Matthew 25:1-13

Over four hundred years before Christ was born, a great building of stunning beauty and sophisticated architecture was built on the Acropolis in Athens.  It was the temple of the female deity Athena.  With a high priestess and ritual sacrifices, it was a place where the most vile human practices routinely took place.  The temple was called the Parthenon… the temple of the maidens.

You wouldn’t appreciate the details if I spoke any more about that; besides, the only connection between that and our text is the word “Parthenon.”  The Greek word for maidens is “parthenai.”  Jesus likens the Kingdom of the Heavens to the activities of ten maidens at wedding festivities.

But before we look closely at the figure that Jesus uses here, we need to be reminded again of some of the things that were said before.  This is a parabolic-type allegory; and it’s set in its own peculiar context!  And no matter how attractive it might be (to some) to remove parts of it from that context and build unrelated sermons and moral stories, that does violence to God’s Word.

Jesus is responding to His disciple’s need for information concerning His Parousia and consummation of the age; and He’s not been interrupted yet!  It’s still the same subject!  He’s been all through the Law and the Prophets – pulling the prophetic Word from every Old Testament writing – putting it all together for them.

As the “Pleroma” (Fullness) of God’s Word He’s showing them that He is the “Logos” (Word) and the “Rhema” (Speech) of God; and that it all speaks of Him.  And it’s all happening right now!  And all the great things spoken about His Messianic Presence will happen in this generation!

Then, as is His way, Jesus uses the parable (meant to darken those who live in darkness) to illustrate the contrast between the faithful elect of God and those who are evil and to be separated out!

That was certainly the case last Lord’s Day as we finished the text of Matthew twenty-four.  Israel, and especially Jerusalem and its leadership, was to be the light of the world; and the elders and priests of God’s city/paradise were to serve God and cause the people to live in the light of God’s Truth!  But, as servants of God, they did just the opposite – serving their own wicked hearts and leaving the people in darkness – spiritually destitute.

And the contrast in the allegory was between them and God’s Faithful and Wise servant Jesus, Who, because of His faithfulness, received the rulership of all His Father’s possessions!  And the others, having been cut off, were full of rage at their having been “mistreated!”

And again we need to say that the allegory and the figures of speech were taken directly from the prophets!  And we’ll find the same thing to be true as we now look to the parable of the maidens.

The scene that Jesus depicts here is a common one in Jewish culture – as are all of them… the housemaster and the thief; the servants of the household; the vineyard-keepers; the fig trees; the vines; the wheat and the chaff; the threshing-floor; the watchman on the wall; etc.

Here it’s the wedding festivities, which we’ve already seen once or twice before.  Families would have a betrothal of a young man and a maiden.  It was really a big ceremony.  And the young man’s father would host a party… sometimes lasting for days.  There would be a “best man” and many attendant/friends of the groom; and many “young women in waiting” who were family and friends of the bride.

And then, at an appropriate time in the future, the young man, amidst escort and lights and great fanfare and joy, would proceed to the home of the maiden and retrieve her to himself.  The many escorts (family and friends of the groom) and the young maidens in waiting (marriageable family and friends of the bride) were all involved in bringing the two betrothed young people together on the night of the marriage consummation.

All of these things are well-known customs of Jewish culture and they are familiar to the ears of His disciples as Jesus speaks to them about His Kingdom!

But woven throughout this very familiar setting are the words and figures found in the prophetic Scriptures as they relate to the consummation of the age shortly to come.  And integral to the parabolic nature of this setting is the contrast (once again) between those who are faithful and prepared and “watching” for the King at His Parousia – and those who aren’t.

Let me give you a subtle example of that (very important) right in the first verse!  “The Kingdom of the Heavens” is “likened to” ten maidens who (as was the custom) took up lamps for themselves on the night of the marriage consummation to go out to a “meeting of the bridegroom” in order to light the way for him to the house of the bride!  Ostensibly this is the bride’s way of “lighting the way” for him to come and get her.

Now, the Messiah is prophesied in the Scriptures as ‘O Erxomenas… “The One Coming in the Name of the Lord.”  In the text of the Gospel, there are two (only) instances of the people going out into a “meeting” of the Messiah!  (This sound s strange to our ears, but there’s a purpose!)

In Matthew chapter eight the people of Gadara come out into the meeting and asked Jesus to leave!  Gadara, a Gentile city, was not a betrothed people.  But John, in chapter twelve, carefully explains that at the point of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, many came out into a meeting of Messiah!  Jerusalem, where the temple was, on Mount Zion, was the crown jewel and capital of God’s betrothed people!  And many came out and, with great fanfare and palm branches and “hosannas,” escorted Messiah to His betrothed – only to find, of course, that she had committed abominable harlotries all during the betrothal!

