the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Societal unrest, untrustworthy civil leaders, religious discord, political extremism, economic uncertainty, the threat of disease - and the expectation it will grow worse. Sound familiar? Of course it does. The last ten months have been difficult. We might even be tempted to say it has been unprecedented. However, the words you just read describe the experience of first century church. In the generation following the resurrection of Jesus, the Roman Empire was convulsed by all this and more. For this reason, Jesus warned his disciples and gave instructions on how to weather the coming storm.
Matthew 24 and 25 are commonly understood as prophecies and parables about the "end times." Yet, to the original audience, they had immediate application. One of the teachings provided by Jesus to help his disciples prepare for the coming chaos is the parable of the 10 virgins.
In the parable, 10 virgins are awaiting the bridegroom. Throughout Scripture, the people of God are represented as a virgin or as the bride of Yahweh. That symbolism remains pertinent for this parable. Thus, the 10 virgins or bridesmaids represent the people of God in the first century. It is interesting to note there is no "bride" in the parable - just the 10 bridesmaids.
Jesus said five bridesmaids were wise and five were foolish. In the parable there is no difference between the two except a lack of preparation on the part of the foolish virgins. While the idea of a longer than anticipated wait is important the key element is preparation. The wise virgins were prepared for the long wait, the foolish were not.
Now, because this parable is often viewed as an "end times" event the exclusion of the five foolish girls is interpreted as banishment from heaven. However, the foolish virgins are described as part of the wedding party throughout the parable. In the end, the only difference is they are shut out of the house. Undoubtedly, this is a tremendous difference but we should not immediately view it as "missing out on heaven." When we understand the first century context, we realize Jesus is referencing the vulnerability of those who have not prepared; the five foolish virgins did not enjoy the protection of the house and the close relationship with the bridegroom it implies.
In other words, the five wise virgins represent the followers of Jesus who prepared for the coming upheaval by developing a relationship with their Lord. They did not grow weary as the years went by. They worked hard to show the results of their salvation (Philippians 2:12). They cultivated the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). They thought of others more highly than themselves and sought to express the self-sacrificial love of Jesus to others (Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, John 13:34-35). They expressed the gospel of salvation in word and deed (Proverbs 3:6, Romans 12: 1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17). They prepared for a long wait and for the chaos that would engulf the Roman world.
On the other hand, the foolish virgins represent followers of Christ who shrugged their shoulders and said my master won't be back for a while (Matthew 24:48b). They cared little for cultivating their relationship with Jesus. They did not work hard to show the results their salvation. They did not cultivate the fruit of the spirit. They were lackadaisical in thinking of others more than themselves. Their expression of love was spotty and they believed evangelism was best left to the professionals.
Thus, when the hard times came, they were not prepared. They did not have a relationship providing peace passing understanding. They had not built a house upon the rock but had attempted to erect their edifice on sand. When the storm smashed against the house, they found themselves without adequate shelter. The same storm as the others; a very different outcome.
In order to weather crisis, you must prepare in advance. I encourage you; work hard to show the result of your salvation. Spend time in the word of God reading and meditating and in prayer and praise before God. Take time to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. Think of others more highly than yourself, doing what is beneficial for others even at great cost to yourself. Enjoy fellowship with other Christians looking for opportunity to express the love of Jesus. This kind of witness and character building will give you peace in every situation. You will be ready for any crisis or hardship. May God bless you as you pursue preparedness in Jesus Christ.