us or stay watchful for us
15. Why is the marriage of Christ and his bride thrilling for all true Christians?
15 All Christians are thrilled about the marriage that is mentioned in Jesus’ parable. In the future, after the war of Armageddon, anointed Christians will become Christ’s bride. (Revelation 19:7-9) Everyone on earth will then benefit from that marriage in heaven. Why? Because it guarantees a perfect government for all humans. Whether we hope to live forever in heaven or on earth, let us stay determined to be prepared and keep on the watch. If we do so, we can enjoy the wonderful future that Jehovah has prepared for us!
^ par. 9 In the parable, there is a time period between the shout, “Here is the bridegroom!” (verse 6) and the coming of the bridegroom (verse 10). Throughout the last days, anointed ones have remained watchful. They have recognized the sign of Jesus’ presence, so they know that he is ruling as King in God’s Kingdom. Still, they must keep on the watch until he comes.