In the first thirteen verses of Matthew 25, we find recorded one of the final public messages of our Lord’s earthly ministry.
Before looking at the actual substance of this passage, we should note two particular things about it.
First—our Lord is here speaking about the kingdom of heaven (verse 1). This expression “the kingdom of heaven” is an inclusive term embracing all of Christendom. It includes the church visible, i.e., the organized church throughout the world and it includes the church invisible, i.e., the true church, the mystical body of Christ.
Second—in speaking of the kingdom of heaven, our Lord is doing so in reference to a particular time. In the passage just preceding this, the Lord Jesus is speaking of the time of His coming again. In the opening verse of chapter 25, the Lord points to that time when He says, “then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened, etc.” The word “then” is very emphatic and indicates that the Lord was definitely thinking of the particular time when He would come again.
With these two thoughts in mind, let us now examine His message.
I. The Distinction Made Between the Wise and the Foolish (Matthew 25:1–4)
At first this distinction is not apparent. Those who represent the kingdom are all virgins, they all have lamps, they are all waiting and looking for the bridegroom and there is no apparent distinction between them.
Surely this is a commentary on conditions throughout Christendom today. All professing Christians confess more or less that they are looking for the coming again of Jesus Christ.
In the summer of 1954 there convened in Evanston, Illinois the conference sessions of the World Council of Churches. Their theme was “Christ, the Hope of the World.” During the sessions of that conference, a statement was issued to which they all gave assent to the effect that they believed in the coming again of Jesus Christ. Though we concede that the statement is subject to interpretation, nevertheless we must admit that it is a general confession by all of a belief in our Lord’s coming again. Outwardly, the appearance is given thereby that there is no great distinction at all between professing Christians throughout the world.
However, though this distinction is not apparent in verse 1, it is certainly declared in verse 2. Jesus does make a distinction. He says, five of the them were wise and five were foolish. The wise were those who took their lamps and also an additional vessel filled with oil. They concluded that no great provision was necessary and that they could get by with just what they had.
Now, without pressing the details of this parable too far, I believe it is evident, especially in view of the conclusion, that the basic distinction made here is between those who are truly born again of the Spirit of God and those who are mere professors of Christianity.
The wise have a lamp of profession, but they have more. They have been born again of the Spirit and are indwelt by Him. The foolish have a lamp of profession but nothing more, for they know nothing of the reality of new birth from above. In this latter category there are literally multitudes of people. It is very difficult to distinguish them from “the wise” because they do make a profession and there is a certain shining forth of good works, but they have not been born again of the Spirit of God. And the Scripture says, “If we have not the Spirit of God we are none of His.” The Word says again, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
My friends, let this word come home to your hearts—there is no salvation apart from the reality of the new birth from above.
II. The Distinction Manifest Between the Wise and the Foolish (Matthew 25:5–9)
The distinction which Jesus made now becomes manifest. While the bridegroom tarried they all slumbered and slept. They were occupied with that which was natural and necessary. But while thus engaged, a cry goes forth, “Behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” Whereupon they all arose and trimmed their lamps for they wanted to be ready. It was at this very critical moment that the foolish discovered the greatness of their folly.
The distinction which Jesus made is now manifest for their lamps are going out and in the face of the bridegroom’s coming they are found totatlly unprepared. They trim their lamps, they try again to light them, but they keep going out. Alas, they have neither oil in their lamp nor in their vessel. As a matter of fact, they have no vessel.
Now in their desperation they turn to the wise and say, “Give us at once of your oil.” There is urgency in their voice. They realize the greatness of their folly and they press upon the wise for help. But alas, it cannot be given. The wise reply, “Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you, but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” This is not a case of selfishness or unwillingness on the part of the wise, but a case of inability. They would have helped, I’m sure, if they could, but they could not.
This is precisely what will take place when our Lord shall come again. The foolish will find themselves totally unprepared. They will find that they possessed nothing more than a mere profession, and that they know not the reality of salvation. They had failed to obtain for themselves in the day of opportunity, and now that He is at hand they are found absolutely unprepared to meet Him.
May I ask you very sincerely—If He should come right now, would He find you prepared? Would He find you with your lamp trimmed, burning brightly because of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Or would He find you with just a lamp but no oil to give forth light—no true experience of new birth—unprepared?
Remember, in the moment of His coming, the distinction will be manifest.
III. The Distinction Maintained Between the Wise and the Foolish (Matthew 25:10–12)
The distinction which Jesus made, which at His coming will be manifest, will at that time also be maintained. The Scripture says that when the bridegroom came they that were ready went in with him to the marriage and the door was shut. Surely we cannot escape the finality of these words—“They went in and the door was shut.”
When He shall come again, those who are ready, who are truly born from above, will enter in with Him into eternal blessedness and the door will be shut, the day of opportunity will be gone. Though men knock and cry for admission it will be too late. So it happened with these foolish virgins. After a futile search for oil, they returned hoping to gain entrance just as they were, but it is too late. The door is shut. They knock saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But He answers, “Verily—I know you not.” They were found unprepared, they are unknown and now are shut out forever. The distinction is thereafter eternally maintained.
Such will be our Lord’s answer to all who seek entrance when once the door is shut. They will be shut out with the words, “I know you not.” It will not matter in that day how much we have professed to believe, how much we have served the church, or how good a life we have lived. The one thing that will matter then is that the Lord knows us as one of His own and that we know Him as Lord and Saviour. Jesus said in that wonderful discourse of John 10, “I know my sheep and am known of mine.” Does He know you as one of His own, and do you really know Him? If not, then this distinction that our Lord makes will at His coming be eternally maintained.
In view, therefore of this fact, the Lord Jesus adds a closing appeal, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour where in the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:13). Make preparation now while still there is opportunity; that is what Jesus is saying. We say the same to you. Make preparation now for the day of His coming. You may—by making a committal of your life to the Lord Jesus—by taking Him into your heart and life as Lord and Saviour.
Weary of earth and laden with sin,
I look at heaven and long to enter in;
But there no evil thing may find a home,
And yet I hear a voice that bids me “Come.”
It is the voice of Jesus that I hear;
His are the hands stretched out to draw me near,
And His the blood that can for all atone,
And set me faultless there before the throne.
Nought can I bring, dear Lord, for all I owe,
Yet let my full heart what it can bestow;
Like ointment sweet, let my devotion prove,
Forgiven greatly; how I greatly love.