Now, this beautiful figure of the betrothed city of Jerusalem is greatly enhanced while reading the final chapters of John’s Revelation where the “bride” allegory comes into its fullness.  In chapter twenty-one we read:  “…and I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

You see, the contrast is here… Gadara, the Gentile City, was not betrothed – Jerusalem was!  So, upon His Parousia, Jesus divorced her and executed her.  And having done so, at that point in Revelation twenty-one the angel says to John… “come, I will show you the bride – the Lamb’s wife.”  And it was a new city of Jerusalem.  Not the harlot, but one coming down from heaven.

I do so enjoy the subtleties of the language of the Gospel, and I hope you do too… to see the intricacies and perfections with which God has woven His Word.  To think that some would look for imperfections in Scripture!   And that some would make up their own sermons for the people to hear… when this glorious salvation is wrapped in such perfection for us to search out and understand.

Now.  Back to verse one – the young women in waiting had taken up lamps for themselves to go out to the meeting of the “numphios” – the groom.  Five were fools; five were wise (because they took a container of extra oil with them.  Should the groom not come immediately, without extra oil they couldn’t light his way to the bride!)

Well, allegorically speaking, the groom didn’t come immediately, and the ladies in waiting fell asleep with the lamps burning!  And in the middle of the night a “cry” arose (the same “crying out” of “hosannas” in John chapter twelve upon the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem!  Another of those beautiful subtleties found in the language.)

All the maidens awoke at the “crying out” and turned up their lamps to escort the groom, but five of the lamps went out… the five of those who didn’t bring an extra container of oil!  They asked the others to share, but they refused; so they went to the store to buy some more.

And while they were gone, the groom came; the festivities began; and the door was shut.  And when the fools, who had completely missed everything, requested to get in, there was an answer from the other side, “I do not know you.”  And that’s an archaic Greek form of the verb “to know” equal to the old usage in the Hebrew.  It has the sense of “you don’t belong to me.”  “You’re not mine.”

Then Jesus says to His disciples, “be watching, therefore, since you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Now.  Before we put the finishing touches on the parable itself, we need to spend some time on the “Numphos” – the groom.  There are only two allegories in Jesus’ teaching having to do with the bridegroom… the one in our text and the one in chapter nine (also found in the other synoptic Gospels).  We need to look at it (and a related passage), and then we’ll go back to the Older Testament Scriptures and find the prophetic source of the allegory.

In chapter nine (beginning at verse fourteen) we read the account of John’s disciples coming to Jesus and asking Him about fasting; because they fasted as did the Pharisees.  At that point in time John, soon after to be murdered, was still preaching and baptizing the remnant of Israel as the forerunner of Messiah.

And Jesus answered them with a question.  “Can you make the sons of the bridal hall mourn while the bridegroom is still with them?”  The allusion there is to the fact that Jesus is Messiah and is soon to be taken away… during which time there will be mourning (on the one hand) and the gnashing of the teeth (on the other).  And then the Presence of the bridegroom will be manifested at His Parousia and consummation of the age.

You see, John the Baptist had already witnessed to the Bridegroom among his followers.  And Jesus was recalling for them what he said!  (The apostle John had recorded it in his Gospel, chapter three.)  The Baptist’s followers asked John about Jesus.  And John told them that he was just a friend (a groom’s attendant) of the bridegroom; he’s only one-who-came-before-Him and rejoices when he hears his voice!  But the One who has the bride is the bridegroom!

So the reason Jesus answered John’s followers with the Bridegroom allegory was because that last (and greatest) Old Testament prophet had already spoken to them concerning the Bridegroom/Messiah!

But the figure of the Bridegroom comes way before even that!  Jeremiah, in the second chapter, mentions the “espousal” of Israel to God, in the wilderness, after He had freed her from enslavement in Egypt.  (He went and took her out of Egypt!)

And the entire prophecy of Hosea has to do with his marriage to a harlot (at the command of God) in order to prophecy with his life Israel’s harlotry before God.  Even after He took her out of Egypt and espoused her to Himself, her entire period of betrothal was one of harlotry!

And there are others.

But the whole context and terminology of the Bridegroom parables appears most fully in the sixty-second chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy.  At this point Isaiah is already dealing with the New Heavens and the New Earth – the New Zion… filled with God’s elect people from all the Gentile nations!

As I pick up with the verse before chapter sixty-two begins, listen carefully for all the terminology and context for Jesus’ parables concerning the coming of the Bridegroom (and this is a direct translation of the Hebrew text):


“Greatly will I rejoice in Jahveh; let my soul exult in my God.  For He clothed me with garments of salvation.  He put on me the robe of righteousness as a groom is adorned with his turban and the bride wears her jewels.  For as the earth gives birth to buds and as a garden causes that which is sown to grow, so Adonai-Jahveh makes righteousness and praise grow before all the nations.

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent; and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her righteousness and her salvation go forth as brightness and as a burning lamp.

And nations shall see your righteousness and all kings your glory; and they shall call you a new name which the mouth of Jahveh shall designate.  You shall also be a crown of beauty in the hand of Jahveh, and a diadem of royalty in the hand of your God.  ‘Forsaken’ shall not be said to you any more; and your land shall no longer be called ‘Desolate.’

But you shall be called ‘Hephzibah’ (My delight is in her); and your land shall be called ‘Beulah’ (married).  For Jahveh delights in you.  And your land shall be married!  For as a young man marries a maiden, so shall you marry your sons.  And as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”


And Isaiah goes on describing the delight that God has in His New Covenant people.  It is a New Jerusalem bedecked with righteousness and adorned with the robes of salvation.  And it is that same city that the apostle John looks up and sees proceeding from heaven in Revelation chapter twenty-one.

Jahveh delights in her as a young groom delights in his espoused virgin.


But as the Parousia of Jesus Christ nears there are five maidens who are wise – and watchful, and prudent and prepared!  But there are five fools in contrast!  Regardless of the covenantal espousal of Israel to Jahveh; regardless of the prophetic Scriptures; regardless of the presence of God’s Messiah – Jerusalem refuses to watch; it will not be prepared; it refuses to believe and it will not repent!  And it will kill its own Messiah!  Israel has been the harlot for fifteen hundred years, and she will not repent.  And she was not ready when Messiah came in judgment and salvation.

The Day of the Lord is “at doors.”  When “The One Coming” is manifested, there will arise a “cry” of “alleluia, Hosanna to the King of kings,” and the door will shut to the faithless.  And the harlot will gnash her teeth in fury and say, “Let me come in.”  And there will be an answer from the other side, “I do not know you.”  And the harlot will rage against Him that she has bee mistreated!

But on the inside all tears shall be wiped away.  All the faithful will no longer mourn the crucifixion and the loss of the temple and the city and the nation and the old covenant.  Hephzibah will rejoice, for the temple of God is with men.  And “Behold, all things are made new.”

Matthew 25:1-13 has to do with the sudden, unexpected (by many) Parousia of Jesus Christ.  It is similar to Jesus’ reference to the flood (24:37-39); and similar to the thief in the night (vs. 42-44); and the watchful servants (vs. 33-37); and the faithful and evil servants (vs. 45-51).  The Parousia/judgment of Christ will come and separate out the faithful from the harlot.

Just a couple of end-notes now, and we’ll be through.  The “delay” in the bridegroom’s appearance is still being interpreted by some as ongoing.  Although the prophetic Word says that the “Day of the Lord will not tarry”; and even though Jesus said (twice) that in no way would this generation pass until all these things took place, many are still waiting for His Parousia (a reinterpreted one, of course.)

But if that were the case, there would be nothing here presently for the Lord to delight in (no Hephzibah).  The Church would be just an interim, afterthought/byproduct of Messianic failure, for there would be yet no new Covenant!  What a dismal, psychotic, pessimistic world.

And what would be the use in celebrating the table of our Lord?  Without a new covenant, why should there be a new covenant meal?  Why should men and women and children gather around the sign and seal of the covenant signifying their union with Him and their submission to His authority if He’s still delaying His appearance?

If He failed to bring about the Kingdom and a New Zion and a New City of God; and the New Holy Temple of God is not “with men,” then why is there even a Church?  It seems to me that, with these beliefs, much of the Church has become simply a social club, or a “support group” supporting one another in their unbelief… because they missed the Parousia!  Other wise they would be rejoicing at the Presence of Christ; they would be bedecked in righteousness, and robed with salvation as newborn babes in Christ.

But instead, much of society is dying in its sin; there’s no concept of repentance! (For some that doesn’t matter, because there’s always “purgatory”)  There’s a drug-crazed guilt-trip going on among millions; some are divorcing their spouses to “marry” Jesus; and others are quitting work and opting out of society to “watch” for the second coming or some “rapture.”  Instead of denial of “self,” there’s denial of the active presence of  the King and His Kingdom!

Mysticism has seized the content of this allegory, divested it of its eschatological content, and fatally linked it with its present sensual ingredients!

The only answer is confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, repentance from sin, and the celebration of all the benefits of His glorious Presence.  That’s what the Lord’s table is all about.